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Oct 20, 2013

Expedition Volunteers Needed…NOW!

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: mission, expedition, team, gospel, evangelism, testimony

Summary:

This message looks at the place Paul's second missionary expedition had in the roots of the Thessalonian church and specifically the importance of a work of God in his missionary team to the election of the Thessalonian believers. It encourages all of us to let God do the work in us as messengers in order that God may do a work of saving in unreached, unbelieving people.

Detail:

Expedition Volunteers Needed…NOW!

Series: Empowered Expeditions

I Thessalonians 1—October 20, 2013

 

Ever been on an “expedition”?  That may all depend upon the definition you choose for the term “expedition.”  Google that word and here are a couple of the definitions you will get.

Noun--

  • A journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, esp. that of exploration, scientific research, or war.
    • The people involved in an expedition:  a group, team, party, band of people
    • informally--a short trip made for a particular purpose.  Ex: "a shopping expedition"

Frankly, I prefer the latter type—“a short trip”.  Backpacking for a couple of days is probably as close as I’m ever getting to a real expedition…unless I find one parked in the parking lot today. J

Relatively recent history has been filled with amazing “expeditions”.  Which ones would you include in the Top 5 Favorite Expeditions of the last 3 centuries?  Here’s my list:

  1.  Lewis & Clark Expedition:  Funded with $2,500 in 1804, this group of 33 people (31 men, one woman and one 2-month-old baby) took a 28-month round trip journey from  St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean via the Missouri, Clearwater, Snake and Columbia Rivers. Only one person died…3 months into the expedition…it is believed of appendicitis.
  2. Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition  of 1914 to accomplish the first-ever crossing on foot of the Antarctic continent.  The ship, Endurance, got within 85 miles of the South Pole but was trapped fast in the ice pack and soon crushed like matchwood.  It would be 20 months and 2 near-fatal attempts to escape by open boat before they would ALL be rescued.
  3. Sir Edmund Hillary’s Expedition to summit Mt. Everest in 1953--The total expedition included 362 porters, 20 Sherpa guides and 10,000 lbs. of baggage. Two days prior to Hillary and his Sherpa Norgay’s ascent, two other British climbers came within 100 meters of the peak and had to turn back.  But on May 29th, at 11:30am local time Hillary and Norgay reached the summit.  They stopped to take photos of their achievement, buried some sweets and a small cross in the snow and then started their descent.
  4. Neil Armstrong & NASA’s mission to the moon in 1969.  In January 1969 he was chosen as commander of the Apollo 11 mission that would land on the moon. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 9:32am on July 16, 1969. Their successful journey took four days and they landed on the moon on July 20 with the world watching and listening on TV and radio. At 10:56pm Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.
  5. 5.      Future Expeditions?  How about a mission to Mars?  If you’re interested in being some of the first people to ever land (let alone live) on Mars in 2022, the Dutch company Mars One says they are interested in you. It will only take you $36 to submit an application.  Just a couple of slight challenges:  you’ll be exposed to higher dosages of radiation than any astronaut ever has been (which means your cells will probably mutate faster than normal); you’ll have to grow your own food, and, the big one—it’s a one-way ticket.  You’re stuck there until you die…which could be 30 years…or maybe 30 minutes.J  The really amazing thing is over 100,000 people have already applied.  Now, if only half of them were politicians, we could really be on to something! J

 

Well, we’re starting a new series in the N.T. book of First Thessalonians today.  It’s a book that gives us insight into one of the most world-changing expeditions ever to take place.  It was actually an expedition that had a couple of striking similarities to the NASA’s moon mission expeditions.  There were 3 main explorers on this mission—The Apostle Paul, Silas and Timothy-- and it had a support team of many unnamed but vital contributors to the expedition—the early church of Antioch.

 

It was only the second expedition of its kind.  The first was what we know of as the “first missionary journey” of the Apostle Paul.  Barnabas was his teammate on that one.  John Mark was supposed to be the 3rd member of the trio but he probably took the early boat home from Pamphylia, about 3-400 miles away from their starting point of Antioch (Syria).

On this second missionary journey, Paul teamed up with Silas and together they picked up Timothy in the town of Lystra.  We’re told about that journey starting in Acts 16.  As they traveled from town to town delivering the message given from the Apostles at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.  The message was simple:  you don’t have to keep the Jewish law.  But true believers should do two things: 1.) separate themselves from idolatry of any form and 2.) guard your sexual fidelity (Acts 15:28-29).  The result was powerful: the churches they had planted earlier “were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5).

APP:  It’s amazing how powerful and effective the church is when it does those two things—stops worshiping at the altars of the pagan culture of the day and make sex something special, reserved for marriage. 

  • What do you think are some of the false gods the American church tends to get tangled up in that are damaging our impact and witness in our world today?  What is stealing our strength, our time, our spiritual passion for God’s kingdom?
    • The god of non-offense/political correctness?
    • The gods of entertainment?
    • The gods of material things?
    • The god of sex?
    • The god of laziness?
    • The god of financial security?

ILL:  A friend of mine gave me an article this week about the curse of celebrity.  It chronicles the demise of numerous young stars who came from strong Christian families but who have fallen off the cliff spiritually.  Miley Cyrus, in an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show at age 14 quoted her favorite Bible verse of Ephesians 6:10-11—“Finally, my brothers, come close to the Lord for if you put on the full armor of God you can stand against the wiles of the devil.”  If you happened to see her performance recently on the Video Music Awards, she not only lost her armor; she’s lost a lot more of late.  Her father, in an interview in GQ magazine a couple of years ago said that their decision to let Miley become a child celebrity “destroyed our family.”  He said he’d “take it back in a second” if he could.  But, sadly, he can’t. 

 

In this first chapter of I Thessalonians we learn what it was that turned the Thessalonian church into a church that was known for making the Gospel of Christ known, not just in their city but in their whole region.  1:8-9 says, “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”

            Notice the progression here.  It is precisely the opposite of what has happened to people like Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry or Justin Bieber or millions of less visible Christians who grew up following Christ and then turned from the living and true God to serve the idols of the day.  When people start noticing and talking about how 1.) we, the church, are “turning to God,”  and 2.) how we are turning from the idols of our culture so that we can, 3.) really “serve the living and true God”, we’ll probably begin to see the same sorts of strength and growth of the church in our city. 

            But as long as the shame of divided allegiances to false gods and sexual immorality continue to haunt God’s people, we’ll continue to hide in the shadows of our shame. 

(It was interesting to have a discussion with this brother this week who speaks literally all over the country and world about how the culture has deceived and enslaved the church in this arena of sexuality.  He commented that so many churches seem to be so reluctant to speak honestly about the damages of sexual immorality and to give their people an opportunity to actually bring it into the light of repentance.  He said he can tell the difference between a couple or a woman or a man whose whole countenance is burdened by their shame and one who has found freedom from that shame by publically repenting and publically embracing the Father’s wholehearted love and forgiveness.)

 

Back to a little of the history of the beginnings of this church in Thessalonica.  According to Acts 17, Paul and his team only stayed in Thessalonica about 3-4 weeks.  They spent three Sabbath days “reason[ing]…from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead” (vs. 3).  Then he told them that Jesus was, in fact, the Christ and he explained how he had suffered, died and risen from the dead for them.  Acts 17:4 tells us that “some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.”  That’s how the church in Thessalonica got its start.  And that’s about all it got until Paul was able to write this book to them.  Reason for that was that the Jewish leaders in Thessalonica got jealous of Paul’s following and stirred up a riot.  So Paul and Co. moved on down the road to Berea. 

            That’s why I Thessalonians is one of the earliest books or epistles from Paul.  (Galatians and I Thess. were both written around 52 A.D.).  That makes the words of this first chapter all the more amazing.  After only less than a month of sharing Christ and discipling new believers, Paul is forced to move on.  But the church takes off like a rocket.  This new church with probably no official leaders, probably no building, certainly without most of the N.T. word of God we hold in our hands today—they begin to grow into one of the most effective, missional, Christ-sharing churches in the first century.  And they do it all under the pale of persecution.  The established religious community in Thessalonica had all the power, all the buildings, all the highly trained and educated leaders, all the copies of Scripture.  They had the crowds and the political clout. 

The Thessalonian Christians just had…Christ. 

They just had… the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in them. 

 

How do we know that?  Paul tells us what happened in those 4 short weeks he and Silas and Timothy were there in Thessalonica. 

Vs. 4-- For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you….  Stop! 

            Notice that little phrase “loved by God.”  In the O.T., that was a phrase which the Jews applied only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, or to the nation of Israel itself. By using this phrase, Paul is telling us that the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people throughout all history has been extended to the humblest of pagan Gentiles, people like you and me. And if that weren’t enough, this adjective “loved” or “beloved” (agapetos) is usually used of God’s love for Jesus (Matt 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Eph 1:6). 

            Do you think Paul preached the love of God?  No question.  That is what is SO amazing about the message of Jesus Christ—God in human flesh “so loved this [lost] world that he gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).  The Thessalonians were a group of believers deeply rooted in the love of Christ. 

APPAre we?  Have you really heard God whisper to you as you walk down the street…or as you stand in this place and sing…or as you lie in bed at night…or sit at the beach…or read your Bible during the day… “You know, Bill…Josh…Joel… Morgan…I really love you…just like you are…imperfect and weak and struggling.  I love you as much as I love Abraham or Moses or even my Son Jesus Christ.”  There is amazing power in just being loved.  Some of you may never have experienced that in this life yet.  Jesus invites you to let him give you that experience for the rest of your life and all eternity!  Will you let him?  (That may be your “next step” with God today.)

            But Paul had taught them not only that they were loved by God.  He had also taught them that they were “chosen.”  For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you….”  Some of your versions translate that word “elect.”  Here, with relatively new believers, we run smack dab into the doctrine of election.  In fact, Paul’s 2 letters to the Thessalonian church talk more about divine election and choosing of people than any other letters of Paul.   (See 1 Thess 1:4; 5:9; 2 Thess 2:13; calling 1 Thess 2:12; 4:7; 5:23-24; 2 Thess 1:11; 2:14)

            Election simply means God chooses YOU!  You can get all uptight about that trying to figure out why everybody doesn’t seem to be “chosen”.  Or you can get as indifferent to your responsibility and calling as one who is “chosen” and believe, “Well, if God does the electing or choosing, I guess I don’t need to do anything.” 

ILL:  That was the problem with many a Baptist pastor in England at the close of the 18th century.  At a ministers' meeting in 1786, William Carey, then just a common cobbler boy, raised the question of whether it was the duty of all Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the world. John C. Ryland is said to have retorted: "Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine."            The doctrine of election is not an excuse to not share Christ; it is one of the greatest encouragements for sharing Jesus.  It absolutely guarantees that there will be those who will trust in Christ all over the world wherever this Good News is preached. If it were not for God’s choosing, sharing the Gospel would be a hopeless and fruitless endeavor.  So share away…and let God do his work of calling people through you.

 

SO back to how Paul knew God had chosen these Thessalonian believers.  If someone asked you, “How do you know that you have been chosen by God to be a child of God,” what would you say?  Well, here’s what Paul points to.  First it’s actually something about how Paul and his team shared the Gospel, not really at all about the Thessalonians themselves. 

“…because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.”    I find it a little surprising that the first thing Paul points to is HOW the Gospel came to them rather than how they responded.  It came…

1.)    With (lit. “in”—en) words. We talked about this a few weeks ago—the importance of knowing one verse of God’s word you can use to point people to Christ.  And then there are the words of your own story of what Christ has done in your own life.  Paul often told his own story about the transformation that Christ brought to his life, turning him from being literally a murderer of Christians to someone whose whole life got rearranged by his encounter with Jesus on his way to persecute more Christians. While my story certainly isn’t that dramatic, the longer I’ve walked with Christ, the more I see Him do in my life. And while people can argue with concepts and claims of truth, they don’t seem to argue with our personal testimonies of transformed lives.  There is something powerful about every person’s life story when you’ve been changed by Jesus.  Even Billy Graham recognizes that.  In his latest and last message to America this November called My Hope America in which he is encouraging Christians to invite a few people to their home to watch his last 30 minute message to America about Christ, he has also produced some very genuine, very moving video testimonies, one of which we are going to watch in just a moment this morning.  But the point is, the Gospel must come in word if it is to save in power.  All the best living will not be enough to lead people to Jesus without inviting them to take that next step spiritually of trusting in Jesus.  

2.)    And then Paul tells them what else convinced him that the Thessalonians were truly God’s chosen saints: the gospel they told them about came also with (in) power…with (in) the Holy Spirit… and with (in) deep conviction.

If I understand this verse correctly, this is a work God was doing in the messengers as they spoke the Gospel of Christ.  As they presented it to spiritually sensitive people in Thessalonica, God took those words, applied them with power in the Holy Spirit and gave a depth of conviction (to the messengers, I think) that made it evident it was a God-event. 

            That’s what happens when the Gospel is shared or preached or given to people God has prepared and chosen.  It’s not really about the power of the speaker; it’s about the power of the Gospel. But God does something miraculous in the moment.

For many of us, we can remember how God spoke to us at some point when He came knocking on our life.  It wasn’t just the words of some pastor or evangelist or friend we were hearing.  The words they shared came to our hearts with a power that caused us to know that we were at a crossroads in our life.  We needed to either respond to the calling of God on us OR we would have to walk away from what we sensed was God’s voice.   

ILL:  This passage and an experience I had this week with a group of other church planting pastors has convinced me to be more intentional and persistent about inviting people to take the next step with Christ in their lives. 

About a dozen of us were sitting around a lunch table at Life Center North, talking about current ways we are trying to get the Gospel of Christ out in our churches.  One of the pastors asked, “How many of us here think we have the gift of evangelism?”  Three hands went up (2 of them from pastors of the largest churches represented).  That spurred the rest of us to start asking questions about how often they invite people to give their lives to Christ—every Sunday?  One said yes. One said no.  Both emphasized some public demonstration of people’s desire to follow Christ—one invited people to raise their hand while the other stressed the importance of baptism as the spiritual “coming out” party for a believer in Jesus. But both admitted that the responses to this invitation to take the next step with Christ always surprised them.  God was always doing something with the invitation of the Gospel that didn’t happen when they didn’t invite people to follow Christ. 

This is precisely what Paul is saying happened when he and Silas and Timothy preached Christ for just a few weeks in Thessalonica.  The Spirit worked.  It was powerful.  And there was deep conviction and assurance that God was working. 

CHALLENGE:  A few weeks ago I told you what happened here the last Sunday night of September when 300 street kids eat hot dogs, listened to music and testimonies and were challenged to respond to Christ.  They felt and saw the power of God at work.  The event was called “Burning Spokane”—pretty appropriate for the encounter Christ wants to have in the hearts of every person…and probably for what many of these kids feel like doing with Spokane at times. 

            Well, the last Sunday of October, we’re doing it again.  “Burning Spokane” sponsoring “Trick or Treat.”  As Angel said who does the Higher Power Church here on Saturdays, “We’re going to be talking about how Satan is in the business of tricking every one of us through his multiple deceptions. BUT Christ is God’s “treat” designed to trump Satan’s work in anyone’s life.”  We’ll be serving food, having music, testimonies, and be giving away hats and socks and blankets and even sleeping bags to these kids.  But the most important part will be giving away the Gospel of Christ again. 

            What’s our part?  Your part?  Let God work in our hearts to give us the same passion He gave Paul and Timothy and Silas.  Pray, as they must have, for our own city of Spokane.  We need dozens of us praying that evening.  We need lots of us just hanging out, praying as we look at these kids, as we talk with them, as we serve them.  You can be sure that Satan is doing all he can to enslave every one of these kids, especially during this diabolical time our culture likes to celebrate around Halloween.  I’m inviting you:  come and experience what happens to US when the gospel goes out in word and power and the Holy Spirit and conviction. 

            In case you forgot how powerful such a word is, listen to this man’s story…and dedicate yourself to tell your story and Christ’s story more often.  Then watch what God will do!

[Video clip of illusionists story from Billy Graham’s Defining Moments testimonies.]

INVITATION to receive Christ—What’s your next step?

COMMUNION—the blood that brings life to every person hopelessly and terminally sick eternally from sin.