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Nov 24, 2013

What Did You Expect?

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: expetations, heartfelt love of people, spiritual parenting, god's coworkers, trials, testimony, abounding love

Summary:

What you expect in life...and the Christian life...has a lot to do with how content you are.

Detail:

What Did You Expect?

Series Empowered Expeditions—I Thessalonians 3

November 24, 2013

 

Great Expectationsis what many consider to be Charles Dicken’s greatest novel. If you are looking for a good made-for-television version, may I suggest the recent Masterpiece Theater production.

Dicken’s story involves a Miss Havisham, who is a wealthy spinster living in a horribly old, dusty, dilapidated and never-cleaned mansion.  

Miss Havisham wears but one dress every day—her old wedding dress that she was to have gotten married in years before, that is, until her fiancée jilted her at the last moment. Ever since that wonderful expectation of marriage crashed and burned before her very eyes, she has not removed a plate or flower or piece of wedding cake from the table that had been set for the celebration.

The plot of the story revolves around a daughter she has adopted, Estella, and a young orphan boy named Pip whom she manages to manipulate to begin to visit Estella so Estalla can at least have another child to play with.

Estalla and Pip eventually fall in love, with Miss Havisham’s encouragement. But it is all part of Havisham’s perverse desire to have revenge on men. What she is really trying to do is use Estella to break Pip's heart, which she does.

Pip confronts her and, in a fit of depression, she puts on her wedding veil, goes to the fireplace with her papers and manages to catch her dress on fire, killing her and burning the mansion down around her.

 

Great Expectations…makes you glad he didn’t entitle it “Grotesque Expectations,” doesn’t it! J

Truly great expectations can be wonderful things…when they are fulfilled. They can be highly motivational things when they are still on the horizon. But they can be horribly painful things when they are disappointed and held onto when life or God is saying, “Let go of that expectation.”

In today’s passage in I Thessalonians 3, we’re going to look at some expectations Paul had for his spiritual offspring as well as some expectations he wanted them to have about life in Jesus Christ. But before we get to that, I want us to share a little bit about our own lives with each other. Turn to someone near you and talk a couple of minutes about the following:

 

CONNECT: Share about one of your expectations in life that has turned out great…and one that you are still hoping will be fulfilled.

 

I don’t know about you, but so many of my expectations about life have to do with other people, particularly people close to me.

  • I don’t have a lot of expectations about other nations of the world. But I do about America.
  • I don’t have a lot of expectations about hundreds of the kids who go to Ferris High School just a block and a half from us…but I do about 2 of those kids…and even some of their friends.
  • I don’t have a lot of expectations about the millions of people who live in Los Angeles. (In fact, I sometimes expect the worst out of that place.) But I have very high and hopeful expectations for 4 people down there:  [show pictures] Daniel, Joanna & her husband, Andrew…and our FIRST little granddaughter, Christiana.....Did I mention Christiana?...She also goes by Charlie...That’s our grandbaby! O.K. I've been really, really good for the past 5 months not showing pictures or talking about our first grandchild.  So I'm making up for it right now. :)

Moving on. :)

What makes the difference when it comes to expectations about other people? The closer you are to them, the more expectations seem to develop, right? And the more you love them, the more concerned you are with how they are handling life.

            As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, Paul felt very close to this young church in Thessalonica. He felt towards them like parents feel about their children. And when he got booted out of town because of the Gospel he was preaching, his heart literally ached to somehow get back in contact with them so that he could help and encourage them through those first few chapters of their new life in Jesus Christ.

 

Let’s read 3:1-5 (ESV)--Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

 

Verses 1 and 5 use the same phrase/word when it comes to how Paul was feeling about his separation from his spiritual kids. I’m guessing he was feeling a lot like any parent does when they drop their first…or last…child off at college and drive away.

ILL: I still remember getting a letter from my father after I had been at college for about a month. It was an article Dr. James Dobson had written about the emptiness he and his wife felt when they dropped off their last child at college, came home to an empty house and started adjusting to life without kids at home for the first time in about 25 years. All the memories of their son growing up, of events associated with various items in their now-empty-room flooded back. My dad had written something at the bottom of the article like “I know exactly how he feels now!”

But, hey, I was into college and that exciting new adventure of discovering life on my own. Little did I know how quickly their experience would become my experience! I don’t think Sandy or I could set foot in Joanna’s room for at least a month after she left. And when we did, there was that feeling that Paul is describing here like “I don’t think I can stand this absence any longer!”

Is it really possible to feel this about people who are not family? Is it really possible to feel this about brothers and sisters in Christ? I’m here to tell you, I think it is.

Sandy and I have shed lots of tears over good-byes to people we’ve shared a part of our spiritual journey with. Whether in Kenya or the Philippines or Madrid or Portland or right here at Mosaic, sometimes we feel like Paul—“I can’t stand it any longer! I miss them too much!” This is one of the things in the American church that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to—the constant good-byes as people who I’ve grown to truly love move on to other places or ministries.

Can I just take a minute to tell you how that heart-to-heart connection comes with spiritual family?

  1. REGULAR, CONSISTENT BEING-TOGETHER in a setting where we are sharing our hearts. I get that with people in a home group…or a small group of men I meet with on Friday mornings…or pray with on Thursday mornings…or have breakfast with every other week.
  2. SHARED MINISTRY EVENTS/EXPERIENCES: when I spend time planning, preparing, working and executing ministry with other people, our hearts get knit together. Wherever I’ve been in the world, it’s the people who have shared the trenches of ministries together that I can’t get out of my heart.
  3. PRAYING, LAUGHING, EATING, TALKING together with people. I can’t be in a group with everyone. But the next best thing to that is sharing meals together every now and then. It’s a little bit of “family” when we share life around food.
  4. It happened this week with a fellow pastor in the community with whom I shared lunch. He just needed to talk with someone who is a little farther down the ministry road at a time when ministry is hard for him. Our hearts got knit together.
  5. It happened when I wrote an email to a friend of ours living in a Middle Eastern country and I was reminded of the challenges he faces and stopped to pray for him.
  6. It happened when I did a memorial service yesterday for a family I deeply respect who we have know in ministry in Spokane for 20 years…and in the process saw people who have been special to me for literally 40 years in the family of God.

This is what the family of God is meant to be. But it will take all of us a fair amount of time, of prayer, of shared experiences and of poured-out love for us to have heart-felt passion for God’s people.

Since Paul could not yet return to Thessalonica, the next best option was to send his young intern, Timothy. Remember, this is near the beginning of Paul’s ministry. Timothy isn’t some seasoned middle-aged pastor. He’s probably in his early 20s, just getting going in ministry and probably not terribly confident. But Paul heaps on the titles and accolades: “our brother” and “God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ.”

            This is a remarkable phrase—that any person besides Jesus Himself could be described as God’s fellow worker. Now some Bible versions have the phrase “God’s minister” (KJV) instead of “God’s fellow worker” or “God’s coworker,” because some scholars found the idea of God having coworkers a far too bold word to be applied to Timothy. But the original word here is sunergos, where we get our English word synergy from. Paul seems to be saying that God’s partnership with Timothy provides synergy.

            If Paul considered young Timothy to be an extension of God to a new, young church in Thessalonica, what does that say about the role any of us can have who approach another believer or group of believers anywhere as part of our responsibility before God? Do we really see ourselves as people “on a mission,” “commissioned to an adventure” of helping other people grow up spiritually?

It really doesn’t matter what your age is; it matters what your passion is. God wants every one of us to be His coworkers in the gospel of Christ in other people’s lives. The Thessalonians were probably Timothy’s first assignment. He had watched Paul live and work with several new groups of Christ-followers. He probably felt very inadequate to be “the man” responsible for follow-up discipleship in the city of Thessalonica. But he took up the challenge, made the journey, took the risks and jumped into the role of strengthening the faith of a group of people.

APP: So WHO are you strengthening and encouraging in the faith these days?

  • Family members?
  • Children in our Kids Ministry? Some of you need to accept the challenge over Christmas when we’re missing some of our young “Timothy” college students who are going home to be with family…or you could preach over Christmas and I could work with the kids! J
  • We would LOVE to equip some of you to lead a group of people in your home…or in one of the downtown residential buildings nearby…or bringing the Gospel to your neighborhood where you live through hosting an Alpha Course.

GOD is looking for “coworkers”! He’d love to make each of us one. He’d love to partner with us in providing “synergy” that will lead to people being eternity-long lovers of Christ. But we must say “YES.” We must be willing to be sent, whether that is across the office or the lunchroom, across the street or across town or across the world.

HANDS: Who is willing to be one of God’s “coworkers”? So who do you think God is wanting to send you to? Write them down. Start asking God to open the way as well as their hearts.

In this same paragraph Paul reveals one of his greatest concerns for believers. It has to do with trials and “afflictions” and what they could do to their faith.

that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.

When will we as God’s kids stop being wiped out or sidelined by tough stuff? Paul tells us several realities that he apparently taught every new believer and church he worked with. It had to do with the spiritual reality that difficulties and problems WILL come into every single one of our lives when we join His family.

            This kind of strikes at the heart of presenting the Gospel in a way that would lead people to believe that life will get easier. It is certainly true that lots of the internal tension in life’s deepest struggles can be radically changed by entering into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And certainly the most pressing problem of resolving our sinful alienation from God through faith in Jesus Christ will be solved. BUT we will not be spared the trials that fall into everyone’s lives AND we may pick up a new set of difficulties simply because we choose to follow Jesus Christ.

            If our expectation is that life will be easier or smoother as a Christian, then we’ve got the wrong expectation. And chances are that we’re setting ourselves up to be “moved” in the wrong direction in terms of our relationship with God. Instead, we should, early on, adopt a mantra that says, “I expect to experience difficulties as a Christian.” How about affirming that verbally? Anything short of that is a set-up for a spiritual slide.

 

Secondly, afflictions are appointments with God, not accidents of life. “For you yourselves know that we are destined for this [afflictions].” Great destiny, huh? I haven’t seen a best-selling Christian book with this title lately in America. “Discovering your Divine Destiny—AFFLICTION!”

But if we’re interested in growing up as well as down into Christ, then this is our destiny. I’m pretty sure Paul had instructed everyone he led to Jesus on the long-term benefits that pressure and trouble can have in the life of a child of God. So God “destines” us for difficulty. He turns what looks like accidents into appointments with Him.

The truth is, if you aren’t presently in a trial you are either headed out of a trial or right now preparing to head into a trial. The word “afflictions” (thlipsis) has the idea of being “under the thumb” because of pressure from above.

The “afflictions” that Paul is referring to can be any number of difficulties. That word in the N.T. is applied to financial trouble or the challenges widows and orphans face in life. It can be used of physical suffering or emotional pain. It is often used, as it probably is here, of the sufferings followers of Jesus will experience at the hands of their fellow citizens because of their faith in the Lord Jesus (see 2:14).

Some of us may face this type of affliction from our family members, coworkers, neighbors, and classmates. Then there are simply other trials such as prolonged or terminal illness, loss of a job, betrayal, bankruptcy, time in prison, death of a loved one, or divorce. This is a part of life. Regardless of how we may try, we can’t avoid afflictions. God has destined us for them.

Thirdly, Satan will try to use afflictions to destroy our faith.

For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

Satan, the “Tempter,” is well aware that suffering can do what nothing else can to get us to question the validity of our faith. We hold tightly to the mistaken notion that if we really belong to God, he won’t let really hard and tough things…let alone devastating things…into our lives. The earliest book of the Bible, the book of Job, sought to dispel that myth early on. But we still doubt God and curse Him rather than doubt Satan and curse him.

Just what does Satan use to tempt us?

First, he tempts us to doubt God’s goodness. He whispers in our ear that God has forgotten us, that He doesn’t care, and that He isn’t good. Second, Satan tempts us to retaliate against others with anger and resentment. This is one of his favorite tools when the hard times involve problems with friends and family members. Third, Satan tempts us to give in to despair and discouragement. Satan will tempt us to say, do, or think anything that will get us off track spiritually. Remember this simple principle: Satan tempts us to get the worst out of us; God tests us to get the best into us.

One of the things that one of our Monday night Conduit class is doing is helping people share their own testimony of what God has been doing in their lives. So I asked Teresa Olsen if she would share a little of her journey in Christ with us today. So often we know little or nothing of the stories of people we sit next to Sunday after Sunday. But God has sustained so many of you through some really difficult experiences in life. Teresa is one of those here and I think you should know a bit of her story.

[Invite her to share her story.]

Let’s finish reading this chapter.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.

Paul is telling us that his own faith was blessed and built up by hearing of the spiritual stamina this young church had. Other people’s ongoing journey in Christ helped, comforted and brought joy to the great Apostle Paul’s Christian experience.

We just heard a brief portion of Teresa’s story, a story of truly deep personal affliction in life. So let me ask you, “What does it do to your faith to hear about her faith in such a difficult experience?” (Ask for answers.)

  • Encourage you in a hard time?
  • Strengthen you to press on?
  • Help you trust God with something difficult you may be in?
  • Cause you to rejoice that God saw her through this far…and the she hung in there this long?

The spiritual stamina and “staying power” of other believers is meant to make us thankful people in this journey. Who can you look around at and silently say to God today, “Wow, thank you Lord for the blessing my brother or sister is in this journey. Thank you that they continue to take their stand in You. Thank you that they haven’t given up, haven’t let go, haven’t turned away or turned off spiritually.”

            I know SO many of your stories. I know how many of you have been and are going through very deep waters. And I cannot tell you how deeply blessed I feel to be taking this journey of life with people like you. So many of you have been through afflictions I hope I never have to endure…and you’ve grown stronger in Christ through them. Sure, you’ve got more room to grow. But you “are standing fast in the Lord.” Thank you…(name names).

This chapter ends with a glimpse into Paul’s prayer life for people he loves.

“9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” And he continues: 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you….”

            The whole gist of this part of his prayer is for relationships that build up others spiritually. Here’s something that should be a part of our prayers every day:

  • Lord, please take me into the lives of my children today in a way that helps me supply what is lacking in their faith.
  • Lord, please allow me to relate to my coworkers today in a way that supplies something that is missing in their spiritual life.
  • Lord, please direct my path today into someone’s life who needs a word of spiritual encouragement or challenge.

We all have holes in our faith…things that are lacking in our spiritual journey. The biggest room in our lives should be room for improvement. We need God to open up the way into the lives of others so that we can give them something meaningful spiritually.

 

And then Paul prays for that one thing that will always move any child of God forward in their faith:

12 …and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

            There is only one thing that will “establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father” in a life filled with trouble. It is an ever-increasing, always-abounding love for saints and sinners alike. Many of the afflictions of life will come to us through the imperfections and sins of other people. Some of those will come through other believers, “saints” as the Scriptures remind us we are before God because of Christ. But we are “saints” with plenty of sin sprinkled in. God’s people will hurt you if you hang around them any length of time. Paul knew that and he knew that the ONLY solution to the hurt that would come was more of the agape love of God for imperfect saints.

            And sinners who hate God will hurt us. We have the same need there too—more agape, self-sacrificing, Christ-like love of God for people who don’t yet know how transforming His love can be.

ILL: Yesterday I delivered a eulogy at the memorial service of a wonderful woman I’ve known for 20 years. (Tell Ruth’s story.)

  • 7th of 8 children, born to a blue-collar German mechanic and his wife in the Great Depression era in Colorado.
  • Came to faith in Christ as a child and loved the Lord during her teenage years.
  • Was married at 18. Had 2 children over the next 5 years, a girl and a boy.
  • Her husband was a philanderer and a bigamist. He eventually abandoned this wonderful woman and their 2 children and moved south of the boarder to marry another woman there. He never sent her a single dime of child support nor involved himself in the lives of his children.
  • Ruth had plenty of reason to be angry with God…and people.
  • But instead, she became one of THE most loving, caring, kind and warm people I have had the privilege of knowing.
  • She never spoke a bad word about her ex-husband and that was according to her own daughter.
  • She went on to open her heart and home to hundreds of people, to help start the first Calvary Chapel in Escondido, CA and to eventually move up to Spokane.
  • I watched her as she loved on people over the last 20 years. Even though she suffered from neuropathy, she and her second husband raised a half-acre garden that fed hundreds of women and children at Anna Ogden Hall, a women’s shelter here in Spokane.  

The Lord truly made her “increase and abound in love” for God’s people and for all people. And in the process, instead of becoming bitter and godless, she became blameless and holy.

That’s what we need to be praying for each other, isn’t it? That’s what we need to be experiencing in Christ when someone hurts us or attacks us or wounds us or damages us.

How about we actually pray that right now, this morning?

Lord, please make us increase and abound in love for one another here at Mosaic…and for every person we will meet this week, this year…and the rest of our lives. We want to be blameless from the heart, holy and free from malice, hatred, anger and bitterness towards all people.

            Thank you for placing such great and loving saints around us all. Thank you for the amazing experience it is to see others stand firm in you through the storms of life. Thank you for the love of Christ that knits our lives together through thick and thin.

            And as we enter this week of thanksgiving, please open our eyes and hearts to the myriad of things you have blessed our lives with in Christ Jesus for which our hearts can overflow with joy.

            In the name of Jesus Christ we thank you, Amen.