Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stand Firm In Your Faith

1As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 (NRSV)
13But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. 16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 - 17 (NRSV)
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989

We live in an age of uncertainty and stress. There’s a lot of confusion in our culture; our mental state is always up for debate. The numbers on sanity tell us that one-quarter of Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends; if they're okay, then it's you.[1]

In the early church there was a lot of confusion about the return of Jesus – when, how, where would it be? After the resurrection, Jesus had told his disciples that he would return; many were convinced it would be right away, just a matter of weeks or months. Some were doubting that Jesus would ever come back; it was causing the kind of confusion that corrodes faith. It’s hard to stand firm in your faith when you’re confused about what to believe.

In our text today we read how Paul gave the church some information about the second coming to help calm their worries. To go along with the explanation, he gives them an exhortation to help them stand firm in their faith.

We can benefit from Paul’s advice, because it is ageless; first he tells them:

1. Let Faith INFORM Reason

The believers at Thessalonica were familiar with Old Testament prophecies about the Day of the Lord. They had heard Paul talk about the Good Shepherd coming back for His sheep, and an eternal state of happiness. But, increasingly, political pressure and persecution in Thessalonica made some of the church folk think they must have slept right through the rapture, and now they were in the middle of the Great Tribulation. They were worried and upset (I would be also)!

In a church I once served there was generally a staff of three in the building: Patsy the secretary, Sandy the youth and children’s minister, and the warden, me. One day, at a particularly still and quiet moment, there was an incredible BOOM that shook the building. Sandy and I hit the hallway at the same time – we looked like two “does in the headlights”. Patsy was nowhere to be found. We called her name, checked her office, and went upstairs to look for her in the sanctuary (or anywhere) – nothing! I never admitted it to anyone, but as we continued our frantic search I remember thinking to myself, “Oh MAN…the rapture’s come and the only one who made it is the church secretary!” We later found her outside, gazing over to the far reaches of the church property where they were excavating with dynamite; she was just taking a break.
When it comes to our first instincts, most of us do the opposite of what Scripture teaches, which is to let our faith in God govern our decisions.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;[2]

Instead, we tend to let our “reason” (common sense) take over; that always causes faith to fizzle. That happened in Thessalonica, and it happens today. Back then there were church members who looked around at the persecution and tough times and reasoned, in their minds, that the great tribulation was at hand. But their “reason” was working against their faith!

Jesus had told the apostles the truth about the last times; he said there would be wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famine and more[3]. The apostles had passed that information along to the churches. Unfortunately there were those who wanted to question and doubt everything Jesus had clearly said. They had more faith in their intellect than faith in what God had said.

The apostle Jude called believers who trust their mind (rather than their God) “scoffers”, following their “mere natural instincts”[4]. Mere natural instincts! That’s what happens when your “reason” governs your faith. We do that because it’s simply easier to deal with our powers of reasoning, which is based upon that which we can see. We trust what we can see. Faith, on the other hand, is the evidence of the unseen. We can’t see an apple in a seed, but in faith we trust enough to plant it!
We need to learn to trust the truth of the faith once delivered to the saints.[5] How do we do that? How do I learn to exercise faith when my mind is screaming...“Hey, dodo, where’s the proof?” If you’ll excuse the slang, it just takes a flying leap! Really!

I am not talking about faith being totally-blind or uninformed walking around like a zombie expecting radio waves from some unseen planet giving you guidance. Faith, for each individual, is a matter of investigating all that God has said on an issue, and, (because most faith issues can’t be proven with our reasoning ability), then you just have to take a step out into unsupported territory and believe…because you choose to believe; faith is an informed and trusting flying leap into God’s care!

There is something of a parallel in golf. When you swing the club, you’re supposed to keep your eye on that little white ball. If you try to peek where the shot is going to go before you actually swing the club, you will mess-up your swing; you’ll hit it wrong, or miss it altogether! Keeping your eye on the ball is a matter of trusting your swing. Nobody can prove to you that it will be better that way…but it is! Faith in your swing has to inform your reasoning about wanting to peek.

Paul told the folk at Thessalonica that faith has got to govern your reason when it comes to standing firm in Christ. He also said:

2. Let Faith INTERPRET the Times

Paul reminded the people to beware of deceivers. The word “deceive” means to seduce or turn.[6] The expression, don’t let her turn your head comes to mind. Deception is what turns our eyes away from the truth. Con men count on deception; shell games deceive the eye; Avon and Mary Kay hide the years; larger jeans and sweat shirts hide our changing waistlines! There is also the chief deceiver, Satan, who wants to deceive followers of Christ to make them powerless in their faith.

In the case of the Thessalonian believers some folks had been deceived by those who were circulating rumors about the end of time. In every century since Christ’s resurrection there have always been those who have set dates for His return, and deceived many. Check out this little list of faith deceptions:

· In 1874 Charles Taze Russell, founder of the sect that became Jehovah's Witnesses, studied both the Bible and the mystical messages of the Great Pyramid, and concluded that the Second Coming had already taken place. He declared that people had 40 years, or until 1914, to enter his faith or be destroyed. Later he modified the date to "very soon after 1914."

· The 16th-century seer Nostradamus is said to have favored 1999 as the year of a Martian invasion [7]

One preacher I read has a unique term for this stuff; he calls it Pin the tail on the Anti Christ[8].

Paul talks about a man of lawlessness. This is the Anti Christ, the lawless one. Throughout the last two thousand years people have tried to guess his identity. God gave us his identity (not in name, but character) through the prophet Daniel

“The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. Daniel 11:36 (NIV)

Now the main point is this man is being restrained, held-back until God’s timing is right. Until he sits in the temple and proclaims himself God, all guessing as to his identity is futile. However, the scripture[9] tells us that while the man himself may not be on the scene yet, his spirit is hard at work. All you have to do is consider the times, and your faith will interpret what kind of spirit is at work. As we allow our faith to interpret the times, it is important to remember that it is not the evil upon which we are to focus. It is tempting to try to figure-out who the Anti Christ is; however, our real occupation is to look for the blessed appearing of the real Christ.

Let your faith inform your reason and interpret the times, so that you are not deceived – but don’t let the times throw you into despair…you are called to be victorious! So this was Paul’s exhortation:

3. Let your Faith ILLUSTRATE God’s Glory

We are called to share in God’s glory. Wow! That is an astounding fact. Even more astounding is the awareness that we are to be the chief illustration, or picture of God’s glory for the world. Sinful human beings are destined to be part of the glory of God.

I have trouble taking that in. I’ve often wondered how-in-the-world can somebody like me, born to a simple existence, raised on a dirt road in a no-place little town, without the slightest trace of royalty in my blood, be part of God’s glory? But God’s glory is always worked-out in the simplicity of saving people (common folk like you and me) by His grace and mercy.

It’s a challenge to stand firm when the world tries to turn your attention from Christ. Life can be difficult and scary; there’s plenty of temptation to try to make it on your own power instead of trusting God. A businessman was asked to tell what his personal faith meant to him. He reached back to his boyhood experience. He recalled walking with his father one day, having to reach up to hold on to his hand. After a while he said, Dad, I can't hold on any longer; you'll have to hold on to me for a while. And he remembered the moment when he felt his father's hand take over. That, he said, was the way it felt to him to have faith in God. And that was precisely an act of grace.[10]

Reason would say the challenge isn’t worth it. But followers of Christ who stand firm in the faith let their faith inform their reason and interpret the times. And, in the simple task of living life every day, all day we trust…and the Father’s hand takes over… we are carried by His grace!

In the name of the Father,
Because of the Son,
Cooperating with the Spirit

[1] Rita Mae Brown, Church Champions Update (11-26-01, adapted),
[2] Proverbs 3:5
[3] Mt 24-25
[4] Jude 1:18a-19
[5] Jude 3
[6] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary
[7] Adapted from "Facts and Fallacies," Reader's Digest (1988); Clark Cothern, Tecumseh, Michigan,
[8] Timothy Peck, Confidence In the Face of Rumors,
[9] 2 Thessalonians 2:7

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