Sunday, May 31, 2020

Be Encouraged... by the Grace of God - I Thessalonians 5:25-28

Be Encouraged… by the Grace of God
I Thessalonians 5:25-28
Introduction: I am excited to say that next week our  Church will have the doors open for coming together in worship! For a time we’ve been meeting “virtually,” but, following proper precautions for the safety of the most vulnerable, we will meet face-to-face starting Wednesday night for our annual business meeting (with a Zoom option available for those who think it prudent to do so), and then next Sunday morning at 10:15 for a time of worship together.  We plan to continue live-streaming for those who feel they should quarantine a bit longer, and also to allow those from away who may not be traveling here this year to join us. We will be glad to make a more complete service available to you. The emphasis here, in these verses, seems to be on being together: brothers pray for us (plural: Y’all pray for us!)… Greet all… Read this letter to all… God’s grace be with you [all]… We are a body, and each member is important. We are also a family, and we need one another, and we need to benefit from each other’s spiritual gifts. Be encouraged as we come together, and may we encourage one another!
       Paul has been teaching the Thessalonians right doctrine, but also reminding them that our theology must impact how we live. Mark Howell put it well: “…No matter how high you can jump theologically, what matters the most is how straight you walk when you hit the ground.” I like that! In other words what we believe needs to make its way from our head to our heart, and then to our hands and our feet. Paul’s heart is again exposed as he brings to a close the epistle of First Thessalonians. These are the concluding words in this beautiful little letter of encouragement, let’s not miss what God has for us here…
Brothers, pray for us.  26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.  27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
The Maine* Idea: God has given us the means of grace to enable us to live by faith in this fallen world, as a part of the church. One of those means is…
I. PRAYER: We can pray for one another (25). “Brothers, pray for us.” INTERCESSORY PRAYER: We can pray for one another, and we must, because we all need prayer! Think about it, Paul, the great apostle and theologian of the 1st century, the one who, along with Silas and Timothy, planted the church in Thessalonica just a few short months before, asks these new converts to pray for him and his missionary colleagues!
       Paul prayed for them, now asks their prayer (cf. 1:2; 3:12-13; 5:23). He begins the letter saying that he is praying for them in 1:2, “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers…” He then prays for their growth and perseverance in 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, 
“…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.”
After encouraging them to “…pray without ceasing…” in 5:13, he again prays for them in that beautiful doxology in 5:23… This back in forth of exemplary prayer and teaching about prayer sets the stage for the request in v.25, “Brothers, pray for us…” 3 times in these final 4 verses he uses that word, “brothers” (16 times in this letter!). Clearly, he is addressing the entire church.
       Paul is not asking only the men to pray for him and his team. “Brothers” here is surely intended to include all the “brethren,” that is, the brothers and the sisters in the family of God. This is the normal usage in the Greek language, as it is in Hebrew, to refer to a mixed group of people. And so, the NLT is correct in clarifying the sense for us: “Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us.” We can all pray for our leaders, and we can pray for one another in the church. I hope you see the humility of Paul in that request. He viewed himself as part of the church, not standing over it. As the song said, “Not my brother not my sister but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer!
       This is one of the great blessings of the Church, to intercede on behalf of others, to enter the Holy of Holies and intercede on their behalf. Paul had experienced hardship, imprisonment, persecution, he faced the challenges of his ongoing ministry (cf. Rom 15:30-32; Eph 6:19-20; Col 4:3-4; 2 Thess 3:1-2). So he asks, brothers, sisters, pray for us! The Maine* Idea: God has given us the means of grace to enable us to live by faith in this fallen world, as a part of the church.
II. FELLOWSHIP: We can be encouraged in the community of faith by the love of the brethren… (26). “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.” One of the men from our Tuesday morning coffee and prayer time has been “commenting” about how we are going to handle v.26 in the midst of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. “Greet all the brothers with an elbow bump… masks required because you’ll invade their six-foot bubble!” OK that is not funny, this is a serious matter. Every culture has it way of indicating close, caring relationships, brotherly love.
      Let’s take this apart slowly so we don’t miss the point. First of all, the admonition is to “Greet all the brothers…” In other words, avoid discrimination and favoritism. The church is a unified body, we are all “one” in Christ. No one is left out of the fellowship because God knows every believer intimately, and he loves us all. Therefore, we should love one another.
       Is this only for the “brothers,” that is, the men in the fellowship? As in v.25, this is another example of a masculine noun being used collectively for the whole congregation. Some translations say “brethren,” but the idea really is “our siblings in Christ.” In Greek, as in Hebrew, a masculine noun is typically used for mixed groups. There is no misogyny intended, no women in that context would have understood this as a “men only” statement, nor should we. Brothers and sisters pray for us.
       That’s a relief, but what is meant by a “holy kiss”? John Stott explains it like this:
“…when Christians meet each other they should greet each other, and that their verbal greeting should be made stronger, warmer and more personal by a culturally appropriate sign…” Stott, John. [The Message of 1 and 2 Thessalonians (The Bible Speaks)].
       A culturally appropriate sign. Pre-corona virus, hugs and handshakes would have been the norm in our church. In Brazil, everybody hugs, it’s how they say hello. And typically, men greet women, and women greet each other, with a beijinho, a little kiss of the air, cheek to cheek. When we were getting ready to go to Brazil for the first time a former missionary explained all of this to us. She said her husband embraced the idea, but he didn’t kiss the air, he kissed the women on the cheek! She said, “He wasn’t trying to be Brazilian, he was just an American getting in on a good thing!”
       When our daughter was in college, we flew her fiancĂ©, Ian, down to Brazil so that he could see where Sarah grew up. One of the events we attended was a Brazilian barbeque, where most of our missionary team, and some Brazilian colleagues, were present. Everyone greets each other at such events, and our future son-in-law followed Sarah down the line. He watched how Sarah greeted everyone, and when she did the little “kiss the air” greeting with a man, a Brazilian colleague in the group, Ian followed her lead and did the same! The guy was gracious about the mistake, and Ian was a good sport when we teased him about it. We are still laughing about that one! Oh well, I had my share of cultural miscues as well! The point is, we want to greet each other, personally, directly, making eye contact, and with a culturally appropriate sign. I. H. Marshall makes the point in his commentary,
What is important is that the members of the church should have some way of expressing visibly and concretely the love which they have for one another as fellow members of the body of Christ.
I’m still not sure about the elbow bump thing, but you get the idea!  The Maine* Idea: God has given us the means of grace to enable us to live by faith in this fallen world, as a part of His church.
III. THE WORD: We can be built up and equipped by the Word of God… “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.” (27).
       Paul knew he was bringing the Word of God… This is one place in the letter where he is clearly evoking his apostolic authority. How else could he feel that he could put them “…under oath before the Lord…”?   He required them to read the letter to whole church! Why? He knew it was God’s word.  So also, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter wrote,  
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
The apostles understood their calling and authority. They saw themselves as the Lord’s spokesmen, bringing His Word to the people of God. This quote shows Peter recognizing Paul’s letters as being on a par with “…the other Scriptures…
      This was a message for the church, and the leaders who received it were expected to have it read before all. It seems we are getting a glimpse here of the earliest stages of formation of the canon of the New Testament. As I see it, I Thessalonians was likely the first of the epistles written, and already the author understood that the message needed to be shared with the entire assembly of believers, they were to “…have this letter read to all the brothers…
       The Word is for all the brethren… We all have access and have the right to read the Bible. I grew up in a tradition where, at that time, laymen were not encouraged at all to read the Bible. That was for the professional clergy, the priests, who could give the authorized interpretation of the church. But God has given his Word to all of us. For the one who hears the Word for the first time and receives it by faith it is the way to life: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. And from then on it is the Bread of Life, the nourishing, soul satisfying, life-giving Word of God by which we live! And so, we need to be serious about hearing, reading, and studying the Word.
       Too often, believers can begin to neglect time in the Word. We don’t so easily forget to eat, but our Bible can stay closed, unread. God has spoken! This is His Word written! Someone said, “Dusty Bibles often lead to dirty lives.” And from the opposite perspective, “A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t!” I heard the story of a little boy who was turning the pages on a big family Bible, when suddenly a large autumn leaf fell out from where it had been pressed between two pages. He let out a surprised “whooaa!” His mother asked, “What did you find dear?” He said, “I think it might be Adam’s underwear!” Oh well, a little more time in the Book would be good! For me, early morning is best, but whatever works for you. The point is, be in it, and let it be in you. As Paul told the Colossians, “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly within you…” The Maine* Idea: God has given us the means of grace to enable us to live by faith in this fallen world. Pray for us, greet one another warmly, receive the Word… and so experience…
IV. GRACE: God’s grace in Christ is the ever-present empowerment to live by faith in this fallen world… (see 1:1). “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (28). Paul begins and ends the letter with an appeal to the Grace of God. First, he desires grace for the Thessalonians. God’s unmerited favor. In this letter, Paul only uses the word twice, here, as a benediction, and in the greeting. This letter is not primarily defending or presenting the doctrine of salvation, it assumes it, the Thessalonians are clearly believers!  But grace is not just the means by which we are saved, it is God empowering us to live a “sanctified” life. It is God’s favor enabling us to live as His children in this fallen world. Grace is the basis of our standing before God. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:5,8 “by grace you have been saved…” Mark Howell comments, “For Paul, grace was not merely an invocation and a benediction—it was his life.” Remember that line in the Hymn, Amazing Grace, Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. ’Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home!” We are saved by grace, kept by grace, changed by grace, and ultimately, we will be glorified by grace. Paul said it clearly in that powerful conclusion to Romans 8…
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Maine* Idea: God has given us the means of grace to enable us to live by faith in this fallen world, as a part of His church.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Let’s resolve to avail ourselves of the means of grace God has given. Prayer is not something that should be reserved for those moments when we are in desperate need for immediate intervention, like Peter when he started to walk on the water, and then got his eyes off of Jesus and became fearful of the wind and the waves: “Lord, save me!” We must pray at those times, to be sure, in fact it is our natural response in times of crisis! Praying for our needs or wants is something that we are quick to do, but praying for others, that is something about which we need to be intentional. It is something that we grow in doing, that becomes more natural to us, when we grow in love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Their needs become more personal to us, and we stand more ready to look to the Father for help. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, and asked them to pray for him and his team. Our time in the Word also becomes more personal, more… c h e r I s h e d.  We’ve had the grandkids with us for a couple of weeks at a time this spring, and it’s interesting to see their time on Skype with their parents. They want to tell them everything that they have been doing, and show them what they have learned.  Do we long for time with the Father? He is ready, willing, and able, to meet with us… to hear from us… Prayer, Bible, loving fellowship, grace… And so hear the Word of the Lord…
Brothers, pray for us.  26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.  27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you [all].

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Letter to Boothbay Baptist Church members re: reopening in person services

Re:  Reopening Letter to Boothbay Baptist Church                                                                                            May 27, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
       I want to begin by expressing our thanks to God for allowing us to safely navigate this initial phase of this Coronavirus pandemic. Our community and our church family have been, for the most part, protected through these days, for which we should all be grateful. Some other areas of the country and the world have not had the same experience. I also want to express my thankfulness to each of you for your patience and cooperation as we have passed through this time.
      The recent steps taken by our President and his team, along with the recommendations of our governor, have opened the door to us reestablishing “in person” worship services at our church almost immediately. I would like to share with you some of the steps we are taking, and also the precautions the elders are recommending, starting this week. We are relying on the best information we have from the CDC and from the Christian Civic League and Carroll Conley*, who have been helping us think through some of the issues with which we are confronted. Please consider the needs of others, and not personal preference, in your response to these guidelines and requests. Let’s be willing to esteem others as more important than ourselves, and let love for the brethren, and deference toward a weaker brother, guide our attitudes and actions.
     1. Initially, to maintain proper social distancing, we will be limited to 50 people in the sanctuary. I believe that we can set up a live stream alternative for overflow in the Fellowship Hall which will allow for an additional 25 or so to be seated with proper spacing, which would also be available to those who choose for a time to watch from home. Our church annual meeting on June 3rd will be a “hybrid” event, with attenders physically present, while others participate via Zoom. June 7th will be our first official worship service as we restart meeting back in our building (We will consider adding a second service if necessary in the summer if needed).
     2. The CDC is specifically recommending that the most vulnerable consider participating online for awhile longer, but that is not a requirement. We want to leave that to you to decide what you are comfortable with. We will do everything we can on our end to maintain a safe environment.
     3. For the comfort and safety of our most vulnerable, we are asking all to respect “social distancing” and at least initially, we are asking that all use face coverings. Alternate rows will be closed off in the sanctuary, and families can sit close together, but spacing of at least six feet should be maintained between family units.
     4. We ask that congregating with friends and conversing happen outside the building, and request that social distancing still be maintained for the peace of mind and safety of all. When you enter the foyer, you will be directed by ushers to an open seating area and we ask that you move directly to your seat for the duration of the service.
     5. Once we reach our 50 person limit, those entering will be directed to the lower level, via the stairs off the main foyer. Those who need the lift to access the lower level will be able to use it one at a time.
     6. Sunday School for all ages will restart in September, God willing, when public schools reopen.
     7. Initially we will not be providing nursery, and are considering holding Children’s church in the Christy Room starting week 2, if 1) parents can escort their children back and forth from the 999-B lower level during the hymn before the message, and pick them up promptly during the closing hymn; 2) parents who are members or regular attenders, are willing to take a turn at teaching the lesson (if you are willing, please e-mail or call Mary Ann ASAP so a schedule can be established).  This is to make sure we are able to maintain social distancing between the children. Children initially will remain seated with their parents.
       Thank you again for patiently working through this with us. Our June 3rd Annual Meeting will provide an opportunity for your input and suggestions, but in the meantime, feel free to contact me or one of the elders.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Steve Nash   

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Be Encouraged… by the Faithfulness of God - I Thessalonians 5:23-24

Be Encouraged… by the Faithfulness of God
I Thessalonians 5:23-24
Introduction: Our series from I Thessalonians, which I’ve entitled “Be Encouraged!”, is winding down. One more message next week, then we move back to meeting in our church building and start our next series, which I believe will be from one of the Prison Epistles of Paul. I pray that at such a time as this, this teaching from the apostle Paul has touched some of our needs, and indeed we’ve been encouraged by the Word of the Lord. Paul has been teaching the Thessalonians about the sure hope we have in Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ will return to judge the world in righteousness. Paul has admonished the Thessalonians concerning how they should therefore live in this fallen world, empowered by the Spirit, living by faith, with love for God and love for people. That’s how we should live. We are all, however, a work in progress, every one of us. We are indeed forgiven, we are no longer slaves to sin, but we are still, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…”as Robert Robinson said in the hymn, “Come thou fount.” So, because we still need it, our Bible is full of imperatives, reminders that we need to guard our hearts!  Sanctification is one of those doctrines that can be expressed in terms of the past, the present, and the future. The root meaning of the group of words that express the idea is to be “set apart.” We were set apart by God when we believed and were saved, we are progressively being “made holy,” or “set apart” in the present. And we will ultimately be sanctified completely, when “this corruptible body puts on incorruption, this mortal, immortality.” I like the perspective of John Newton who said,
I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am…”
And so, as Paul told the Philippians, we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure…” (Phil 2:12-13).
       Our passage for today is short, just two verses, that come as a prayer, a kind of benediction, in contrast to the admonitions that we’ve seen throughout this section of the letter. We read in 1 Thess 5:23-24…  
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
A short passage, but rich in the truth that is being expressed.
The Maine* Idea: God’s faithfulness is the foundation of our hope: He will complete the good work He has begun in us. We’ll consider that from three perspectives: 1) The Source, 2) The Scope, and 3) The Certainty of our ultimate sanctification.
I. The source of our ultimate sanctification: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you…. (23a). Notice what Paul is saying: God is at work in us who know Him. We have been set apart, and we have entered into a relationship. More and more, over time, God is shaping us in His image. Do you see how that fits with the Gospel? Charles Spurgeon reflected on this when he said,
“I believe the holier people become, the more they mourn over the unholiness which remains within them… Holiness is not the way to Christ; Christ is the Way to holiness.
       God is the One who is working in us, to mold us into the person He wants us to be. Paul prays, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely...” God is described here as the “God of Peace.” The Old Testament background shows that Yahweh, the one true God, is the one who can establish “shalom,” the “good life,” life the way it should be. That dependence on God to empower His people to live differently is pervasive in the prayers we find in the Bible. We read for example…
Psalm 85:6-13   6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?  7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.  8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.  9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.  10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.  12 Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.  13 Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.
From the perspective of the psalmist, revival now, the experience of “peace” and abundant life, is not merely an act of human will and effort, it is dependent on God at work in us. Notice in our passage in Thessalonians Paul prays that the God of Peace would sanctify them, but he makes his point even more emphatic by praying that the God of Peace Himself would do it. God Himself is at work in us.
       Paul quotes from Isaiah in Romans 15 when he writes concerning the Messianic kingdom and the mission to the gentiles in…
Romans 15:12-13,  12 And again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope."  13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Notice how the prophet Isaiah parallels “good news,” “peace” [shalom], and salvation in Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
       In Chapter 16 of Romans, Paul refers to the final defeat of the Evil one when he says in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
       The God of Peace, the One who will ultimately eradicate evil and establish His Kingdom in the New Heaven and the New Earth, is the one who “sanctifies” his people. The word group, “sanctify,” “sanctification,” “holy,” and “saints” [that is, “holy ones”] all come from the same word group in Greek. They have the idea of being “set apart,” and in the context of the church, “set apart for God.” What is sometimes difficult to follow is that this idea can refer to the past, to the present, and to the future, or ultimate “sanctification” of the people of God. For example, look at Paul’s description of the Corinthian believers in the opening of I Corinthians…
1 Corinthians 1:2-3   2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:  3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
These were the Corinthians! If you remember in that letter, this church struggled with sin, and in fact were living like the world around them. Paul describes them as “babes in Christ.” But he calls them sanctified saints! Clearly, that was their position, and though it was not yet their practice, it was also their future hope. They were a work in progress! By the way, so are you and I…
       The writer to the Hebrews uses the same designation that we see in our passage in first Thessalonians to describe God, while also praying for God’s supply of all the readers need to live a life pleasing to God…
Hebrews 13:20-21   20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,  21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.
God at work in us… He gives us what we need to follow Him, making us into sheep who follow the Master, who live in a way that is pleasing to God. He is the source of our ultimate sanctification, and He empowers us to live victoriously now. That points us to the Maine* Idea: God’s faithfulness is the foundation of our hope: He will complete the good work He has begun in us.
II. The scope of our ultimate sanctification: “…sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (23b).
       One challenge in interpretation is always to remember the historical nature of the books and letters that make up the Bible. They were written in real historical settings to address the needs that the people of God faced at specific moments in history. What the writer intended to say to his readers, what they would have understood by his words, that is the “meaning” of the text. That is why we need to understand the setting the best we are able, to try to get at the questions the writer was answering, in order to grasp the richness of the teaching in front of us. I am stating that because we can sometimes be tempted to “read into” the text more than what the historical situation would allow, more than the human writer would have intended to say. Many discussions concerning the nature of man will appeal to this passage as proof of the tripartite nature of humans, body, soul, and spirit. I don’t think that is the point that Paul was making, so I don’t want to dwell there. Quite the contrary, he seems to be emphasizing the unity of a human life, and that God’s salvific plan was not intended to simply rescue the immaterial part of humans, but that it includes the body as well. This would have been shocking in the Greek context, which considered the body inferior, and the immaterial part of humans to be the eternal, “savable” aspect of humans.
       The modifier that is used to describe this sanctification is one that appears only here in the New Testament, “completely,” Gk. holoteles, which is a compound word combining “whole” and telos, “end, goal, conclusion.” In this context, which refers to the Lord’s coming again, we get the sense that God’s story is moving toward a climax, and we are a part of it. God will bring to completion his plan for us, including his sanctifying work in us.
       The reference to the Parousia sets this teaching in its context. The completion of our salvation, our rescue from the coming wrath, will not simply be the salvation of our spirit and soul, but would include a new, transformed body. The whole person will ultimately be saved, set apart by God for himself, delivered forever from not only the penalty of sin, but from the power of sin and the presence of sin. We will be made HOLY. A similar thought was expressed in another “benediction” earlier in this letter, in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13…   
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you,  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.
In that passage, rather than referring to the “body, soul, and spirit” of the believers, Paul refers to their hearts being blameless in holiness. He is looking ahead to that day when we will be free from the influence of the Fall, confirmed in righteousness. That day is yet future.
The story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. "Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your Life?" inquired an old deacon. "Yes, sir," she replied. "Well, are you still a sinner?" "To tell you the truth, I feel I'm a greater sinner than ever." "Then what real change have you experienced?" "I don't quite know how to explain it," she said, "except I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved. I'm a sinner running from sin!" She was received into the fellowship of the church, and she proved by her consistent life that she was truly converted.
We are sanctified now positionally, we are being sanctified practically, we are a work in progress, but thank God that the day will come when we are sanctified fully. If you know Him, that is a promise. That points to the Maine* Idea: God’s faithfulness is the foundation of our hope: He will complete the good work He has begun in us. The source, the scope, finally…
III. The certainty of our ultimate sanctification: “…He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it…” (24).
       Since our ultimate sanctification is a work of God, we can be assured that He will accomplish and complete His good work in us. Philippians 1:6 is an important reference here: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God has a plan — and it is better than we could possibly imagine!  He is faithful, he is trustworthy. It is sometimes hard to trust people isn’t it? Particularly if we don’t have enough history with them. I like the story of the little boy who went to the beach and saw a matronly looking woman sitting under an umbrella.  He walked up to her and asked, “Are you a Christian?” She nodded her head “yes”. “Do you read your Bible every day?”  She answered, “Yes.” “Do you pray often?” he asked, she replied, “Yes I do.” Then he asked his last question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?” Trust is not always easy, people will sometimes let us down, but God is completely trustworthy! He who calls us is faithful. 
     Sometimes, people are not completely reliable.  We start projects with good intentions, but  On the human level we need reminders (2 Cor 8:6, 11).  One brother I walk with [!] said his wife is often reminding him of jobs he needs to get done around the house. He said, “There is no need to remind a man every six months about a job he didn’t finish!” That could be any of us! But God is completely reliable, he is trustworthy, he finishes what he starts. As our text says, “He who calls you is faithful, He will surely do it.” Or, as Paul wrote in another place, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” Yes, “He who calls you is faithful, He will surely do it.” So we must each “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure...” (Phil 2:12-13).
       Several weeks ago we celebrated Easter. Remember that quotation from theologian Eric Sauer: “The present age is Eastertime, it began with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and will end with the resurrection of the redeemed… we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter we go to meet the last Easter.” God has a plan, and he has included us!  As Paul said in chapter 4, “We will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…” That is a promise. 
 What is God saying to me in this passage? God’s faithfulness is the foundation of our hope: He will complete the good work He has begun in us. God himself is the source of our sanctification, and so the scope of God’s work in us will be complete, exactly as He planned, the stain of sin will one day be eradicated, and spirit, soul and body, we will be holy. That is a certainty, because God is faithful.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Holiness, sanctification, is God’s work in us. That is clear from this passage. And so there is no room for pride or boasting in the Christian life. As Paul told the Corinthians,
30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  31 Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord…" (1 Cor 1:30-31).  
But as we have seen in this letter (and throughout the Bible) God has given us imperatives, commands, telling us how we should live in the light of His saving and sanctifying grace. Remember how this section of this epistle began in 4:1…
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification
And so we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God is at work in us but to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:12,13)! How?
1. Be in the Word – it is truth, it is a light to our path, it is God’s Word.
2. Pray – Talk to God, express your struggles, ask for his empower-ment in areas of weakness.
3. Walk in the Spirit – Recognize God’s presence in the Spirit, yield to Him. God said, “Walk in the Spirit and you will be no means fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16,25).
4. Find a brother or sister to help you in your walk – God has given us the church so that we can bear one another’s burdens.
As we seek to live a life pleasing to God, know that God’s faithfulness is the foundation of our hope: He will complete the good work He has begun in us.  Even in these says of uncertainty we can know that God is working. He will use what we are passing through right now in that process of shaping us into the person He wants us to be. Let’s pray that we’ll have ears to hear, and eyes to see the things that God wants to teach us in this time of crisis.  AMEN.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Be Encouraged... to live the "Good Life"! - I Thessalonians 5:19-22

[This is a draft of the message I plan to give this Sunday, May 17, 2020 at Boothbay Baptist Church. We are still meeting virtually, with these messages posted to our church Webpage and Facebook. God willing, we'll resume meeting together in June.]

Be Encouraged… to live the “Good Life”!
I Thessalonians 5:19-22
Introduction: The current Corona-virus crisis has brought not only sickness and death to many areas of our country and the world, but it has also caused another crisis that has shaken our economy, and threatened our lifestyle, if not our lives. So far, thankfully, we’ve had no community spread of the virus in our county, but unless things change quickly, this could be a tough year here on the peninsula. I entitled the message today, “Be encouraged… to live the Good life!” What do I mean by that?  What does it mean to live “the good life”? I’m glad you asked! As 21st century Americans we tend to think in terms of our comfort and security, and maybe having the health and financial resources to do the things we enjoy. In other parts of the world comfort and security might be a simple shelter over the head, enough food to not go to bed hungry. The global disruption caused by this pandemic has shaken some of our expectations.
       The Bible says that no matter what is happening around us, if we have true life in Christ, we can live the “good life,” as a child of God and as a kingdom citizen. We’ve looked before at the Hebrew word, tov, “good,” which was used repeatedly to describe the pre-fall creation in Genesis 1. However, human sin was evil (ra) and brought the curse, and so sin, suffering, hardship, and death spread to all (see Gen 3; Rom 5:12 ff). That was the first pandemic, and its effects were devastating! Jesus came as the One who was truly “good,” in His undiminished deity and in His sinless humanity, to give His life, to make it possible for all who will believe to be rescued from wrath, and to have true life, the good life, the abundant life for which we were created. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.
      This section of First Thessalonians really began back in 4:1 which initiated a series of practical admonitions for Christian living. As you read it, note a few of the key words and ideas that are repeated right here in our passage…
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;  6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
In this series of admonitions at the end of this letter we come today to First Thessalonians 5:19-22 which says, 
19 Do not quench the Spirit.  20 Do not despise prophecies,  21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.  22 Abstain from every form of evil.
The parallels seem clear enough: So, don’t quench the Spirit, because that would be disregarding not man but God. And don’t despise prophecies. Why? Because you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. And hold fast to what is good… abstain from every form of evil, because God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. The intervening teaching in chapters 4 and 5 flesh out those same ideas in terms of the challenges being faced by the Thessalonian believers. The application to the Thessalonians and to us can be summarized in…
The Maine* Idea: God has given us His Word to guide us, and His Spirit to empower us to live the “good” life!
I. Submit to the Holy Spirit (19). “Do not quench the Spirit…” Someone mentioned in our Wednesday night meeting that this statement in First Thessalonians, Paul’s first letter, is basically the same idea that is stated positively in Paul’s last letter, in 2 Timothy 1:6,7, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,  7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” So we see those admonitions through the years of Paul’s ministry, from his first letter to his last, stated negatively, “Do not quench the Spirit…” and stated positively, “Fan into flame the gift of God…” Who is the Holy Spirit? If he is omnipotent, sovereign God, how can we possibly “quench” the Spirit? A helpful passage in response to both of those questions is Acts 5:1-10. Let’s read what happened…
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,  2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet.  3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?  4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."  5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.  6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.  7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8 And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much."  9 But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."  10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
The first thing we see is that the Spirit is a person. He can be lied to. We sometimes talk about the Spirit in Star Wars terms, “the force be with you” or something like that. No, the Spirit is God, the third person of the Trinity. The Bible teaches that God is triune, Father, Son, and Spirit, co-equal in power, sharing fully in the same divine essence. Is that a hard thing to grasp? It is for me! But I believe it, God is so much greater than us it should not be surprising that aspects of His nature are more than we can understand! The Spirit is God, to lie to Him is to lie to God.
       Notice also, that Ananias and Sapphira chose to agree together in this deception. Whatever their motives, perhaps because they coveted the response to the generosity of Barnabas in the preceding context, they conspired together to misrepresent their gift. But God is not mocked. Did their action “grieve the Holy Spirit”? We can be sure that sin always does. Did they “quench the Spirit” who no doubt was convicting them of their sin? Do not quench the Spirit, but rather, as Paul told the Ephesians, “…be filled with the Spirit…” Yield to His presence and power! That points to… the Maine* Idea: God has given us His Word to guide us, and His Spirit to empower us to live the “good” life!
II. Discern God’s Truth and Submit joyfully to it (20-21 a). “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything… This is one of those passages where we need to do our best to determine what it meant, to the original readers, in the apostolic age, when perhaps the very first of the New Testament documents was just being written, and then ask, what it means to us in our current situation, at this moment in redemptive history.
       In the apostolic age, the apostles had unique authority as the authorized representatives of Christ. As an ambassador represents the will of the government to foreign governments, so the apostles were the inspired spokesman of Jesus. They were “sent ones,” but sent with authority to speak in the name of Jesus, proclaiming the Good News of His death and resurrection, in fulfillment of the Scriptures, to Jews and to gentiles. And they spoke by the inspiration of God, as Peter said in 2 Peter 1:21, For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So, as God’s spokesmen, as the representatives of Christ, they traveled, they preached and taught, they appointed elders in the churches, and eventually, they started writing down their message to the churches. First Thessalonians may have been the very first apostolic writing (though by this time, one of the Gospels may* have been written). During that period, since churches did not have the complete written New Testament, God gave direct revelation as he gifted prophets along with the Apostles. We read in Ephesians 4:11-14,   
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
F.F. Bruce defined prophecy as “…the declaration of the mind of God in the power of the Spirit…” These spokesmen for God were gifts to the church to supernaturally provide the revelation and stability that was needed to grow to maturity. It was one means by which Jesus was building His church. When Paul ministered among the Thessalonians, they received his message on those terms. Paul said as much in 1 Thessalonians 2:13,   
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
It may be that in the absence of Paul and the missionary team, some who were questioning, or even rejecting, this special revelation. Paul’s warning is paraphrased by J.B. Philips: “Never despise what is spoken in the name of the Lord.” Is that to say we blindly accept whatever claims to be from God?  V.21a says you don’t despise it, by you “test everything.
       This one place where we need to carefully discern what is different between then and now. Most obviously, today, we have the completed canon of Scripture, the entire Bible, 66 books, Old and New Testament. That is the sufficient and complete revelation from God. Our job is to study it, to discern the teaching, and to apply it in our hearts and lives. By the way, that is why I am committed to the systematic exposition of the Bible. I am not a comedian or an entertainer, I need to let the Bible speak, because that is the Word of God.
       Therefore “do not despise prophecies… “…but test everything… Remember Paul’s experience when he left Thessalonica. We read about it in Acts 17:10-11…
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.  11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
The missionary team left Thessalonica under duress and traveled south to Berea. As was their practice, they went first to the synagogue and began preaching Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic hope. These “noble minded” Jews listened, and daily examined the Scriptures, testing what Paul was preaching, to see if these things were so. Now as Paul writes to the Thessalonians, where the Jews were not so noble minded, he is essentially telling them to do the same thing, to test the messages that purport to come from God against what they know, what is written in the Scripture and what had been given them through the apostolic teaching.
       Therefore, the first and most obvious “test” is conformity to the revealed Word of God. Does this teaching agree with what we know God has said in the rest of the Bible? God will not contradict Himself. He does not change. Truth is truth. Though the Bible was written by many different people over 1600 years or so, God is the ultimate Author of it all. This is also why it is usually not a good idea to take a verse isolated from the rest of Scripture and to build a doctrine or practice around it. It needs to be interpreted in the light of the whole Bible. By the way, that means we need to be reading the whole Bible! Be a Berean, test what you hear against the rest of Scripture.
       Another test is what the teaching says about the person and work of Jesus. Does it deny His deity? Does it diminish His humanity? Does it distort the Gospel? These are fundamentals that must be guarded.
       It seems to me that there is a subjective element as well. Remember when Jesus said, in John 10:27, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Believers “hear” the voice of Jesus, that is, they recognize it and respond to it.  I put this third because it is most easily misapplied. If someone is not attuned to God’s word, if they have grown cold spiritually, they can start to get dull of hearing.
       From my days of operating heavy equipment, I have had some damage to my hearing, most annoying is a condition known as tinnitus, which for me, is a constant buzzing sound. I used to liken it to the sound in the summer, when you are out near the woods, and can hear the sounds of the forest. I say “used to,” since I can hardly hear the sounds of the forest now because of the tinnitus! I tried to describe it to my doctor and she said, “So now you have your own personal rain forest!” Such compassion! I think we can get spiritual tinnitus as well, the “noise” of the world, “…the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions…” (I John 2:16) can begin to drown out the still, small, voice of God. We don’t hear Him like we did when we were walking more closely.  God’s Word is still true, and His Spirit is still there, convicting us and drawing us. Do we hear Him? We need to open our hearts and our ears to His voice. That points us to the Maine* Idea: God has given us His Word to guide us, and His Spirit to empower us to live the “good” life!
III. Live in the light of the truth, embracing the good will of God (21b-22). “…hold fast what is good.  22 Abstain from every form of evil.” This is essentially the application of doctrine that Paul encouraged in Romans 12:2 when he said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As God does His work in us, we discern and embrace His good will.
       In our series in Jonah we noted the contrast between the Hebrew idea of “good” and “evil.” The irony in that story was that Jonah, God’s prophet, seemed to struggle to discern good from evil, but the pagan sailors on the boat with Jonah, and then later the Ninevites, who heard and believed the Word, turned from evil and held fast to what was good!
       “…hold fast what is good…” That is, cling to the things that conform to God’s revealed truth, the things that are consistent with His character and His will for us. Remember, God is the measure of “good,” He is good and all that He does is good. Most people think they are “good” because they feel like they are better than some other people, but that is the wrong standard of measurement. I like the story Rick Warren told,
"Goodness can only be measured by God. God is the standard of goodness. If we compare ourselves to others we’re using the wrong measurement. If we determine goodness by what other people call good, we’re using the wrong standard. It’s like the little boy who came to his mother and said, “Mommy, I’m eight feet tall.” She said, “You are?” “Yes,” he insisted, “I am eight feet tall.” His mother asked what he measured himself with, and he pulled out a six-inch ruler."
What measure are we using? Only God is intrinsically good, we do good to the degree that we reflect God’s will in our lives and actions. I think “holding fast to what is good” refers back to the prophecies, the proclamations, that are discerned to be from God. It seems to extend as well to the proceeding verses (rejoice, pray, give thanks!), in fact to this entire epistle, to lay hold of the positive admonitions for Christian living.
       “…abstain from every form of evil…” Or in the language of Romans, “…don’t be conformed to the world… There is such as a thing as absolute truth, there are absolutes of right and wrong. It is not simply what the majority says or what is culturally acceptable. Those things change. But God is good, and He is immutable, Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Sin is choosing my will over God’s will. It is going the way of Jonah, who knew what God asked, what he required of him, but choosing to do a “180” and go in the opposite direction, to choose what I want to do instead of obeying God. Paul says, “Say no to sin! Abstain from evil!”
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Maine* Idea: God has given us His Word to guide us, and His Spirit to empower us to live the “good” life!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do not quench the Spirit.  20 Do not despise prophecies,  21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.  22 Abstain from every form of evil.  Do you hear the Shepherd’s voice in those words? Will you follow Him?
       When Jesus was preparing the disciples for His departure, he said in the Upper Room that when He left, He would send the Comforter, the Parakletos, the Holy Spirit. He was with them for 40 days after the resurrection, before His ascension. Before they could begin the mission He was entrusting to them, He told them in, Acts 1:4-5, “…not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me;  5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Why the delay between His departure that day, and the sending of the Spirit ten days later? They needed to understand that this mission could not be carried out in their strength and ingenuity. They need the presence and the power of the Spirit. Friends, that is still true today. The Christian life and the Mission of God are not difficult to carry out, they are impossible in our strength. But with God nothing is impossible! So, do not quench the Spirit, but be filled with the Spirit, walk in the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies, but let the Word of Christ dwell richly within you. Be Bereans, hear the Word and but test everything; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil.  God’s way is best, that is why Jesus came, so that we could have life, and have it more abundantly!     AMEN.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day 2020

Mother: our First and Greatest Teacher
Proverbs 1:7-9; 31:30; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14,15
Introduction: Mother’s Day is a secular holiday, but it is appropriate for us to honor a relationship created and blessed by God. The struggle I have as a pastor, is that this day evokes such a wide variety of emotions from us. Some of you were blessed by the example of a godly mother, and it is a joy to focus of those wonderful memories that impacted you so deeply. For others, those memories may be more difficult. It occurs  to me that many elderly mothers may not be able to see their children today because of this lockdown. As best as we are able, we are told by God to honor our father and our mother. That is not a suggestion! 
       My own mother wasn’t a believer in my youth (she came to faith later in life), but her faithful care of her family, including 7 children, was evidence of God’s common grace working through her. Others may have more difficult, or even painful memories of their upbringing. Each family is different, some have a houseful of godly children. Others are pained by a prodigal that is far from the Lord. Some have struggled with infertility, others have never married. Too many are pained by memories of miscarriages or even an abortion earlier in life. You get the picture? We need to be sensitive to the people around us. Mother’s day can evoke a wide range of feelings. To every lady I would say, you are loved by God, and He has given you an important role in His church, His family.
       In our church, we have tried to emphasize the role all women can have, whatever their past experiences, as part of the church family, in impacting younger women, and in partnering with parents through the ministries and relationships in the church, and so helping to influence the next generation for the Lord. In this message today, I will refer to the end of Romans, where Paul is giving a “shout out” to various acquaintances in the Roman church, he mentions the mother of Rufus, who he says was like a mother to him as well. Whatever the example we had from our own mothers, the best moments, the sacrificial love, the fierce protectiveness, the longing for her children to be safe, to learn and to grow, I think those moments reflect God’s design, and the kind of disciple-making impact a mother can have on her children.  And so, we honor our mothers.
       It’s been well said, “The lessons learned in the cradle go all the way to the grave.” I remember the story of a London editor trying to organize a list of Winston Churchill’s teachers through the years. He sent the list to the statesman for his approval, but Churchill looked at it and said “You have omitted the mention of my greatest teacher. My mother!
       I thought about how a message on this day can honor mothers, and at the same time hold forth the Gospel, and lift up the name of the Lord. That is what we want to do as a church, right? Glorify Jesus, and point people to Him. Well, think about it: our mission is to make disciples, to influence people toward faith, and to teach them the things of the Lord. Christian mothers do exactly that. Mothers are our first, and potentially, our greatest teachers. A mother’s faith can impact her children in their earliest, most teachable moments, and her prayers will reach the One who can turn their hearts homeward. We’ll look at several texts, my approach today will be more topical than expository, but I hope you’ll see the impact a Christian mom can have as a disciple maker.
The Maine Idea: Mothers have a God-given opportunity and a Great Commission calling to disciple their children for the Lord.
I. Consistent Teaching: Mothers are our first and greatest teachers (Prov 1:7-9; 2 Tim 1:5). The idea of “wisdom” in the Bible, is at it’s core a spiritual commitment to Truth that results in right living. Let’s read the opening verses of the Book of Proverbs…
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:  2 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight,  3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity;  4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth-  5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,  6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.  7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.  8 Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching,  9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.
      Where do we get the kind of wise instruction that Proverbs is urging us to seek? What is the foundation?  It needs to start with “the fear of the Lord,” a deep and sincere reverence for God, and it comes from the instruction of believing parents in the home. Read verse 8 again, 
“…Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching...  
While the responsibility goes to both parents (and the command is to the child to listen!) the plain truth is that mothers, by virtue of the time and opportunity they have to teach and guide their children usually have the greatest impact on them, especially when they are young. A disciple is literally a “learner.” As Churchill famously said, “If we want to change our nation, begin by enlisting the mothers.” The “world” offers powerful temptations to our children and poses tremendous obstacles to faith, but a godly mother, by word and example, can lay a solid foundation and guide them toward the truth.  Many great leaders throughout history have acknowledged the influence that their mother had on them...
     - George Washington said: "My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her."     
     - Abraham Lincoln: “All that I am, and all that I ever hope to be I owe to my mother…”  He also said, “…no man is poor when he has a godly mother.”     
     - Andrew JacksonThere never was a woman like her. She was gentle as a dove and brave as a lioness... The memory of my mother and her teachings were, after all, the only capital I had to start life with, and on that capital I have made my way.” 
        I like the story Laura Bush told on her husband, then president George W. Bush. They were visiting former president Bush and Barbara,
"George woke up at 6 A.M. as usual and went downstairs to get a cup of coffee," Laura says. "And he sat down on the sofa with his parents and put his feet up. And all of a sudden, Barbara Bush yelled, 'Put your feet down!
"George's dad replied, 'For goodness' sake, Barbara, he's the President of the United States.'
"And Barbara said, 'I don't care. I’m his mother and I don't want his feet on my table.'"
The president promptly did as he was told, for as Mrs. Bush observes, "Even Presidents have to listen to their Mothers.”
We can certainly agree that the early teaching of a mother has a key role in the formation of her children, including laying a foundation for their spiritual formation. It is interesting that as far as I can tell, the apostle Paul does not mention his own mother in his writings. But we do read this in Romans 16:13, 
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.” 
Among all the acquaintances to whom he sends greetings to the church in Rome, is the mother of Rufus, who was also, according to Paul, a mother to him. It is possible that Rufus was the son of Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross of Jesus In Mark 15:21 Simon is identified as “the father of Alexander and Rufus,” which implies those men were known to the Roman church. Excuse me if I engage in some sanctified speculation. Could it be that Simon came to faith, and when he returned home he won his wife to the Lord? Did Simon then win his sons, or was it his wife who led them to Christ? Speculation, but maybe. In any case, the mother of Rufus, was known to Paul, and she had been like a mother to him. We can have relationships like that in the church, and they can be cross-generational: caring, loving, encouraging, building each other up. 
       A believing mother can have that kind of influence on her children. 2 Timothy 1:5 alludes to Timothy’s spiritual lineage, 
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”
Timothy’s father was Greek rather than Jewish, and the fact that he is not mentioned here as part of Timothy’s spiritual lineage would seem to imply that he was an unbeliever. Just as Lois (Timothy’s grandmother) had impacted Eunice (Timothy’s mother), their faith and faithfulness had impacted Timothy since his childhood.  There may be encouragement here for single parents, and for those who don’t have the enthusiastic support of a spouse in teaching the Word to their children: God knows your situation, and loves your child even more than you do. Be faithful, do your best with the time you have and prayerfully seek to sow the seeds of truth into the lives of your kids. Devote yourself to prayer. And trust God to bring the increase. Mothers are our first and greatest teachers, because a mother’s faith can impact her children in their earliest, most teachable moments. The Maine Idea: Mothers have a God-given opportunity and a Great Commission calling to disciple their children for the Lord. So, the they teach consistently, specifically…
II. Consistent teaching of the Truth - The Gospel is the most Precious Truth she can impart (2 Tim 3:14,15).
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it  15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
       Godly mothers teach the Bible: Here we see the example of Eunice and Lois.  The key truth here is that Timothy had the example of a mother, and a grandmother, who knew that the Scriptures pointed to Jesus, our Savior, the promised Messiah. The Bible is the Word of God, through it we know God, and we learn what He expects of us.  I read the story of a little girl sitting next to her mother in church. Mom had an open Bible on her lap. The little girl looked closely and then asked, “Did God really write that?” Her mother answered, “Yes dear, He did!” Then the little girl responded, “Wow, he has really neat handwriting!” Oh well.
       A woman of faith is in the Bible, internalizing it, and looking for opportunities to teach it to their children. And we in the church, come in alongside of parents, as a help in that process. Mary Ann and I, and I know many of you, miss our Sunday School and WOL Olympian program. Mary Ann has often talked about how some kids in her Sunday School class, and some in the Olympian group, are learning the Bible at home. Sometimes we’ll start teaching a Bible story, and a few of the kids chime right in, recalling what they have already heard and learned. These are seeds that God can use to mold a life for eternity.
       A believing mother teaches the Bible from the perspective of faith.  This is important. The faith that Timothy embraced was the faith that first dwelt in his mother and grandmother.  Your kids will see how seriously you take the Bible. Do you treat it like the Word of God? Or is it just a book of stories? Do you value it, and get excited about the lessons that God is teaching you?  That excitement is contagious!
       She teaches by word and example.  Our life, and particularly the life of a believing mother, will be a constant reinforcement of the teaching we would want to pass on to the next generation.  By what they teach and model, moms help develop the character and faith of her children. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.  Notice 2 Timothy  3:15, “...from childhood you have known the holy scriptures…” Archbishop Leighton said “fill the bushel with good wheat and there will be no room for chaff and rubbish.” The world will offer plenty of garbage, we need to take responsibility as Christian families and as the Church helping our families, to add the good wheat!  Kids are like little sponges, and that can go two ways: Cardinal Wolsey spoke of Henry 8th and said, “Be well advised and assured what you put in his head, for you shall never pull it out again.” Mothers are our first and greatest teachers. A mother’s faith can impact her children in their earliest, most teachable moments. The Maine Idea: Mothers have a God-given opportunity and a Great Commission calling to disciple their children for the Lord. 
III. Persistent Prayer: may be the most enduring tool a mother can use to impact the life of her children.  The passages we’ve highlighted don’t specifically mention prayer, but it is such a fundamental part of our faith it is assumed. The privilege of prayer is a foundational element of our faith. Last week we looked at a series of exhortations Paul gave in I Thessalonians 5:16-18. He said in v.17, “…pray without ceasing...” It doesn’t mean you are praying 24/7, but it does imply consistent, ongoing prayer. That persistent prayer is part of a mother’s impact of the life of her children. Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, said “I cannot tell how much I owe to the prayers of my good mother.”
       Prayer motivated by love – There is nothing selfish in a mother’s prayers, the motivation is an intense desire for her children to experience God’s best.  We want our kids to avoid some of the mistakes and the hard lessons we’ve learned. And so godly moms pray without ceasing
       Prayer that teaches by example – One of the amazing lessons about prayer in the New Testament is that Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, and He also shows them, by going apart at key moments of his life and ministry, and praying. He taught his disciples, and us, by word and example. Prayerfulness is one of those lessons that is better caught than taught.  Some of the kids in our church, young kids, like to pray. They aren’t just getting that here! It’s what they are seeing at home. How many mothers, day by day, and sometimes hour by hour or minute by minute, are offering up prayers for their children? 
       Prayer that never ceases – It doesn’t stop when they leave nursery, or when they graduate from High School.  It doesn’t end when they go to college or leave the nest. In fact, if you have a believing mother who is still alive, I can almost guarantee that she is still praying for you daily! My paternal grandmother was widowed at the age of 29, when her husband, my grandfather, was killed in a coal mine cave-in. She was pregnant with her sixth child, my father. She came to faith in Christ the summer before, in 1929, around the beginning of the Great Depression. After I came to faith, about 50 years after she did, I drove my motorcycle down to Kentucky to visit her. She told me that she had prayed for her six children, their spouses, and her grandchildren, every day. Maybe in eternity we’ll know the results of the prayers of Godly mothers!
       You remember the story of the Prodigal Son? The Father, the Prodigal, and the Older son are the main characters in the story Jesus told. But that story has been lived out a thousand times in the lives of real families, (and in some of your families!) and a mother’s persistent, unrelenting prayer is almost always a factor that God uses to bring back a wandering sheep. Christian mothers have a God-given opportunity and a Great Commission calling to disciple their children for the Lord. 
IV.  The Goal of making disciples is to lead someone to a point that they can impact others for the Lord. Remember when Paul said to Timothy, “The things you have heard from me… those entrust to faithful men who will teach others also…” (2 Tim 2:2). That is essentially what a godly mother is doing. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  That is not a guarantee that every child of a believer will come to faith, but it is a principle that we can rely on. Yes, the lessons learned in the cradle go all the way to the grave. It is a blessing to us to see our daughter and son-in-law raising their children in the way of the Lord. 
       In a context of announcing impending judgement we read in Joel 1:3,Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” Disciples making disciples, in the family! It’s the same principle, teach your children, so that they can teach their children. That is basically the 2 Timothy 2:2 paradigm, “The things that you have heard from me… these entrust to faithful men...” Tell your children, so they can tell their children, and them, theirs… If the family is the building block of the church, it makes sense that it is also a small unit that should carry out the church’s mission!
       Notice that Paul mentions not only Timothy’s mother, Eunice, but also his grandmother, Lois.  In referring to the faith of Timothy, it seemed important enough for Paul to mention two generations of believers in that family.  As a godly mother by word and example teaches her children, she is potentially affecting not only them, but also their children and grandchildren.  And think of the lives that Timothy touched! Paul was himself encouraged by Timothy, and the letters that Paul wrote to Timothy have encouraged the church for nearly 20 centuries.  May those who come behind us find us faithful!
What is God saying to me in this text? Christian mothers have a God-given opportunity, and a Great Commission calling, to disciple their children for the Lord. 
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Mothers’ day can be a time of mixed emotions. Whatever your history or your situation, God’s mercies are new every morning – He is faithful.  Jesus came because all is not right in the world! Every woman can encourage younger women, and can also use her gifts to help reach and disciple children for the Lord, even as they serve in the ministries of the church.
        If you had the example of a godly mother, be thankful for her – if she is still alive make sure to thank her today.  If you are a parent and have a prodigal, know that he or she is responsible for their own choices: Proverbs 1:8 says “Hear my son your Father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching…” The very fact that that admonition is given indicates it is possible to ignore, at least for a time, sound teaching and a good example. 
       If you have a prodigal, don’t despair, pray. Be an example, love them, entrust them to God, and yes, keep praying.  Know that God is with you, and that He wants the best for your child. The words of Paul come to mind, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord…” (I Cor 15:58). Think about it: our mission is to make disciples, to influence people toward faith, and to teach them the things of the Lord. Christian mothers can do exactly that, and profoundly impact the lives of their children! Mothers have a God-given opportunity, and a Great Commission calling, to disciple their children for the Lord. Ladies, God bless you, every one of you, and thank you for your role in your family, and in the church. AMEN.