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Life On Purpose

Read This Week: 2 Thessalonians 3

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you, yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7 NIV

When we hear the phrase on purpose, we tend to equate that to something negative. We tend to think of it as doing something wrong with forethought or intent. Like a person mistreating someone on purpose or committing a crime on purpose or a child being mean to their sibling on purpose. But the idea of living on purpose is different. It is an incredibly positive thing. In fact, knowing our purpose is vital to living on mission with God and to experiencing the life He intended for us.

Paul concludes his letter to the Thessalonians talking about purpose. He makes it clear that it is measured by doing what God has called us to do. He is communicating to them and us that the only way we can know our purpose is to know and walk closely with God, who has created and destined us for it. Experiencing and doing life with God is the way our purpose is made known. Experience God, and you will discover your purpose.

Paul starts with an encouragement to pray. He asks them to pray for “the message of the Lord to spread rapidly and be honored”, for protection from bad people, and for them to be strengthened and have confidence in their work. Before he talks to them about how to continue living with purpose, he calls them to prayer.

Being prayerful is being purposeful. There is a deepening both vertically and horizontally when we pray. As we grow closer to God, we are inevitably growing closer to others who are doing life with God. In Jesus’ model prayer, he said, “Our Father in Heaven,” indicating that prayer is community with the Lord and one another. A purposeful life is one that is connected in fellowship to God and other people. Charles Spurgeon once said, “You cannot tell how much God’s servants are helped by the prayers of his people. The strongest person will be better for the prayers of the weakest believer.”

However, Paul goes on to state that people living on purpose should use discernment in who they affiliate with. He says in verse 6, “keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” We should avoid being that person or being influenced by people who have an unhealthy personal agenda. An agenda that is distracting to spiritual growth and the cause of Christ. This type of selfish ambition leads to the loss of efficiency, the devaluing of people and the minimization of objective truth for personal desire. Some people’s agenda isn’t always God’s agenda. Avoid these people on purpose.

2 Thessalonians 3 also warns that an idle person is not only disruptive but lazy and interfering. It says in verse 11 that “they are not busy; they are busybodies.” Someone living with purpose is not slothful with no motivation other than to be up in everybody else’s business. Paul made it clear to them and to us that followers of Jesus are to be about the mission, conscientious and looking to accomplish their work. A purposeful life is one of initiative; a servant with the integrity, energy and aptitude to take action for the glory of God and the good of others.

Lastly, a person living on purpose listens more than they talk. They listen, really listen to instruction and are teachable in their spirit. We are to be an active listener and a passive speaker. We don’t know it all and we never will no matter what the self-interested voice in our heads tell us throughout the day. The know-it-all who is unteachable is not a purposeful individual. A life of purpose is one that listens, absorbs and follows instruction. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow. That’s how we live on purpose and “never tire of doing what is good.”

Hang In There

Read This Week: 2 Thessalonians 2

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
– 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 NIV

Have you ever watched a sporting event where one team is getting beaten badly for the majority of the game and at some point, the momentum shifts and they begin an unbelievable comeback? Comebacks make for incredible stories, but there is one aspect of them that often goes unnoticed. The aspect of the people who leave the game too early and miss it. The people who don’t hang in there. The people who leave before it is over.

These scenarios also exist in life. Hanging in there at sporting events and in life seems to be a thing of the past. We exist in this emotional polarization. We scramble for the door when things are going bad because we’re deterred by the pain of struggle and we walk away when things are going well because we’re never satisfied. What lies in the middle of this manic tendency of departure are some good ballgames, moments of life and times with God that enrich, inform and even thrill.

Paul is teaching the value of hanging in there in 2 Thessalonians 2. He is concerned in verse 2 that the Thessalonians are getting “unsettled and alarmed” by negative things that are happening. He sees them losing confidence in the team and wavering in their stability as times are getting harder. Perhaps he could even sense that they might walk away or leave too early.

The Apostle is reflecting the truth about God and his work through the church to remove their confusion and fear that could cause them to walk away from their mission. He says, “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” He is telling them and us to hold on to God’s word. Hold on to something timeless, stable and trustworthy when you’re not sure about the future or what’s going to happen. Hang in there. Don’t leave too soon.

If we hang in there with God, we might get to see something exciting on our journey. When we leave a game too early, we miss all the action, compelling drama, and excitement. We make flawed projections about how things are going to turn out and consequently forfeit all the enjoyment that could be just around the corner. 2 Thessalonians 2 describes the excitement of life with God as “sharing in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We often leave looking for the next adventure and pass by the greatest one that is right in front of us.

If we hang in there with God, we might actually learn something. If we’ll stay in some situations in life, we may learn valuable things about the heart of God, ourselves and others that could benefit us in the future. We might learn that we can tolerate an onslaught of challenges. We might discover that we can take advantage of opportunities to win even though our backs are against the wall. We can identify additional strengths and weaknesses and gain a little context for the rest of our lives. We might even learn to grow up.

If we hang in there with God, we will appreciate the good times more. Success can be a sinister thing. It is a tease that makes misleading promises that it will always be around. People that leave early during success are either fooled by it or they’ve yet to experience what it feels like to collapse. If we stick around for some hard-fought victories in life, we’ll have a greater appreciation for success when it is not there. Sticking it out has never failed in the instruction of how to maintain achievement over the long haul.

2 Thessalonians shows us the beauty of the gospel and how it is worth hanging in there for. It is the good news that Jesus Christ came into the world to die for hopeless sinners and through the gospel, God gives us overcoming power. Staying power in the face of long odds, opposition, false belief and the human tendency to leave too soon.

Resilience

Read This Week: 2 Thessalonians 1

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches, we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result, you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. – 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5 NIV

Suffering is an inevitable part of life and the human condition that we naturally want to avoid. Yet, it is through suffering that we often grow the deepest, discover the most about ourselves, and solidify our mettle. If we are humble and teachable, hard times can produce character and build into our fabric the qualities of endurance, faith, and resilience. These are all positive and vitalizing outcomes gifted to us through pain.

In the Bible, suffering is seemingly always tied to spiritual growth and that is what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians. He wants them to understand that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life and that God sees them as worthy to endure it. God makes us worthy through the gospel to walk through trials and supplies the resilience we need to keep going.

People who are resilient live by their call to follow God amid their suffering. They believe that the Lord will take care of them no matter the circumstances. They don’t steer from the path and are resolute in surviving the onslaught of problems that arise in life. Paul also tells us in Philippians 1:6 that the call on our lives is initiated by God and will be carried out and completed according to his will. It is God who initiates the call and He will finish what he started. We can trust that and allow it to gives us the resolve we need to keep going.

Paul is not naive about the situation in 2 Thessalonians 1. He knew of their suffering but it wasn’t because they were complaining about it. It was because of the testimony of their resilience. Resilient people are never complainers or whiners. They shed tears over tough things, but it doesn’t stop them. We may cry over what is breaking our heart, yet still, be considered resilient. Sorrow does not imply surrender. Sometimes life becomes overwhelming to the point that it provokes a variety of emotional expressions but none of those expressions have to involve giving up.

The Psalmist often wept over his own plight and various troubles but he always ended such rants with steadfastness and praise to God. A resilient person’s eyes may well up with tears but their hearts are filled with courage and their mouths with admiration for the strength God gives. Think about this the next time you are going through a storm, resilience equals crying as much as you need to while staying the course.

A resilient life is one that is not only aware of trials and suffering but understands that the hard times are an indicator of belonging to God’s kingdom and life with Him. Resilient people stay true to their calling through all the seasons of life, crying some along the way but never, ever quitting. That type of life and those type of people are worthy.

A Person of Impact

Read This Week: 1 Thessalonians 5

But you, brothers and sisters, are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Live in peace with each other, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 5

Everyone wants to make a difference in their life. Everyone, no matter who you are or where you’re from, wants to leave a legacy. Everyone wants to make a positive impact on the world. The content of 1 Thessalonians 5 contains various elements needed to become a person of impact and from this passage, here are 5 things that impactful people do:

Know Their Identity
After reminding them to be ready for Jesus’ return and how that should inform their lives, Paul simply told the Thessalonians to be who they are. Be the people of light that God made them in Christ. The time when they were in darkness and about the things of the night, is in the past. Impactful people know this truth. They know their great purpose in Christ, they don’t go back to the behavior that will weaken and nullify their influence, and they live up to what God created them to be.

Trust God
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they can trust God. He is trustworthy. He doesn’t lie and his word is real and sufficient for life. Impactful people know this too and their contagious, unshakeable confidence comes from their trust in his promises no matter what challenges or circumstances come their way.

Do Good Things
Impactful people work hard and do good things. They don’t get even with people who’ve done them wrong. They aren’t disruptive to others, but instead, encourage and build them up. They manage time well so that their gifts, abilities, passions, and experiences can be used for the glory of God, the good of others and for their own joy.

Get the Most Out of Life
Instead of obsessing over the circumstances they don’t have, difference makers get the most out of the ones they do. They live in peace and put their focus on doing good things in their current place and maximizing opportunities at the moment. They embrace the things that God desires for them and reject that which is unhealthy and destructive.

Are Faithful
Everyone starts well but impactful people finish well. They have what the author, Eugene Peterson calls “long obedience in the same direction” or better known as faithfulness. Paul says in verse 24 that the One who calls you is faithful and will bring all things to completion. A person of real influence allows the knowledge of this truth to carry them through life with patience and faithfulness to their work, relationships and walk with God.

May we strive for these characteristics to be true of us and underwrite every endeavor we attempt so our lives can be impactful.

Quiet Not Desperate

Read This Week: 1 Thessalonians 4

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and mind your own business. – 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 11

The essayist, Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is a deep thought that captures the imagination. Thoreau was observing the nature of a hectic life and how busyness, important meetings, and narcissistic pursuits serve to make the human heart sick, desperate and left wanting.

He maintained that in spite of the look of importance and purpose, people are silently unfulfilled and have to run to things, adventures, relationships and other environments in search of meaning. He was right. The grind and things we try to fill our lives with have a tendency to make us quietly desperate people.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul tells us that a life that pleases God and is filled with His love can be quiet but not desperate. He wanted the Thessalonians and us to know that being a Christian means to bring every aspect of our lives, including the work we do and the margin we have, in sync with God’s will. This way, our desires, ambitions, and purposes are wrapped up in glorifying God, expressing our love for him and others, and increasing our joy.

When Paul uses the phrase “a quiet life” he means to be at peace and to not be concerned with running here and there trying to get into things that will bring significance or happiness. Jesus also taught this in Matthew 16. He asserted that there is nothing more important than our souls and their relationship with God. This should always take precedence over the frantic attempt to gain the whole world and be busy. Paul suggests that a quiet life centered on Christ and his love is the best avenue to preserving our soul and bringing glory to Him.

When we pursue God, he fills our lives with richness, beauty, wonder, and truth while replacing the pale, emotional yearnings incited by the rat race. Quiet desperation involved in pursuing what is temporary, fleeting and finite is not adequate to satisfy the longing of the human spirit. Only God has the capacity to fill that void. In this eternal perspective, life can be quiet in pursuit of God but it doesn’t have to be desperate.

When we have a vibrant relationship with Christ, desperation becomes confident hope. I don’t remember Thoreau writing about that.

Friend Me

Read This Week: 1 Thessalonians 3

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. – 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

Going through trials in life can be a beautiful paradox. It is strangely difficult on one hand but helpful and enlightening on the other. God never fails to teach even when we’d like for him to choose other means and he always seems to bring people to help, give us strength and make the hard times more bearable.

It is true that hard times show who our real friends are and this truth typically points out those that couldn’t hang with us. But tough times can also uncover a few friends that we didn’t expect, a person or two that we didn’t see coming. People that step up when we need it most. Gaining an unexpected friend is like finding a hidden treasure.

Paul is talking about this very thing in 1 Thessalonians 3. He wanted to comfort the Thessalonians in their lives, challenges and faith so he sent them an encourager, a friend. He sacrificed his own relational needs and time with Timothy to make sure they had leadership and found encouragement in their various trials. He did this because he loved them and that is what we should do for each other. We should be willing to disregard our own conveniences, desires, and self-interest to make sure those we care about are lifted up.

This doesn’t just happen on its own though. We have to be committed to each other; invested in the messy work of relationships. We have to take the stance of Paul who saw the greater value of seeing others lifted up more than his own This is essential as life becomes more complex and the challenges become more intense. We need everyone.

All the references to the church in its context in the N.T. are communal and are applied to everyone in the Body. Through Jesus, people of all backgrounds, races, cultures, talents, gifts, and experiences are united for His glory and purposes. We were never meant to do this alone. So friend someone today and let’s do this together.

Not Professional

Read This Week: 1 Thessalonians 2

On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 13

The phrase “professional Christian” is used to explain the faith walk of those who say they know Christ but consistently display a stark contrast to the person of Jesus and his teachings. It describes someone who can talk a big game but doesn’t match it with action. A professional Christian is more about doing things than being someone.

Paul was making this point in 1 Thessalonians 2 because people were claiming that he and his friends were preaching the gospel for personal gain and notoriety. He protects the integrity of the work they were doing by proving he was not a professional Christian. He had not merely acquired knowledge of an occupation nor was he doing it as a job. The change in his life was profound and these verses show clearly that Paul and his team never ministered for personal gain or self-centered pursuits. They were real, authentic, and operated out of their relationship with Jesus as they rested in the truth and power of God’s Word.

We have to constantly check ourselves like Paul especially in the face of a world that is skeptical of us but still desperately needs Christ. We should know God’s word, not for the purposes of looking smart, but so it will change us and inform our lives. So it will also help us avoid using harmful clichés that distort and restrict the truth.

We shouldn’t be looking to gain certain information about God so we can follow a faith system that will benefit us in this life. We are not to be professional Christians that use religious language and posture at social functions to impress people. We should be without pretense and consistent with what we do when no one is watching.

If our faith is real we won’t quote the moral, relational and ethical teachings of Christ while being dishonest and abusive in every arena. We won’t throw out terms like prayer, God’s will, and grace to justify poor or hasty decisions, bad behavior, and sin. We won’t exploit tragedy or religious things for monetary or political gain. We won’t talk about the problems in the world, the church, with other Christians and neighbors but deflect and avoid perceivable issues in ourselves. We won’t call obedience and Scriptural responsibility, legalism while embracing traditions, rules, and icon worship when it suits our agenda. We won’t depend on family heritage and church affiliation to get into Heaven. We will understand the Gospel and how faith in Jesus saved us and can rescue others.

This is what Jesus was praying for his followers in John 17:16-20. This is what he desires for us in this present day. He didn’t pray for us to be good at Christianity, he prayed for us to be faithful and obedient. He prayed for us to authentically follow him. He said, “They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is the truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”

Authentic Christianity results from the right relationship to God and his truth. If we are living out the Gospel, we won’t be dishonest, two-faced or a mere professional. We will try to please God with our lives more than people. We’ll be more like Jesus.

Energized

Read This Week: 1 Thessalonians 1

Recalling unceasingly before our God and Father your work energized by faith and service motivated by love and unwavering hope in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:3

Energy drinks, bars, packs, and even energy gummies are all the rage in our world. It seems we are just trying to stay awake, alert and motivated to do work, activities or just life in general. I remember I had an energy drink once and for about two hours, I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. However, in spite of the fact that it made my heart race, the energetic rush didn’t last. It faded quickly and left me feeling more tired than before.

We all need sustainable energy. A motivation that won’t fade away like a 5-hour swig of some berry drink. We need something that will last. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1 that his energy comes from seeing God’s work in the world and in the lives of other people. He expressed his gratitude as he thinks about the Thessalonians being energized by their faith to do good works and motivated by love to serve others, and allowing their hope to help them endure even as they are being persecuted. The energy they were getting just from their faith in God and His love was energizing Paul. Everyone was energized.

There is no greater energy drink than faith, love, and hope. Nothing gets us going like the belief in something transcendent that is far beyond ourselves. Nothing can pick us up like knowing the love of the Creator of the universe and also feeling it from other people. Nothing can motivate us like the hope of a future and eternal life.

These are sustainable energy sources and ones that cannot be stopped by anything tangible on earth. They also bring results in life that a temporary burst of energy cannot. The faith of the Thessalonians produced good work. Their love brought about productive labor and diligence. Their hope empowered them to be patient and gave them the endurance needed to not only survive hard times, but to be successful in the midst of them.

This is why Paul opens his letter with thanks to God for the news of their energized work of faith, acts of love and hopeful endurance. These are indications of energy that carries us through life and reveals a true relationship with God – the greatest source of energy on the planet.