A Committed Church

Paul gave thanks always for the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2). They were a joy of his. We can see in 1 Thessalonians 1 why they so profoundly impacted his heart. Chuck Swindoll, in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians, highlights how the people of God in Thessalonica had committed to three things: each other, non-believers, and Christ. We would do well to look at what their commitments entailed.

1. Commit To Stir Each Other On

If I am to live a life of faith, love, and hope like the believers in Thessalonica, I need help. I’m prone to discouragement. That is something that is engrained in me due to circumstances and sin and I’m constantly needing to work on that part of my heart. I don’t naturally live with vibrant hope. That’s where friends and fellow church members come in. In my years here in Vernon, I have been the recipient of words of affirmation that have helped me to keep going and to keep ministering. It’s likely that you need others too. It’s not weakness to need to be lifted up from time to time. Living life as a follower of Jesus is difficult in a fallen world. We need to encourage each other more than we do.

We need to be deeply committed to one another. We live in a culture of isolated nuclear families. That culture effects how we read the Scriptures and how we apply them. We are designed to be together. I’ve sought to break through some of this milieu by telling people that my home is open to anyone and everyone. I try and live a life of deep openness. In doing this my prayer is that people come to realize that one, pastors are normal men, and two, life is better when we’re walking through it together.

The church in Thessalonica was known for its works of faith, labors of love, and steadfastness of hope. If we want our churches to be known for the same things, we need to equip and empower one another to pursue those things.

2. Commit To Live In A Way That Draws Non-Christians In

The church in Thessalonica was known for its powerful response to the gospel.

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

The surrounding regions knew about the faith of these Thessalonian believers. That’s a powerful testimony.

It gets me thinking. Do my actions and way of life match up with what I claim to believe about Jesus? Are non-believers drawn into the community of faith I’m a part of because they see a man who is wholly different than them?

Or, do they see a man who claims to worship the King but fails to live for the King in certain areas of my life, either public or private.

My prayer is that I would be different.

Whenever I feel at home in our country, our culture, our community, it gives me pause. Yes, God has a purpose for me in any place I find myself. But I should never be too comfortable here. This isn’t my home. And if I never feel different or distinct or placeless, then I likely am not living in a way that is too different from those around me.

We as God’s people need to commit to live in such a way that draws others in.

3. Commit to Pursue Christ Rather Than Idols

The church in Thessalonica was also known for their turning from idolatry.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we have among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, – 1 Thessalonians 1:9

What are your idols?

It’s highly unlikely you have statues to other gods in your living room.

Idolatry in our modern church is much more insidious and subtle and dangerous.

A good diagnostic question to help you discover your idols is “what makes you the most angry?”

What posts on social media or news stories or conversations or circumstances get you riled up the quickest? At the heart of whatever it is is something you value. We get angry when that which we value or that which we love is threatened.

So what gets you angry?

I know for me it is typically revolving around respect. I’m an insecure man and when I feel like I’m not getting the respect I think I deserve, I get angry. This caused problems in my marriage early on, and still threatens to impact many of my relationships. I’ve had to realize that I idolize being respected and affirmed. So when I’m not, which is often, I can get heated. It doesn’t often come out in words, but it certainly fills my mind and heart and spirit. This is an idol I have to actively rid myself of.

The church in Thessalonica moved to the living and true God. They moved away from idolatry. They were committed to this endeavor.

Paul’s words urge us to be free from any and all entanglements that pull us away from the Savior. – Chuck Swindoll

This is easier said than done.

It’s painful.

It’s painful for me when I come face to face with the idols I’ve placed above God.

But on the other side of that pain is the joy of finding my security and identity in Christ.

The church in Thessalonica was committed to each other, the non-believers around them, and Christ.

May we do the same.

Wretched Idolatry

The Bible is not always as PG-rated as we would like to think. While teaching the Bible in a flippant manner is not good, I also think that there is a shock value in many Biblical texts that we are supposed to steep in rather than gloss over.

Here in February, I’ve been starting through the book of Jeremiah. This is a book of the Bible that I have never spent a ton of time in, but as part of God’s Word I know that it is useful for my training in righteousness. As I was reading through the first few chapters the last couple days, I’ve been caught totally off guard by the language it uses when talking about the idolatry of God’s people.

Through the lips of Jeremiah, God proclaims that the spiritual idolatry of His people is equivalent to whoredom.

You read that right.

Not only that, but the Lord goes on to use even more shocking imagery for the sins of His people.

In essence, Jeremiah 2-3 teaches us a few things about idolatry.

IDOLATRY IS ADULTERY

Idolatry is adultery. This imagery, this theme, is all throughout the Biblical story, most often seen in the prophets.

Look at the language that God uses through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 2-3.

This is what the Lord says: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. – Jeremiah 2:2

Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. – Jeremiah 2:20

You have lived as a prostitute with many lovers – would you now return to me?” – Jeremiah 3:1b

Then in the most stunning language we see this:

(you are) a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving – in her heat who can restrain her? – Jeremiah 2:24a

Why such abrasive and shocking language?

Because the reality of idolatry is deplorable.

God made a covenant with His people in the Old Testament, and although He rescued and redeemed them time and time again, they turned from Him and worshipped other gods. They were not faithful. All one has to do is read the Old Testament with even the slightest attention to idolatry and you will see that it seeps into almost every story. God’s people regularly and religiously pursued false gods of the other nations and false gods of their own creation.

What idols have you created? What fills your heart and mind besides the Lord?

IDOLATRY IS CONTAGIOUS

So we’ve seen in this passage that idolatry is equated to spiritual adultery.

Sadly, it gets worse. Jeremiah says that idolatry is contagious. According to Jeremiah 3:7-10, we see that the faithlessness of Israel leads Judah into sin as well.

When a country or community becomes dominated by idolatry, the idolatry starts to become the new normal. Idolatry can become the status quo, seeping into the very nature of the community.

How many of us find our confidence and security in our possessions? How many of us find our confidence and security in our government or military? How many of us find our confidence and security in our ability to follow man-made religious traditions? How many of us find our confidence and security in the praise of others?

All of the above are foolish.

Here’s a not-so-subtle form of idolatry I’ve found myself in: needing the praise of man.

There’s nothing wrong with desiring appreciation. That’s a natural desire. But when the praise of man becomes the source of energy, life, and joy in my heart, I’ve fallen into idolatry. One way the praise of man has become a contagion in our communities is through social media. Now, every person has the ability to speak up about practically anything. Now, we can parade our accomplishments before a litany of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ who will build us up with their likes, and if we’re lucky, their heart emojis.

This is all fine and dandy when the likes are coming.

It becomes discouraging when the likes run dry.

Even writing about this seems silly. Ultimately it is.

Social media gets us consistently and constantly comparing our lives to the lives of others, filling our minds with things that are neither pure nor lovely.

In a world of people-pleasing affirmation addicts, the idolatry of needing affirmation became contagious. I fall into it time and again.

WE CAN TURN FROM IDOLATRY

Here’s the good news. Both for me and for you if you too struggle with idolatry.

Jeremiah 3 has some profound words about the grace of God.

” ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever. . . . . . . . “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” – Jeremiah 3:12b, 22a

I’m not faithful to God. I’m a spiritual harlot. I’m a donkey in heat. Yet God says here in the book of Jeremiah that He will receive His people back to Him. This theme of God’s forgiveness and grace in the midst of our vile sins runs throughout the entire narrative of Scripture.

He is not angry forever. He relents from giving us what we deserve. He is faithful, even when we are not. He is powerful enough to cure us of our backsliding.

I backslide a lot.

Like a lot a lot.

Yet each time I return to the Lord, each time I limp my way back to Him, He is faithful to receive me and restore our relationship.

There is a way out of the idolatry you find yourself in, the idolatry that is ingrained in your psyche, the idolatry that is likely even culturally acceptable.

Return to the Lord, to your first love.

Lay your idols down at His feet.

Let your heart and mind be filled with praise for Him.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Modern Milcoms

Jesus Christ is either Lord of all my life or He is not Lord at all in my life.

Jesus either dictates every aspect of my life here on earth, or He doesn’t. In regards to lordship, there is no middle ground. I can’t give God my mornings in the Word and then refuse to seek His counsel in regards to finances, health, work, and play. I can’t claim that my life is a blank check on which God can call me to sacrifice in whatever way He sees fit and then respond with complaining and grumbling when what He’s calling me to doesn’t fit with my preconceived notions and plans.

Jesus Christ is either Lord of all my life or He is not Lord at all in my life.

The last couple days I’ve been super fascinated with the book of Zephaniah. This book paints a picture of God’s majesty and power that does truly produce a fear of God in me. God proclaims His ability to destroy everything on earth, but instead of enacting His just wrath, He extends mercy to those who humbly seek Him. As I was simply studying some of the details surrounding this short book, a passage in the first chapter struck me.

“I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests, those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” – Zephaniah 1:4-6

Wow. God’s anger was burning against His people. His people were deserving of wrath. What they were doing was submitting to the Lord by bowing down to Him. Yet they didn’t just bow down to Him and Him alone. Instead they chose to worship and bow down to the stars and to Milcom.

In the time of Zephaniah’s prophecy, Milcom was the national god of the Ammonites. This god was often worshiped via the practice of infant sacrifices. It was a deplorable practice and it was apparently being at least permitted by these people of God who chose to bow down to not just the Lord alone but also to the deities of the surrounding nations. It was as if God’s people were hedging their bets. It was as if God’s people were making sure that if God truly wasn’t in complete control then at least they will have appeased these other ‘gods’ that might in fact be real.

Reading this elicits in me a quick reaction of judgment. I look at the inhabitants of Jerusalem at the time of Zephaniah’s writing and think how in the world can you guys be so stupid. God has spoken to you countless times, proven His miraculous power left and right, and yet you all struggle with making Him Lord over all in your lives.

Then I take a real hard look in the mirror.

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There are modern-day idols all around us.

There are modern-day Milcoms. There are cultural idols that I can worship too. I’ve heard countless people say that usually what you’re thinking about at the very start of the day and the very end of the day is what you worship. Ouch. There are so many things that I worship besides just the Lord. To use the terminology of the passage here in Zephaniah, I ‘bow down’ to countless cultural idols.

I bow down to the need to be right in arguments. I bow down to the need to have complete comfort. I bow down to my finances as the dictators of how I give and how I live. I bow down to the obsession of having a relationship that is admired by others. I bow down to loving my neighbor without sharing with them the offensive truths of the gospel. I bow down to my wants. I bow down to wanting to make a name for myself that people will remember. I bow down to social media. I bow down to how social media says that I should live. I bow down to family. I bow down to friends. I bow down to the status quo.

The list could go on and on. We struggle to truly submit to Jesus’ lordship over our lives. Instead we allow countless other things to dictate how we live.

Jesus Christ is either Lord of all my life or He is not Lord at all in my life.

I pray that this blog post doesn’t drive anyone into feelings of condemnation. I pray instead that this blog post drives all of us into a convicting understanding of how we can better submit to Jesus as Lord in all aspects of our lives.

There is hope. Gospel hope. Hope in Christ.

Zephaniah chapter three shows us the hope.

On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord. – Zephaniah 3:11-12

The book of Zephaniah is filled with the promise that if we humble ourselves before God, He will show mercy.

Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all of our sins, even the sin of not submitting to Jesus as Lord. So if you’re struggling with submitting all of your life to God, know that God is waiting with open arms to receive you and cleanse you of your pride (the worship of idols is ultimately a pride issue because we create gods that submit to us).

In the coming year, allow Jesus to be the Lord of all in your life.

He is worthy of your worship.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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