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The Power of Faithful Living
08/13/2006
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2:17 - 3:13
Track 5 of 8 in the Transforming Story: As We Live It series
Running time: 38 minutes, 28 seconds.
Keith Ehresman delivers the monologue at the beginning.



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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


"Faithfulness"

When Gail and I attended Cherry Lane Christian Church in Meridian, Idaho this past May we encountered an old friend. Janet was from the congregation we served in Oregon in the early 1970's. It was such a delight to see her. She's been through some rough spots in her life. But she's back...attending worship...growing in her faith...trying to follow Jesus. What a delight!

Just the other day Keith received a phone call from Casey Bell in Taiwan. He, Molly, and the kids are doing well, in spite of some transitions in their ministry team. What a joy to hear of their faith and faithfullness.

Every week or so the staff received an email from the Hedbergs who lead our ministry team in visiting our shut-ins. We have several of our church family who are unable to attend services with us but who faithfully look forward to receiving the Lord's Supper and hearing from the congregation. Soon they will be able to listen to our services through the EverReady class's donation of digital recorders. What a blessing to know that for multiple decades these folks have loved and followed the Lord. What a privilege to serve our honored elderly.

Don't you just thrill at the idea of children walking in the Lord? Doesn't it cause you to rejoice knowing that your siblings love Jesus? Isn't it refreshing to know that your parents and grandparents have led the way to the foot of the cross? Isn't it exciting to see your friends standing in worship before Almighty God?

Scripture reminds us of a simple truth..."Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2). Friends, we have been given the privilege of knowing Jesus. Our responsibility is to be faithful to that trust.


Sermon for Sunday, August 13, 2006
5th sermon in an 8 part series
"The Power of Faithful Living"
"The Transforming Story: As We Live It"
(1 Thessalonians 2:17-20; 3:1-13)
Copyright 2006 G. Charles Sackett

August 13 , 2006 - The Power of Faithful Living

It was a white house on a small farm just outside a quaint little town. Maggie was the little girl who lived in that house and loved playing outside in her yard with her new puppy who she named Max. She loved to throw the ball as far as she could and cheer Max on as he rushed after it and brought it back to her to throw again. She would twirl around and around until she became so dizzy that she tumbled to the ground. Max would always be right there to lick her face, making her giggle uncontrollably. One day Maggie's mom came home with a brand new tree that they were going to plant in the back yard. Maggie was thrilled. She couldn't wait for that tree to get so big that she could sit in its shade and climb in its branches. Maggie's mom explained that it would take a long time for that tree to get big. They just needed to be patient and give it lots of water. So each day Maggie and Max would faithfully go outside in the afternoon with her watering pail and take care of that tree. Very slowly the tree started to grow, but so did Maggie. She grew older and didn't have the same desire to play outside and climb a tree. Soon she was finished with high school and moved away to college. She got married, had kids of her own, and moved farther and farther away from that white house on a small farm. Years later on a calm spring day Maggie came back to visit her family. As her mom greeted her with a hug she felt something brush up against her leg. "Hey, old friend," she said and kneeled down to pet Max's now-shaggy hair. "Where are my two granddaughters?" Maggie's mom asked. "I need to start to do some serious spoiling." " I think they took off for the back yard," Maggie replied. "Why don't we go out there and look?" So off they went with Max at their heels. As they came to the back yard, Maggie could hear the giggles of her two girls, but she didn't see them anywhere. They approached the tree and Maggie looked up with amazement and spotted her little girls sitting up in the branches. "Looks pretty good, doesn't it?" said Maggie's mom. " I never dreamed it would get this big. Hey, Mom, I'm going to stay out here for a little while. We'll meet you inside in a minute." Her mom turned toward the house and Maggie bent down and said "We did this, Max old boy. We helped it grow. Pretty cool, huh?" Then Maggie turned around and sat with her back up against the trunk, closed her eyes, and enjoyed the shade.

There's just something about the things that we invest in. You pour your life, your heart into something as simple as a tree and then you reflect on how it has provided back for you something of incredible value. That's not unlike the text that we're looking at, although you have to understand the context just a little to see that it's not like waiting 20 years for your favorite oak tree. In fact, it happened fairly quickly. But that kind of attitude is reflected in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 3. I want to look first at just verses 3 - 7 to set the stage and then we'll look at the rest of the context and ask ourselves what we might come away with this morning.

1 Thessalonians 3:7, Paul says, "Brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?" Somehow as I was looking at that text some months back and then more recently I found myself continually attracted to the eighth verse ... "we really live since you are standing firm in the Lord." There's just something about the faithfulness of the people in whom we invest that provides a return that is absolutely immeasurable to those who do the investing. Think about it in the context of 1 Thessalonians. Paul, you know, showed up in Thessalonica to preach. He was there for three Sabbaths, maybe a little bit of a week on either side. He was there at most for four or five weeks, investing in the lives of the people that would come and listen to him preach about Christ. It wasn't long after that that he was thrown out of town. Those people who persecuted him in Thessalonica disliked him so much, or at least disliked the message so much, that they chased him down in Berea and ran him out of that town as well, chasing him off then to Athens and Corinth. He wondered how they did. He pondered it. He thought about it. In the best sense of the word, he worried about them. He prayed for them, and as we're going to see in this text, he longed to come back and find out how they were doing. Some of you know that feeling ... a longing to find out how somebody is doing. To just know are they still the person that you dreamed and hoped and longed that they would be. Well that's where we find ourself in this text, 1 Thessalonians 2. Come back and we'll pick this paragraph up at verse 17. 1 Thessalonians 2:17, "Brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time in person but not in thought, out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you for we wanted to come to you, certainly I, Paul, did again and again, but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy. So when we could stand it no longer we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens, we sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted and it turned out that way as you well know. For this reason when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless. But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He's told us that you always have pleasant memories or us and that you long to see us just as we long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith for we now really live since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."

Here's the question with which I'm trying to wrestle ... does the spiritual success, does the faithfulness of someone else do something to spur you on to greater faithfulness? Does the fact that there are faithful Christian people out there, living out their faith in the midst of difficult situations, does that do anything to help you be more faithful? The slide that we've been using this morning is of barbed wire because I wanted us to be reminded that there are people out there who face that. I remember the first time I saw it ... barbed wire ... and thought, you know, to be a Christian in this circumstance would be tough. To know that you face prison because of your faith, to know that your life is at stake because you're a believe is enough to make me sit back and wonder about my own faith and whether or not I would endure if I were facing barbed wire.

I was in central Romania a few years ago, had the opportunity to teach a class and one of the fellows in the class asked if we could talk. He spoke enough English that we could carry on a conversation and he took me aside and he said, "I need to just share with you my life situation." He said, "I hold down three jobs in order for us to eat. If I don't work, we don't eat. But I'm losing my son. I'm gone so much I have no opportunity to spend any time with my children and my son is beginning to pull away from the family and more importantly is beginning to pull away from his faith in Christ. I need time to spend with him. What do I do? Do I quit one of my jobs and invest in my son in which case we're going to have to decide which meals each week we skip because we will not be able to eat every meal, or do I continue to work so that my family is fed, or and then risk my son?" I don't know how you answer most questions. Most of the questions I answer in my life I answer out of my life experience. Well, back when I was facing that this is what I did and it seemed to work. The problem is, I've never faced that. I've never been put in that situation where it was my family or my family. Whether it was my faith or my food, and I have to admit to you I didn't have any answer for this guy at all, but I came away from that experience realizing I have it pretty easy.

Every year I get into that situation where I spend some time with Eastern European church leaders. I probably should confess to you something before I say that. I consider myself to be the typical American, you know, busy, got a lot going on. I think I've invested myself wisely. I sit down and I listen to these preachers and they tell me about the church where they're preaching and then they tell me about the little mission post they have 10, 15 kilometers out of town, and then they tell me about the food ministry that they're carrying on out of another location in another town and by the time they get done telling me of the two, three, four, five, six different things that they're doing with their life, I come away saying I am going to quit complaining about my schedule. And I am reminded we have it pretty easy here. I've come away from my visit with those people and I recognize that their faithfulness under years of Communism, their faithfulness under those dire circumstances have prompted me, have urged me, have somehow encouraged me to be more faithful myself. I mean if they can do it there, surely I can do it here.

So here's a question, what are you doing or what are you willing to do to encourage the faithfulness of other believers? Did you hear it in Paul's statement? Come back to this text again in verse 17. "We were torn away from you for a short time. Out of intense longing we made every effort to see you. We wanted to come to you. I did over and over again, but Satan stopped us." Look at chapter 3 "when we could stand it no longer we thought it best to be by ourselves. We sent Timothy to come and encourage you because of these unsettling times." I think what Paul would say to us is that if we really care about the faithfulness of other people, we're willing to make the sacrifices of our own life and our own comfort and our own companionship in order for them to be faithful. Somehow Paul tried again and again to get to the place where he could come back to Thessalonica to offer them an encouraging word, and the text says Satan hindered them. The word literally means that he put potholes in the road. It caused me to go out and do some looking, you know? And one of the things that I discovered, just ran across, was that in April of 1944, almost every day of that month our forces bombed somebody's runway in order to hinder them from getting their planes off the ground. That's this word–that Satan came along and he put potholes in the road. He came along and he put obstacles in the way. He came in and he did everything he could to prevent Paul from being able to encourage these people's lives. I think we need to understand that ... that faithfulness is not something that you take for granted ... that Satan would do whatever he could in order to tempt us to not be faithful ... that he would do everything in his power to isolate us from the people who can help us.

Now please listen to me. There are lots of people sitting here who would love to help you. They can't help you if you're isolated from them. Unfortunately, we can't read your minds. We don't know when you need us unless you tell us or unless you're close enough to us that we can see it in your eyes. And yet, I confess to you and I don't know what to do about this, and I'm going to say it more clearly in second service, but I'm going to say it in your presence because I'm going to say it in their presence. There's a whole bunch of high school kids who sit up right up here in this room, and there are young people in our church who don't feel like they have permission to sit in this front three rows. Oh, nobody's ever said you can't sit there, they just feel isolated. They don't feel connected to the rest of the kids. That's a two-way street. As your brother I need to come to you and find out what's going on in your life, but as your brother, I need also to come to you and seek connection. If you don't feel connected here, then make the effort because Satan is doing everything he can to isolate us from each other so that we can't help each other. And when we succumb to the temptation to be isolated, to just withdraw from other Christian people, we have fallen right into the hands of the one who would keep us from being faithful. So Satan does everything he can to tempt us and to alienate us and to prevent us from being faithful and it has never been any different. He has always tried to do that. You saw what happened in the early part of Acts--Peter and John are arrested, Stephen is stoned, James is killed and it's been happening ever since. They've shut down the missionaries out of Zaire, they have kicked them out of Albania, they have closed the doors in China. Every time you turn around Satan is doing whatever he can to isolate Christians from one another, because he understands that we need each other to be faithful and frankly, in our culture, he doesn't have to put up barbed wire. All he's got to do is get you signed up for the local soccer team because then you're going to be so busy you don't have time to spend time with your friends who are in Christ. That was not a slam at soccer. I could have put in football, basketball, dancing, chorus–you name it. Here's the question–what are we willing to sacrifice in order to help the faithfulness of our friends? What are you willing to give up in order to make sure that the person sitting next to you right now never gets sacrificed on the altar of your busyness? What will you do to make sure that your children are in fact in love with Jesus? What will you young people give up in order to make sure that you make the right connections with the right people in order to have your faith be firm? Some of us are going to have to take a serious look at who our friends are because our friends are not helping us love Jesus. And some of us are going to have to look again at our freedoms and recognize that just because we are free to do some things doesn't mean that we should do them ... that there are things that we are allowed to do inside the realm of the boundaries of faith that may not be beneficial either to us or, more importantly, to the person who is watching us. So if your friend struggles with issues of gambling, don't take them to the boat for supper. Even if you're free to go there yourself, don't do it. Respect their need, now again, that's like soccer. You can pull any of those things out of the hat ... anything. I'm going to swallow so I don't shout. Nothing ought to be more important to you, no freedom, no personal freedom ought to be more important to you than the faith of the people around you. Would you give up your friends for the sake of the faith? Would you give up your freedom for the sake of the faith? Would you give up your finances for the sake of the faith? Because that's all giving is in this place. Giving in this place is an opportunity for you to invest financially in a way to help your friends be faithful to Jesus. If you haven't been down in the annex lately, walk down there and see what's happening. We'll open it officially in September, but you ought to just take a look at the work that's being done. None of it comes for free, but it's there designed to help your families be faithful to Jesus.

So here's the question ... what am I willing to do to encourage the faithfulness of other people? I think Paul would not only suggest that we make sacrifices, but literally we seek the faithfulness of other people. We seek it out. We go after it. He said that he wanted to send in the calvary. Did you hear him? I long to come again and again and when I couldn't come there, I decided to send Timothy, because if I couldn't get there, I was going to send somebody else. Have you ever noticed how sometimes people just like to interfere in your life? It happens to me pretty regularly. Maybe I just need your prompting more than other people do. I don't know. I've had people come up to me and say your friend, X, has asked me to ask you how you're doing. He couldn't get to you himself and so he sent me. Now I've got two choices at that moment ... be offended or be challenged to be faithful. And every once in awhile I have to confess to you that we send the elders after you. Go see how they're doing. Or some staff member calls you on the phone and says you know, I haven't seen you for awhile, how are you? And they're not asking how's your health. They want to know, how are you? And you've got two choices ... you can see that as us interfering in your life and getting nosy or you can appreciate the fact that we care about you, but it's going to be your choice which way you respond.

What are you willing to do to help the faithfulness of others? Paul says not only do you send in the calvary, you go to the one cavalry (sorry I knew I was going to blow that), you go to God. Did you see it? From verses 10 to the end of this chapter is one continuous prayer wish. We pray that God will open the door to you. We pray that God will strengthen you. We pray that God will come into your life and make you holy. Do you hear it? I'm just going to ask you a real simple question. Are you praying for the faithfulness of the people around you? Do you have people on your prayer list that you pray regularly that God will work in their life to make them faithful? I've gotta tell you, there's hardly a day goes by that I don't pray that my children are faithful to Jesus. Now I want them to be healthy, I want them to happy, I want all of that other stuff, but I've gotta tell you the honest truth. If push comes to shove, I have one concern and one concern only for my children ... that when Jesus returns they're in love with him and not frightened by him. When I pray for my grandson, I pray for his faith. Oh, there are some other things that are on my list, but I pray for his faith. He's eight years old, he's starting to ask questions about Jesus. I want to know, God will you bring the right people across his path. See that, I think, is what you pray for. You can't ask God to convert somebody because God doesn't interfere with my human will, but I can ask God to bring the right people across their path, to make the doors open in the rights ways, that the right people encounter these people so that they are challenged to be faithful. I can ask God to cause them to have an experience that will in fact elicit growth. I can ask God to produce in their life faithfulness and holiness.

Well let me get to the place that I'm trying to get to. Here's the real question or at least the question ... not only what will you do, but what does the faithfulness of somebody else do for you? I won't select specific people by name but I just have to stand here and tell you that sitting in this building Sunday after Sunday after Sunday are people whose lives make my life possible. I know that you find this impossible to believe, but even preachers get discouraged in their faith. Oh, it's not that they get discouraged about their work, it's that they get discouraged about the faith. Can you keep this thing up for another 30 or 40 years if God gives it to you? We have the same questions that everybody else has and the answers to my questions are sitting in front of me Sunday after Sunday. People who have gone through hard lives, who love Jesus. People who have been sick and they've survived it and they love Jesus. People who are going through illness and they love Jesus. People with family problems, but they love Jesus. People who come here Sunday after Sunday into the dire circumstance of life and they love Jesus faithfully, and I say if you can do that, I can too. That's what the faith of the family, that's what the faith of the community ought to do for us. Paul says we really live because we see you standing firm in the faith. When I watch you deal with grief, I learn how to deal with grief as a believer, and I'm challenged to be faithful to my Jesus. See, I think we celebrate the faith of other people. I'm grateful there are people out there who ask how my children are doing. Their youth minister from their high school days, Mark Post, who's now out in Idaho, never sees me that he doesn't ask me how are your girls, and he's never asking me what's their health report. He's asking me what's their faith like.

So I guess here's the thing that gets to me ... have I invested enough in another person that I actually care how the outcome turns out? Have I put enough of myself in you that I care what happens to you, that I would bother to ask? I am so deeply grateful for the faithfulness of others which so clearly encourages my faith. I don't get there very often, but when I get to Idaho, one of the first things I do is I call my friend Dan. Dan is the one who won me to Jesus. He's the reason I'm a Christian, and I always have just one question. Dan, how are you? You are so important to me. Are you still faithful to Christ? And he is and as are his children. And that encourages me to know. I ran across this statement from a professor up at Trinity where I went to school. I didn't have this particular professor, but he talks about a young student assistant of his. She'd gone through college and was in seminary in biblical studies and her faith was really under the gun and she was just wrestling with spiritually deep questions and struggling, and he was worried about here. In fact, she took a year off from her studies in order to go out and really wrestle with the issues and decide whether or not she really could believe the stuff that she believed. And when she came back, she came back an obviously more committed believer and more stable in her faith, and so he asked her what was it that turned you around, what was it that made the difference? And here is her answer: people. People. And when he asked for an explanation, this is what she said, this is his response, his paraphrase: what helped her the most was being able to look at people whose intellectual lives were far in advance of hers, who had wrestled deeply with the same issues with which she was wrestling, but who were still people of vital Christian faith. Do you hear it? She was encouraged by the faithfulness of other people.

Steve Hill and I went to a Habitat for Humanity meeting this last week and we heard the story of Clarence Jordan. I didn't know that he was connected with Habitat, I only know him from a bible translation he did back in the 60's. He was the founder of Koinania Farms down in Americus, Georgia. It was one of the first places in the United States to do kind of a communal farm between black and whites and he was never popular and never received well. In fact, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan came in and burned him out. In fact, he recognized the voice of one of the Klansmen as a local newspaper reporter who happened to show up the next day to get a story in the midst of the rubble. He found Clarence Jordan out in the field hoeing. He came up to him and he said, "I heard the awful news of your tragedy last night. I came out to do a story on the closing of your farm." Jordan just kept working. The reporter continued his prodding with no response. Finally, the reporter said, "You've got two Ph.D.s, you've put 14 years into this farm, and now there's nothing left. Just how successful do you think you've been?" And Jordan's response was, "you just don't get it, do you? You just don't understand Christians. Christians are not about success. We're about faithfulness."

At the risk of being just too practical and too pragmatic, can I just suggest some ways that you can be encouraged to be faithful? And I don't have to tell you these things because you already know them. Come to church. Sitting at home on Sunday morning because it's a nice day to drink coffee on your porch is not the way to be faithful to Jesus. Now I'm not telling you that going to church makes you go to heaven. I'm saying if you want to be faithful to Jesus, you need this place or some place like it. Hebrews 10 is clear ... "do not give up the assembling of yourselves with fellow believers." Go to a bible class or get involved in a small group bible study where you get scripture put into you and you begin to form relationships with other people. Get involved in service. Do you understand that when you have an investment here because you have a responsibility to teach a class or serve at the door or share the Lord's supper that that service anchors you more firmly in faithfulness. Read your bible. Just find a time in your day when at least you can read through a Psalms or a few verses. Pray. Turn the radio off in your car and just pray. Watch and pray, but pray. Drive-by pray like I do. If I know where you live and I'm driving by your house or running by your house, I'm just telling you now, I'm praying for you. God doesn't need long prayers. You need praying. Witness to people. The more you share your faith with somebody else, the more firm that faith becomes in you. The more you've said you need this, the more you know you need this. Invest. I'm sorry ... give. My personal testimony to you is this ... I've put enough money in that offering plate, you're going to have to kick me out of this place because I own part of this building. Put something in it. Be a part of a small group. Do some intentional personal reflection. How faithful am I? If my neighbor looked at me and said, that's what a Christian is like, what would they think a Christian is like? Adopt a never-give-up attitude. Now that comes easy to me. I am by nature, I am wired up stubborn. You tell me I cannot run a marathon, I'll tell you what. I will just because you said I couldn't. You tell me I can't be faithful to Jesus, I'm in this thing to the end.

Coming out of World War II, in fact coming out of one of the concentration camps, the psychologist Viktor Frankl said, "we who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing--the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances--to choose one's own way."

I'm asking you to choose. It's just real simple. I'm asking you to choose that under no matter what your circumstances might be, you choose to be faithful. And your faithfulness when you make that choice will be an encouragement to the person next to you to be faithful. And when you choose to be faithful, no matter what happens in your life, you are illustrating for your children how to be faithful. And when you live in a neighborhood and life is hard and you choose to be faithful, your neighbors understand what it means to be faithful. And so we're just asking one thing today, a clearly identified, marked choice--on this day I decided that no matter what happened I would choose to be faithful to Jesus. And I would look around me and I would learn from my neighbors' faithfulness and I would rejoice and celebrate in that. And we're going to celebrate that choice. We're going to celebrate that decision to be a faithful believer in Jesus. This is not about success. This is about faithfulness. This is about being in it for the long haul and letting nothing get in your way. Let this song express your feelings and if there's a decision you need to make, we want you to come. If you need somebody to pray with you for your faithfulness, then feel free to come. Please stand and let's sing.

[Transcribed by PU4]