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Being Thankful for the Church
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Track 12 of 17 in the Living in the Light of His Coming series
Running time: 24 minutes, 47 seconds.

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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.

Sermon for Sunday, November 21, 2004
12th sermon in a 17 part series
ďBeing Thankful for the ChurchĒ
ďBeing in Him Means Being His ChurchĒ
(1 Thessalonians 1:1 - 10)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

Knowing thatís the truth would make a person want to be a Christian, you know that? It would also be enough to make me want to come during the Cantata and hear that again. Not that Iím making announcements or anything but you could do that. Itís coming up not too much in the distant future.

Weíre looking at 1 Thessalonians 1. If you want to have that open and ready. Iím going to read that from The Message translation by Eugene Peterson, but you can follow along in your Bible and I think youíll find them very similar.

1 Thessalonians 1 ďI, Paul, together here with Silas and Timothy, send greetings to the church at Thessalonica, Christians assembled by God the Father and by the Master, Jesus Christ. Godís amazing grace be with you! Godís robust peace! Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night youíre in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father. It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasnít just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions. You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!--taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble. Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Masterís Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place.

The news of your faith in God is out. We donít even have to say anything anymore--youíre the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.Ē (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. The Message)

I like the way that Peterson has captured Paulís exuberance, that kind of abounding sense of how wonderful this church happens to have become. Heís praying day and night. Never stops thanking God for these people. Senses that God has something specific in mind for them. He has his hand on them, Peterson says, for some special purpose. Godís going to do something in that Thessalonikan church. The whole region of Greece has heard the story. They donít any longer need people to say anything about it because the whole region understands, knows about this congregation and the changes that are taking place in those peoplesí lives. It is an amazing body of people. And more amazing to me because of the context out of which that church exists.

If youíve got your Bibles and you want to look at this, look at Acts 17. This is an unusual church in that it had the apostle with them for such a brief period of time. One of the things that makes this church so absolutely amazing is the brevity with which they had Paul there in their midst.

1 Thessalonians 17 [Should this be Acts 17?] Paulís on his missionary journey as you understand he has made the trip over into Greece. This is the first time the gospel has been heard on European soil. They have come through verse 1 of Chapter 17. They have passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia and they come to Thessalonica where thereís a Jewish synagogue.

As his custom was Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Saturdayís he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ďThis Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,Ē he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jasonís house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials shouting: ďThese men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesarís decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.Ē When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.

Now look down just a couple of verses. Verse 13.

When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.

These people were unhappy about this church getting started in their community. They didnít like the fact that some of the prominent people had become believers. Some of the Jews had decided that, in fact, the Messiah was Jesus and they had crucified him. This church started on rocky soil. The apostle was there for probably less than four weeks and then he left and this church still prospered.

This is one of the earliest letters in the New Testament, maybe the first letter that Paul wrote. It comes very early in his ministry and he writes back to this congregation to simply remind them of all the marvels that God was doing among them and to simply thank them for what they are doing.

I found myself looking at that Thessalonikan church and asking myself, what in the world made them such a solid congregation? What made them so significant after such a brief period of time?

I want to suggest a couple of things to you that mark out a church of real substance. A church for which you might be grateful, thankful. One of them is this: a great church develops people with steel convictions. Did you hear that in the language of Peterson? Verse number 5. The NIV says it this way. You have ďfull assuranceĒ. Peterson says youíve got ďsteel convictionsĒ. You know what you believe and you stand by it no matter what. This was a church that was under persecution from the very first day. I mean, itís only three weeks old and people are already discriminating against them, persecuting them, chasing them, arresting them, and theyíre not giving up. Theyíre not going anywhere. Theyíre going to stand firm on that set of solid convictions. Their convinced according to Acts 17 that what Paul preached was true. They accepted it as the truth. They believed it as the truth. They acted on it as the truth.

One of the things that marks out a great church filled with great people are the convictions that the word of God is true. That itís reliable. That you can trust it. That you can stand on it.

Here two or three weeks ago on our Wednesday evening program we were going through the book of Jonah and of course everybody, well, maybe not everybody, but most people know the story of Jonah. God sends Jonah as a prophet to Nineveh. He doesnít want to go so he goes the other direction. Ends up in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in a boat in the middle of the storm. The storm becomes great. They decide that the only way to fix this problem is to throw Jonah overboard, which they do and a great fish swallows Jonah. Holds him for three days. Throws him up on the beach and then he finally goes and preaches to Nineveh.

Been a lot of people who questioned that story. Undoubtedly, it is a little far-fetched donít you think? That a guy could be swallowed by a fish for three days and still live to tell about it. I really appreciated a comment I heard Billy Graham make at one point in his career. He said, ďya know, I am so confident in the reliability of Scripture that if the Bible said that Jonah swallowed the fish, Iíd believe it.Ē Thatís what weíre talking about. That kind of steel conviction that says this doesnít have to make a great deal of sense to me. If the Bible says it, Iím going to accept that as true. The word was preached to them. It was completely against everything theyíd ever heard. They were raised either pagan or Jewish. They didnít believe in Jesus the Messiah. Paul comes along with Silas and Timothy and they preach the gospel and they decided to believe it. And with conviction they hang on to that.

Thatís what it takes to be a person of that kind of substance that produces a great church. The kind of church for which you can be thankful, is a group of people who deeply believe that the Bible is true and it means what it says, even when it confronts how you used to think.

You just have to imagine what the audience must have been thinking on those three Saturdays that Paul is there in the synagogue wrestling with them over the Messiah. Theyíre not convinced that Jesus is the Messiah when he shows up. In fact, the furthest thing from their mind is that Jesus was the Messiah. Theyíre still waiting for the Messiah to come. He comes and says, this Jesus is the Messiah and they decide to believe it.

Itís a tough thing. Donít ever kid yourself. It is a difficult thing to look truth in the face when truth confronts the way you used to think and to be able to go with the truth rather than what youíve always been taught. Thatís hard. But, it is a huge step for a person to take to recognize that I need to submit to Scripture in spite of what I may have been taught all my life. If itís what the Bible says, Iím going to choose to believe that and not only am I going to choose to believe it, Iím going to choose to act on it and not only am I going to choose to act on it, Iím going to choose to act on it in such a way that I will put up with whatever comes! And maybe thatís the harder part.

Is the recognition, that in this Thessalonikan church, are they just brand new believers, I mean, weíre talking believers who have been converted for less than two or three weeks and now theyíre being confronted by the police. Theyíre being arrested. Theyíre being threatened with persecution and their basic stance is, itís alright. Do whatever you gotta do.

Do you hear the commendation up there in verses 3 and 4? Your steadfastness of hope. Thatís a word that is used to describe being under great pressure. And yet having such a strong conviction about what you believe, that no matter what that pressure is, no matter what those circumstances are, you will not give up. Itís tempting isnít it? Itís really tempting when being a Christian doesnít turn out the way you think itís going to, to just say, okay, well, it was a nice try but letís do something else.

This Thessalonikan church talks about a body of people who are so convinced of the truth that Jesus was raised from the dead and can change their life forever, that they were going to stand on that even if it meant dying for their faith. A church that can produce those kinds of people; a church that can produce that kind of young person in your family; a church that can produce that kind of conviction in your spouse, even when you disagree with it, is a church worth being thankful for. A great church is a church with people that have steel convictions. I love that language.

Thatís not the only thing, of course, that Paul says in this text and that is that a great church, a church to be thankful for is a church that produces people that demonstrate remarkable character. Their story is ringing out. That is the language of the NIV. Their story is being told everywhere. Paul says we donít have to say anything about it. Your already known everywhere there is to. . . . . .this is a church that is a matter. . . .by the time the book is written, just a few years old and yet everybody in all of Greece knows about this church because their faith is so solid, their faith is so strong. They are demonstrating that they are the message. In fact, I love the language of verse 8 in The Message when Peterson says about this body of people ďYou are the messageĒ.

Most of you know that in my other life I teach preaching. Itís a scary kind of thing. I have to confess to you that it really is frightening to think about teaching people to do this thing that I do. And one of the things thatís frightening about it is that words matter so little. Words I can handle. That, I think I have some control over. I get to choose them at least even though I sometimes forget the ones Iím planning on using. Unfortunately, in those who study communication, the words only account for 7% of the communication process. The tone of your voice, the way you say things counts for 38% of the communication process. Whether I smile at the right time or not is gonna affect whether you hear this message. The frightening thing is that body language accounts for 55% of the communication process. So if I happen to stand here with my hands in my pockets, some of you arenít going to listen to what I have to say. Or, if you stand with your arms crossed, some of you are gonna say, ďwell youíre not coming to get me.Ē

Do you hear Paul? This body of people were, they were the message. It wasnít contingent upon their words. It was contingent upon their life. Who they were, not their words was what was communicating so clearly about the power of the gospel.

The fact that they were laborers in love, that they did works of faith, that they had steadfastness of hope was what communicated to the rest of the world. This is worth listening to. The cliche of course is, people who walk the walk and talk the talk. Do your words and your actions match. Thatís the real question thatís being raised here. And in Thessalonica, their actions apparently matched what the gospel said.

Three phrases down here toward the end of this book are just simply marked out so clearly for us that we could not possibly miss what it is that heís trying to communicate to us about who we are. These are a people who received the gospel and imitated Christ as a result. They heard it. They believed it and they acted on it. It was a work of faith. They were going to listen to what the Bible said and they were going to do everything in their power to act on that even when it didnít make sense.

But they also were turning their lives away from their former idol worship to serve the living and true God. These people were going to demonstrate in their relationship with God that whatever it was, that they used to worship, whether it was a Jewish approach to God himself, or whether it was idolatrous approach to the gods or whether it was simply a pagan absence of God at all in their life, they had turned away from all of that and had turned themselves toward God and they were going to follow him, absolutely, no matter what.

If you had the privilege of being here last night you would, well, frankly you would understand the set a little better than you might when you walked in this morning. Last night was our childrenís program and they did this thing that was a take-off on American Idol called American Ideal and the turning point, of course, in the program is when the young people realize that they ought to be singing for the Lord, not for the competition. And there is this series of three or four speeches where people literally state their turning. They have turned around.

Thatís what heís talking about. Heís talking about a body of people who understand that in their life they have been headed in the wrong direction and itís time to turn around and go in the right direction. For some of you, youíve been facing this way and what God is saying is, you need to be facing this way. Iím sorry, but youíve got it backwards. For some of you, youíve been facing this way and all God is saying is, how about a little quarter turn to the right. Youíre not so far off. Itís just that you need to be following ME, alone!

And then he says, the other thing that marks them out is their steadfastness of hope. They are waiting with eager anticipation for the return of Jesus. They have set their sites on the horizon that the Lord is going to return and they are going to ďhang in thereĒ no matter what. They will stay faithful because they know Jesus is coming and that kind of anticipation, that kind of character is producing in them conversations among other people. Everybody knows about them. Their the message. And yet, what is so interesting in this text is that one thing surfaces that we all need to hear. Their imitation of their leader (verse 6) led ultimately to an imitation of Christ. That transition always has to happen.

I donít know who it is that you followed to Jesus. Most of us followed somebody. The guy I followed was about 6'7", 285 lbs. You didnít have a choice but to follow him. Huh! He rode a motorcycle. I was going to ride wherever he rode. In fact my last trip out west, I went to the restaurant where I first saw a man pray in public over his food. I wanted to go back and sit in the same chair. I remember sitting at the counter, looking down and all of a sudden I realized this hulk, this 6'7"/8" is in a public place praying over his food and I was so profoundly impacted by that. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed down. I didnít get to sit in the same chair so I sat in the parking lot and just reminisced about the power of his influence in my life.

But you know, I donít follow Gary. If I followed Gary, I would have made a mistake that would have been his worst nightmare. Cause he didnít want me to follow him. He wanted me to follow the one that he followed. And I love my brother. Heís a great man and I appreciate deeply everything he did for me. But what he did most for me was encourage me to follow Jesus.

Thatís what great churches do. Great churches produce people with steel convictions and they produce people with remarkable character, but that remarkable character is, in fact, based on their relationship with Christ, not on their relationship with human leaders. As important as those leaders may be in our lives at some point, the story is not about us. The story ultimately is about Him!! Thatís what we want to call peoples attention to because you see, churches that are worth being thankful for, churches that really make a difference in the world around them, churches that are the kind of churches that we want to become; those kinds of churches are those that know the source of their greatness. Itís not about us. . . . . .itís about Him!! And constantly pointing people in his direction, constantly calling people to come to faith in Christ. That this body, as important as it is to you and to me, is merely a means to an end. This isnít about how big Madison Park can be. This isnít about how wonderful Madison Park can be. This is about whether or not Madison Park can be the kind of church that produces people with steel convictions that will stand up for Jesus no matter what, that will. . . . . . . . . .character that causes other people to sit up and take notice and say I want that. That know enough to point in the right direction and that is back to Christ. Thatís really all that matters. . . . .that we find ourselves pointed at Christ. And thatís what weíre going to try to do.

The arrangement is a little strange today. We want you to be aware, itís temporary. It will last through the Cantata and then weíll go back to being normal again.

Of course you realize the only thing that sits up here that really matters is not a wooden table. Itís what sits on the table and what that represents. Now weíll bring the table back in a couple of weeks. But if we have to set it on the floor, this is what matters. And hereís what weíre going to do. Weíre going to do this a little different this morning. I hope thatís okay. If itís not, I donít know what else to tell you. Thatís how weíre designed to do it so itís too late to change it.

We want you to express your faith this morning by one of two things, or two things. To share around this table. To come and meet the Lord here and be reminded that he is the one we follow. There are stations set up in five different places around the room, as well as up here and weíre going to invite you during our singing to come up here and serve yourself or serve your family, your spouse or a friend, share at this table. Any one of these around the room, just make your way as soon as Iím done. But while thatís happening, what we want also to happen is that some of you will want to come over to one of these microphones and youíll want to say something like this. ďIím really grateful for the difference that Jesus has made in my life.Ē Or maybe to say, ďYou know I didnít think I would ever find hope again and I ran into Sally and she introduced me to Jesus.Ē Or to say, ďYou know Iím so grateful for Madison Park because of what theyíve done for my children or my family.Ē I donít know exactly what you want to say but we want this to be an opportunity for things to happen in two different ways. One, for you to remember the Lord at his table and the other, for you to have a chance to give thanks for what God is doing in your life and to say that publicly so that other people can hear it. Iím going to pray and weíre going to ask you during this time to go to the communion tables, come to the microphones.

ďFather, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for those people whoíve made a difference in our lives and now as we remember Him around this table, may be recognize He is the one who is important, not us. We thank you for the blood of Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.Ē