Failing at New Year’s Resolutions – Ezekiel 33:21-33, Preview

Happy New Year!

Over the years around New Year’s Day, I’ve written about the kinds of resolutions Jesus would want us to make for the coming year. Think about that. Based on what you know of Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle, what do you think his resolutions for you are for 2022? Write them down on a list. Maybe the top 5.

Here’s the thing, though. New Year’s Day is just a day. As the band U2 once sang, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” For many of us, and I would venture to guess for most of us, U2 is describing our reality. This year New Year’s Day is a Saturday, so it is not only just another day, it is a weekend day, and some of us can’t even look forward to it as an extra day off work.

What I’m getting at is that we don’t need to wait for New Year’s Day to make resolutions. Instead we should be asking Jesus what he wants us to do every day. I very much believe that having a new year marker is a good thing. Most years we need a point, a line in the sand, where we can say that now is the time for a fresh start. We definitely needed 2020 to end, and I think most people are saying the same about 2021. Here’s hoping and praying that 2022 is better than the past two years. Yet, we do not need to wait until January 1st each year to start making the changes that Jesus wants us to make. We can and should be evaluating our lives on a much more frequent basis.

But evaluation and resolutions, even if they come from Jesus himself, only go so far, right? You and I can get a fair and balanced evaluation of our lives, and then we can make realistic, practical resolutions to do something about the evaluation, hopefully enhancing our strengths and working to improve our weaknesses, but in the end we might do very little to change. Year after year goes by, and we have to admit that our situation remains basically the same. Have you experienced that in your life? Have you ever hoped and dreamed about new goals, and then you created a plan to achieve them, even a very doable plan, but you didn’t do it? Or maybe you made a start, but you didn’t complete it? It could be a simple as reading a book or as large as going back to school to complete a degree. Why do we not follow through?

There are many reasons, of course. Distractions, waning motivations, lack of time or money or energy. Maybe we get sick, maybe a relationship breaks apart, maybe work picks up, maybe we have a child or grandchild and they rightly need our attention. Sometimes we just procrastinate. Sometimes we get tempted by lesser things. I started working on my doctoral dissertation in the fall of 2020, and I was excited to graduate in May 2021. But that fall, I taught an online class that turned out to be far more involved than I expected. Work on my dissertation ground to a near standstill. In the past year, I have picked at it, here a little, there a little. I have made forward progress, but I didn’t make the May 2021 deadline. Now with four months until the new May 2022 deadline, will I make it? Will I make the changes necessary to accomplish the goal? Last year when the seminary sent a “sign up for graduation” email, I didn’t respond. I knew I wasn’t going to make the May 2021 deadline. A few weeks ago this year’s version of the email downloaded to my inbox, and there I let it sit for a week. Stewing. If I didn’t answer it, I wouldn’t have to feel the pressure of the deadline. But I also hate having this burden named “dissertation” on my shoulders all the time. I want to be free. I want to accomplish the goal. So I responded, “Sign me up.” Now the clock is ticking. What will I do to make it to the finish line?

There are so many reasons that might have caused us not to do what Jesus wants us to do in the past. But that is in now in the past. Today, whether it is New Year’s Day or any other day, is the day to start fresh. What reasons do you have that have held you back? What will you do about it this year? Next week in our study of Ezekiel, we come to a major transition in the narrative, and I think you’ll find it is a perfect fit for New Year’s, and for learning how to make progress in following Jesus. Read Ezekiel 33:21-33, and then check back in to the blog on Monday for part one of the five-part series.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The kind of life Christians are called to – Ezekiel 33:1-20, Part 5

There’s quite a lot of disagreement about what it means to live a Christian life. My guess is that in most local churches, if you surveyed the people in that church, asking them to describe what it means to live faithfully as a Christian, you would get numerous responses, some of which would conflict with each other. I chose the picture above because it depicts one answer I suspect many Christians would give, that being a Christian means going to church buildings with bands and singing praise songs as part of worship services on Sundays. Did Jesus call us to live like that? While that activity is not necessarily wrong, Jesus never asked his followers to do any of that, and yet we Christians have made Sunday worship experiences the primary expression of our faith.

So what is the kind of life Christians are called to live? I think an Old Testament prophet can help us answer that question.

We’ve been studying the life and ministry of the prophet Ezekiel for months on the blog. This week we’ve been learning what God says to Ezekiel in chapter 33, verses 1-20. Let’s continue reading Ezekiel 33. Verses 11-20 are a bit of tongue-twister.

“The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness. If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right—if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live. Yet your countrymen say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But it is their way that is not just. If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, he will die for it. And if a wicked man turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he will live by doing so. Yet, O house of Israel, you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But I will judge each of you according to his own ways.”

The message in verses 12-20 is longer than that previous section which we studied here, but God is saying the same thing: “Turn away from sin, turn to God, and you will live.”

The kind of life that God calls us to is described by the word “righteousness.”  The kind of life that the people of Israel were living is described by the word “wickedness.”

Righteousness versus Wickedness.

To live is simple, God says. Turn away from wickedness. Turn toward righteousness.

Righteousness is defined as living right, in truth and justice.

Notice how God describes this in verse 15, “he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil.”

Jesus said something similar: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

In this five-part series studying Ezekiel 33:1-20, God called Ezekiel to be the watchman for his people. We Christians are also watchmen. Jesus, in the teaching I quoted above, describes what watchmen do. We make disciples, teaching them to follow the way of Jesus, which is the righteous way of life. That means we must set the example, living the way of Jesus first ourselves. Watchmen seek to live the righteous life as Jesus taught us and as Jesus himself demonstrated for us.

You are a watchman.

You are called to live the righteous life, the way of Jesus, and you are called to invite others to do the same.

That’s what a watchman does.

Photo by John Price on Unsplash

How to be a watchman or woman, without being creepy – Ezekiel 33:1-20, Part 4

In our five-part series covering Ezekiel 33:1-20 this week, we have been learning that God called Ezekiel to be a Watchman Prophet for Israel. Likewise, we Christians are called to be watchmen for the people in our lives. As I type that, I wonder if it comes across as a bit creepy. Watching people? What gives Christians the right to watch people? Are we better than everyone, and so God wants us to watch out for them? No, not at all. In fact, the opposite is true. Watchmen watch starting from a place of humility, from a place of realizing our utter need of God. It is only when we place our trust in him, depending on him, that we can begin to be watchmen and women. God wants people to be watchmen because he loves all, and he wants all people to trust in him, because that is in their best interest. God’s desire to be in relationship with us is not stemming from some kind of inadequacy on God’s part, but because of the overflowing love that God has for us. So he invites watchmen and women to participate with him in the reaching out to others so that all might know and live in his love. But what does a watchman do or say? We can learn more about our role by examining what God told Ezekiel about his role.

In Ezekiel 33, verses 10-11, God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying, “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them.  How then can we live?” Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD,  I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’.”

In verses 10-11, the people of Israel recognize the heaviness of their sin.  Not everyone will admit to that. It seems to me that most people see their lives very differently, especially when things are generally going well. When there is enough money for food and pleasure, when the bills are paid, it is very hard to see life as other than good.

But Israel was at a very low point.  The armies of Babylon were back, about to destroy Jerusalem. It was a crisis moment, and in crisis moments we tend to take stock of our lives. Could be a death, a job loss, a health or relationship crisis. In those moments we wonder if we could or should have lived differently. Over the last two years, the Covid pandemic has caused numerous people to think about their lives, and they haven’t been thrilled with what they saw. Millions are quitting their jobs, seeking something different. Watchmen and women help people take stock of their lives.

In the previous post, I suggested that, as a watchman for the people in your life, you might consider making a list of their names and begin praying for them on a regular basis. Pray again for the people on your list.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would give them a “Babylon Moment” where they feel the heaviness of their sin.

But do not pray that all that will happen is that they feel bad!  Pray that their sin drives them to reach out to God!

What God tells Ezekiel to say in verse 11 is what we can say to the people for whom we are watchmen. 

God wants people to turn away from sin, turn toward him, and be saved!

The message of verse 11 is a wonderful thing to share with people:

“God loves you!  Turn to him.”

Photo by Ellen Auer on Unsplash

You are God’s watchman – Ezekiel 33:1-20, Part 3

What do you watch?

TV?

Since getting a dog, I’ve spent more time throughout the day outside waiting for the dog to do his business. Out there waiting on my deck, I especially like watching the night sky. Over the last five years, I’ve seen shooting stars, including one particularly bright, slow-moving meteor that crawled across the early morning sky. Twice I’ve seen the Starlink Train.

Some people are bird-watchers, some are people-watchers. In a college class, we were given an assignment to people watch. Many students in the class would go to the mall, sit at busy intersection and observe people. It is a wonderfully fascinating habit.

In the previous post, we learned that God told Ezekiel about the watchman. But who is the watchman, and what do they do? In Ezekiel 33, verses 7-9, God continues, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them a warning from me.  When I say to the wicked man, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.  But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.”

Ezekiel was the watchman.

We learned this previously in chapter 3 starting here and 18 here.

As the watchman prophet, Ezekiel’s job was to tell the people living with him Babylon to return to the Lord.

We Christians are also watchmen. 

Jesus said that we, his disciples, are to be his witnesses, making disciples of all, teaching them to follow Jesus. That is our job as Jesus’ watchmen. We’ll talk about that further in the next post.

For now, think about who ho has God placed you in proximity to?

Think of your neighbors.

Think of your family.

Think of your co-workers.

Think of your friends.

You are Jesus’ watchman for them.

Take a moment, write their names. What does it mean to be Jesus’ watchman for them? In the previous post, we talked about three words that watchmen use: prayer, care and share.

Start with that first word. Pray for the people on your list. Pray that God’s Spirit will work in their lives, and give you the opportunity to share his love with them.

Place the list in a place where you will be reminded to pray for those people daily.

Photo by nine koepfer on Unsplash

Do I have to tell people about Jesus? Isn’t praying for them enough? – Ezekiel 33:1-20, Part 2

On a beautiful cold and crisp December evening couple weeks ago, a group of about 15 people from Faith Church and First Baptist Church (who rents from Faith Church) walked around a local neighborhood, ringing doorbells and singing Christmas Carols by candlelight to people. We wanted to share the joy of Christmas, as well as briefly communicate the story of Jesus. We would sing one or two brief carols, then finish with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and move on to the next house. Most of the people who came to the door expressed happy surprise. One person, however, surprised us! He quietly exited his house from the rear, then suddenly showed up suspiciously asking what was going on. Once we assured him that we were from the church a couple blocks away, and we were going house to house singing carols, he warmed up and thanked us. We had only one truly negative response. A person came to their door with a look of frustration, clearly communicating that they were not thrilled about us, that we were barging in to their evening, forcing them to stand at their door and pretend to be welcoming. They didn’t pretend very well, or maybe didn’t try to pretend at all, as midway through the first song, they turned around, went back inside and shut the door.

This got me thinking about the oddness of what we were doing. In decades past, Christmas caroling house to house was somewhat common. But no more. Instead, our little group walked uninvited to people’s homes, and just started singing. We didn’t ask if they were interested in being serenaded. True, the majority expressed appreciation, but I wonder what the unhappy man thought in the days to come. Did he hold a grudge? Was his impression of Jesus boosted or decreased? Clearly we were hoping for a positive impression.

As we think about talking to people about Jesus, how do we go about it in a world where fewer and fewer people care about religion or faith? It can be very intimidating. We can fear that we are being unfaithful or ineffective disciples of Jesus, that we will push people away. We tend to clam up. We tend to be silent. As we will see this week in our continuing study of Ezekiel, there is a time to be silent and a time to speak.

As we learned in the previous post, Ezekiel has been a silent prophet, only speaking when God gave him a prophetic word.  By chapter 33, at least seven years have passed since God imposed silence on Ezekiel. Seven years!

That’s a lot of silence.

In chapter 33, verses 1-20, which we are studying this week, we read Ezekiel’s final prophetic word before God opens Ezekiel’s mouth, allowing him to speak freely.  No longer will Ezekiel be the Silent Prophet, which is why this past Sunday at Faith Church we had a silent sermon. I started the sermon with a video titled “Noise” by Rob Bell, who does a great job introducing the importance of silence. (You can purchase the video inexpensively here.) Bell suggests that noise is all around us. Sound, images, and other kinds of noise. Meanwhile, God calls us to listen for his voice. Are we living such noisy lives that we cannot hear God?

In the middle of his forced silence, Ezekiel heard from God. What he heard is an important message that we need to hear as well.

Here’s what God says in Ezekiel 33:1-6, “The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: “When I bring the sword against a land, and a people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself.  But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.”

This week we learn what it means to be watchmen.

A watchman, God says, is one who sounds the warning that trouble is one the way.

A watchman must be alert, focused and willing to tell the truth. 

How are you at telling the truth when the truth is difficult?

In verse 6, God says he will hold the watchman accountable for not telling the truth. I don’t like the sound of that because there are plenty of times when I find it quite difficult to tell the truth.

But there are plenty of people that need to hear the truth. During our sermon discussion group this past Sunday, we talked about this further, and one person asked, “Is it okay if we just pray for people?” It’s a good question. There’s no doubt that prayer is important. We should absolutely pray for people. Furthermore, there is the famous phrase, “Share the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” That statement is very similar to the idea that actions speak louder than words. We evangelical Christians, however, have long emphasized communicating the content, the information of the story of Jesus, as if gospel actions and deeds are of secondary importance.

What did Jesus do? He practice all three habits, that years ago the now defunct Lighthouse Movement described as Prayer, Care and Share. We should pray for people, care for them, and share the story of Jesus with them. A Watchmen prays, cares and shares. We are all watchmen. We all should practice all three habits of Jesus as we seek to communicate his good news to all people.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Why we played the Silent Game in worship yesterday – Ezekiel 33:1-20, Part 1

Have you ever been with your kids or grandkids and played the Silent Game?  It’s a contest to see who can be quiet the longest.  No talking, no laughing, no noise of any kind. 

We parents and grandparents bring up the idea of the Silent Game usually because the kids are being noisy, and we want some peace and quiet.  Car rides are a great time for the Silent Game.  I thought of it the other day when my daughter had friends over for her 16th birthday party, and dinner was getting a bit raucous.  I kept silent about the Silent Game that night, because it would probably have led to a lot of teenage eye-rolling.

The reality is that the Silent Game usually doesn’t last long, as kids burst into giggles at the slightest sound.  Frankly, even adults are not often totally silent are we?  I recently heard the story of a sportscaster who doesn’t like to fly in airplanes, so he drove himself 17 hours from one city to another to get to his next assignment.  His fellow sportscasters were dumbfounded (Ha!) when they learned that he was silent the entire trip.  No radio, no music, no podcasts, no phone calls.  Silence is a lost art, a needed practice we would do well to recover, especially from a Christian perspective.

For that reason, at Faith Church yesterday we had another Silent Sunday.  It’s been several years since our last Silent Sunday (and you can read about what they are like here and here). Because we’re out of practice, I thought it would be wise to have silence only during the sermon. So actually, it was a Silent Sermon.

For the sermon, we returned to our study of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel.  Remember Ezekiel?  He saw wild visions of God’s flaming lightning throne chariot, performed prophetic skits, used the Prophetic Stare, and once even traveled to Jerusalem in a vision.  Near the end of Israel’s monarchy, right around the year 595 BCE, Ezekiel was one of 10,000 Jerusalemites who were exiled to Babylon, and his entire prophetic ministry took place there.  The messages God gave him called the Jews, and a few times foreigners as well, to repent of their rebellious ways and return to following God’s way.  Do you remember his most-repeated phrase?  “Then you will know that I am the Lord.”  God, through Ezekiel, says that because the people rebelled, he will allow calamity to crash upon them in the form of the Babylonian military, and then they would know that he is God.  Of course God didn’t want that destruction to happen.  He wanted his people to return to him, to know him, to be in relationship with him.  So we see God’s heart for his people in this prophetic compilation. 

This week on the blog we jump back into our study where we left off, Ezekiel chapter 33.  Chapter 33 begins, “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, speak to your countrymen…” and the remainder of the book of Ezekiel will focus on Israel (with the possible exception of chapters 38 and 39 about the mysterious Gog and Magog). So there is Ezekiel, living in exile in Babylon, 900 miles away from the land of Israel.  With him are 10,000 other Jews from Jerusalem, and it is those 10,000 whom he lives among and prophesies to.  What will God say to these Jews?  We’ll find out this week.

I want to remind you of one unique aspect of Ezekiel’s ministry that you might have forgotten, and, frankly, one that we didn’t talk about all that much in the previous 32 chapters.  Ezekiel was a mostly silent prophet.  Review chapter 3 verses 24-27, which I wrote about here.  Those verses conclude Ezekiel’s second encounter with God’s breathtaking throne chariot, during which time God commissions Ezekiel to be his prophet.  In Ezekiel 3:24-27 God says Ezekiel will now start his ministry by returning to his house in his village in Babylon, where God will shut his mouth, and he will not be able to speak…with one exception.  When God gives Ezekiel a prophecy, then Ezekiel will be able to speak the words of that prophecy only.  Think about that.  Chapter 33 takes places at least 7 years after God shut Ezekiel’s mouth.  That means for nearly all of 7+ years, Ezekiel has been silent, except for the few prophecies we read about in chapters 4 through 32.  That’s partly why he acted out so many skits and used the Prophetic Stare. 

Ezekiel’s silence is nearly done.  This week as we study Ezekiel 33:1-20, it will be the last section in which we can call Ezekiel the Silent Prophet.  Tomorrow I will invite you to read the blog post, and then silently consider Ezekiel’s last moments as the Silent Prophet.  In the silence, I pray that God will speak!  Read Ezekiel 33:1-20, and then tomorrow we’ll learn more!

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How to seek God in the new year – 2 Thessalonians 3, Part 4

Editor’s Note: Once again I welcome David Hundert as guest blogger this week! Thanks David, for filling in for me. In this four-part series, David concludes our Advent 2021 series, Ready for the Return, in which we studied 2 Thessalonians.

How to seek God is even more evident, more important, and even more critical as we think about Jesus’ second coming. You can open any newspaper, any news website, and see the world around us hurting. People need the love, support, and all the help we can give. They need our prayers but even more so, they need our example of how to love one another and to love and accept them.

I thank and praise God, that my wife and I have found a loving body of believers at Faith Church. I thank God for the Leadership team and all the serve teams. In my time serving on various teams, there always seems to be something that comes up that the serve team has to ask, “Is that opportunity for us or for another serve team?” I attribute that to the fact that everything we do affects one another, and it is the desire of the serve teams and Leadership team to serve in a God honoring way. As someone who has done his fair share of church hopping, that is rarer than you would think in a church. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

I would encourage you to continue to seek God in the new year. I would encourage you to continue to love one another and serve one another as God has gifted each of you. If there is an area that you’ve thought about helping in and haven’t taken that step forward yet, I would encourage you to pray and ask the Lord, who gives liberally to those who would ask, that he gift you the ability to help and then step out in faith. I would encourage you to continue to love one another as Christ has loved you.

His second coming is closer now than ever, and no one knows the time or date. When asked about the reason for your faith, remind those that don’t know him, that no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Invite them in to share in our shalom and let’s see His kingdom grow on earth as it is in heaven. As we move into the new year, I want to encourage you to think of someone that doesn’t know the Lord and commit with me, that we will pray them into the kingdom this next year.

Photo by Chen YiChun on Unsplash

An odd way to tell people about Jesus – 2 Thessalonians 3, Part 3

Editor’s Note: Once again I welcome David Hundert as guest blogger this week! Thanks David, for filling in for me. In this four-part series, David concludes our Advent 2021 series, Ready for the Return, in which we studied 2 Thessalonians.

What do you think is the best way to tell people about Jesus? You might be surprised at a method that Paul advises.

Paul concludes 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, instructing the Christians what to do if the disruptive/idle individuals in their church don’t heed Paul’s instructions; those idle people are to be shunned, not as punishment but, again, with the goal of redemption. Shunning them? Isn’t that the opposite of what it means to tell people about Jesus? A careful reading of this passage reveals that Paul is clearly concerned for the disruptive/idle individuals; he wants them to become active participants in the community of faith.

Paul encourages those that do the “shunning” to not regard those who aren’t acting as they should as the enemy. That is critical! We in the body of Christ should never be judgmental, biased, or bigoted. These were fellow believers that the Christians were to walk away from. Even if you don’t know where the person stands with the Lord, don’t regard them as the enemy. They, too, are image bearers, created in the image of God and they need to know Him. Treating them as the enemy would shut down any opportunity to witness to them.

One commentator states, “Nonetheless, at the end of the day Paul’s greater concern, as usual, is for the community as a whole and their role as offering evidence of God’s rule on earth through their conduct in general and relationships as a community in particular.”

I love this. When the family of God works together as they should, they provide evidence to the world around us of God’s rule on earth. People can look at us and see a difference. They see something that is desirable. It begins to break down the walls that they build around that God-shaped hole in their lives, and they begin to realize that their lives are empty and missing something.

In case you need a reminder, we have that answer! We just need to demonstrate it for them. Evangelism is more than passing out tracts and openly proclaiming the gospel on a street corner.

While those are both commendable activities, evangelism is about living our lives in such a way that the world around us wants what we have!

It’s about opening the church doors and opening our arms to those that visit us and welcoming them into the shalom that we share with one another.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

What to do when Christians behave badly: shun or reconcile? – 2 Thessalonians 3, Part 2

Editor’s Note: Once again I welcome David Hundert as guest blogger this week! Thanks David, for filling in for me. In this four-part series, David concludes our Advent 2021 series, Ready for the Return, in which we studied 2 Thessalonians.

As we continue studying 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul makes what may be a surprising statement: “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.” Take note that he is talking about “believers” because it isn’t those that don’t know the Lord that are doing these things, it is believers!

It is important to recognize that we Christians can’t and shouldn’t expect those that don’t know the Lord, to live as Christians are called to live. But in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, Paul is calling out people that have professed a faith in the Lord, and he is calling them out because they are disruptive, idle, busybodies! Do you know anyone like that? How do Christians keep away from other Christians who are behaving badly?

But notice a potential contradiction. In verse 6 Paul says, “Keep away from those people.” The throughout the rest of the passage he urges the Christians to help their fellow Christians to correct their mistakes and turn back to the Lord. What is Paul saying? Stay away or help them?

This is the same concern that the global church has had for years about various types of sin. The Lord Himself, tells us in Matthew 18:15-17,

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

The end goal for Jesus and for Paul is reconciliation. So going back to those that are idle, disruptive, and busybodies, you can easily tell them that you can’t be around them while they are acting in that manner and walk away. When they come to their senses, you can return. Again, the idea is reconciliation.

We don’t know why, the people in Thessalonica were behaving this way. Was it contempt for work itself, because they were people of God’s kingdom and therefore they were above needing to work? Was it pressing the gospel of the kingdom a bit too far, expecting/demanding the rich to care for the poor? Was it related to their understanding of end times? Was it an attempt on Paul’s part to break up dependencies created by supporter-user relationships? Or was it just plain laziness? We simply don’t know. All we know for sure is what Paul actually says, “We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive”, meaning unwilling to work and therefore disrupting the shalom, the peace, of the believing community.

We know very little about the specifics as to what caused Paul to address these issues. The only hint we get as to why Paul chose to work with his own hands while among them comes in a secondary way in verse 8, “so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” Paul is making his point, for the sake of the well-being of the community as a whole.

Paul’s response to the issue comes in three parts. He begins by addressing the whole community in verses 6-10, who are being urged to “shun” those who are unwilling to work. In so doing, the larger part of the passage, verses 7-9, has to do with Paul and his companions’ example regarding work. I was taught as a young man in the Marine Corps, that a leader never asks his people to do something that they themselves wouldn’t do. In other words, lead by example. That is what Paul is telling them. He gave them an example to follow. That is one practical step to helping restore people, give them an example to follow.

Check back in to the next post, as Paul will teach more about how help to restore people.

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How Advent inspires us to share the good news about Jesus – 2 Thessalonians 3, Part 1

Editor’s Note: Once again I welcome David Hundert as guest blogger this week! Thanks David, for filling in for me. In this four-part series, David concludes our Advent 2021 series, Ready for the Return, in which we studied 2 Thessalonians.

Consider this irony: In 2019, if you stayed home and did nothing, you were considered lazy, irresponsible. In 2020, If you stayed home and did nothing, you were considered a responsible individual? Even my laptop goes idle every now and then. After 10 minutes, an image of the Lord appears when my laptop goes idle. It’s my screen savior.

As we continue studying 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, Paul warns us to keep away from believers who are idle. What does he mean? We’re taught that when reading Scripture, we need to read it with one foot in the original text, with the original author, and the original intent that the passage was written for. The other foot needs to be right here, right now, asking “how is this relevant to me today?” As we study 2 Thessalonians 3, let’s try that out.

Imagine with me, if you happened to discover the cure for Covid, or the cure for dementia, or cancer. What would you do with that? What would you do with kind of information? What does it take to get to that point where you can say that the cure works? You have double blind trials, and testing on the medications to make sure that the cure isn’t worse than the disease. You make sure that the public would be able to gain easy access to it. What if this cure, was as simple as taking a single pill, once! Or, for those that have issues swallowing pills, they make a liquid form that comes in your favorite flavors. One dose, and that’s it! No more cancer, no more dementia, no Covid.

Now, you run into a neighbor that you’ve waved to from time to time. You see him across the fence in your backyard or working on his car in the driveway, He’s barbecuing or you are, and you just found out that he has prostate cancer. Do you continue to wave at him? Are you afraid to tell him about the cure, because you think that he might look at you weird? Do you avoid the topic, because you don’t want him to think your one of those “cure all, nutjobs” or a snake oil salesmen? Or do you tell him that he needs this cure because it can extend his life?

What does all this have to do with Advent and 2 Thessalonians 3? We’re about to find out!

In verses 1-5 Paul begins by asking for prayer that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored. Experts put the date of this letter somewhere around the year 50. This makes this letter pretty close to 2 thousand years old and less than 20 years after the resurrection of Jesus. There would still be a lot of people that had witnessed Jesus’ walking around after His crucifixion, if not having witnessed the event itself. So what is this “message of the Lord” that Paul is talking about? Read about it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, the message of the good news of Jesus, which we call the Gospel. Is the message from his day, any different than the message for today? No!

Paul was asking for prayer, that this message, this gospel, be spread quicker back then, so I would ask, how much more important is it, that it continue to be spread quickly today? In the King James version, we read that “the time draws nigh…” We are closer to the 2nd advent or the 2nd coming now, than Paul was back then. Even then, Paul states that there were evil people without faith and they still persist today. Should that deter us? No!

Without that 1st Advent, there would be no 2nd Advent. The return of Jesus Christ is closer now then ever and it gets closer by the minute. Who do you know that needs to hear the message? Who do you know that doesn’t have faith? Who will you be praying for in the coming year, that they accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior? Who needs this permanent cure from the effects of sin, that only Jesus can deliver? What keeps us from sharing that?

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