But I would not have you to be ignorant

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

There is a great difference between the believer’s and the unbeliever’s funeral. The unbeliever’s is one destitute of hope — there is no hope in the resurrection, no hope in the life to come. There is only sorrow and despair and misery and wailing and lamentation.

On the other hand, the word hope in the New Testament is almost always connected to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For just as God raised Christ from the dead (which is the foundation of Christianity) so too will he raise the believer. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

There was once a time when running a sub-4-minute mile was thought impossible, but after Roger Bannister accomplished the feat in 1954, it has been done several thousand more times. The same can be said of the resurrection of Jesus Christ — God broke of shackles of death by raising Jesus from the dead, and he will do the same for every believer. And that is why the believer’s funeral is filled with hope and joy, not sorrow and despair.

Peace, safety, darkness, and destruction

1 Thessalonians 5:3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

I remember watching an interview with the economic historian Naill Ferguson where he said that financial crises typically come without warning, like a thief in the night. After the fact, when a financial postmortem is done, the economists declare that the signs were there all along — we should have seen it coming, but invariably they never do. The same can be said of the return of Jesus Christ. The signs will be there, but people will never see it coming, and so the Christian’s job is to remain in the light, not the darkness, until that day.

Not chargeable to anyone

1 Thessalonians 2:9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

Over the years American attitudes toward work and welfare have dramatically changed. One of my parishioners, who grew up during the Depression, lost her father at the age of ten. The original Aid to Families with Dependent Children (ADFC) was designed to help such people — widows and orphans –, but her mother, like Paul, was too Christian and too proud to be chargeable (literally, burdensome) to anyone so she refused the dole. Contrast that with current attitudes concerning welfare and disability payments and you see how far we have fallen from our Christian roots.

Some people really need assistance (they are “widows indeed”) and should receive it, whether it be from the Government, the Church, or both. But Paul was a bi-vocational minister, not living off the labor and toil of others, but working with his own hands night and day as a tentmaker to support himself and not be a burden to others. Our nation has long since rejected this Christian ethic, but believers, who are called to be different and separate from the world, should not.

Vain deceits

Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

I had dinner with a man who described the son of a friend who attends a university and now identifies as a woman who is also sexually attracted to women. Think about that for a moment — a man (who thinks he’s a woman) yet is sexually attracted to women. At some level, this is absurd — it is a vain deceit. Do not be spoiled (i.e., made captive) by today’s worldly wisdom — by modern psychology, anthropology, gender studies, LGBTQ studies, and the rest of the moral cacophony that is being taught as science at today’s western university. Rather be “rooted and built up” in Christ, and the absurdities and confusion of this age will be manifest, and your sanity will be secure.

Intruding into those things which he hath not seen

Colossians 2:18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

I find it amusing and annoying when people who have never read the New Testament, never mind the entire Bible, have so much advice for Christians and the Church. They have much advice on how Christians should live and think, and how the Church should view salvation, marriage, divorce, abortion, female ordination, and any other issue in which the Church is at variance with the world. And all this advice is based on ignorance, not knowledge and spiritual discernment. Intruding into those things which he hath not seen.

Yet the Lord’s command is to let no man beguile you of your reward. That is, do not let these ignoramuses steal your crown of righteousness and your joy in Christ. Do not let them defraud you of your faith in the supernatural and personal God who cares for your soul.

The Gospel of the New England Patriots

Passage: Romans 1:8-17 — Thanksgiving and Prayers

Key thought: Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

I grew up in Massachusetts and have been a fan of the New England Patriots all my life. Before Belichik and Brady, they were not a very good team, but they were always my team. That said, when they were down twenty-five points to the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, I turned off the TV and went to bed. No team comes back from twenty-five points in the Super Bowl. It just wasn’t possible. Well, when my wife came to bed at around one o’clock, she woke me and said that the Patriots had won in overtime. I was in disbelief — this never happens and it was too good to be true.

That is essentially what the word gospel in the New Testament denotes — it denotes something that is too good to be true yet is. In the Greek, the word gospel (eu-angelon) literally means good-message. The good message of the New Testament is that there is life after death — just as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, so too will the believer in Jesus Christ be raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). This is the essence of the gospel. But in a broader sense, it often means all the good things that Jesus Christ brought to humanity, of which the resurrection from the dead is foremost.

Prayer: Lord, never let me lose site of the true meaning of the gospel — the good-message of Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving in the Church

Passage: Romans 1:8-17 — Thanksgiving and Prayers

Key thought: Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

The other day we had friends from Florida visit us in Maine. They had never been to New England so we feted them with lobster, steamers, proper donuts, and fiddleheads (a noxious fern the people of northern Maine prepare and eat like Brussels sprouts). In short, we had a wonderful time of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It made me think that sometimes we take for granted the people in our lives, especially the people of the Church. Sometimes we grumble and complain about the shortcomings of others, especially those closest to us. Paul’s letter to Rome is a good reminder to be thankful for the brothers and sisters we have in Christ. These are the people God has ordained to be in our lives, and God often talks to us through them and their ministries. Our Christian lives would be empty, hollow, and lonely without them.

Prayer: Lord, never let me take my brothers and sisters in Christ for granted. Let met treat them like the blessing that they are.