THE DIVINE CALLING

“We kept urging you to live the kind of life that pleases God, who calls you to share in his own Kingdom and glory”.

1 Thess 2:12 GNB

People who don’t believe in God feel that they are free to do whatever pleases them. They are answerable to no one but themselves. Some appear to get on all right. Others make a horrible mess of the whole thing, never achieving happiness or peace of mind. They spend much of their lives wishing that things had turned out differently.

No doubt the people who became the first believers in Thessalonica lived in that way until they heard the Good News of Jesus and the mighty acts of God from the preaching of Paul, Silas and Timothy.

They learnt that there was a God, a sovereign Lord God, who had acted decisively in sending Jesus Christ for their salvation. He loved them and he had a claim upon their lives. He called them every bit as much as he had called Abraham two thousand years earlier. But his call was not for them to go out and found a new nation as it had been with Abraham. It was to live the kind of love filled, and joy-drenched life that Jesus Christ had come to offer people. They had to forsake their sins and unbelief. And they were being called to put their trust in Jesus and discover life in its fullness.

This same call comes to everyone who believes in Jesus. It is a call to a new and better quality of life which you are challenged to live for the glory of God. He offers you the gift of his Holy Spirit to enable you to know his kind of life.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me respond to your call and live your kind of life.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Thank you, Lord for the wonder of the Advent and Christian season. Thank you for the lights and the decorations, the music and the special events, the giving and receiving of gifts, the sense that Christmas is “something different”. Fill me with wonder and joy in Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Malachi 3:1–5

THE FATHER’S GUIDANCE

“We encouraged you, we comforted you, and we kept urging you to live the kind of life that pleases God”.

1 Thess 2:12 GNB

Fathers urge their children on – to maturity, to wisdom, to success and to achievement. When the children suffer setbacks or failures their fathers comfort them – as do their mothers. They encourage them to get up again and try again. They tell them of mistakes they made when younger and how they put their disappointments behind them and carried on. They tell them how to avoid mistakes in the future.

That is how Paul, Silas and Timothy guided their new disciples in Thessalonica. Having introduced them to Christ as their Lord and Saviour they kept a watchful eye on the new disciples as they made their way in changing from the non-gods they had previously worshipped to following Christ. It was no easy change as it involved a belief system, cultivating devotional practices, and getting accustomed to life in the church of Christ. Instead of pleasing themselves these new converts were guided into seeking to please God in Christ. No doubt some struggled in prayer, whilst others probably found it difficult to understand the new doctrine they were being taught. Yet others would have to make adjustments in terms of working with and making allowances for other people in the Christian fellowship. However they struggled; the new converts would also have to reckon that “we’re all in this together”.

To nurture other disciples is an important function and ministry. Often those doing the “fathering” learn and grow every bit as much as do the young disciples. And love has to be the foundation of the whole process. It is a God-given role. But it builds the church – and people.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, build us all up in love and service.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help all Christian believers to realize that we are all one in you. Bind us together in love. Help us all to reach out to each other in appreciation and kindness. Inspire us to be beacons of light in the darkness of the world around us. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Hosea 6:1–11

THE FATHERLY ROLE

“You know that we treated each one of you just as a father treats his own children”.

1 Thess 2:11 GNB

One of the titles given to ministers is “Father”. In the Catholic church it is the normal form of address. It is also the word used for the Pope. He is “The Holy Father”. “Many stories are told about the great-heartedness of the late Pope John XXIII. One day he visited a Roman prison where he spoke to the prisoners about the all-sufficient grace and mercy of God, the Father. Afterward, a murderer stepped up to him and enquired wistfully, ‘Does that go for me, Father?’ Whereupon the Pope threw his arms around the wretched man and drew him closely to his bosom in one glorious gesture of compassion and yearning” (Upper Room Disciplines, 1967, p156).

Paul had previously used the image of a mother when he wanted to emphasize how gentle the apostles were in dealing with the Thessalonian Christians. But the father can also be a significant figure. Gordon MacDonald told how his father took him up a mountain slope to learn to ski. At first the father made the son ski inside his firm and strong hold. But three attempts later MacDonald said the father’s hands were lighter in their grip on the boy. Then after starting the fourth time the father said, halfway down the slope, “Go ahead, son, you’re skiing by yourself” (G. MacDonald, Restoring your Spiritual Passion, p149”). A father teaches and guides – and trusts. This was how the three apostles acted towards their new believers. They guided them – and showed them how to live the Christian life in a society that was hostile to their new-found faith. Likewise guide those you can in Christian living.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to guide others in Christian living.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless those families who are undergoing strain. Help the members to be extra tolerant towards each other and to be understanding. Help them not to reply to unkind words with retorts that increase strain and animosity. Help them to heal the rifts. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Jeremiah 18:1–11

UPRIGHT BEHAVIOUR

“You are our witnesses, and so is God, that our conduct towards you who believe was pure, right and without fault”.

1 Thess 2:10 GNB

The sincerity of a minister of God should be evident in the selfless way in which he works for his “flock”. “In 1855 when Ivan Sergiev took up his appointment as a priest in Kronstadt (near to Leningrad in Russia), he found himself among many petty criminals and down-and-outs. Daily he went to their wretched dwellings to talk to them and comfort them. He gave away all he had, so that many a time he would come home minus some of his clothes, or even without his shoes. He established workshops and an orphanage, and daily would feed up to one thousand destitute people. His was certainly ‘the kind of religion which is without stain in the sight of God’” (The Soldier’s Armoury, 1979, p118). Ivan Sergiev created integrity by the strength of his faith and by his caring and compassion.

The three apostles who brought the gospel to Thessalonica in the first century also established credibility by the nature of the gospel they proclaimed and the lives they lived which were open to the whole community to see. After a while, members of a congregation can tell whether a minister of God is acting in the interests of the people he is serving or is championing his own cause first and foremost. Likewise, the Christian believers can help, guide and influence their ministers by their prayers and by their loyal support. The passion with which they serve their church, inspired by Christ and the Holy Spirit, can make the difference between a going and growing church and one that merely maintains its witness.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help our believers and ministers to work for your glory.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord God, be with the managers and staff of all supermarkets at this time of the year. Help them to cope with the pressure and strain of the extra shopping people do. Enable them to look forward to a good rest when the season is over. I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Isaiah 58:1–14

HARD WORK

“Surely you remember, our brothers and sisters, how we worked and toiled! We worked day and night so that we would not be any trouble to you as we preached to you the Good News from God”.

1 Thess 2:9 GNB

Not all Christian ministry is carried out by highly trained, professional ministers. Many denominations have systems of lay people who get authorized to conduct services of worship. Carrying on their “secular” occupations during the week they enter pulpits on a Sunday and conduct worship. A period of study and training precede this important ministry. The Methodist Church in Britain, from its earliest days, had such a ministry. Four out of five Sunday services were conducted by this order of “local preachers”. The apostle Paul was a tent-maker by profession. Whilst in Thessalonica he plied his trade by day and did ministry in his spare time – in the evenings. Presumably Timothy and Silas did the same. This meant they earned their keep not by preaching but by tent-making – or whatever occupation Timothy and Silas followed. This released them from being financially dependent on their Thessalonian congregation.

Some ministers have done a similar thing today – it is referred to as “a tent-making ministry”. It gives for an extremely demanding way of life. Hence Paul, Timothy and Silas had their hands full exercising pastoral care, offering teaching and guidance to individual members and helping them with problems as they tried to leave their previous religion behind. And they had no Bible to guide them. The New Testament was only then being written. The apostles got there first – the scriptures followed on later.

Respect the Christian leaders whose work, when done conscientiously, is demanding both in the consumption of time, its wide variety of duties and requirement of love and devotion.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, strengthen and empower all hard-working ministers.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, be with all people who will be starting out on a new level of life at this time of the year. Some will be leaving educational studies behind. Some will be moving into careers. Some will be marrying. Help them to move forward with courage and purpose. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Isaiah 5:1–7

ENDEARMENT

“You were so dear to us!”

1 Thess 2:8 GNB

Christian church. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity. Every Christian believer should be empowered by it. And every Christian minister should be motivated by it. “William Booth was always haunted by concern for others. After 1868 he never spent a Christmas Day with his family at home. That year he did, after returning from a Christmas morning preaching engagement. But he was troubled. He said, ‘I’ll never do this again. The poor have nothing but the public house, nothing but the public house.’ That was true concern. William Booth was a man in whom dwelt the compassionate Spirit of Christ” (The Soldier’s Armoury, 1974, p108).

Reading the New Testament accounts of the life, travels and achievements of the apostle Paul you become amazed at his intellect, formulating Christian doctrine for the first time. You marvel at his tireless energy, his wearying travels, his creative writing, his grasp of truth, and his leadership of the churches that he founded. You wonder at his deep grasp of God’s control of his life and his understanding of Christian discipleship. He actually “shaped” Christianity in its formative years. You do not expect this giant of a man to regard the people to whom he and his fellow-teachers ministered to express tenderness and endearment. But he did. Underneath the immense thought and passionate striving for the truth there was a tender heart. The people to whom he had brought the gospel were dear to him.

Try to encourage this tenderness and love in your congregation. It comes from the Holy Spirit’s working.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help our community to love one another.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Lord, I pray for students who will be receiving news of their exam results at this time of the year. Help them to respond to good news with thanksgiving and to greet bad news with the determination to try again. Help them all to mature and move forward. I ask in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Joel 2:1–14

LOVE IS THE SECRET

“Because of our love for you we were ready to share with you not only the Good News from God but even our own lives”.

1 Thess 2: 8 GNB

A retired minister once spoke to a junior minister who had come to him for advice with a problem. He said, “You know brother, there is blood in our calling. Lots of people don’t realize that”. He meant that it is costly to minister to people. It is infinitely more than just standing up in a service and talking. The minister who doesn’t love the people to whom God has called him will be like “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal”.

What drove Paul and the other apostles to endure shipwreck, endless walking journeys, stoning by mobs, misunderstanding by those to whom they preached the Good News, imprisonment, and often rejection? It was the love of Christ burning in their hearts, never quenched, never dying, never tiring, but ceaselessly beating, as Christ’s own love had done for them – and their awareness that they could never repay that love except by loving those to whom they went and preached.

And loving them meant sharing their lives – their time, their efforts, their energy, their drive, their hope, their faith. Love is the secret at the heart of the existence of the church of Jesus Christ. Christ’s love is the furnace that moves the engine of all human relationships in the church, whether in Thessalonica, London, Durban or Dundee. And all who come within its influence feel themselves compelled to become little fires of self-giving compassion. Stir that fire up. Keep it stoked and fuelled. Make it spread and grow and bring the warmth of God to others.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help me to share myself and your love with others.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Lord, so many people will be meeting with grief at this time of the year. Bless those who find themselves bereft of an important and close family member. Help them to find something positive to celebrate in the reflections on the coming of Christ. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Hosea 4:1–9

Gently Does It

“We were gentle when we were with you, like a mother taking care of her children”.

1 Thess 2:7 GNB

Some years ago, a senior lay leader in a church went out to a rural congregation to conduct a course in church leadership for the local members. During the course of his talks he referred to the bishop of the church in Johannesburg as “the nkulu boss”. Loosely translated the phrase means “the great master”. Some leaders in Christian communities, by the sheer strength of their personalities do become towering figures.

No doubt in some Christian circles in the first centuries Paul the apostle would have been regarded as a monumental figure. He was the great organiser, thinker, preacher, theologian, teacher, pastor, church planter and, for lesser leaders, the great role model. He could have lorded it over those early Christian communities had he been that way inclined. He didn’t. He knew that the first generation of Christian believers were in a very vulnerable position. They needed to be cared for and nurtured spiritually. The Christian apostle had to be gentle rather than lordly.

Today people who facilitate the growth of faith in younger or more junior church members have to try and guide their charges or “students” in the faith. Guiding and teaching can always lead to manipulation and domination if the guide is not sensitive to the danger. The figure Paul used of a mother caring for her children is an excellent way of putting it. If you are a spiritual guide, be a mother to those under your care – not a smotherer. If you are a male do not sneer at the thought of a dominant leader like Paul using the mother as a figure of speech. Be sure to be gentle.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, make all spiritual guides gentle and caring.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Lord, as I prepare for this great season, help me to avoid getting caught up in the superficiality and rush, the unimportant trivialities and the peripheral things. Help me to concentrate on Jesus, to be quiet and unhurried. Help me to steep it all in prayer. I ask for Christ’s sake. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Amos 8:1–12

NOT FOR ONE’S OWN GLORY

“Nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ”.

1 Thess 2:6 RSV

Some people always seem to elbow their way to the front. If they aren’t conspicuous by their achievements, dignity or physical stature, they manage to remind everyone who will listen that they are someone great or important. They are skilled at drawing attention to themselves. Some dress to stand out. Others talk to steer conversations around to themselves. Yet others “name-drop” (“Last week I was chatting to the President”). And some portray themselves as more learned than they really are by claiming the title “Doctor”.

Paul and his fellow-preachers in Thessalonica were not glory-hunters. “Few men in history have been so God-conscious as Paul. ‘God-intoxicated’ is not too strong a description. He passionately believed he had been converted by God, called by God, entrusted with the gospel by God, was daily being tested by God, and must live a life worthy of God. God to Paul was God. This is not surprising, for he was reared in a strict Jewish home where the great monotheistic (belief in only one God) doctrine was as much a part of life as the air its members breathed. His heritage was one of reverence. The awe of the Eternal was in his heart, and he carried it into his new life in Christ” (J.W. Clarke, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 11, p271).

We too need to be so full of Christ and of God the Father that we  seek only his glory and not our own. We need to be consciously aware of any tendency to direct praise or glory to any human person, however significant he or she may be.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, all honour and glory be to you alone.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Lord, today we celebrate the beginning of advent, the season when we remember the coming of Christ. Thank you that you are always coming into our world, into our midst, into our lives, into your church with power, with grace and truth. Come this advent season. In Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Micah 2:1–11

THE HIDDEN MOTIVE

“You know very well that we did not come to you with flattering talk, nor did we use words to cover up greed – God is our witness!”

1 Thess 2:5 GNB

For those who are called to become messengers of God there are many temptations and pitfalls. One is to peddle your own views and to “sell yourself” as a great person, a clever person, and a learned person. You can do the latter by quoting great scholars – parading your knowledge. Another is to be a funny person thus seeking cheap popularity. Another temptation is to appeal to the opposite sex and to develop illicit relationships “for the fun of it”. Yet another is to use your prominence to solicit financial gain. One professor counselled his theological students, “Never ever talk about money, either your own or the church’s”. But some do.

Paul, Timothy and Silas had rivals for the affections of the people in Thessalonica. These were the travelling teachers who spent their lives hiking from one place to another, giving a few popular talks, and then moving on. Their teachings were superficial and shallow, but their “salary” depended on their popularity – and that was their main aim in “entertaining” their audiences. Paul and his companions trusted God that the truth of their message and the effect for good that the gospel had on their hearers would lead to them receiving a responsible living.

Servants of the word and preachers of the gospel must always ensure that the financial relationship they have with their congregants is kept in the background. Lay leaders in congregations have a duty to see that their spiritual leader is adequately recompensed so that everything gives glory to God.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us all to ensure that caring and responsible finances are a feature of our churches.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord, for people who suffer from eating disorders. Help them to get professional advice and support as they seek to lead a normal healthy life. Make them determined to sort themselves out and to work towards better health. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN