Does Our Work Speak For Itself?

1 Thessalonians 1:6-8

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “their work speaks for itself”?  It simply means that a person doesn’t need to prove themselves with their words or someone else’s words because the quality of their work is so good that people can visibly see it.  Their is no need to guess if they are good at their job because it is right in front of your face.

This same idea applies to the church at Thessalonica, to whom Paul is writing the book of 1 Thessalonians.  It is clear to Paul that they received the truth of the word, the gospel, in a time that was full of persecution.  Despite this persecution and affliction they were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and they became a visible example to all the believers in Macedonia, Achaia, and every where around them.

Their faith was so evident that Paul goes so far as to say that he didn’t need to say anything about them.  This means that the fruit of the Holy Spirit, through the word, was so evident that Paul didn’t feel the need to tell anyone about them because everyone could see it.  They have been radically changed by the gospel.  They have walked out of darkness into the light and by God’s grace the light of Christ is fully evident in all that they do.

These are challenging verses for us today.  As believers in America, who generally receive the truth in little affliction, the reality is that our lives can look so similar to those around us that no one would be able to tell the difference unless we told them we were believers in Christ.  Often the word is not “sounding forth” (V. 8) from us, and we blend into the cultural landscape today in a way where our words and works or not distinguishable from the rest of societies.

Yet, we are called to something better, something greater.  We are called to receive the word of God and to be filled with His Holy Spirit and the joy that flows from it.  We are called to sound forth the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  By word and action we are to be salt and light in a dark and crooked world (Matt. 5:13-16).  This means that we should somehow stand out from the rest of the world.  The fruit that we produce in our actions and words should clearly point people to the reality that our hope is in the risen Christ and not in the cultural appetizers around us.

Let’s begin to examine our hearts and see if first we have received the word (believed), and then let’s see what kind of fruit it is producing.  Are we filled with a joy that is wrought by the Holy Spirit because of Christ, and does that flow clearly out into our works, thoughts, and words?  Do the people around us know that we are believers and can they see it within us, or are we living lives that make little of Christ and look like we are living for cultural pleasures?  The real question is “Does our work speak for itself?”

Who’s Glory Do We Seek?

1 Thessalonians 2:3-4

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

As I read this passage this morning there was a recurring question that kept popping in my head.  Why do you do what you do?  Or to be clearer, what I am really asking is, why do I preach the gospel and teach people about Jesus?  Is it to please men or is it to please God?

Now, I know my heart, and the tendencies towards sin at times can be great, and one of those tendencies can be to speak about Jesus and teach about God not to please God Himself, but to gain some kudos or acceptance from people around me.  It is almost as if I am being a minister of the gospel so that people will pat me on the back and say, “you are doing a great job.”

Yet, this passage calls believers to something different.  Paul is letting the church at Thessalonica know that he does not teach Christ so that he will gain something from men.  He does not preach the truth of the gospel so that he will be accepted.  In fact, generally the opposite would happen.  He would preach Christ and get flogged and beaten; yet, Paul would continue to preach with boldness.  In this way his goal was to please God and not men.

Just like Paul we, as believers, have been entrusted with the gospel.  We are called to go out and proclaim the goodness of Christ in the way that we live, and in the way that we speak about our God.  However, if we are not careful we can fall into the trap of doing these things as a way to be seen by men as good and moral people.  We can even do these things so that other Christians think that we are super spiritual when the reality is that our hearts at times are very far away from God.

But it is God “who tests our hearts.”  This is scary.  When we try to do something to look good before the world God sees the real motivations behind our actions.  When we speak of Him, go to church, pray, etc… we may look super spiritual on the outside, but God discerns the motives of our hearts.  He sees the truth behind every action, he knows when we are truly seeking to serve Him, and He knows when our desires are to be made much of by men.

I know that this tendency exist within me and I am sure that it exists within many people.  Our only solution is to run to Christ and to confess our sin and pray that God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, will change our hearts.  We must look into the Word of God and pray daily, and be confronted with the truth of what Christ has done for us so that we become less and that Jesus will become more.  This also requires daily work of turning away from our own desires and turning to Jesus, seeking His desires for our lives.

Now this is not some magic pill that will all of a sudden take away our tendencies toward people pleasing and self glory, but as we daily look into the face of Christ what we will see is a heart transformation that God works within us a little bit at a time.  Little by little our desires and motives will change and as Romans 12:3 says to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind…” our minds will be filled with the truths of Christ and His work on our behalf, which will start to transform our hearts as we seek His glory and not our own.

I realize that this is not easy, but I know that it will result in the fullness of our joy.  As Palm 16:11 says:

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

This means that as we come face to face with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and as we seek Him and try to please Him instead of men that we will find the fullness of our joy with Him, in His presence.  He will give us more pleasure than anything else in this world ever could.  So let’s turn our hearts to Jesus and do the hard work of seeking Him and praying that he would transform us into people who do all things, say all things, and think all things for His glory and not our own.  Because it is in Jesus that we find our greatest joy.

The Daily Battle To Be Rooted In Christ

Colossians 2:4-7

I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

What does it mean to be firm or established in the faith?  More over, what does it mean for that to be something that is readily visible to people?  As I sit here and ponder these questions I may not completely understand what this looks like but I am convicted by the reality that these are things that I fall short of on a daily basis.  The idea that I am so firmly established in Jesus Christ that my faith is easily seen by others seems at times like it eludes me.

Yet, I write this realizing that earlier in this book Paul reminds the believers in Laodicea that the power and the energy to live for Jesus comes from God and not from within themselves.  In fact this passage is a reminder that Christ is something and someone that we receive not earn.  So then what does it mean to be firm or established in the faith?

The reality is that for us as believers in Jesus Christ we are called to stand daily upon the truth of Jesus Christ crucified.  We are called to reject worldly arguments that would say that what we see is all there is or that there is hope and life found in something else besides Christ.  Is this always easy to do?  No.  Yet, we must remember Philippians 2:13 which says:

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This  means that we stand on the truth that God is working this out within us and through us.  It may be hard at times to walk in Christ and to remain firm in our faith, but we stand firm in the reality that if we are a believer that Christ is working these realities within us.  However, that does not mean that we do not have to work?  This passage makes it clear that we are called walk in Him, and be rooted and established in the faith.

We must daily turn our eyes upon Jesus and see Him as the author and perfector of our faith.  We must daily drink of the well of His Word and seek Him as our only hope and only treasure.  This means we make a conscious effort to pray, seek God through His word, and we seek to walk and live by faith allowing the whole council of God’s Word have bearing on how we live and act.

As we do this on a daily basis our lives will be filled with an abundant and overflowing thanksgiving as we realize that Jesus is our only hope.  We will also see Him molding us and changing us into people who are more and more established in the truth of who Christ is as God, who He is for us, and more established in living out those realities on a moment by moment basis.  This will produce an inexhaustible joy that will never be quenched.

Is this easy?  By no means, yet one of our greatest calls as believers is to always be people that turn our eyes and hearts upon Jesus.  This will be a daily battle, but as we do, God will work within us to produce a steadfastness and firmness in our faith that is so rooted in Him that people will see that within us.  No, we may not be people who shout our faith from the rooftops, but people will see how we live and they will realize that our joy and peace are not earth bound but heaven bound.

So turn your hearts and eyes to Jesus, realize that this will be a struggle, but be firm in the reality that God is the one who is working in you and will produce a joy and a firmness of faith that is inexhaustible and will be a visible sign of His amazing grace upon you, and a sign of the eternal unwavering hope that we have been given by God through Christ.

The Best Treasure

Colossians 2:1-3

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Often when we speak of riches and treasure in our culture today we mean something that is physical.  It is something that can be touched, bought, spent, hoarded, etc… These are the things that most people think are important and they try to run after them like they are the most valuable treasures that this life has to offer.  In that sense they become things that we worship; they become idols in our hearts.

However, Paul is talking about a different treasure.  He is struggling for these believers wanting them to attain riches that are immaterial and in the heart, not physical.  In fact we see from the way that Paul lived that earthly treasures meant nothing to him.  They were used as a means to live and tell others about the greatest treasure of all.

His struggle is that they will grow and reach a place where they are grasping and understanding the mystery of God, which is Christ, who has saved both Jewish and Gentile lost sinners.  This mystery is so magnificent that once they understand this truth it will bring complete assurance. This assurance will allow them to walk through this life with a joy and hope that is not found in the failing things of this world, but is found in Christ who is never-failing and always perfect.

This same message is for us today.  As believers in Christ we are called, by God’s Word, to put our hope and trust in Christ.  As a result, we seek the fullness of spiritual treasures instead of the fullness of earthly treasures.  These spiritual treasures are never ending, never-failing, and will never fade away.  Also, these spiritual treasures will be the foundation of our eternal hope, which, even in the face of immense trials, will never crumble and will sustain us.

So look not to the riches of this world for assurance and sustainment.  Don’t look to money, your family, your church, your community, etc… (though these things can and do help us in our walk with Christ); they are but dim reflections of the one who brings true and ultimate hope, and they will always fail us in the trials of life.  Instead, put your hope in the true and better treasure and be filled with the fullness of assurance that comes from knowing and growing in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is our only solid foundation.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

Deforest B. Stewart: “A Memorial To A Man Of God”

This is my sermon manuscript from my grandfather’s memorial service on Friday, October 17th, 2014.  My hope is that this remembrance will bless you as you read about a man who loved God, his friends, and his family well, and in so doing, left an impact on everyone that he came in contact with.

“My grandfather’s name was DeForest, but everyone called him Bob.” 

I remember writing these words while taking a creative writing course in college.  We were tasked with writing an opening line to a short story that would engage the reader immediately.  This was the first thing that came to my mind as I poured over my life looking for something interesting to write about.

It came to mind, in part because it was funny, but more importantly because I deemed my grandfather someone who was and is important to write about. He was a man who spent his whole life working hard for what he earned while faithfully providing for his family, tithing to the church, loving God, and helping those who were in need.

But if you knew Bob well, you also know that he was a larger than life personality. When he walked into a room he commanded a presence like no other man I have ever met before. As he smiled and joked with people and talked of the war, politics, his years of working for the city, and the many stories of a life well lived, you couldn’t help but be drawn in by the aura of life and joy that radiated from him.

I remember times when we would go out to eat with him and grandma and we would be expecting a nice quiet dinner together as a family. However, we always ended up at a restaurant where grandpa mysteriously new 2-3 people that were there or he would make 2-3 new friends by the time we left. And he wasn’t just making casual conversation; it felt like he had truly gotten to know these people and they were now going to be lifelong friends. This was the mark of a man who loved life and who loved people.

But his true love was his wonderful and amazing wife, my grandmother, Mary Stewart; who was by his side for 71 years. However, I did find out recently that this was a relationship that almost didn’t make it off the starting line. The story goes like this:

According to my grandmother they met on a blind date, after which she had decided that she didn’t really like him. And what is even more intriguing is the fact that my grandfather told her that his name was Roger.   He was thinking if she fell head over heels for him, and he didn’t like her, he didn’t want her to be able to look him up.

But God has a sense of humor. After that date my grandfather was hooked, and it just so happened that my grandmother accidentally left her scarf in his car. So this man whom she thought she would never talk to again calls her up and wants to return her scarf to her. She told him to keep it, he insisted on returning it, and the rest is history.

What is even funnier about the two of them is that they couldn’t have been farther apart politically. Now, if you know them both well you know that Bob was a diehard republican, and well let’s just say that my grandmother is not. And of course there would always be some bickering and light banter around the house during election time. My grandfather would lean over to me and say, “Hey Ry, we need to figure out how to get your grandmother on our side.” But despite their political differences you could not find two people who loved each other more.

And together as husband and wife for over 70 years, they had the privilege of raising four wonderful children, being called grandpa and grandma by twelve grandchildren, and then becoming great-grandpa and great-grandma to 32 great-grandchildren. All along this journey they loved one another and all of us in a way that has made us all better people for having known them. They truly had a long and full life together.

But today we are not just here to tell stories about Bob Stewart and the wonderful life he had with my grandmother. We are here to mourn his death, and to mourn the loss of a man whose impact on the lives of those around him will be told in stories and tales for years to come. And as we mourn his passing there is three things that I believe that he would want all of you to know.

One, I think that he would want you to know that mourning his death is a good thing. We often try to keep ourselves from feeling emotions when a loved one passes because we believe that we have to be strong, but we must remember that even Jesus himself wept and mourned. Upon hearing of the death of His dear friend Lazarus the Bible lets us know in John 11:35 that “Jesus wept.” And Jesus is weeping and mourning the loss of His friend who is about to bring back to life. This lets us know that it is okay and right for us to mourn the loss of a man who was a husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend.

Yet, the second thing that he would want you to know is that our mourning should be different. Our mourning should be different because we are here to mourn the loss of a man who knew where he was going to be spending his eternity. He was a man who understood the truth of what the Bible calls the gospel of Jesus Christ and so was confident that he would be in the presence of the Almighty God forever. And I am here to tell you today that this is exactly where he is right now. Grandpa is in the presence of God enjoying everlasting peace, everlasting joy, and everlasting life. This is a place that is greater than anything that we could imagine.

So yes, we mourn, but our mourning is different; our mourning is mixed with hope and with joy as we ponder the reality of where he is and what he is doing. This is why Kris read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 which says:

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

Grandpa believed these truths with all his heart and so had a hope that was in and has always been in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that his eternity was fixed and that he would spend forever with Jesus. In fact, I remember sitting at his table eating lunch with him during a couple summers where I had the privilege to help him water lawns and he would constantly talk about the “Good Lord.” Even though this was before I really knew anything about God, I was convinced that if there was a “good God” Bob Stewart, my grandfather, knew Him, and He knew my grandfather.

Third, if he were here today he would probably say something like this, “Hey, Ry, give them that fire and brimstone preaching like pastor Hagee does, I like that guy, he’s a gospel preacher.”  But he would want me to share with you the greatest news in the whole world the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He would want you to know that there is a perfect and Holy God who created all things including us. He originally created us to worship Him and find our greatest joy in Him. But we as humans thought that our way was better than God’s and instead of worshipping Him we decided to worship other things besides Him.

This is what the Bible calls sin, which really means to miss the mark, because we have missed the mark of perfectly worshipping and obeying God. This is why Romans 3:23 says:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

We all fall short of God’s perfect standard and as a result the scriptures also let us know that we are spiritually dead because of our sin. This means that we are eternally separated from God and our eternity is in a real place called hell apart from a miraculous work of God on our behalf.

But God in His mercy and love provided a way out for us. He sent his Son Jesus Christ to earth to live the perfect life that we could not, and to die upon the cross, and in doing so, he took the punishment for our sin upon himself. As Paul says in Romans 5:8:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And he did not just take the punishment for our sin upon the cross, but He also rose again three days later to prove that He was the one and only one who could conquer sin and grant us eternal life forever with God.

This truth is not just something that we can intellectually agree with. In order to truly receive the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life you must admit that you need Jesus. You need to turn away from your old ways of living and you must turn in faith toward Jesus, believe that He is the one who saves you, and turn to Him in faith and obedience meaning that your life is spent in serving Him and finding your greatest joy in bringing Him glory and not yourself.

This is the glorious truth that my grandfather knew, and because He is forever in the presence of God He knows this truth better than any of us here today. He is at the end of the story where He truly knows that when we turn to Jesus Christ in faith and we follow Him that we receive the amazing gift of eternal life and we can be in His glorious and perfect presence forever.

And if you are here today and you don’t know Jesus personally as your Savior, I encourage you to take these truths seriously. You can know for sure today that you will experience the joy of the eternal life. These are truths that Bob knew both in this life and now in the presence of God forever.

So we mourn and celebrate Bob’s life.” But we mourn with hope. And though we will miss him, we will always carry with us the treasures and nuggets of experiences and truths that He imparted to each one of us. And we will always carry with us the confidence that he is in a better place and that his legacy will live on through those of us who were fortunate enough to be impacted by a life well lived for the Lord Jesus Christ.

 Deforest B. Stewart, a man loved by many and, because of Jesus, a man loved by God.

Why Do We Struggle To Live For Christ?

Colossians 1:27-29

“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

There are things in life that we all struggle, fight and work hard to achieve.  It might be a job, family, a relationship, or some other early treasure, but we all have things that we believe are important enough to run hard after.  Yet, we often fail to run hard after and fight for the greatest treasure in all the universe; the treasure of Christ and His work in us and through us.

Paul is telling the church at Colossae that God has now revealed His wonderful mystery to the saints by making the gentiles part of His chosen people.  This is the mystery that was hidden for ages past, and we as American Christian are benefactors of this wonderful mystery.  He then says that it is Christ that we (Paul and Timothy) proclaim.  They are making a statement about their message and its substance.  The substance of and the center of their message is Christ, His life, death, burial, and resurrection.

Paul’s goal is to proclaim Christ and to present everyone mature in Christ.  He is so sold out to this message and goal that he toils and struggles for it daily, and it is the central message and truth that he orients the rest of his life around.  It is not just something that Paul decides to talk about on a Sunday, but it is his singular focus everyday of the week.

I will admit that this seems so hard and daunting.  Everyday to have your singular focus be Christ seems like a chore of immense proportions.  However, I think their are three reasons I feel this way.  One, I often separate life into sacred and secular things.  What I  mean by this is that I often treat my time away from church, away from the Bible, and away from quote “Christian things” as secular time.  I often forget that every situation in life is an opportunity to proclaim and worship Christ.  Two, I am trying to live and toil for Christ in my own strength.  Paul says in verse 29:

“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

Paul is toiling; however, he is doing it with   This means that Paul is toiling and struggling for the gospel with the power and energy that comes from God, through Christ.  This is the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within him.  Paul knows that he is incapable of proclaiming the gospel on his own.  Also, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, he will not see the fruit of the gospel in his life or in the lives of others.  Ultimately he will wear himself out in trying to proclaim this message on his own.

Finally, I don’t think that I always treasure Christ above all other things.  Matthew 13:44 says:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Jesus is letting us know what our attitude toward His kingdom should be.  We should treasure the kingdom of God more than anything else.  This means that we need to treasure Christ (who is God) more than anything else in the whole world.  He is the one who gives us life, and He is the one who gives us more joy and purpose than any other earthly treasure that we could ever run after.

So I am challenging you and myself to three things this morning.  One, realize that all of life is worship.  As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Two, realize that the ability and power to run hard after Christ everyday comes from God and not from ourselves.  We are incapable of consistently and whole heartedly proclaiming Christ apart from His work and power within us. Three, we must treasure Christ above everything else.  Realize that Christ is better than all other earthly pleasure and make Him your greatest treasure.

When we do this, all other earthly pleasures begin to pale in comparison with the pleasure of knowing and serving Christ.  As we rely and the power of Christ within us we will begin to realize that He sustains us through every trial and struggle that come our way.  And when we make Him our one true joy and treasure we will see all of life as an opportunity to know and worship Christ more.  Then our desire will be to proclaim the gospel in all of life, and to present everyone mature in Christ.

Why I Don’t Want To Suffer

Colossians 1:24-26

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

Do you like to suffer?  Do you think it is fun to go through hard times?  I don’t either.  When I read a passage like this, or other passages about suffering, I can intellectually agree that suffering is part of the Christian life.  I say that I can intellectually agree because the reality is that I don’t want to go any farther than that.  I don’t really want to suffer because I like life to be easy and I have a little comfortable box in which I want everything to fit.

But then there is Paul.  A man who has been beaten, shipwrecked, and imprisoned for his faith, not shrinking away from suffering, but rejoicing in it.  He is rejoicing because he understands that he is suffering for a purpose.  There is an end goal in mind when he is beaten or imprisoned for the sake of the gospel.  That goal is to make much of Christ and to see the gospel spread to the ends of the earth.

Paul also understood that his suffering was something that Christ had ordained for him and must happen.  Back in Acts 9:15-16 Jesus came to Ananias and told him to go find Saul (Paul) and then told him that Saul (Paul) would suffer for His sake.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Paul would have known this and may have had an experience where God showed him the same thing.  Either way Paul knew he was supposed to suffer and in his sufferings was bringing to completion, in his flesh, the sufferings that Christ had prepared for him.  And Paul’s main driving motivation for this was to build up the body of Christ, that is the church, so that the gospel would be proclaimed.  So Paul knew that he would suffer and it made him rejoice because he knew that the goal of his suffering would bear fruit for the kingdom as God used him to make His Word fully known among the saints.

Again, I can intellectually write this yet my heart is not fully invested in it.  I don’t want to suffer because I am not living moment by moment in the reality of the glory of God.  I am not living in the reality of what He has done for me or the eternity that is mine through Christ.  I forget how amazing the end of this road is, and instead I turn and try to find a vain substitute in this world.

Its like someone telling me that if I drive 5 more miles down the road there is a great steakhouse; yet, I decide to stop at McDonalds instead because I am too lazy to drive the rest of the way.  Our eternity is so good and the joy that comes from suffering for Christ is so great that we on some level should desire to suffer for Christ.  We should desire to leave the worldly things behind so that we can freely give our lives in service to Christ.

However, at this point in my life this is just an intellectual concept and not one that my heart is ready to truly live out.  My prayer is that God will forgive me for my apathy and for living for vain things.  That by the power of His Holy Spirit He will begin to stir these godly desires within me.  He would press into my heart an immense boldness to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to suffer for His kingdom in a way that will truly make Him look great and will magnify His glorious name.

My prayer is that one day what I intellectually believe to be true of God will fully be lived out in application.  May God make this your prayer as well.

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