Hello and welcome to Friday’s podcast! Well done everyone – the weekend is nearly upon us. Today’s passage is 1 Thessalonians 1: 6-10. We’re going to focus on verse 6 and this is taken from the Message version:
In imitating us (Paul writes), you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.
One of the upsides of having to stay at home during this crisis is that I’ve got to spend loads more time with my kids- and for the most part, I’ve really enjoyed it! For sure, they have their moments and there are times when I’m left feeling pretty drained and exasperated… please no more Joe Wickes (which superhero will I dress up as today I wonder!) But as I was reflecting on with Jo the other day these are precious times to just be with them, hang out together and be family. We’ve even taken to making a little photo collage – what we got up to in lockdown today – to document the chaos and at the same time how much they have both grown and changed in this period. One of thing we’ve noticed is how quick they are, as any parent with small children will attest to, to copy, mimic our actions. Sadly this has meant that Isaac has learned a new phrase…‘For goodness sake’. Every time something goes slightly wrong, out it comes and off he stomps like a rather grumpy old man before his time. Jo is always quick to remind me – ‘That’s you he got that from!’ I can confirm… I am indeed the culprit!
In today’s passage Paul reflects on his time with the Thessalonians and how the believers there, through the power of the Gospel message, became imitators of him – as he and his co-workers persevered in proclaiming Jesus despite increasing persecution from a powerful Jewish sect. Imitate – we get the word mimic from the original word used in the letter – essentially to copy, to do as those around you are doing. Paul encouraged the believers in his letter by saying that in following his example, they were in fact following in the example of their saviour and master Jesus. This was discipleship. This was learning being put into practice. And there’s much we could reflect on today but here’s one thing to consider… and it’s to do with proximity – where we are in relation to others.
When we are close to others and we spend time with them, we start to become like, we take on their behaviours. Back to that picture of Isaac at the start – we can obviously copy both good and not so good behavioural traits. The picture this passage paints of the early church community here is one of closeness and intimacy. In chapter two, Paul goes on to describe the connection between them as like that of a mother nursing her children. The bond between them was that close!
Perhaps a good question to ask ourselves during lockdown is… who are we surrounding ourselves with right now? In this period where time is for some very stretched, for others filled with periods of solitude, and for all of us social distancing – what does it look like to surround ourselves with role models in the faith? Perhaps we may realise that we need to be more intentional in this season in prioritising the time we do have available to us – spending it with those who encourage and inspire us to want to be more like Jesus.
And that takes us to the second question which we all can ask ourselves as disciples… where am I in relation to God right now? How close am I to him? This whole period presents us with many challenges. The number of lives lost and impacted forever is utterly tragic and yet, something good can come from this whole period… and that something might just be us spending more time with our heavenly father. The truth is that God puts no limits or restrictions on how much of himself he’s willing to give us – the cross demonstrates that. The limits are all at our end. I re-read this quote by Tim Keller who says, ‘The only person who wakes up a king for a glass of water at 3am is a child. We have that level of access’ … if only we see it.
Life, as I said, is pretty hectic for us at the moment. We, like many, are balancing working from home, parenting small kids, youth ministry on Friday and Sunday nights, time in community, time with our families…and it is a bit mad at times if I’m honest. I’ve come to discover that some of my most precious moments currently are the 20 odd minutes (23 to be precise) that I get in the morning, whilst the kids watch Paw Patrol – praise God for Netflix. Time spent with a mug of coffee in my hand, the sun on my face in the wingback chair – I’m turning into such an old man I realise! Time spent just hanging out with God, resting in his presence, reading a psalm or two, listening to the podcast and inviting Him to be with me, walk with me as I go about my day.
Where are those places, or moments where we can just learn to be with God better? Those points where we can become more consciously aware of his presence with us?
Because it’s in those moments that we learn what it is to be a child of our heavenly Father. To sit – as I’ve heard Mike Pilavachi describe it recently – in the sunshine of His love and before we do anything else, say anything else, just receive from Him his precious gift – the Holy Spirit – God coming to live in us. The gift that means that means that whatever the days holds, and as Paul speaks about in today’s focus verse, battles and blessings, trouble and joys – we can know Him, we can be with Him… and as we do so we can start to see… that we’re becoming more and more like Him.
God, we thank you that you are our heavenly father and we are your kids. God in these challenging and testing days we pray that we would draw close to you- and to others who encourage and challenge us. God, we pray that in these days we would see you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly – day by day. Amen.
BIBLE READING: 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 (MSG)
In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.
Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.