It is an honor to serve as your pastor. The last few months I have personally watched your care for one another, your grace and flexibility, and your creativity. The times have forced us to be alert, to be discerning, and in the middle of challenges, I hope you are motivated to show and display the love of Christ more than ever before. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul writes, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” I hope this will encourage you, challenge you, and inspire you all at the same time for the sake of the gospel.
1. Work produced by faith
Isn’t it incredible to watch the church in action and to see the gifting of God’s people used to accomplish task that He has allowed us to be a part of? Your faith in Jesus is evident in how you serve, or as Paul puts it, your work. This is not works-based-salvation, instead it is the opposite. Because of the salvation by faith in Jesus, it is a pleasure to work in His work. When I was in fourth grade our music instructor took us to a symphony. I was a young man that loved football, basketball, professional wrestling, and lunch; needless to say, I wasn’t so excited about a trip to the orchestra (sorry for all of the musically gifted folks in our church, in our orchestra, and those that love this sort of event). The teachers herded us down the aisles, sat us in our assigned seats (noticeably, they did not place any of my friends close by, which is some type of magic that teachers have), and the lights went dark. For the next two hours I sat and watched in complete amazement. One instrument would start playing, suddenly a whole section would join in, then another, then there would be a rush of playing, harmonizing, and the music was incredible. The conductor was passionate, energetic, but controlled. I often imagine being in that orchestra. Playing an instrument, joining in at just the right time to make some beautiful music with many other talented people all hitting the right notes, at the right time, and being synchronized. This is what I often see the Lord do in a church. He takes the right people, with the right abilities, at the right time, brings them together and suddenly makes a masterpiece that shines His glory and participates in His work. When the world sees this unity, this passion, this supernatural faith and work – they sit in amazement and marvel at the unity despite the differences. When we are not moved by faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it’s a train wreck. The world still watches, but they marvel at the church’s disfunction and difficulty in being what Christ commanded of His church. So what instruments and gifts are your carrying, are you playing the same song the Lord is conducting His people to play, and are you playing passionately, joyfully, and with enthusiasm?
2. Labor Prompted by Love
The great theologian Billy Dean once said “When it comes to love, you don’t count the cost.” (Billy Dean is actually a country music singer, not a great theologian). The statement is true. When you love people you become long-suffering with them, generous to them, and eager to serve them. Paul tells us that without love, we are just clanging cymbals (a lot of musical references). Have you ever sat in a room with just clanging cymbals? A few years ago Janna’s uncle, Eddy, bought Stone a drum set for Christmas. Ever since that time, periodically, I am in a room with clanging cymbals. It’s deafening, maddening, and endured because I love that little man so much. Christ has redeemed us. Romans 5:8 reminds us that He proved his love in the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The New Testament informs us that we must love one another just as Christ loved us. In fact, Jesus says this, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is the groundwork of all we do – but true love also leads to doing. This is the point of the text, our labor (service, work, efforts) are all prompted by love for God and love for people. When I do not “feel” like serving, I instantly check my heart before the Lord. It is almost always because I have not refueled myself in the good news of the gospel and failed to meditate on the love God has displayed for me. During this time in our nation, the Enemy is attacking us, trying to divide us, and working hard to harden our hearts toward our fellow men and women – continue to allow the labor to be prompted by love.
3. Endurance inspired by hope
Endurance is a word that is so important and relevant for these days. You have been challenged in so many ways in 2020, and the year is only half over. How is your hope? Where is your hope? Who is your hope? The good news of the gospel is that all of this, the work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope, it is all in Jesus Christ. Since Christ has risen from the dead, since He lives for all eternity, since He has victory every second over death, then marriages can be restored, people can be transformed, addictions can be broken, people can be rescued, relationships can be restored, beauty can come from ashes, good can come from what the enemy meant for bad, people can be built up instead of torn down, and most importantly – eternal life is secure in Christ Jesus. Do not give up. I remember a time when I wanted to quit in sports. I left a practice, I had underachieved, I felt humiliated in front of my friends and coaches, I had not reached my potential, and all my insecurities had been exposed. It was very raw and emotional. I remember being angry and in tears at the same time. I told my dad I was going to quit, but he refused to ever let that be a part of my life. So I endured, I fought harder, practiced more, and became more focused than ever before. At the end of the year the coaches gave me an award for being “All-In” and giving 110% (not mathematically possible) throughout the season. You never know who’s watching, when their watching, and you never know what they see you going through. The Lord is faithful, He is victorious, and because of those two truths, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). That’s a verse about hope-centered endurance, not doing incredible feats of strength or athleticism. Stay the course, keep in step with the Lord, and trust me, the reward at the end of the season is worth it!
Be encouraged Woodmont! Be encouraged ___________ (insert your name there)! You are loved unconditionally, you are a part of an incredible movement and work of God, and He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).