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Armed and Ready

I’ve been posting about the last days as described by Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians. My last post was about how we need to live as we see the end in view. Paul continues to share about it.

But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:8-11

He tells us to put on faith and love as a breastplate. As you know, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I believe that this is the oil and the lamp that we’re to keep burning. These are the two non-negotiable parts to serving God.

In this verse Paul is clearly referring to our spiritual armor. He even makes mention of the helmet of salvation. But instead of assigning righteousness as the breastplate, he says that faith and love are used in that role. Paul is telling us that it’s the combination of our faith and our love working together that completes our righteousness.

According to Scripture, without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and without love your faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). You have to use both of these spiritual commodities. You can’t live for God without faith and love.

And so, these fruit need to be evident in all of our good works. Everything we do for the Lord has to spring from faith and love. Paul is in total agreement with the teaching of the Lord as found in the Gospels.

Finally, we must have the hope, or literally, the expectation of salvation as a helmet. We have to expect the salvation of God. We know what’s going to happen. We know that God is going to rescue us, so we might as well live like it.

Paul said that we’re not appointed to wrath. According to the Lord’s own words, wrath was not going to fall until the Last Day. Before it fell, however, Jesus said that He would gather up His elect to Himself. All of this happens on the last day of the age, according to Jesus. The Church will be taken to safety first, and then the wrath of God will fall.

It’s clear from both the teaching of Christ Himself and Paul the Apostle that God did not appoint us to wrath. What Paul is saying here is that we who are alive in the last days – who see the signs approaching as labor pains – must not get worried as people who don’t have any hope.

We must realize that we have the helmet of salvation on. We’re not appointed to wrath, so when The Day gets here, we’re going to be protected.

Don’t worry about the future, even though you see problems coming. Be prepared. Be self-controlled. Be alert. Be working for God, but don’t be afraid.

The last thing we need to remember is to continue to encourage one another, to build one another up and to exhort one another as, in fact, we should be doing.

That’s what being a part of the church is all about. We must help each other in areas of weakness. It’s only as we work together that we’ll gain the victory.

Question: How does your future hope affect your walk with Christ today?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 

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Is Your Faith Known?

In my last post, I talked about the need for a faith-coach. In sports, coaches are needed to overcome the challenges that an athlete faces during their competition. I believe it’s the same in our Christian walk. It’s how we’ve been coached that gets us through our challenges.

Paul tells the Thessalonian church the reason he was sending Timothy to coach them…

…so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.
1 Thessalonians 3:3-5

First of all, let me say that I’m not particularly thrilled with this passage. Paul makes it clear that it’s an undeniable fact of life that we will certainly face trials. Both of the words he uses – trials and persecution – mean pressure, narrow spaces, and challenges.

The Good News is not that we have an easy life with Christ. Instead, the Lord strengthens us to overcome in all of our trials.

This is why Paul wants them to be coached. In our trials, we should never be unsettled. That word literally means to wag – like a dog wags his tail.

Too often we, as Christians, end up simply reacting to our trials. We don’t expect them. Worse than that, we don’t know how to correctly operate in faith to walk through them. God has a better way for us. Listen to what He said to Israel when He taught them the law.

The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.
Deuteronomy 28:13

The Lord never wants us to be wagged – to simply react – to the challenges of life. We have been given the Holy Spirit so that we can be ready for anything that comes our way. By watching others overcome, we can be equipped for the same victories.

Unfortunately, many refuse God’s mentoring system. They end up learning to overcome by trial and error. Personally, I want to know the strategy before I enter the heat of battle.

Back in the verse from Thessalonians, Paul said that he wanted to find out about their faith – literally he wanted to know their faith. The fact is, that true faith can be seen and known by those around you.

Trials and challenges – the pressures of life – serve an important purpose. They come so that the faith that you have on the inside can become evident on the outside.

Listen to how Peter describes the result of trials in our lives.

These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:7

Do what needs to be done in order to prepare your faith. Then when the trials come, as you know they will, Christ will be revealed in you.

Question: How has watching other believers prepared you for your trials?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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Get a Faith-Coach

I’ve been posting about Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. I’m now starting to look at chapter three. We now begin to see Paul’s desire for their continued growth.

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith…
1 Thessalonians 3:1-2

If you remember, Paul had to leave Thessalonica before he had a chance to establish the church in his usual way. He had been worrying about their spiritual health as he traveled through the area. Now that things had quieted down a little, he could check up on them.

He decided to send his spiritual son, Timothy, to see how they were doing. With Paul as his mentor, Timothy had grown to a seasoned minister in his own right. Paul even calls him a co-worker in the Gospel. Having Timothy show up in their church was like having Paul, himself.

But the real question is; why did Paul feel the need to send anyone? After all, there are many in the body of Christ today who don’t feel the need to sit under any teaching. What was it that Paul was trying to accomplish?

Why didn’t Paul just encourage them to make sure they were reading the Bible? Okay, so they didn’t have a Bible. This letter was the second book of the New Testament that was written. And the only copy of the Old Testament in Thessalonica was in the synagogue, where most of the persecution was coming from.

If you’ve been following this blog through the book of First Thessalonians, then you know that one of the themes Paul talks about is the principle of imitation. The fact is that we all need spiritual mentors to look up to. I would say that 80% of our growth comes from how we see others living for Christ.

Timothy was given two specific assignments in regard to the people. Paul wanted to position them for growth and maturity. These are the same things that we need from those we find ourselves under in the church.

The first thing Timothy was to do is strengthening them in their faith. This word has a couple of different uses. It means to establish or set fast. We need to be rooted in our faith. Trusting God is not something we can do today and forget about tomorrow. It must be a consistent part of our life.

This word also means to turn resolutely in a certain direction. Faith always has a direction. Faith never wanders around looking for the right path. When I know where God’s leading, I can walk with the assurance that I’ll come to my destiny in Christ.

Timothy’s other job was to encourage them in their faith. That’s a word that means to call alongside. It’s the job description of a coach. A coach is someone who’s walked that way before, and can bring you there quicker than you could have done it by yourself.

Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
1 Corinthians 4:16-17

This verse describes perfectly what’s happening with the Thessalonians. The word urge is the same word that means to coach. There’s no doubt about it. We need to place ourselves under faith-coaches in the body of Christ.

It might be a pastor or a teacher that God has brought into your life. Whether we think we need it or not, these faith-coaches will keep us from getting stuck in our Christian walk.

Question: How have godly leaders helped your growth in the Lord?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Faith, Leadership, Spiritual Walk

 

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Imitation – The Path to Greatness

In my last post, I talked about how the Thessalonian believers accepted the Word of God. It changed them. It brought them to a new way of life.

But even though it created a desire for change in them, something else was needed. You may have the desire and the power to change, but without a proper example, you won’t know how to live a new life.

For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

The word imitation keeps popping up in this letter. That’s because it’s an important concept for growing Christians. More than ever, we need leaders who are worthy of imitation.

I don’t know where I’d be today if weren’t for the pastors and teachers who I watched and copied along the way. By watching their examples, I learned how to love others, to pray for those in need of God’s touch, and how to witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

We were never meant to serve God on our own. It’s not God’s plan for us to figure everything out all by ourselves. We need to follow in the footsteps of those who have walked this path before.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7

We sometimes get the idea that the great men and women of God were somehow born into their positions of honor. We see the work that they’re doing now and can’t grasp that they ever had to struggle with their Christian walk.

The fact is that every believer – whether they’re a leader or not – has to wrestle with the same problems and challenges. The important thought in this verse is to consider how their lives turned out.

That word, consider, means to look again. We need to take a second look at our leaders. See how they got from salvation to their present position. Then, we should imitate the positive way that they trusted and served Christ.

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Hebrews 6:12

Here’s the key. When we look at those who are leaders in the body of Christ, we must always understand the road that they took.

There’s no easy way. It’s not just about faith. Inheriting the promise comes through both faith and patience.

We think that we can simply start trusting God and walk in a ministry like those who’ve been trusting the Lord for years. It doesn’t work like that.

Imitation doesn’t only mean that I minister the way they do right now. It means that I follow the same path that they took to get there. I have to learn the same lessons and fight some of the same battles.

The good news is that if they could come through victoriously, then I can too. God is no respecter of persons. If I’m willing to listen to, trust, and obey God the way others do, then I’ll receive the same inheritance.

Question: What blessings are in your life as a result of godly examples?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2017 in Faith, Leadership, Spiritual Walk

 

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Planting the Word

Our Supply in GodI’ve been posting from First Thessalonians. In my last article we saw how Paul was a spiritual father to those he ministered to. Because of that, the people were more willing to receive from his ministry.

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
1 Thessalonians 2:13

God is a co-worker with us and it’s His job to confirm His Word with signs and wonders. When receiving the Word of God, that’s the mindset I must bring with me. I want to hear from God. He’s using a human being to distribute this Word, but I want what God has for me.

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.
2 Corinthians 9:10

This verse explains what God provides for us. Even though the context is talking about finances, Paul makes it clear that the scope is far greater by calling it the harvest of your righteousness.

One major principle is that God provides bread for food. That’s the logos of God. It’s the Word that can give you immediate benefit. It’s readily digestible and palatable.

There’s also another major truth found here. It deals with sowing. If you’re a sower – you want the long-term benefits of the Word of God – then you’re seeking rhema from God. God is willing and able to drop the grain of rhema into your spirit.

The key is that you must be seeking this blessing. It doesn’t happen by accident. You need the attitude that says, “Sure, I hear Pastor Nick preaching, but I want to receive a Word from God.”

God desires to give His Word in all of its forms to anyone that will listen and receive. By the power of His Spirit, He gives both at the same time. God sends the digestible logos of preaching right along with the raw rhema from the mouth of God Himself.

Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
Galatians 3:5

This question that Paul asks summarizes the entire scope of this teaching. Paul literally asks how does God fully supply you with His Spirit and activate His miraculous power in you? That’s the question of the hour. It’s what the church desperately needs to learn and lay hold of. It’s what the world is dying to see in operation.

I believe that it’s this truth that will usher in the end time harvest of souls before the coming of the Lord. The answer that Paul gives is that the Spirit is given and His power is activated in you by the hearing of faith.

This is where the power of God resides. It’s not a work of the law. It only comes as I hear His voice and let it inspire faith in me. This is the foundation for the miraculous. God and I as co-workers.

He’s looking for someone who’ll listen for His voice. It’s time for the church to enter that intimate place with the Lord. Only then will we see the glory of God released through His people.

Question: What’s your mindset while hearing the Word preached or taught?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2017 in Faith, Power of God, Word of God

 

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True Success

How do you measure success or failure? Is it based upon your obvious victories and accomplishments? What about some things that aren’t so readily apparent?

Paul made some observations about this to the Thessalonian church.

You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.
1 Thessalonians 2:1

Paul makes this simple, clear statement of fact. But what was he talking about? Surely the great Apostle Paul didn’t have any major setbacks in his ministry.

Fortunately for us, the people recorded in the Bible had the same types of challenges that we face. That way we can see how they trusted God to bring them through victoriously. It turns out that Paul’s visit to Thessalonica was a major temptation for him to feel like a failure.

In order to see the whole story, you can read Acts 17:1-10. But I’ll review the basic story line here.

Paul was on one of his missionary trips. He had just left Philippi, where he was temporarily thrown in jail. He arrives at Thessalonica, and is allowed to teach in the synagogue for three Sabbaths in a row.

Of course, he preaches Jesus Christ as Messiah. He talks about the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection.

As a result, some of the Jews and a large number of Gentiles trust in Jesus for their salvation. Because the number of Christians was increasing, the Jews started to become jealous. They wanted to shut down Paul’s ministry.

So, what these hateful people did was to round up some unsavory characters from the marketplace. The Jews then paid them to start trouble and cause a riot. They tried to find Paul and his team, but weren’t able to locate them.

Instead, they grabbed some of the new believers, and dragged them off to the magistrates. They then began to accuse them of criminal activity. The city was in an uproar.

Fearing for Paul’s life, the believers made him leave the city immediately. Because of this, Paul and Silas, his partner in ministry, were not able to fully establish this church in the usual way. They had to trust God for the church’s continued survival.

It wasn’t until months later that Paul sent Timothy to check on the Thessalonians. Not only did they survive, they were flourishing as followers of Christ.

We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.
1 Thessalonians 2:2

When it came to evangelizing the Thessalonians, Paul went from one trouble to the next. Yet in spite of it all, he could boldly declare that his visit was not a failure.

We need to learn that lesson. It would go a long way to giving us a better attitude.

Remember this – Just because things don’t go according to our plan, doesn’t mean it’s a failure. The fact is that we rarely ever see everything that God is doing behind the scenes. He sees the end from the beginning, we only see the surface.

Paul only knew that it was God’s plan to bring the Gospel to this region. He did his part, and then he had to trust the Lord for the results.

Many were saved. The church was established on a firm foundation. And – miracle of miracles – the Holy Spirit was able to accomplish it without all of Paul’s expertise.

Do what God has called you to do. Then leave the results in His hands. That’s the basis of true success.

Question: What is something you originally thought was a failure; but God turned it into a success?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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What Are You Known For?

In my last post I talked about the way the Thessalonian believers imitated Paul’s lifestyle. They were commended for it.

But as we read further in Paul’s letter to them, we find out even more. This lifestyle, living for God, wasn’t a private thing. They weren’t just “closet Christians”. Here’s what Paul said about them.

And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia — your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:7-10

All over the region, people were talking about how the Thessalonians had received the Gospel. Of course, it was a Gospel that included a demonstration of God’s power. They allowed it to get into their hearts and change their lives.

The first thing that we see is that they were turned around. They had formerly been worshipping idols, but now they are servants of God. It takes the power of God to make that kind of change.

Serving idols is easy. As a matter of fact, our culture is full of idolatry. No, not the carved images, but we serve man-made idols. There are those who worship the gods of education, finance, entertainment, or sports.

The thing about idolatry is that it makes you feel good about what you can do. You can compare yourself to those around you.

“Look at me! I’m smarter than you.” “I’m more athletic than you.” “I’ve got more money than you.”

The reason it’s hard to turn to God from this is because it requires a whole new mindset. Once I turn to Christ, it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God. It’s not about what I can do, but what the Lord is doing in me.

When we serve idols, we’re actually serving ourselves. In the kingdom of God we serve Him. God sets the agenda for us.

The secret to their faithfulness was that they kept their eyes on Jesus. Part of Paul’s testimony about them was that they were actively waiting for Jesus. With their focus on Him, they were able to serve with joy.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Romans 12:11

The word zeal means to be very eager to serve the Lord. I think that’s what’s missing in the lives of many believers. They have no eagerness to serve God. Why is that?

According to this verse, it requires spiritual fervor. The word translated as fervor literally means to be boiling over. It requires power to heat water to the boiling point. Left to itself it remains at room temperature – lukewarm.

If we will spend time with the Holy Spirit, then His power will be at work in our spirit. He can give us that spiritual fervor that we need to serve God with true zeal.

Then, just like the Thessalonian believers that Paul commended, our faith will become known to all those around us.

Question: How “hot” is your spiritual life right now? What can you do to increase it?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Faith, Revival, Spiritual Walk

 

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