More and More and Less and Less

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 4.1-2, 9-10
1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 

9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more

Reflection: More and More and Less and Less — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Paul uses the term “more and more“ twice in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Thessalonians. Both times he is pleased with where the believers are currently, yet hoping for and encouraging them toward more. 

Sanctification is easy to confuse with moralism. 

To the moralist, “more and more” means more rules and ratings.
To those being sanctified, “more and more” means fewer outward rules and more inner change.

Through sanctification, we are slowly transformed by influences beyond ourselves—the Holy Spirit’s power and the reading of God’s Word. In sanctification, we focus on change in our lives, not others.

Through moralism, we transform scriptures into affirmations of our faithfulness and condemnation of others’ sinfulness. In moralism, we focus on others’ lives, measuring ourselves against them instead of scripture. 

Sanctification and moralism both introduce change, but only one is spiritual and is powered by the gospel. Let us pray this prayer that we may not be more “moral.” But that, instead, we may be more like Christ.

More and More and Less and Less
Gracious Father, we know…

We cannot do “more and more” of the things Christ calls us to without doing “less and less” of some other things.

More and more of Christ in our life means less and less of us. He must become greater and we must become less.

Give us more and less, Father… 
More of Christ’s love for others less of our love of self. 
More of Christ’s grace for others and less of our grudging forgiveness. 
More of Christ’s hatred of sin and less of our hatred of those whose sins differ from ours.
More of Christ’s Word, the Bible, and less of the algorithmic sales machines that social media has become.
More of spreading the gospel’s good news and less of spreading the worst news we can find about our enemies.

We know that we will be at our happiest, at our most fulfilled, and at our most true self when we continually surrender more and more to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

No Christian is ever perfect until perfectly conformed to Christ. Conform us, Lord.
No Christian is ever righteous without the righteousness of Christ. Make us righteous, Lord.
No Christian can say, “It is finished.” Christ came to say it for us. Finish your work in us, Lord.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 24 (Listen 3:37)
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen 1:52)

Read more about Balaam’s Success
Balaam’s strategy of people-pleasing pandering to powerful politicians is still alive today. So are his methods of deceit and temptation.

Read The Bible With Us
It’s never too late to join our Bible reading plan. Immerse in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

Intercepting Deconstruction

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 3.3-5
3 So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 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. 5 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 had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. 

Reflection: Intercepting Deconstruction
By John Tillman

Paul mentions twice that he can “stand it no longer.” The tension of wondering what had become of the fragile, new faith of the church in Thessalonica was too much for him. Deciding to stay in Athens alone, Paul sent Timothy to check on the believers and report back.

To put that in context, Paul could stand a lot. He could stand imprisonment, stonings, beatings with rods, and many other indignities and sufferings. But to suffer the nagging doubt about the faith of those he cared for was beyond him.

Paul’s concern is two-fold. He was concerned that news of his troubles would distress the believers and that “the tempter” would take the opportunity of distressing news to short-circuit their faith.

Faith, like young plants, is vulnerable when immature. A young plant may be choked out by thorns but a mature tree barely notices their clutching at its bark. Plants mature over time but faith matures only through active cultivation.

However, even mature faith can be harmed and even great trees can be felled. Many in our day have backed away from faith or are reexamining it. Some irresponsible pastors have attacked “deconstructing” Christians as being fooled by or being tools of Satan. Some of these pastors are the same men who caused, endorsed, or ignored the abuse, hypocrisy, and suffering that has fueled the deconstruction movement. They stand throwing gasoline on the fire and blame the devil.

While it is true that spiritual forces and powers attack individuals and the church at opportune times, (Luke 4.13) we can’t ignore the tangible causes. When we find abusive pastors, sweaty and holding an axe by a felled tree, we don’t need to blame the tree for giving in to Satan.

Paul preferred to prevent, rather than condemn, deconstruction. And when faith faltered, Paul intercepted those who strayed correctively but always compassionately. His strongest words were directed at deceivers, not the deceived. 

In our age of social media and instant messaging, we don’t need to send Timothy on a hazardous journey to stay in touch, although sometimes discussing faith can feel like a hazardous journey.

Like Paul, let us take the risk and put our energy into cultivating, maintaining, and repairing faith. Who do you know, weak in faith, who needs encouragement? Who do you know strong in faith, who you can turn to?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statues. — Psalm 119.145

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 21 (Listen 5:03)
1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen 1:44)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 22 (Listen 5:55), 1 Thessalonians 4 (Listen 2:24)
Numbers 23 (Listen 4:01), 1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen 2:37)

Read more about Cultivation Means Tending
We must carefully plant and nurture the early growth of gospel teaching so that it grows strong, healthy, and productive.

Read more about Cultivation Leads to Harvest
How are you dividing up your spiritual harvest? To whom are you passing on biblical knowledge?

Fear of Being Fooled

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 2.1-4
1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.

Pray……we don’t get fooled again.” — The Who

Reflection: Fear of Being Fooled
By John Tillman

People don’t like being tricked. I don’t even like surprise parties. 

Perhaps our fear of being fooled goes all the way back to Genesis? After the serpent fooled his parents, the Lord told Cain sin was a crouching creature to be mastered. (Genesis 4.6-7) We won’t be fooled again…we hope. Yet, over and over again, like Cain, sin masters us. The serpent fools us.

There are many stories we tell ourselves about our world being a deception. Free Guy, The Matrix films, and The Truman Show are just a few examples. In these stories, someone is living within what they think is real, what they think is normal, and what they think is good. But eventually, they find the truth.

Neo wakes up. Truman sails his boat into the wall of the sky. Guy learns about his creator and his imprisoner. In all these stories, someone is trying to fool the protagonist and someone is trying to free the protagonist. There’s a deceiver and a truth-teller at work.

Is it possible to go through life and never be fooled? I doubt it. If you never trust or put faith in anything, every time a true thing comes into your life and you refuse to believe it…you fool yourself. If you’ve been living with or inside a lie, being told the truth can feel like a trick. Sometimes, the skepticism that we think is protecting us, is actually keeping us imprisoned.

Neo, Truman, and Guy had truth-tellers who worked to free them from what they thought was normal, good, and real. These stories in our culture show our fear of being fooled and that searching for truth is arduous and risky. 

Skeptics aren’t usually out to try to harm believers. Most of the time they’re just trying to keep from being harmed. 

Skeptics in our lives need safe places and time for journeys of discovery. We need to allow them to work things out slowly, but that doesn’t mean the work isn’t urgent. We, like Paul, need to ensure skeptics that the gospel we share does not spring from error or impure motives. Words won’t be enough. It will take meals, time together, sharing experiences, and having difficult but respectful conversations about what is true.

As we help them search for truth, the truth will set them free.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. — Psalm 90.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 20 (Listen 4:15)
1 Thessalonians 2 (Listen 2:53)

Read more about Last to Believe
Far from putting Thomas down, John treats Thomas’s journey from doubt to faith with respect and tenderness.

Read more about When Skepticism meets Kindness
Sometimes we look at kindness and assume there is a scheme of self-promotion or self-preservation behind it all.

A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 22:6-8
6 So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”
8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
“The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

Reflection: A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face 
By Jon Polk

It’s official. Ahab was the worst king of Israel.

The stinging indictment is made in 1 Kings 16, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”

Why does Ahab deserve this dubious distinction? Aside from implementing Baal worship and the shocking murder of Naboth, Ahab was notorious for antagonistic relations with God’s prophets.

Ahab tussled with Elijah on several occasions, but 1 Kings 22 records an encounter with the sharp-tongued Micaiah. The scene opens with Ahab attempting to convince king Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in attacking Aram to reclaim the land of Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat suggests that they seek God’s counsel, so Ahab calls in all 400 of his official prophets.

Led by the overly dramatic Zedekiah, who had crafted iron horns representing victory, the king’s prophets unanimously proclaimed that the Lord would give the land to Ahab in battle.

Jehoshaphat was not convinced and saw through the blatant pandering of those false prophets. He asked if there were still any true prophets around. 

Ahab’s response sums up his desire to be surrounded by “yes” men. “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me.”

That prophet, Micaiah, is asked if they should go to war. He quipped sarcastically, “Sure, go ahead, attack and be victorious,” prompting Ahab to insist that Micaiah actually tell him the truth from God.

So he did: War with Aram will not end well, Israel will be sacked, Ahab will be killed, and by the way, all those other prophets were filled with a deceiving spirit.

Micaiah’s prophecy of doom earned him a slap across the face from the sanctimonious Zedekiah.

Alas, the king decided to make war anyway, and, lo and behold, everything happened exactly as Micaiah said it would.

Are we any better than Ahab, with our echo chambers of social media reinforcing only those opinions and attitudes that we want to believe? Do we find enjoyment in metaphorically slapping the faces of our opponents, real or imagined? Do we surround ourselves with voices that only tell us what we want to hear?

Let us learn from the foolish Ahab that we must not only be able to discern truth from error but we should also not discount the voice of God simply if it comes to us from sources we may find disagreeable. Let the hearer understand.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 22 (Listen – 7:51)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

Read more about “Trivial” Sin
Ahab is notorious for promoting the worship of Baal and Asherah…For Ahab, these were “trivial”

Read more about Kingdoms Breaking Bad
As Israel fractures, each dynasty hopes to be the answer. But each one, especially in the northern kingdom, “breaks bad.”

Unity of Belief, Freedom of Expression

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 18.12-15
12 I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth. 13 Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!” 
15 Elijah said, “As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.” 

1 Thessalonians 1.4-10
4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 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, 9 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, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 

Reflection: Unity of Belief, Freedom of Expression
By John Tillman

Two years ago we focused on the opposite methods of two men serving the same God: Obadiah and Elijah. They were united despite serving the same God in different ways. We pray today a prayer based on 1 Thessalonians 1.4-10 to remind us that we are brothers and sisters, called to follow Jesus even though unity in belief does not always lead to uniformity of expression.

Unity of Belief, Freedom of Expression
We pray for brothers and sisters loved by God, who do things differently than we do.
Those who vote based on one issue, those who vote based on another…
Those who draw doctrinal lines in the sand differently than we do…
Jesus has chosen us. His love and gospel unite us.

May we not hold “different” gospels or be swayed by eloquent words or human arguments.
The gospel unites us not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.

May we live among believers and unbelievers, in ways that do not serve ourselves but, instead, sacrifice ourselves for them.
May we become imitators of the greatest servants among us…
Not the greatest blowhards, those so-called “leaders”…
Not those who use words to insult, harm, and slander… 

May we imitate instead those who imitate Jesus, 
Who take a message of grace and joy to the suffering
Who put aside personal gain to offer grace
Who hold out the gospel message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Let us be a model to believers in our cities, our counties, our countries so that the Lord’s message will ring out from where we are. 

May our faith make God’s message become known everywhere. 

May our loving, gospel-centered actions speak so loudly that we hardly need to say anything about it. May the report of us be that we received well our fellow servants and the lost who are searching for the hope we have.

May we turn to God from idols, so that idol worshipers around us can see how to serve the living and true God
We can assuredly trust that he who was raised from the dead is able to rescue us from any wrath, pain, suffering, or struggle that we face.

May we do so joyfully and in unity with those also called by his name.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you! This is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” — Luke 6.26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 18 (Listen – 7:08)
1 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:27)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 19 (Listen – 3:53), 1 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:53)
1 Kings 20 (Listen – 7:03), 1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 1:44)

Read more about Resisting or Assisting a Corrupt Regime?
We must remember that Obadiah and Elijah are not enemies. They are on the same side.

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
May we learn to listen to “losers” and learn what God may say through them.