Food for Thought-What’s My Motivation? Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

What’s My Motivation?

“What’s my motivation?” I know you’ve heard that question before. It’s often asked by actors playing pretentious actors on television and in movies. It’s not a bad question. What motivates us to get up in the morning and be the person we are called to be? Why are we disciples? Why do we follow Jesus Christ? Why do we do “this”? I also see it as the underlying question behind these few verses Paul is writing to the Thessalonians in this morning’s lectionary reading.

1) Ultimately and always everything comes back to the Good News. We have one story to tell. It’s the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have to tell it, in the words of the BBC Radio 4 program “Just a Minute” without hesitation, deviation, or repetition. We can’t put words in Jesus’ mouth. Nor can we subtract from the words he said. We can’t make him out to be an icon of the religious right or the political left. He transcends any distinction. The kingdom of God is a place which operates beyond the conventional political boundaries created by the fall of the Roman Empire and the eventual rise of parliamentary democracy in Western Europe and representative democracy in the United States of America. Do we want to conform to his story or will we continue trying to mold him to our own story? Paul’s answer is clear. Conforming to Christ’s story is the only authentic answer.

2) Here’s where a direct quote comes in to play. “We aren’t trying to please people but we are trying to please God.” Who are we trying to please? Are we trying to please what our neighbors as to what constitutes a good Christian? Are we trying to please some kind of flawed internal standard that was warped when we were children or in a youth group as to what God really wanted from us and as a consequence we’ve always been trying to please other people? Pleasing God is our first priority. It always has been and always will be.

If we were in the business of pleasing people, we are in the wrong business. We are not in this for ourselves. We should be doing something else. Was Jesus in the business of pleasing people? If you look holistically, across the board, at his life and ministry, was it about pleasing people? No. It was about pleasing God. People’s lives were made better; infinitely better, through serving and pleasing God.

Is the message of the Good News ultimately about pleasing people or doing God’s will and reflecting God’s glory in our actions? In reflecting God’s glory in our actions and doing God’s will; letting people know the Good News (the one story), we are given the tools and the stage is set for their needs to be met.

3) Paul says, “As you know, we never used flattery.” There are two basic approaches (both in Paul’s day and our own) to sharing the gospel.

a) The “You sure to have a nice car, did I tell you that Jesus loves you?”
b) Or the “You dirty filthy miserable rotten no good sinner; you’re going straight to Hell.”

Paul says he neither flattered people nor did he unnecessarily condemn people outright and try to scare them into heaven. There is, with all good things, a middle ground. Jesus showed us this.
Jesus, Paul, (and you and I) showed us how to meet people where they are. If people are rich, poor, hungry, full, living in a shack, speaking English, or Spanish, they have the same spiritual and emotional needs. Jesus got that instinctively. If they were hungry, he fed them first. If they were sick, he made them better. Everybody was the same, a person searching for a better connection with God. Roman centurions loved their kids just like poor Samaritan widows did.

These are the things Paul says motivates us to keep going and do what we do.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought- 3 Tips for Living a Good Life

Slide1

A few ideas that have helped me along…

1. With all sincerest apologies to Larry the Cable Guy, life isn’t about “gittin r done”. The most meaningful aspects of life are ongoing; such as the things we really invest in like relationships, family, and friends. Life is not a series of tasks or even goals to be accomplished. Life is a long term invest in reality. We have the opportunity to shape that reality each day.

2. Life isn’t about living within trends.  Trends are short-term investments in the moment.  Life is about going beyond the trends of the culture wherever you are. How can you be yourself, despite what everyone else is calling the standard for happiness, success, and acceptance? Your life doesn’t have to be defined by the others around you unless you want it to be.

3. Begin to discard the ephemeral and those things which are peripheral to and from your life. What is your emotional and mental clutter just waiting to be taken to the dump?  What is getting in the way of you living a good life and being your best self?

Food for Thought-King of the Dishwashers

I am the king of the dishwashers,
Czar of the pots and pans,
Prince of the rotten rubber stopper,
And half blind with one hand,
Cleaning chicken in the sink,
While lukewarm water,
Erases the natural stink,
Clearly it needs to be hotter,
Scalding I have to come to think,
If the ketchup on plate,
Will ever disintegrate,
The vile mustard must be exposed,
A conspiracy that has to go,
The way of old Count von Spaghetti,
Whom I ordered chopped,
Into pieces of organic confetti,
And cheese that is blue,
By my dog Rubetti.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Paul says some very important things in the opening of his letter to the Thessalonians.
The first thing that always strikes me each time I read this word and I must say that it impresses me that Paul wants his hearers, above all else to know this information, it’s this, “We (not I) give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remember before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He begins by acknowledging the work, ministry, and prayers of those around him. Paul’s ministry was more often than not a team effort. He wanted the churches to realize and understand this. Their ministries also needed to be cooperative. Paul’s work was never just about Paul. In this case, Silvanus and Timothy were part and parcel of his success and known to the Thessalonians as missionaries and teachers. Acknowledging each other is an important action in role modeling an important behavior but it also lets the people you work with how much value and care for them. Paul knew this.

Secondly, Paul is living a life of gratitude. “We always give thanks to God for all of you,” Paul says. Plainly put, that’s called being grateful. He’s grateful for the people he knows, has come to know, he works with, his extended Christian family, and those he is in a relationship with. This is different from prayer. We’ll come to that in a moment. This is about living a life of gratitude and showing that gratitude in ways that let people know you value them and the contribution they make to your life. Those things which he’s grateful become the basis he build his prayers around.
Paul is always giving thanks to God for something. How is it possible to live that way? Do you put yourself on some kind of list for a happiness transplant?

What do we have to be grateful for (to the same degree that Paul is)? Where do we start if we want to live a life of gratitude like Paul’s? Here are five easy prompts to get you going each day when considering the things you are grateful for in your life. A word or two about any or all of these five is a great place to begin. Put them in a journal or some kind of place you can come back to. Remind yourself of your blessings. It sounds too easy to remind ourselves of something so obvious. But it is the obvious things we most easily overlook and ignore. That’s why it is good to remind ourselves of the basic and most important parts of our life-the parts that shouldn’t change.

1. Your life, your health, your well-being.
2. Your most meaningful relationships. (like your family or friends)
3. The fact you have food to eat and clean water to drink.
4. You are not homeless.
5. You have people who love you.

Then, as I mentioned, Paul takes these things he’s grateful for; the churches the people, the people he share mission and ministry with and lets them shape his prayer life. Do you see what happens there? If you move into this constant awareness of gratitude, you’re writing a few things down, you’re telling be how grateful you are, you always have a ready source of something to pray about; you’re never at the point where you say, “God, I’m just don’t know what to say or what to talk about.” You’ve always got somewhere to start the conversation.

The final point Paul makes is this, “our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit.” It came to them, as I like to say, “Beyond the quotation marks”. The word of God is so powerful in cannot be contained by this book alone. Nor can it be contained by what people say about this book, our quotes and explanations about the Bible, such as what I’m doing now. It’s hard for anyone to do justice to the Bible other than the Bible itself. We can try. We can and do help facilitate the conditions for understanding and growth. We do that each week but as Paul says, the message also come not by words but by the work of spirit, in the reality of the words, deeds, and actions of people prompted by spirit. I’m talking about us having the opportunity to see the scriptures and the ideas of the Bible go from being 2 dimensional theories to a 3 dimensional living reality where people are making Christ’s words and teachings come alive. In the case of the Thessalonians, they made it real. They were doing things that no one else was doing. Not content for classroom learning experiences only, they wanted to take it to the streets. That’s what they did. Paul thought it was important remind them of how far they had come in such a short period of time.

He ends up with this message. The Thessalonians story is telling itself. Their story has become its own missionary. In verse 8, Paul says, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place where you faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. When Paul, Silvanius, and Timothy arrive somewhere new, people have already heard of the great work and faith of the Thessalonians and their church. He doesn’t have to preach that sermon. It’s a “been there and done that” moment for Paul. Their gratitude and devotion to God has spread to church communities all around the eastern Mediterranean and people are inspired by their story.

Is our story going ahead of us? Do people know of our faithfulness, devotion, and gratitude to God beyond the place we call home? Is there no need to speak of us because our faith has become known? What can we do better to help our story become a missionary in and of itself this morning?