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Worship Message-Chickadees

Warning!

We have, a couple times this summer, talked about birds.

Specifically, a group of adult purple martins seen encouraging a baby martin during its first flight from the nest. The point was made that we who are adult Christians should be willing to encourage newer Christians during the early parts of their faith.

A mama starling feeding her baby, even though the baby was the same size as his mother. The point was made that we who are adult Christians should be willing to feed younger Christians for as long as they need to be fed the spiritual things of our faith.

And some white leghorn chickens. Little chicks who knew the best place for them to be was under the shelter of their mother’s wings. The point was made that we should know and be willing to allow ourselves to take advantage of the shelter of our Lord’s wings. Shelter that will help us survive whatever problems we face in our lives.

Purple martins, starlings, and chickens have been talked about a couple times this summer. Today, one more kind of bird to feature. Black-capped chickadees, which, I have read - and this will lead into today’s Bible text - have a high level of complexity in the noises they make.

Chickadees have happy calls for happy messages, such as the location of food. But researchers have found that chickadees use a high-frequency call to warn of danger, including predators being too close for comfort.

But get this. Studies have also discovered that chickadees are usually not alarmed by large predators, such as great horned owls. That is because large predators are not likely to attack a little bird like a chickadee.

But smaller owls - owls closer in size to chickadees - are considered a threat. It is when smaller predators are in the area that sentinel chickadees repeat the alarm sound of their calls, that for the purpose of letting others know danger is in the area.

Guess what. The Bible warns of danger as well. Danger from spiritual predators. Threats we need to warn one another about so we do not become the victims of spiritual enemies.

One such place the alarm is sounded is I Thessalonians 5:12-24. It is there we will concentrate our attention this morning as Paul, the author of the passage, addresses various things that are threats. What they are and what to do about them so the issues will not defeat us spiritually.

Let’s begin with verses 12 and 13, which address the issue of respect for the leaders of a congregation. Paul wrote, “We beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

I wonder if the Christians to whom Paul originally wrote this passage were not respecting and esteeming their leaders. I wonder if a lack of respect and esteem was noticed, and Paul was sounding a warning of the danger of that.

Let’s consider who was to be - who is to be - respected and esteemed.

The wording is “those who labor among you,” which means leaders of a congregation and others in it are to work together. And “those who are over you in the Lord,” which means leaders are responsible for the spiritual well-being of those in a congregation. And “those who admonish you.” To admonish means to warn, advise, sometimes reprimand, not for the purpose of demeaning, but to get people on the correct spiritual path - the path of Christian faith - and keep them on that path.

Specifically, those three descriptions relate, according to a commentary I checked, to leaders. I think that includes our Board of Directors as they deal with the business workings of our congregation. Work that often touches on the spiritual side of things. And to ministers. Hey, that includes me. And to teachers. You know we offer Sunday School classes and Bible studies each week. Those in charge of each of those things are our teachers.

Concerning that last part, students, are you respecting - are you esteeming - your teachers? Are you listening to and following their instructions, thereby putting yourself under their authority, which is what respect and esteem mean? You better be. You should be. That is what today’s passage warns you to do.

Two quick points at this point.

First, leaders, ministers, and teachers have some very big, very significant responsibilities, too. Responsibilities such as leading with love, working hard to protect those under their authority, and leading only toward Jesus. Leadership is not to be for personal glory, but for the glory of Jesus. The point is that what Paul wrote is not a one direction-type thing. It is not only others who have responsibilities. So, too, do leaders have responsibilities. May our Board, may our teachers, may I always remember that.

However, those who are led are to respect and esteem those who lead. That is what is taught in today’s passage.

Second, let me be very clear that obeying any of the teachings in today’s passage has nothing to do with being saved from sin. Respecting and esteeming any leader is not what gets your sins forgiven. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is the only thing that brings salvation.

However, after accepting Jesus - after being saved from sin - obeying what Paul wrote in today’s passage is an excellent way of showing salvation. In fact, obeying today’s passage will help you stay in tune and in touch with Jesus. So even though it will not bring salvation, obeying today’s passage is still very important.

Remember the call of a chickadee. The call to let other chickadees know of danger. Hear it spiritually in the words of Paul that open today’s passage. Beware of the danger of not treating leaders well because that danger leads to the danger of not staying in tune and in touch with Jesus.

And hey. Remember the comment that the biggest danger for chickadees is smaller owls? It strikes me that to the world, not respecting and esteeming any kind of leader, including a church leader, may be considered a small thing. A very minor thing. But it is a danger. A danger that can be moved beyond and survived by respecting and esteeming those with leadership in a congregation.

By the way, I need to add that respect is shown to me. Thank you for that. The goal is to continue that for every leader, including all the teachers, in this part of the body of Christ.

Verse 13 has a few more words. “Be at peace among yourselves.”

Interestingly, Paul gave that same challenge at least two other times. Once to the church in Corinth, another time in his letter to the Romans. Peace. Christians getting along with each other. How important that is because, as I read it explained, the Gospel of love, which we preach, is very easily stifled in an atmosphere of hate or strife.

Be at peace. Get along with other Christians. That will help leaders and ministers and teachers to do the Christian work they have been given to do.

Treat leaders well. That is what verses 12 and 13 teach. In verses 14 and 15, there are some instructions for others in a congregation. And again thinking of the chickadee story, I wonder if there were some problems in the church to which Paul wrote. Problems now related to some being idlers, some being fainthearted, others being weak. Problems that needed to be warned about.

Verse 14. “We [Paul, the author, and Silas and Timothy, two other missionaries with him] exhort you, brethren, admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak.”

Admonish the idlers. Another word for idlers is those who are lazy, which gives the sense some were - and are - reluctant to stay on the Christian path. Reluctant to do what needs to be done to stay close to God, like praying and worshiping and serving and fellowshiping.

Lazy is another word for idlers. Another possible translation is unruly, which suggests that those who are lazy can sometimes be disruptive, as in trying to dissuade others from being as spiritual as we all should be, the purpose perhaps being to make the idler feel less guilty

Another description likens an idler to a soldier who leaves the ranks.

And this one. It is like a student getting out of line. Like a lunch line or a hall line. As in choosing to step away from the proper way of doing things. Ways taught by the teacher, which is disobedience, which verses 12 and 13 warn against.

Admonish the idlers. We already considered the meaning of admonish. It means to warn, advise, sometimes reprimand, not for the purpose of demeaning, but, in this case, to get them back on the Christian path. Admonish the spiritually lazy. Admonish the spiritually unruly.

Encourage the fainthearted. Fainthearted refers to those who are fearful. And I have to tell you, it was not just back at the time of Paul that there were many things that could have and did cause fear. That is true today. I have to tell you I find it very scary, for instance, what is going on in the Middle East right now with the ISIS group taking over huge areas of Iraq and Syria, forcing Islamic law on so many, many people, including Christians.

And here is a prayer need we all must remember. Many Christians in the areas taken over by ISIS have fled. We need to pray for their care. But for those who have not fled, I understand they have just three choices, which are convert to Islam, be killed for refusing to do so, or, if they choose a middle ground, paying a tax which is often equivalent to everything they own.

Even in this country there are things that are scary. For instance, it seems, at least to me, the very fabric of our society is being torn apart with constant calls for tolerance, that applied to everything but Christian teachings.

It can be easy to be fainthearted. But may we work at not being fearful. We need to not be fearful so there is someone around to encourage those who are fearful. Encourage the fainthearted. Build them up. Help them to rely on God for strength.

Help the weak. The weak refers to those not yet idlers, but on their way to that point. It refers to those who might let faintheartedness move them away from their Christian faith. They are to be helped.

Another translation of that is to cling to those who are weak, which means we are to do everything we can to keep them from drifting away. Time, fellowship, help in other ways may be needed. And patience. Verse 14 includes that challenge.

As chickadees sound warnings about predators, so does Paul in today’s passage sound warnings about spiritual threats. The threat of not respecting and esteeming leaders. We are to avoid that. The threats of idling, being fainthearted, and being weak. We are to admonish, encourage, and cling to any with those issues so those threats can be survived.

We are to do that, even when it requires seeing - this is verse 15 - that none of us “repays evil for evil.”

It strikes me that not respecting or esteeming a leader, a minister, or a teacher can lead to some unhappy things being said or done to the leader.

It strikes me that lack of peace in a congregation can lead to some unhappy things being said or done.

It strikes me that idlers might say or do unhappy things, that those who are fainthearted might at least threaten to make others afraid, that it might get tiresome to keep clinging to someone who is weak.

But the teaching is that we are never to take any kind of revenge if any of those things happen.

Is that easy? Of course not, But, Paul continues, “Always [not some of the time or just when we feel like it, but always] seek to do good to one another and to all.”

As chickadees sound warnings about predators, so does Paul in today’s passage sound warnings about spiritual threats, including the threat of not respecting and esteeming leaders, the threats of idling, being fainthearted, and being weak, the threat of repaying evil with evil, the threat of revenge. When we read today’s passage, may the sounds of warning be listened to as seriously as chickadees listen. As we listen, let’s do all we can to avoid the spiritual dangers all around us.

How can that be accomplished? How can survive all Paul warns us about? The answer follows as we move on to verses 16 through 22.

“Rejoice always.”

Just as Paul gave the challenge for peace, not only in today’s passage, but elsewhere, so he included the challenge to rejoice in other of his writings. In fact, the word “rejoice” can be found more than two dozen other times in Paul’s New Testament letters.

Rejoice. Show great joy or delight. Do that always.

And hey, that does not mean we need to be happy when bad things happen. Including when we have so many problems all around us. Including if problems of lack of respect or lack of peace or having struggling Christians among us arise. We do not need to be happy in such cases.

Indeed, I am guessing Paul himself was not happy when he suffered physically and emotionally during his ministry.

But joy? That can be ours because it is based on the assurance that no matter what, the Lord’s love remains, and because of that, the Lord can keep our faith strong.

Rejoice always. And pray constantly. I hope I am doing that concerning ISIS in the Middle East, and concerning the social changes going on in our own nation. I hope I am praying more than I am fretting. I am to do that. That is what Paul taught me and us to do.

“Give thanks in all circumstances.”

In this part of today’s passage, Paul describes what a congregation should be like. A church should be a joyful group. A church should be a praying group. A church should be a thankful group.

And notice the wording. “Give thanks in all circumstances.”

Even difficult ones? Even when things are going on that have to be warned against?

That is what is taught. And I wonder. Will going through difficult times make us stronger? Better able to handle similar issues in the future? Maybe. If so, we should be thankful for even difficult circumstances.

And hey, this popped into my mind. Maybe it is not just difficult times that Paul had in his mind with the words “all circumstances,” but also good times.

You know, it can be easy to forget to be thankful when everything is going well. At those times, it can be easy to think we have things pretty well under control.

But give thanks in all circumstances. In good times, thank God for respect and esteem being shown, thank Him when there is peace, including here, thank Him when everyone in any body of Christ is in tune and in touch with the Lord.

In difficult times, thank God for His warnings. Thank Him for His teachings about what to do about any and all dangers. Thank Him for the availability of His strength to survive.

Do all that for, as Paul added, “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Verses 19 through 22.

“Do not quench the Spirit, and do not despise prophesying.” That is, first of all, a call for each Christian to use his or her spiritual gifts. Including the gift of preaching. Concerning that one, it is not only a challenge for those called to preach to do so, but also for others to have a willingness to listen and apply what is heard.

However, “Test everything.”

I have mentioned this every now and then over the years. I mention it again today. Test whatever you hear, including from me.

I am confident that what I present is Biblically-accurate - Biblically-sound. That confidence comes because I do study and pray about these Sunday morning messages and when I lead a Bible study.

But you know, I am not infallible. It is within the realm of possibility that I might misspeak. And I hope this never happens - I pray it never will happen - but I suppose I could sometime be pulled away from what the Bible teaches, that coming from fear or from some mental incapacity.

My fallibility is why you need to test everything you hear. And not just from me. From everyone.

Test what you hear to see if it agrees with God’s word. If it does not agree, ignore it. If what you hear does agree with the Bible, Paul wrote, “Hold fast to it.” Hold fast to what is good. Know it. Obey it. Share it. Make it part of who you are.

That will make it possible for you to “abstain from [avoid, walk away from, stay away from] every form of evil. Including all the things - all the dangers - we are warned about earlier in today’s passage.

Verses 23 and 24. “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly.” Paul’s prayer is that we will be set aside and strengthened [which is what being sanctified means] to heed” the warnings he wrote about.

“And may your spirit and soul and body [may everything we are, individually and as a congregation] be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”

* * * * *

Like adult purple martins, may we who are adult Christians help those newer to the faith. May our help come in the form of leadership, encouragement, and catching any who might falter.

Like a mama starling, may we who are adult Christians keep feeding those newer to the faith. May we not grow weary in doing that. May we willingly take care of others.

Like little white leghorn chickens, may we who are Christians know that the best place for us to be is under the wings of our Savior, which is where Jesus wants us to be. Under His wings, we can have peace and protection and assurances of His presence.

But even then - until we reach Heaven - there are dangers and threats all around us. Maybe minor in the eyes of the world, but still dangerous spiritually. When we see dangers, may we be willing to sound the alarm. When we hear the alarm, may we beware. May we take the actions necessary to protect ourselves and others in our faith.

May we do that by promoting respect and esteem, by staying at peace, and by admonishing, encouraging, and helping. By not pursuing revenge and by always rejoicing, praying, and being thankful. By following the Holy Spirit, by testing everything and hold fast to what is good, and by avoiding evil. By trusting God to help us with each of those things.

Hear the warning. Heed the warning.

Today’s closing song is a couple verses of the chorus Lord, Be Glorified. As we sing, may it be our prayer that today’s passage will not be forgotten, but remembered. Remembered so well that we will follow every word, which will help us individually and as a congregation.

The first verse will be our individual prayer. The second will be our prayer for this congregation.

In my life, Lord,
Be glorified, be glorified.
In my life, Lord,
Be glorified today.

In this church, Lord,
Be glorified, be glorified.
In Your church, Lord,
Be glorified today.

Lord, we want to glorify You. We want to do that individually. We want our congregation - this part of Your body - to glorify You.

One way to do that is to heed the warnings sounded in today’s passage. Help us to know the dangers around us. Help us to take all the actions needed to protect ourselves from the threats.

Thank You for teaching us, today through Paul. Thank You for giving us the strength needed to obey. Help us to be respectful, to be at peace, to admonish, encourage, and help others, to rejoice and pray, to test everything and cling to all that is good. Yes, thank You. Amen.

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