Once upon a time there was a mid-sized Seventh-day Adventist church with about 150 people attending every Sabbath. As the years rolled on, certain factions developed within the church. There were the hard-working, rough-talking folks. And the genteel ones who could wear a spotless white suit bearing a white orchid and look with disdain on others less well dressed. And people in between. When you walked in the front door of the church you would be handed a bulletin, but no friendly greeting would spill forth. Someone commented to the conference president that it was the coldest church of all.
Eventually the pastor was invited to move to another church and a new pastor took his place. The congregation was delighted that he seemed to be friendly enough and waited with bated breath to see what if anything he would do about the stiff and cold church.
The first Sabbath the pastor was in the foyer greeting people as they came to church. His standard greeting, bolstered by a friendly grin and a hearty handshake, was “Welcome to the friendliest church in the state!”
“Did you hear that?” one member said.
Most just looked bewildered.
But after a few months went by the foyer of the church was no longer the gloomiest place on the block. It seemed like everybody was greeting everybody else. Potlucks boomed. Offerings grew.
The conference president stopped by to visit with the pastor.
“I’ve been hearing good things,” the president said. “This church is surely the friendliest church in the conference! Tell me, how did you do that? This was known as the grumpiest church in the conference before you came.”
“Wasn’t me,” the pastor said. “I just told them they already were what I was praying they would become, and the Holy Spirit took care of the rest.”
[Thought Questions for Joyous and Thankful July 25, 2012]
1. Start with the good. Do you ever receive email from someone who always begins with a lengthy account of what’s bad or ugly or boring? Have you ever gone on to other messages rather than stay with the despondent one? Do you ever let a friend know how much you appreciate an upbeat spirit? Was Paul always happy? Should we be? Why do you think Paul is so jubilant as he addresses the Thessalonians for the first time? Is happiness so important that we should pretend to be happy even when we’re not? Discuss.
2. A prayer of thanks. What are you most thankful for this week? Do you regularly sense the welcome blessings of “grace and peace” as you converse with the Lord? What was Paul most thankful for as he opened his short ministry in Thessolonica? In Monday’s lesson the author uses the phrase “giddy spirituality.” How would you explain that? Or is it an oxymoron? Do unity and thanksgiving belong together? Can you help your church reach a new dimension of grace and peace by your prayers of thanks?
3. Chosen by God. Were you chosen by God to be His follower? If you believe you were, do you think that God has chosen all of His created family who will spend eternity with Him? If it’s God’s choice who will be saved when He comes, why even think about the possibility of being lost or of wandering away? Shouldn’t we just enjoy life the best we can, follow the rules of the church and the Bible, and trust God to make the right decision for us? Is it possible to understand how God can know what He does not control? How He can allow us to have total freedom in a sinful world with temptation at every turn? Did this trouble Paul?
4. Assurance in Christ. Do you have the blessed assurance that you are right with God? How confident are you that God wants more than anything else to be your Friend? If someone says to you, “Are you saved?” Can you reply saying, “Hallelujah, praise the Lord. I’m saved,” or would you say, “I love God. He’ll decide if He wants to save me or not.” Do you have to pretend you have Christian love for fellow members of church because in fact some of them are disgusting, shallow, or otherwise undesirable as friends? How can you be sure that God is real in your life?
5. Doing what Paul would do. Is it wrong to try to follow the example of fellow Christians? Or people whose deep spiritual experience is told in the Bible? What is the difference between being a role model and being envied and virtually worshipped? Or is there a difference? Who is a better example for us to follow: Jesus or Paul? Why? If you said “Jesus,” does that mean Paul should not serve as an example in our life? Do you see in our church today any signs of hero worship or the idolizing of some of our leaders or evangelists, past or present? At what point does such admiration become harmful? Discuss.
6. Faith. Paul looks on the Thessalonians and sees them as a model of obedience and evangelical success. What brought them to that admirable state? Do you know people who are willing to be taught but haven’t had the opportunity to study and learn the principles of salvation and the joy of walking with God? Were the early Christians objects of derision? Do you think they were the butt of jokes or were scorned in public? In spite of being misunderstood and disliked, how were the Thessalonicans able to win hundreds or thousands to be drawn to the fellowship? How can we use their example in our churches today?
7. Offering thanks. How much of our public prayers do you think should be devoted to thanksgiving? One tenth? One third? Half? Do you ever thank God for seeming to hold the time of the end in abeyance? Why or why not? How can we use a thankful spirit and a happy heart to demonstrate for others how great God’s love is to us? If all of us were as grateful as we should be, would there be a difference in the effect we have on others?