Following our month and week of prayer, I now want to spend a few weeks in providing some biblical focus and perspective for our life and ministry together as a church. I trust that you do see yourself as an indispensable part of the church (1 Corinthians 12). One of the hardest things to do is to keep focused on being a God centered church! We start the year in a focused way only to find that we run out of steam about half way through the year.
Why is this, we may ask? The answer is that we tend to lose focus as we run the race. Runners know what I am talking about. There comes a time in a marathon when you begin to wonder, why am I doing this? We get lost in the pain and the effort and the commitment, and so we forget the goal . It is important to keep the goal in sight to complete the race and so to receive the satisfaction and acknowledgement of having completed the race. The goal of our ministry together is to do the will of God in our generation, as it is revealed in Scripture. Our goal is to finish this earthly race and to enter into our heavenly reward,  that is , to be with God our Father in heaven.
The supreme focus is on God. He is the center of our lives. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things...” (Rom 11:36). From Him we receive our natural life (i.e. we are born) and our spiritual life (i.e. we are born again) through Jesus Christ who died to save us. We are made for heaven (John 14:1-3). That is our ultimate destination. Therefore we remember that we are strangers or exiles in the world (1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11) and so we “look forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10). That is our essential biblical perspective. It is important to keep our ministry constantly in focus. This is my work and my call as a pastor - to keep you focused on God , and live in the light of that fact with faith, hope and love.
To help us at this time, I have chosen Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians . Here we find a wonderful example of a God centered congregation. This church was started by Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). In chapter two we see how Paul had nurtured this congregation, like a mother (2:7) and like a father (2: 11). It was by no means a perfect congregation , but there can be no doubt that this was a God- centered church.
What does a God-centered church look like? Chapter 1 provides us with the most essential characteristic of a God- centered church .
IT WAS A CHURCH OF CONVERTED PEOPLE !
These people (i.e. some Jews and a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women - Acts 17:4) were converted when Paul had preached the Gospel about Jesus the Christ to them (Acts 17:3). When they had heard this gospel they were persuaded, they believed and they had trusted in Christ. As a result they became “the church of the Thessalonians (the ‘ekklesia’ – lit. the called out ones) - in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ “. That little word (i.e. a preposition) “in”, is a word with huge consequences. They were in God and in Christ(1:1). Once they were “out” and now they were “in”. This happened when they had turned “ to God from idols “ (1:9). They had entered into a union with the Tri-une God. They were in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ The joy of the Holy Spirit was in them (1:6).
Now why is this such an important point? It is important because the church is a society of converted people – marked by the fact that they were a people in Christ !
The essential marks of the converted person are found in verses 2 &3. In his prayer for them the apostle Paul remembers that they possessed the three vital marks of a Christian person : faith , love and hope  . They were possessed by a genuine faith in God ; they were characterized by a love that is described in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 and they had their hope in eternal realities i.e. not in things seen , but in things unseen (Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.) . This is the stuff that a God centered Christian is made of .
Next , observe that these three marks are there as a result of the inner workings of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the Christian believer (see vv. 4 &5). Why are they Christians at all? They are Christians because God had made them Christians ! Please take careful note of the language of the Bible. They were loved by God and chosen by God (v.4 – see also 2 Thess. 2:13). Their conversion begins not with the fact that they had made a decision for Jesus but because God had chosen them. This is true for every real Christian. Our choice of Him is ultimately the result of His choice of us. Jesus told His disciples , “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you to bear fruit ” (John 15:16). Likewise Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4). The entire 9th chapter to the Roman Christians is an exposition of this mysterious truth!
Next, the apostle Paul answers the question as to how and when it came about that these Thessalonian Christians were converted. It happened when the gospel was preached to them! Foundational to anyone being converted is the preaching of the gospel , and notice how Paul puts it: “and we know brothers loved by God , that He has chosen you , because our gospel came to you not only in word , but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in full conviction (v.5). The gospel did it! But what exactly is this gospel?
The word “gospel”(Gr. euangelion) literally means “ an announcement of good news” . The good news is contained in a person called Jesus Christ. Paul literally preached Christ! The Bible introduces Him as the eternal Son of God, and God come in the flesh (John 1:1ff). It is a high mystery that the eternal Christ should, by God’s decree become a man by a miraculous birth. He lived a sinless life and in the 33 years in which He lived, He clarified the teachings of the OT prophets with mighty works of power and authority , and he showed us that in Himself all the promises of God were fulfilled. Most notably He would become the Passover lamb – the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of sinners , by His death on a cross , and by His burial and by His resurrection. This is the gospel word about Jesus. But Paul is not content to leave it there. Secondly, he tells us that this gospel word about Jesus must be preached with power (Gr. dunamis) and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. In addition note also that the gospel must be reflected in the own consistent testimony of the preacher … There must be a consistency between what he preaches and how he lives. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “ you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” (v.5).
The combination of these things - the gospel facts spoken about Jesus , by the power of the Holy Spirit and with full conviction of the preacher ( and mirrored in his own life) – THAT , brothers and sisters is what biblical gospel preaching is made of !
Next , we take note of the result in verses 6- 8: The preacher so embodies the message that to follow him is, in fact to follow the Lord “… and you became imitators of us and the Lord” (v.6a).
The goal of every true Christian must be to become like Christ. “Whoever says He abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 John 2:6). The goal of preaching the gospel is THAT people might become followers and imitators of Christ .
Now, notice also that receiving God’s Word always involves conflict, but Paul immediately makes the point the joy of the Holy Spirit is given in the midst of suffering. Knowing Christ always involves a sharing in His suffering (Phil 3:10). “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12). In the midst of suffering, God gives greater grace, leading to a deeper experience of joy in the Lord. The God-centered church will always be resented by the world. She will suffer because she is different from the world, but all those in the world that are called by God will receive this God centered message gladly , and so we read in vv. 7,8: “They became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth (Gr. exechetai lit. to blow a trumpet) from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere …”
They not only received the Word of God , the gospel of Jesus Christ … they trumpeted it in their area! The God-centered church desires to share Christ with the world!
A Note on Repentance ( vv 9-10 )
One of the great marks of saving faith is genuine repentance. Wherever there is a turning to Christ, there will be a turning away from idols: “ For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (v. 9). This repentance was so dramatic that everyone knew about it, far and wide. They abandoned their false gods and they embraced God and the Lord Jesus Christ. In any true conversion, there must be a renouncing of idols – those things or people which we put in the place of God.
Believing always involves repentance. You must turn from your idols and you must turn to Christ. Repentance includes three aspects: change of mind, a change of heart, and a change of will. This leads us not only to a change of life but also to a change of eternal destiny- heaven (v.10). I want to speak more about this, God willing, next week.
The God centered church is a church in which God is loved because of what Christ has done for us, as the Holy Spirit applies these truths to our hearts in convicting and converting power. Everything else fades in the light of this principle.
My prayer is that we may be such a church – a God centered church, marked by converted hearts and changed lives, with clear convictions and convicting preaching. May we be a church with courageous commitment, as well as contagious faith, with complete repentance, and a confident hope. Amen !
 2 Timothy 4:7,8
 See also Col 1:21 : “And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death…” and 1 Peter 2:10 “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…”
 See also 1 Corinthians 13:13
 See also Romans 10:14-17
 See also 1 Cor. 11:1