How to Turn the World Upside Down
I Thessalonians 2:1-12
September 25, 1994
Welcome to our annual Missions Conference. Each year we set aside one week to focus on God’s work around the world. We always begin on the last Sunday of September and end on the first Sunday of October. This year our conference theme is “Serving Today and Tomorrow.” That’s a good theme because it ties into our theme for this entire year, which is “1994—The Year of the Servant.”
Joining us this year is the largest contingent of missionaries ever. Over 30 missionaries from around the world are with us this week. I hope you will take the time to meet our missionaries. You’ll find them delightful, intelligent, personable, friendly, dedicated, and very approachable.
As I thought about my message for this morning, my mind kept going back to a phrase in Acts 17 where Luke talks about Paul’s visit to Thessalonica. At first he had great success until the Jewish opponents began to spread rumors and stir up the rabble of the town. Eventually there was a riot and the mob found some of the Christians and dragged them before the rulers of the city. The King James Version uses a quaint phrase in verse 6 to describe their accusation against Paul and his supporters: “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” Moffatt’s translation uses the phrase “These upsetters of the whole world.” Weymouth translates it as “these fellows, who have turned the world topsy-turvy.”
They meant it as an accusation, but it is really a compliment.
What a great thing to have said about you—that you managed to turn the world upside town. I can’t think of a greater compliment for a Christian. That’s what I wish they would say about Calvary Memorial Church: “These are the people who have turned the world upside down.”
How did they do it? Acts 17 records the fact; I Thessalonians 2 gives us the answer. Sometime after Paul left Thessalonica he wrote back to the church. In the second chapter he reflects on the character of this ministry. As I read the first 12 verses of I Thessalonians 2, I find there seven principles that tell us how to turn the world upside down.
If you want to turn your world upside down for Jesus, the first thing you need is …
1. A Bold Proclamation (v. 1-2)
“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.”
Wednesday something exciting happened in Oak Park and River Forest. Our teenagers joined with 2 million others around the country in observing “See You At the Pole.” Christian teenagers from many local churches gathered at the flagpole at Roosevelt Junior High School, Emerson Junior High School, and at Oak Park-River Forest High School. When I got to Emerson at ten minutes past seven, I saw a brave group of nine people huddled in a tight circle under the American flag. They were praying for the school, for their teachers, and for their friends. I heard one boy say, “Lord, please let someone come up today and ask us, ‘What were you doing?’ so we can tell them about Jesus.” Another young man said, “Lord, this is a great school but we need Jesus here.” My son Mark told me that near the end of their prayer time one of the “metalheads” started shouting, “Satan! Satan! Satan!”
Then I drove over to OPRF where I found 80-100 high schoolers standing in a huge circle in the middle of the football field. Someone had placed an American flag in the middle of the circle. For nearly 40 minutes I watched as they sang and prayed together. At one point the leader said, “Turn and face toward the home of an unsaved friend. Pray for that friend to come to Christ.” The kids stood facing at odd angles, sending up prayers for their friends. Just before eight o’clock, they sang “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” and then dispersed toward their first period classes with the light of Christ in their eyes.
By the way, did you know that every Thursday morning our high schoolers hold a prayer walk? Starting at 7:30 A.M. they walk around the high school praying for their teachers, their fellow students, and praying for revival. I’ve walked with them a number of times and it’s one of the most exciting experiences in the world to join our teenagers as they boldly pray for their own school.
Please don’t miss the point. Last year Ralph Winter from the U.S. Center for World Mission said that he thought “See You at the Pole” was one sign of a spiritual awakening about to take place in America. Don’t forget that historically most of the great revivals of church history started first with the young people.
Often the Holy Spirit begins with the next generation when He wants to wake up this generation.
So our first step in turning the world upside down comes from the students this week–a bold proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The second step is …
2. A Trustworthy Message (v. 3-4)
“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.”
Notice what Paul says in these verses:
1. Our message is true— “not from error.”
2. Our message is pure—”not from impure motives.”
3. Our message is honest—”not trying to trick you.”
4. Our message is trustworthy—”entrusted with the gospel.”
We have only one message—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
That’s why we are here. That’s the hope of the world. Several times this week people have asked me what I think about the Haitian situation. My answer goes like this. I’m very grateful that there has been no bloodshed—until last night. I pray that peace will prevail and that our soldiers will return home soon. But having been to Haiti three times now, and having seen the incredible poverty first hand, I remember what Caleb Lucien told me once. “Pastor Ray, it doesn’t matter what happens in Port-au-Prince. Haiti runs better when we have no government at all.” There is so much corruption on every side that it hardly matters who is in charge.
Haiti will never change until the gospel of Jesus Christ spreads across that land. Two hundred years ago the founders of Haiti made a pact with Satan in exchange for their freedom from France. I believe Satan has kept his promise. If you want to know what a country looks like when Satan has control, visit Haiti. He promises peace and prosperity but delivers only chaos and poverty.
This week a radio station asked me to debate the gay pastor at the Unity Church on the radio. Then the Chicago Tribune asked me to comment on the gay church that holds its first service today a few blocks from here. I declined both times, not because I am afraid or because I fear bad publicity but I don’t want to stir up controversy right now that will detract from the good things God is doing here. If I need to debate someone later one, I’ll gladly do it. But for the moment, we’re going to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s our message. We’re not going to get distracted on lesser issues right now.
We have one message—the gospel of Jesus Christ—and that message is absolutely trustworthy.
Whenever the gospel is preached, it changes the world!
That leads us to the third principle, which is …
3. A Clear Conscience (v. 5-6)
“You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you.”
Of all the complaints hurled against the church by outsiders, the greatest one is this: “All they care about is money.” That objection is not new. Paul faced it when he came to Thessalonica 2000 years ago. People said, “He’s just a money-grubbing evangelist.” We hear that a lot these days, and we admit that unfortunately sometimes it is true that ministers use the Christian gospel as a means to get rich.
But our defense is the same as Paul’s. Look at the way we live. Look at us. Do we look rich? Are we living the lifestyle of the rich and famous? Do you see our picture in People magazine? Do we drive expensive cars and live in big houses?
You won’t find any millionaires here.
Look at our missionaries. Did you see any millionaires when they stood up a moment ago? Look at John Sergey. He’s lived in the same house in River Grove for over 30 years. He frets over every penny that comes into his ministry. His only desire is to get more money for the pastors in Russia.
Or look at Eva Lodgaard. 50 years ago this January she left Chicago for the hills of southeastern Kentucky. A Sunday School class pledged $20 a month. With that tiny amount she set out as a missionary. I’ve been to her home in Topmost, Kentucky. It’s a double-wide mobile home set on a hill. She shares it with Miss Alma Heibert. She’s just retired, but she’s not rich.
Or take any of the rest of them. They’re all the same. Godly, hard-working, gifted, incredibly dedicated. Any one of them could have made more money by not being a missionary. Yet they have done it gladly and without complaint.
They epitomize what Paul means when he says, “We were not looking for praise from men.” Which is all the reason why they deserve it.
There is a fourth mark of people who turn the world upside down …
4. A Gentle Spirit (v. 7)
“But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.”
This is a lovely image that goes against the grain of our mental picture of the Apostle Paul. Of all the words we might use to describe him, somehow the word “gentle” doesn’t come to mind.
Nonetheless, here it is. We were gentle, he says, like a mother caring for her little children. The Greek text is even more picturesque. It means “like a mother tenderly nursing her own children.” A nursing mother suggests giving of yourself and from yourself for the benefit of others. It speaks of the spirit in which you do your work. A nursing mother gives nourishment out of her own body directly to her children. As she gives out, they take in and are made strong.
Gentleness is not a quality often respected today. We tend to value tough, strong, assertive leaders. But none of us likes to be bullied. We’d all rather be loved.
Last night about 11 P.M. I was working at my desk in the basement when I heard the doorbell ring. That’s truly frightening when it happens that late at night and everyone else is asleep. I heard Abby barking so I bounded up the stairs and was at the door in less than 10 seconds. No one was there.
Everyone likes to be loved.
I looked outside and saw toilet paper hanging from our trees, covering the lawn and draping our fence all the way along the sidewalk. Since I did my share of TPing in my younger days, I opened the door, went outside, and inspected their handiwork. I knew it was some kids from the church when I saw the letters “AF” in shaving cream on the sidewalk. About that time a group of girls drove by in a red car. One of them shouted out the window, “We loved TPing your house.” That made me feel better so I went inside, woke Marlene up, got my camera, came back outside and took a picture. A few minutes later whoever it was drove by and waved at me. By this time I had walked around to our driveway only to discover that they had decorated our basketball hoop with toilet paper and tied a can of baby powder on it. Then I noticed some writing on the driveway in carefully written shaving cream letters. It said, “Josh, We love you. Allied Force.” I woke my son up, made him come outside and look at it. When he saw what they had written, a big smile came over his face. He went back to bed a happy man.
Everyone likes to be loved. Love does more than anger ever could. It melts the hardest heart and opens doors for the gospel. It can also make a freshman smile at eleven o’clock on Saturday night.
Paul now shares the fifth great principle with us …
5. A Sacrificial Heart (v. 8-9)
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel to you.”
These are the verses that first attracted me to this passage. One of the first sermons I ever preached came from this text. I’ve always been impressed with Paul’s testimony. He shared the gospel with the Thessalonians. That we all know. But he says he was “delighted” to give them more than that. He gave them his own life.
Ministry that changes the world costs everything you have.
Whenever I read these verses I always think of Tony Bennett singing, “I left my heart in San Francisco.” Paul could say the same thing: “I left my heart in Thessalonica.”
Ministry that changes the world costs everything you have. If you want to make a difference, you’ve got to do more than preach the gospel. You’ve got to lay down your own life also. You’ve got to give something you’ll never get back–your own life!
The sixth principle for changing the world is …
6. A Clean Life (v. 10)
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.”
If the first accusation is money, the second always involves morality. People of the world who hate Christians love to accuse us of improper activity. That’s why it’s so devastating when we read in the newspaper of yet another minister accused of sexual misconduct.
Your life will either back up your message or it will destroy it.
There’s no middle ground for the Christian. If you bear the name of Jesus, people who never come to church expect you to be different. They may not know the Bible, but if they know you are a Christian, they expect your life to be different.
To be “blameless” means to live in such a way that no one can successfully make a serious accusation against you. It means living in such a way that anyone who finds fault with you would have to tell a lie to do it! That’s a high standard. But in a dirty world people who live a clean life will stand out.
The final essential for those who would change the world is …
7. An Urgent Appeal (v. 11-12)
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
This is the final mark of those who turn the world upside down. They make an urgent appeal for the gospel. Here’s the other side of Paul’s character. In verse 7 he says, “I was like a mother—tender and gentle.” Now in verse 11 he says, “I was a like father to you—pushing you on to excellence.”
Not long ago I read an interesting statement about the difference between mothers and fathers. Mothers tend to worry about their children’s safety and security; fathers focus on their children’s success. A mother frets over things like tender loving care while fathers push their children hard because they know we live in a world where failure is easy and success difficult. Both are absolutely necessary—in raising children and in serving the Lord.
Here’s something I’d like to suggest you do this week. Our Allied Force high school ministry recently repainted their room on the third floor. One floor contains a huge painted sword with the mission of Allied Force in huge letters: Our mission in Allied Force is to be impact players in our world for Jesus Christ.
I love that phrase— “impact players for Jesus Christ.” The Apostle Paul would like that. That’s why he kept moving from city to city. That’s what made him persevere in spite of opposition, indifference, death threats, and physical weakness. He wanted to see Christians become “impact players” for Jesus.
The Next Generation
It’s working. Do you know where Elizabeth Morris is this morning? She’s checking into the YWAM base in Texas for six months of intensive training. She’ll study for three months and then spend three months on a ministry team. She’s taking a year off from Taylor University to do it.
The next generation of Missionaries.
Do you know where Tom and April Drost are? They are in Pennsylvania at the New Tribes Training School. If God leads them, they may go to an unreached people group in some remote corner of the world.
Do you know where Mark and Karen Edwards are? They’re in Mt. Prospect preparing to go to Costa Rica in December to pioneer a new model for youth ministry in Central America.
Do you know what Greg and Carolyn Kirschner are doing? They’ve just started a year of deputation. After that, they’re going to Jos, Nigeria to serve as medical missionaries.
Do you know where Dan and Barb Evans are? They’ve just come back from a term in Germany. Now they are studying in Colorado preparing for an even greater ministry in the future—very possibly in Eastern Europe.
Do you know where Tim and Debra Carpenter are going? They’re leaving in two weeks for Kenya where Tim will serve as a missionary pilot for SIM.
Do you know where Sharon Dix is? She’s back in the states preparing to get married but she told me recently that she and Joel plan to return to Nepal in a year or two.
Do you know where Beth Erickson is? She’s home on a furlough preparing to get further training so she can serve the Lord more effectively somewhere in the world.
Do you know where Glen and Jane Fitzjerrell are? They’re on the streets every day pouring out their lives for the gangs of Chicago.
What do these people have in common? Just this. They represent the next generation of missionaries at Calvary Memorial Church. They stand in a long line that stretches back 80 years to the very beginning of this congregation.
This is nothing new for us. We’re always sent our best and brightest to the ends of the earth. We never said, “Stay in America.” We always said to our young people, “Go, and we will support you. Go, and we will pray for you. Go, and we will stand behind you.”
For 80 years we’ve been sending out the best people we have and for 80 years we’ve been standing behind them with prayer and financial support.
The Best and the Brightest
People say, “How do you feel about people moving away?” If you are referring to the men and women volunteering for missionary service, I’m proud to be their pastor. They are the strength and hope of this congregation. They represent all that is good and right about this church. They link us with the past, they point us to the future. They are impact players for Jesus Christ.
This week we are blessed to have our missionaries with us because “these who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” Some of their names are Peaslee, Leaf, McRostie, Bell, Jones, Lilley, Sergey, Burdett, Leland, Lodgaard, and Burk. Their pictures hang on the wall in the lobby. Not all of them could be with us for this conference. But all of them are heroes to us. They have gone out from this church and turned the world upside down for Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Father, for calling us into the harvest fields of the world. Stir our hearts, shake us from our complacency, show us the difference we can make right where we live. Help us to become impact players for Jesus in our own world this week. Amen.