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They’ve Heard About You.

“Your faith in God has become know everywhere.” -I Thessalonians 1:8

In the world of advertising marketing, image is everything.  Businesses, organizations, especially politicians spend millions of dollars on advertising to “build their image”.
            In recent years even the church has begun to realize how powerful a tool this can be.   We even hear talk about marketing   the church.  The trouble with this is that image can be just that, an image, and contain little substance.  It can be distorted deliberately or unintentionally.  Notice the advertising on TV especially and ask how much of it has to do with a certain image which has little or nothing to do with the quality of the product.  It is a picture of people having a good time.  It says wealthy, sexy, beautiful people use this product.
            I read a story about a farmer who came into a restaurant one day and asked the owner if he could use a million frog legs.  The curious owner had been wanting more frog legs for his customers but wanted to know where the farmer could get that many.  The farmer said, “I have a pond at home that is overflowing with them.  Their croaking is driving me crazy!” After an agreement was made for several hundred frogs, the farmer returned to his farm.  A week later, the farmer came back to the restaurant caring two scrawny frogs.    With a foolish grin on his face, he said, “I never knew that two little frogs could sound like a million!”  That it seems to me is a good illustration of image minus content.
            There is another concept closely related to idea of image, that has to do with what people think about you—reputation.  And though it is true that reputation can sometimes be wrong too, in the truest sense of the word reputation has to do with substance—the working out of a character.
            Have you ever been introduced to someone and have that person say to you, “I’ve heard a lot about you”?  Being the pastor of a small town church, it is not too uncommon for me.  But when I hear that, I always wonder, “WHAT have you heard?”
            Reputation is a fact of life, and it is so often true, “your reputation has preceded you.”  Therefore it should not surprise us that a long time before “marketing” was thought of as a church growth tool, Paul was writing about the impact of a church’s reputation on the spread of the gospel.
            Let’s set the stage.  Paul was at a difficult stage in his ministry (every person in ministry has them).  Of the last four places he has gone, he has been run out of three, and had little success in the other.  One of the places from which he was forced to leave was Thessalonica.  Because of the success they were having there, they were accused of having “turned the world upside down.  A riot was started, and they were forced to leave.   In addition, a personal attack was made on Paul after he left, telling the new Christians there in the church that he really didn’t love them, he had deserted them, etc.
            Then a remarkable thing begins to happen, Paul begins to run into people who have heard about the Christians in Thessalonica.  They talk about the dramatic changes in the lives of those converts, how they have turned to God and are serving him.  They tell of their faith, love, and their hope.  He says their reputation proclaims God’s word.  They are a model church for others.  The impact of that is felt everywhere.
            What a wonderful story!  What a remarkable illustration of the impact which a church can have on a community.  And the impact is not through great evangelistic campaigns, or some slick programming, but because their faith has been heard about.            Now we may be tempted to say, yes, but __. No, their’s was not a hot house environment.  Paul recognizes the difficulty, the opposition, the hardship they have endured.  He says they have had much “affliction”.  This is the word used for pressing grapes until they burst.  They have overcome.
            The reason—you received the word of God, and it is at work in you.
            Brothers and sisters in Christ, the reputation of this church is being built day by day block by block.   It is being built in those homes where children come back and tell about the love they have found from those people at Messiah Church.  It is being built by you at your job, at school, in the neighborhood, on the street corner, the beauty shop, where ever those Methodists are.  It is being built by programs, actions that show we care or don’t care in the community.
            What is our reputation?  Does  “The Lord’s message ring out?”

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