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Archive for Paul

When we pray for those who don’t, Paul has encouraged his readers to pray with understanding, but his real emphasis is that we pray God’s mission into action.

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’ But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, ‘LORD, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Romans 10:14-17, NLT)

Paul has listed five verbs in direct succession: calling, believing, hearing, telling, and sending. If you invert that listing, you’ll see a marvelous description of God’s mission in the world. God sends the messengers, the messengers share good news, people hear the message of good news and believe the message, and believing leads to calling on the name of the Lord.

At the heart of the prayer for those who don’t is the prayer for God’s mission to be unfurled in the world. The prayer for those who don’t pray does not begin with the unresponsive or the unreceptive; it begins with the sending of the church into the world.

But this concept isn’t original with Paul. Decades before, Jesus said it this way, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields’” (Matthew 9:36-38, NLT).

When we pray for the mission of God to be unfurled in the world, remember that God may use you to answer your own prayer.

Categories : Evangelism, Paul, Romans
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Telling Your Own Story

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One of the things I’m working on this year is changing the culture of our church from one that values numbers to one that values stories. Not just any story, mind you, but stories about life transformation. One of my favorite quotes is by G.K. Chesterton, who said, “The only thing that can satisfy the soul is a story and a person…and even then the story must be about a person.” I believe that going forward churches are going to be built one “story” at a time.

Yesterday I taught our congregation how to write their own story using the model presented in Acts 22:1-21 by the Apostle Paul. To set the context, Paul had been brought up on charges and had been given the opportunity to present his own defense. At that point Paul simply shared his own story of life change. I’ve provided the outline to the text so that you can see how it works.

1. My Life Before I Came to Christ (Acts 22:1-5)
“Brothers and esteemed fathers,” Paul said, “listen to me as I offer my defense.” When they heard him speaking in their own language,a the silence was even greater. Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the Christians from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.

2. How I Came to Know Christ (Acts 22:6-13)
“As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. “And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene,b the one you are persecuting.’ 9The people with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me. “I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ “And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’ “I was blinded by the intense light and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by my companions. A man named Ananias lived there. He was a godly man, deeply devoted to the law, and well regarded by all the Jews of Damascus. He came and stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And that very moment I could see him!

3. My Life Since I Have Come to Christ (Acts 22:14-21)
“Then he told me, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’ “After I returned to Jerusalem, I was praying in the Temple and fell into a trance. I saw a vision of Jesusc saying to me, ‘Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won’t accept your testimony about me.’
“‘But Lord,’ I argued, ‘they certainly know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And I was in complete agreement when your witness Stephen was killed. I stood by and kept the coats they took off when they stoned him.’ “But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’”

While your story may have different content than Paul’s, you can still use the same outline to hang your thoughts upon. Your story is valuable to the Kingdom of God! It’s worth sharing, but you can’t share what you haven’t prepared! Tomorrow I’ll post some simple tips on how to write and share your story.

Categories : Acts, Evangelism, Paul
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Hope that Transforms 3

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The New Testament is clear. Our hope is rooted in the context of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, Paul asserted that the consistent nature of gospel preaching is one proof of the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection. He then followed that declaration by sharing the first implication of the resurrection: transformation.

In 1 Corinthians 15:8-11, Paul took an unpredicted turn. He had provided a listing of those who were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, but then suddenly cited his own personal testimony of encountering the risen Lord (cf. Acts 9:1ff). Paul equated his own experience with the experience of the apostles, et al, save for one detail: his birth was “abnormal.” The word here he uses was the word commonly used for a miscarriage or an abortion in the first century. But his emphasis was on the unlikely nature of his transformation. Unlike the other eyewitnesses who had walked with Jesus for up to three years, he had not “come to full term.” So why was it so unlikely that the risen Lord would appear to Paul? Because he had persecuted the church (15:9). Because of God’s great grace, even Paul could experience life change.

Paul’s point is simply this: the transformation he experienced from zealous persecutor of the church to the hardest working apostle in the first century was possible through the resurrection of Jesus, not through some form of personal reformation, like the kind so often sought today.

There is a big difference between personal reformation and spiritual transformation. For example,
Reformation is based on self-effort and self-improvement;
Transformation is strictly the result of grace.
Reformation focuses on behavior modification;
Transformation focused on transformation of the heart.
Reformation relies on rules and regulations;
Transformation relies on the law of love.
Reformation is accomplished through will power;
Transformation is accomplished through surrender.
Reformation seeks a “better you;”
Transformation seeks a “different you.”
Reformation lives as though all the world’s a stage;
Transformation lives for an Audience of One.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power to change your life. You don’t need to make resolutions or turn over a new leaf. You need a complete transformation that works from the inside out.

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Hope that Transforms 2

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The New Testament is not bashful about basing the Christian hope squarely on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is central to the gospel. So it should come as no surprise that Paul began his epic teaching on the certainty and the implications of the resurrection with a review of the content of the gospel.

For the Corinthian believers, the gospel was a message that they had decisively received and continued to stand upon, even though they may not have fully understood it. When I was six years old I gave all I knew of me to all I knew of Christ. Frankly, I knew very little about either one! But I can still recall the time and place where I made the decision to commit my life to following Jesus Christ. Paul wanted his readers to be clear on the fact that the message of Jesus is the gospel that saves. It had saved them and continued to transform them. Paul handed forward this message to them, but it was not his own. As he had received it, he passed it forward. In verses 15:1-7, Paul presents the content of the gospel as based upon two historical events, each which possessed its own evidence.

Event #1: “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture” (15:3).
Jesus death was sacrificial and on our behalf. Paul uses atonement language (think Old Testament sacrifices) to help us understand that Jesus, though thoroughly innocent, became the perfect sacrifice for sin. He not only was the perfect sacrifice, he was the perfect substitute.

Evidence #1: “He was buried” (15:4).
Much of the apostolic preaching of the early church included the burial of Jesus Christ. It was also included in the early church creeds, such as the Apostles Creed. Why? Burial is verification and evidence of death. That’s why the graveside is such a challenging part of the funeral process. Nothing presents the reality of death more clearly than the burial of the body. Paul’s point is this: Jesus really died a physical death on the cross. He did not swoon or enter into some kind of soul sleep. He literally and physically died and was physically and literally buried. Paul was not using a metaphor or an analogy; he was being woodenly literal.

Event #2: “Christ rose from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures” (15:4).
The Greek here uses the passive perfect, which simply means is that Jesus was raised by the Father and that he remains raised. During his ministry on Earth, Jesus raised three people from the dead. Each of them was raised to die again. But Jesus was raised forevermore, claiming victory over sin and death. Just as Jesus physically died and was buried, he was raised again to life.

Evidence #2: “He was seen by…” (15:5-7).
As burial certifies death, the eyewitness reports certified the resurrection. Paul gave an extensive list, but it is not an exhaustive list. For example, the women who first saw Jesus were not included.

This is the foundation of the gospel: Jesus’ physically died as evidenced by his burial, was experienced bodily resurrection from the dead as attested by a number exceeding 500 people. That is the seed of our Christian hope.

Tomorrow I’ll continue in 1 Corinthians 15 and address the first implication of the resurrection: it is the power to change your life!

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Hope That Transforms 1

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Spring is here! For many, its their favorite time of year. In spring we witness the earth awaken from winter’s slumber. The trees bud, the birds sing, perennials burst from the soil, and the grass comes to life. We change out our wardrobes and fire up the grill. We gas up the lawnmower and clean out the garage. We breathe in the smell of burgers and brats and revel in the sound of the crack of the bat at the nearby little league field. In Iowa, its helpful that we celebrate Easter in the spring. Easter, after all, wouldn’t be the same in July’s humidity or January’s ice. Easter and spring a neatly linked where I live because both are symbols of hope.

Hope is a popular word in 2011. It has been politicized and romanticized, but it finds its roots in the context of the Christian faith. Hope is a Christian word. And for the Christian faith, hope is the product of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each world religion has had its founding leader. Each of those leaders has lived, died, and was buried. Only the Christian faith is based on the resurrection of its founding leader.

So during the month of April I’m going to be preaching and blogging about the resurrection of Jesus with the desire that we can reconnect with our truest Christian roots of hope. And as far as the resurrection is concerned, there’s no better place to begin that in the 15th chapter of Paul’s letter we call 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 15 was written to address two questions. The first question is “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” This is a question seeking certainty. Question two is “What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in my life?” That’s a question seeking implications of the resurrection; the proverbial “so what?” if you will. So I’ve chosen to speak and write about these implications each week this month. The resurrection is not just an event settled in history and geography. It matters today and it matters to you!

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My Place in this World

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This weekend I presented the third sermon from my series titled Missionaries You Should Know, focused on Saul of Tarsus, aka the Apostle Paul. What gained my attention from my study of Acts 9 was Jesus’ simple testament in verse 15:  “Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as the people of Israel.”

This verse reminded me of the counsel I once received from my friend Ken Lumley. Eating pancakes at a Village Inn in Ft. Worth, Texas one night, Ken leaned across the table and said, “God calls special people to specific places for His sovereign purposes.” We were talking about church planting and the story of Abram from Genesis 12:1-2.

I thought about Ken and Abram and missions and Saul, and used that principle to share what I believe God wants to do in each of our lives. So this weekend I used Acts 9:15 to simply point out this truth: God calls and sends special people to specific places for His saving purposes.

I believe that each person is special. Not in a little league “everyone gets a trophy” kind of way, but in the sense that we are special because God has set his affection on us and we are profoundly loved by Him. In other words, we are special because we are God’s children. We don’t really bring anything to the table that completes a deficiency in God. He’s quite complete on His own without us. But because we belong to Him, special we are indeed.

We are not God’s special people in a vaccuum. We are who we are in the context of where we are. Paul was called and sent to a specific people in specific geographical locations. Part of knowing what God expects of you is to simply evaluate where you are in this world. You are in a family, a neighborhood, a school, a job and a city by God’s design. He intends for you to live your life as an expression of his tangible presence in order to share the gospel of Jesus Christ right where you are.


How to Introduce Yourself (part 3)

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Yesterday we examined three of Paul’s characteristics of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today I want to finish with the final three characteristics.

4. The scope of the gospel is all nations. Romans 1:5 reads, “We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all nations” (HCSB).
In Paul’s understanding, to be committed to the nations is to be blind to race, gender, status, title, etc. The gospel is for everyone without exception and without distinction. (cf. Romans 1:14-16)

5. The purpose of the gospel is the obedience of the faith. As you just read in verse 5 above, the obedience of the faith is the response the gospel demands. Paul is not referring to obedience to a creed or a set of doctrines. He is talking about full commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which is the believer’s appropriate response to the gospel of God.

6. Finally, the goal of the gospel is to honor Christ’s name. Verse five concludes that all of this effort is “on behalf of His name.” Paul wanted to preach the gospel to the nations to bring glory to Christ’s name. The highest missionary motive is passionate zeal for the glory of Jesus Christ.

So what do we do with this tidy analysis of the gospel? Paul wrote in verse 5 that “we have received grace and apostleship.” That sounds like fancy preacher talk, but when you break it down, it is important. Grace speaks of unmerited favor, of receiving something undeserved. Apostleship in its generic form speaks of being “a sent one.” If you mash that up, we have received the undeserved privilege of being sent to share God’s good news about Jesus Christ. That was true of Paul, and its true of you as well.

Categories : Gospel, Paul, Romans
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How to Introduce Yourself (part 2)

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When we moved to Waukee five years ago, I introduced myself to one of my son’s football coaches. Realizing we were new to the community, the coach asked what I did for a living. I told him that I was Pastor of Ashworth Road Baptist Church. His next question started me. He asked, “So what kind of Baptist are you? Are you a ‘better than me’ Baptist, a chicken swingin’ Baptist, or a regular guy Baptist?” I had a pretty good handle on two of those, but my curiosity bested me and I replied, “What’s a chicken swingin’ Baptist?” He laughed and said, “Those are the kind that dance around waving their hand in circles over their head like they’re swingin’ a chicken by the head!” True story!

In the first century, the landscape was littered with itinerant preachers and teachers who were promoting “the gospel.” Audiences who were unsuspecting failed to ask the question, “What kind of gospel are you teaching?” The savvy, on the other hand, wanted to know up front the brand of gospel being delivered to them. Paul is no dummy. Having dispensed with the credentials in short order, he gets to the main concern, his brand of the gospel.

In Romans 1:1-5, Paul provides six characteristics of the gospel he has been sent to proclaim.

1. The origin of the gospel is God. Romans 1:1 reads, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news…” (HCSB). The good news is God’s good news. The apostles didn’t invent it. Much of liberal theology today is consumed with distancing Jesus from the development of the gospel and the church. They hypothesize that Jesus was a good, moral teacher who never intended to develop his words and works into a movement that would span two millennia. They suggest that Paul and other apostles got together after the death of Jesus and developed the ground work for what we know as the church today. Paul would have no tolerance for that kind of opinion. He is crystal clear from the beginning that the gospel was revealed and entrusted to the apostles by God. It is God’s good news for a lost and broken world.

2. The gospel is rooted in Scripture. Romans 1:2 continues, “which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning his son…” (HCSB). Although God revealed the gospel to the apostles, it was not new. In fact, Paul would declare that the gospel was rooted deep in the story of the Old Testament. There is a continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament that Jesus affirmed. The prophets of the Old and the apostles of the New spoke of the same person and the same thing, one in future tense and the other in past tense.

3. The substance of the gospel is Jesus. Moving forward, Romans 1:2 states, “Concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh and was established as the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness” (HCSB). God’s gospel is good news about Jesus Christ. In this portion, Paul clarifies four significant elements of Jesus’ life: his incarnation, his death (as supposed by the resurrection), the resurrection, and his reign as Lord.

Tomorrow I’ll finish this post by sharing the final three characteristics of the gospel in Paul’s introduction to the Book of Romans.

Categories : Gospel, Paul, Romans
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One of the clearest biblical passages that deals with the purposes that suffering works out in our lives is Paul’s autobiographical discussion of his “thorn in the flesh.” 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 states,

“This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.” (NLT)

No one can say with confidence what experience Paul is referencing. The dating would have put it in the vicinity of 43 A.D. It seems that one logical possibility would have been his stoning in Lystra (cf. Acts 14:19-20). His testimony attested to being caught up into the third heaven. In Jewish cosmology, the first heaven was the abode of the birds; the second heaven was the abode of the stars; and the third heaven was the abode of God and his angels. His point is that he had greater reason to be prideful than his arrogant readers in Corinth. His visions and revelations were superior to theirs. Yet he was not going to boast in these things. He gave preference to boasting in his weakness instead (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:30). Why? In 12:6, he shares “I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life and hear in my message.”

So, to reduce or even eliminate pride in his life he received a thorn in the flesh. The word thorn is literally “stake,” similar to a stake that would be used to impale someone. This thorn (or stake) was described as a messenger from Satan that served two purposes. The first purpose was “to torment him.” The word torment means to “harass;” “fisticuff;” or “strike blows.” Every day the presence of the thorn created discomfort, as though someone repeatedly struck him in the face with their fist. The second purpose was to develop humility in his life.

So what was the thorn? Several suggestions have been offered by biblical writers. Among those suggestions are:
1. Paul had a physical ailment such as epilepsy.
2. Paul was physically short, or perhaps suffered from a speech impediment (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 10:10).
3. Paul was prone to a particular temptation to sin.
4. Paul struggled under the heavy load of his work and the difficulty of the ministry (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
5. Paul had poor eyesight stemming from his experience in Acts 9 on the road to Damascus (Galatians 4:13-15; 6:11).
6. Paul’s thorn was not a physical challenge at all but rather an enemy that purposed to create pain in his life (2 Timothy 4:14-15).

The bottom line is that we don’t know what the thorn was. It’s a fun conversation. But it brings an important question: What is your nagging reminder to renounce pride and depend upon God? Could it be that the clearest indicator that something is wrong is that everything is right?

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