To my beloved child

The Apostle Paul sat in a Roman prison, swept up in Nero’s fierce persecution of Christians.  Imprisonment – and worse – was nothing new to Paul.  As Jesus told Ananias decades earlier, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). 

Paul certainly had suffered for the cause of Christ.  Yet, as he told the Colossians during a previous imprisonment, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is the church” (Colossians 1:24).  Anything was worth it for Jesus and His body; but, this time was different, as he wrote to his “beloved child” in the faith, Timothy (II Timothy 1:2). 

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (II Timothy 4:6).  Paul had no doubts about the life he lived, and he was ready.  He knew that the Lord had rescued and would still rescue him, though this time by bringing him “safely into His heavenly kingdom” when Nero’s sword fell (II Timothy 4:17-18).

Knowing this, Paul had something important to tell his “beloved child”.  He prayed for Timothy “night and day” (II Timothy 1:3).  He wanted to encourage and by God’s grace strengthen Timothy to follow his example and stand firm in his faith, no matter what may happen.

Do you know what else?  This dad also just really wanted to see his child.  “I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy…Do your best to come soon…When you come…Do your best to come before winter” (II Timothy 1:4, 4:9, 4:13, 4:21).  Can you feel the urgency and emotion in Paul’s words?  He was ready to go be with Jesus.  Until that time came, though, he wanted nothing more than a few more moments with his beloved child.

May we all follow his beautiful example.  May we be children who fill our parents – biological or otherwise – with joy.  May we be parents who cover our children in prayer, set them an example worth following, and let them know how much it means to us to see them for as long as we can.

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You Will Be My Witnesses: Conclusion

How did the church grow in the first century?  They didn’t have books on church growth or social media strategies.  They couldn’t hire consultants, build buildings, or add coffee bars.

Each member believed and obeyed the good news about Jesus, and they lived out their hope every day.  They “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”, spending each day “praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:42, 47).  While everyone they met didn’t join them, “the people held them in high esteem.  And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:13-14).

How does the church grow today?  Don’t be fooled:  the answer has not changed.  The answer is, was, and always will be Jesus!  “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.  And walking in fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31).

Fear of the Lord”:  we recognize our need and seek the grace and forgiveness found only in Christ, obeying His good news and seeking to become like Him.  “Comfort of the Holy Spirit”:  we keep in step with the Spirit God gave us as a gift when we were baptized, following His lead and bearing His fruit.  When this is true, we are built up, and the church grows.

For the past seven weeks, we have sought to grow as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.  We’re praying for the lost.  We’re preparing the reason for the hope that is in us and how it shows Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  We’re seeking the opportunities God is providing for us to plant and water, trusting He will give the growth and fill us with joy as we work with Him.

There are lost souls all around us.  God is already working for them.  Now the only question is, will we?

You Will Be My Witnesses: Week 6

Over the past several weeks, we have been getting prepared and empowered to be witnesses of Jesus.  This isn’t something we do on our own:  God is with us.  The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that some planted, others watered, “but God gave the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6). 

Consider how Jesus changed an entire Samaritan village by speaking to a woman at a well.  His disciples were shocked to see them talking, but Jesus put it all in perspective in John 4:35-38:

“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.  Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

When we aren’t focused or feel fearful to share, we just might be overestimating our role and underestimating God’s: “For we are God’s fellow workers.  You are God’s field, God’s building” (I Corinthians 3:9).  Do we realize how much God wants every person we encounter to be saved?  They are experiencing hurt from sin and seeking hope for life.  Through their experiences, God is preparing them.  We just need to work with Him by planting and watering!

You can listen to our sermon and then print and complete this post to start applying it. This week, will you start asking the person serving you at a restaurant or store if there’s anything you could pray about for them?  If they seem uncertain, prompt them by asking about things they are especially thankful for or a little worried about for them or their family.  Listen respectfully to what they say; and when you hear something that intersects with your own life – especially your reason for the hope that is in you – briefly share it.  (Last week, Ashley, the kids, and I connected with our server over parenting and homeschooling, as an example.)

If we will just plant and water, God will give the growth.It is His field, after all.

You Will Be My Witnesses: Weeks 4 & 5

Last week, we wrote down and shared with a trusted loved one our stories – the reason for the hope that is in us – in three parts:  1.) Who were you before you met Jesus? 2.) How did you meet Jesus? 3.) How has your life changed by knowing Jesus?  Now, we are going to refine it and ensure it clearly proclaims the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul once said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).  In fact, when he described how Jesus will return to right all the world’s wrongs, he described those who would suffer eternal punishment as those “who do not know God” and “who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (II Thessalonians 1:8-9).  Clearly, understanding the gospel is critical.  The gospel was so important that no sacrifice was too great for Paul to proclaim it (I Corinthians 9:15-23, II Timothy 1:8-14).

So, what is the gospel?  “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (I Corinthians 15:3-4).  How do we “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”?  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).  Death.  Burial.  Resurrection.

You can listen to our sermon and then print and complete this post to start applying it.  This week, review the story you wrote of “the reason for the hope that is in you.”  Edit it to ensure that “how you met Jesus” clearly and directly proclaims the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  Work to refine it into something you could share in 1 to 2 minutes.  Then prayerfully see how many times you can share it between now and June 2.

You Will Be My Witnesses: Week 3

In Acts 21, the Apostle Paul was arrested following a riot in the Jerusalem temple.  This gave Paul a lot of opportunities to be a witness of Jesus!  First, he gave a defense to the crowd of who he was in the past (22:1-5), how he met Jesus and was baptized (22:6-16), and how his life changed (22:17-21).  After Paul appeared before a contentious meeting of the Jewish council, Jesus stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (23:11).

It would be a long road to Rome, the capital city of the Empire.  Paul would endure beatings, imprisonment, death threats, and even a shipwreck.  Through it all, he would testify to two different Roman governors (24:22-25, 25:6-12) and King Agrippa (26:1).  When Paul made his defense, what did he say?  He talked about who he was in the past (26:2-11), how he met Jesus (26:12-18), and how his life changed (26:19-23).

Paul is a great example of Peter’s teaching:  “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15-16).  Paul had hope, and He was prepared to make a defense for the reason for it.  It’s time for us to prepare, too.

This week, think about your story – what is your reason for the hope that is in you? You can listen to our sermon and then print and complete this post to start applying it.

First, write down your story in three parts.

·        Who were you before you met Jesus?

·        How did you meet Jesus?

·        How has your life changed by knowing Jesus?

Second, read your story to some trusted loved ones (e.g. children, grandchildren, parents, spouse) before the end of the week.

You Will Be My Witnesses: Week 2

LOST!  Translated from the Greek word appolumi, being lost is about more than not knowing where you are geographically.  It means to be ruined.  That is what sin – living differently than God’s design – does to us.

When God looks at us, He sees sheep that are lost, straying, injured, and weak; and as the Good Shepherd, He wants to seek us, bring us back, bind our wounds, and give us strength (Ezekiel 34:16).  This is why Jesus came:  “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  Every time a wanderer comes home, there is a huge celebration:  “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:6).  Saving the lost means so much to God that He rejoices when just one lost soul is found (Matthew 18:13-14). 

God prepares and empowers us to be witnesses of all that His Son Jesus has accomplished.  Part of this is learning to see people like He does and to want what He wants for them.

Last week, we thought about how we have shared Jesus recently and things that hold us back from sharing more.  One of those things can be focus:  we just don’t think of sharing Jesus in all of the busyness of life.  This week, we will start getting focused by doing the following activities.  You can listen to our sermon and then print and complete this post to start applying it. 

Write down what Jesus says in Matthew 9:38 in the space below.  Every day this week, pray these words.

 



Make a list of specific people in your life with whom you could share Jesus and pray for them.

You Will Be My Witnesses: Week 1

Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t the end of the story but the beginning of an exciting new one.  Our risen Savior spent forty days preparing His followers to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Once baptized with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (a Jewish holiday seven weeks after Jesus rose), their witness began in earnest…and through it, God changed the world forever!

This isn’t just about the apostles, though:  we are part of this story, too.  “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:1-2).  Someone did this for us, didn’t they?  Someone knew Jesus, cared for us, and shared Him.  God probably even worked through several people to lead us to Him.

Jesus is preparing and empowering us to be this for the people in our lives, and our Sunday morning sermons for the next six weeks will equip us to act on it.  Every week, there will be a set of activities in this space to help us be “God’s fellow workers” (I Corinthians 3:9). You can listen to our sermon and then print and complete this post to start applying it. 

Will you commit to participating and taking the part Jesus has given you in His story?  If so, sign your name below and complete each of the following items.

_____________________________________________________

In the past seven days, how have you shared Jesus? 



In the past seven days, what was an opportunity to share Jesus that you missed, and why did you miss it?  Lack of focus or knowledge?  Fear?  Something else?


Pray:  1.) thanking God for what He has given you in Jesus and for the opportunity to share it; 2.) asking His forgiveness for missed opportunities to share; and, 3.) asking His help to grow into a more effective witness of Jesus.

Good News

If you ever feel like “there has to be more to life than this” or “there’s nowhere to go but up”, you need to know:  you are absolutely right.  You feel that way because you are a living soul, created in the image of your Creator.  You are special and have a purpose.

The pain, emptiness, disappointment, sickness, and death we experience are the result of sin:  living differently than our created purpose.  Instead of acknowledging our Creator and following Him, we try to be in charge and call our own shots.  That doesn’t work out very well for us.

God, our Creator, loves us anyway.  Like a good Father, He created and wants the best for us.  He loves us even when we hurt Him and ourselves with sin.  Because of His love and our sin, God sent His only Son Jesus to become human like us.  When we read about Jesus’ life, we get to see how our lives are meant to be:  full of grace and truth, of faith, hope, and love.

Unlike us, Jesus never sinned; but He died on the cross for sinners like us.  He was buried.  Everyone knew He was dead.  Then on Sunday morning, He rose.  Hundreds of people saw Him over forty days before He returned to Heaven.  This truth has literally changed the world.

Through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, God solved the problem of sin and death.  He loves you and wants you to share in that.  Do you believe Jesus is God’s Son?  Do you want to love God and have with Him a more abundant life that will last eternally?  Follow Jesus. 

Just like Jesus was crucified, crucify your old self.  Give control of your life to Jesus.  Just like Jesus was buried, be buried in baptism.  The water isn’t special, but Jesus is.  God in His grace will forgive us of our sins and give us a new life when we put our faith in Jesus by following Him.  Then you will rise like Jesus did.  Rise to a new life by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Rise as a member of Jesus’ body, the church.  Rise to be with Him in Heaven when this life ends.

On Sunday morning, just a decade shy of 2,000 years ago, Jesus rose from the dead.  Today can be the day that you do, too.

But the LORD was displeased with what David had done.

David, Israel’s second and greatest king, loved God.  Around fifteen years into his reign, though, David made a colossal mistake.  Israel was at war with the Ammonites, and David sent his soldiers on a campaign.  It was “the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle”…except for David, who “remained at Jerusalem” (II Samuel 11:1).  That single decision set in motion one of the great tragedies of Scripture, shaking David’s family and the nation.

David, the giant slayer, sees a woman on the roof bathing.  Bathsheba is the wife of Uriah, one of David’s thirty greatest warriors (II Samuel 23:39).  Overcome with lust, David has an affair with her, disregarding loyalty to God and his men.  Unsurprisingly (she had been purifying herself following her monthly cycle), their liaison results in a child that could not be Uriah’s.

David, the psalmist, attempts an elaborate cover up.  He calls Uriah back from the frontline for an update on the war.  David tries to get Uriah to go home to his wife on two consecutive nights, even getting him drunk.  Uriah, the Hittite (not even a native Israelite), is more loyal to God and his comrades than David.  He refuses to know his wife’s embrace while God’s people and His ark of the covenant are in a battle.  (David had no such reservation.)

So David, the man after God’s own heart, orchestrates Uriah’s murder.  He sends instructions to cause Uriah’s death in battle – and has Uriah unknowingly deliver them.  Cruel.  Heartless.  Evil.

David never should have been on that roof:  he should have been fighting God’s battle.  David never should have brought that woman home:  he should have been faithful.  David never should have lied, schemed, and murdered to conceal his sin.  Yet, he did.

Let there be no doubt the Bible is true:  fictional heroes don’t do this.  Real people do, though.  Real people, who know and love God, don’t always go where we need to be.  We do things we shouldn’t.  We hurt other people.  We try to hide our wrongdoing.  Yet, sin is too foul to be hidden.  It gives off a spiritual stench as it rots us on the inside.  It displeases the LORD.

David shows us that good people who love God still sin.  He also shows us how God’s word can convict us, as the word brought by the prophet Nathan did (II Samuel 12:7-12).  While the consequences of our actions may remain, he shows us how genuine confession can cleanse our souls, put away our sin, and allow us to live (II Samuel 12:13-14).

Let’s not pretend we are better than David.  If instead of ignoring or hiding our sin we can learn to truly repent and confess, we can be cleansed.  We can be healed. Then we can live.

Fasting: Humbly Seeking God

Fasting is the ancient practice of not eating for spiritual purposes.  In the Bible, we see it among believers and non-believers.  Daniel fasted for three weeks (Daniel 10:3).  Darius “spent the night fasting” when Daniel was condemned (Daniel 6:18).  Both fasts were followed by a dramatic demonstration of God’s power, specifically a prophetic vision and an angelic rescue.

Fasting was often associated with mourning.  It was part of the Day of Atonement, the Jewish holy day when the people afflicted themselves in sorrow for their sins (Leviticus 16:29-34).  Nehemiah fasted as he mourned the sorry state of the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3-4). 

King David fasted while his child with Bathsheba lay dying (II Samuel 12:15-17).  His servants were confused, though.  Why did he fast while the child lived but then clean up and eat after he died?  The man after God’s own heart responded:  “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?  But now he is dead.  Why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (II Samuel 12:22-23).

David understood that fasting is more than a way to mourn:  it is about humbly seeking God.  When Ezra prepared to lead a group of exiles to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast “that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey” (Ezra 8:21).  As Esther prepared to ask the king to stop the annihilation of her people, she called for the Jews in the city to fast (Esther 4:16). 

We see this in the New Testament, too.  The leaders in Antioch were “worshiping the Lord and fasting” when the Holy Spirit chose Paul and Barnabas as missionaries (Acts 13:2).  Fasting and prayer sent them on their journey (Acts 13:3).  When they appointed elders in every church on the way back, “with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord” (Acts 14:23).

Whether giving, praying, fasting, or anything else, God doesn’t want empty ritual.  In Isaiah 58, God says that His fast brings freedom, feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, and covers the naked. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:8).  God wants us to serve Him from our hearts, humbly seeking Him and having our lives changed in the process.