The New Testament - But By the Grace of God
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Ever feel like your past is too ugly, your sin too great, your mistakes maybe too well-known for God to use you?
Well, think again.
But before we dive in, here's a quick recap of what we've been learning so far - Jesus has died for our sins on the cross and after three days He rose again! ROSE AGAIN!
This is no casual recap. This is BIG!
We know this happened because real people saw Him - not as a ghost or an illusion of Him, they saw the real Him! He even ate breakfast with them and spoke to them and laughed, and oh, what a beautiful reunion it was for these close friends.
Great joy was their's and great purpose, too. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus gives them the Great Commission to go unto all the world and preach the Good News so people may believe and repent and be saved in the power of Jesus Christ.
The early followers of Christ would risk their lives doing just that. And, how thankful we are they did. They put their lives at risk so we could know the Good News of our salvation, too.
So now, it's time to build the church. Again, we see God use an unlikely person, who endures shipwreck and imprisonment to spread the Good News.
Meet Paul ...or was it Saul?
Like we were saying... Ever feel like your past is too ugly, your sin too great, your mistakes too well-known for God to use you?
Well, think again.
Exhibit A - meet Paul. Well, his Hebrew name was Saul but his Roman name was Paul. He went by Paul because he spent his life talking to mostly Romans about Jesus so it made sense for him to go by the name they would most easily recognize. But we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit.
Before all this Jesus talk started happening, Paul was a baaaaad dude and proud of it.
Imagine Paul around the age of a cocky college student when he starts coming on the scene. (Jesus' death and resurrection took place about A.D. 29 or 30 and Paul was born A.D.10.) He made it his life's mission to persecute Christians and support the murder of them.
...until he met the resurrected Jesus. In this encounter, Paul loses his sight. In the most literal sense, Paul physically cannot see. (Around A.D. 34-37)
Once his vision was restored, his life was completely changed. He went to tell everyone about the power and love and forgiveness we have through Jesus.
Paul traveled a lot, serving as a missionary in an area we know as Turkey as well as another trip to Thessalonica and Greece. Here, he wrote a letter to his friends to help them better understand how Jesus has promised to come again. Paul is writing to his friends in Thessolonica, hence why the two letters are called 1 & 2 Thessalonians.
(If he were writing to the people in Oklahoma, the books might have been called 1 & 2 Oklahomans or Oklahomies or Okies or the OK-est people around ...you get the idea.)
While Paul hand wrote this letter, he didn't deliver it. That job was given to a man named Timothy a short time after first visiting the people in T-town.
After his time in Athens, Paul travels to the commercial hub of Greece - Corinth. Here, Paul devotes over a year to establish a church. Then, Paul returns to his home church in Antioch before spending 4 years in Asia and Europe (for the third time).
During this journey, he writes a letter to the church in Corinth. Knowing what we now know about the names of these letters, can you guess what the letters written to the church in Corinth are called?
If you said "Corinthians," you'd be right!
While the first letter is to try to bring some order back to the church - (hey, even the church is made up of imperfect people) - his second letter highlights how we can be comforted by Christ.
Between these, some scholars believe the letter to the Galatians was written. It's important to remember while a man named Peter is preaching to Jews, Paul is preaching to non-Jews (also known as Gentiles). Circumcision is now a hot topic. If Jews have to be circumcised, do Christians as well? Paul tells us Christ justifies a person (Galatians 2:16). Indeed, Christ has set us free from all the requirements of the Old Testament law!
Paul, the devoted pen pal, keeps going. This time, he writes to the people in Rome. He hasn't met them yet but he introduces himself as "a slave of Christ...an apostle...set apart." First impressions, eh? Let's just say, Paul is bold!
He's more than Paul, the devoted pen pal. He's also Paul, the sailor. Ahoy, matey! But this time, it doesn't go so well. Trying to reach Rome, he ends up shipwrecked in Malta.
He also spends quite a bit of time in jail but it ain't no thang because he has more writing to do! He writes to a few more churches - one in Ephesus (hence Ephesians), one in Philippi (Philippians), another in Colosse (Colossians) - as well as a man named Philemon.
Understanding the circumstances of Paul's life is so important to grasping the message of his letters. It's one thing to nod your head along when Paul tells the Ephesians to "walk in a manner worthy of their calling" as he is doing as "a prisoner of Christ" (Ephesians 4:1), but knowing he is actually in prison while writing this and still living out his calling despite the unexpected shipwreck and unwanted and persecuting conditions...
Yeah, it's rich. Paul's like the professor who can teach the class well because he's not just "book smart." He's lived it!
It continues - in Philippians, he's telling the people to have joy despite their circumstances ...while he has a Roman soldier guarding his prison cell...
Colossians is a bit different though. He's heard they are misunderstanding worship and uses his pen to remind them they have been freed from the law through Christ Jesus.
Now, Paul is growing older (likely around 50 years old) and writes to a few individuals. Here's the CSV (Candace Standard Version):
Philemon - this plea for reconciliation is a striking example of forgiveness and how we can extend and model the love of Christ in our actions with others
1 Timothy - a word of wisdom for this young pastor whom Paul had great brotherly affection towards; he urges Tim to be an example of God's patience even with the worst sinners.
1 & 2 Titus - written from a mentor to a mentee about leadership and walking the walk, not just talking the talk when we say we believe in Christ. Titus was a Gentile pastor in Crete; both letters written when Paul was free from his imprisonment.
2 Timothy - this is likely the last letter we have from Paul. Again, out of brotherly affection, he writes to young Timothy as he sits in a dark and lonely prison. Though he originally wrote to Tim, let's read this as if written to us, because by God's grace, he's urging us in the same direction:
As for you, always be clear-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an apostle, fulfill your ministry. For I have already been poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy 4:6-7
How do we keep the faith?
We spread the Good News. We endure suffering as Christ modeled for us. We run our race and fulfill our purpose in the ministry God has uniquely given each of us. I believe we do this by looking at the needs of those around us and using the gifting He has uniquely given us.
The life of Paul is at-minimum inspiring. It's a life once lived blinded but by the grace of God through Jesus, he now sees so clearly. He sees God's glory through the most brutal and lonely of circumstances - shipwrecked and imprisoned.
His pivot was Jesus.
There once lived a man named John Newton who, like Paul, was well-known for his mistakes. He worked in the 18th century slave trade, a murderously horrific but lucrative career. In the middle of a storm onboard the ship, he reflected on his life and the truth of the Gospel his mother taught him at a young age. He wondered if God's grace and forgiveness could reach him after he had so blatantly rejected God.
Though his transformation wasn't overnight, he began to pray and get into community with others who shared faith in God. He became a pastor of a small church and a writer, writing the words of the familiar hymn we know. It speaks of being blind to truth but by the grace of God through Jesus, we have forgiveness.
"I'm not the man I ought to be, I'm not the man I wish to be, I'm not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I'm not the man I used to be." -John Newton
As you go about your day today, I encourage you to listen to Amazing Grace.
How do you see Paul's story through these lyrics? How do you see your own story? Where was your pivot to faith? How were you once blinded but now able to see through the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ?
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me I once was lost, but now am found Was blind but now I see Was Grace that taught my heart to fear And Grace, my fears relieved How precious did that Grace appear The hour I first believed Through many dangers, toils and snares We have already come T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far And Grace will lead us home And Grace will lead us home Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me I once was lost but now am found Was blind but now I see Was blind, but now I see - John Newton, Amazing Grace
May we find strength in the Word of God. May our joy for reading scripture grow as we intentionally choose to set aside time to spend reading it each day. May our peace overflow as the Word of God reads us and changes us from the inside out. Then, we will know rest this world can't give.
Remember how we said 5 minutes a day can change your day, your life and even your eternity? Well, here's what I'll be reading this week. I really hope you'll join me!
The good life, well it starts with a good day. Then another. Then another. Let's choose to live #TheGoodDay one day at a time.
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