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Confident in Christ, Compelled by Love

The Church today suffers from a confidence problem. Our culture may seem to be growing more hostile to Jesus and his gospel message, but that does not change God or his plan to redeem the world. Are you someone who has complete confidence that God’s message of hope in Christ is the right message? Are you convinced, like Jesus, no matter who is in front of you – no matter how strong, intelligent, sinful, hardhearted, or far gone they seem – that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16)?

This confidence is foundational for living effectively as a missionary.

 

CONFIDENT IN CHRIST

The love of God displayed in Christ is too marvelous to allow anything to get in the way of proclaiming it. Like Jesus, we must not allow any obstacle to hinder us from engaging others.

Jesus lived with complete confidence. He wasn’t arrogant, because his confidence was placed in something beyond mere human ability. As followers of Jesus, we can imitate him by placing our confidence in the same two objects that he trusted in.

First, we must have confidence in God. Jesus knew himself and the Father. He neither had to be reminded of his own power, majesty, holiness, and greatness nor of God the Father’s qualities and worth. No matter who stood before him – king, slave, rich, poor, or a troubled Samaritan woman – Jesus wasn’t intimidated. He knew that God, and his plan for the world, were both perfect and complete.

Second, we must have confidence in the gospel message. Jesus knows he is the only hope for every man, woman, and child. Jesus was never overwhelmed by anyone’s sin. On the contrary, sin was overwhelmed by him. That’s why Jesus never encountered a life that was too far gone from him to rescue. He knew who he was and what he was going to do at the cross. He knew he had come to bring new life!

Intimidation can arise when our eyes become fixed on the person we are sharing with instead of on Jesus. This is not to suggest looking past or trivializing people, but to fix our eyes upon Jesus, never losing sight of who he is and the power of the gospel he brings. To fail to do so risks becoming easily overwhelmed by shifting our focus to the problems, questions, or intellect of the people we’re trying to reach. Confidence shrinks as well as our desire to share the gospel.

Do you believe God is wonderful and glorious? Do you believe in his message of reconciliation? Are you convinced the gospel is the hope for every man, woman, and child? Be confident in God and the gospel he offers!

 

COMPELLED BY LOVE

Our confidence in the gospel of Christ should also result in love for others. It is sad that the American church is better known for what we are against rather than who and what we are for.

To be fair, we are not entirely to blame. There are spiritual forces at work which hate us and would continue to do so even if we did everything correctly. Jesus reminds us:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

– John 15:18

However, no matter how much hate we endure, as God’s people we need to hold fast to what drives our gospel mission: love. It’s an essential part of the foundation for missional living.

The gospel message cannot be divorced from love. Our engagement with lost people should find its roots in our love for God and his glory. It was the great desire of Jesus to see his Father glorified above all else (John 17:1-5). Everything Jesus did was done to show his love for the Father (John 14:31).

In Matthew 22:37, when asked what the greatest commandment of the Scripture was, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We must seek to be driven by love for God in the mission of making disciples. Evangelism was never meant to be a spiritual drudgery we slavishly perform, but instead, a glorious calling fueled by an ever-deepening love and awe for the one who first loved us.

And if we grow in loving God, we will then be moved to love the lost as well. It’s no coincidence that Jesus followed his statement about loving God with these words, calling them the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This was the reason Jesus was called the friend of sinners. He loved others well – all kinds of others, especially those that everyone else wrote off as too broken, dirty, or evil. We must love others as Christ loved them in order to fulfill our new mission in life.

Do you have a genuine love for people? Do you love, not just for the ones who are easy to love, but, as Jesus modeled, those who are difficult?

 

May we, as missionaries, be people who are confident in Christ and compelled by love!

 

(This article adapted from Go & Multiply: Sharing the Gospel in Word and Deed)

 

My Truth

Words are strange. They are the building blocks of our language; signifiers that carry meaning. But that meaning can be imprecise or changing.

Think of the word love. Its meaning can change based on a variety of factors. Telling your spouse you love them carries a different weight than telling your pet you love them. Or using love to describe your favorite food or book. The meaning of a word can change based on context, audience, or tone.

Or culture.

Every culture has language specific to its time and place. Words and their meaning can change over time and culture. Such is the case with the word truth.

Christians have always held to the notion that there is such a thing as objective truth.

By and large, our culture does not have a strong understanding of the term truth. As we leave Postmodernism, wherein truth was stripped of all meaning and made completely relative, our culture has realized that truth must exist in some form. This agreed upon form of truth is now found in people’s stories. Experience has become the lens through which modern minds process and respond to thoughts and ideas.

When people say “my truth” they often mean “my story.”

We all have lenses through which we see the world. These lenses affect how we view the world, God, truth, others, and ourselves. As we work to understand God’s Word, we have to be aware of the lenses we use. If our lens is purely our own experience, we will read Scripture as if we have the right to interpret God’s message in a way that agrees with what we want to be true based on our experience. Sharing our experiences with others is a great way to connect, but experience makes a poor lens.

As disciples of Christ, we must have our lens shaped by the truth of Scripture. God’s word has much to say about what and who truth is. In John 17, Scripture provides us with Jesus’ prayer to the Father in which he prays for his disciples. Through this prayer, Jesus revealed what truth is: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

Jesus flat out said that God’s word is truth.

Later, the apostle Peter says the Word of God is eternal truth which lives forever (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” and said that “no one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).

This biblical view of truth is an antidote to our cultural understanding of truth. Through Scripture we know that absolute truth exists, the Word of God is true and unchanging, and faith in Jesus is the only true way to know God. The truth contained in Scripture is true for all times, all peoples, and all places.

Yet, the idea that truth and experience are equitable still peaks its head into our Bible studies. While earnest believers might not purposefully confuse their personal experience with truth, the reality is that sometimes believers interpret Scripture in light of their experience.

Think of the language that you might hear in group, “Here’s what this passage means to me…” In reality though, when we approach Scripture as a church or a small group, God has one intended message. We must do the work to understand the context and language, but God’s meaning is not unknowable. When we share our response to the Bible with others, instead of saying what a passage means to me, it is more accurate to describe how a passage applies to me.

For example, say your small group is reading through the Gospel of Luke, and you’ve come to the parable of the prodigal son.

You might hear people in the group share the truth of the passage through their own lens. One person might say this parable means to them that God is waiting for us to return to him. Another might say this passage means to them that kids have to make mistakes on their own and return to God. Still others may say that they see this passage as a warning against the temptations of the world.

But, to really understand the parable in Luke 15, we must understand that God has truth that he is communicating to us. This means that we have to do the work to understand what the passage means to God and not to us. If we do the work of understanding the context of Luke 15, we can see that Jesus is talking to religious leaders (Pharisees) who were upset that Jesus was speaking to, and eating with, sinners. The parable of the prodigal son then, was originally intended to illustrate God’s goodness to sinners and to challenge the Pharisees to see and replicate that goodness.

Once we have a common understanding of a passage, we can discuss how it applies to us. Some in our small groups might identify with the younger brother running from the Lord, and realize they need to repent. Others might see themselves to be more like the Pharisees and need to repent of their unloving attitudes. And still others might just need to be reminded of how good God is.

When we become Christ followers, the lens through which we see the world radically changes.

However, we still live in this world and we often put on its cultural lens without realizing it. Scripture makes it clear that there is such thing as Truth. A definite, objective, eternal truth. As Christ-followers, let’s honor Jesus as the Truth and seek after him with all that we have.


 

5 Ways to Live in the Present in a Future-Oriented World

The past hundred years have seen advancements in science, technology, medicine, warfare, and industry that would have boggled the mind of those in the past. And the pace of change is not slowing down. We are conditioned to a rapid rate of discovery, to Moore’s Law, to a craving for faster internet speeds, and the rush to a better future.

A pandemic confined us to our homes, but we are still asking, “When will schedules return to normal? When will school, work, and church resume?” And while waiting, our internet connections have sped up and the future of videoconferencing is now behind us.

In such a future-focused world, how do we find time to live in the present? And, really, why would we? Wouldn’t that just leave us behind, unprepared for what’s next?

Scripture acknowledges the benefits of planning for the future (Proverbs 21:5), but Jesus directs our future-oriented selves heavenward and encourages us not to worry so much about tomorrow (Matthew 6:19-34). God says plenty about living in the present and letting the future take care of itself (Proverbs 16:3, 9; 19:21; Matthew 6:33).

Here are five practical ways to live fully in the present moment:

 

1. Pause

Be still and know that I am God!

– Psalm 46:10

You don’t have to stop. Just pause. Watch the sunset. Take a moment to study the smile of your loved one. Enjoy the pitter patter of the rain. See if you can spot joy in a crowd, or evidence of God at work in your daily routines.

In Exodus 33:14, God tells his people, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Really? Standing in the midst of over half a million people, animals, tents, crying children, blowing sand, rocky terrain, and nothing but desert between where they were and their “future”? Yet God declares that acknowledging his presence will give his people rest in the midst of an uncertain future.

Today, lack of a vaccine or loss of income or separation from others may be causing anxiety and a rush to see the future “return to normalcy” realized. Know that you can live in the present and be at peace. “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,” (Psalm 62:5).

2. Appreciate

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:5-7

Gratitude is a great gift. You can’t be thankful for what hasn’t happened yet — that is called hope. Instead, we say “thanks” for what is and for what has been. We show appreciation to others and to God when their past and present actions are a blessing to us. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Psalm 34:8).

Do you eat slowly, savoring every bite? Or are you like your children asking, “What are we eating for dinner?” while still eating lunch? Taste and see are present-tense verbs. They are something we are commanded to do in the here and now. Experience God’s goodness and grace for “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing,” (Psalm 34:10).

 

3. Worship

God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

– John 4:24

How are you really feeling? Be honest. Get in touch with your present emotions and sing them out to God. Write them in your journal. Pray. All of these worshipful expressions connect us to the God who is present with us — Emmanuel.

God is aware of your situation. As the Israelites traveled through the desert, God promised them he would give them rest, but they spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness because they refused to trust in God. Living in the present doesn’t necessitate denying hard circumstances, but it does require us to pause (1 Peter 5:7), appreciate (Colossians 3:16), and worship in truth (Psalm 55:6). Only when we are honest with God can we truly learn to trust him in the present.

 

4. Serve

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.

– Galatians 6:2

You can’t control the future. You may try, setting aside money for an inheritance for example, but there is only so much you can do.

One way to reconnect with the here and now is to serve someone who needs you today. Meet a need that is evident and within your circle of influence. There are numerous examples from Scripture reminding us of the value of serving others. For instance, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God,” (Hebrews 13:16). Or, 1 John 3:18 which says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

While you are serving someone, it is difficult if not impossible to be preoccupied with your own future. There is a satisfaction that resonates in the present moment of giving away some of the abundance we have in Christ.

 

5. Connect

In humility, value others above yourselves.

– Philippians 2:3

Who have you neglected to connect with because of your “to do” list? What is still “yet to be done” on your calendar?

Lists are great at organizing our future time and helping us set priorities, but sometimes relationships suffer as a result of a task-oriented day.

Want to live in the present? Spend a few minutes more than you had planned on the phone with a distant relative. Text back and forth with an old friend. Meet someone for coffee or lunch. A true “future-oriented” person never regrets time spent with friends and loved ones because those opportunities are so precious and fleeting.

 

Like riding on a bullet train, we are fast approaching the future. Know that for a moment, the scene inside that train can seem still, even serene. You can pause, be thankful, worship truthfully, serve someone riding with you, and connect with a fellow traveler before returning your gaze to the blur outside the window.


 

What Expert? The Call to Seek (and Not Subvert) Wisdom

Imagine at your annual health checkup that some test numbers look concerning. Upon further examination, the doctor gives you the news that you are in early stages of a specific type of cancer, and while serious, she doesn’t appear overly concerned.

But before the physician can utter another word you look squarely into her eyes and confidently say, “Okay doc, here’s what we’re going to do about my treatment.” You then proceed to inform her about the vitamins you’re going to take, the exercises you’re going to do at the gym, and the food you’re going to eat.

Your doctor’s expression turns from mild concern to outright shock.

Most oncologists would be flabbergasted to hear patients informing them about what they believed were better protocols for their illnesses. And yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if they could share real stories of patients who actually rejected their medically professional protocols because those patients “knew better.”

This scenario illustrates what author and professor Dr. Tom Nichols refers to as “the death of expertise.” He argues that Americans have moved the idea of democracy from being a condition of political equality (e.g., every person gets one vote) to a state of actual equality “in which every opinion is a good as any other on almost any subject under the sun.” This means believing that your personal attitude about anything is equal to, and as authoritative as, anyone else’s, even if that anyone happens to be an expert who has devoted his or her life to studying that subject upon which you are opining about.

So, who cares what world-class oncologists have to say about the best way to treat this specific cancer. Some patients read an article on Facebook or some alt-whatever news site that claimed eating 50 pounds of blueberries a week would kill the disease (of course, it also had stories to prove it).

From political attacks on TV to Twitter-wars about theology to Facebook fights on medical issues, Nichols surveys our national discourse and observes (and forgive me, this is long, but it’s so good):

We no longer have those principled and informed arguments. The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of “uninformed,” passed “misinformed” on the way down, and is now plummeting to “aggressively wrong.” People don’t just believe dumb things; they actively resist further learning rather than let go of those beliefs…

At the root of all this is an inability among laypeople to understand that experts being wrong on occasion about certain issues is not the same thing as experts being wrong consistently on everything. The fact of the matter is that experts are more often right than wrong, especially on essential matters of fact. And yet the public constantly searches for the loopholes in expert knowledge that will allow them to disregard all expert advice they don’t like…

Worse, what I find so striking today is not that people dismiss expertise, but that they do so with such frequency, on so many issues, and with such anger. Again, it may be that attacks on expertise are more obvious due to the ubiquity of the Internet, the undisciplined nature of conversation on social media, or the demands of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. But there is a self-righteousness and fury to this new rejection of expertise that suggest, at least to me, that this isn’t just mistrust or questioning or the pursuit of alternatives: it is narcissism, coupled to a disdain for expertise as some sort of exercise in self-actualization.¹

Consequently, in light of all that Nichols examines, he offers a stark challenge and sobering conclusion: “The relationship between experts and citizens is not ‘democratic.’ All people are not, and can never be, equally talented or intelligent. Democratic societies, however, are always tempted to this resentful insistence on equality, which becomes oppressive ignorance if given its head.”²

This is the danger of the death of expertise, of believing that everyone’s opinion is just as weighty, authoritative, and correct as anyone else’s. The only prize we win is oppressive ignorance, a refusal to see what’s true or best that leads us to our own dismay if not demise. Oppressive ignorance is a patient telling one’s oncologist how to do his or her job best or a thousand other examples of people telling experts they don’t know what they’re talking about. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s less a recipe for elitism but more for disaster that leaves us not with coalition of decisionmakers but a confederacy of dunces.

This kind of thinking (and living) should be a far cry from those who call themselves followers of Jesus. Scripture guards us from oppressive ignorance by continually calling believers to surround themselves with the wise (i.e., experts) so they might…wait for it…deposit their wisdom into us so that we might be wise and live wisely!

In fact, the Bible dedicates an entire book to encouraging believers to be community of wisdom instead of a confederacy of dunces. Here is just a sampling:

  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
  • “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:7)
  • “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)
  • “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 19:20)
  • “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” (Proverbs 18:15)
  • “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. Wisdom is too high for a fool; in the gate he does not open his mouth.” (Proverbs 24:3-7)

Seeking wisdom doesn’t give a blank check to believe everything the wise say. It doesn’t mean they are infallible. You and I both know that. We listen to the wise not because they are perfect but because they are experts in one issue or another. They possess a knowledge and experience base that we don’t, and as such, are valuable resources for making better decisions when we cross paths with those issues in the future. This is why Scripture is so high on seeking wisdom. It honors both the Creator and the creation he made. It’s the smart and biblical thing to do.

Let’s return to our opening illustration and reveal that the reason the doctor initially wasn’t distraught by the patient’s cancer discovery is because she trusts this kind of cancer is highly curable. How can she know that? It’s because she (an expert) also knows that medical researchers and scientists (also experts), over the past several decades, have developed medicines and treatments that will give patients a 98 percent chance of full remission. That’s the wisdom she possesses. All you need to do at this point is leverage her wisdom by listening, learning, and applying that wisdom. While that might not make you wise in all things, it definitely makes you smart in this scenario.

Will there be times that the wisdom we are given contradicts the wisdom of God? Sure. In those cases, we hold fast to godly wisdom and Christ, in whom are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3),³ as its ultimate expression. As 2 Corinthians 5:13 says, “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” However, generally speaking, as followers of Jesus we should be known as humble folk who pursue the wisdom around us.

We don’t revile the wise.

We seek them out.

If in certain scenarios we happen to be the experts in the room, then humility should mark us all the more. Either way, we should live lives that honor experts and leverage the wisdom they give (and that we seek!) so that we might make better, and yes, even more God-honoring decisions than we would without it.

This isn’t just smart, it’s spiritual.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.

– Proverbs 4:7


¹ Nichols, The Death of Expertise, x-xi.

² Ibid, 238.

³ I encourage you to read my friend Jeff Medder’s blog about Jesus as our wisdom in his brief post Wisdom Is A “Who” More Than A “What”

This also provides an impetus for followers of Jesus pursuing learning and education.


 

The Discipline of Christian Disciplines

I’ve been a martial artist for as long as I can remember.

Raised by a family of Black Belts, I’ve been told that I started kicking before walking. By four years old, my very first white belt was tied around my waist and I’ve been training ever since.

A few years ago, after training for a few decades and through a few pregnancies, I was preparing for a competition at the same time my body was readjusting to only feeding myself after my pregnancy.

When I consulted a nutritionist for help and admitted my intense late night sweet tooth, she taught me this important principle:

The last thing you eat is the next thing you crave.

Her principle has stuck with me and I’ve found it to be true for so much more than just nutrition.

When I choose encouragement over gossip, I crave genuine friendships. When I choose to be present with my family over multitasking, I crave those close connections.  This is true in my spiritual life, too.  The more I study the Bible, the more I crave meeting with God. The more I pray, the more I crave communicating with him.

These spiritual disciplines—studying the Bible and spending focused time in prayer—are not things I naturally want to do.

I don’t always feel like studying my Bible.

I don’t always want to pray.

Certain Sundays, I’d really rather stay in my pajamas and watch the game than serve others in the corporate gathering.

But I want to want them.

If the last thing I eat (spiritually) is the next thing I’ll crave, that means I’ll have to start before I feel like it.

That’s where discipline comes in.

The New Oxford American Dictionary definition of discipline is “to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.”

This definition rings true for me. To be disciplined is to make a choice regardless of what our feelings may be prompting us to do. As believers who have placed our faith in Christ, his Holy Spirit dwells in us and empowers us to overcome our sinful desires.

In Romans 7, Paul talks about our conflicting desires this way:

 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

Although in our fallen condition, we may feel the pull to chase after the things the world deems urgent and important, the Holy Spirit offers us a wiser path forward: to engage in spiritual disciplines in order to grow a deeper relationship with Christ and ultimately become more like him.

In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul reminds his apprentice Timothy that we can “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.”

You see, the purpose of prioritizing spiritual disciplines is to become more godly.

To feel the disconnect between what we should want to do and what we actually want to do doesn’t mean we’re less-than Christians, it means we’re sin-affected humans. In the same way, we aren’t first-class disciples when we do participate in them. There is no earning God’s favor by marking off tasks from a good Christian checklist.

Our right standing with God was won entirely by the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is a gift of grace that we cannot earn but are invited to freely accept.

Spiritual disciplines then, are a vehicle to godliness; an overflow of love from a heart that belongs to God.

We don’t have to pray and study the Bible, we get to speak to and hear from our Savior, the Creator of the Universe!

And because of our human condition, we may have to start before we feel like it.

We may have to feed our souls spiritually nourishing food so that we crave them.

 

As we navigate our way through a world that begs us to set our attention and affections on ever-changing causes, let’s devote ourselves to the eternal cause of Christ. Let’s discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness and in turn extend his love to the world for the sake of the gospel.


 

Saved and Sent

Hundreds of times in the Bible, God either is called Savior or speaks of saving his people. What do we need to be saved from? In Matthew 1:21, Joseph heard an angel proclaim, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The cross was God’s plan to sacrifice his son to rescue us from the penalty and consequences of our sins. The work of God through his son redeems us because sin enslaved us, reconciles us because sin separated us, justifies us because sin condemned us, and restores us because sin shattered our lives.

Titus 3:4-6 reads:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

God’s act of grace in response to our sin is the heart of the gospel. It’s the essential truth all our beliefs are founded upon. But it isn’t the end of the story.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples following his resurrection, he didn’t just enjoy their company, he gave them a mission.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20:21

God sent Jesus to be our Savior, but God was not finished sending. As disciples of Jesus, we also are sent into the world to proclaim that God has come to redeem and restore his creation. Do you know what we call sent people?

We call them missionaries.

This is your new gospel identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. You are a missionary. You might think, I’m not a missionary. Missionaries take their families to remote areas of Africa to evangelize natives you might see in National Geographic – then you never hear from them again. That’s a missionary. I’m not a missionary! However, if you look up “missionary” in the dictionary, it just means “one sent on a mission.”

We are sent as missionaries to our family, neighborhood, workplace, schools, and every other sphere of life. In other words, we’re given a mission to reach the people around us, wherever we are.

Some may question whether this truly applies to every follower of Jesus or only those sent to remote corners of the world – people who chose mission work as their full-time job. But Scripture answers this question without reservation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Everyone God saves, God sends. The result of our reconciliation is we are also entrusted with the mission to implore others to be reconciled to God. Where have you been sent?

The Christian faith is a viral movement. You heard the message of the gospel from someone. They heard it from someone too. When the gospel came to you, it was on its way to someone else. Therefore, it must not stop with us. As missionaries, going and multiplying becomes our new purpose for living.

This isn’t only important because of the potential impact on other people. When we don’t live as missionaries, we are short-circuiting God’s plan for our lives, choosing a lesser story that will not ultimately satisfy our hearts. God wrote eternity in our hearts. But we easily get intoxicated with smaller stories. The apostle Paul warns against this kind of distraction.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:5

You are a missionary. If you don’t see yourself with that gospel identity, go back to the fact that God sent you. If you don’t see yourself as sent by God, go back to the gospel truth of God as Savior. When we see God as the Savior who, in Christ, rescued us from sin, we understand better that everyone who God saves, God sends. And if we are sent, that makes us missionaries. And if we are missionaries, then our new purpose in life is to go and multiply.

(This article adapted from Go & Multiply: Sharing the Gospel in Word and Deed)

 

It’s a Myth! Paul Wasn’t Saul’s Christian Name

This article was originally published on September 2, 2020 at blog.yanceyarrington.com and posted here by permission. You can read the original article here.


Let’s make this short and sweet. God didn’t change the apostle’s name from Saul to Paul when the man from Tarsus became a Christian. That’s a myth far too many Christians believe and, more unfortunately, far too many pastors have taught Christians to believe. The truth is Saul and Paul were both the apostle’s names well before his conversion to Christianity on the Damascus road.

Like Jews living in the Roman empire, Paul had two names. His Hebrew name was Saul. His Roman name (a Latinized version of Saul) was Paul. Paul likely deferred to his Roman name (e.g., in his letters) because he primarily ministered to the Roman world which included both Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews.1  He was just being a good missionary. If a Jewish name might be a potential hangup for some of his audience, then he would merely refer to himself by his other name.2 It was as simple as that.

In his commentary on Acts 13 concerning the Saul/Paul element, Dr. John B. Polhill, professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary, writes:

In v. 9 Luke identified Saul by his Roman name, “who was also called Paul.” From this point on in Acts, the name Paul appears, whereas before it had been “Saul.” The only exceptions hereafter are Paul’s recounting his conversion experience when he repeated the call of Jesus to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Why did Luke change the designation at this point?…Paul was now entering Greco-Roman territory as he worked on Cyprus, no longer working primarily among Palestinian Jews. He almost certainly had both names. Paul was his Roman cognomen, and every Roman citizen had such a name. It would be the name natural to every Greek and Roman who crossed his path. Paul also had a Hebrew name, called a signum, an additional name used within his own community. It was Saul, the same name as the ancient Jewish king who was also a Benjamite. This signum “Saul” was surely that used of him in Jewish circles. Luke’s switch at this point is thus natural and quite observant of the situation. Moving into Greco-Roman territory, Paul would be the name primarily used to address him.3

Polhill clearly doesn’t say God changed Paul’s name. Why? Because Paul already was his name! Indeed, the professor points out that the author Luke is the one who changes the designation in the Acts narrative and subsequently offers the likely reason why. That’s it. The issue is fairly straightforward.

Sorry to ruin all those “New Life, New Name” sermons that get preached to unsuspecting congregations, but to say that Saul changed his name to Paul because of his coming to Jesus is attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s doesn’t work. It’s inaccurate. It’s also sloppy with the text and, frankly, a lesson in either shoddy preparation or eisegesis, both of which pastors do well to avoid.


  1. Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora born outside Judea. Contrast them with native born Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic. Acts 6:1-7 highlights a tension between the two groups.
  2. Scholar E. Randolph Richards points out that the word saulos translates into a pejorative term in Greek and thus, offers one more reason why the apostle might have chosen Paul over Saul in Greek or Roman settings. See Richards’ First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection, pp. 128-129. Richards also notes on p. 128, “Paul did not change his name from Saul to Paul when he began working with Gentiles. Rather, he stopped using Saul, his first name, and began using his surname when he moved into the Gentile world.” Hat tip to my friend Matt Davis for sharing this reference with me.
  3. Polhill,  Acts: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), pp. 295–296.

 

Focused on God

Filling out my children’s back-to-school forms this year has been anything but normal.

In the week leading up to the deadline, I was bouncing between choices for our girls’ elementary schooling. My husband and I talked over our options so many times, and I even consulted with friends and listened to their reasoning.

Parents, this is one of the most difficult back-to-school season we have ever faced.

Usually at this time of year we are gearing up to get back to dependable routines. We look forward to beloved pastimes at our kids’ schools and the sense of belonging in those communities.

Instead, we’re grappling with sending our kids into unfamiliar and likely ever-changing environments at school, embarking on a new online academy, or choosing to dive into teaching our children ourselves at home.

Though the circumstances are indeed unique this time around, we’ve all faced our fair share of difficult choices in life.

Years ago, my husband and I made drastic changes to our lifestyle in order to get out of debt on one income. Part of the changes involved downsizing our house, and we were faced with two choices at the beginning of our journey — one seemed safe while the other was more a leap of faith. Either choice was fraught with difficulty, and I remember feeling that we had to make the right choice or be doomed.

We made our choice, and I was humbled by how quickly doubt and uncertainty sprang up. I thought we had made the “right” choice, but I battled uncertainty for several months. It would be years before we learned the ultimate fruit of that one decision. But the lesson I learned in the midst of uncertainty was that I had to cling to God for any hope of steadiness. When I wasn’t able to hold it together, God did it for me.

I look back to that time because it was a personal primer for what we are dealing with now on a macro level. We hear people talking about doing “the next right thing,” but sometimes that next thing just isn’t clear.

The good news is that this isn’t about making the right decision. There is no right decision. It’s about trusting God with the decision we have made.

This notion can be hard. Often, I want someone to just tell me in plain black and white what exactly I need to do. But that kind of living does little good in producing strong faith. Trust isn’t about emotions but obedience.

As Christ-followers we ask for peace in the midst of uncertainty. We seek him in Scripture and in our biblical community. And then, in faith, we trust God with what we can’t predict or control.

Ultimately, this is what Christians should do with every decision, every day, pandemic or no pandemic.

God is the same. Always.

Listen to what Isaiah tells us about God:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

– Isaiah 26:3

I love the circular idea of this. God keeps me in peace as I look to him. I trust him because he sustains me in peace and because he is everlasting. This shows a connection between God and me. It’s only when I pull away from God that this circle is broken and my peace falters.

But God does not pull away. He is the one who sustains me. My job is to go back to him when I have gone astray.

The answer is right there in black and white.

Though current circumstances are more challenging than usual, our God has not changed. He will give us the same measures of peace, faith, and trust as he has always done when we ask. He will give us direction as we make difficult choices.

So, let’s continue the dialogue with him in prayer, asking him for these intangible gifts.

Let’s seek to understand more of his everlasting nature in the pages of Scripture, building our faith in him.

Let’s lean on our biblical community for encouragement and camaraderie when doubt darkens our minds.

And let us not abandon our ultimate hope in Christ who has paid our penalty at the cross so that we can have this peace that God so freely and abundantly wishes to give us.

God is there, unchanging, for the one who keeps his mind on him.


 

In, But Not Of

If you’ve spent enough time in church circles, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Live in the world, but not of the world.”

But is this just a cliché or is this actually something Christians can and should do?

How do we live in a world that is broken among those who reject God, but still love our neighbors and remain faithful to Christ?

Let’s look at a story from the Old Testament to help us understand what living in the world, but not of the world can actually look like for followers of Jesus in today’s world.

After the city of Jerusalem was brutally attacked by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army, thousands of Jewish people were forced to relocate to a foreign land. Among them was a young man named Daniel. Every aspect of his life was changed quickly and completely as he walked through these dark days.

Daniel was relocated to Babylon, a majestic city and home to over 50 temples dedicated to various gods – a new world where the freedom might have appeared to be endless. Babylon provided abundant opportunity for sexual indulgence, extravagant food and drinks, lavish comforts and the prospect of wealth and success. In the book of Daniel, we read that Daniel was recruited to work for the king, but faced a tough choice: he could completely give in and embrace every pleasure the culture seemed to offer, or he could try to maintain his loyalty to God in this specific place and time.

Daniel was taken into the king’s service. He learned the language and literature of the Babylonians and was given royal food and wine. But, Daniel was convicted, as one of God’s chosen people, to live differently than those around him and honor God in every aspect of his life.

In Daniel 1:8, we see that “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.”

He made up his mind and purposed in his heart that he was not going to compromise his wholehearted faithfulness to the Lord.

Being far from home, he could have easily come up with excuses for his behavior.

“No one will ever know.”

“Everyone else is doing it, it would be weird for me not to join in.”

“It’s not really that big of a deal.”

“Just this one time.”

But it was never worth it to him. What can Daniel’s story teach us about living in, loving, and serving the world, but not being conformed to it?

The pleasures of this world always battle for our time, money, attention and heart, but when we pull back the curtain we find they often offer empty promises that can’t deliver.

They promise life, but give death.

They promise freedom, but make us feel more enslaved.

They promise happiness, but leave us feeling empty.

The freedom we yearn for and the satisfaction we chase will never be found in the fleeting pleasures of the world. Seeking the approval of man pales in comparison to the fullness to joy that is found in a life with God. Daniel remained obedient to God in the temptation of sinful pleasures. Staying close to God and continuing to obey him meant peace in the chaos and light in the darkness.

So, is to “live in the world, but not of the world,” merely a cliché?

It can be. It can also be used as an excuse to reject God’s good creation or stay away from those who don’t know Christ. But a deeper understanding of how God calls us to obey him and love others can transform this much used and simplified phrase into a mission.

We are called to be missionaries in this world without letting the pleasures of the world sink their distracting and deadly fangs into our hearts. Instead, we are called to live in a way that shows that our identity, hope, joy, and peace come from God alone. Becoming a follower of Jesus means we live the rest of our lives fighting the darkness of sin and sharing the hope we have in Christ with others.

Just like Daniel, God has called us to live in this specific time and place, with our own unique opportunities to love those around us.

As citizens of his kingdom, we must listen to and obey Jesus – the true king, who loves us, protects us and has already accomplished everything necessary to make us right with God.

In a world that is still broken, may our allegiance to Christ be a light that breaks through the darkness.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

– Matthew 5:14-16


 

Zechariah

This week we wrapped up a summer-long series entitled For the Love of God: A Study of the Minor Prophets and after 11 weeks, I can personally attest to the Minor Prophets’ significance in my own understanding of the character of God. Each week, through each book, we saw different facets of God’s steadfast love for his people. For me it was like looking at the most precious diamond in the world and each angle provided yet another glimpse into the brilliance of the gem. That’s how we see God’s character revealed through each minor prophet.

But, if you’ve tracked along throughout the summer (and you kept the table of contents in your Bible open) you may have noticed we missed one of the twelve minor prophets: Zechariah. We had planned this teaching series for 11 weeks, simply due to some natural rhythms in the church calendar, but all along we knew one of the 12 would be forgotten. Ironically, the name Zechariah means “God remembers.”

So, for those who might feel short-changed or, for the love of God, can’t imagine making it this far through the Minor Prophets and missing the last one, we wanted to provide a few resources on the book of Zechariah to conclude the series. As we have all summer, you can study the book with us by utilizing the Bible Project video and discussion questions provided here.

But how might the book of Zechariah give us one last glimpse into the character of God this summer? What is the unique facet of God’s love revealed in this minor prophet’s writing?

In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying…

– Zechariah 1:1

Names, in the Old Testament, often serve as a literary device in which the author hints at the point of the story through the names mentioned in the text. For example, we see this in the story of Hosea when each of Gomer’s children’s names reference Israel’s state of disobedience and then are changed to reflect God’s grace towards them.

Well, in Zechariah 1:1 we are given a clue as to the point of this story, too.

As mentioned above, Zechariah (in Hebrew) means “Yahweh remembers.” So, what does the LORD remember? The next two names in the verse give us some indication. Berechiah means “God will bless” and Iddo means “at the appointed time.” God remembers, and at the appointed time, he will bless his people. This is one of the main thrusts of Zechariah’s prophecy.

The context of Zechariah is similar to that of Haggai, in fact their prophecies overlap in history. The nation of Israel was returning from exile to a city and a temple in ashes. It had been utterly destroyed by the previous Babylonian conquest. But God remembered. God remembered his covenant with his people. He remembered his promise to bless them and keep them. This does not mean, that God had somehow forgotten at some point. Rather, despite Israel’s cycle of disobedience, God faithfully remembered his promises and still desired a relationship with them.

So, God continued to reach out and pursue them. God gave Zechariah an oracle – a message – to serve as a love note to his people.

Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.

– Zechariah 1:3b

Notice the repetition of the name for Yahweh here: the Lord of hosts. This moniker appears 261 times in the Old Testament, 80 of which occur in the short books of Zechariah and Haggai. The emphasis is on God’s control. When the people are discouraged by the state of their city, disheartened by the state of their temple, and disillusioned by feeling out of control, God reminds them he is sovereign; he is in control of history; he remembers.

And he calls his people to remember as well when he says “return to me.” He’s calling for a renewed commitment to obedience.

What follows this call can only be described as bizarre, and exactly what you think of when you think of Old Testament prophecy: visions with images that are hard to explain, sections of poetry, and non-linear illustrations of Israel’s current state, mixed with their future hope, and  promises of a Messianic king.

The non-linear flow of this book mirrors the non-linear nature of history and our lives. It’s a reminder that not everything is as neat and clean and perfect as we might like, and yet even when the world feels out of control, the Lord of hosts remembers. God remembers his people. He has not forgotten his promises or turned his back on the people he loves.

In fact, Zechariah looks to the future Messiah as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s remembering. Zechariah describes Jesus as humble, coming on a donkey (9:9-11), and as shepherd who would be rejected (13:7-9) 500 years before it all happened.

Jesus – through his perfect life, death, and resurrection – continues Zechariah’s theme of God’s control over history, God’s pursuit of his people, and the fact that God remembers his promise.

At the appointed time, he will bless his people.

This promise was partially fulfilled in Zechariah’s time as the people returned to the Lord and obeyed for a brief period of time. But, it was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus when, at the appointed time, God blessed his people with his presence on earth.

In times where we are discouraged by the state of our nation or our culture, when we are disheartened by our inability to gather for worship and become disillusioned by feeling out of control, be reminded by Zechariah that God is in control.

God remembers.

God loves you.

And his promise is still being fulfilled, today, as God continues to call people to himself.

At his appointed time, not yours or mine, he will bless his people.

All of this points us to the sovereign love of God.


 

Podcasts

23: Judges

In this episode, Aric convinces Lance to take another trip in the Back in Time Bus to visit some of the Judges of ancient Israel, and at least one of them immediately regrets that decision.

 

22: Joshua

Next up in the story of Israel, a new leader, a secretive spy mission, and a big choice about the future. Check out this episode of Who’s in the Bible!

21: Aaron

God gave Moses instructions to build a beautiful tent and to have the Levites to serve as priests. Find out what special role Moses’ brother Aaron had in this episode.

20: The Israelites

God had a special relationship with the Israelites in the Old Testament because they were his chosen people. On this episode, Aric and Lance continue reading the Israelite’s story in Exodus and talk about who God’s special people are today.

 

19: The Passover Lamb

What’s the big deal about lambs in the Bible, and what do they have to do with Jesus?

Tune in to this episode to find out!

18: Pharaoh

On this episode, Moses confronts Pharaoh about letting God’s people go free from Egypt. But Pharaoh is stubborn, and takes some convincing…

 

17: Moses

Who’s in the Bible is back for season 2! Aric and Lance jump into Exodus to learn about Moses and the fate of the Israelite people in Egypt.

 

052: Christianity and Mental Health

During the Sticky message series, we’re sitting down with preachers right after they finish preaching to continue the conversation. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Lead Pastor Bruce Wesley and counselor Tara Warner following Bruce’s sermon, “Christianity and Mental Health.”

Resources: 

Grace for the Afflicted by Matthew S. Stanford

Hope and Healing Center and Institute in Houston

Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation

Clear Creek Care and Support

046: Ask Your Pastor (Session 1)

Do you have questions you wish you could ask your pastor? Like, why don’t we display crosses on our buildings? Why do we care so much about baptism? How should we think about politics as the church? Rachel Chester asks Yancey Arrington some of these common questions posed to pastors at Clear Creek Community Church in the first session of Ask Your Pastor.

RESOURCES:

Awaiting the King by James K. A. Smith

044: New Testament, New God?

Have you wondered if God changed from the Old Testament to the New? Sometimes people might remark that he seems angry and wrathful in the Old Testament but loving and forgiving in the New Testament. Rachel Chester sits down with Yancey Arrington to discuss how we should approach Scripture with this question, what the Bible reveals about the character of God, and how all of this is fully revealed and explained in Jesus.

 

RESOURCES:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/marcion-getting-unhitched-old-testament/