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Finish What You (and the Lord) Started

Last summer Diane and I were part of a wedding in Milwaukee and stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast in the city. When we arrived at our lodgings that evening, the host and hostess, a husband and wife team, were wonderful people, very friendly, and it didn’t take too long for us to establish that they were Christians. When they found out that I was a pastor, they began to pour out their hearts about the ministry of bed and breakfast. There were hardships and discouragement seemed always at the doorstep.

As we prepared to leave the next day, we were talking with the hostess, and I felt led to share a verse with her…

And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” Colossians 4:17 (ESV)

Sometimes you are able to see the incredible power of the word of God, and this was one of those times. Upon hearing the words of Paul the Apostle, the eyes of this woman brightened, and it was almost like she couldn’t wait to go look it up and think it over for herself. We bid her goodbye, and remarked together about it, then thought no more of it.

Imagine our surprise when a few hours later she texted me a picture – she had stenciled this verse at the top of a wall in her office. The Lord had spoken to her, and by His grace, she was going to fulfill this ministry of B & B that she had received.

How about you? How has God gifted you…and what has He given you to do? Have you let your hands grow slack? Have you been sidetracked with lesser things? Or, by His grace, are you in the process of fulfilling his particular calling on your life? Here’s a scary thought: It seems to me that the very idea of Paul charging Archippus in this manner means that it was theoretically possible that this man would safely arrive in heaven – praise the Lord – and yet would arrive not having fulfilled the ministry he had received. What a tragedy that would be, right?

Therefore, if I may boldly do so today, I charge you in the name of Christ: whatever He has given you to do, however He has gifted you…see to it that you fulfill the ministry you have received…in Him.

 

For tomorrow, Friday, August 14: 1 Thessalonians 1

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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How to Get to Heaven…the Old Testament Way

God changed.

The very thought should make us shudder.  And you know why, right?  Because if God changed then He either became better, or He became worse.  Now, if He became better, then He wasn’t perfect yesterday, and tell me, just who or what exactly was answering your prayers last week?  And if He changed for the worse, well, horrors…

So get ready for a 5 cent theological word: immutable.  That’s what God is – it means He never changes.  Put that on the list of something God can’t do:  He can’t change.  After all, how could One who is already perfect in beauty and power and love ever change?  It’s impossible…and praise God that it is.

Well then, what are we to do with this grace thing? After all, when we turn the page from the Old Testament to the New, don’t we go from law to grace? Wasn’t Yahweh one God in the Old Testament and another in the New?

The $64,000 question…did He change?

Of course not! God has always been perfect in love and grace, in the New Testament as well as the Old. And this is the point that Paul must prove to his readers in Romans chapter 4.  After all, the people of the church in Rome know that if the Apostle is teaching them something which shows God as being different than he was before, they must throw out all of Paul’s teaching.

And, at least according to some, Paul was presenting a “new” God: Jewish teachers of the day taught that Abraham was saved by his good works, as for instance, the book of Jubilees said, “For Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life.”

So to make his point, Paul takes us all the way back to a story…from the Old Testament, Genesis 15 to be exact, and it happened this way…

The Lord came to Abram (God had not yet changed his name) one night in a vision, and he promised him protection and blessing.  But Abram immediately thought about the primary way he was not being blessed: he did not have a son. And in that holy moment, God promised him…a boy, his very own son.  And then…

Genesis 156 [widescreen]And with that, Abram…was saved.  And it didn’t happen by being circumcised – Paul goes on to show that circumcision happened after this – and it didn’t happen by any other good works either, not even because he was a really great guy.

No, no, Abram was saved…by God’s grace, through faith…and this, at the very start…of the Old Testament.  Glory to God, He hadn’t changed after all.

And therefore this gospel that Paul was proclaiming was not presenting a new God after all – he was simply telling all the rest of us the most glorious and wonderful news that Abram had heard centuries before, telling us that we could be saved in the same blessed and hopeful way, and for this even we Christians call him “Father Abraham”, for he was indeed the “father of all who believe”. (Romans 4:11)

 

Tomorrow I welcome my first guest blogger in our Inspired readings through the New Testament: my son, Josh Knowlton…on Romans 5

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Great Key to Changing

During my seminary years, I had a friend named Mike who was a full-time firefighter and a fairly new Christian. Mike and I went to a weekly men’s prayer group on Friday mornings, and I remember one Friday morning Mike was lamenting how he would go on this two week canoe trip to Canada with a bunch of his friends. He loved to go, but he explained it had gotten harder in recent years.

You see, on the trip, he was around people who didn’t care about Christ and their language revealed it: they would swear and worse, take God’s name in vain. He wanted to know if he should challenge his lost friends to stop taking God’s name in vain.

On one level I thought it would be good, because the Bible says “God will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” So there’s a sense where you want to warn people.

But in the end I recommended he keep his mouth shut about the swearing and just tell his friends the gospel. Once they became Christians, the swearing, maybe not immediately, some Christians still struggle in this area, but eventually, the swearing would take of itself.

Or take the area of abortion. As a non-Christian high-schooler, I remember thinking that abortion was no big deal. I don’t remember arguing about it with anyone, but I might have. After all, it was a woman’s right; it’s her body, blah, blah, blah.

Then I came to Christ, and I just knew. I just knew. I don’t remember reading anything on the topic (other than the Bible), or hearing anyone speak on it, though this might have happened. But I think I just knew internally that abortion…was pure and simple murder. Evil.

Now Paul the Apostle understood the concept I’m illustrating with these two examples, and there is a phrase that expresses it in Romans that starts the letter and ends the letter.

I’m talking about the phrase, “obedience of faith.”

We see it in Romans 16:26…and Romans 1:5:

…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, Romans 1:5 (ESV)

The NIV is helpful to understand what Paul means here:

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. Romans 1:5 (NIV)

Something happens when people place their faith in Jesus as Savior – they start to obey. Oh, they’re not perfect – none of us ever will be this side of heaven – but when we believe in Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit and everything changes.

Obedience comes from faith.

The Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel expressed it this way:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)

Here is one of the great keys, parents, to getting your kids to obey you: preach the gospel to them. Here is the key to helping your friends change: preach the gospel to them.  Here is one of the great keys to overcoming sin in your own life: preach the gospel to yourself.

It is like Paul once wrote to Titus:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

Do you see it? Better than the pointing finger, better than the law, better than any other method you might use – try the “method” of the Apostle Paul – the grace of God, which trains us to say no to ungodliness.

For obedience comes from faith.

Monday, March 23rd: Romans 2

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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When Should You Share Romans 8:28?

I once heard of a Christian speaker who said that believers should basically not quote Romans 8:28 to one another. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)

Now obviously, there is a time and a place for everything. I don’t quote this verse when I’m going through the receiving line at a funeral. That just feels…well, insensitive. Like I said, a time and a place. But I don’t think this man was speaking of such extraordinary circumstances. I think he was thinking of more normal troubles. And I’m not sure why he said this – maybe he thought it was a cliché which is overused.

But if I understand him correctly, I heartily disagree. Of course there is a right and thoughtful way to use this verse, but Romans 8:28 is one of the most wonderful truths in the Bible, and as far as I’m concerned we ought to meditate on it and pull it out to encourage one another often.

After all, Paul knew exactly what he was talking about when he wrote it. This is the same man who, when we pick up with him in Acts 25, has been in prison for two years.

Now think about that for a moment – the apostle in jail for two years – and eventually it would be much longer. Of course, readers of the New Testament are used to the thought of Paul behind bars. There are all the letters he wrote from prison like Philippians, Ephesians and Colossians. So most of us never give it a second thought.

But if you really consider it, it’s one of the oddest ideas in the Bible. And here’s what I mean: if you were the Sovereign God of heaven, and you were moving your missionaries and saints around to accomplish your purposes like much loved chess pieces (if I may speak so crassly) why ever would you put a resource like Paul the Apostle in prison for years at a time?

But there he sits, year after year, “wasting away.” Except, that is, for Romans 8:28. You see, Paul knew good things were happening. After all, if you were wondering, his letter to the church at Rome was already written at this time. He likely had written the letter on his most recent journey, when he was in the city of Corinth.

And so it might be a strange idea for us to think of the Apostle in prison, but not so much for him. He understood that there was a God in heaven who knew exactly what he was doing putting this “valuable resource” away for that period of time.

God was molding him, and making him into the man he needed to be.

Just like he is doing for you and me in whatever we’re walking through today. And what hope there is in that – God is sovereign and loving and He is molding us into the image of Jesus. And therefore everything that we who love him walk through is going to work out for our ultimate good. I just think that we probably don’t meditate on this truth often enough.

And I definitely think it’s a truth we should not keep to ourselves.

 

For tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17th: Acts 26

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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3 Keys to Paul’s Fruitfulness

Let’s put the words found in Acts 20:24 in contention for some of the most beautiful in all of Scripture. They also give us a clue as to why God used Paul so wonderfully.

The scene itself provides a perfect backdrop – Paul is saying goodbye to the elders from Ephesus, Ephesus being the city where he spent more time (2 – 3 years) than any other during his journeys. There is much history in this farewell, and it’s an emotional moment for them all realizing that they will only reunite again in glory.

On the occasion of the meeting, Paul has been on a sea journey, and stops at the port of Miletus, where he has requested the elders of Ephesus to travel for the meeting. In a moment they will walk him back to his ship, and he will put to sea, never to see them again, but before that…this:

“…And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me…” Acts 20:22-23 (ESV)

What a life this man has led, and how many eternities have been redirected by the Spirit’s work through him! But he has endured much pain, and apparently, according to his words above, there is more heartache and difficulty to come. But no matter…verse 24:

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24 (ESV)

Apart from the Lord Jesus, was there ever a life that accomplished more for the Kingdom of God than the life of this man Paul the Apostle? We’ll never know, I suppose, but it’s awfully hard to imagine. He was not only the greatest theologian in the history of the world, but he was also the greatest missionary, bringing the gospel to the great Roman Empire. And in the words found in verse 24, we get a clue as to why this man made such a difference.

First, he died to himself: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.” Jesus had said that a grain of wheat needed to fall to the earth and die to bear much fruit. (John 12:24) Paul was that grain of wheat, and in his mind, he had died. The bountiful fruit all around him was proof.

Second, he made up his mind to finish. Finishing what we start is sometimes half the battle, and yet this was a theme in his life, as for instance, when he wrote to the Colossians with a special message for a man in the congregation: “And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’” Colossians 4:17 (ESV) It’s a word that Paul could have written to any of us – finish the task that God has given you to do. And Paul was no hypocrite – Jesus had given him a job to do also, and he was going to finish it.

Third, he had a glorious message. Christianity is not a self-improvement program; it is an announcement. God is gracious, and He has provided forgiveness for our sins through Christ. This was Paul’s message to which he testified solemnly all of his days after the Damascus road. And ultimately, it is this message – empowered by the Holy Spirit, and faithfully proclaimed by His messenger – that changed the world.

 

For Tuesday, March 10th: Acts 21

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What God Told Paul When He Was Afraid

Talk about post-traumatic stress syndrome, I guess we should have expected this:  Paul was afraid.  And it’s no wonder. Who wouldn’t be?  Think about it – he was…

…stoned at Lystra

…beaten with rods and jailed in Philippi

…attacked by an unruly mob in Thessalonica

…mocked in Athens

…reviled in Corinth

It seems that almost everywhere Paul went he was either verbally attacked or beaten, and all the while he kept preaching and discipling, and yes, in his “free” time, supporting himself by making tents. So, when he finally made it to Corinth, he was surely tired…and undoubtedly downright fearful. Stoning and whippings and beatings and vicious verbal assaults amidst a heavy load of work will do that to you every time.

Frankly, I think it’s amazing he made it this far. But this was no ordinary man, and of course, he had an omnipotent God moving in his life.  And it was a vision of this Great God which enabled Paul to get up and keep going:

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:9, 10 (ESV)

It was this word that enabled Paul to dust himself off and keep going in the city of Corinth for another year and a half before sailing home and then doing it all over again.

But notice exactly what God told fearful Paul in this vision of the night: He told him what He has been telling His people since Abraham, a command followed by a promise:

  1. Do not fear.
  2. I am with you.

Psalm 234 [widescreen]God’s word to Paul followed a beautiful pattern in Scripture that we see again and again as the Lord’s remedy to help his children overcome fear…

  • When Joshua was about to take over leadership of Israel, the Lord said to him, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
  • When David was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, he purposed, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  Psalm 23:4 (ESV)
  • When God wanted to comfort His people through the prophet Isaiah, He said, “Fear not, for I am with you…” Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

Yes, the presence of God chases fear far away, for when He is near, so is His love, and that “perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18 (ESV)    And therefore the most important thing we can remind ourselves when we get filled with fear is that He is right by our side.  This may be also why we are commanded to pray when we fear (Philippians 4:6,7), because nothing brings us into His presence the way prayer does.

So I don’t know what you’re walking through right now – maybe it’s an upcoming exam, continuing unemployment or a wayward child.  Maybe it’s a scary illness, a bully at school or a difficult break-up…or divorce.  But whatever it is, if you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, then you are His child, and He has made a promise to you: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (ESV)

This means He has more than enough resources to provide for you, more than enough emotional strength to support you, and more than enough love to give you a strong sense that you will never ever be alone.  And on top of everything, perhaps the greatest reason not to fear is that He has promised to make everything work out…for your good. (Romans 8:28)

He is with you, and that promise goes all the way until He takes us to heaven at the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

So you know what to do, right?

That’s right…do not fear.

 

For tomorrow, Friday, March 6: Acts 19

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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How to be a Noble Christian

Acts 1711 [widescreen]I owe it to my years in the Navigators that I can’t read the Bible without seeing a highlighter through certain verses. Now I generally don’t mark in my Bibles, but I think you know what I mean: as I read, there are certain verses that I have heard referred to so many times that they stand out to me mentally, as if they were colored with a bright yellow highlighter and a big black underline. One such verse is Acts 17:11…

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (ESV)

More than anything, the Navs were Bible people, so I suppose it’s not surprising that these words are highlighted in my mind, for this is not just a Bible verse, but a verse about the Bible, and as such, it provides some excellent guidance in life.

But first, the setting is this: Paul and company are on a whirlwind tour of the Roman Empire, his second missionary journey, which begins by backtracking through some cities covered on Paul’s first journey. Barnabas is no longer with him as a result of an argument over taking John Mark on the trip. (Are you encouraged? Paul is apparently human.) But he and his new cohorts Timothy, Luke and Silas get much farther out this time, going as far as modern day Greece before starting the long sea voyage home.

2nd missionary journey of Paul

Paul’s 2nd missionary journey

The visit to Thessalonica goes pretty well, and many Greeks believe, but it all starts to go sour when some influential Jews run them out of town. But no matter, they travel by night to Berea, and set up shop as per usual in the synagogue, where the noble Jews receive “the word” with eagerness.

“The word” here refers to the gospel, but what Paul was saying about a dying and rising Messiah constituted new information, so they need to check it out in the Scriptures, and when they did…

Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. Acts 17:12 (ESV)

The principle here is very important – if you want to be a “noble” follower of Christ, be all about the Bible.  And I can think of two ways to do this:

First, examine everything you hear by the Word of God. If you’ve been a Christian long enough, it’s rare that you’ll hear a truly “new” theological idea, but when you do, something inside you should go, “Danger…need to check that out.”

For instance, in college, I began speaking with a fellow student who told me that I needed to speak in tongues to be saved (He was part of the United Pentecostal Church, a cult-like group that also denies the Trinity). This young man showed me a couple of verses and I became fearful and unsettled, largely because, you guessed it, I didn’t speak in tongues. My Navigator leader at the time was an extremely wise man named Dave Ostendorf. Dave knew that this “teaching” came from a couple of verses in the book of Acts, but he didn’t try to just show me two or three verses to prove the guy wrong. Dave sent me home with an assignment: read the entire book of Acts and see if these things were so. I did just that, and my fear was crushed. The guy was out to lunch.

But the second principle is even more all-encompassing: Acts 17:11 teaches us that we should endeavor to shape everything about our lives by the Bible.

Be a Bible guy. Be a Bible gal. Try to shape everything about your life by the Bible. And if you think this might have negative consequences, actually it’s just the opposite. In fact, there is nothing better to deliver you from the horrors of legalism, as for instance, when someone tells you that Christians shouldn’t dance. Well, see what the Bible says about it. Or, when someone says that you should baptize your infant in the remote case they might die early? Go read the Bible. Go read the Bible. Go read the Bible.

Endeavor to shape your life by the Word of God and while you’re at it, don’t believe such baptismal foolishness.

Finally…it’s worth noting that Jesus Himself would have been happy with the Bereans, for our Lord said that carefully examining the Scriptures and being a thoroughgoing Bible person would be the key…to true liberty:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 (ESV)

 

Tomorrow, Thursday, March 5th: Acts 18

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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