Archive for March, 2022

Don’t Dare to Compare It Can Lead To Despair

After His resurrection Jesus met with His disciples one last time. He explained to Peter how he would eventually die. “This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’”

“Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following him who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’” (John 28: 18-22) In effect, don’t be concerned about him. Don’t compare yourself to him.

Most of us grew up playing one of three games: “You are.” “I wish.” “I am.”

Older people defined life for us saying you are dumb, you are smart or some other characteristics, so we became as defined .

Then as we grew we started playing another game: “I wish I was as good looking as…, or as popular as…” or other people’s traits.

Most outgrow the first two of these, but many never outgrow the third by comparing themselves to others. It is one of Satan’s most subtle sins and can lead to despair or egotism. 

Leading up to our text, Peter had just lived down his pre-crucifixion denial of Jesus and boldly declared his post resurrection love for Jesus. Then Jesus said,  “Peter you are going to love; lead for me, you will show great courage for me by dying for me.” Immediately after this affirmation Peter sees John and compares himself with John by asking, “But how about him?”

In effect Jesus said to Peter that is none of your business, just follow me, that is, be more like me. That is His message to us today. Don’t despair because of those you esteem better than yourself, and don’t look down on those you think yourself to be better than — just follow me. That is Jesus’ desire for us. We are to aspire to be more like Him in our thoughts and actions. If you look up to Jesus you will never look down on anyone.

Comparing yourself to others leads to jealousy, envy, pride or depression. We ensnare ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. It becomes so habitual we don’t even realize we are doing it. In an age of polarity and diversity there is even a greater tendency to be detracted by comparisons.

Don’t be like the Pharisee in Luke 18 who stood praying, comparing himself to others. He was having a manic panic in an ego orbit. 

Hebrews 12: 1, 2 [NIV] says, “ …let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Our race will define us according to God’s will. The race marked out for you, not that of someone else.  If you have ever noticed a competitive race, each runner runs in his own lane and never looks to see how other competitors are doing. They keep their eyes on the goal. We should not look around at others, and compare ourselves, just accept Jesus’ charge to Peter to follow me. It is time to play the third game, “I am.” Who am I in my pursuit of holiness and how am I developing as I seek to be more like Jesus. How obedient am I to His command to “Follow me?”

Is There Something Peculiar About You? 6/13/99

I Peter 2:9 – 10

JESUS CHRIST has called us unto Himself. This high and holy calling is expanded upon in I Peter 2: 9, 10. To understand our role let’s review this inspired description of believers.

God in His Word calls us “His own special people” (I Peter 2: 9b). What a compliment!

The word translated people is “ethnos.” It is used 143 times in the Greek New Testament and four times in this text. As used here it describes a special relationship between God and believers. It implies the idea of belonging.

The early church spoke with pride of itself as “a people for Himself” (Acts 15: 14).

Paul reminds us of a beautiful fact in Romans 9:25 by quoting Hosea 2: 23, “I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved.”

In the very next verse Paul quotes from Hosea 1:10: “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said of them, ‘You are not My people.’ There they shall be called the sons of the living God.”

It is a wonderful feeling when you have been overseas and return home to be among people with whom you belong.

Now note the characteristics of “His people.”

“You” in the Greek is emphatic meaning “but as for you.”

“Generation” is a reference to a body with a common life and descent.

Being chosen is with purpose:
1. It is a privilege. It offers a new intimate relationship with the Father. This privilege is born of salvation. Salvation through Christ’s blood is sufficient for all BUT it is efficient only for those who trust Him as personal Savior.

Missionary Watkin Roberts tried without success to help the Hmar people of India understand salvation. One day he heard of the process for making peace between warring tribes. Early in the morning the side desiring peace goes to a mountain top and beats a large war drum three times. If the other side responds before sundown by beating their drum, that means, “Come to the boundary separating us and let’s talk.”

The Chief who wants peace kills an animal and lets its blood flow along the boundary. Then he and his enemy place their hands on the animal and negotiate. When they agree, they embrace.

Calvary is God’s invitation to you by God to come to the boundary separating you and accept His sacrifice for peace.

2. It demands obedience. Privilege brings responsibility. When there is faithful obedience then one can summarily speak of life as did Bill Borden in this one of the final entries in his diary: “No reserve, no retreat, no regret.”

3. It requires service. He desires to use us to achieve His purpose. In verse 16c we are described as “servants of God.”

The noun servant and the verb serve are found about 500 times in the Bible. Such extensive use emphasizes its importance.

Albert Schweitzer, a man with a servant’s temperament, said, “The only ones among us who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

In I Peter 2: 5 believers are called “a holy priesthood.” Here we are called a “royal priesthood.”

“Royal” translates the Greek BASILEION, meaning “Kingly.”

In Exodus 19: 5, 6 God stated the requirements for Israel to become a kingdom of priests:

a. Keep God’s covenants,

b. Obey His Word, and

c. Articulate His law.

Within the first covenant, the priesthood belonged to the sons of Aaron from the tribe of Levi.

They had three distinctives:

a. They had direct access to God.

b. They represented the people of Israel to God.

c. They brought offerings to God from the people.

It should be noted that during the era there were other priestly orders also. There were the priests of Baal, of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, and Canaanites. Being a priest did not mean you could believe anything you wanted to believe. You had to subscribe to the beliefs and practices of the order.

Doctors are allowed to believe anything they want to BUT they can’t teach or practice anything they want to indiscriminately. Physicists are allowed to believe anything they want, even that the world is flat. However, they can’t advocate a space policy based on this belief.

Every discipline has order. Christianity does also. Within Christianity you have various orders based on various beliefs. If you are going to be a Methodist, you should believe in baptism by sprinkling. If you are going to be a Presbyterian, believe in predestination. If you believe in soul sleep, be a Jehovah’s Witness. If you believe in praying through saints, be a Catholic. The point is, if you are going to be part of an order, adhere to their basic beliefs.

Certain of the Levites sought to do things their own way and God further narrowed the order of priests to include only the sons of Aaron. God confirmed this by making Aaron’s rod to bud and those of the Levitical princes remained sterile.

In the time of Ezekiel many of the priests went astray and the Zadokite priest who remained faithful became dominant. God has always had His faithful remnant.

When Israel failed to function as a nation of priests, God instituted the order of Aaron. When the Aaronic order failed, a new order of priests emerged. On the morning of the resurrection the ripping of the veil of the temple from top to bottom symbolized the coming forth of a new order of priests, the old order ended. Every believer is now a priest. We are to:
a. Offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (I Peter 2: 5c).

b. Offer our body (Romans 12: 1).

Christ is in the life changing business. Recently my wife recounted our encounter with Deon Sanders. We sat by him at a Hawks game. She was next to him. Not as a fan but as a human being she tried to make comments she thought might interest him. She summed up the evening by saying he was the most arrogant man I have ever seen.

Last week we heard the new Deon give his testimony at the Billy Graham Crusade in Indianapolis. As he stepped to the mike his first well delivered words were, “I was the most arrogant man who ever lived…”

He went on to describe his emptiness and loneliness. He told of his attempt of suicide by driving off a cliff into a lake. He then related how that in a hotel room in Cincinnati he reflected on Romans 10: 9, 10: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

That night he called on the name of the Lord and was saved. You too can experience such an exchanged and changed life.

Christ can do the same for you.

He is the Peerless Pilot for the sand-bound soul.
He is the Way for the wayward.
He is the Enabler for the unable.
He is the Timeless Truth for the ignoble ignorant.
He is the Life for the listless, lustful, lawless.

Institutions as well as individuals should be committed to Him. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has an admirable history. It was established to equip students to be transformers of their culture. The charter granted by the state of Louisiana for the founding of what is now New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in October 1918 states:
“This institution shall center around the study of the Bible as God’s Word…”

The program of instruction is to be Biblical in orientation and relevant in application.

Confessional commitments of the Seminary are centered in Jesus Christ as Savior of believers and Lord of life, through His death and life, and in the Bible as the inspired Word of God.”

That is a worthy confessional for each of us.

c. Offer the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13: 15), “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

Praise is natural and essential to full enjoyment of an event, thing, or person. Watch an exciting, game-winning play by a super athlete and try to keep quiet. It would be frustrating to see a spectacular mountain or ocean sunset and not compliment it. To hear a good joke and not be able to share it would be exasperating.

A super pious pastor responded to a compliment on one of his sermons by saying, “Don’t thank me, thank the Lord.”

The lady responded, “I thought about that, but it wasn’t quite that good.”

The word translated “nation” was LAOS meaning “people,” or “a multitude of people of the same nature.”

We are to be “holy”. HAGIOS is the Greek word which means “different” or “saintly” or “set apart for service” or “belonging to God”.

Charles Wesley said: “What is our calling, our glorious hope, but inward holiness?”

Holiness is a two-edged sword meaning separated from sin and separated to God for His use.

Christians in the young emerging church understood this, as evidenced by this quote from Tertullian: “We engage in these conflicts as men whose very lives are not their own.”

In Galatians 2: 20, Paul described what it means to be holy. It means to have a “no longer I” sign posted on the wall of your heart.

Those who are holy are not people with a halo and an aura of ethereal remoteness. They are easily lovable people with a sparkle in their eyes, a spring in their steps, and a note of joy in their voice. They are not gaunt, reclusive, unapproachable, condemning, solitary persons who sit around in a fetal position eating lettuce leaves and birdseed while contemplating either infinity or their navel.

Howard Hedricks observed: “It is foolish to build a chicken coop on the foundation of a skyscraper.” To fail to live a separated life is to fail to build on the spiritual foundation of Christ and Him crucified.

How little understanding people have who think holiness is dull. When you see the real thing it is irresistible. It is a dramatically and radically changed life.

A Cajun went into New Orleans for the first time and saw his first elevator.” He stood dar in do sto and cas a eye on dat alley gator. A little ol’ lady all bent over wit a cane pass herself inside dat ting. A light flash, de do closed and she disappear. Pretty soon de do open and out step de prettiest femme, girl, woman he ever saw. As he walk away he say, “how you like dat? Me I shoulda brought ma ol’ lady to put in dat alley gator, I gar-on-tee.”

Jesus makes an even greater change in a life.

We are God’s people.

The word “peculiar” comes from a word which means “to make around.” It speaks of making something an surrounding it with ownership. Every believer is God’s unique, private, personal property.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonini Scalia made remarkable comments to the Christian Legal Society at the Mississippi School of Law. He said, “Being a Christian means holding values the world will count as foolish.”

Did you notice who said it? A member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Scalia. Did you notice what he said? He didn’t say Christian values are foolish. To the contrary, he thinks they are correct. He said the world will count them as foolish.

Did you notice who said it? A member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Scalia. Did you notice what he said? He didn’t say Christian values are foolish. To the contrary, he thinks they are correct. He said the world will count them as foolish.

Scalia warned that those who believe in the transcendent moral order and power of God that raised Jesus from the dead, must be prepared for derision. Often an item is valuable not because of its own worth but because of who owned it. My wife has a simple pair of agate earrings set in silver. If you could find a pair they would cost only a few dollars. However, they are very valuable to us because they were the personal property of and given to us by former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Mier.

Museums are filled with ordinary things made valuable by ownership and use. Likewise, we are valuable because of Whose we are. We are to be God’s museum pieces to – – –
“Sew forth,” that is “proclaim the praise” of Him.

“Praise” is a reference to His “gracious dealings and glorious attributes.”

We are to advertise the noble acts of God in history and make known His grace in dealing with us personally. We are to announce abroad the fame of the One who has called us to life. Jesus said it slightly differently: we are to confess Him before men. How can we do this?

By bearing the character of aliens from another world; invaders from above.

By being so careless of our own life, and so careful of conscience, so prodigal of our own blood, so confident of the overcoming blood of the Lamb, so unsubdued by the customs of the country in which we sojourn, so mindful of the manners of the country to which we are going.

Random Acts of Kindness

Have you ever had someone do a nice thing for you anonymously?” If so, didn’t it make you feel good? Very likely it made two people feel good, you and the doer.

A friend of mine and I were having breakfast in a small restaurant in Colorado. We were seated at a table for two about a foot from another table for two. As we were being seated, we spoke to the elderly modestly dressed couple at the table next to us.

We had our usual prayer and began eating. I started to speak to them several times, but knowing Midwesterners are a bit reserved, I didn’t, for fear it might be disruptive for them. They checked out a bit before us and left without further exchange. When I went to check out the cashier said, “Your tab has been paid by the couple at the table by you.” We had never seen them before and likely will never see them again, but we will be eternally grateful to them. Not just for the meal, but for their grace and thoughtfulness.

The couple had a spirit of generosity and we were blessed to be the objects of it that morning. It has continued to be a bright spot in my memory inventory. I know that made four people happy, the two of us and the two of them.

Doing an act of kindness is gratifying, but there’s an added layer of satisfaction that comes with doing it anonymously.

In the grocery store recently my wife noticed the lady in front of her had lovely red roses. As the lady checked out she turned and handed them to my wife saying, “I want you to have a happy day.” My wife asked, “Do I know you?” She said, “No, I just want you to have a happy day,” and walked out. In an otherwise trying day, that was an oasis of elation,

That was obviously the nature of the lady. She walked in that store intent on giving some unknown person a lift, and it worked – – – for two people.

A spirit of kindness has been virtually eroded in our culture by an encroaching introverted public atmosphere and selfishness. How long has it been since you shared even a simple warm greeting to an unknown? What public kindness have you shown whether verbally or physically? It doesn’t cost much to be kind and you never know what a burden the object of your grace may be carrying. You might lift their load even for a moment.

The Roman stoic philosopher Seneca said, “The reward for all the virtues lies in the virtues themselves, for they are not practiced with a view to recompense; the wage of a good deed is to have done it.”

Research even suggests that altruism can improve your attitude and make you healthier, happier, and less stressed – otherwise known as the “helper’s high.”

Don’t defer in doing anonymous deeds. You can never tell what the downstream result might be. We all need a little positive reinforcement. Any act of kindness is better than doing nothing. Doing even a little one is better than doing nothing, and can lift a heavy load. Doing it anonymously is even better.

For a person of faith doing it in the name of Jesus makes it even more gratifying.

Women in the New Testament

Women in the culture of the New Testament were low in the social order, little more than property. They were not considered worthy to be a witness in the courts of the era. Yet, they played a vital role in the life and ministry of Jesus. Some were the last at the cross and first at the tomb. The first evangelist was a woman. Consider the roll of some.

AT THE CROSS: There were four women near the cross. (John 19: 25 – 27) 

Mary the mother of Jesus was experiencing what Simeon had predicted, an emotional sword was piercing her heart. (Luke 2: 35)

Salome, mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

Mary, the wife of Cleopus, neither of which are mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.

Mary Magdalene, one out of which Jesus had cast demons. (Mark 16: 9, Luke 8: 2)

There were many other women watching from a distance. (Matthew 27: 55, 56) One mentioned is Mary the mother of two other disciples, James and Matthew.

AT THE TOMB: Three women were at the empty tomb. (Mark 16:1 or Luke 24:10)

The women were Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome. 

THE REPORT: Women mentioned as reporting the empty tomb were  Mary Magdalene, Susanna, Joanna, Mary the mother of James. (Luke 24: 9 – 11)

Consider some of the women. Mary the mother of Jesus, much, but not too much has been written about her.

Mary Magdalene was the first characterized as a prostitute in 591 by Pope Gregory I. There is no hint in the Bible she was a prostitute or the wife of Jesus. She was the first evangelist in that she made the good report of the resurrection.

Joanna, who was a follower of Jesus. (Luke 8:1-3) She was married to Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household (CFO).

Jesus Christ was Immanuel, God with us. He was as much human as though He were not God and as much God as though He were not man. He was the God/man-man/God.

He is depicted as having “emptied Himself.” That is, He never used His divine nature for His own welfare, though He often did for others.

However, without using His divine nature for Himself, He had to learn and develop as a human being.  That means He had to learn languages like anyone else.

Jesus spoke more than one language, one of which was Greek. There are three internal Bible examples where Greek would have been the logical language He used on those special occasions.

In Mark 5, He encountered and had an exchange with the demoniac of Gadara. Alexander the Great and a large contingency of his army populated this area for some time and a large remnant remained to populate the area. The language of that region was Greek. It is logical that Jesus used the language of the people in ministering there.

In Matthew 15 Jesus encountered the Syro-Phoenician woman. Again for the same reason Greek was the popular language of the region and logically their interchange would have been Greek.

The third and most convincing reason for concluding Jesus spoke Greek was His trial before Pontius Pilate. All diplomatic and government business in the court was in Greek.

The following is speculation. If Jesus spoke Greek He had to learn it like any other youth. When and how did He learn it? He would not have learned it in the village of Nazareth. Nearby, less than four miles, was the thriving sophisticated Greek founded city of Sepphoris.  Seeking work and engaging in commerce it is logical Joseph would have visited there often. It would not have been uncommon for the young Jesus to have accompanied him. Sons of tradesmen often followed their fathers as apprentices. 

Today, as in that era, it is not uncommon that when a family of means encounters a less fortunate family with a gifted child they offer to take the child and see that he is educated.  Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (CFO) who was from the region might have been such a benefactor. It would have been there He learned Greek. In Jesus’ adult life it is noted she was healed by Jesus and later she was one of the women who ministered to and supported Jesus out of her private means.  

This is shared to encourage readers that if Jesus could have used that cast of characters He can use you.

Paul: A Conquering Plodder 10/3/99

II Corinthians 11:23-28

JESUS CHRIST said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

As tea permeates all the water in which it is placed so the word “daily” pervades this statement. It calls for continuation, it demands devotion, and requires regimentation. There are no “off days.”

The modern American lifestyle does little to encourage longevity in anything. “Channels” magazine notes the average adult male (who wins the gender and age battle over possession of the TV remote in most American households) changes stations every 19 minutes.

The short interest span of the public has changed the nature of TV. In the 1950’s a typical camera shot lasted 35 – 50 seconds. Today it last 5 seconds. Commercials are even more frantic. Therein images are often changed every second. Sound bites formerly lasted 25 seconds. Now three words are preferred.

It is projected that persons entering the work force today will have an average of 17 major employments in their life time.

Those who head volunteer organizations say it is increasingly difficult to get people to make long term commitments.

Enter stage left: the plodder.

Longevity is the price tag on many worthwhile things. I heard it said of an older person consistency is the talisman of your life.

Persons with an elementary knowledge of the era of Queen Victoria know it to have been a period of vitality and virtue in England. One of the primary reasons was the stable of stable ministers in Great Britain, plodders all.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the dynamic herald at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

F. B. Meyer was a flame of faith to all who heard him.

C.H. Liddon was the powerful pulpiteer who faithfully shared at St. Paul’s.

Alexander MacLaren, a peerless expositor, fed his flock faithfully.

Joseph Parker devotedly declared the good news at the City Temple.

Seldom has an era been so dynamically impacted by loyalist who by their longevity and legendary preaching influenced a culture. They all were plodders who would not be deterred from their task.

Athletes often set admirable examples as overcomers who achieve. The 1999 World Cup is a tournament few who viewed it will ever forget. Michelle Akers, considered the best female soccer player in the world, helped propel the U.S. team to the championship. Her life’s pilgrimage to the center field of celebration was a bumpy one.

She grew up as a tomboy wearing jersey number 75 as worn by her hero “Mean” Joe Green of the Pittsburgh Steelers. She was a fierce competitor who even became furious if she lost at Monopoly.

When her mom signed her up for soccer at age eight she was on a losing team and begged to quit. Besides, she said the uniforms were pink and yellow.

Her parents divorce caused her confusion resulting in her rebellion: skipping school, dating older guys, experimenting with drugs, and lying.

Her high school soccer coach, Mr. Kovats, was a consistent Christian. Michelle says she hated what she was becoming. She was a bewildered sad, confused, and angry young girl. Having little understanding of what she was asking she asked the right question. She asked Mr. Kovats how she could have what he had. When he explained how to have a personal relationship with God she hesitated thinking this is a lot to risk. Nevertheless her desperate condition resulted in her praying to receive Christ. Her life was immediately impacted.

She received a scholarship to college and was four-times a soccer All-American. She got married, traveled the world and became the first female athlete to have paid endorsements.

Then her health began to fail. She experienced extreme fatigue to the point she couldn’t even get out of bed or brush her teeth. Migraine headaches and fever racked her body. She was diagnosed as having Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS). Her husband left her when she was at rock bottom. Alone and disillusioned she realized she had gradually left God out of her life and failed to give Him her all. At this point she was willing to give Him anything He wanted and prayed, “You can have this stuff. You can have this body. You can have this life. You can have me. Because I have made a mess of everything.”

In retrospect she said she came to realize God was tapping her on the shoulder and calling her back to Himself. When everything caved in on her she realized it wasn’t punishment but God giving her a wake-up call by hitting her with a sledgehammer.

Michelle said things changed. Things were then missing in her life: fear, loneliness, and frustration.

In the World Cup finals Michelle exhausted herself and had to be helped from the field. When Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal she demanded the IV’s be taken from her arms and she staggered on the field to be with her team mates.

She humbly says “I hold steady to what is most important and crucial in my life: my relationship with God and the privilege of being His kid.”

Michelle Akers, the best female soccer player in the world plodded to a world championship.

A plodder with a challenging path was Thomas Bramwell Welch (1825-1903). He changed his residence 15 times in his first 35 years and careers almost as often. Born in Glastonbury, England, his family moved to North America when he was age 6. The Welches landed in Montreal but moved an indirect route to Watertown, New York.

At age 19 he became a Wesleyan Methodist minister who fought for the abolition of slavery and helped smuggle slaves through the Underground Railroad to Canada. After three years of preaching he developed an incapacitating vocal problem that forced him from the ministry.

This plodder turned to the practice of medicine. Lucy, his wife, supported their seven children while he went to medical school. After a brief practice, Dr. Tom, as he was called became restless and turned to dentistry.

In 1868 he moved to Vineland, New Jersey, a fruit growing community. His dental patients often paid him in grapes.

He advertised “painless extractions…. under gas.” Another line: “Good chews or no pay.”

He developed and marketed various alloys during his 22 years as a dentist. This business boomed and he became independently wealthy and retired from dentistry to enjoy growing a variety of fruit.

Vineland had laws restricting the sale of alcoholic beverages which were largely ignored. He helped organize a temperance league in Vineland and also became Communion steward in his Wesleyan Methodist Church. As a tee-totaler he did not allow alcohol in his home and the idea of using it in the communion service bothered him. He began experimenting using only scientific methods common in the Biblical era. His desire was to produce a grape juice that would stay fresh for a long time.

In 1869 he employed the technique of Louis Pasteur called pasteurizing.

Using grapes he picked from his own vineyard he boiled them a few minutes, strained the juice through a cloth, poured the near boiling juice into serialized jars, sealed them with a cork and wax and boiled the bottles a few minutes longer. It worked. He produced Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine. The product created for use in the Lord’s Supper had its name changed in 1890 to Welch’s Grape Juice, as it is known today.

Churches that use unfermented wine for the Lord’s Supper owe this plodder a debt of gratitude. His beliefs resulted in a commitment with consequences of dedication.

Now note an admirable conquering plodder: Paul.

Paul is a dramatic example that the will of a plodder on the wrong course remains just as strong when directed on the right path. There are good and bad plodders. Prisons are full of plodders who were misdirected. Zeal can be for a good or bad thing.

Of Paul’s background his education is well known. Plodding requires more than routine regimentation and perpetual preparation. Paul had been schooled with the best. One of his instructors was the great philosopher Gamaliel. One part of his mentoring was to instruct his students in Greek poetry. Memorizing poetry is a marvelous mental exercise as well as a refreshing way to absorb truth. It later became a most meaningful part of his education.

The first time we meet Paul he is standing by holding the cloaks of those stoning Stephen. What a moment that must have been. “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59,60).

There was no escaping the impact of such fidelity. In the spirit of Christ who prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing,” the first persons to be martyred for the cause of Christ dies with a similar spirit.

Paul’s initial reaction to the deaths of these two was outrage. His ultimate reaction is yet to be observed.

“Saul consented to his death …. he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8: 1 & 3).

“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1, 2).

It was in that process the ruthless plodder became the redeemed plodder. His dramatic encounter with Christ on the Damascus road resulting with Ananias sharing with him in Damascus changed his life. Christ changed his life but did not rob him of his personality, assuage his intellect, or diminish his zeal. These and all other personal assets were merely converted, changed for a new and higher use.

Plodders pay the price for preparation. He spent ten years in Arabia, Damascus, Syria, Cilicia, and Jerusalem preparing for his new life-time commitment. The academician had much to learn about the Lord. There is no need of the orchestra playing unless it first tunes up. Paul is a template of tenacity in the process of preparation. Little did he know the Lord had begun his preparation long before his conversion. God is constantly working in our lives to prepare us at times we are unsuspecting.

The single minded Paul was now set on a new course. His travels resulted in three missionary journeys to take the good news to Europe.

His knowledge of Scripture was vital in preaching in Jerusalem in that his audience was familiar with Scripture. He could speak of what the prophets had said of the coming Messiah and they knew the references. All that regiment of preparation equipped him for this moment.

Then however he went to Athens where the people had no knowledge of Scripture. They were a prophecy desert. Remember Gamaliel? He insisted that his students read Greek poetry. At the Acropolis Paul saw the statues to many gods and one to an “unknown god.” Such a statue had been erected just in case they omitted one unintentionally.

To reach the Greek mind Paul reached back in his memory and quoted from one of their poets: “for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring'” (Acts 17:28).

Paul had learned well and from the files of his brilliant mind he pulls quotes the Greeks knew. He first quoted the Cretian poet Epimenides from his poem “Cretica” in which the character Minos speaks. Then he quoted from the Cilician poets Aratus and Cleanthes. He knew how to relate. He was willing to begin where they were in order to get them to where they needed to be. Using that same technique Michelle Akers and Dr. Thomas Welch have been sited.

Paul knew that in Christ we “live and move and have our being,” just as we know the crew of a submarine lives within their vessel dependent upon it for life.

Paul became the herald of the distilled truth that has changed individuals and societies.

Years lapsed and the church in Europe lapsed into error. A young monk named Martin Luther read Paul’s writing as recorded in Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” This was so contrary to what the church was advocating it became revolutionary and the Reformation was given birth in Europe. The word “revealed” means “to take off the veil.” This was a grand unveiling.

In the Convent Library at Erfurt is a renown painting depicting Martin Luther as a young monk. At the age of 24 he is shown reading a portion of Scripture in the early morning light. On the page from which he is reading can be seen the words, “The just shall live by faith.”

Centuries before the prophet Habakkuk had penned these words and the Apostle Paul had set them like a jewel in his writings to the church at Rome.

In the library of Rudolstadt is a handwritten letter penned by Paul Luther, the son of Martin. In it he shares this insight from his family.

“In the year 1544, my late dearest father journeyed to Rome. He acknowledged with great joy that, in that city, through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, he had come to the knowledge of the truth of the everlasting Gospel.”

That coming to the knowledge occurred in the Cathedral Church of St. John of Lateran in Rome. Therein are three parallel staircases. People walk up the stairs to the left and right but those in the middle are considered special. On some of the steps of the center stair case are coverings of plate glass through which stains can be seen. A late tradition says these were the stairs in Pilate’s Hall in Jerusalem and the stains are the blood of Jesus Christ.

As a devoted young monk Luther like many before and since climbed these steps on his knees seeking to gain God’s favor. There the text he is depicted as having read by the dawns early light comes to mind. At a moment in which he was by his own virtue and effort seeking to earn God’s favor it dawned on him, “The just shall live by faith.” That excluded works as a means of appropriating God’s forgiveness and grace. His mind illumined, he jumped to his feet and went on his way rejoicing.

Now back to the Library at Rudolstadt and the hand written letter by the son of Martin Luther: “Thereupon, he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as the chief foundation of his doctrine.”


“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

That is the foundation of Christianity.

Summarily Paul wrote of the path he had plod for Christ:
“Are they ministers of Christ?; I speak as a fool; I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (II Cor 11: 23-28).

As Paul plodded on he paused near the end of his life in Caesarea. A prophet named Agabus came to meet him there.

“When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’” (Acts 21: 11 – 13).

All of Paul’s plodding had prepared him for what was to come. He who wrote of living by faith not only lived by faith he died with faith.

If legend is true his adversaries led him out of Rome on the Appian Way where they severed his head from his frail body. He like Stephen died for his Lord. In that flash of time he experienced the second part of his depiction of the Christian experience of which he wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Paul, justified by grace not works, gained eternity.