“And last of all, as if to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” I Cor. 15:8
The Apostle Paul was known for his ability to connect his faith to disparate groups, from fellow Jews to Greeks in Athens, to political leaders. Paul could “make the case” for Jesus and His resurrection like almost no one else. He wrote much of what we call The New Testament.
In short, Paul was a force to be reckoned with.
Was Paul a great theologian? Sure. Heck, he invented theology, for the most part. Was Paul a terrific apologist? There was probably no one better, except for Jesus of course.
But if we get to the core of who Paul was, we find he was quite simple. Because when it came to theology or apologetics, Paul stuck with one tactic, using it again and again. We might say that when it came to sharing his faith, Paul was mostly a one-note wonder.
His crafty strategy? Telling his story. We find this in I Corinthians 15, where he lays the foundation of the Good News, that Jesus “died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” Simple stuff. But there’s more.
Paul goes on to speak of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to Peter, the twelve disciples, another 500 people, James, all the apostles, then . . . “as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
Paul told his story. In fact, Paul’s story of Jesus appearing in front of him was Paul’s connection to the resurrection he speaks of so often.
We see the same in Acts 22, where Paul spoke in front of the Jewish council, beginning with his story of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:1-21). Later, in front of Agrippa in Acts 26, Paul shares the same story.
Certainly, Paul did much more than tell his story. But in so many of his encounters and letters, he refers back to this one story as the foundation upon which he builds his defense of the One he followed, Jesus.
We can do the same. When we have opportunity to talk about our faith, we don’t have to know every verse or defend against every argument. All we need is our story. Because just like Paul, our story is more than enough to show someone Jesus is real.
The next time we sense the need to talk about our faith, let’s start with our story. Because for many, our story will be more than enough to open the door for a valuable, faith-filled conversation.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
by Kelly Russell, Encouragement Expert
We have the idea that life should happen the way we want, when we want. Our expectations often exceed reality. A perfect scenario is created in our minds and when life takes a different turn, we lose heart. Jesus said not to be troubled but be at peace (Matthew 16:23). Only God can arrange things in such a way that we benefit best and He is glorified most. As Jeremiah wrote, “Who is the clay to say to the Potter, why are you doing it that way?” God sees us as a finished product, not a work in progress.
Our rough places must be made smooth to shape us into the image of Christ. Our primary calling isn’t to “do” or “go”, but to become. God is more concerned about pure hearts than polished lives.
We can only ever know what God is willing to reveal. He knows the beginning from the end, and He works all things together for good to those who love Him. Knowing God is knowing enough. In Christ all wisdom is found (Colossians 2:3). Why are we not content with this alone? Our human desire is to know more; God’s desire is for us to know HIM more. If we knew what God knows, we would choose His will every time. We doubt what we can’t see and believe what we do see. Jesus said those who believe without seeing are blessed (John 20:29).
God’s Truth is not to be found in our feelings, but always in His unfailing Word. God’s promises are unlimited but we limit them with our doubt and unbelief. Numbers 23:19 says, God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? Let these words deflate doubt and undo unbelief. Read it and believe it! We kick out the doubt with faith, which comes through God’s Word.
The solution to unbelief is to ask God for help (Mark 9:23-24). Doubt derails and discourages us. Saturating ourselves in Scripture slams the door on doubt and discouragement. God’s presence eclipses every one of our struggles.
Christ followers are called to the same purpose every day—to take up the cross and lay down their lives. In denying ourselves, we can truly rely on Christ and His resurrection power. If my life is in my hands then the cross cannot be (Mark 8:34). Our goal is eternity, therefore our focus should be the same. It’s not our circumstances we need to be in touch with, but the Savior Himself. On our journey with the Lord, may He become greater while we become less.
Read: Isaiah 45:9; John 3:30; 2 Corinthians 4:18; 1 Timothy 6:6-7
Kelly Russell was raised in a military family, traveling around the world. She now lives in Melbourne Fla., where she and her husband serve in the leadership of their church. Kelly's heart is to encourage people with passion and conviction through the gift of words.
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” I Timothy 1:15
Paul’s famous statement that he was the “foremost” of all sinners is not extraordinary because he is stating a fact. Instead, it is powerful because of Paul’s perspective, a point of view which exemplifies humility.
Was Paul really the number one sinner in the world at that point in history? Surely not. And this is the same Paul who encourages others to imitate him and his walk of faith (I Cor. 4:16) and who explains his past behavior by saying “Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (I Tim. 1:13).
What’s important here is Paul’s point of view. Just as Jesus told us to “first get the log out of your own eye” before correcting others (Matt. 7:3-5), Paul is using this foundational teaching to remind himself and his readers that neither he nor any of us is beyond the need for redemption.
This is, in every sense of the word, a “humble” perspective. We need this, every day.
In our mission, we see many who are struggling with various moral challenges. To effectively reach those we see, our first stop on this journey is to think of ourselves as Paul described, as “foremost of all sinners.” Without berating ourselves, this is a point of view which simply acknowledges that we too, have faults. They may not be the same faults of those we see, but they are shortcomings nonetheless.
Once we see ourselves as “foremost,” our point of view toward the person in front of us changes. Instead of “I need to tell you that . . .” we see this as a “Let’s walk this journey together” moment. From there, the conversation takes a new direction.
The good news is, Paul didn’t spend time dwelling on his sinfulness, and neither should we. He glanced at his standing as a sinner, but gazed on the grace of God and the road in front of him that would lead to glory.
So can we. When we choose the right focus from the right perspective, those who come in our door will be able to see the love of God within us. And this is where lives are changed.
by Julie Parton, Ph.D.
Like natural earthquakes, moral earthquakes don't just happen! They too, are preceded by secret faults, little cracks in character below the surface that eventually erupt into moral earthquakes. When one of these dramatic schisms occurs in the life of someone we know, or work with, or go to church with, how do we respond?
Of all the groups of people on the face of the earth, Christ-followers have the greatest opportunity to be about the ministry of restoration. We, better than anyone else, understand the pervasiveness of sin ("ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Romans 3:23) and the availability of forgiveness ("If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9). We also understand that there are consequences to be dealt with, and very often folks need help in dealing with those. And besides, who among us hasn't at some point needed a new beginning, a second chance?
Paul gives us three steps to follow to go about all this.
Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another's burdens. Galatians 6:1-2
We can speak with clarity and conviction regarding a need of our organization, and our potential financial partner may be excited about giving to our work. This in itself however, does not mean we will ever receive a gift, unless we do one more thing:
Clearly state how to give.
"Oh, we do that," someone might tell me. The evidence however, tells me something different. The truth is, one possible reason for financial challenges is because we do not clearly say, "This is how to give to us."
The Apostle Paul wrote a tremendous fundraising letter in II Cor. 8-9. Read those two chapters and you will find how to state a case for support with clarity. But he also knew to clarify how to give. Read I Cor. 16:1-3 and we will find a perfect, simply stated "how to" from Paul:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, the no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (NASB)
Paul outlines where the gift will be used, when the gift will be collected, the amount one should consider ("as he may prosper"), and how to deliver the gift. All in just a few sentences.
One area where we can fall short is on reminding donors of pledges. After a fundraising dinner, does your organization put a letter in the mail within one week of the event, thanking guests for making a commitment and also stating the details of that commitment? In my experience, less than 50 per cent of pregnancy help organizations do this.
Another area? Read our communications (newsletters, e-blasts) for the previous year. How many times have we reminded potential donors of exactly how to give? We will place an envelope and a response device in with a newsletter, but it is important that we also tell readers (at least once a year) why the envelope is included.
"How to give" seems obvious. Yet, Paul took the time to make sure and lay out the process in his first letter to the Corinthian church. We can, too.
Special Note: See this month's CEO Commentary for an example.
Click here for more of this month's Advancement TLC.
Servants of Excellence
"I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling." I Cor. 2:3
What is it in this work that makes you fearful? Is it standing in front of a group, presenting on behalf of the ministry? Is it sitting in front of an intimidating patient or client, wondering how to respond to a question or how to best speak to her heart?
The Bible has news for those of us who are fearful at times: It's okay.
People can intimidate us; situations can, too. These are both natural results that come from stepping out of our comfort zones and relying upon God. The Apostle Paul knew this feeling well. When he first approached the Corinthians, he admits, "I did not come to you with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God."
Instead, Paul tells them he wanted to put forth the simple message of the Gospel, and he did so "in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."
There is a major point in Paul's writings here: While we may be fearful at times, our willingness to press on with whatever God calls us to do has the ability to demonstrate God's power in and through each of us.
If we enter any bookstore we can find a plethora of books on self-confidence, or on how to effectively persuade others. This isn't to criticize these books; they certainly have their place.
But . . . sometimes it is perfectly within God's will to be fearful and perhaps tremble a bit, too. When we are fearful—and are willing to admit such as Paul did—our audience (whether one client or hundreds of people) can easily identify with us.
Paul had fears. But instead of letting those fears dictate his life, he decided to be open and honest about those fears so that he could press on with the message he was called to share.
If we are ever afraid in this life-saving work then, this is hardly a bad thing. In fact, our fears remind us that we share a special bond with one of the greatest apostles. And, we can take heart in the truth that our fear can be an avenue for showing the mighty power of God in each of us.
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