God on the Move: “Insufficient Evidence to Convict” – 2 Corinthians 1-3

boko1We continue today following the life progress of the Apostle Paul, and we are heading for a note he wrote to the church in Corinth – called in the New Testament “the Second Epistle to the Corinthians”. On the way, I want to mention a story to set the scene…

I took this account from an African Pastor who shared events recently. I was writing notes as he shared, but the paraphrase is my own:

The people sat huddled quietly in the rectangular room lined with bookshelves. Too many for the chairs, they pressed tightly against one another on the floor. Some were crying softly… all were praying. They were seeking God in a moment of extreme need. They were surrounded in a village that was preparing to fall to a vicious enemy that hated them because they claimed to be followers of Christ. They were warned this day might arrive, but as they faced the reality, they could barely speak now. It was too horrible to contemplate – losing their families, their community, their church, their children – all of it. There was no point in trying to fight back – they were grossly out-numbered and without weaponry beyond that in the spiritual realm. They did what they could… they asked God to preserve them if that would bring Him glory, and to let the cup of suffering pass them by if at all possible for His plan. They waited…

Stop for a moment…Let me ask you a question. If the enemy set up a tribunal at a makeshift table outside that room, and you were taken out from that tear-filled, huddling place– pulled from that crowd and put on trial…would the enemy have enough evidence to convict you of following Christ? Is there evidence in your life that you know, love and obey Jesus Christ and His Words as recorded in the Bible?

There is a truth that is so essential to grasp that God lodged it in the heart of the Christian Scriptures, in a letter written after the wearing effects of a firefight in the spiritual realm had left the writer, an Apostle of Jesus named Paul, deeply wounded. It wasn’t wrong to be wounded – because God used his pain to spill out a letter that was deeply personal, and beautifully instructive. At its core, it left us with a truth we want to explore in this lesson…

Key Principle: The work of the Spirit changes the life of the one who truly follows Jesus.

That is a fact. When God touches a stick, it can become a snake. When He touches a rock, it can spew forth like a fountain. When He touches a man or woman – lost in sin and filled with FEAR – He can change that one deep inside. Yet, there is a “catch”. Sticks and rocks don’t fight transformation – believers do. We fight God, even as He is actively transforming us. What shape do we fight to be in? In three words we fight to be in: “the world’s mold”. It is as though the stick resists being a snake and says – use another stick, I don’t want to be changed. Yet, the exciting use of our lives by the Creator happens when we open to being changed into what He intends… and that is our story.

We pick up Paul’s life in Acts 19, during his third mission journey with these words:

Acts 19:21 Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

Paul deeply desired to move ahead in new ministry, drawing more people to Jesus…but the maintenance of the older places was necessary for sustained ministry – and that is ultimately the only kind that really makes a difference long term. The baby churches were under attack, and Paul couldn’t go forward until he strengthened the lines behind him. There was the church at Corinth (though a congregation among whom Paul spent a year and a half during the second mission journey) which had erupted into division, disobedience and defamation of Christ in their publicly unregenerate lifestyles. Meanwhile in Rome young believers hungered for a careful explanation of justification by grace and the implications for daily living. At the very same time, across Galatia some Gentile followers of Jesus were under attack by traveling Jewish teachers that were causing significant defections from the church. In short, the church was getting “pounded” from all sides – and this was not the time for an advance to begin new works. Paul responded initially as:

• He sent some men to carry a message to the people from God – offering them clear direction (cp. 1 Corinthians; Acts 19:21).

• He made plans to visit the center of the problem at Corinth when God enabled him (19:21b).

• He remained in Ephesus and wrote letters of instruction to Rome and Galatia, while praying fervently.

After Paul received word of the people’s response to his first letter in Corinth, he responded again, apparently with a lost letter written to Corinth, sometimes called his “sorrowful letter”. After some time, he wrote a third time (as best we can discern) – and this is the letter we call “Second Corinthians”. We are dropping in on a difficult relationship being played out in writing from a hurting but God-inspired leader. This is very important letter to round out our understanding of the time, and it addresses three primary issues:

• First, it is a letter to offer Paul’s explanation of tardiness for another visit to Corinth. He said he would visit them again, and when he didn’t show up, some who didn’t like his leadership anyway “smelled blood in the water” and attacked his reputation (2 Corinthian 1-7). The first section answers that attack.

• Second, this served as a reminder to the people that Paul still had an expectation concerning them, specifically that they would finish taking up the offering for Jerusalem’s poor and send it as they previously promised they would (2 Corinthians 8-9).

• Third, it was an exhortation to them not to discount his word or his authority as they moved forward – as some were encouraging them to do (2 Corinthians 10-13). Paul made clear he was called by God they were to listen to his words. These were very personal words written by a man who was sustaining one attack after another, but stubbornly refused to roll over and let others take his God-given place in the church away.

Honestly, you cannot study the letters of Paul without understanding how much more PERSONAL than any of the others this one is. It is apparent to me that the issues of the church got under the skin of the Apostle a good bit more than the other churches. I personally believe we need to carefully give Paul a break on that agitation, because of the heinous nature of the sinful punches the enemy and disobedient believers landed on the church. That was a church where division was institutionalized for a time – people didn’t truly love one another and that was “fine” with the leadership. This was a church that boasted about toleration instead of holy living. This was a church that hung the dirty laundry of lawsuits between its members in the middle of the basilica law court of their community – and saw nothing wrong with that. It was, to be kind, a mess of a church.

Look closely at the first part of the letter, because in that section, Paul exposed the key problems in the people’s thinking that became the underlying issues of their whole mixed up situation. He indicated that:

Problem One: Forgetful Christians…They thought: “Out of sight, out of mind” (1:1-11).

Paul opened with an idea: they didn’t seem to be aware of what was really happening with Paul, but were listening to stories about him that weren’t accurate (2 Cor. 1:1-11).

He opened in verses one and two with the standard greeting, and followed it by drawing out that God was the believer’s comfort. He noted in verse five:

1:5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

After explaining that sufferings were endured to be a witness on their behalf, he made clear how serious the problems he was facing in Asia Minor truly were. Apparently they didn’t know the gravity of the situation:

1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came [to us] in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; 9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves..

He then enjoined them to be praying for the situation. We can’t know all that was involved, but with what we know of Paul – we know he was beat up and the situation was weighing on him excessively.

Sometimes we operate with an “out of sight out of mind” method in relation to ministry partners. We don’t hear, so we don’t pray. We are preoccupied with other things, and their problems don’t make our radar. Paul wanted them to see that their evaluation of his performance may have to do with the fact they were unaware of the troubles he faced. Let’s be careful to KNOW before we JUDGE what other people are doing. Forgetful Christians jump to conclusions about people without carefully recalling what they observed first hand from their lives.

Problem Two: Naïve Christians…They Were Hearing Voices (1:12-2:4)

Paul broached the idea they forgot the real Paul that was with them for so long, and were listening to voices that replaced and mischaracterized his heart and methods (2 Cor. 1:12-24).

He mentioned in verse twelve that if they really looked back, they would see how he and his team “conducted themselves in the world and toward them.” He urged them to look at what he wrote carefully and compare that with what they knew of him – and not listen to others who were turning him into a cartoon version of himself.

By verse fifteen he began to explain that he “intended” to come to them, but was not able to do it. He recognized that caused some to say he was flip-flopping on his word, so he responded:

1:17 Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, so that with me there will be yes, yes and no, no [at the same time]? 18 But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no.

He argued that God also had a say in what he did, and he was called to follow God’s lead. He truly intended to come, but God showed him something that he couldn’t ignore. He went on to explain:

1:23 But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth.

Paul argued that God made clear to him that coming was a BAD MOVE at that time, and that was why he decided to write a difficult letter that left the whole relationship very strained. He explained:

2:3 This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be [the joy] of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears...

Paul was essentially saying, “I was deeply upset. I knew it wasn’t good for me to come right then, but rather offer written instructions and give you time to fix things, so we could enjoy each other when I did arrive.” Here is the problem. Paul looked like a chicken in the face of trouble. It appears people took advantage of the waffling and appearance of timidity in the face of dissension.

We cannot back down, but it isn’t easy to confront, either. We care about other believers, and we may be able to roar from a pulpit, but sensitive men and women in ministry do not find confrontation comfortable. Sometimes it isn’t productive. Timing is tremendously important in confrontation. If a woman catches her husband getting out of the car in the driveway at the end of the long work day and say: “Wait until I tell you what your son did today!” while she looks sternly – she is probably going to evoke a negative response in her husband, both about the son and even about her. His response is unfair, but the method was unwise. If a man walks in to a woman who has labored hard all day and criticizes something that wasn’t completely to his satisfaction, he will wound her. There is confrontation – but there is also sensitivity to timing. Paul wasn’t ducking the responsibility – but it looked that way and voices of others used the gap to fill the stage with criticism of Paul. Some of them were naïve about who to listen to when it came to truth. Naïve Christians listen to the loudest or most popular voice in the room, not the one who reasons carefully from God’s Word.

Problem Three: Harsh Christians…Even the forgiven couldn’t forgive well (2 Corinthian 2:5-11).

It isn’t only TIMING for confrontation that needs sensitivity – it is depth of response. We can overreact – all of us. Passion for God can be channeled easily into a “lynch mob for Jesus” if we aren’t careful. That is why we must learn to hurt for the offender, not just the offended. Paul referenced the man who was in sexual sin that he previously told them to “kick out” until he repented of his sin. Apparently, the man was broken by the response of his friends, and came to his senses. The problem was, they weren’t sure how to let him back into their circle. After all, he was a publicly shamed sinner. Paul told them in verses five and six that they were to DRAW HIM BACK IN now that he had turned away from his sin.

Here is the truth: many believers have more enthusiasm about discipline and failure of others than they do of restoration and renewal of others. The get steamed at sin, but not jazzed about repentance. That’s a heart problem… and we all need to guard against it. Paul told them:

2:6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which [was] [inflicted] by the majority, 7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort [him], otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm [your] love for him…

Paul sternly warned that failure to do so would leave the man and the church open to a new attack of the enemy. Forgiveness and renewal closes the breach left open by sin and the anger that it causes in the offended. Harsh Christians don’t let go – even when it is obvious that the other fellow-sinner hungers to be restored.

Problem Four: Befuddled Christians…They couldn’t read reactions of people to truth (2 Corinthian 2:12-17).

Paul explained that it was true that he wasn’t far from them, but still didn’t stop in to see them in verses twelve to fourteen. He claimed he was following the leading of God, who (like a triumphal procession or parade) was directing them and other believers to make an impact in different places. He used “fragrance” as his illustration when he wrote:

2:15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…

His point was that people respond differently to the Word of God, and to those who bring it to others. Some hear the words of life and respond. Others hear words of condemnation – they are a sinner, they are required by their Creator to bow to Him – and they react out of arrogance and pride. That message condemns them. It is a message of death, because they won’t give up their sin – not for God or anyone else. They want what they want, everyone be damned. The problem is: they will be damned, and that is heart breaking. Yet, it is their choice. Befuddled Christians think it is their job to make the message smell better to arrogant men – it isn’t. We should be loving, but the message isn’t ours to change even if people think it stinks.

Problem Five: Unchanged Christians…With behaviors unchanged, they think they can add Jesus to their choices (2 Corinthians 3:1)

Paul opened chapter three with the note that their changed lives are the letter of effectiveness of the message of the Gospel in them. Verses one to three make clear that it is not a list of rules that characterize the faith in Jesus – but the changed lives of His followers. Even with their flaws, the followers at Corinth showed real change in many areas, and Paul simple said he possessed:

3:4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.

Ministry is the process of clearly delivering truth in model and word, and watching as God opens hearts and changes lives. Paul knew HE didn’t do it, because he said:

3:5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,

At that point in the letter, Paul began to unfold the heart of the whole issue he wanted them to consider. It was our point at the beginning of the lesson. Paul wanted them to face the fact that there should be in the life of every believer life change and transformation that signals that they are, in fact, being sculpted by God’s Spirit. Believers are to be in the process of transformation. If we are living just as we did before we claimed to have come to Jesus – perhaps we didn’t come to Him at all. The difference between a believer and a non-believer is less what they know about Jesus and more what they have surrendered to God to crush and remake in themselves. Many people know much about Jesus, but that knowledge hasn’t caused them to open their heart to God’s work within.

Look at Paul’s next words, because they can seem difficult on first reading in 2 Corinthians 3:6ff:

2 Corinthians 3:6 [speaking of God] “…who also made us adequate [as] servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life…”

Paul said that God made Him a minister of the NEW COVENANT to them in a “spirit” way, not in the literal “letter” way. That deserves some explanation. The New Covenant was a term that came from Isaiah 59 and Jeremiah 31, and in both places it was an agreement for God to change the hearts of the Jewish people and give them the full and complete fulfillment of His promises to them in their own homeland. God repeated the terms of the new covenant “to the household of Israel and of Judah” in Jeremiah 31:27, 31 and 33 (only Israel is mentioned there). It is painfully clear that God was talking to the nation of Israel (Jer. 31:36) and not some loose spiritual substitute. He promised He would give them back their land, and give them His Spirit within – not just the Law without. They would be transformed, and their sinfulness would be a thing of the past. Jesus said the MEANS of that covenant was to be His broken body and shed blood in the Last Supper. Yet, Paul clearly did not believe this was a work already completed, as he made clear in Romans 11 – that the Jewish people would someday in the future all “be saved”. He didn’t believe the “church” replaced Israel’s promise, either, or his words in Romans 11 would make no sense.

Here is the question: If the New Covenant was for Israel, how could Paul claim he was a minister of it to the people at Corinth who were not Jews? The answer is in how he claimed it. He said they were not the LETTER of the agreement (that was for the Jewish people) but they were the SPIRIT of it – the transformation of their lives from the Spirit’s domination inside to the outside.

Just as the Gospel brings the stench of death to those who don’t want to be changed by God, so the ministry of the Law brought the stench of death to many goats, sheep and bulls – because of sinners. The Law was engraved on stone, brought a sacrificial system filled with blood – and yet came with the GLOW of God’s manifest presence!

How much more would the work of God in transformation by His Spirit do to bring glory to God and a glow to changed faces? Moses face glowed with the coming of the Law verses ten to thirteen remind. He needed a veil to cover his face. Yet, sadly, Paul remarked of his Jewish family outside the faith:

2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, [there] is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Paul argued that his earthly family of Jews still needed to have the transformation happen – and it will one day. For now, the veil that blinds them as a people, which was a judicial move of God over them carefully forewarned by the prophet Joel, wasn’t blocking people (Jew or Gentile) who surrendered to Jesus and allowed God to work on transforming them by God’s Spirit.

Freedom came with the Spirit – I am free to follow God and please Him for the first time in my life when I open my heart to Him. Bondage is self-service; freedom is God-service. A writer for the “New Centurion” Blog posted something that caught my attention:

Bill Irwin, a man who is blind, has a talking computer he uses to study the Bible. He’s had a few chuckles over some of the pronunciations. “For a long time,” Bill says, “the computer pronounced Holy Bible as ’holly bibble’ until I figured out how to modify it.” But there was one thing Bill couldn’t change. The computer uses the Spanish pronunciation for Jesus Christ–HEYsus Krist. “The programmer is Hispanic,” Bill told me with a smile, “and he made sure that HEYsus Krist cannot be altered.” I like that. It reminds us that among the things in life that can be changed to suit our taste, one remains tamper-resistant–we can’t change Jesus. When life is unsettled, we gain great comfort from the Bible’s affirmation that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. But the statement is also a stern rebuke to our tendency to try to modify the words and character of Christ when we don’t like what He says. How easy it is to forget that we came to Christ longing for Him to transform us, not the other way around!

Let’s go back to the little tribunal where we began this lesson from the Scriptures. You are kneeling on the ground. An armed man pushes you with the muzzle of his rifle. The man sitting at the card table looks up at you and says…”I have evidence that you claim to belong to Jesus Christ.”

What evidence is there? What is scribbled on the paper before Him?

Was Jesus at the center of your choice of an occupation? Have you used your work to show others Who the Savior is? Is he at the center of your entertainment choices? Does He determine what you will say, what you will sing, what you will laugh at?

Pastor David Welch was preaching on “Life Signs of a Healthy Church” and he offered this insight I think is worth recalling: “Walt Disney was a dreamer. His crowning vision was EPCOT; Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. He envisioned the perfect city of 20,000 using all of the most modern advances technology. One problem, Walt Disney died before his dream was ever realized. His dream was so big and complex and outside the box that no one else in the Disney Company ever caught the dream and had no idea what to do after Walt was gone. What Walt Disney intended as a living breathing perfect city turned out only to be a [mere] entertainment center. Disney’s “World” would only become a place to visit.

Here was the part that I found inspiring…”Jesus left a blueprint for His church so vast, so marvelous, and so innovative. [He instructed and constructed] a living, breathing, expanding organism that would permeate and transform the whole world. The problem is, that as time went on, His followers lost the vision and couldn’t wrap their minds around such a magnificent plan. Rather than a community of loving, passionate followers of Christ dedicated to demonstrating the power of the Christ-transformed life in a dark world, they began to do what they knew best, build buildings and run organizations and develop entertainment centers that would hopefully draw the crowds to hear the story but miss the transforming power of Christ.” (From a sermon by David Welch, Life Signs of a Healthy Church, 10/19/2009 posted at Sermon Central.com).

That wasn’t Jesus’ call. He has never been the theme park building type. He has always been in the transformation business. I want to close this with some words from a few of my favorite authors combined by Francis Chan some time ago:

He was making the point that the transformation of our characters to that of one like Jesus is often A PAINFUL PROCESS. He wrote: “The truth is that the Spirit of the Living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn’t normally want or choose to do. The Spirit will lead you to the way of the Cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be. The Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be. This is often an incredibly painful process that strips you of selfishness, pride, and fear. For a powerful example of this, read in C. S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader about the boy, Eustace, who becomes a dragon. In order to become a little boy again, he must undergo a tremendous amount of pain as the dragon skin is peeled away and torn from him. Only after he endures this painful process is he truly transformed from a dragon back into a boy. Sometimes the sin we take on becomes such a part of us that it requires this same kind of ripping and tearing to free us. The Holy Spirit does not seek to hurt us, but He does seek to make us Christ-like, and this can be painful.” (Francis Chan. Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit – pp. 50-51). Kindle Edition.

Let’s be clear: The work of the Spirit changes the life of the one who truly follows Jesus. If you aren’t changing, there are things you should be asking yourself about whether you truly know Him at all.

God on the Move: “Making Connection" – Acts 9-11; 1 Cor. 12

Telstar1It was fifty-two years ago this summer that President John F. Kennedy announced the launch of the Telstar Communications Satellite that connected in near “real time” the European continent to the USA by way of microwave signal. This was the first “instant wireless signal”, that allowed for both dynamic two-way communication and live picture broadcast. That first television broadcast was, in fact, the press conference that “linked” the western world together, and bridged the ocean without the physical constraints of tethering wires. In a real way, this was the beginning of wireless connection that has connected much of the world together without wires. You may be interested to know that there are now just over 7 billion people on the planet, and 6.8 billion cell phones. It is true, not every area of our globe is covered, and some people have multiple phones, but I doubt President Kennedy could have envisioned that a single satellite would begin connections that would put whole computers in purses and pockets of people around the globe in the form of cell phones… We live in the connected world, and most of us don’t even think about it.

Hold that thought about connection, because it is extremely relevant to our lesson from the Word… For a few moments, I want us to take another step together in our studies on the “Life and Ministry of Saul of Tarsus”, better known to believers as the Apostle Paul – and look at how the important lesson of connection was forged in his life…

We met Saul at the stoning of Stephen recorded in Acts 7, and took a quick overview of his life and ministry – just to get our “feet wet” in the details of his life. In the second study, we watched as Jesus broke the proud stride of the “Pharisee on a mission” and cast him to the ground in a blinding light. He met Jesus there, and Jesus took away his physical sight for three days, to give him spiritual insight that would change his eternity. Though well-educated and erudite before meeting the Savior in a vision, we noted that Saul wasn’t ready until he relearned the basics of life, and then had intense training for an extended period under the work of the Spirit’s transformation and Jesus’ discipleship in the desert. We watched Saul take his “first steps” in his new faith – and then celebrated the work of God in him over seven years of reshaping.

In this lesson, we want to bridge the gap between his time of early learning and his first mission journey, by looking at the Scripture for the next move of God in his life. Let’s summarize where we are this way:

• First, we can observe the thirty plus years of life of a Pharisee who loved the Law – but didn’t have a personal relationship with God.

• Second, the Word offered an excellent picture of the meeting place between the Savior and the would-be servant.

• Third, the early training and reshaping took place in initial success in Damascus and a hiatus in the desert to learn from the Savior, followed by an attempt on his life. Escaping Damascus, he met some key leaders of the faith but got a vision to from God to leave Jewish ministry and head for the diaspora – back to Tarsus. The temptation to “jump ahead of God’s call” was overcome, and Saul got busy ministering in small places, and learned faithfulness long after the newness wore off.

• Now we see the one lacking piece that will make or break the rest of his ministry – the careful making of connection to the other believers in the body of Christ (the church). With this, we see an important principle…

Key Principle: The believer was not called to follow Jesus alone, but to work in vital connection to the body of Christ.

The Apostle Paul carried the weight of the believers of his day – there is no doubt about it. He felt it when they turned on one another, hurt one another, or acted sinfully and brought derision on the name of the Savior. He constantly urged the believers to see themselves as connected together – all ONE in Christ. In one discussion, as Paul was writing about spiritual gifts – those special enabling powers given by God at the time of our salvation – he told the believers at Corinth that they were joined together… they were part of one another. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 12:12 For even as the body is one and [yet] has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not [a part] of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less [a part] of the body. … 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. … 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” … 24 … But God has [so] composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that [member] which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but [that] the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if [one] member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. (NASB)

When we read that passage, there are five things that become very clear:

• First, any differences between believers (in terms of their exercise of gifts) must not suggest a different body connection, only a different function within the body. We are all pulling together in Christ – even if we are doing it differently than our best Christian friend.

• Second, our backgrounds aren’t supposed to be a dividing factor. Our race, our past and our status in society are melted away as we join with one another.

• Third, every role in the body is important – though not all are as “visible” to the whole.

• Fourth, individuals may find a cause to rejoice or cry – and we are to be able to it together. We are joined to each other in grief, sorrow, joy and celebration!

• Fifth, connection is the key to healthy activity. A body that loses a part loses health and wholeness. In the same way, we are to grow into our need of one another – caring about the absenting of one from the others.

Here is my question: “How did Paul come to that conclusion?” I know, you and I recognize the words were not merely Paul’s own – but he was moved by God’s Spirit to write what he did. At the same time, he agreed with the words. How did he grow from the rugged individualist leader type to one who was so very connected to others? I suspect God taught him through the incredible benefits of connection. In the early stages of his ministry, just as he was learning to be faithful in the small assignments, God was sculpting Paul. He was learning the value of connection.

Five Advantages of Connection:

I have been finishing the work on my upstairs bathroom, and have been putting the cabinetry on the walls, and finishing the wiring of the bathroom. To help me get the look Dottie wanted, we went to IKEA. Someone has quipped that IKEA is Swedish for “puzzle maker” – and if you have ever bought their products you know why that is both funny and painful. I admit it – I love their cabinets and rooms, but have never seen so many parts simply to hang a door! In the thousands of little pieces they give you as part of the pack, I have only one warning… be careful to keep everything together and organized. You will need every little Swedish “do-dad” they give you to put their furnishings together! Those little connectors are essential!

While we are thinking about those little connectors, let’s think about the “body connectors” that we have for the body of Christ. We get together in tons of little meetings. Many of them are not very important on the face of them – but people who pray and play together learn to stay together. When you know people well, it is harder to begin to believe bad things shared with you about them. You KNOW them… and that happened because of countless meals together, meetings, little tasks – time spent together! There are INCREDIBLE ADVANTAGES TO CONNECTION. I want to mention five of them that Paul learned at this stage of his walk – just before God called him into mission service along dusty roads, on wind-whipped ships, and surrounded by the smell of cooking pig meat.

Connection offers protection (Acts 9:29-30)

First, connection offers protection when the enemy attacks – and he WILL attack. Look in Acts 9:29-30:

9:29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic [Jews]; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned [of it], they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

In our last lesson we breezed by the death threat against Paul. It was an important lesson to the young Christian – that walking with God was not going to be without it enemies and hazards. In fact, when you gave your life to Christ, the enemy of Jesus became YOUR enemy as well. As an unbeliever, Satan had no reason to get too far into your life. Most of the damage in terms of sin came from the influence of the world (where Satan has a hand) and the works of the flesh (which are bent toward evil since the Fall of man). Yet, when you surrendered your life to Jesus to follow Him and trust Him – you got a target on your back. If you move forward with your witness – you should expect the wicked one to pay attention to you in a whole new way!

Though other believers cannot put on all the spiritual armor God called the believer to wear – your brothers and sisters in Christ DO have a role to play when you are under attack. Do you remember where Paul wrote about the connection that offers protection? Ephesians 6 reminded the believers at Ephesus of the common Roman armor they saw everyday as soldiers passed through the city. Paul took inventory and assessed the implements for a fight – then applied those pieces of armor to the spiritual war. He urged the believers of Ephesus to be strengthened in God’s power (10). How?

1) By using the resources God gave them (Eph. 6:11);
2) By identifying the real enemy (Eph. 6:11b-12);
3) By deliberately putting on all the protection provided by God (Eph. 6:13).

Paul wrote of two types of armor:

The FIRST TYPE was that armor which must always be at the ready. If there was a lull in the battle, the fighter was not to remove the first three implements. He indicated that in the verb form “always having” the:

a. Belt of truthfulness: (alethia: truth as content) vulnerable area, carefully protected (14); Paul was not addressing the truth of salvation (as in v. 17 and the sword, Word), but rather the commitment to truthfulness of the believer!
b. Breastplate of righteousness (holy choices): covering heart, able to take direct blows when positioned correctly (14b), breaks your heart when not maintained. In the Hebrew world, the “heart” is the mind! (Prov. 23:7; Mark 7:21). Paul does not refer to self-righteousness (Eph. 2:8-9), nor of imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), but of a life practice of righteousness, or holy living.
c. Sandal guard straps fixed in position to provide a firm stand with the Gospel: metal tabs that protected the surface of the foot with cletes to hold the soldier in place. Paul refers to the unmovable faith in the Gospel to bring peace in the life of the lost.

The SECOND TYPE of armor was indicated in the poor translation of “Above all” (v.16). The grammar was NOT indicating the shield is more important, but is linked to the verb form of all of the next three items. They were to appropriate at the time necessary the:

d. Blocking shield of faith (theuron; large shield to block arrows; 4.5 feet by 2.5 feet., cp. Psalm 18:30). His reference is not to “belief” as such, but to “trust” that changes our view of ourselves and the world around us. When the battle rages, use the shield. 1) they were effective when locked together; 2) they were effective when held tightly and trusted and all remained in place.
e. Helmet of salvation (refers to the protection of the transformed mind) when we understand that our salvation has a PAST aspect: justification; a PRESENT aspect: sanctification; and a FUTURE aspect, our eventual glorification. We must see things through God’s eyes and learn to call the battle by His Word!
f. Sword of the Spirit: the WORD (RAMA: From the word “to pour, an utterance”) of God. The “machaira” dagger is not the broad sword, rhomphaia). A specific Word from God that He gives to take a direct shot at the enemy!

It is the blocking shield that reminds us of the protection from connection. Only a wall of shields would block, intimidate and cause advance. Alone, the soldier was just a guy with a leather covered device. Together, the wall of soldiers was ghastly if they were advancing on your line!

Let’s be clear: the enemy always looks for the believer that thinks they can stand alone. Without accountability, without engagement of others, without placing ourselves deliberately under the spiritual authority of godly men – we are like the wandering wildebeest on the prairie – we look much like “supper” to a hungry lion.

Connection offers inspection (Acts 11:19-24)

Deliberate connection to the body also offers something else – it offers the opportunity to have our life inspected by another. That isn’t the negative that some may hear. Listen to the passage that helped shape the early church’s sense of inspection:

Acts 11:19 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and [began] speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23 Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and [began] to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain [true] to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

God was doing something in Antioch that wasn’t happening in Jerusalem. In fact, Jerusalem had no desire for it to happen. God was opening the door to the Gentile world – a blessing that became the most disturbing problem to the early church of the first century. Many of the epistles, letters written from church leaders to local churches and other leaders, addressed that very issue.

The text related that most believers were sharing the message of Jesus WITHIN Judaism, even after they began to scatter with rising persecution (Acts 11:19). A few began to speak to Greeks – whether they were proselytes to Judaism or not we do not know – but they clearly went outside the normal frame of practiced ministry. Remember, the whole “church thing” was still new. Remember also that Jesus promised the Apostles they would be called upon to “bind” (forbid) and “loose” (allow) things as they sought the Spirit’s direction (Matthew 18:18).

When believers heard about the ministry to the Gentiles, they dispatched a godly and encouraging man to look carefully into the matter. What he found shocked, and then delighted him. God was doing something no one foresaw! He encouraged them to continue, and many came to Christ (Acts 11:23-24). The connection between the groups made inspection possible, and allowed the believers to share even greater joy – instead of one group hiding what they were doing from another out of fear. Why? Connection tears down fear. It bridges differences. It allows us to explain ourselves to a caring ear, so that we are challenged if wrong, and strengthened if correct. The group felt affirmed, understood and even more interconnected as a result of Barnie’s visit!

Connection offers endorsement (Acts 11:25-26)

Paul probably heard about what happened in Antioch later, but he also personally experienced it a short time after the first Greeks were coming to Jesus. Follow the story as Dr. Luke offered it…

Acts 11:25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

What incredible verses! Saul was about seven years old in Messiah, and he was faithfully serving God while making tents. He was part of the fellowship of churches – teaching and sharing –but he was “nobody particularly important” at that time. It was the connection that Barnabas made to him that changed all that.
Barnie knew what Saul had to offer. He recognized the need for a critical thinker, as well as a careful learner of the Word. Barnie was convinced that God was at work, but he knew that his evaluation needed to be examined in light of the Word of God. Who better than that tough minded Pharisee from Tarsus? Saul followed because Saul felt connected. They met for a year with believers in Antioch because they knew they were connected to one Savior, fighting one battle, working for one cause.

Did you note the outcome? Of course there were some great Bible studies, and yes… there were no doubt more added to the Lord… but look at the end of what we read…Christians got their name! They first LOOKED LIKE a body of Christ – sounding like the Savior and acting in that familiar loving yet decisive way. They got called “Christians” because they acted like “little Christs” – followers in DEED. Connection offered the opportunity for Saul to be endorsed by Barnabas, and it offered the opportunity for the whole body to be commended as walking like Jesus!

Connection offers context (2 Corinthians 12:2-7)

It would be easy to skip an important event that appears to have happened right at this time. About fourteen years after the events of Acts 11, Paul was writing to the church at Corinth, and he mentioned an event that probably fit the time we are studying – so it is worth mentioning. Saul was not ONLY learning how to walk with Jesus and serve Him from other leaders, he was learning from the Master Himself. Once again, a vision assisted Saul’s growth – and it will help us to see how God used connection to set the vision in a context of ministry to people. First, the record:

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago– whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows– such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know how such a man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—4 was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. 5 On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to [my] weaknesses. 6 For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain [from] [this], so that no one will credit me with more than he sees [in] me or hears from me. 7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself!

Paul was in the midst of a letter that offered three basic statements. 2 Corinthians offered an explanation in chapters 1-7 as to why Paul told the church at Corinth he was coming, but then did not show up. In chapter 8-9, Paul renewed his expectation that the people of Corinth would complete the collection for the believers at Jerusalem. In the end of the letter, Paul exhorted the believers of Corinth to follow proper leadership and behave well (2 Cor. 10-13). While the letter had a somewhat defensive tone in places, it was clear that some believers in Corinth were “bad mouthing” the Apostle in his absence. Some thought they were “just as qualified” to offer God’s direction as Paul – and they said so! They were arrogant in his absence, and his connection to them would help them get back in line.

The passage we read was about Paul’s own opportunity to visit Heaven in a vision. God used that, as he did long before with Ezekiel, to secure Paul through difficult days. His glimpse at the majesty of our God bolstered him through troubled times. Yet it was very personal. The things he saw were not to be shared – they were for him alone.

Did he get a “big head” and walk arrogantly because of the vision – not really. He got along with God’s deep and abiding encouragement something else. He got a “thorn in the flesh”. He got a weakness. God didn’t just want to him to be strong and privileged – but dependent and weak. The GREAT APOSTLE PAUL would need others to do the late night writing and correspondence – because his eyes evidently were not always working. Connection offers us a way to be real, to place all our blessing in a context of real life – and to walk with others as ONE OF THEM. Paul was connected to Christ by his incredible spiritual vision – and connected more deeply to other believers because of his faulty physical vision. Paul could set his blessings in the context of his needs, and be a balanced and loving follower of Jesus.

Connection offers expanded vision (Acts 11:27-30; 12:25-13:3)

Just as Barnabas found that God was expanding the vision of ministry, so Paul learned that in the body were some attuned to needs he would not have sensed. Luke offered:

Acts 11:27 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and [began] to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the [reign] of Claudius. 29 And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send [a contribution] for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.

Then later Luke offered:

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with [them] John, who was also called Mark. Acts 13:1 Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was [there], prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

Look at both of these scenes and you cannot help but notice that God worked through the body of Messiah – as one part of the body was called on to assist the other part. Agabus made the room aware that trouble was coming. Others devised a plan to assist the fledgling church at Jerusalem and the Judean villages. Together they could tackle what no one could do alone. Together they could see what they could not see alone.

Later, after Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, it was in the prayer meeting of the body that God set aside Barnabas and Saul for the work they were to do for Him. It was from their knees that God spoke to the ROOM, so that no one could later claim the men were self-appointed. A prayer meeting of the body yielded the first piercing into the darkness of the Roman world beyond the “drift” of the Gospel.

James Montgomery Boice told a story back in the days he pastored in Philadelphia. He spoke of Lawrence of Arabia visiting Paris after World War I with some Arab friends. He showed them around Paris, but what fascinated them most was the faucet in their hotel room. They spent hours turning it on and off; they thought it was wonderful. All they had to do was turn the handle, and they could get all the water they wanted. When time came to leave, Lawrence found them in the bathroom trying to detach the faucet. They explained, “It is very dry in Arabia. What we need are faucets. If we have them, we will have all the water we want.” Lawrence had to explain that the effectiveness of the faucets lay in their connection to the pipeline.

I am living in a time when believers don’t seem to realize that our power is not only from connection to the Spirit and to the Word – but also to each other. We were called to live, to walk and to serve in the context of community. The body of Christ has far too many parts that are proudly disconnecting themselves – and they are losing strength in the process. When the Spirit sent Barnabas and Saul out, it was not in disconnection – but in extension.

I want you to think for a moment about some men traveling in a river on a small raft. They didn’t realize until too late they were close to waterfalls and rapids, and the small raft was being tugged more and more swiftly by the sweeping current into the rocks of the rapids. The men began to panic. Knocked from the raft, one man after another struggled as they were pulled toward the falls, and toward a certain death. One man spotted a tree limb growing from the shore and glanced off a rock in the direction of the shore, grabbing the limb and working his way slowly toward the shore. The limb was small and weak, but with patience and struggle – that man was safe on shore. In the meantime, another man saw a large log – it looked strong and stable. He grabbed the log as it moved by, and that choice led him to the falls and to his death. Though the log looked stronger, it was unattached to the shore. It was unconnected. It didn’t lead to safety or strength. It led to death. (RS).

Believers must learn to connect and work at connection. That connection provides protection, inspection, endorsement, context and expanding vision. The believer was not called to follow Jesus alone, but to work in vital connection to the body of Christ.

God on the Move: “False Start”- Acts 9, 2 Corinthians 11

What does MARINATING SAUCE, an NFL LINEBACKER and a GIRAFFE CALF all have in common? Today is your day to find out! But more on that later…

linebackerIt is hard not to take off when there is so much at stake!” I could SO understand what the linebacker was saying in that locker room interview. Yet, the false starts cost penalties, and the penalties probably cost the team the game and the series. You can understand the problem. That man is lined up opposite some of the largest and most powerful men any of us will ever have the misfortune of opposing. Every player is hungry to win. No player wants to miss a “beat”. Each wants to cover his man or his territory… but the quarterback’s syncopated count can easily draw the overanxious into stepping forward on the line at the wrong time. False starts happen all the time in the NFL. Once a player jumps over the line of scrimmage before the ball is in play – a penalty ensues… because false starts incur penalties.

Unfortunately, they happen all the time in LIFE too… They happen when young people rush to feel grown up and engage in activities that are Biblically wrong and emotionally harmful for the stage of life they are in. The penalties for sinful engagement include mental tapes of memories that do not please God, along with a raft of other consequences. A false start happens when a couple rushes into marriage – and then finds the need for hours of counsel to unravel the mess they make in each other’s lives to get back to the beginning of the marriage and make it work. There is a penalty for “false start” marriage. Since marriage is a covenant to remain together no matter what happens, Biblically sensitive people that unadvisedly rush into marriage should plan hours of counseling in their “Day Timers”. False starts happen when we make that major purchase and sign for the credit, without carefully measuring the effect on our bank account and monthly expenses. The months and years that follow help us reflect on why that was a bad decision – but we are stuck in it. The penalties are numerous, but I suspect don’t need much elaboration for many who are considering this lesson.

Our story today is not about someone who made a “false start” by doing something morally wrong. Rather, it is a warning about the need to allow a time for education and transformation from the Spirit of God and the “marinating in the Word” that is necessary to be fully useful to the Lord.

We have to admit that we are a culture that is much more about DOING than PREPARING. We seem to want to “get right into things”! At the same time, this isn’t a new phenomenon. If there was anyone that would have been tempted to push past the training stage, it was the Apostle Paul. After all, he came to Messiah with substantial pedigree and accomplishments – even in the Word itself! Not only that, but his forceful personality and keen mind would have made listening to “lesser speakers” a difficult task at least, while allowing the misuse of Scripture in a class where he was sitting would be absolutely an intolerable circumstance. He was a man that was given a mind and voice for God, and wanted to use it… but God knew that tempering and soaking in God’s Word and Spirit was essential. It is for that reason God “benched” Saul of Tarsus for a time, then led him through obscure ministry in small circles before He released Saul to the greater ministry of church planting and Apostleship ministry. This time included critical lessons learned in the heat of the desert, and the apparent insignificance of the more rural regions of Cilician and Syria before God opened to Paul his life’s assignment. Those training years offered setbacks that helped Paul later in the ministry to recognize God’s good hand despite tough times. Here was the big lesson…

Key Principle: God is in no hurry unfolding His outreach plan and His personnel assignments.

He works at seasoning, training and molding carefully each servant He will use for important upcoming assignments. As a result, we must stop rushing God’s transformation and let His changes both inform and infuse us.

It can be incredibly hard for a zealous, young believer to have the patience to follow God and not drag God along behind him or her. God’s plan is GOD’S PLAN… and He is under no obligation to match my timing, or my insightful understanding as to how things should play out. I must learn to listen to His voice, follow His lead, and rest in His arms when He blocks the way forward. Look at the place Saul of Tarsus learned these lessons. There are three passages that overlap. The first is from Dr. Luke’s record in the Book of Acts:

Acts 9:19b: “…Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he [began] to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and [who] had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?

Before we look carefully at the passage, let’s be clear – we are not talking about LAZINESS in the Kingdom. Saul wasn’t set aside and drawn in slowly because he was reticent to jump in – quite the opposite. Saul was, like anyone who comes to Christ with a leadership personality, only too eager to move into the ministry without allowing time to have his mind transformed and renewed… and the church is often so eager to see this work that it may not easily recognize the need for curing, maturing and tempering…

Look at what happened when he first found Jesus and had his eyesight renewed! The Saul that condemned those who followed Jesus went right in to the Bema of the “Straight Street Synagogue” and began preaching the message of the Risen Christ (Acts 9:19-20)! People were not sure what to make of what he was saying (Acts 9:21). This record reminds us of some significant problems we create in “jumping the gun” on training:

Problem 1: When we move too quickly people are DISTRACTED by US – and may not be able to properly evaluate the message we bring.

There are some who believe that those who come to Jesus should immediately be put “on the line” to evangelize. They argue that these are people with the most direct contacts with the world – because they have just made a decision to come to Jesus. With a greater list of contacts, it is easier to engage lost men and women. The argument is repeatedly made: “We are called to make disciples of Jesus!” and off they run, pulling the uninformed and untransformed behind them. The zeal of the new convert makes the call for immediate action an appealing transition from the old life – but it is as dangerous as placing men on the front lines of a physical battle without a “boot camp” training experience.

Again, we are not arguing for laziness, and certainly one can – and should – share Christ with those around them as a natural part of “not denying Him before men” (cp. Mt. 10:33, though the context of that passage is not exactly and directly applicable in many cases). There is a need for holy boldness, and a call for spiritual sensitivity for the lost from the day of our new birth. At the same time, there is a need to for transformation of our minds and tempering of our spirit by God’s Spirit – and that process is not instantaneous regardless of the knowledge we possess at salvation. Here is the truth:

We cannot make disciples until we learn how to become one.

We will not get people to truly follow Jesus until we learn to follow Jesus. For that reason, Paul later revealed that God stepped in at the moment Saul was growing in strength and sent him away. Compare Acts 9:19-21 with a later writing that offers another window to the lessons of the early days to the Galatians. In this passage, the Apostle is reflecting back on what happened in his early days with more specificity than Luke recorded in Acts:

Galatians 1:13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when God, who had set me apart [even] from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

Even with all the training that preceded his coming to Christ, there was a need for the Saul of Tarsus to get alone with Jesus and learn to follow Him. The point of Galatians 1 was clearly to argue that Saul received his message from God, and not a consensus vote of any earthly group, but the fact is that God stepped in and sent him off when the Master could have used him mightily from day one.

Acts 9 is a truncated record of what took place in Saul’s early ministry. The order of the events, if one looks carefully at Galatians 1, appears to be as follows:

1. Baptism by Ananias in Damascus (Acts 9:18).
2. Preaching right after his salvation in the synagogues of Damascus (Acts 9:19-21).
3. An extended time in Nabatea (probably in modern Jordan) for discipleship by the Savior (Gal. 1:13-17).
4. After training, another campaign in Damascus led to the plot to kill him – a long time after his salvation (Acts 9:22-25). Look at the record of Saul’s return to Damascus in Acts 9:

Acts 9:22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this [Jesus] is the Christ. 23 When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through [an opening in] the wall, lowering him in a large basket.

Luke signaled that 9:23 was LONG AFTER 9:19 and 20, but is is easy to miss in the narrative. It appears that since Saul could become the DISTRACTION, God’s pattern was first to change him – and ground him with sufficient stability to preach the Gospel in the face of steady opposition. This highlights a second problem:

Problem 2: When we move too quickly we haven’t grown strong and stable enough– and that will cause us to be too easily removed from the battle.

Consider the sufferings that were ahead for the Apostle Paul! Ask yourself, “What kind of training should Paul have had to be prepared for this list?”

2 Cor. 11:23b “…Are they servants of Christ? — I speak as if insane– I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine [lashes]. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 [I have been] on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from [my] countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 [I have been] in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from [such] external things, there is the daily pressure on me [of] concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?

Now let me ask you this” “Based on the way you see things going in our world, how strongly should we be training the next generation of believers?” Look at the list again in 2 Corinthians 11.

• Paul was trained to recognize the need to labor and not expect others to pay for God’s call in his life.

• Paul was trained to believe that God was faithful even when he was unfairly imprisoned for his faith.

• Paul didn’t think that knowing Jesus and the faithfulness of God was somehow breached when he was physically attacked – whether by “men” or by “nature”.

• Paul didn’t think that he was entitled in Christ to never be left hungry or thirsty – he saw God as meeting his needs even when his stomach growled and was empty.

• Paul recognized that ministry meant pressure, and that pressure wasn’t a sign that he didn’t trust God nor that God wasn’t being good to him – it was hard to carry the burdens of leadership of men and women in their sinful state.

I stopped reading in 2 Corinthians before I got to the point that Paul was making in the passage… that he was TRAINED for what he was doing beforehand. Look again at 2 Corinthians 11, this time in the ending verses of the chapter…

2 Corinthians 11:30 If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33 and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and [so] escaped his hands.

The apostle went back to the time, early in his ministry, when God first rescued him through the wall of Damascus. He had already learned that life wasn’t going to be amenable to his message, and that ministry for Jesus was going to be a battle. He learned that civil authorities were already going to be used by the “Prince of the Air” to fight the Prince of All Heaven. He was rescued from Damascus, but read the play and saw the hand of God because of the three years of training in the Arabian desert.

Let me say it plainly: A Christian that is trained to think that “God is faithful” only when their belly is full, when their bankbook is fat and when their government is encouraging is not ready for troubled times – but will be cut down quickly by a vicious and mighty fallen prince and his followers. Our spiritual training must change to that of the early church – to anticipate hatred and match it with love; to anticipate unfair treatment and match it with fervent and unending prayer; to anticipate physical weakness and need and match it with trust that God has not left us without the rich resources found in Him alone.

Our training must widen the eyes of disciples to recognize the historic reality that darkness has often seemed to be stronger than light – but that God will emerge victorious in the end just as He has promised. We dare not become impatient in trouble and allow circumstances alter our view of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Yet, these truths come from tempering and training – and will require (in many cases) a reversal of modern trends of discipleship instruction.

Paul didn’t just “learn it from Jesus” and then know everything. He needed to learn from other men and “fit into” the church structure if his ministry was going to be supported and successful for the Master. Yet, he needed to know the Master’s voice more than that of any other. The END of his training came with his beheading – not earlier! Let’s continue with the story of Saul’s early training with two passages that tell us what happened:

Acts 9:26 When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic [Jews]; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned [of it], they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

Galatians 1:18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was [still] unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me.

The three events that are referenced in Acts 9, Galatians 1 and in Acts 22 should be woven together in our minds:

• Paul’s trip to Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18) – where he stayed with Peter for fifteen days (Galatians 1:17-18) – but saw only James and Peter was the setting of a vision setting out his Gentile ministry (Acts 22:15-21).

• When the plot to stop Paul’s disputations among Hellenistic Jews was uncovered at Jerusalem in that half-month, Paul was escorted to Caesarea and sent back to Tarsus (Acts 9:29-30). Some scholars believe the first of his shipwrecks may have occurred along the way home from Caesarea (2 Cor. 11:25).

• Paul preached from his home base in Tarsus, occasionally traveling to surrounding Syrian and Cilician territories (Galatians 1:21-24). He stayed there four or five years, when Barnabas sought him in Tarsus and brought him to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26).

That means that although Paul came to Jesus in the year 36 CE – he wasn’t used by God as a missionary until at least SEVEN YEARS LATER. That helps us recognize the third problem…

Note: 2 Cor. 11:32 reminds that Paul escaped Damascus shortly after his salvation, while Aretas was king of Arabia (which took place between 36-39 CE). Eusebius recorded that Paul came to Messiah at the beginning of Aretas’ reign. The three years in Damascus and Nabatean territory would have taken place, by this reckoning, between 36-39 CE. The remaining years (39-44 CE) were likely consumed with Paul’s Tarsian and Cilician excursions until he was brought to Antioch.

Problem 3: When we move too quickly in our training we learn how to mimic other men –but not hear Jesus’ voice.

In the passages of Acts 9 and Galatians 1 we skipped an insightful few verses that explain Paul’s redirection by Jesus. For that we have to go to Acts 22. The text was one of Paul’s defenses after his arrest, and the detail he included fits exactly into the time we are looking at from his life history…

Acts 22:17 “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ 19 “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ 21 “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

Here is the point: Paul was SO ready in the eyes of MEN to reach out to other Jews. He was a trained Pharisee. He had both the education, and the ability to lean into the Jerusalem synagogues and be heard. His voice would have been welcome in Jewish evangelism. No apostle could have been expected to do a better job in those tough rooms… yet that was not his calling. Jesus made clear that he was being sent to “pig eating pagans” instead.

Notice that even Paul OBJECTED in the passage. He was a KNOWN QUANTITY to the Jewish leadership. His transformation would have been easiest to map in front of those who knew him in his “before Jesus” days (Acts 22:19-20). Yet, Jesus commanded redirection. He commanded him AWAY from Jerusalem, and away from Jewish ministry. Paul was able to recognize the voice of Jesus, even if he couldn’t yet recognize the wisdom of God’s direction. That is what tempering does. That is what training yields. That is what transformation creates – ears to hear the Spirit’s call through the Word of God. A renewed mind is a mind that can hear from the Word of God and spiritually discern direction – in spite of the way it looks in the physical setting… but that takes time to learn.

Have you noticed that God’s early training of Paul wasn’t EASY? His training included some small successes (some people heard the Gospel and were unable to refute Paul’s testimony), but it also included things like death threats and hot retreats into the desert among strangers…Why didn’t God make it EASY for Paul? Because God is into preparation, not comfort. When everything is EASY, our growth is little. When it is hard, we learn to stand up.

Do you know how a giraffe is born? The average gestation period for giraffe is approximately 15 months (453-464 days). Giraffe gives birth at a ‘calving ground’ – mothers have been known to return to where they were born to have their own babies. In herds, calving is often synchronized to provide safety in numbers against predators. Yet, the process of having the calf seems very hard indeed! When the baby giraffe starts its journey down the birth canal, the mother seeks out a spot where there are no bushes, just flat open ground. The “momma giraffe” gives birth standing up, requiring the newborn to fall about two meters to the ground! Designed for such an abrupt entry into the world, a newborn calf can stand up and run within an hour of being born. When the calf hits the ground, it may not move of its own accord. If it rolls over and just lies there with legs all curled up under it, the momma may take her very strong legs and kick the calf, causing to fly across the dirt. If the calf does not stand up, the mother may go over and kick it again, until the calf finally stands up. She knows that the calf needs to learn, and her offspring must remember how to stand so it can save itself later in a time of danger.

Let me ask you to do something this week. “Stop asking God to end the swift kicking. Start asking Him what He has been trying to get you to learn!” And don’t forget… it will take time to soak in His Word and follow His voice… but you have His Spirit.

Look at the bright side: God didn’t make you a newborn giraffe!

Remember, God is in no hurry unfolding His outreach plan and His personnel assignments. He works at seasoning, training and sculpting carefully each servant He will use for important upcoming assignments. We need to sit in the soup and soak it in, and then allow the world to get it when it is squeezed out of us!

2 Corinthians: What happens when a believer dies? Does he go to Heaven right away?

Probably the best Biblical texts for this claim come from Paul’s writings to the Corinthian believers, particularly in 2 Corinthians. The letter can be divided into three sections:


1) 2 Corinthians 1-7 are arguments as to why Paul is not at Corinth in spite of the fact that he told them he would be back by that time. The section addressed the fact that “life change transformation” was part of the New Covenant process that will be consummated with Israel later (Isa. 59, Jer. 31, Rom. 11) but for the time being is foreshadowed by the change in them. As a result of their transformation, Paul had no fear for them, but wanted to answer some of their discomfort over Paul’s apparent neglect of his word.


2) 2 Corinthians 8-9 offer twenty principles of giving, as Paul attempted to get the church motivated and organized to complete an offering that was to be sent to the Jerusalem believers. Paul explained his expectation of the church as the time drew near to take the offering to Judea.

3) 2 Corinthians 10-13 offers another defense of Paul’s leadership, as Paul answers some unbelieving Judaizing critics that have attacked his leadership and Apostleship. Paul openly answers some of the criticism of the Judaizers that have been affecting the people’s thinking.

To answer the question I would zero in on two specific areas of 2 Corinthians. First, I would look closely at Paul’s argument in 2 Cor. 3-5 on the New Covenant life change. In the argument, Paul says that the New Covenant that God promised Israel and Judah has been foreshadowed in fulfillment by the changed lives of the people of Corinth that were being transformed inside by the Spirit. In that context he said that the Law brought a ministry of death and condemnation (in that sacrificial animals died because of it) and the new covenant brought the Spirit, glory and righteousness (3:1-13). He noted that Judaizers were experiencing the blinding of their hearts but that those who followed were an encouragement, causing Paul not to lose heart (13:14-14:18). Paul also said that any affliction now is less important than the glory he will get in the end, when his mortal body is “swallowed up in immortality” and he becomes “absent” from this body but “present to the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:1-9).


Here Paul plainly taught that when the body was dispensed with, his spirit would immediately be in the Lord’s presence. This is what Jesus taught as well. Consider that if we look closely at Paul’s description of “Paradise” as the “Third Heaven” of 2 Cor. 12:2-4 we see that the first heaven is the atmosphere of the earth, the second heaven is the starry canopy and the third is the place we call Paradise, or where God dwells. Paul makes clear that “Paradise” and “Heaven” (the abode of God are the same in 2 Cor. 12. Why is that important? Because we recall that Jesus said to the thief on the cross that “Today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:42,43). That would mean that on the very day of the thief’s death, he could be with Jesus in the third Heaven.


Both Jesus and Paul taught that to be absent from this physical body as a believer is to join in the presence of the Lord, in Paradise. The judgment that follows appears in the context of being with the Lord already (2 Cor. 5:10-11).