Becoming Saints: Joseph, The Journey

Becoming Saints: Joseph, The Journey

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it…” – Genesis 50.19-20 CEB

Becoming saints is a life-long process of being transformed from our selfish desire into a surrendered vessel that God can use. Last week we were in Hebrews where we listed the faithful of God and heard what the author instructed for the believers who had given up. He informed them to run the race marked at for them! The sermon today highlights the life of an Old Testament character named Joseph (Heb. 11.21-22, Gen. 30, 37-50). We will begin at the end of his life and recapture his faithful journey.

Joseph died old and full of years at 110 (Gen. 50.26), after being a son of Jacob/Israel, a grandson to Isaac, a great-grandson to Abraham, a brother to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah, and Benjamin, a father to twins Manasseh and Ephraim, and a grandfather. From a very young age Joseph was gifted spiritually and mentally. Although Joseph is Rachel and Jacob’s first child, he is Jacob’s 12 child. What a large family to be born into! Family systems are everywhere!

There’s really no reason for us to assume we can discern why God gave Joseph the spiritual blessing of prophetic insight when he did. But somehow there’s comfort in knowing that God was working behind the scenes in Joseph’s life to guide and direct his brothers’ actions to preserve his life rather than killing him. Jealousy between two wives drove the children into madness. What brother would sell their younger (immature) brother into slavery?

How many times have we intentionally thrown someone in a well or sold them down the river? Usually those people we dismiss are close friends and family members, and often carry a God-given purpose that we disagree with. Sometimes our arch-nemesis will be someone who God calls to ministry that is opposite of the ways you would do ministry. But nevertheless, they are called and God has a plan for them. Yet, you or I will hold them at arms’ length in distain. In the family of God we often do this and continue to hold pleasantries with each other, or even sweep things under the rug when a new pastor comes to town in hopes of never having to be reconciled to that person. So I ask you: Who have you disregarded? Who have you tossed into the cistern?

If we are going to experience a move of God among us, we must engage those in relationship that we have refused to walk with. We are to choose to join together with people that we would rather not be associated with in a deeper way. The brothers collectively told a story about their brother Joseph that was deceitful and eventually they would have to own the truth about what they had done. The most difficult places in our lives are the untruths that we have told to cover up our own actions.

Joseph’s life has many twists and turns much like our own lives. Becoming a Saint entails persevering in hardships and surviving the tests that come our way. When we are young we belief our lives should be a flat road, moving forward without any resistances to our hopes, dreams, and plans. We are confounded when our lives take a different turn than what seems profitable for us. We get stuck and resort to selective remembering about the “good old days” or we talk about the “if onlys” in our journeys.

We fantasize about our greatest sources of pride or victimize ourselves when we have failed to succeed. When we journey through a life altering situation, it is important to take time to reassess and gain a bigger picture of our live narratives. Joseph could have easily fallen victim to his circumstances and reminisced about his childhood or found himself sorting through all the “if only” things that could have happened.

When we look at Joseph’s life we see the Great Reversal of a plot-line. Joseph was born with all the struggles of families, yet he was gifted with administrative skills and a supernatural spiritual awareness of God. Joseph struggled to relate to his brothers, and found them lacking in good moral decision-making and godly ethical behavior.

Perhaps before we are too hard on Joseph for calling out his brothers, perhaps we should assess the poor judgment of the family system. Their moral-ethical standards were low enough to sale their brother into slavery and plot to deceive their family indefinitely in the disappearance of that brother. Healthy families would not consider the evil they perpetrated, they would work through their differences even accepting correction.

Joseph’s life is bookended with family, and in the middle of his days, he leads a life of trials and tests, waiting patiently for God to move him into a position of authority as he had promised in his dreams. When he rises to authority to become the caretaker of the family, Joseph is sold to Midianites and walked to Egypt with his robe having been removed and used as evidence against him (Gen. 37.31-33).

He has been placed in a home in Egypt as a slave where he is sexually harassed daily and eventually assaulted leaving his garment behind to be used as evidence against him (Gen. 39.10-23). He is imprisoned, and given responsibilities to care for the other prisoners. Joseph remains in the care of government officials until he is appointed by Pharaoh to become the administrator over all the lands of Egypt ensuring that people would not starve during a great famine lasting seven years.

Joseph’s spiritual gifts flourished in the seasons of trials and tribulations; he remained faithful to the voice of God. When Joseph gains an opportunity to share his understanding of God with others, he quickly steps in to interpret the dreams of the wine steward, chief baker, and pharaoh himself. Joseph will find himself elevated to great power in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh himself. Joseph remained faithful to God’s voice and God’s leading in the middle of his mess.

To be sure Joseph’s brothers would not have viewed 17-year-old Joseph as following God’s leading. But his brothers will find themselves prostrate before him offering to enslave themselves to his care before they are fully restored in their relationship with Joseph. Joseph learns that the call of a prophetic voice requires more than shepherding and managing people. It requires more than godly moral decision-making and ethical behavior. It requires the experience of forgiveness.

Hardship reveal our true character and moral grounding. The amazing story of Joseph’s tale is how his life was joined to God’s Greater Drama of forgiveness. He was betrayed, sold for a price, accused, imprisoned, and abandoned. Sound like someone else we know? Perhaps Jesus. But his scars became the wounds that saved the multitudes of people during the great famine of seven years. His scars carried him to success of saving many lives.

God’s loving kindness (hesed) surrounded Joseph (Gen. 39.21, 40.14). Joseph understood that he couldn’t earn his freedom from prison or fulfill his dreamy destiny of becoming the leader God required of him to become. But he humbled himself and asked for those around him to show him favor in the midst of false imprisonment. Joseph didn’t give up on God’s faithful plan even when it looked hopeless. Joseph continued to find meaning and hope in his suffering. When he felt forgotten, he continued to watch for opportunities for God’s favor. Joseph never relinquished the fight to be faithful.

By the end of the story Pharaoh has put Joseph in charge of everything in the land of Egypt. Joseph will marry and have children of his own. I love how Joseph names his children! His first child Manasseh means to “forget” and his second child Ephraim means “fruitful” (Gen. 41.51, 52). Joseph believed that God was the one helping him in his troubles and it was God who would make him fruitful in his despair. To be sure God has been co-authoring the story of Joseph’s life. There is no earthly way possible for Joseph to write his own story.

As Joseph’s family is restored to him in the land of Goshen in Egypt, Joseph’s will eventually bury his father. At that time his brothers will become fearful once again. They have not resolved the pain of their sin in their hearts, but Joseph will assure them. Hear these words, “Don’t be afraid. Am I God?’ he asks them, “You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he is doing today” (Gen. 50.19-20).

Where do you find yourself in Joseph’s story? As the victim or the perpetrator? God’s plan is for both to be reconciled and made whole. No one is left outside of the God’s plan for restoration. There is good news! God is faithful, showing us loving kindness when we don’t deserve it. God empowers us to resist being offended by family, friends, and strangers. God through his sacrifice of Jesus Christ empowers us to forgive the unforgiveable and love the unlovely.

What amazes me about Joseph’s countenance is how joyful he seems to be when he declares forgiveness for his brothers! Rather than holding on to the bitterness of offense, Joseph let it all go. He held nothing back as collateral damage toward his brothers. He didn’t have a tally sheet of wrong-doing stashed away in his pocket to pull out and remind others that they had made a bad decision. The act of forgiveness was complete – gone forever! Hear the Good News! Christ died while we were yet sinners that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven!

Faithful, Hopeful, and Full of Love

Faithful, Hopeful, and Full of Love

Hebrews 11-13

We have journeyed together through much of the book of Genesis. Today we take a hiatus to recognize a broader group of faithful people who we might call the saints of old. The stories of the faithful are listed for us in Hebrews 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Baruch, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. This leads us to the concluding points in chapter 12 of Hebrews.

Hear these words, Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 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, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12.1-3 NIV

It seems that believers are not running a faithful race in the Kingdom of God. The author of Hebrews is attributed to the Apostle Paul who is never short on words of encouragement for Christians who have been shirking their responsibilities. Paul invites us to ponder the race marked out before us, and the finish line with Jesus, our great reward. Not all of us run, but we can all understand the importance of paying attention to what’s in front of us. When I walk, I must watch my steps or risk a fall. When I hike in the woods, I know that I need to keep my eyes on the path or risk getting lost. When I drive, I have to keep my eyes on the road or risk an accident. Paul helps us to understand that there are “things” that hinder us and “sin” that entangles us so we must watch out for where we are going.

The children of God have fallen into opposition and are at risk of not enduring their crisis. In true Pauline articulation, we are parented to lay hold of hardships for the sake of disciplined children. Paul’s parenting is tough stuff.

Listen to his words, “In your struggle against sin, you haven’t resisted yet to the point of shedding blood…” (Heb. 12.4).

When we become parents, the reality of death becomes more real to us. Children often scare us with illnesses, diseases, and accidents that make us a little more sensitive to the fact that as soon as we are born we begin the process of dying. Mark Buchanan in his book entitled, “Things Unseen: Living in the Light of Forever” reminds us that we are born to be heaven-minded. We know as did Solomon who wrote Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything (Eccl. 3.1-8). The musical group called the Byrds sang about it in their song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Tim McGraw’s song drives home the point that we are all called to “Live Like You’re Dying.”

Paul teaches in the Letter to the Colossians, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3.1-4).

The Letter of Hebrews invites us to move from a passive faith to an active faith. To be sure we are called to grow in our discipleship adventure. Sanctification cannot be accomplished all by ourselves; we require others whom we can join together for the sake of rubbing off our rough edges. I love how Kevin Watson describes as our common goal, “Christians are made, not born” (Watson, Class Meeting, 139). We build upon our foundation in Christ Jesus with the principles of discipleship. We are called into a daily devotion to our relationship with God. Our personal presence is required in this process. Jesus qualifies what kind of love he is expecting from us: heart, soul, and mind! Jesus expects us to be self-aware. We may grasp Jesus’ expectations of his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel.

Hear these words, Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22.34-40 NIV

We cannot stand on the outskirts of the faith, and call ourselves Christians. We must engage in an active relationship with God, then with our neighbor. We can only love our neighbors as we love ourselves. What a peculiar thing for God to teach us in the Great Commandment! There are times that we must take the opportunity to love ourselves so that we can love our neighbor. This is not narcissistic (meaning self-absorbed). Actually, it is the opposite. God hopes we will catch on to this idea that how we treat ourselves is ultimately how we will treat others. We are called to show up in our relationships, actively listen to the needs of others, respectfully care for each other, honor confidentiality (not secret-keeping), humbly walk with an understanding that we are all different, and remain vulnerable by admitting our limits. We must all cultivate self-awareness in light of what Jesus teaches us here in this passage.

Even though John Wesley required intense discipleship commitments, he never brought people into his groups kicking and screaming. God gives us the option of how committed we want to be including that fact that some people we refuse salvation. On the flip side of our discipleship commitments is the possibility of becoming legalistic in our approach. Sometimes we fall into the old adage, It’s my way or the highway. We require a limited view of discipleship whereby we must earn our way to salvation. When the truth be known, legalism is much easier than self-awareness. Self-awareness requires us to bare our souls to another person admitting our faults and flaws.

Ideally, the purpose of discipleship is to pry our fingers away from the things that hold us back from the love of God and neighbor. Sometimes we would like to hold on to the things that hurt rather than trusting God to hold us while we hurt. We like to control our situations for fear that we might find ourselves vulnerable with the brokenness of others. So often we become information driven (biblical literacy and doctrine focused) to elevate our discomfort that others might see some vestige of emotional pain and spiritual suffering. What we fail to understand is the ways of God’s grace drawing us into uncomfortable experiences that helps to draw us closer to the Father.

When we think about people who have impacted our spiritual growth, we might consider including John Wesley as our spiritual parent. Our spiritual parents teach and guide us in the ways of being heaven-minded. To be sure Wesley would recommend to us faithfulness in our attendance to worship, daily personal prayer, searching God’s Word, communion (as often as is available even daily), fasting or abstinence, and holy conferencing. Truly, we are called to watch over one another in love. These guidelines for faith help us to do good and not harm others. These are the basic criteria that keeps our hearts, minds, and souls heaven-minded.

In my recent experience of falling and suffering from a severe concussion, I was given an experience of heaven. In the vision I experienced the faithfulness of Jesus as my companion in the midst of the trial, and the tenacious love of my Heavenly Father defending his beloved child against judgment. I remember experiencing  submission to the will of God all the while asserting my plea for God for the care of others. I remember being asked to bring my works before the Lord to determine my heavenly reward. As I brought forward all the things that were written down that I considered worthy of heavenly reward, I had the distinct impression that all my good works were but mere finger paintings. As the fire came to consume my works of devotion, only a few jewels were in my crown. As my vision concluded and I was sent back to this earthly vessel in complete obedience. I knew without a doubt my job was to share the lessons that I had learned in my own life journey. Jesus helped me to understand that the most important part of my Christian faith was giving myself away just like Jesus. Learning from my mistakes, poor decisions-making, and unfaithfulness to God, then sharing those nuggets of truth with others is the greatest gift I could ever share with others.

When we look at the Greek language that Paul uses in Hebrews to describe faith, the subtle wordplay would imply an ethical meaning that having faith is the courage not to shrink back or retreat, and instead move forward. When we find ourselves in a place of great difficulty, our bodies move into an automatic response of fight, flight or freeze. Faith moves us into responding spiritually appropriate in the most trying of times. Faith brings about the future into the now. Faith empowers us to belief in the impossible for the sake of Jesus Christ, not our own preferences. Faith looks beyond the here and now to the future. Faith longs for heavenly things to become present in the here and now. Dr. Ben Witherington would always speak of our heavenly reward as the “already and not-yet” reality we as Christians experience.

It’s hard for us to get our minds wrapped around this spiritual reality we live. But we have the joy of discovering it together in the community we call church. Faith is believing in the unseen reality just beyond our senses. When we reflect on what it means to fully live into our Christian life, Paul teaches us that three things will remain after all else: faith, hope, and love. These are the qualities of heaven. Augustine said, “God should be worshipped with faith, hope, and love” (Long, Hebrews, 186). At the end of our days the question remains will we hold to the faith, hope, and love for God we profess today.

The heroes of the past call us to continued faithfulness today. Imagine a stadium full of people rooting on their favor teams as competitors play on the field. Now imagine yourself on the field ready. Can you hear the saints cheering you on? One of my favorite movies is “Chariots of Fire.” In the movie a young man professes that he feels God when he runs. Do you feel God when you succeed in your daily life? Can you hear the music of success?

The author inspires us to meditate on Jesus who has taken his seat in heavenly places at the right hand of God. The Greek implies that the exhausted runner has quit mid-race, collapsed on the field. The best way to avoid calamity in our walk is to keep our eyes on Jesus. Jesus has ascended and he has left us words of encouragement to press on!

Hosea invites us to go deeper, “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6.3 NRSV).

Lord Jesus, our lives can be complicated. We long to remain faithful, hopeful, and full of love for you. We seek to know ourselves in our hearts, minds, and souls so that we may love our neighbor has ourselves. Empower us with your mercy and grace to press on to heaven-minded living. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Sprouting Prayers

Cooking with Paul: Sprouting Prayers

Brussel Sprouts

  • 15 Brussel Sprouts, cleaned and halved
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ c. bacon bits
  • ½ large Vidalia Onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Parmesan Cheese, Grated

Place olive oil, butter, garlic, bacon bits, and onion in sauté pan on medium heat. Add Brussel Sprouts cut side down in the pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and steam until fork tender. Do not flip sprouts, but occasionally move them in the pan to prevent sticking. Top with fresh parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a payment to set all people free. This was a testimony that was given at the right time. I was appointed to be a preacher and apostle of this testimony—I’m telling the truth and I’m not lying! I’m a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. – Making Prayer the Priority, 1 Timothy 2. 1-7

Every good recipe has a beginning! Cooking requires some well thought out planning. In this text Paul has a beginning he desires for his people to follow almost like a recipe. He instructs the people to begin with prayer. If you ever wondered if prayer was important to the early church note that Paul says, “First of all…” The beginning point of our relationships with God and neighbor always begins with prayer. So we begin with making our requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings for all people.

Paul insists that Jesus desires for all people to be saved. Jesus is our one and only Mediator, our supernatural satellite for communication between us and God himself. Imagine that Jesus just paid your wireless and land-line internet and phone services for the rest of your life with unlimited texting and data streaming. No passwords to remember! He’s better than a video call on Skype, ooVoo, or Zoom. And, you won’t have to get HandBrake to upload your video on Vimeo to communicate your requests. Imagine sending an email to God and it is so long that you needed DropBox to download it. Google Docs couldn’t handle it! No need to worry if you are longing for encouragement because you don’t have to wait on Spotify or Pandora to load up your favorite encouragement. Even if you can read the word at your fingertips on bible apps like You Verse, Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible, God has quicker access! I bet that would get a lot of likes on FaceBook, a quick Tweet, and even a photo-bomb on Instagram or SnapChat. 

Come on, Folks! With all the technological advances there’s never going to be any experience like a prayer meeting or a meditative moment alone with God. If you find the electronic devices more exciting than time with God, you really have not experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Ask! You will receive! That’s the promise. There is no substitutes for God’s prayer plan for us.

Paul is exhorting (Smart Lookup: strongly encourage) the church to make prayer a priority especially for people in authority, even kings. And, Paul closes his comments by pointing out that he is an appointed preacher, teacher, and apostle to the Gentile people. Paul declares that he is a messenger representing the original message of the One who has sent him: Salvation for all people. Paul longs to ensure the inward and outward holiness of heart and lives. To be sure holiness begins with an authentic prayer life. We should be in prayer for all people. 

Father God, open my heart in prayer to the advances of the Kingdom of God. I long to speak the prayers you desire for me to pray for all people, not simply the struggles within my own life. Save the broken minds of people who are struggling with addictions to electronic devices. Transform my understanding of what it means to be in a prayerful relationship with you. As I walk this world may my every adventure bring the manifest presence of the Almighty into every waiting heart. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Hashing it Out

Cooking with Paul: Hashing it Out

Hash Brown Potato Casserole

  • 32 ounces country style hash brown potatoes, frozen – thawed overnight
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 c. chicken, cooked and shredded (optional)
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • ¼ c. bacon
  • ½ c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • ½ c. Mexican Blend cheese, shredded
  • 1 large Vidalia Onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
  • 1 Sleeve Ritz Crackers, crumbled
  • ½ c. Butter, melted

Mix together soup, chicken (optional), milk, sour cream, bacon, cheese, onion, and garlic. Fold in potatoes that have been thawed overnight in the refrigerator. Don’t forget to leave your potatoes in the refrigerator overnight or they will not cook properly in the casserole. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour mixture in 13×9 baking dish sprayed with Pam Original. Smother with crumbled crackers. (Try using a zip lock baggie to reduce mess.) Drench with melted butter. Bake at 400 for about an hour or until the mixture is hot and bubbly.

Timothy, my child, I’m giving you these instructions based on the prophecies that were once made about you. So if you follow them, you can wage a good war because you have faith and a good conscience. Some people have ruined their faith because they refused to listen to their conscience, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander. I’ve handed them over to Satan so that they can be taught not to speak against God. – Godly Reasoning, 1 Timothy 1.18-20 CEB

One of my favorite places to vacation is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. There along the 200 miles of coastal barrier islands runs the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Just off the coast of these narrow islands lies a ghost yard of marooned ships. Today there are numerous lighthouses that dot the landscape of these islands warning ships to beware of the sandbars just under the surface of the ocean. This graveyard for ships is not unlike these two people who serve for us as a warning that our faith may become shipwrecked if we refuse to listen to a good conscience and speak abusively about God.

Paul advises Timothy to fight as a military soldier with a strategy to win a victory. There are two men who have rejected the faith and are speaking against God. The concept “refused to listen” is an understatement in this translation because it fails to capture the fullness of what Paul implies: their faith has been vehemently and intentionally shipwrecked. Paul is very clear about the outcome – ruined faith. They have been handed over to the adversary of their soul to be taught not to speak against God. Just like the bones of lost ships remind us not to trend in dangerous waters so these two men remind us not to go against our good conscious and speak abusively about God.

The question remains: What exactly were they speaking about that shipwrecked their faith? In this text the actual conflict is very vague. I wonder what Paul means by “good conscience.” Is Paul talking about a generic reasoning of the mind or the insights provided by the Holy Spirit? There are times in life when we fight against God because we have trouble discerning what God is asking of us. Our reasoning often fails to comprehend the supernatural reality of God in our midst. We often see this when we are facing debilitating illness when we ask the question, Why God? We cannot understand the ways of God. Job’s story proves our point. Bad things do happen to good people. Look at Jesus who died such a violent death. Our natural reasoning often fails to understand the greater purposes of God. When have you failed to comprehend God’s presence and purposes in your life? Have you blasphemed God?

Lord Jesus, you are my great intercessor. Stand in the gap of my lack of understanding of why bad things happen so that I might embrace the truth that your reasoning is not my reasoning. If I have ridiculed what you are doing in my life or the life of others, convict my heart to repent. Help me to follow the insights of the Holy Spirit and not my personal preferences. Like Job help me to wait for the abundant blessings that follows heart-felt obedience. Jesus, help me to remain silent before my adversaries, offering only forgiveness and not condemnation. May my thoughts be your thoughts. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Out of the Frying Pan

Cooking with Paul: Out of the Frying Pan

Pan-Seared Asparagus

  • Bundle of Fresh Asparagus
  • 2 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 T. Butter
  • ¼ c. Bacon Bits
  • ¼ large Vidalia Onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 t. Garlic, minced
  • ¼ c. Fresh Basil Flakes
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
  • ½ c. Fresh Parmesan Cheese, shredded

Clean and prep fresh bundle of asparagus by rinsing then snapping the roots off. Gently bend fresh asparagus which should easily snap at the place where the roots become tough. Discard roots. Place asparagus in a self-sealing skillet with the olive oil, butter, bacon, onion, and garlic. Sear the asparagus until tender on medium-low heat. Be intentional not to overcook asparagus or it will become tough and stringy. Season with basil, salt, and pepper. Top with cheese. Enjoy!

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all. But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen. – Paul’s Testimony, 1 Timothy 1.12-17 CEB

 My kids grew up watching Veggie Tales, and one of their favorite distinguished characters was Archibald Asparagus. They loved to imitate Archibald Asparagus with his Hogan’s Hero imitation of Colonel Wilhelm Klink and his monocle eyewear. If I could create a caricature of Paul from this passage, he might just have a little Archibald Asparagus and a little Colonel Klink included. To be sure Paul is a distinguished character with a remarkable testimony. He never shies away from using his testimony to get his point across to believers. It is undeniable that Paul knows the personal experience of the transforming power of grace and mercy.

Paul undergirds his letter to Timothy by using his own testimony as a foundation for teaching the right way to live. His arguments are often abrasive in the New Testament, getting his point across quickly while packing quite a punch which he does so here in this letter. He describes himself as a blasphemer, or someone who vilifies God. He hunted people down for the sole purpose of destroying the Christian faith. He became a sadist, a person known for his violent passion for destroying the fledgling Christian community. Paul was arrogant in his calculated work to physically harm, verbally insult, and publically humiliate believers. To be sure God took pity on his unbelieving heart and hateful disposition by lavishly pouring out mercy (forgiveness) and dispensing a torrent of grace (favor) (Rienecker & Rogers 617).

Paul intentionally shares his testimony over and over in Scripture as a means of evangelism and discipleship. As I read Paul’s writings I am convinced that his use of his personal testimony pointed out how important it is to know that nothing can keep us from God’s grace and mercy. Grace (χάρις) – translated favor – and mercy (ἠλεήθην) are key words in this text for up and coming believers to experience. Grace is the experience of God’s blessing or favor upon us even when we don’t deserve it. Mercy is the experience of God’s unforgettable forgiveness provided for us in the cross of Christ. Paul’s testimony points out that grace and mercy are not just concepts but lived experience of a supernatural reality that happens in the heart of every believer. If you have not experienced grace and mercy, ask God for a fresh infilling of his Holy Spirit to give you that blessed assurance of his presence in your life today.

O God, I am reminded from this text that my testimony should be used to build up the Kingdom of God, not tear it down, nor should I disregard the story of how I have been transformed by the experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul’s story illustrates how his misguided passion for his personal religious worldview missed the mark – even to the point of destroying the new fledgling community of faith. Lord Jesus, I ask that my testimony be beneficial in evangelism and discipleship of others. Show me how important it is to personally experience grace and mercy then share it with others just like Paul. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Clean Your Plate

Cooking with Paul: Clean Your Plate

Broccoli Casserole

  • 2 bags chopped broccoli, frozen
  • 1 c. cooked shredded chicken
  • ½ large Vidalia onion, finely chopped
  • 1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
  • ½ c. mayonnaise
  • ½ c. cream/milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 c. grated Mexican Cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers, crumbled
  • ½ stick butter, melted

Combine chicken, soup, mayonnaise, cream, egg, and cheese until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fold in broccoli then pour into a 13×9” baking dish sprayed with Pam Original. Top with crumbled crackers and melted butter. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

When I left for Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching. They shouldn’t pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Their teaching only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Because they missed this goal, some people have been distracted by talk that doesn’t mean anything. They want to be teachers of Law without understanding either what they are saying or what they are talking about with such confidence. Now we know that the Law is good if used appropriately. We understand this: the Law isn’t established for a righteous person but for people who live without laws and without obeying any authority. They are the ungodly and the sinners. They are people who are not spiritual, and nothing is sacred to them. They kill their fathers and mothers, and murder others. They are people who are sexually unfaithful, and people who have intercourse with the same sex. They are kidnappers, liars, individuals who give false testimonies in court, and those who do anything else that is opposed to sound teaching. Sound teaching agrees with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that has been trusted to me. Timothy’s purpose in Ephesus, 1 Timothy 1.3-11 CEB

Timothy has been tendered a difficult task of amending those who are spreading wrong teaching by their words and actions. Paul quickly hands Timothy a list of corrections for the wordsmiths including abandoning their prattle of myths, genealogies, guessing games, and meaningless talk. And, he completes the opening paragraph with ungodly sinful illustrations that cannot be misunderstood as anything less than opposition to the Gospel message. The misguided behaviors are disobedient, unspiritual, and sacrilegious. Timothy is given the charge to redirect those who are involved in misguided sexuality, human trafficking, deceitful talk, and offering false evidence in court. Basically, Paul implies that these folks are smooth-talkers who create their own version of truth. Paul advises that the goal of the faith is a heart full of uncorrupted “agape” love, honest integrity, and unchanging beliefs.

The truth here may read differently across the various bible translations. You might have noticed that this version of the Bible reads differently from yours. I began reading the Common English Bible a few years ago, and I find its translation easy to understand even when the corrective measures are counter-cultural. The NRSV translates misguided sexuality as “fornicators, sodomites, and slave traders.” That’s pretty descriptive language. If we read other texts that reference Ephesus in the New Testament, we might be able to gather a broader picture of what young Timothy is dealing with here at Ephesus including sections of Acts 18-20, 1 Corinthians 16, 1 & 2 Timothy, the Letter to the Ephesians, and Revelation 1 & 2.

Timothy has a lot on his plate that the believers will find hard to swallow. The Gospel is so counter-cultural it’s like eating something strange. Maybe you remember your parents inviting you to clean your plate when you were a child, especially when you had to eat vegetables like broccoli. We often resist the very things that are good for us in light of things that what we prefer to view as social norms in our culture. However, in light of this text we ought to clean our plate with all the vegetables we don’t particularly like.

O Lord, you call me out of wrong thinking and bad behavior but often I refuse the warning. There are leaders in the church that are given the task of leading believers into Biblical orthodoxy. Here your word advises me that agape love does not overlook the cultural norms, but guides believers into the transforming process of sanctification. But living counter-cultural is not always easy. Give me the courage to speak correctly and live right. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Eat Your Spinach

Cooking with Paul: Eat Your Spinach

Creamy Spinach Dip

  • 8 ounces cream cheese          ½ c. mayonnaise
  • ½ stick butter                           ½ c. cream or milk
  • 1 t. minced garlic                     ¼ c. parmesan cheese, shredded
  • ¼ c. bacon bits                          salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bag chopped frozen spinach, slightly thawed
  • 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers
  • 1 t. sage
  • ½ stick butter, melted

Blend together in a microwave safe bowl cream cheese, butter, garlic, and bacon by microwaving for 60 seconds on high. Stir in mayonnaise, cream, and parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the slightly thawed frozen spinach. Top with crumbled Ritz crackers and sage mixture. A small ziplock baggie works great for crumbling crackers. Top with melted butter. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes until hot and bubbly. Enjoy with Scoops Tortilla Chips or as a side to any meal.

From Paul, who is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the command of God our savior and of Christ Jesus our hope. To Timothy, my true child in the faith. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord. – Greeting from 1 Timothy 1.1-2 CEB

Moms are known for their encouraging words to their children – eat your veggies! Some of those veggies are not favorite foods much like creamy spinach. In my childhood I would never have considered eating spinach, but now it is a favorite. Oh how we are given the opportunity to mature with age! Here Paul is owning his right to encourage his protégé in the faith to part-take of good spiritual nutrients. 

There are times in our lives that we find ourselves communicating truths to those we mentor and guide into maturity in Christ Jesus. In this letter Paul is writing to Timothy, someone he considers to be his spiritual child. There is no doubt how much Paul took ownership and responsibility for Timothy’s personal spiritual growth. In my own journey there are three kinds of people that I invest in – colleagues, friends, and protégés. There are people who have become lifelong ministry colleagues, and we share knowledge about ministry. There are those whom I have developed friendships with whom I share deeply out my personal struggles in my prayer life. And, there are those whom I have chosen to join my life to theirs and invest in their spiritual growth and development. 

Sometimes whether we are colleagues, friends, or protégés, there are things we find hard to swallow like a food we dislike. (Go ahead and make a bad food face!) Teachings we might not be so eager to learn such as the value of young people emerging as leaders. When was the last time you chose to disciple someone that was young in their faith? How important is it for those maturing in the faith to reach behind them to raise up the next generation for service? What are you going to do about it?

 Lord Jesus, help me to learn to swallow what I don’t want to hear. Show me a person who I can mentor in the faith and allow me to be a good leader to them. Help me to both teach and learn, to be both teacher and student, so that I may discover my place in your kingdom. Amen.