Strength for the Faithful

Do you have something in your past that you would rather forget? I know I do.

Paul’s letter to Timothy reveals an uncomfortable truth about his past. He reminded Timothy of the time when he was Saul of Tarsus and he violently persecuted Christians for their beliefs. He was present at the stoning of Stephen and was “extremely zealous” and famously violent for persecution “beyond measure” (Galatians 1). He was a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, a tent maker by trade, and yet God used all of his sinful past to convert the world after he first converted Saul on the road to Damascus.

I think it is easy to forget Paul’s violent beginnings as we study his many letters and his theology. Paul brought the Gospel to the modern world in a stunning series of missionary journeys that included imprisonment, shipwrecks, great personal cost, and eventually death.

This passage in 1 Timothy talks about his appointment to ministry in spite of his past:

1 Timothy 1 (Common English Bible)

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry 13 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. 14 Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. 

15 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.16 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. 17 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.

What a remarkable reversal! The persecutor became the proclaimer. The sinner became the saint. The faithless one became the leader of the faithful. The Lord’s favor was poured out over Saul, and he received the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus.

What do you have in your past that either enables or hinders you from sharing the gospel? Paul’s story is a powerful reminder of the power of forgiveness of sin to wash away all of our transgressions. It is also a good reminder to us that God loves every sinner and shows mercy and patience to all. When we sit in judgment of other people’s sins, we sit outside of God’s great plan to bring Jesus into the world to save sinners. All the doors of redemption must be left open for the Sauls to come in.

If the “biggest sinner of all” can be made new and whole through the mercy and grace of the Lord, so can the rest of us.

Do you have a story of a past that was changed? Go and tell.

The Lord’s Favor by Michelle Robertson

No Favorites

A Bible study teacher asked her new class an “ice-breaker” question designed to put people at ease and encourage them to interact with each other. She asked about a favorite food, one that you might request if you knew you were in your last hours of living. The answers were as diverse as the participants, but pizza seemed to be a favorite choice among the students. They agreed to have a pizza party together on the last day of class.

We all have favorite foods, movies, books, travel destinations, etc. But did you ever consider that God has no favorites? Imagine that. God loves all of his creation equally. The reprobate sinner, the cheating spouse, the strong, committed believer, the enthusiastic worshipper, the poor refugee, the faithful disciple, the gay son … he loves them all with equal passion.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. God’s door is always open to you. This is such good news that Peter fairly explodes!

Acts 10 (The Message)

34-36 Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

37-38 “You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.

This passage is a good choice for the week after Easter. The celebrations are over, the trumpeter has packed up and gone home, and the egg baskets are stored away. So what’s next?

What is next is the commissioning we all have received to BEAR WITNESS to our faith. We are challenged to share the good news as those who are fairly EXPLODING with joy! God is calling us to go and tell.

39-43 “And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”

So how about this: find someone this week and tell them about the resurrection. Invite your neighbor to church next Sunday. Take a co-worker for coffee and share your faith. Let everyone know that God doesn’t play favorites and his door is always open! We are an Easter People.

Thanks be to God.

All the Favorites by Kathy Schumacher

Help Me, Jesus

Several years ago I experienced a “Help me, Jesus” moment that I will never forget. My youngest daughter was home from college for the summer and she worked long shifts at a local department store. Jamie had just gotten home from a double shift and we immediately got into our pajamas for a “girl’s night.” Since our dog Georgia is also a girl, we took her out to the dock so that she could swim in our canal and we could skip walking her in the heat.

She is a yellow lab and a strong swimmer. We have two docks, a ladder, and a dog ramp at the far end of the long dock. As Georgia swam and Jamie and I chatted in comfy chairs on the dock about our dinner and movie choices, I noticed that Georgia seemed to be disoriented and getting tired. Our large boat was tied up alongside the larger dock and this seemed to be suddenly confusing to her. Sure enough, she grew frantic out in the middle of the canal and could not seem to find her way back.

I was terrified.

We were able to call her over to the side of the dock where she was floundering, which unfortunately was on the opposite side where the dog ramp was located. By this time, she was very fatigued and panicky. We had a quick conversation and realized that one of us needed to get in the water to push her out while the other one pulled her up on the dock.

Did I mention that this dog weighs over 100 pounds?

So Jamie jumped in the water and I crouched down on the dock and reached over and grabbed Georgia’s collar. She panicked and we struggled. It was a pure “help me, Jesus” moment, which I said out loud several times. At one point, both Jamie and Georgia’s heads went under water and I knew in an instant that I might have to choose which one to save.

Thankfully we are able to push-pull her out of the water, and the three of us laid on the dock for a very long time just dripping, panting, and trembling.

So much for a relaxing girl’s night!

Our Scripture today reminds us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved:

Romans 10 (Common English Bible)

But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the message of faith that we preach). Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 

Paul is deliberate in laying this out as a two-part invitation. We are invited to embrace both sides of this coin. Faith is on one side; witness is on the other. Heart is coupled with mouth. The message must be both believed and proclaimed.

10 Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation. 11 The scripture says, All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame. 12 There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. 

Yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook that her cousin has beaten pancreatic cancer, which typically has a 9% chance of survival. She started her post with this:

”When you have the privilege of witnessing a miracle and seeing God’s mercy … you have to tell others.”

Amen, Julie. You have to tell others.

This makes me wonder how many times we believe with our hearts but fail to profess with our mouths. Does that speak to you today?

13 All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved.

The Lord saves all who call on him. How did God save you? Go out and tell the world!

Jesus Helped Me

Sheer Silliness

If you have ever raised a teenager, you may have gone through a period when said teenager decided that you know absolutely nothing. When we parent our toddlers and elementary-age children, we are the authority on everything. Then something strange happens when they enter Middle School…suddenly our parental brains empty of every last bit of knowledge as theirs fill up with all kinds of wisdom. Things we say to them at this point come off as sheer silliness and we are downright stupid in their eyes.

Luckily they grow out of that somewhere around the first year of college, when we miraculously become smart again.

Such is the case today in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. He writes to them about the way the truth of Jesus Christ is perceived by its critics:

1 Corinthians 1 (The Message)

18-21 The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

He was addressing the culture of his time over 2,000 years ago, but the same teaching applies to today. The cross indeed is foolishness to those who have not received it. Knowing Jesus, it turns out, is a spiritual knowledge born of experience rather than a scholarly, intellectual pursuit. You can read all you want to about Christ, but until you accept him as Savior and Lord, you will never really know him.

22-25 While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so cheap, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

Is today the day when you will accept Christ as your Lord and Savior? Are you being called to humble yourself in his sight and receive him as your personal redeemer? If you’ve been thinking about this for awhile but haven’t experienced it yet, today is your day. You are one prayer away from salvation.

Each one of us who has already made this commitment is personally called by God himself to tell others about Christ, God’s “ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.” The way to do that is to tell your personal story. How do you know Jesus? Go and tell. You never know what seeds you will sow.

Go and Tell by Kathy Schumacher

Good News!

Can you remember a time when you had good news to share? What did you do? When I found out I was accepted into college, I ran next door to tell my best friend. When I discovered I was pregnant, I immediately called my parents and my in-laws. When I was appointed to my current church, I called both daughters to share the happy news.

When you have good news, you move heaven and earth to share it with the ones you love. You just can’t wait! It burns in your heart until you get to that person to share it.

In our passage today, Paul is discussing the good news of Christ’s salvation for all. This wasn’t just good news, it was strange news. Imagine the Jews and Gentiles in the crowd, hearing for the first time that there is a faith that is open to all and a way of salvation that doesn’t care who you are. You don’t have to be born into it. You don’t have to prove your lineage, complete a check-list of good deeds, or jump through hoops.

You just have to ask.

Romans 10 (Contemporary English Version)

11 The Scriptures say that no one who has faith will be disappointed, 12 no matter if that person is a Jew or a Gentile. There is only one Lord, and he is generous to everyone who asks for his help. 13 All who call out to the Lord will be saved.

All who call on the Lord will be saved. This was a concept that radically changed the world. This opened heaven up to all people of all nations and all generations. There is only ONE Lord. Everyone gets to come in.

But wait…there’s a catch.

14 How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? 15 And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord?

YOU are the catch. In this wonderful offering of eternal life for all, there has to be something that prepares the way, and that is you. How can people hear if nobody tells them? How can they know about Jesus if nobody explains to them the wonderful good news of the resurrection? And how can you tell without being sent?

Jesus’ invitation to all of us today is to go and tell. Under the authority of the Holy Spirit, we are all being sent with a loving word of kindness into the world that needs to know about Jesus. We are offered an opportunity to share the best news someone will ever hear.

Who do you know that needs to hear this good news? Who is struggling for lack of hope and peace? Where is God nudging you to have that conversation with someone you care about?

The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

How beautiful when humble hearts give
the fruit of pure lives
so that others may live.
How beautiful is the body of Christ.


How beautiful the feet that bring
the sound of good news
and the love of the King.
How beautiful is the body of Christ. (How Beautiful by Anne Wilson)

Go, and be beautiful to someone today. May it burn in your heart until you tell it.

How Beautiful!

Talk About It

What do you like to talk about with your friends? Do you discuss current affairs? Family updates? The weather? Fashion? Politics…..oh, never mind. Hardly anybody ventures THERE any more!

I have a delightful moment once a week when I ZOOM with my two daughters and my niece. We talk about everything and anything. We catch up on the news of their children and jobs, we discuss the pandemic, we giggle about a feisty lady named Nancy whose room is opposite my niece’s office in the nursing home where she works, and we recommend books and shows we have enjoyed binging during the Pandemic.

Apparently there is a Japanese show called “Terrace House” that captured their imagination. I tried to interest them in the History Channel’s survivalist competition “Alone,” but I’m sure I lost them when I described how a contestant not only took down a 600 lb. moose, but killed a wolverine WITH AN AX. Those were my exact words as our free ZOOM call cut off, and that benediction has stayed with them for a week. “WITH AN AX!”

The content of our conversations with one another reveals who we are. Talking is our way to spur one another on, offer encouragement, support each other, give suggestions and corrections, and speak out loud the things that are nestled in our hearts.

In today’s psalm, we hear a call to speak about our Lord. We are invited to tell about his deeds among the people. We are asked to talk about his wondrous works:

Psalm 105 (New King James Version)

Oh, give thanks to the Lord!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!
Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!
Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!
Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
Remember His marvelous works which He has done,
His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth,
O seed of Abraham His servant,
You children of Jacob, His chosen ones!

Think back for a moment when you first learned about God and his love for you. You didn’t fall into that knowledge in a library, most likely. I’m guessing you didn’t take a walk on the beach and have a sudden revelation. No, chances are SOMEBODY TOLD YOU.

He is the Lord our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
He remembers His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations,
The covenant which He made with Abraham,
And His oath to Isaac,
10 And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute,
To Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11 Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan
As the allotment of your inheritance,”

So here is your challenge for the day: go and tell. Tell somebody about God’s goodness in your life and his covenant of love that lasts forever. Talk about what having a relationship with God means to you. You may be the only Jesus somebody will see and hear today!

Go, and tell.

This little guy came to Worship on the Lawn. Photo by Sharon Whitehurst