Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Difference Between BC and AD

Do you know that every time you enter the date, many times each day, you reference Christ?

BC - before Christ. AD - after Christ (my way of remembering what it means). So when you say it is December, 2009, you are counting up from when Christ was on earth physically.

Today Paul explains the difference between BC and AD, even though he never heard of those terms...

Romans 8
1 -2 "With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

3 -4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

5 -8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

9 -11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!

12 -14 So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Wildly Extravagant Life Gift

Today Paul is comparing the sentence of death with the sentence of life.

12 -14 "You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we're in— first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn't sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.
15 -17 Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man's sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God's gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There's no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man's wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?"

The wildly extravagant gift.

18 -19 "Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.
20 -21 All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn't, and doesn't, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it's sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that's the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end."

The wildly extravagant life gift.
The aggressive forgiveness we call grace.
Can you see why the story of the Bible is called "good news?"

Standing Tall and Shouting Our Praise!

Is God for us, or is God "agin" us?

Romans 5
1 -2 "By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus.
And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us.
We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise."

What would a natural response to this be? How about "standing tall and shouting our praise?"

3 -5 "There's more to come:
We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.
In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged.
Quite the contrary—we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!"

Even hemmed in with troubles, we "stand tall and shout our praise."

6 -8 "Christ arrives right on time to make this happen.
He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready.
He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready.
And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway.
We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice.
But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. "

Our response? We "stand tall and shout our praise."
9 -11 "Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way.
If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life!
Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose.
We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!"

We "stand tall and shout our praise."

The Promise

When we see the words, "The Promise" we more often think of promises broken than promises kept. Because we are human. Forgetful. Distracted. Victims of circumstance. I think of times when mothers promised their children that they would come for them, but couldn't. And time passed. And the children never saw their mother again...

The song, "The Promise" speaks of a bilateral promise. If you... than I...
Today we hear of God's promise. An almighty God, who has all power and who never changes, can make a promise that is never broken. And God makes a unilateral promise...

13 -15 "That famous promise God gave Abraham—that he and his children would possess the earth—was not given because of something Abraham did or would do.
It was based on God's decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed.
If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract!
That's not a holy promise; that's a business deal.
A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect.
But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God's promise at that—you can't break it.
16 This is why the fulfillment of God's promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does.

God's promise arrives as pure gift.

That's the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them.
For Abraham is father of us all.
He is not our racial father—that's reading the story backward.
He is our faith father.
17 -18 We call Abraham "father" not because he got God's attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody.
Isn't that what we've always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, "I set you up as father of many peoples"?
Abraham was first named "father" and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing.
When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn't do but on what God said he would do.
And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples.
God himself said to him, "You're going to have a big family, Abraham!"
19 -25 Abraham didn't focus on his own impotence and say, "It's hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child."
Nor did he survey Sarah's decades of infertility and give up.
He didn't tiptoe around God's promise asking cautiously skeptical questions.
He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said.
That's why it is said, "Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right."
But it's not just Abraham; it's also us!
The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless.
The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God."

God's promise.

Your Story - can be a God Story

"Your Story". Where were you born. Your childhood. Education. Family. Career. Accomplishments. We all have a story.

Would it not be cool if "Your Story" ("My Story") was a "God Story"?

Listen to what Paul is writing to the Romans today...

"If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it.
But the story we're given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.
What we read in Scripture is, "Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point.
He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own."
4 -5 If you're a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don't call your wages a gift.
But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it's something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God.
Sheer gift.
6 -9 David confirms this way of looking at it, saying that the one who trusts God to do the putting-everything-right without insisting on having a say in it is one fortunate man:
Fortunate those whose crimes are carted off,
whose sins are wiped clean from the slate.
Fortunate the person against
whom the Lord does not keep score.
Do you think for a minute that this blessing is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised?
Or do you think it possible that the blessing could be given to those who never even heard of our ways, who were never brought up in the disciplines of God?
We all agree, don't we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God?"

How fortunate the person who lets "their story" become a "God story"!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lifes Highest Accomplishment

When Paul was in Corinth, before heading back to Jerusalem, he wrote a letter to some people he had never met. It was to be his life's highest accomplishment. It is called, quite simply - Romans.

"For ten years before writing the letter (approx. 47-57), Paul had travelled round the territories bordering the Aegean Sea evangelising. Churches had been planted in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Paul, considering his task complete, wanted to preach the gospel in Spain, where he would not ‘build upon another man’s foundation’.[11] This allowed him to visit Rome on the way, a long time ambition of his. The letter to the Romans, in part, prepares them and gives reasons for his visit.[12]"

God Has Set Things Right
Romans 3: 21-24 "What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we've compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
25-26God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it's now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness. "

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Rant

One of bloggings highest and best uses is for the rant.

Anyone can flail away about anything at all. And if you are careful to edit your words, the rant can be a harmless emotional outlet.

Today Paul does a rant. It is most interesting...

16 -21 "Let me come back to where I started—and don't hold it against me if I continue to sound a little foolish. Or if you'd rather, just accept that I am a fool and let me rant on a little. I didn't learn this kind of talk from Christ. Oh, no, it's a bad habit I picked up from the three-ring preachers that are so popular these days. Since you sit there in the judgment seat observing all these shenanigans, you can afford to humor an occasional fool who happens along. You have such admirable tolerance for impostors who rob your freedom, rip you off, steal you blind, put you down—even slap your face! I shouldn't admit it to you, but our stomachs aren't strong enough to tolerate that kind of stuff.
21 -23 Since you admire the egomaniacs of the pulpit so much (remember, this is your old friend, the fool, talking), let me try my hand at it. Do they brag of being Hebrews, Israelites, the pure race of Abraham? I'm their match. Are they servants of Christ? I can go them one better. (I can't believe I'm saying these things. It's crazy to talk this way! But I started, and I'm going to finish.)
23 -27 I've worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death's door time after time. I've been flogged five times with the Jews' thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I've been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I've known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
28 -29 And that's not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.
30 -33 If I have to "brag" about myself, I'll brag about the humiliations that make me like Jesus. The eternal and blessed God and Father of our Master Jesus knows I'm not lying. Remember the time I was in Damascus and the governor of King Aretas posted guards at the city gates to arrest me? I crawled through a window in the wall, was let down in a basket, and had to run for my life. "

End of rant...

A Lavish Planter Gets a Lavish Crop

You could call this The Offering - Part 2.

I had an interesting experience last week. The day was particularly difficult and troubling. Nothing was going well. At a certain point in the day, I saw an old pickup pulled over where there wasn't really a shoulder. Just beyond was a young man walking with a gas can. I picked him up and took him to work. It might have been 2 minutes out of my way. But it was the high point of my day!

Paul quotes Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to recieve." Would you rather be desperately needy and recieve a much needed gift? Or would you rather have abundance and give to help someone desperately needy? Both ends of that transaction recieve a blessing. Which has the bigger blessing? Which end is it more fun to be on?

II Corinthians 9

3 -5 "Now I'm sending the brothers to make sure you're ready, as I said you would be, so my bragging won't turn out to be just so much hot air. If some Macedonians and I happened to drop in on you and found you weren't prepared, we'd all be pretty red-faced—you and us—for acting so sure of ourselves. So to make sure there will be no slipup, I've recruited these brothers as an advance team to get you and your promised offering all ready before I get there. I want you to have all the time you need to make this offering in your own way. I don't want anything forced or hurried at the last minute."

Fund raising has been elevated to a science - no, an art - in our day. Every psychological tool and weapon available is used to shake down the people. And it works! But Paul is not manipulating. He is teaching. Remember, this money is not for him. It is for needy Christians who are starving in Jerusalem...

6 -7 "Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting.
God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
8 -11 God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
He throws caution to the winds,
giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways
never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you.

He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
12 -15 Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians.
It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God.
This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone.
Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need.
Thank God for this gift, his gift.
No language can praise it enough!"

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Offering

Our church launched a Vision Campaign this Fall.
Our purpose is
Love God
Love People
Serve the World.

So the Campaign is to raise $3,000,000 for each of those purposes by 2012!

Started in the middle of the worst Depression any of us have ever experienced! (They say 1937 was worse, but who was alive then?)

Sounds a lot like what the followers of "The Way" did back in AD 55!

2 Corinthians 8
The Offering
1 -4 "Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province.
Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit.
The trial exposed their true colors:
They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor.
The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts.
I was there and saw it for myself.
They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.
5 -7 This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard.
What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us.
The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives. That's what prompted us to ask Titus to bring the relief offering to your attention, so that what was so well begun could be finished up.
You do so well in so many things—you trust God, you're articulate, you're insightful, you're passionate, you love us—now, do your best in this, too.
8 -9 I'm not trying to order you around against your will. But by bringing in the Macedonians' enthusiasm as a stimulus to your love, I am hoping to bring the best out of you.
You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ.
Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.
10 -20 So here's what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale.
Your heart's been in the right place all along.
You've got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it.
Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can't.
The heart regulates the hands.
This isn't so others can take it easy while you sweat it out.
No, you're shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit.
In the end you come out even. As it is written,
Nothing left over to the one with the most,
Nothing lacking to the one with the least."

Don't Squander One Bit Of This Marvelous Life!

A banker. In trouble. Contemplates taking his life.
A WaMu executive, 2008?
No - James Stewart as George Bailey - 1946.
Long before the end of World War II Paul talked about the value of life.
Not just your whole life - bet every minute OF that life...
2 Corinthians 6
1 -10 "Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.
God reminds us,
I heard your call in the nick of time;
The day you needed me, I was there to help.
Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped.
Don't put it off;
don't frustrate God's work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we're doing.
Our work as God's servants gets validated—or not—in the details.
People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . .
in hard times, tough times, bad times;
when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed;
working hard, working late, working without eating;
with pure heart, clear head, steady hand;
in gentleness, holiness, and honest love;
when we're telling the truth,
and when God's showing his power;
when we're doing our best setting things right;
when we're praised, and when we're blamed;
slandered, and honored;
true to our word, though distrusted;
ignored by the world, but recognized by God;
terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead;
beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die;
immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy;
living on handouts, yet enriching many;
having nothing, having it all.
11 -13 Dear, dear Corinthians, I can't tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life.
We didn't fence you in.
The smallness you feel comes from within you.
Your lives aren't small, but you're living them in a small way.
I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection.
Open up your lives.
Live openly and expansively!"
Don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Folding Tents

Did you ever think of your body as a folding tent?

Paul did...

2 Corinthians 5
1 -5 "For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we'll never have to relocate our "tents" again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration.

Compared to what's coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we're tired of it! We've been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what's ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we'll never settle for less.

6 -8 That's why we live with such good cheer. You won't see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don't get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It's what we trust in but don't yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we'll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.

9 -10 But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that's what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions. Sooner or later we'll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what's coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad.

11 -14 That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It's no light thing to know that we'll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That's why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care. We're not saying this to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that we're on your side and not just nice to your face as so many people are. If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you. Christ's love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do."

You Are A Living Letter - Read By All

You are a living letter - read by all!

2 Corinthians 3
1 -3 "Does it sound like we're patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority?
Well, we're not.
Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you.
You yourselves are all the endorsement we need."
You are a letter that anyone can read...
"Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you.
Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God's living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.
4 -6 We couldn't be more sure of ourselves in this—that you, written by Christ himself for God, are our letter of recommendation.
We wouldn't think of writing this kind of letter about ourselves.
Only God can write such a letter.
His letter authorizes us to help carry out this new plan of action."
How does a living letter come to be?
"The plan wasn't written out with ink on paper, with pages and pages of legal footnotes, killing your spirit.
It's written with Spirit on spirit, his life on our lives!"
The Spirit of God in our lives, makes us a letter to be read.
A living letter, bearing good news...

Hard Times...

Americans are particularly adverse to pain and suffering and difficulty.
We still hold on to the "American Dream" at the core of our psyche, that says, "Bigger and Better, Bigger and Better - until we die!"

Truth is, trouble and difficulty are part of life. Everybody's life. For one financial. For another physical pain and sickness. For another family difficulties.

In earlier times trouble and difficulty were accepted as part of life. Paul offers a powerful reason why we go through trouble...

3 -5 "All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah!
Father of all mercy!
God of all healing counsel!
He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us."

Did you get that?
Purpose in pain.
The benefit of brokeness.
A bit counterculture in North America!

"We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.
6 -7 When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you're just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you're going to make it, no doubt about it."

Paul goes on to a related theme. The difficulties he went through to get the Good News to these folks.

8 -11 "We don't want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province.
It was so bad we didn't think we were going to make it.
We felt like we'd been sent to death row, that it was all over for us.
As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened.
Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he's the God who raises the dead!
And he did it, rescued us from certain doom.
And he'll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.
You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don't want you in the dark about that either.
I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God's deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part."

They were literally at death's door more than once.

12 -14 "Now that the worst is over, we're pleased we can report that we've come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world—and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high.
But it wasn't by any fancy footwork on our part.
It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised.
Don't try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter. We're writing plain, unembellished truth, hoping that you'll now see the whole picture as well as you've seen some of the details.
We want you to be as proud of us as we are of you when we stand together before our Master Jesus."

Many of us are facing hard times right now. Remember this...

"He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us."

Love Notes...

Patti and I were engaged for 13 months. (Way too long)
And we were apart for most of that time (Way too far)
So we wrote letters. Lots of letters. Full of hopes and plans and dreams. And love. Lots of love...

Paul writes to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 16
1 -4Regarding the relief offering for poor Christians that is being collected, you get the same instructions I gave the churches in Galatia. Every Sunday each of you make an offering and put it in safekeeping. Be as generous as you can. When I get there you'll have it ready, and I won't have to make a special appeal. Then after I arrive, I'll write letters authorizing whomever you delegate, and send them off to Jerusalem to deliver your gift. If you think it best that I go along, I'll be glad to travel with them."

Paul is writing to a group of people he has become very fond of. He ends his letter with a series of love notes...

5 -9 "I plan to visit you after passing through northern Greece. I won't be staying long there, but maybe I can stay awhile with you—maybe even spend the winter? Then you could give me a good send-off, wherever I may be headed next. I don't want to just drop by in between other "primary" destinations. I want a good, long, leisurely visit. If the Master agrees, we'll have it! For the present, I'm staying right here in Ephesus. A huge door of opportunity for good work has opened up here. (There is also mushrooming opposition.)"

Instructions if beloved young Timothy shows up.

10 -11 "If Timothy shows up, take good care of him. Make him feel completely at home among you. He works so hard for the Master, just as I do. Don't let anyone disparage him. After a while, send him on to me with your blessing. Tell him I'm expecting him, and any friends he has with him."

Renowned preacher who they are trying to get to come and speak...

12 "About our friend Apollos, I've done my best to get him to pay you a visit, but haven't talked him into it yet. He doesn't think this is the right time. But there will be a "right time."

Some last minute instructions...

13 -14 "Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you've got, be resolute, and love without stopping."

Give some honor to some honorable folks...

15 -16 "Would you do me a favor, friends, and give special recognition to the family of Stephanas? You know, they were among the first converts in Greece, and they've put themselves out, serving Christians ever since then. I want you to honor and look up to people like that: companions and workers who show us how to do it, giving us something to aspire to."

His delight in some of the young Christian workers coming up...

17 -18 "I want you to know how delighted I am to have Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus here with me. They partially make up for your absence! They've refreshed me by keeping me in touch with you. Be proud that you have people like this among you."

Hugs and kisses...

19 "The churches here in western Asia send greetings.
Aquila, Priscilla, and the church that meets in their house say hello.
20All the friends here say hello.
Pass the greetings around with holy embraces!
21 And I, Paul—in my own handwriting!—send you my regards."

And above all - love the Lord!

22 "If anyone won't love the Master, throw him out. Make room for the Master!
23 Our Master Jesus has his arms wide open for you.
24 And I love all of you in the Messiah, in Jesus."

Show Me How Resurrection Works!

34 "Think straight. Awaken to the holiness of life. No more playing fast and loose with resurrection facts. Ignorance of God is a luxury you can't afford in times like these. Aren't you embarrassed that you've let this kind of thing go on as long as you have?
35 -38 Some skeptic is sure to ask, "Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this 'resurrection body' look like?" If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a "dead" seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don't look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.
39 -41You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we're only looking at pre-resurrection "seeds"—who can imagine what the resurrection "plants" will be like!"
Paul is presenting the resurrection to people in a pagan culture that belived all kinds of bizarre things. Kind of like today, where so many people are committed to the notion that slime became monkeys, became man - all by itself! They are committed to this belief in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Paul goes on...

42 -44 "This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we're raised, we're raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that's planted is no beauty, but when it's raised, it's glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!
45 -49 We follow this sequence in Scripture: The First Adam received life, the Last Adam is a life-giving Spirit. Physical life comes first, then spiritual—a firm base shaped from the earth, a final completion coming out of heaven. The First Man was made out of earth, and people since then are earthy; the Second Man was made out of heaven, and people now can be heavenly. In the same way that we've worked from our earthy origins, let's embrace our heavenly ends.
50 I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don't in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very "nature" is to die, so how could they "naturally" end up in the Life kingdom?"
Patti and I went to see the movie "2012". (Loved the movie, by the way.) They gave more credence to the ancient Mayan myth than they did to the holy inpired Word of God! Paul goes on...

51 -57 But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I'll probably never fully understand. We're not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it's over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we'll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal.
Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now?
It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power.
But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ.
Thank God!"
This - the power of the resurrected Christ, is the power of Christianity. Not a myth, a present reality...

58 "With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort."

He Finally Presented Himself Alive to Me...

Some people do things quietly, in an organized, orderly fashion.
Other people are larger than life in their persona and style, and what they do is bold, dramatic, loud.

Paul was the second type of person. God made him that way. When he thought the "followers of the Way" were heretics, he determined to round them all up himself, and stamp out this awful new religion.

So Jesus met him in a powerful and dramatic way. One that got his total attention and was completely unmistakable. Then he dedicated himself to spread the Good News for the rest of his days. He alludes to that encounter today.

1 Corinthians 15
1 -2 "Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I'm assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you're in this for good and holding fast.)
3 -9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me:
that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it;
that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says;
that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers,
and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died);
that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him;
and that he finally presented himself alive to me."

Paul would never forget until his dying day that dramatic encounter.
Have you met Jesus?
I don't mean have you gotten religion? That can be like joining a country club.
No, I mean, have you met Jesus? If you have, it will change your life!

Paul goes on...

"It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don't deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God's church right out of existence.
10 -11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am.
And I'm not about to let his grace go to waste.
Haven't I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others?
Even then, my work didn't amount to all that much.
It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it.
So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it's all the same:
We spoke God's truth and you entrusted your lives."

If you have met Jesus, it will change your life forever...