The Purpose & Mission of the Church

Ok. Let’s try something. I’m going to say a word and you say the first thing that comes to mind. Ready? Missionary. Be honest! Big black Bible? African village? Eating bugs? Fedora hat? Socks with sandals? The word missionary has many connotations. I prefer global partner. Some people refer to our family as either. Just for the record, I do own a big Bible, I have lived in an African village, I have eaten bugs, and I where sandals 99% of the time, but without socks. That’s weird.

What is the church? That is the question. If we were on Family Feud and we surveyed 100 people we may get 100 different answers. Often people think of the church as a building (with a steeple). Or a group of spiritual people. Or a place where we gather to sing songs about Jesus, listen to an inspiring talk or any number of things. We tend to think of the church like a gas station (be filled up), movie theatre (sit/stare) or drug store (help for pains). It’s so much more.

Why do we do church? What is the purpose of the church? And where are we going as the church? What is the church’s mission? These are questions we will interact with today as we look in the Bible.

Romans 15 is where we will be. Romans was a letter written by Paul. That’s right, it was a letter—a long one. Paul wrote it with a pen on paper while on a mission trip in Greece. Paul was a missionary. During his lifetime he made at least three different mission trip to dozens of towns sharing the gospel and planting new churches among unreached people in what is today Turkey, Greece and Italy. After these trips, he would write letters to followup with the churches. We can read seven of these letters in our NT. The big difference with his letter to Rome is that he had never visited Rome. He only heard about them and he wrote to encourage them. His letter would become his magnum opus—teaching the story of our salvation. When you read it today it still can causes the newest Jesus follower to the eldest scholar to tremble and be filled with awe of our Great Salvation. Paul sums up the letter,

“The Gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

In chapter 15, Paul wraps up his lengthy letter and will tackle the question, What is the Purpose and Mission of the Church? I will summarize Paul’s words with 3-Be’s: The purpose and mission of the church is to be a people who belong to God, believe the gospel, and are bringing the gospel to the entire world. So the purpose and mission of the church is not so much about what we do, but about who we are (and are becoming). Let’s explore that more.


Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”

Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”

And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


An invitation (v.7): Paul beings with a welcome. It’s as if he says, “You all are invited. Come. Join in.” If you have a living relationship with Jesus and you consider this your church, then listen up. If you look around, you are so different from one another. Appearances. Skin. Age. Income. Degrees. Roles. Freedoms. Maturity. Strengths. Weaknesses. Struggles. Hopes. Yet you part of something—Someone. The local church is an unlikely collection of people. With earthly eyes it may be hard to see that you belong together. With spiritual ones, however, it is clear. In the church, you belong together. You might say, “Anyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to me.” This spirit of belonging brings glory and praise to God.

I first got connected to a church when I was a teenager. Before then, I’d go to church on the holidays, but I didn’t really belong; I attended. Rather my group was my friends. They were a rebellious bunch and I created problems for my teachers and parents. I was a flat-topped punk. That was my identity even though it left me empty and filled with shame. I was a broken, angry, lonely, and confused teenager. Until, my mom and step-dad moved from Milwaukee to the sticks of central-Wisconsin. We began to attend a small church. The first week, I remember everyone had a Bible, which was weird. The pastor even asked people to open their Bible. I didn’t know what I was doing. The next week, my mom went to Sam’s Club and bought us all Bibles. We kept going. The people welcomed us in. They came alongside us. They loved us. They showed us the Spirit of Jesus. The church became a new place to belong. It was safe place where my life with Jesus was encouraged and my spiritual gifts were developed. It was place that cultivated my passion for God and compassion for others. It was a place that sent me out into community to be a light. This church wasn’t perfect, but they showed grace, they cared for me, and reminded me that I/we were part of something bigger than me/us.

First, we belong to the historical redemptive story (v.8-9a): Paul becomes a historian for a moment to reintroduce us to Jesus. This Jesus who was promised so long ago. This Jesus who came from his people (for all peoples of the world). This Jesus that met him on the Damascus Road and completely altered his life. This Jesus that called him to go and tell others no matter the cost.

To understand the purpose and mission of the church you got to look back into history. The Old Testament, which is the history of God unfolding his purposes through His people Israel. Many people don’t care for history, but God is a fascinating storyteller—the author and orchestrator of an incredible global story with an eternal hope.

If you’ve ever been to an old cathedral you’ve likely seen stained glass windows. They are big, beautiful and bold with color as the sun pierces through. These windows were functional for light and storytelling. The largest window in the world was recently built in Kansas. It has been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Kansas and the Super Bowl of stained glass. The window weighs 16,000 pounds and is the size of a basketball court and cost $3.5 million. It tells the story of the Bible surrounding Jesus.

That window is impressive. But it’s not as impressive as the work of art called the Bible, which was written by 40 diverse men over 1500 years with one golden thread.

Let’s take a moment to see this. Paul creates a window into God’s purpose in all of history:

  • “Therefore I will praise you among the [Gentiles], and sing to your name.” (Ps 18:49; David’s death)
  • “Rejoice, O [Gentiles], with his people.” (Deut 32:43; Moses death)
  • “Praise the Lord, all you [Gentiles], and let all the peoples extol him.” (Ps 117:1)
  • “The root of Jesse will come, even He who arises to rule the [Gentiles]; in Him will the Gentiles hope.” (Is 11:10)

God called out a people from Abraham’s family tree to be his treasured possession, his purpose was never for them alone. It was meant to spill over to others. God’s purpose from the very beginning was to receive praise from all the peoples and nations of the world. This purpose and mission got lost and clouded over time because the people of Israel wanted to hoard God for themselves, they became a closed group, and they hated other nations. To make his point, Paul quotes four different Old Testament passages (vs. 9b–12):

Notice the movement or flow of the story that unfolds in these verses. Paul moves from speaking about Jews praising God among the [Gentiles] nations, to Jews praising God with the nations, to Jews calling on the nations to praise God, and then to all the peoples praising God through the Messiah—Jesus. Everything God has done throughout history has been to form a people from among all peoples for the praise of his name in all places (Rom. 11:36). This is why Jesus came and died to fulfill that purpose. This is why Jesus builds the church to fulfill that mission. What would it look like to substitute [Gentiles] with your street, your neighborhood, your town?

Second, we belong to a people who worship and enjoy God. This is our anthem. Don’t you see how worship is woven into those verses? John Piper in his book Let the Nations Be Glad said, “We exist to worship…Missions exists because worship of Jesus doesn’t.” Jesus came for praise from every tribe, language, people and nation (cf. Revelation 5:9; Psalm 67). He came for the praise of people in California, China, Chad, Berlin, Bangkok and Brentwood. He came for the Omega and the nearly 6,741 UPGs in the world. Did you know that in Chad there are 141 different people groups who speak their own language? That would be like going to the towns around you and each person speaks their own language. In Chad, more than 80 people groups do not have a verse of the Bible in their mother language, nor do they have enough believers or gospel messengers among themselves to reach themselves.

Let us not become a church that resembles the nation of Israel. The church is not about hoarding people like us, nor a closed group towards people not like us, nor a group of people that despise outsiders. It is our worship that attracts people to God. Who are the “outsiders” you are sent to worship amongst, with and call to lift up the name of Jesus? The mission of the church is not to fill a building with souls, but to fill souls with God.

We have seen God work like never before in Chad the past 2-years despite Covid-19 and govt coup d’etat. It’s been miraculous and humbling. It’s been the result of decades of (tireless and unthanked) prayer and sowing seeds of the gospel. We shouldn’t be surprised! The past year, I’ve had the joy of discipling a group of believers who are natural leaders and evangelists. It’s a group of men who wouldn’t normally talk to one another nor be in the same room together. But because of their mutual love for Christ, their language, tribe and people group has faded away, instead a belonging and love for one another has grown. Today there are believers from a dozen UPGs gathering throughout the city.

Third, we belong to the living hope (v.13; cf. Mt. 12:21; 1 Pt. 1:3). The result of this belonging brings joy and peace. We as the church have a common belonging to something/Someone bigger/greater than us. We part of this redemptive story; a worship anthem and eternal hope.

So, you may wonder, what is God doing in the world right now? He is doing what he has been doing from the beginning of history, from the dawn of creation (from Abraham, Moses, David). It’s the same thing he sent Jesus to do 2000-years ago. God is saving a people from among all the peoples of the earth for the praise of His name. A half-reading the Bible with one eye closed will still lead you to the inescapable conclusion. As Chris Wright said, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–-God’s mission.” And you and I are in this “family business” with God. (In His story, an anthem of worship that offers a living hope.)

We are people who long want to belong. God created us to be relational groupies. Think of all the groups where you belong—work groups, student groups, social groups, community groups, sports teams, or 4-H, music groupies, Harley group, Jeep club, etc. These groups can give a sense of belonging or common purpose, but they can only be so much. Which of those groups can give you a sense of belonging when your marriage turns sour, when you’re struggling with an addiction, or when you’re needing direction or hope with life?


I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:14-16

Paul moves from this redemptive story we (the church) are part of to a life-transforming belief in that story. He takes a personal moment to share his own purpose and mission (although unique) and also he directs his words to the Church to encourage their belief. Belief in what? (vs. 14-16)

First, we are people who believe the gospel. Paul is talking to people who know it, believe it, teach it, and share it. One of the dangers with a word like “gospel” is that we all love it so much (rightly), and want to share it passionately (rightly again), that we don’t take time to explore its full biblical depth. When Paul speaks about the gospel, he refers to good news breaking into history [God>man>sin>Jesus>response—repent/believe—Mk.1:14]. The true church are people who believe this. The church is proof of the gospel. The gospel makes the church relevant. We are broken people from the bottom—enemies and orphans.

Second, we are moreover people who believe the gospel’s transformational effect. We are good news people. We believe the good news matters. Believing is the gospel is just a part, living the gospel is the full part. If we preach a gospel of transformation, we need to show some evidence of what transformation looks like, even if it’s messy. The good news is not good news unless it moves us to take action. We act on things we cannot see.

Paul describes this action like a priest (notice all the Temple/worship terms: offering, sanctified, priestly service), “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God…” A Jewish priest served the people in a few ways, 1) they spoke the words of God to the people to stir them to worship and 2) they offered their life as a service to God. This image was familiar to Jews, but now Paul’s connects this to every believer in the church,

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

1 Peter 2:9

The gospel message isn’t just good news, it is news that has an effect. It effects change or a need for change. Just as salt gives flavor and light helps you see, the gospel has that effect on a human soul. Matthew 5:13-16 says, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Confession of a reluctant global partner: Most people think that I wake up in the morning and sprinkle the gospel on my cornflakes. Some days I think I would be a better missionary if I weren’t one. I take out the stinky trash and burn the rice on the stovetop and wrestle with poverty and try to make space for a devotional life, and question what I am doing and how I am helping anybody, every single day. I try to give my kids my attention and discipleship. I make a trillion mistakes and sometimes, truth be told, hide from people. I hide because I feel inadequate in language and culture and want to live normally. I grieve, I seek Christ, I run away from Christ. Sometimes I feel more like a Jonah than a Paul or more like a Thomas than a John. I do many of the same things I did in my home country except there’s more dust and bugs. The biggest effect that the gospel has is on you and the relationships around you. As the gospel transforms you, your marriage, your home, it is like beautiful lamp lighting the world around you. Often it shines best through your broken cracks, pains, and mistakes. (And that’s why we need to believe the gospel everyday, every moment.)


Paul wraps up his thoughts with a roadmap to where he is heading,

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”

Romans 15:17-21

This is also the mission and end game of the church. Paul is going where people have never heard. Paul coined the phrase long before Captain Kirk “boldly going where no man has gone before.”

This begs a question: Go where? Why not stay here? Jesus’ final words add some clarity and weight when he said, “Go therefore and (as you go) make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always (belonging), to the end of the age.” (Matt, 28:19-20) You don’t go to church. You are the church. And as the church…you go into your community and you go to the nations because you are the church. You become the church in its fullness when you obey the words of Jesus and go.

Imagine that an [earthquake] hits your city, and the head of rescue operations puts you in charge. As you and the rescue teams set out to help save lives, you find that the first neighborhood you enter is in dire need. People everywhere are dying, and they need to be rescued from the rubble. It is far more work than your teams can handle. However, you know that there are other neighborhoods—close by and far away—that also need rescued. But you are overloaded right where you are. If you send some to other neighborhoods, then they will lose valuable time when they could be saving people where you are. Add to that the reality that some of the other neighborhoods are difficult to reach, even resist help. What would you do?

Contemporary wisdom, and even compassion, might lead us to stay where we are and help as many people as possible. This would seem to be the best use of our resources. It will take far more time, far more resources, and much greater risk to try to get to those other places. Unless the rescue commander said to you, “I don’t want you to just rescue as many people as possible. Instead, I want you to rescue people from every single one of those communities.” If that was the command, and it was clear, then you would use the resources at your disposal to make sure that people from every community were rescued.

This is the command given to the church, and it is clear the whole world is in rubble. God wants people from every single people group to be rescued and ransomed by Christ. God’s heart beats for the nations. Therefore, commitment to the Great Commission in your lives and in this church involves you and your resources to get the gospel to people groups that still have not yet heard.

The purpose and the mission of the church is to be a people who belong to God, believe the gospel, and are bringing the gospel to the entire world. Is this the kind of follower you want to be? Is this the kind of church you want to be? Now how do we do this? Consider three ways this should be working out in your life.

1) We all pray for the spread of God’s praise among all the peoples of the world. Every day you and I have the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing around the world from our knees. Prayer for global mission is not for a select few but for all of us. Ask God for global eyes. Ask God to move. All movements of God that open eyes and ears to the gospel begin with prayer. (Pray the news.)

2) We all send/give for the spread of God’s praise among all the peoples of the world. In Romans 15, Paul talks about collection to help him take the gospel to Spain where people have never heard. Paul hopes the church at Rome will help him on his journey (v. 24). The book of Romans is a long missionary support letter that says, in essence, “Here is the glory of God in the gospel—now please help me get this gospel to people who have never heard it before.”

At the same time, as important as it was to get the gospel to Spain where people had not heard, Paul also tells them of his plan to go to Jerusalem to give a gift to the church there (v. 25). The church in Jerusalem had experienced a famine and was physically struggling, so Paul had rallied churches all across Turkey, including poor churches, to contribute. He gives attention to both urgent spiritual needs (the gospel) and urgent physical needs (famine).

In Romans 16:1–16, Paul mentions 26 different people with different backgrounds and different gifts who were playing different roles and doing different tasks in the mission of the church. The entire church is represented: men and women, single and married, moms and dads, young and old, rich and poor. These are ordinary people doing their part to spread the extraordinary fame of the name of Jesus. Who are some Romans 16 kind of people that you know?

3) We all go for the spread of God’s praise among all the peoples of the world. Let’s not be a church focused on getting people to come but to leave. Every follower of Jesus should go and make disciples right where he or she lives and wherever God leads. This involves making disciples where you work, where you play, and where you live/worship. Every Sunday, you are sent out of the worship gathering on this mission. You mission field is everywhere including your own street and hood. It is not a vocation. It is a way of life. As you go.

William dreamed about India. In fact, he had maps of India on his walls, and for years was just praying and longing and waiting for the opportunity to go there with the gospel. When the time came to go he went with his wife, and four children under nine years old. It took seven years before the first person believed. He served 40 years without a break. He never returned home. After 20-years on the field a fire broke out at his home and burned years of irreplaceable work. Included in that were ten versions of the Bible that had been going through press. This was before there was a Cloud. There were no copies; it was just gone. He persevered. That was nearly 200 years ago. William Carey like Paul was followed by hundreds of goers who would follow him to India and to other parts of the world.

That God would use ordinary, broken human beings like me and you in this grand narrative he is writing is frankly incredible, don’t you think? Everyday, in every place, to everyone you give the world a front row seat to God’s grace. He’s overjoyed how his grace is beating through your imperfect-but-redeemed life and through your church “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Eph. 3:10)

Let’s make make Romans 15:10 our prayer, “Rejoice, O [nations], with his people.”

Pray this every day and watch what God will do.

Give to this and see what God will do.

Go for this and see what God will do.


There are a lot of dangerous jobs in this world. My first job was at 14-years old and I cleaned carpets at elementary schools for the summer. It wasn’t dangerous other than the hot steam coming from the cleaning machine.

Investigative journalism is a dangerous job. The assignment will take a journalist into war zones and hotbeds to expose a crucial story the world needs to hear about. Often times these journalists are threatened, defamed, beaten, even killed for their stories. Like Marie Colvin an American journalist who for 25 years worked for the British newspaper The Sunday Times. She was one of the world’s leading war correspondents. She reported from war zones on 3 continents over the course of her career. Known for her bravery, she was blinded in one eye by an army rocket in Sri Lanka. She wore a trademark black eye-patch for the rest of her life. She was killed covering the siege of Homs during the Syrian Civil War in 2012.

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The Apostle Luke was an investigative journalist of sorts. He followed Jesus for 3-years and wrote about it in the Gospel that bears his name. Then he followed Paul and talked with eyewitness which he reported in the Book of Acts. It was these reports and his connection with Jesus that eventually got him killed.

Acts began with Jesus preparing to ascend to heaven and promising the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came and empowered the Apostles. In Acts 3-4, Peter powerfully proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus and a beggar was miraculously healed. In Acts 5, the church begins to grow and spread despite obstacles.

Acts 6 concluded with Stephen, a glorified busboy (table waiter), accused of flipping the script on Moses and Temple-shaming (Personally, I think he shared how Jesus was greater than Moses and the Temple; 6:14-15). Stephen’s trial was like looking at Jesus’ trial in the mirror.

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 6.44.03 AMToday, we come to Acts 7. The chapter is Luke’s record of Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin. It would be like preaching a sermon to 71 biblical scholars. No pressure, right? It was such a good sermon that he devoted an entire chapter to retell it. (And I have the task of giving a sermon on a sermon). Stephen’s sermon was simple, his source material was familiar, but the conclusion was sobering. So let’s hear Stephen’s sermon and may the Holy Spirit give us a radically different response than those who heard it the first time. (Read Acts 7:1-53)

Stephen’s sermon can be summed up two phrases: People will try to contain God, but God will not be contained. And if your God is uncontainable, then people will try to contain you. Or it could be summed in one word: UNCONTAINABLE.

1. People will try to contain God.

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 6.44.13 AMThere isn’t a person on this planet who hasn’t tried to contain God. You and I seek to contain God to at least three arenas—a place (a location, a land, a nation, a building), a possession (an image, an idol, a memory, an intellect), or a personality (love, goodness, grace, justice, wrath, etc.). all with the hope to explain God in a way that is understandable, definable, attainable, box-able and comfortable.

It doesn’t take long to realize that trying to contain God is like trying to contain the sky. It can’t be done. Although we know this and history tells us this, we still try and retry containing God.

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Left: Nike. Right: Nike in Athens

You might know the story of Nike was the goddess of victory. Nike was a goddess before she was a brand. In order to keep Nike, Athens cut her wings to keep her contained and controlled. Israel also had their turn by crafting God into a golden calf.

Stephen’s sermon wasn’t simply a history lesson. It was a lesson on the heart. Stephen got at the heart of every man. As Calvin said, “Our hearts are idol factories.” Stephen said the heart of the Sanhedrin was no different than their fathers (and that you are no different than your fathers). In what ways are you tempted to box up and contain God to a place, a possession or a personality? Think about it. You and I can be very creative.

2. God will not be contained.

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You may try to contain God, but he won’t be contained. God doesn’t fit a mold. He cannot be stuffed into a box. He bucks against boxes. Even the Book that describes him best, shares countless stories about his uncontainability.

Do you remember flannel graph? I didn’t grow up going to children’s Sunday School. So let me indulge by sharing Stephen’s sermon as a simple flannel graph lesson making up for my missed childhood.

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Stephen’s sermon covered 2,000 years of Jewish history all in the hope to prove that God could not and would not be contained. He used four major stories from the Bible (plus one if you take into account Jesus). It was like going to Sabbath School again for these 71 scholars:

1. Abraham (vs.1-9) — God appeared to Abraham, moved him, and blessed him. This is before there was a temple. Abraham didn’t need a temple to be close to God. God came close to him.

2. Joseph (vs.9-16) — Then God appeared to Joseph in dreams. Although, he was rejected by those closest to him, he became a ‘savior’ for them.

3. Moses (vs.17-43) — God appeared to Moses at the burning bush (again not limited a temple). Moses helped build the tabernacle. He was also rejected as a deliverer. With Moses, Stephen connected the dots for the Jews, “You have rejected Jesus, who was like Moses yet greater than him (and Moses spoke about), and you deny that Jesus has any right to be a ruler and a judge over you.”

4. David & Solomon (vs. 44-50) — God promised David a temple that his son Solomon built. Interestingly, God was the architect and engineer of this Temple. God ordered the supplies and didn’t spar any cost. It would have cost $220B (compared $1B to rebuild Notre Dame). God was worth the Temple, but he was worthy of much more. Solomon knew this and emphasized this in his prayer when dedicating the Temple, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)

Stephen’s point was that you can try to contain God’s presence to a tabernacle or temple, but you still reject God and his special messengers. God was present in Jesus and you missed him. God is frisky and wild. He can’t be pinned down. God is unchangeable, unteachable, unlimited, and utterly uncontainable. Let that fill you with wonder and awe.

3. If your God is uncontainable, then people will try to contain you.

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Instead of wonder and awe, the Jews filled with rage. The Jews become like rabid wolves chopping down on Stephen. Rather than being convicted by his sermon, they were carnivorous. They gnashed their teeth and sought to give him hell. What was amazing is that Stephen was allowed to even speak a word or that he was given the time to share all of his sermon. It was certainly a grace of God that allowed him to finish it. But after he finished they contained him quickly (Acts 7:54-60).

It is not a coincidentally that Stephen’s story mirrors Jesus’ story. The Jews tried to contain Jesus and killed him, but the grave would not hold him. He burst out three days later in resurrection power. The Jesus story continued to spread through Stephen in a contagious missionary movement that is still spreading today.

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Acts 7 ends with Stephen stoned to death. That’s it. That’s all we have right now. (Until we read chapter 8.) As we continue to read through Acts, the fullness of the glory of Stephen’s death will be revealed. But what if all we knew was his death?  Can you still feel the weight of glory even without the rest of the story?

What do we learn from Stephen’s speech?

Stephen’s story reminds you to listen. May God give you ears to hear.

Stephen’s story causes you to relish in a God’s uncontainablity. Wonder and awe at him.

Stephen’s story calls attention to the scars you bear for following Jesus. Maybe like Marie Colvin or Stephen you have felt the stones of those trying to contain your God.

Stephen’s story encourages you to turn your gaze from the stones onto Jesus. May you not thrust Jesus aside nor ignore the threat he poses to your arenas of idols. Readily lay down your life for him as he did for you. You may not walk to the martyr’s stake, but you must walk in the Master’s steps.

unstoppable (part two)

God is unstoppable and what he is doing through the church and his followers is unstoppable. We’ve seen this already in the introduction to the Book of Acts. Now we will discover from the first chapter of Acts three contrasts that describe the unstoppable mission of the early church.

Not the end, but a new beginning.

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Luke ends the Gospel with death and resurrection of Jesus, but that’s not the end of the story. The Book of Acts opens with Jesus alive and with the apostles (v.1-3). Jesus gave “proofs” and Luke wants this to bolster your confidence in Jesus.

If you live in Chad and put your neck on the line working for the embassy, NGO, school or mission, if you want to wade in social awkwardness for the sake of Christ you want to know that everything about Jesus is true. Luke helps us to have doubt.

The eleven apostles are on the cusp of something brand new. Jesus gathered them together over a meal to ask them to—wait (v.4a). Wait? That’s a strange thing to say as he’s about to leave. Do you find it difficult to wait? Most people hate waiting.

Living in Chad has likely taken a bite out of my desire for instant gratification. I’ve probably become a tad more patient and crazy. Daily I wait in lines, wait in traffic, wait for the emails to upload, wait for dinner to be done, wait for the rain to stop, wait for the dust to settle, wait for the sun to come up to charge solar batteries, wait for change at the little shop, wait for the next vacation, wait for our sicknesses to cease, wait for our neighbor or local friend to finally arrive, wait for them to believe, wait for prayers to be answered…

Jesus last earthly words were wait. Yet according to Jesus there was something worth waiting for—a gift (v.4b). The Holy Spirit was to be given. Jesus promised it (cf. John 14-16). It was a promise as old as the Old Testament. God promised to renew his people and give them a new Spirit cf. (Isaiah 32:15; Ezekiel 11). The disciples stood on the cusp of this new beginning, this amazing gift—the Holy Spirit—God who would always dwell with them.

The Holy Spirit is one of the most under-appreciated, under-emphasized, underestimated, and misunderstood persons of the Godhood. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, his work, and his power there are a myriad of opinions (probably 50+ opinions here today). But. No matter your church background. No matter your theological opinion. No matter our difference we can all agree the Holy Spirit is God and he’s powerfully at work within the world, even today. (Amen!) God is not an absent landlord nor are we abandoned tenants.

The Book of Acts could be known as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit or the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. Sure Jesus and his resurrection continue to be a main emphasis in the book Acts, but throughout Acts you will see the Holy Spirit do a mighty work in the world, the church, and the people in whom he dwells. Also, this same Holy Spirit that dwelled in the apostles dwells in you today! That reality should wow you!

For a long time my relationship with God was academic and impersonal. I knew the Holy Spirit existed and that he dwelled in me and had moments of his power, but I missed the reality that he wanted a relationship with me. I was impatient with him. I didn’t know how to listen to him. I tried hard to live the Christian life without him and within my own strength. I was exhausted by rowing a boat rather than sailing in the power of the the Spirit. This image changed my identity. Rather than trying to control God, I sought to turn my sails in the direction of his leading.

The Holy Spirit is intensely relational. He dwells in you to be close to you, to help you, to guide you, to comfort you, to counsel, to empower you, to speak to you. Emmanuel—God very God—is in you. Maybe for you, today, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit is a new beginning.

Not about when, but how.

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The apostles still didn’t understand why they had to wait (v.6). They thought now should be time for the Messiah to get busy restoring kingdom. They didn’t know God’s schedule or time table. They simply wanted to know when is all that was wrong in the world was going to be made right. It was a good question, but it wasn’t the right question.

Jesus answered and in the process he changed the when to how (vs.7-8). The how is how the kingdom will grow, how we’re to wait, and how God will use his followers. Jesus said, YOU WILL be witnesses and YOU WILL be empowered. In other words, you will be participants in the advance of the gospel and you won’t be alone. In a matter of days people would flood into Jerusalem (v.5). The gospel would explode from there into the world. Jerusalem would become an epicenter of the earth shaking Holy Spirit and tremors of what happened would be felt to the end of the earth to every generation that has ever live, even 2,000 years after it began.

Jesus invites you into the how. YOU WILL be witnesses and YOU WILL be empowered and YOU WILL never be alone.

Not watchers, but witnesses.

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There is a comical moment that happens on the mountainside as Jesus ascends (vs.9-11). The apostles are gawking at the sky, “I think I can still see Jesus.” Two angels interrupt, “Stop staring. Don’t just stand there. He’s coming back you know.”

We each have different reactions to Jesus assignment. ___ I’m in! Where do we start? ___ I’m interested but unsure of where and how God could use me. ___ I don’t know many people who aren’t believers. ___ I’m still new to following Jesus; Someone else could do a better job. Jesus said, YOU WILL be my witnesses. It’s not optional. It’s not for the pastor, evangelist, or missionary type. Being a witness is not something these men chose to be, God chose it for them. It was hardwired into their new DNA as a follower of Jesus. Witnessing is not something they did, it was who they were. You will be witnesses.

Undoubtedly, the apostles were given special and supernatural power to do miracles like Jesus, but they were also given power to witness about the good news about Jesus. More often the word “power” in the Book of Acts refers to “courage” or “boldness”—risking the awkward conversation to talk about what they saw and heard from Jesus.

You stand in the same line as these apostles. You have seen and heard the same life-changing truth. You are empowered with the same power. In Luke 24, Jesus explains more fully what a “witness” does. A witness proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus to all nations. But Acts explains to us who a “witness” is. A witness is one empowered by the Holy Spirit with resurrection power.

Acts 1 has a peculiar conclusion. The disciple are gathered at a prayer meeting to replace Judas. It was sobering moment. Here was a disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas exchanged Jesus for a few silver coins, then filled with shame he spilled his guts. Why is this story here? Why does Luke include the disciples rolling dice to replace Judas? It shows God’s sovereignty and control over evil and unstoppable circumstance to bring about salvation for mankind and it shows that God will continue to call out witnesses to spread this good news globally.

We can be like people starring into the sky at Superman flying away wishing he’d come back to rescue us. Jesus will certainly come. His mission will end. Jesus didn’t leave us alone. You might not have kryptonite, but we have something better, Someone better—the Holy Spirit.

May you follow in the footsteps of those who first followed Jesus. You and I are witnesses to something bigger than you—Jesus. You have a power greater than what you could muster up yourselves—the Holy Spirit. You are part of something unstoppable—the expansion of the kingdom of God through the church.

unstoppable (part 1)

There are forces of nature that cannot be stopped like an avalanche, a tsunami or dust storm. There is nothing you can do to prevent these from happening. Sometimes life brings things that are unstoppable like death or suffering or pain, but not everything that is unstoppable is evil or bad.

Unstoppable is the word that comes to mind when you look at the early days of the church. Conflict and controversy threatened to wipe out the young group of disciples, religious leaders tried to muzzle their message, governments and cultures attempted to contain them, demonic forces and world powers tried to oppress them, shipwrecks and snakes sought to slow them down, persecutors intensely tried to beat, bully, imprison and kill them, but instead of killing the fledgling church it fueled a wildfire that swept across the first-century landscape. Nothing stops God and his mission. He’s unstoppable. We read about this in the book of Acts.

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The Book of Acts was written by Luke, who also wrote one of the four Gospels. Luke was “the beloved doctor” and missionary. Luke didn’t just record history; he lived it. What is obvious from his Gospel is that Luke spent a lot of time with Jesus. He ate with him, walked Israel’s countryside with him, saw him heal, heard him teach, witnessed his death, resurrection and ascension. Luke clearly showed us Jesus in living color.


Luke’s aim was to write clearly and accurately about Jesus (cf. Luke 1:1-4). Just as Luke spent a lot of time with Jesus, what is obvious from the Book of Acts is that he also spent a lot of time with the Peter and Paul. Luke accompanied Paul on many of his journeys, he had firsthand interviews from the people and events he wrote about (much in the 1st Person). Luke was deeply loved by Paul and was with him in his final days.

Aren’t you grateful Luke’s words are preserved for us today? Aren’t you glad for brilliant and methodical minds like Luke who help us to have history with such accuracy?


Luke writes both the Gospel and the Book of Acts to Theophilus. We don’t know a lot about him other than this name means “one who God loves.” There a variety of opinions that Theophilus was a distinguished friend or that Luke was referring to himself by a pseudo-name or that Luke was referring to followers of Jesus in general. He remains a mystery.

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The Book of Acts is the historical sequel to the Gospel of Luke (like LOTR to The Hobbit). Part One was the Gospel in which Luke describes Jesus’ birth, earthly ministry, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection. Part Two was Acts in which Luke describes the unstoppable expansion of the the gospel message of Jesus throughout the world.


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First, Jesus continues to be the theme, but now in Acts Jesus will ascend and his Spirit will be at work in the church and Jesus’ followers.

Second, the Gospel—Good News of Jesus—is for all people. The gospel is for every man, woman, and child on the face of this earth. That is great news! This was earth shaking news! Throughout the Book of Acts we see how the Gospel Spreads throughout Jerusalem (Ch.1-7) to Judea and Samaria (Ch.8-12) to the Ends of the Earth (Ch.13-28)

Third, all of Jesus’ followers are his witnesses, empowered and enlivened to bring the message of Jesus throughout the earth. This is a large part of Jesus’ mission. Mission is not just missionaries reaching tribes and unreached peoples, but it is every follower empowered, engaging and advancing the gospel to every corner, cubical, campus, city, country and continent of the planet. It is something we all are a part. We are all invited.

if you are a Christian you are a part of this unstoppable avalanche of the gospel and tsunami of the Holy Spirit. Beginning with the apostles in Acts and continuing with us here and now, today.

Missing Jesus: Cleopas

A few Sunday’s ago after church, our family went to a restaurant that we enjoy. All weekend I was salivating as I thought about having a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie at this restaurant. After church I hurried my kiddos—a little too quickly out the door. As we drove, I got giddier and giddier. When I could see the restaurant, I could almost taste that pie in my mouth. We pulled into the parking lot, but I got a sinking feeling when I noticed there were no cars. I shuffled my feet to the door and read a handwritten sign that said, “Sorry. Due for unforeseen circumstances the restaurant will be closed today.” Argh! Stupid expectations!

My story may seem trivial. I started with something small because starting big may be overwhelming for some. I could tell you of my expectations and the disappointments that made me wonder whether I am cut out for the ministry or mission field. I could tell you of some unmet expectations I’ve had for my marriage that made me wonder if we’d make it another year or another day. Some of you have had great expectations for a relationship, a spouse, a child, a job interview, a career, a vacation, a retirement, a 401k, a dream house or a situation to turn around only to have it unmet. Have you ever had an unmet expectation?

When we dive into the Gospels we get to see and discover the story of Jesus. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus, ourselves, and others in the story or we can miss Jesus.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? We have looked at Judas and Caiaphas. Today we will look at Cleopas. If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Cleopas in all of us. Like Cleopas we feel the tension of expecting one thing from Jesus and experiencing another thing. When our expectations are unmet doubts creep in, discouragement, disappointments, disillusionment and frustrations can occur. Expectation is the mother of all frustration—the root of all heartache (Shakespeare).

How many times has life, even God disappointed you? It’s tough when you have unmet expectations in connection to a spouse, a child or a friend, but it’s really tough when it’s God. We don’t like to think about God disappointing us. Maybe you thought God was going to do things one way, but he had different plans. God can act or behave in ways that you might not expect. What happens when the character of God doesn’t come through the way you thought? What happens when God’s provision is later than you thought? What happens when you trust God, yet it seems like God fails you or abandons you? What happens to your view of God when life gets chaotic and God seems silent?

Today we are going to take a walk on the Emmaus Road. A road that began with unmet expectations, but led to a marvelous meeting with Jesus. We will step into the shoes of two men who had an expectation of Jesus, but that expectation wasn’t met like they had thought,

“That very day (the day Jesus resurrected) two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” (Luke 24:13-14) Italics include my thoughts.

emmaus mapLet’s do a short Bible Study and ask who, what, where and why of the text. Who were these men? We will learn one has a name and the other remains nameless. We aren’t sure if they’re related, worked together or were neighbors. Let’s just call them friends. Where were they going? They’re walking to a village named Emmaus. Archeologists don’t know the exact location of the town or the road. Likely, it was west of Jerusalem—in the opposite direction from where the two men were headed. Why were they leaving Jerusalem? The Passover was over. The big feast in the big city had finished and the roads around Jerusalem would have a steady flow of people leaving to go to their homes and villages.

What are they talking about? News! The text tells us what they talked about,

“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. (Yes, Jesus teleported!) But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Seriously, where you been? Haven’t you check you FB or CNN feed?) And he said to them, “What things?” (like he didn’t know?) And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.” (Luke 24:15-20)

The two friends (now plus one) unpacked the events of the past few days. This years Passover was unlike any other that they’d ever been to. It looked like it was going to be the best party ever, but it ended up being a dud. It looked like the stars had aligned and the Prophet’s words were being unveiled before their very eyes, but the hopeful Messiah goes and dies. This didn’t make sense to them. Many like these men sold everything they had to follow Jesus (some for 3-years). It’s as if they bought into a pyramid scheme and thought they got scammed. They saw Jesus die with their own eyes. They saw his body removed from the cross and carried to the tomb. The chaos of the weekend caused them to question God. Their hopes and expectations were drowned in sadness. They were deeply disappointed, if not devastated.

Have you been in their shoes? Have you felt what they felt? Have you thought that Jesus was one person—you placed your faith in him, you had great expectations of him—but something shattered who you thought he was, how he was to act and behave, what he was to do for you? Surely, you have. Let’s be honest. Following Jesus isn’t glamorous. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t make all your problems or pain go away. Following Jesus takes you down a dusty and rocky road—a risky and dangerous road. A road not well traveled. A lonely road. A road filled with temptation and persecution. A road of suffering and sacrifice.

You lose hope when thing don’t happen as you’d expect. When Jesus doesn’t meet your expectations you can easily become sad, angry, despaired, depressed, and hopeless. You can lose hope in the character of Christ when the journey of following Jesus gets a little chaotic. Isn’t it during times of chaos or difficulty that we tend to question God’s character? When everything is going good there isn’t need to question God. We got it good. Our relationship is good. Our trust is good. Our hope is good. Yet when my marriage is sour or my kids are playing the prodigal or I lose my job or I find out from the doctor bad news, it is then that I question the goodness of God. I question his plans. I question his character (e.g. wisdom, sovereignty, omnipresence, etc.).

Does God work through your frustrations? Doubts? Disappointments? Unmet expectations? You bet! It is often in those chaotic times that you see God work best. Is God there with you, even in the chaos? Certainly! Chaos can cloud your vision. You can miss seeing him walk beside you—with you. You may not recognize God as he does his work. Sometimes you may be kept from recognizing him or what he’s doing (Ex: Job, Abraham, Cleopas, etc.).

Let’s give these two men on the Emmaus Road a little grace. 48-hours earlier Jesus was unrecognizable. He was beaten, bruised and bloody. His beard was plucked. He was naked and scarred. Some of their last images of Jesus were traumatic and grotesque. To think that Jesus survived the ordeal, cleaned himself up and ran to catch up with these men walking to Emmaus just to have a conversation with them would have seemed absurd and unthinkable. Yet Jesus in his resurrected body had a little fun. It’s something you can look forward to when you get yours. He could teleport and walk through walls. That’s so cool!

Seriously, we learn six amazing truths about the character of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. First, Jesus pursues people. He pursued the two men. He initiates provoking question not because he did not know the answers, but that he wanted show how he pursues people.

Like Cleopas and his friend, we can be tempted to grumble and argue about the unmet expectations we experience. To this Jesus asked, “What things?” Jesus knows all those things. He wants you to know he knows those things. He understands those things. In fact, Jesus encountered those things first hand. He experienced those things. What things are you facing (or feeling) that Jesus has too? Likely all those things.

Jesus knows what you feel. He knows pain. He knows hurt. He knows anger. He knows sorrow. He knows despair. He knows because he’s been there. What if you took your complaints to God instead of just your friends? Can God handle it? Jesus could handle these two men and their honesty. He can handle yours too. He isn’t put off by it, in fact, Jesus invited the men to speak and share their sadness. Some of you need to know that today!

The men explained,

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (the one Moses, David and Isaiah talked about). Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Luke 24:21-24)

They heard about Jesus’ resurrection, but sadly they didn’t see him themselves.

Jesus is in control, even if life feels chaotic. Remember when Jesus taught, “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” or “Come to Me heavy laden, I will give you rest.” Listen to Jesus’ response on the road,

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones (stupid, sightless, shallow—What? That was a little harsh stranger! We bear our hearts to you and you call us foolish? Who are you to say that?), and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (You don’t see the whole story!) Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus models suffering comes before glory. This was important to the story and theology of the Messiah. Cleopas and his friend missed the detail that suffering always precedes glory. It gets harder before it gets better.

During a dark night of the soul hang on! Joy will come in the morning. If you suffer it will pass. Sadness will pass. Despair will pass. Disappointment will pass. Doubt will pass. Frustration will pass. Glory will come. I promise. Jesus promises!

Jesus teaches still. This is the greatest unrecorded sermon in the Bible. What I’d give to get my hands on that Podcast! Jesus unpacked centuries of prophecies from the beginning to the present. He gave these men a tour behind the scenes of the Story of stories. He gave the director’s cut commentary with bonus features. That must have been the best Sunday School lesson ever! The truth is you have this lesson. It’s in the Bible. You can hold it. You can hear it. You can read it. You can know it. You can be taught it by the Spirit of Jesus!

Do you realize that even after this Bible Study of Bible studies that Cleopas and his friend still didn’t recognize Jesus? Yes, it can happen. You can read the Bible from cover to cover, have the explained by the best teacher, preacher or commentator and still miss Jesus!

“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them (Reminiscing the Upper Room). And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Yes, Jesus just teleported again!) They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven [disciples] and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how [Jesus] was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:28-35)

Cleopas and his friend boogied back towards Jerusalem (7 miles)—in the right direction. They told Jesus’ disciples what had happened to them. Not many would walk that journey at night. It was too dangerous. But they had breaking news! Jesus was alive—he appeared to them! They didn’t have to prove it as Jesus would appear among them again (24:36). Cleopas and his friend were eyewitnesses to the powerful testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. They became founding members of the fellowship of burning hearts.

You gain hope when you see Jesus has been with you all along. You may be so caught up in your disappointment or unmet expectations that you fail to recognize God is with you. Like Cleopas and his friend does your heart burn within you. Jesus knows if it’s ice or fire. Jesus sets the Fahrenheit of your heart, even in the midst of chaos and difficulty. May he give you eyes to see his goodness, his grace, his love, his presence, his tender hand leading you along the road. May he ignite a fire in your heart. You too got a story to tell!

The death and resurrection of Jesus are the most powerful events in history to hinge your faith upon (1 Corinthians 15:14-17). When you are tempted to doubt, despair, or drown in unmet expectations, come back to the cross and empty tomb. What will you do with Easter now that Easter Sunday is over? What will you do with Jesus? What will you allow Jesus to do within you as he walks alongside you? Will you see how God redeems chaos as a part of his story? See how he is with you through it?

Refreshed by One Another

You are Refreshed to Refresh Others

“and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Philemon 6-7

In return for being refreshed by Christ and Philemon, Paul asks God to refresh Philemon. Specifically, that God would refresh Philemon by making his knowledge of all the good things he has in Christ, full. Paul is asking God to give Philemon more of Christ. What a prayer! It is a powerful prayer for Philemon who will be asked to show partnership not just with his friend Paul, but with his runaway slave who betrayed him.

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You will only refresh others with the capacity you’ve been refreshed by Christ yourself. Christ refreshes you so that you can refresh others and so that others when refreshed will want more of Christ. Only Christ can bring this level of fullness to your relationships, especially hard, fractured, and strenuous relationships, even in the church, especially in the church. Here there are two implications for you—the church:

First, you cannot truly love Christ if you do not love His church. Christ and his church are two separate things and they are the same thing. They are separate things in that love for Christ and love for his church are different loves. They are the same thing in that love for Christ leads to a deeper love for his church. The more you seek to love Christ the more you’ll find your heart growing to love the very things that Christ loves.

What does Christ love the most? His glory! What is the way Christ displays his glory among the nations? His church. Therefore the more you grow a love for Christ, the more you will naturally grow a love for his church.

More so, Christ and his church are intimately connected so that if you turn away from one you inevitably turn away from the other. God placed this twofold love in the heart of Philemon and Paul loved it, and thanked God for it.

What do you love about the church? Do you feel a love, respect, yearning to be in it and used by God so it grows? Do you want to see its influence spread?

Second, love for the church equates to a love for those in the church. Philemon was not a spectator or attender of the church, rather he was an active and effective member of it. He touched lives. He inspired faith. He refreshed others. He comforted people with his love. Where does that love come from? It comes from Christ. Paul saw the gospel of Christ pouring into him and flowing from him to others. As wise king Solomon said, “Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25)

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What if I am not feeling refreshed? What if I feel discouraged, bruised, hurt, drained? First, acknowledge the source of refreshment—Christ himself. He is a river that never stops flowing, a powerful waterfall of refreshment that is never ending, always giving. Refreshment begins with Christ. Sit at his feet. Listen to his words. Let them wash over you.

Second, allow gratitude to remove the plug in the dam of agony (fear, anger, etc.). Paul purposefully began this letter by giving thanks. Gratitude opens the floodgates of refreshment (Colossians 3:12-17; 4:2). Likely, the Spirit of God has brought someone to your mind—a relationship that needs building up. Maybe you should write a letter to them this week. Tell them how you have been refreshed by God through them. Then send mail it (or deliver it).

Third, be an active member of the church family. When it comes to the church we are all bricks. The Bible says we are from dirt or clay. We are messy. No brick exalts itself above another because each brick knows it came from the pit and it’s only by God’s grace he builds those bricks into a something wonderful—the church. Relationships are a messy, but they are a mess worth making. Let’s look at the church as Jesus does—a beautiful bride!

This love that Paul is celebrating in the life of Philemon isn’t an abstract love. It’s not vanishing and changing with our culture. No, quite opposite. Love in the church stands out in contrast. It’s a love that’s demonstrated and lived out by people like you. People who do what Christ commands them to do—to love others the way that Christ has loved you. The greatest sign of this love is the fact that Jesus gave up his life on behalf of others. This is love. It is a messy sacrificial love. It is love that caused Jesus to take on flesh and die in our place. Love was bleeding, broken, rejected, and crucified.

The gospel gets real in relationships. Paul knows the gospel of Christ will impact the world, the church at Colossae, and his little brother Onesimus. Paul says, “Philemon, you’ve got all these great characteristics that remind me of Jesus. Now, act on the gospel with your new brother, Onesimus.” More on this next week!


Questions for Reflection:

Who is able to speak into your life in various areas, both small and great? Who points out things? Who challenges you? And these people are present in your life, are you offended when they do or do you listen, and consider what they say?

How does Paul’s letter to Philemon display the gospel in relationships? Why is this helpful and powerful for your church?

How is church about “we” more than “me”?

Have you ever considered how a short note, a little letter, a text message or an email could have lasting impact on those that receive it? Write a letter of thanks to the Philemon in your life. You may consider mailing it to them this week or holding onto it until next week if you have something difficult to say.

Refreshed by Christ

Where is the most refreshing place you’ve been?  You know, a place where you see full, free and fully alive.

From the opening part of the Paul’s letter to Philemon we learn a lot about Paul, Philemon and the church. The opening is really a prayer. In the prayer we learn of God’s concern for healthy relationships within the church family and how the church is called to do life together as we take the gospel into the world we live in. For Paul the gospel is not just something to think about, it is to be acted upon. For us—the church—there is a lot of great application here.

Refreshed People are Refreshed by Christ

“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” Philemon 4-5

Paul is refreshed by Philemon. Why? From what Paul knows about Philemon, from the first time they met until now, from what he hears (present tense) others say about him, Paul sees the visible characteristics of Christ are literally “spilling over” from Philemon, like a waterfall into a deep pond. He sees Philemon’s faith in Jesus and his love for others. Isn’t that a great compliment? Think of the alternative.

Some might argue that Paul is just buttering up Philemon in preparation for the hard thing he’s about to ask him. No. He’s not buttering up, he’s building him up. There’s a difference. Buttering up manipulates, but building up matures. Paul gives genuine reasons for building up his brother: he gives thanks to God and he prays over his brother. The word that Paul uses later in verse 7 is exactly the right word—“refreshed.”

Do you know anyone like this? I hope you do! Are you someone like this? I know that some of you are. You are a Philemon, one who brings joy, comfort, love and refreshment to others around you because of your willingness to encourage people and be there to ease their burdens. It brings you joy, and brings joy to the ones you help. You show us the heart of Christ, often when we need to see it the most. You point us to Jesus not problems. You renew our faith in God and revive our weary souls. And we smile when we think about you. Through you we are “refreshed.”

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Do you know anyone like this? I do.

The past three Springs, our family has traveled from the desert of North Africa to green England.  Each time we have visited our friends the Franklin family. They have refreshed us from a tall glass of milk to ordering our favorite Indian takeout to walks in London’s green space. Their church has refreshed us through prayer, encouragement, and warm clothes for our children who literally got off the plane in flip flops.  Just after Christmas Megan got sick with a debilitating brain disease.  She was eight months pregnant with their seventh baby.  The baby was taken by C-section and a healthy boy was born.  Within days Megan passed into glory.  Our hearts grieve for Brad and the Franklin family, but we were refreshed even through Megan’s death and the way she committed to give generously so that the nations may know Jesus Christ.

What would a person close to you say are the visible characteristics of Christ pouring out of you? Can you imagine the encouragement it would be to have them tell you that? That would be a wonderful application of today’s text.

There are two types of people in the church that Paul most often addresses in his letters. The first type are people who build up. This is Philemon. They are the kind of person who encourage, see the good, speak truth in love, and have a knack of pointing you back to Christ. Paul’s letter to Philemon helps us to see what building up one another looks like. Building up in the church never stops because until Christ returns the church is a relational construction zone.

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The second type are people who tear down. They are the kind of people who look for ways to cut others down. They are quick to complain. They find faults and failures in others. They are the kind of person you will avoid if you need encouragement, but you will seek out if you need empathy for your own critical spirit. Tearing others down is not a strength or a spiritual gift. It is hurtful, divisive, and from Satan. You can’t punch a hole in the bricks of God’s house without hurting yourself too. How many people have been hurt trying to damage the building they are part of themselves?

Paul spent a lot of breath in his letters airing out about bad theology in the church, conflict among members, and wolves among the sheep. Paul’s letter to Philemon is not about being aware of wolves, but encouraging the sheep. Martin Luther, a man acquainted with both wolves and sheep said, “Fight vigorously against the wolves, but on behalf of the sheep, not against the sheep.” In other words, don’t be a flock of sheep fighting sheep. Sheep don’t fight. Sheep are gregarious, which means sheep band together and protect one another.

Oh, how the church needs Philemon’s—people who are known for their love and faith towards Jesus and others. And the church also needs Paul’s who see the way people reflect Jesus.

You may recognize the name William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Christian politician who made it his lifework to abolish slavery in Great Britain. It was an impossible task. He was young and at the beginning of his career. On the other side of the pond in America, John Wesley, was nearing the end of his career. Wesley heard of Wilberforce’s story and wrote him a letter (6-days before his death),

“Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it… That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, Your affectionate servant, John Wesley”

Wesley had the right words at the right time to help his brother continue on the right path.

Paul also had the right words at the right time to help Philemon on the right path. He focused on Christ’s refreshing work in Philemon, which will be the very character needed as he reunites with Onesimus.


Questions for Reflection:

How have you been refreshed by a Philemon in your life?

When you look at your life, do you see the same qualities alive in your heart like they were in Philemon’s?

Are there areas in your life where Christ’s love hasn’t taken on action towards Him and others? If so, what are they?

Why is thankfulness so powerful, especially when you have to say something difficult to someone you love?

consider the cost of following Jesus

Most people in Jesus sandals would be enamored by the types of crowds that followed him, but Jesus wasn’t. He could see through their facade and into their hearts. He knew not all who followed him really believed. Notice how Jesus talks about fo-followers or fad followers:

“Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:18-23)

Some follow Jesus until the going gets tough or until there is an excuse not to follow. Where Jesus traveled there wasn’t a Holiday Inn or a Sleeper Number beds. In fact, Jesus didn’t know where he would sleep most nights. Also in Jesus day, the pink slip out of any situation would be sickness or death in the family. It may seem like Jesus was insensitive towards the man whose father was dying, but Jesus knew that this man had many excuses.

I’ve seen firsthand how Chad, Africa has chewed up many missionaries. I’ve felt it too.  It is a difficult place. You have to deal with isolation, sickness, slowness of ministry, discouragement, and physical and spiritual deserts. It’s the kind of place you choose to live and most choose not to.  Few are called. The cost is high. Honestly, there are no easy places on earth. Following Jesus anywhere is difficult.

If you’re truly following Jesus, he will call you to walk on the water sometimes—to trust him so completely that if you take your eyes off him you will sink. (Matthew 14:22-33)

Following Jesus will take you into a broken and hurting world, but will get a front row seat to see how Jesus can mend it.

Following Jesus means worshiping him even when I don’t feel like it. Believe me there are days when that will be tested.

Following Jesus will make you look like a fool sometimes. If your life makes complete sense to unbelievers, then you aren’t really following Jesus.

Following Jesus means others will hold you to a higher standard . Following Jesus will reveal your shortcomings.

Following Jesus demonstrates you acknowledge the great cost Jesus paid for your sin. There is a cost to following Jesus. Jesus knows about cost. The cost may be loss of comfort or all-in commitment. Jesus has his way of separating the crowd from those who were curious, convinced or committed.

Have you considered the cost of following Jesus? What nets do you need to drop in order to cling to Jesus? Nets are anything you cling to other than Christ.  Look at your hands, then look at Jesus.  Let them go.  And follow.

your calling is to follow

Calling can be a confusing thing.  Often times people talk about calling in relation to their profession, place of belonging, premonition or personal prowess.  However, calling in Scripture is more often related to a Person.

Likely you follow Jesus because he called you to follow. The fact that Jesus calls you and me to follow him is utterly amazing. It is unexpected. I am unworthy. Think about it. God is the only one who completely and perfectly knows you, he undoubtedly cares for you, and he infinitely loves you. And Jesus, God with skin on, calls you and me to follow him. Wow!

Jesus is the Caller.

In essence, Jesus is popping the question. Will you marry me? Will you live in covenant with me? Will you give your life to me? Will you spend your life with me? Sickness or health? It is a question to think about. He is not looking to have a fling. He isn’t into dating you and then ditch you because of irreconcilable difference. He’s into you for life.

I think back on my relationship with Sarah.  We’ve known each other for 18 years, but 12  years ago we began dating.   I was  curious about everything from the food she liked, to her favorite music and hobbies, and I’d happily stay up late talking on the phone to learn everything I could about her.  After about a year I became convinced that she was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  It has been almost 10 years since we walked an aisle and spoke vows to each other.  Those words held a lot of weight and demonstrated our commitment to each other.  They still do.  Those commitments would be tested.

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The stages of a growing relationship aren’t linear though.  We don’t move from one stage to another in order and the previous ones pass away.  In a healthy relationship all three are happening together.  We must never cease to lose curiosity.  We must never forget why we became convinced that we wanted to give ourselves for the one we love. And we must renew our commitment daily.

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So it is with our relationship with Jesus.  Interestingly, he made the first call.  He took the initiative.  He has proven his love.  He showed that he is into the small and big things of your life.  And he delights in you.

If Jesus calls you listen.

To ignore Jesus invitation is rebellion. Rebellion is the essence of sin. Sin says, “I will do what I want. I will listen to no one. I call the shots. I will not follow. I’m just not that into you. I’d rather be single.”

You are either drawn to Jesus or you are repelled by Jesus. All throughout Matthew he shows the contrast between the disciples who are drawn to follow Jesus and the Pharisees who are repelled and reject Jesus.  The contrast between the rebels and followers is seen best in Matthew 9:9-13, which is also Matthew’s autobiography:

“(Jesus) saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose (left everything) and followed Him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His (followers). And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His followers, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

There is a lot to say there about Jesus, but what I want to focus on is what Jesus focuses on.

Jesus sees you.

Most people wouldn’t even make eye contact with a taxman out of fear of having to cough up some coins. Matthew’s identity is his job title. It wasn’t a title to brag about as it was one of the most hated of professions. It would be like saying he is a dentist, parking warden, telemarketer, or debt collector today. However, Jesus connects with Matthew. He calls Matthew. Jesus didn’t care about Matthew’s title. He gave him a new one.

Jesus sees ordinary people. People with labels and reputations. He doesn’t care about peoples titles. He cares about people. He cares about you. He sees you mess and all. He invites you. He cares about everything—that you leave everything—because he makes everything in your life different. And He gives you a new title.  Think of some the new titles he gives.  It can be life-changing to be called a son/daughter to one with imperfect parents, beloved to one with a sour marriage, or treasure to one who feels like a peanut rather than a precious stone.

To Jesus you are seen. You exist. And He calls you to follow.

you are known by what you follow

You and I are born to follow. As children we naturally follow by watching and imitating others. We are told to follow the herd, the leader (footsteps), the rules, even the yellow brick road. Something happened between childhood and adulthood, when we are taught to lead our own life and follow our dreams or follow our heart. You are a follower before you are a leader.

The truth is, you won’t hear a graduate say, “I want to be a follower when I grow up!” His parents won’t spend thousands of dollars sending him to Followership Academy. As adults we don’t want our legacy to be known as a world class follower.

However, we are followers more than we’d like to admit. We are closet followers of various sorts. We follow things from fashion, passions and interests. We follow the lives of the famous, favorite sports team, even things we like on Facebook or Instagram. While we don’t want to be known as being a follower, we are known by what we follow.

In a sea of a million things to follow it is good to ask why follow Jesus? I am sure you’ve thought about it. I am sure someone has asked you why do you follow Jesus?

That’s what brings me to the book of Matthew. Matthew is a Handbook for Followers. Matthew was a founding member of Jesus’ 3-year apprenticeship on followership.

I will begin near the beginning of the story. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus had already began his ministry. He wasn’t well known yet. Matthew says of Jesus,

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Jesus must have been a compelling man. Four men who were tied to their family fishing business left everything after Jesus said only ten words, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Their response is wowing. They immediately left their nets, boat, livelihood, and family to follow Jesus. Let that weight of that sink in for a moment. Jesus was that compelling. And he still is.

It might not startle us today, but it would have startled the early hearers of this story to learn about the type of people Jesus called. They were fishermen. They smelled like fish. They mouth was foul. They were a dirty bunch much like you’d see at the local pub, biker’s bar, or blue collar hangout. Yet Jesus called these men as his first followers. They were the most unlikely, unexpected, unworthy men. Some of us need to hear that today!

What is even more startling is what Jesus is calling them to do. He wasn’t calling them to a better fishing spot (that comes in a later story). He wasn’t calling them to a better job as good as “fisher of men” may have sounded. That’s until you understand how challenging people can be compared to fish.

These men knew who was calling them. Remember, Jesus was considered a rabbi. To follow a rabbi was a lifelong commitment. A student shadowed his rabbi and resembled his rabbi. Jesus asking these men to follow him would have been a high honor. The highest honor!

However, Jesus throws a major cultural curve-ball: rabbi’s didn’t call for followers. It was the other way around. Interested students would make a request to their rabbi of choice without guarantee of being chosen unless they were a star student. Jesus does the exact opposite he called students to follow him. He wasn’t acting like a normal rabbi. That’s okay because Jesus was the Rabbi of rabbis.

God throughout history is the main pursuer between man and God. In the garden, God pursued Adam. God called Abraham to go to the land of promise. God called Moses out of the burning bush. God led Joshua into the promised land and fought his battles for him. God called Samuel, Elijah, and Jeremiah to be prophets. As you look back over your life, surely God is the ultimate pursuer.

And Jesus pursued each of his followers. Jesus fielded his team with people that not only would have been picked last, but likely not at all. When you build a team you most often look for the strongest, wisest, or most skilled players. The misfits and stragglers are usually picked last. No mistake about it, Jesus oddly picked the last to be first. He picked the most unordinary team of ordinary men. Isn’t that a little comforting?

Imagine if Jesus had an assessment for his disciples. Something like this,

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922
From: Jordan Management Consultants
Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.  As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.
Jordan Management Consultants

Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195

Aren’t you glad Jesus doesn’t give us assessments or look at our resumes like that before becoming his followers?  I sure am.  I wouldn’t make the cut.  Few of us would.

Jesus was calling these four men away from the only job they knew to something completely unknown. He was calling them to a career change without term limits. These men wouldn’t be going home at the end of the day. They would walk wherever Jesus walked, sleep where he slept, eat all their meals with Jesus, and listen intently as Jesus shared the Scriptures. By spending time with Jesus, these young men would grow to become just like him.

Later in the Acts of the Apostles, it is said,

“Now when [the council] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Peter went on to be the rock of Jesus’ church. John became Jesus’ beloved friend. And Andrew would give up his life for the sake of Jesus—as did the other followers.

And then there’s you too! You are known by what (or Who) you follow. How do you resemble your Rabbi and who is follow him behind you?

humble leaders

It is easy to be humble when standing at the base of a mountain or the edge of the sea. However, when standing over another person it is a struggle to remain humble.

Humility is not the most desirable characteristic, especially for leaders. However, according to God humility is true greatness.  Humility is viewing yourself in the light of God’s holiness and your limitedness.

Humility according to God starts with those in leadership. Elders and pastors are to be examples of humility. According to Peter, leaders are to show humility in three ways:

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:1-5

Humility is seen as you serve in plurality.

Shared leadership keeps a leaders pride in check. God designed leadership to be done together with other leaders who pass onto one another character.  We see this best in the life of Christ and his disciples (v.1).

Humility is expressed best as leaders shepherd their flock.

The job of a leader is to care for those he leads by teaching and protecting (vs.2-3). Many leaders in the Bible start out as shepherds like Moses and David. Shepherding sheep is a humbling job, but is great preparation for shepherding people. Jesus himself was called the Chief Shepherd. He is ultimately your highest elder. All other elders work for him and do as he did.

Humility seek their reward is the eyes of God not men.

You may not see many humble leaders listed on Forbes 500. The reward for humble shepherding is not the praise of men, but the prize of the unfading crown of glory from God himself (v.4).

Humility in younger leaders is demonstrated in their submission to older leaders.

Those who are younger struggle the most to submit to authority. The younger you are the greater your struggle with pride, but often the older you are the more humble you become because you realize your limitations (v.5).

Peter knows the struggle of submitting to leadership and humbling leading. Early in his life he struggled with pride. He challenged and denied the authority of Christ. However, as he observed the sufferings and humility of Christ it left a mark on him that would forever change him. Christ would restore and call him to love sheep like he did. As we see from his letter, he became a tender shepherd leader.


Questions for Reflection:

  • What is or isn’t humility? Why is humility an important character of a leader?
  • What do you know about Peter’s own struggle with humility, especially earlier in his life? How had he grown in humility?
  • What is the motivation for shepherding the flock? How can these motives become distorted? What are the common temptations of leaders?
  • What is to be the response of the flock towards elders? How does also express humility? Toward whom is your humility ultimately pointed? What does it look like to submit to leaders over you?
  • How do elders join in the suffering of Christ? When have you seen God’s grace to the humble or his opposition to the proud?
  • What are the consequences of pride? What is the prize of humility?
  • How can you clothe yourself in humility toward one another?

blessing in suffering

Have you ever been slandered, bullied, or made fun of for doing the right thing? For being a Christian? Suffering for doing good or not being like for being a Christian is normal. The hard part is responding well to this kind of suffering. This is why Peter shares some ways to bless to others while suffering.

Respond in the way others least expect

Sometimes people are mean, they say mean things and do mean things. Even people in the church may treat you wrongly, but contrast their meanness by expressing a unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart and humility (vs.8-9). When you respond this way it will deflect evil and show others the attitude of Christ.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9, ESV

Responding by blessings those who inflict suffering doesn’t come natural to us. However, you are called to bless, even in suffering. Our suffering is a picture of Christ’s suffering. It is an occasion to proclaim the gospel, not always in words but in the way you walk through suffering.

Remember what God has already said

The Scriptures are chalked full of promises, even in the midst of suffering (vs.10-12). In Psalm 34, David pens a song while he was on the run from from King Saul. The song helps us to reflect on truth and promises already spoken over us. They are good reminders to rest in while suffering.

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12, ESV

Expect suffering for being a Jesus follower

It is not if, but when. The world currently and historically makes fun of Christians (vs.13-14a). It is normal. It started with Jesus and continues with his followers. The reason for this suffering is that the cross is foolishness to those who don’t know Christ.

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14a, ESV

Answer suffering with grace

Grace offers others what they do not deserve. When we respond to suffering and slander with grace, it puts our enemies to shame (vs.14b-17). The answer is not heaping more coals onto the fire, but to snuff it out with grace. It is God’s will that we suffer, but also that we suffer graciously. One who has received grace himself can freely give it to others too.

“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:14b-17, ESV

The blessing of suffering is not suffering itself or getting even with those who cause your suffering. When you become a follower of Jesus you put yourself in the way of ridicule and rejection. However, as a Christian you are in good company. The blessing in suffering is helping the world see another way. The way of Jesus and his followers.


Questions for Reflection:

  • How can suffering be a blessing?
  • How do people tend to respond when hurt by others? Why would Peter contrast repaying evil with blessing? What does repaying evil with blessing look like? How is this so countercultural? Why is it important to suffer well? How does our response put others to shame? What is the difference between shaming someone and letting your behavior put them to shame?
  • Which of the characteristics in verse 8 do you need to grow in? What are the opposites of these characteristics? How can the Holy Spirit help you to grow in these areas?
  • What does it mean to have unity of mind with other Christians? Does this mean you agree on everything? How is living with others, even in the church an exercise of unity of mind? What important things can all Christians agree on? How can we have unity of mind and what should we do when we don’t?
  • What is the relationship between doing good and suffering? Who receives the blessing for suffering for righteousness? How have you suffered for righteousness sake?
  • What are some temptations you face when suffering for righteousness? What are the consequences of giving into those temptations?
  • How does the gospel help you to understand and deal with suffering for Jesus?
  • How have you received blessing through suffering?

Marriage and the Husband’s Role

Marriage is bigger than life-long love and commitment to your spouse. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. As a husband loves and honors his wife he makes visible to the world around him how Jesus loved the church.

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7, ESV

It is interesting that there are six verses for women and one verse for men. Is it that men can only handle one verse? Is it that men need it said simply? We may never know. Admittedly, it isn’t a short verse. And from this verse we see two indispensable things every woman needs from her husband: understanding and honor.

Seek to understand your wife.

This means a husband is to consider his wife, consider her point of view, listen to her, and aim to do what is best for her.

Men and women are very different (duh?). Some men would say it is impossible to understand women, however, this verse says there is no excuse. We are are to live with them in an understanding way. Here are three simple ways how:

First, study her. Husbands are to get an education in their wives. As you study you will know best how to love and honor her. Second, spend time with her. Peter says, “live with her.” In other words, do life with your wife. It is not possible to understand your wife if you’re not intentionally spending time with her.

Third, sympathize with her. Peter says it is sin to bully another person, even if you are stronger and the other person is weaker. Sometimes men sin terribly by pushing around their wives or children. That isn’t strength, it’s sin. A husband is to protect his wife and be her attorney. Women are like a thermometer that can be sensitive to slight changes and they may not bounce back from hurt as quickly as men. This is why the text refers to women as “weaker vessel.” This isn’t negative nor does it mean women are lesser, but God made them more delicate and thankfully so.

Show honor to your wife.

This means that a husband should not be rude to his wife, speak in a mean way to her, threaten her or make her scared, abuse her or hurt her in any way publicly or privately. By honoring her you show respect to her thoughts, ideas and feelings. Treat her like a princess.

Why honor her? She is an “heir of grace.” She is a daughter of the King. Together you benefit from the grace of God. Although as a husband and wife you may be very different from one another, you are equal on terms of grace. God shares with us every good thing.

There is a grave consequence for a husband who is doesn’t seek to understand or honor his wife to his wife. According to this verse, Peter says that a husband who is mean to his wife will not have his prayers answered by God. This means that a husband who do not lovingly serve his wife will not be lovingly served by God until stops sinning against her. God is concerned how we treat one another and how we treat one another affects how we talk to God.

Begin by praying for understanding. God will give it. Honor God and you will show honor to your wife. Your wife will blossom and the world will see Jesus brightly in you.


Questions for Reflection:

  • How does a husband understand his wife? If you are a husband, where do you need to grow in understanding your wife? How are you spending time with your wife?
  • What are the responsibilities of a husband toward his wife? What does it look like to show honor to your wife? How does a man’s attitude effect his ministry? How does your behavior preach the gospel to your wife and others? How does the way you treat your wife reveal your relationship with Jesus?
  • What does it mean that a woman is a “weaker vessel”? What doesn’t it mean?
  • What does it mean to be “heirs of the grace of life”? What does it look like to treat your spouse as an heir of grace? How does this passage support that men and women are equal but different?
  • How does your relationship with your spouse affect your relationship with God? How does it affect your prayers?

The Future’s Work in Faith

When you consider your future it will have an impact on how you live now. In other words, eyes that are fixed on a future hope will inevitable impact where the feet tread today. When it comes to faith it is no different. Hope of the future has its work in faith.

God is sovereign and powerful. He shook creation and history with his presence. The image of Exodus 19-20 was not a small pyrotechnics show at Mount Sinai. God appeared in blazing fire, ear-piercing noise, and trembling earth. God said that if anyone but Moses touched the mountain they would be scorched on the spot. The people of Israel freaked out, Moses himself was afraid, and the people begged Moses not to experience God like this again (Hebrews 12:18-21). Who would blame them?

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” – Hebrews 12:18-24, ESV

You are invited to another mountain—Zion. The image of Zion is greater and more epic than Sinai. Countless angels will be there. Throngs of heaven will be there. Saints from all ages will be there. God as Judge will be there. Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant will be there. The city of God is a holy and awe-filled sight (vs.22-24).

No one will be able to run, hide or ignore the fact that God exists. On that day in the near and not so distant future you will appear before him who is utterly inescapable. He who shook the earth will shake the heavens. When he shakes it this time it will be a sifting. Above all the kingdom of God will stand and for this God will be praised because is worthy of all worship, reverence, fear, and awe. He is God and holy is his name—a consuming fire (vs. 25-29).

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:25-29, ESV

The future image of Zion is wowing. Even now, it’s quite the stimulus package for the imagination. That you are given a sneak peak at what is to come is meant to inflict you with great excitement and trepidation. Zion is meant to shake your faith and affection towards the God who is unshakeable.


Questions for Reflection:

  • Read Exodus 19-20. What do you learn about God? What do you learn about the people of Israel? How would you respond if you were present that day? How is God a consuming fire?
  • Now read Revelation 20-21. What do you learn about God, Jesus and heaven? What awes you about these verses? What assurance do you have that these verses are true? How must these verses about the future impact your now?
  • How can we ensure that we are frequently remembering our eternal inheritance in heaven? What difference should the knowledge of this glorious future make to the way we live our lives now?

God’s Work in Faith

To melt gold a goldsmith needs to stoke the furnace to over 1,000 F. However, in order to remove all the impurities and to make 24k gold the heat of the furnace is doubled to nearly 2,000 F. The hotter the purer and more valuable.


God is like a goldsmith. He takes his creation made of dust, full of impurities and at times puts it into the fire to make it pure and beautiful. Nobody likes being in a furnace, but everyone like the result. It is in the fire that God does his greatest work. It is in the furnace that our faith grows.

Pain and suffering are unavoidable, but is it fruitful or beneficial? There is no doubt they get our attention. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain, it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In the midst of suffering it is helpful to remember that Jesus is our example. See how he suffered and faced pain. He was not immune to it. As horrific as Jesus’ sufferings were they are for our benefit (v.3). It was his pain for our gain. His sufferings are far greater than any suffering we will ever face (v.4, cf. John 18-21). Take heart!

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” – Hebrews 12:3, ESV

We must understand that suffering can come from the hand of God. That might mess with your theology, but it is true. Now, God doesn’t inflict pain and suffering for fun like a mean ogre or an abusive father, but God is likened to a father and God will discipline his children. The difference between God and earthly fathers is that God always disciples out of infinite love (vs. 5-6; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12). It is his parental prerogative (vs. 7-9). If God didn’t discipline us and allowed us to get away with every evil thing we wouldn’t have any respect for him nor would we say that he is truly loving. God’s discipline stems from love because he desires to see his children learn from the heat of the furnace rather than to get away with sin and suffer even greater in hell. The discipline he gives lasts only a short time but the effects can last a lifetime (vs.10-11).

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11, ESV

Just like nobody likes to be in the furnace, no child likes to be discipled and no parent likes to discipline their children, but it is a necessary practice to help children grow up. God always has the right discipline to produce the right character within our heart, particularly a pure heart full of faith.  A faith that is rich and valuable.


Questions for Reflection:

  • How does God have a plan for our suffering and trials? Why is our fight against sin much lesser than Jesus’?
  • How does “considering” the sufferings of Jesus encourage you not to grow weary or lose heart in similar sufferings? What does it mean to share in Christ’s sufferings?
  • How does God discipline from genuine love? How is discipline a hard but good thing? How does discipline grow our respect and confidence in God?
  • How is an earthly father a picture of our heavenly Father? What are the limitations of this picture?
  • What is the holiness of God? How does God’s discipline produce holiness? How are you sharing in God’s holiness now?

Jesus is the Great Object of Our Faith

Steve and I would ride our bikes for miles. We’d push each other faster and longer. After the ride we would wobble onto the road and run. Steve was more than 20 years older than me, but he could lap me on the run. That is embarrassing for a young guy, but exhilarating for an old guy. He knew running was my weakest event training for a Tri and he would remind me, “Justin, this is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.” It did help to endure the middle of the run when I was tempted to walk or even quit.

I was a sprinter on my middle school track team. I ran the 100m and 400m. Running long distances was not my thing. Likewise, in life I would much rather endure a sprint than a marathon. However, this life resembles an Iron Man more than a quick jaunt.

We have just walked through the Hall of Fame. Hebrews 11 is a gallery of examples that help you to know what faith looks like and what God can do through a human vessel. Each name is an example for your benefit. That you too would exercise faith, endure through the trials and resist temptations in this life (Hebrews 12:1a).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

Now it is time to run (v.1b). The author of Hebrews describes life like a race. The course is not flat or oval like a track. It has high mountains and low valleys. There is pain and heartache. There are injuries and insecurities. In this life there are innumerable “weights” that taunt, trap, or trip us up.

Often our eyes are fixed on the weights and we worry what will come next or what will come of us. Yet those who have gone before us have given some valuable advice: keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (v.2).

That might sound nebulous. How do I fix my eyes on Jesus when I can’t see him? Or what exactly am I to fix my eyes on? The key is keeping your eyes fixed on how Jesus endured the cross and shame. Do you remember Jesus final days? Do you remember the trial, the rejection, the flogging, the walk through the streets of Jerusalem, the blood, the tears, the prayers, the cries? Do you see how he endured? Remember this.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus is hard but helpful.  Ultimately, Jesus is our example. He shows us what faith looks like. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He shows us what endurance looks like. He endured with joy and obedience. He shows us we are not alone. He is seated at the right hand of God as our intercessor.

Like my friend Steve, we need running buddies. One who will encourage you from time to time and say, “This is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.”


Questions for Reflection:

  • Why do you think the author focuses on endurance after exploring the role of faith?
  • Read Philippians 3: 12– 14. How does this passage compare to the message in Hebrews 12? How is the example of a race so helpful?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. To what does Paul liken the Christian faith? How does he say we should live this life of faith? What does this mean practically for us as individuals and churches?
  • What are the weights Christians should remove so they can run the race? What are some of the things that believers cling to that hinder a their faith?
  • How is faith at times a grueling race? What sorts of “hardship” will believers endure as they grow their faith?
  • How can one have joy and endure at the same time? What can you learn from Jesus about melding of joy and endurance?
  • What are ways today’s church looks backward instead of forward? How can you follow the example of the heroes of faith and look ahead to the joy that awaits you? What role does faith play in the ability to look ahead?