Posts tagged ‘Apostle Paul’

Keeping Perspective in COVID-19 Times

not-today-covid19-sign-on-wooden-stool-3952231

Credit: cottonbroPexels

At Concordia in San Antonio where I serve as one of the pastors, we are sending out a weekly “check-in.” People can voluntarily “check-in” with us by answering a few questions about how they’re doing during this pandemic. For a lot of people, just knowing that someone cares and is concerned about them is enough to give them a little boost in their spirits.

This past week, I had an old friend, who is also a pastor, call and check-in with me just to see how I was doing. We caught up on a whole host of ministry triumphs and challenges and talked about how we are navigating a situation the likes of which neither one of us has ever seen. They don’t offer a class on “pandemic response” in seminary. Or, if they did, I missed it.

To keep my spirits up during this time, I have had to fight to keep my perspective. These words from the apostle Paul have become words I’ve turned to again and again when I’ve felt like my spirits were sinking and my perspective was darkening:

We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

There is so much perspective packed into these few verses.

Many of us feel like “we are wasting away.” Whether we have contracted COVID-19, or are just struggling to keep ourselves in shape when gyms are closed, junk food is plentiful, and the sofa is inviting, a lot of our bodies are taking a hit. But even apart from a pandemic, our bodies would waste away anyway. Every body eventually breaks down and falls prey to the wages of sin, which are death. And yet, Paul says, we can be “renewed day by day.” God – one day at a time – can meet us in His Word and refresh us by His Spirit. Our bodily wasting away does not need to result in a deeper spiritual decay.

Paul continues by comparing “our light and momentary troubles” with “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” This little word “far,” in Greek, is a three-word-phrase: hyperbolen eis hyperbolen. We get our word “hyperbole” from this word, which refers to something that is over-the-top. The glory that awaits us in eternity, Paul says, will be over-the-top and so over-the-top that we will look back and scoff at the troubles we are now facing. God’s glory will one day wipe away this pandemic’s gory sicknesses and deaths.

Because we long for this glory, Paul concludes, we should “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” because “what is unseen is eternal.” In other words, instead of fretting over this day’s news, we are to be people who look forward to the day when all things will be made new in Christ Jesus. What we are seeing now is temporary. What remains unseen – but what will one day be seen when Christ reveals it to us – is eternal.

I wish I was better at keeping Paul’s perspective. I, just like anyone else, can get caught up in “our light and momentary troubles.” But when I’m tempted to fall prey to pity, these words call me back. These words give me hope. And because of hope:

We do not lose heart.

April 27, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

ABC – Pain, Suffering, and the Gospel

"The Apostle Paul" by Rembrandt

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of more than one person nearing the end of their life.  And it always breaks my heart to see how much pain they must often endure as their body slowly shuts down and the sickness they have been valiantly fighting slowly takes over.   This kind of suffering is truly sad.  But suffering is not only physical.  Just as heartbreaking for me to watch is the woman who is being emotionally abused by her spouse or the young boy who is made an outcast by his peers.  Emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering can leave very real scars on a human heart, soul, and life just as physical suffering can.

In our text from this past weekend, we read how the apostle Paul was a man who, like Jesus, was “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).   As he preached the gospel, he encountered persecution after persecution and pain after pain.  In Philippians 1, we learn that Paul is encountering physical suffering.  He is imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel, awaiting a hearing before the Roman emperor Nero, who is not exactly a friend and fan of Christians.  And yet, even in the midst of this suffering, and his impending martyrdom at the hands of a ruthless emperor, Paul has hope and joy.  He writes to the Philippians: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).  Paul says his suffering advances the gospel.  And it does!  He goes on, “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:13).  As I mentioned in ABC, the “whole palace guard” could have numbered between 13,000 and 14,000 men.  That’s a lot of men who have become aware of Paul’s suffering “in chains for Christ!”  Apparently, Paul is sharing the gospel with the very men who are presiding over his suffering in chains.  He is sharing the gospel with the guards.

Much like our suffering, Paul’s suffering is not merely physical.  Paul goes on to speak of those who add to his suffering: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry…supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Philippians 1:15, 17).  Paul has such vehement detractors of his ministry that they want to kick him while he’s down – they want to cause him trouble while he is in prison, as if being in prison isn’t trouble enough.  Thus, through their envy and rivalry, they add to Paul’s physical suffering emotional suffering as well by preaching Christ for all the wrong, selfish reasons.  And yet, even as Paul suffers, the gospel continues to spread.

The gospel has a funny – and even miraculous – way of spreading in and in spite of adversity and suffering.  In Paul’s case, the gospel continued to spread thanks to his witness to the palace guard.  Even today, adversity often serves as an unwilling and unwitting catalyst for the truth of the gospel to reach ears it might not otherwise tickle.  I think of the Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was so popular and controversial when it first hit store shelves in 2003.  Rife with ecclesiastical conspiracy theories, it became a flashpoint around which detractors of the Church and her message could rally.  But its shoddy history, theology, and ecclesiology was made quick work of by the brightest and best Christian scholars who knew the theories put forth in this book were utterly unsubstantiated.  It was only titillating conspiracy coupled with fantasy.  However, because of the big questions this book raised, many people began to study Christianity – its history, theology, and ecclesiology – and found its teachings and truths to be on much more solid ground than they might have previously expected.  Thus, the faith of many in Christ was strengthened and bolstered – and all this through a book antagonistic to Christianity.

What trials are you currently encountering?  What suffering are you currently bearing?  Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological?  Whatever form your trials and suffering may take, pray to God – that He might give you strength to endure and that He might strengthen your faith in and through your suffering.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

November 7, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Weekend Extra – Agnostic No More!

Agnostoi Theoi.  This was the inscription that graced one of a countless number of altars in the city of Athens in the first century.  It means, “To an unknown god.”  Theoi means “to god” and we get our word “agnostic” from the word agnostoi.  Though the Athenians of the first century built many altars to the gods they knew – Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Helios and, of course, Athena, the patron goddess of Athens – the Athenians wanted to leave no god un-worshipped.  And so they built an altar to a god they might have missed.

The Athenians were agnostic – at least when it came to the god for whom they had built this altar.  But the apostle Paul refuses to leave the Athenians content in their agnosticism.  He says:

What you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:23-24, 30-31)

“Your agnosticism,” Paul says, “is not acceptable.  The God you call ‘unknown’ is not unknown at all!  He has a name – Jesus Christ!”

Importantly, Paul also says this God has “made the world and everything in it” and “is the Lord of heaven and earth.”  Zeus was the god of the sky.  Poseidon was the god of the sea.  Hades was the god of the underworld.  Helios was the god of the sun.  Athena was the goddess of Athens.  Jesus is the God of…everything.  This makes Jesus far greater than any of these other gods.  Indeed, finally, all of these other gods are not only lesser, they are not even truly gods!  Paul says to the Athenians, “Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22).  The Greek word for “very religious” is deisidaimon.  This word can have either a positive connotation, meaning “devotion,” or a negative connotation, meaning “superstition.”  Though Paul is probably appealing to the positive sense of the word out of courtesy, finally, the Greek pantheon of gods is nothing more than superstition – and a dangerous superstition at that.  The word deisidaimon contains the word daimon, the Greek word for “demon.”  Scripturally speaking, because there is only one true God (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4), all other gods are not gods at all, but demons.  It will not suffice, then, to be merely “religious,” worshipping whatever god may suit your fancy.  For there is only one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Every other god is a delusion of Satan.

This past weekend in worship Pastor Tucker spoke about the mission trip a group of seventy-seven Concordians took to Crownpoint, New Mexico, a Navajo Indian community nestled in the high hills of the desert Southwest.  On the bus ride there, one of our college studnets spent a good deal of time in conversation with one of our bus drivers who was very spiritually confused.  He spoke about everyone from Mohammed to Jesus as if they were all essentially the same.  The god he worshipped was not specific or defined, but unknown.  Blessedly, our student made known to him the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  He followed the lead of the apostle Paul.

How about you?  Will you follow the apostle’s example?  Our world is full of far too much agnosticism.  But people can be transformed from ambiguous agnostics to defined disciples of Christ by the gospel.  Make the gospel known to someone who needs to hear it!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message!

August 15, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Praying for our Government

Today begins Concordia’s Thirty Hour Famine for our youth.  During this special period of fasting, Concordia’s youth will devote themselves to prayer, as is the norm in Scripture: “I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting” (Daniel 9:3).  Among the items for which we are urging our youth to pray is our government.  In our politically divisive and derisive climate, it is important to remind ourselves what the Scriptures say about how Christians should relate to their government.  Thus, I have prepared a short synopsis of what the Scriptures say concerning governmental authorities which will be used as part of the Thirty Hour Famine.  Though simple, I thought I would publish it on my blog as a reminder of how we should appropriately engage in the political process.  I hope it’s a blessing to you!

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  (Romans 13:1-2)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  (1 Peter 2:13-14)

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

These passages from Scripture remind us of the importance of honoring our governmental authorities.   From these passages we learn:

  • God’s authority stands behind government’s authority.  God Himself has established all political authorities.
  • Because God’s authority is behind government’s authority, we ought to submit to our government as long as its policies do not conflict with God’s Word (cf. Acts 5:29).
  • Not only should we passively submit to the government’s authority, we should actively pray for our officials.  They deserve our prayers and honor.

Clearly, many people do not obey the Bible’s guidance when it comes to governmental authority.  Rather than respecting and praying for our governmental officials, many people mock and ridicule them and, in some extreme instances, even threaten them.  Yet, when all of these biblical admonitions to respect the governing authorities were written, the person in power was the Roman emperor Nero.  Nero hated Christians.  Some traditions hold that it was Nero who was at least indirectly responsible for the deaths of Peter and Paul, the authors of the above biblical quotes.  When a fire destroyed Rome in AD 64, Nero blamed the Christians for the city’s destruction and launched a fierce campaign of persecution against them.  The first century Roman historian Tacitus writes of Nero’s persecution:  “Covered with the skins of beasts, the Christians were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44).  In spite of all of this, the biblical authors still urged Christians to respect the governing authorities.

Whether or not we agree with the policies and politics of our elected officials, we should still respect our governing authorities and pray for them.  We should especially pray for them when they do things out of step with God’s Word.  We should pray that they would repent and listen to God’s voice.  We should also pray that God’s will be done, even if it is done through imperfect politicians.

Finally, we must remember that no matter who is in power, government will not and cannot solve all of this world’s problems.  Many people seem to believe that if one or another political party would only gain power in Congress and the White House, then all of our problems would be solved.  Though governmental officials can do many things, they cannot save the world.  Only Jesus can do that.  This is why, while respecting our governmental authorities, we do not put our ultimate trust in them.  We put our ultimate trust in Christ alone.

May 13, 2011 at 8:35 am Leave a comment


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