I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace (Acts 20:24 TNIV).
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:20-21).Jesus called him to turn his life around and not turn his passion down.
Fear immobilizes us. Fear makes us question ourselves. Fear causes us to overprotect those we love.
Lethargy allows us to become lazy about the things most important to us. We lose our passion and our vision of what should be and could be. We lose our fire and lose our way because the way is hard.
Fear and lethargy among those who call themselves Christians are killing the influence of Jesus in our world. We want our families and kids to be safe. We don't want them to risk as they follow Jesus. We want them to choose safe professions and live in safe neighborhoods and do safe things. We lazily retreat into lifestyles just like our unbelieving neighbors who live next door, watching the same shows and slowly accepting the same values of those who do not know the call of Jesus as Lord.
At the same time, we wring our hands as our children choose morals we don't accept and as our children grow bored with the vanilla brand of faith we peddle in our churches with programs designed to entertain, teach, and satisfy our consumeristic demands as churchgoers.
There is little talk about sacrifice, service, passion, and the high calling of God. There is even less invitation into the wild, daring, risky, life of genuine discipleship. We are happy to do a few nice good deeds in our communities and make a little noise about Christian values in political quarters, but there is little of what we see Jesus call his disciples to do in the Gospels and even less of what we see happen in the lives of the early followers of Jesus in the book of Acts.
Let's be honest. Our kids turn away from our faith because of our own lack of integrity in living what we say is most important and because they are bored by the thought of living a nice little passionless Christian life safe in the suburbs away from the grit and grime of life. They find their excitement in the same places their peers do because we have not given them something worth living and dying for.
So as we move from Christmas to the New Year, I want to remind us of the life of Paul, formerly known as the Rabbi Saul. I want us to remember his passion and the dangerous life he led and that he called others to embrace. I want us to remember that when Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, he called him to turn his life around and not turn his passion down. It is that passion that we must recapture or we will not see faith live in our grandchildren. It is that passion that calls us, like Timothy's mother, to release our children to follow those of bold faith while knowing that their physical lives may not be safe yet their eternal destinies and their earthly passion remain secure. (In Acts 16, Paul asks for a young teenager named Timothy to accompany him on his mission. Eunice and Lois, Timothy's mother and grandmother, had seen Paul stoned and left for dead by a mob on his previous visit to their city!)
So what do we do to rekindle our passion as Jesus' followers? How do we "re-become" people willing to risk everything to honor Christ Jesus as Lord? Well today, as a start, I ask that you do two things.
First, I invite you to be part of a large group of people who will share in our new daily devotional focused on our asking God to release the power of His Holy Spirit into our lives and the lives of those we love. This will be called "More than Renewal, New Life Through God's Holy Fire." Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add you to our email list and you will begin to receive the emails on January 1. Like all of our Heartlight emails, this will be free.
Second, I want to encourage you to remember with me the amazing life of the apostle Paul and the passion with which he lived and died. A brief sketch and summary of his life follows below. As you remember his life, imagine how astounding it is for us to be inspired by a little guy from Tarsus who lived two thousand years ago and who has impacted the lives of untold millions for Jesus!
Paul had a lot of time to think and remember and pray. The days were growing shorter and the evening chill set in earlier each night in his dank cell. His body was more gristle and bone than flesh. It had been made frail by the small amounts of food he was fed in prison and hardened by the miles on the road and the abuse he had taken over the years — beaten repeatedly, stoned and left for dead, and shipwrecked on several occasions (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). Now, as some of those he mentored turned their back on him and the gospel of Jesus, the Messiah, his concerns lay with the churches he had worked so hard to plant and the faith he had labored so hard to grow among peoples of all races and languages (2 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 4:10).
Paul is alone in prison, except of his dear and trusted doctor and friend, Luke. Paul must make sure there is a written record of Jesus' story, a Gospel, sharing the good news he preached. He must make sure Mark comes. He will have Timothy bring his writing parchments. Mark must finish his work on the story of Jesus, a written message of Jesus and the way of the Cross (2 Timothy 4:11-13).
And Timothy, his beloved son in the faith, must have a fire lit under him (2 Timothy 1:2-14). He is no longer the boy Paul once called to accompany him (Acts 16:1-3); he is now Paul's hope for the future — the living legacy of Paul's ministry (Philippians 2:19-24). Timothy needed to remember what he had learned and rekindle the fire so he can continue the ministry he had learned from Paul (2 Timothy 2:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:10-17).
As Paul faced his own certain death, he was confident in his future and in the one to whom he had entrusted his life:
I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. ... For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. ... At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Timothy 4:16-18).
Paul's road had been a long one, and God's traveling mercies that had sustained him through life would also sustain him through death and into his glorious future with his risen Savior!
Zealous as a Pharisee, Paul was known as Saul (Philippians 3:4-6). He had trained as a Rabbi under the famed teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), Paul had apparently been assigned to the Synagogue of the Freedman. There he heard what he considered the blasphemous teachings of a follower of the way, a young man named Stephen (Acts 6:1-11). When Stephen was condemned by the Sanhedrin, Saul had overseen the stoning of Stephen — in Saul's mind, a justified execution of one who had spoken dangerous and blasphemous things about a man named Jesus (Acts 8:1).
Yet as Saul was traveling on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison more of Jesus' followers, Saul was blinded by a vision of the risen Jesus and heard the voice of the one whom he hated and whose followers he persecuted. After three days of fasting and praying, the Lord sent to Saul a man who had probably been on his list to persecute, Ananias. Ananias shared with him the message of Jesus, brought healing to his eyes, baptized him, and Saul's sins were washed away and he received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:1-22; Acts 22:2-21). His life and the world would never be the same!
After more than a decade in seclusion and with the help of Barnabas, Saul became known as Paul and shared the message of Jesus with Jews and Gentiles all over the Roman Empire (Acts 11:19-26; Galatians 1:13-24). His life was a life of passion, vision, hardship, and triumph. He appeared before rulers and leaders sharing the message of Jesus. He trained and inspired thousands in his earthly ministry and his letters have guided millions over the years as they sought to find grace in Jesus.
Jesus' words to Paul on the road to Damascus became the beacon that guided his life and illuminated his death:
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," the Lord replied. "Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:15-19).
Paul had internalized this message so that he could honestly say:
"I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace" (Acts 20:24).
He backed it up with his life and through his death. You are living testimony to its power. Will you live it and pass it on?