Squeezed, Part 2: You Want Me to Do What? (Philemon 1:10-21)

In Part 2 of our series, we put ourselves in the sandals of Philemon, the slave owner. As Paul’s letter unfolds, Philemon begins to get the point: “Your slave, Onesimus, who stole from you and ran away, is coming back. In fact, he’s standing outside the door right now.” And it’s obvious you’re being asked by the Apostle Paul to love him, forgive him, and reconcile with him—something totally unheard of in the first century. It’s Philemon’s turn now to be squeezed.

Philemon’s initial reaction would surely have been something like, “Paul, you want me to do what? If I go soft on Onesimus, my other slaves will be more inclined to run off now, too. I can’t allow that! And what about all the other slaves in Colossae? If I receive Onesimus back without any punishment, word will spread that Christianity turns you into a doormat that people can walk all over. The other Christian masters will despise me!”

“And what about gospel outreach? It’s tough enough trying to witness to Christ in this empire. After all, Romans despise love. To them it’s not a virtue; they mock it and sneer at it all the time.” Philemon has a lot to think about when he gets Paul’s letter. He knows firsthand that when Christians loved each other, the Romans thought they were crazy. We have ancient correspondence that says, “These Christians are so crazy, they love each other even before they’ve met.”

Into that atmosphere, you’re going to talk about a gospel of love and forgiveness? Even for slaves? That’s insanity! To the pagan world, slaves were just “living tools” or “breathing machines.” You don’t forgive your household tools; you simply use them and get rid of them whenever they stop working. So, it’s going to be tough for Philemon to try to explain to the other slave owners in Colossae why Onesimus isn’t getting branded, flogged, or punished in some other way.

The book of Philemon is for believers today, too. Indeed, the grace of God in Christ takes believers off one hook (i.e., the hook of eternal judgment) and places us on another hook (i.e., the hook of forgiving others as we ourselves have been forgiven). It was Jesus himself who taught his people to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In other words, to have been forgiven makes you a forgiverThat’s the consistent message throughout the New Testament. 

But how do we forgive others who’ve hurt us, wounded us, betrayed us, or offended us in some significant way? And how do we go beyond mere forgiveness into the realm of genuine reconciliation? It takes a miracle. It takes Jesus—the one who is infinite love himself and has shed abroad his love in our hearts (Romans 5:5).

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Squeezed, Part 1: Get Me Out of Here (Philemon 1:1-16)

Ever since humanity “fell” in the garden back in Genesis 3, relationships have been difficult. Interactions with others can often be strained, awkward, and painful—sometimes even vicious or violent. But ever since Jesus died and rose again from the dead, relationships have been given new hope and a real potential for peace, sincerity, depth, and authenticity. It’s a long road back to the serenity of Eden, but it’s a road paved with the blood of Jesus Christ, so it’s a road worth traveling.

The Book of Philemon answers the broad question, “What does Christianity look like when it’s put into practice, especially as it pertains to relationships? What does our faith look like when it’s set in motion—not only in the Roman Empire of the first century, but also today—in the twenty-first century? Philemon gives us a partial answer, and it involves the spiritual practice of forgiveness. C. S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” He was right, and that’s why we sometimes feel squeezed in the Christian life. As recipients of forgiveness, we’re called to be distributors of it as well.

Paul’s letter to Philemon is only 355 words in the original Greek, but it carries a weight far beyond its length. Everyone here is being “squeezed.” Onesimus, the runaway slave is being squeezed. Philemon, the slave owner, is being squeezed. Even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is being squeezed. Our focus in Part 1 is Onesimus, who shows us that the more we try to run from God and his ways, the more he puts the squeeze on us, pulling us back to himself. Moreover, Onesimus shows us that so often we run from one set of circumstances to another—trying to find true freedom and personhood—only to get imprisoned in our own escape routes.

The good news is that God does his squeezing with the gentle hands of love so his people will be conformed to the image of his Son. But the shaping can make us uncomfortable. We come to see that a change in circumstance doesn’t change who we are on the inside. Indeed, we discover that we can run from one set of circumstances to another—trying to find true freedom and personhood—only to get imprisoned in our own escape routes. Thankfully, the gospel of Jesus Christ re-humanizes us so we can flourish in this life, regardless of our circumstances. That’s because freedom is a mentality more than a locality. 

The book of Philemon shows us that sometimes God doesn’t want our situation to change; he wants us to change in the situation. Such change is possible with the help of Jesus Christ, the one who died by crucifixion—a slave’s death—though he himself was completely innocent of all wrongdoing. Running to him is the only way to find a true and lasting freedom.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Our Father, Who Art Incredible (Genesis 28:16-17 and Selected Verses)

Who is God? What is he like? How do we conceive him to be? Years ago, a man was trapped in a railroad car all night. It was a refrigeration car, and he was horrified. He was desperate to get out, but he couldn’t. With a sharp object he found in the car, he scratched out a message on the wooden floor: “If I don’t get out of here, I’ll freeze to death.” The next morning, he was found dead. That was doubly tragic because the refrigeration unit wasn’t on that night. It never went below 55 degrees on the thermometer the whole time he was trapped inside.

Mental constructs are vitally important, and what we believe about certain things is no small issue. So, consider the question once again, “Who is God?” Christians are well trained to respond by saying, “He’s the God of the Bible!” But which God of the Bible? Not that there’s more than one presented in Scripture, but there are certainly many portrayals of him. The biblical God has many attributes and many ways of engaging with people as he travels from page to page, scene to scene.

The book of Genesis, for example, shows us a God who appears in many different disguises, playing many different roles, and wearing many different “hats.” He’s highly interactive with his creation—changing faces and changing forms without notice. What’s that all about? It means, in part, that Genesis is a “photo album of the traveling God.” It’s a collage of “God sightings,” and we need to read it with our eye on him. What do we learn about God and his ways from watching him in action?

If God is truly infinite, then all our ideas and understandings about him will be incomplete. Not necessarily wrong but incomplete. That’s why Peter instructs believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). Likewise, Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3:10). Paul already knew Christ, but he wanted to know him more. He needed to know him more.

One of the greatest enemies to truth is thinking we have it all. That mindset causes us to stop looking, stop seeking, stop listening, and ultimately stop thinking. Religious people with deep convictions often fall into this trap. Indeed, it was a highly religious crowd that killed Jesus—the “God-with-us” Emmanuel. Their concept of God—which they thought was biblical—was radically wrong. It was also wrong-headed. But no one could tell them that. Not even Jesus.

If we’re not dynamically growing in our understanding of God—going deeper into the Infinite whose surface we have barely scratched—we might wind up crucifying the truth, too. It’s not enough for believers to be doctrinally right about God, we have to be dynamically relating to God on the journey of life lest we get spiritually stale and obnoxiously blind. So, join us for this flyover of Genesis. You might discover a bigger, more adventuresome God than you’ve ever known. You might even start praying to “our Father, who art incredible.”

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

God of the Impossible (1 Kings 17:17-24)

A Few Good Men is ranked as one of top 100 movies of all time. It’s a military courtroom drama starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, and Kevin Bacon. One of the memorable lines of the movie comes from Lieutenant Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise. He’s the lead defense attorney, and his case against the colonel isn’t going well. After a series of deep frustrations with his co-counsel, Lieutenant Galloway, played by Demi Moore, Kaffee blurts out, “And the hits just keep on coming!” It’s an expression that basically means, “Here we go again!” or “If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”

By the time we meet up with Elijah in 1 Kings 17:17-24, it’s hard not to think of this line, “And the hist just keep on coming!” He’s already had a hard and adventuresome life as a prophet, but we’re just getting started. After several miracles and death-defying adventures, the son of the widow he just rescued becomes deathly ill. Elijah watches his little friend go through the dying process. A few months ago, he saw the brook dry up, and now he sees a young boy’s life dry up, too. Now what? Surprisingly, the widow blames the prophet for her son’s death. For Elijah, the hits just keep on coming.

How do we respond when we get a tongue lashing we don’t deserve? Step into lawyer mode? Defense mode? Return the verbal garbage with garbage of our own? Hurt people tend to hurt people, and Elijah gets wounded here. But he doesn’t seek to wound back. He offers no argument, no rebuke, and no explanation. He does speak, but not to the woman’s tortured logic and agonized questions. Rather, he offers her gentle service and simple burden sharing. Then he gets alone with God and cries out to him for help (1 Kings 17:20), offering up an impossible prayer: “O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” (1 Kings 17:21b).

It’s one thing to pray for the weather, as Elijah has recently done. It’s another thing to pray for the restoration of life to a dead body. That’s something new. But not only does Elijah pray the impossible prayer, he’s willing to be ceremonially “unclean” in the process by stretching himself out on the boy three times (1 Kings 17:21a). It was a form of sacrificial intercession in the face of a desperate situation. Happily, the Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him (1 Kings 17:22). It’s the first resurrection of Scripture. Thankfully, it’s not the last.

How do we face an impossible situation today? Like Elijah, we can get alone with God. We can pour out our problems to the Lord. We can strive for patient endurance and calm assurance amid the hits. And we can wait for God to act, receiving his deliverance in due course. Like Elijah, we can be fully persuaded that hope never dies because the God of the impossible lives. Patient endurance, then, is well founded. Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun who lived in the 1500s. She wrote a verse that John Michael Talbot made into a song in our day:

Let nothing trouble you.
Let nothing frighten you.
For everything passes but God will never change.
Patient endurance will obtain everything
Whoever has God, wants for nothing at all.
God alone is enough. God alone is enough.
Whoever has God, wants for nothing at all.

One day the hits will stop coming. Jesus made sure of that. On the cross, he was willing to become truly “unclean” for us, dying for our sin. But on the third day, he rose again from the dead, having told his followers, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). Today he puts his infinite resources at the disposal of those who, like Elijah, pray in righteousness and faith. That’s how we hit back at the hits.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Digesting Life (Psalm 57:1-11)

Have you ever had a cow on your plate? Probably, but it was broken down into a hamburger first, which you then had to chew. Your body broke it down even further through digestion into proteins, amino acids, and other nutrients that could be absorbed into your bloodstream and used as fuel for life. Inside that cow, then, was energy for life—but it had to be broken down again and again to be of any value to you.

How do we handle the pressures of life in a broken world—especially if we believe that God is for us not against us (Rom 8:31)? How do we reconcile the goodness of God and the aches and pains of this world he calls us to endure? David’s relationship with God as revealed in Psalm 57 gives us a clue. 

One day King Saul tried to shish kabob David to the wall with a spear while he was playing his harp. When that failed, Saul dispatched his soldiers to capture him, but that didn’t work, either. In fact, every attempt by Saul to lay a hand on him was frustrated. Eventually, David escaped to the cave of Adullam as a fugitive. According to Psalm 57:6, David’s spirit during those days was “bowed down in distress.”

Despite the pressure he was feeling, 1 Samuel 22:1 tells us that when David’s family found out where he was hiding, they met up with him there, including “all those who were in distress…and he became their leader.” That’s a noteworthy rendezvous. Four hundred people who are stressed out seek after David, who himself is stressed out. They want to be with him. They recognize that God is still with him in a unique way. Moreover, they want him to be their leader even though he’s on the run.

How many people do we know whom we can honestly say we want to be around when they’re stressed out? Most of us aren’t so sure we like being around ourselves when we’re stressed out! But David handled the pressures of life in such a way that people wanted to be around him even when he himself was under pressure. Why? David tells us he ultimately took refuge in God (Ps 57:1), not the cave. Indeed, he recognized that despite his many challenges in life, God was still fulfilling his purpose for him (Ps 57:2).

This sermon looks at the great “why” behind our distress, a word, incidentally, that means “to pull you apart slowly; to stretch you or draw you tight.” It’s an image that comes from the ancient rack torture. In other words, distress is when life is ripping you apart, tearing at your soul, and causing you grief or pain. The good news is that God’s people don’t go through distress only to come out the other side with nothing but a scar. No, for the child of God, every trial we face is Father-filtered. There’s a “divine why” behind it and a supreme good coming out of it, even if we don’t know at the time what that may be. 

We do know that the testing of our faith leads to spiritual growth (Jas 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6-7), and growth requires eating. Not only eating but digesting what we’ve eaten. Digestion, of course, is a process of breaking down the food we eat into a form our bodies can use. It’s a process that’ essential to life itself. Now, we can read a book about digestion, and even become a gastrointestinal doctor, but unless we actually eat, we will starve to death. 

Likewise, believers can read our Bibles until we’ve memorized them, but unless we “digest” life as it unfolds, activating our faith in the process, we will spiritually starve. David’s trust in God while under pressure is a reminder for all of us to digest life with faith in order to truly live. Anything less would be IN-digestion. So, by all means, have a cow. But eat it in faith. Energy for life awaits you.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Disability, Dying, & Death: Relational Theology and the Gift of Hope

Below for your encouragement is a slide presentation called, “Disability, Dying, and Death: Relational Theology and the Gift of Hope for Life’s Descending Triad.” It comes from a seminar I did a while back with two other colleagues and may be turned into a small book someday. Even without the presentation script—which awaits another round of editing—you might be able to find some encouragement here for whatever challenges you may be facing these days.

What is relational theology? The God of Scripture (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is thoroughly relational; hence the field of relational theology, as distinct from systematic theology, contextual theology, etc. As I’ve written before, the Holy Trinity is not a math puzzle (1 + 1 + 1 = 1), it’s a clue to the relational heart of the universe. That clue is precious to believers because the prime reality of existence is not matter. It’s not energy. It’s not quarks. It’s a divine relationship. Specifically, it’s an eternal reciprocating relationship of personal diversity and unbreakable unity. As the well-known hymn puts it, “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.”

Human persons made imago Dei—in the image of God—are therefore relational beings, much like their Creator. Even introverts are aware of their interrelatedness with others! This connectional dynamic has much to say to us in a broken world marked by disability, dying, and death. It also has much to say to us in a world marked by the risen Christ, who knows firsthand what it’s like to feel disabled, go through the dying process, and then eventually taste death itself.

May the Lord enable you to revel in the gift of hope, even if through tears.

As Secure as You Can Make It (Matthew 27:62-28:15)

Matthew’s account of Jesus’s resurrection is filled with sarcasm, culminating in the order Pontius Pilate gave: “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how” (Matt 27:65). How did that work out for you, governor? Jesus rose from the dead, and the guards had no power to stop it.

But Pilate’s order represents what most people are trying to accomplish these days—making things as secure as they can. We lock our doors, buckle our seatbelts, password-protect our computers, wear helmets while biking, go through TSA stations at the airport, and purchase all kinds of warranties and insurance policies. But the resurrection account reminds us that real security is found in the risen Savior.

That’s the point of Matthew’s sarcasm. Sarcasm in this context means a holy defiance against the lies and pretense of this world, and humanity’s vain attempts to destroy the work of God. It’s a sacred sneering at all the obstacles and injustice in our society that keep people from flourishing as God wants them to flourish. It’s an attitude that faces the difficulties and challenges of life and says, “Bring it on.”

Why? Because the empty tomb means believers can’t lose in the end. Indeed, our own impending resurrection gives us a holy defiance against our fears and final enemy, death itself. Therefore, we can have a healthy suspicion of all our own attempts to keep ourselves secure, and a bold embrace of God’s incredible adventure for our lives—whatever that may entail. Make the tomb as secure as you can? You might as well try to kill an elephant with spitballs. Jesus Christ—risen from the dead—is Lord of all.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Where Is the ‘Good’ in Good Friday?

A high school senior in our area died this morning from a horrible motorcycle accident last night. His family and friends are in deep grief right now, and they will mourn to some extent for the rest of their lives. 

A man in our town with no health insurance just broke his hand and needs a complicated surgery to get three pins in his bones. His wife and children depend on his income to survive. 

An old friend recently got a shocking diagnosis for a kind of cancer that often defies successful treatment. His family watches and prays, not knowing what the coming weeks will bring.

Life is not only devastating sometimes, it can be deadly, too. That’s why we need to worship, as worship meets death with life. Especially today—Good Friday 2022 A.D.

We learn in Psalm 22:3 that God inhabits the praise of his people—a comforting truth from a Davidic composition often associated with the cross since Jesus cited its opening line during his crucifixion. Jesus knows firsthand that life can be as tough as nails. He’s no stranger to the ravages of this world. He knows what it means to be in pain.

In his book The Cross of ChristJohn Stott (1921-2011) writes, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” In similar fashion, Edward Shillito (1872-1948) wrote in his poem “Jesus of the Scars”:

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

Good Friday worship offers a unique spiritual experience for Christian believers around the world. In many communities of faith, it weaves together three vital strands of reflection that aim to deepen our gratitude and devotion to Christ for all he has done for us.

First, Good Friday worship is part historical reconstruction. We remember the words, actions, faith, and promises of Jesus as he suffered in Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate and the religious leaders of the first century.

Second, Good Friday worship is part biblical-theological exposition. We consider what it means that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and why the cross was God’s chosen instrument of redemption for the world.

Third, Good Friday worship is part spiritual lamentation. We gather to confess and renounce the sins we commit—all of which necessitated the cross—finding hope in the great truth Jesus himself declared: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Good Friday is the second movement of the historic Triduum—the three great days—in which the church gathers to remember the passion (i.e., the sufferings) of Christ. The tradition at our church is to gather in a bare sanctuary, stripped of all its symbols but the cross. We read the Scriptures, pray silently, worship a cappella, hear a “message of the cross,” and depart in silence, responding in faith and obedience to the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts and minds. 

Why do we call it “Good” Friday? Because Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). The Apostle Peter wrote, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet 3:18).

The cross, then, is good news for humanity. A great transaction took place there that God the Father accepted. He planned it, authorized it, carried it out, and honored it. That transaction is simply this: God treated Jesus as we deserved so that he could treat us as Jesus deserved. As the old hymn by Phillip Bliss (1838-1876) puts it:

Bearing shame and mocking rude,
In my place condemned he stood.

Or as Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) wrote in his famous hymn “It Is Well with My Soul”:

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Jesus tasted death for all. Therefore, all can live again.

That is why Good Friday is truly good.

Kneels in Humility and Washes Our Feet

May we never get over the shock that our God does feet.

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:3-5).

“Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.”

“A new command I give you: Love one another just as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Meekness and majesty,
Manhood and Deity,
In perfect harmony,
The Man who is God.
Lord of eternity
Dwells in humanity,
Kneels in humility
And washes our feet.

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

Father’s pure radiance,
Perfect in innocence,
Yet learns obedience
To death on a cross.
Suffering to give us life,
Conquering through sacrifice,
And as they crucify
Prays, “Father forgive.”

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

Wisdom unsearchable,
God the invisible,
Love indestructible
In frailty appears.
Lord of infinity,
Stooping so tenderly,
Lifts our humanity
To the heights of His throne. 

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

The Weeping King (Luke 19:28-44)

Leaders try hard not to cry in public. Instead, they seek to project a measure of strength and courage in difficult situations. They usually want to send a message that everything is under control. Crying just unnerves the people who have to watch it. Therefore, politicians and public figures try to stuff their tears and stifle their emotions. If, for some reason, they do ever cry in public, they strive to “leak a little,” not gush. 

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, he cried openly in front of the masses. Luke 19:41 says he wept over the city, and the word for “wept” in the original means to sob or to wail. It was a great lament, not a little sniffle. But why was Jesus so upset? His answer was both bold and blunt: “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:44). God came to his people in the person of Christ, but they did not recognize him and submit to his authority. Rather, they tried to leverage that authority for their own ends.

Luke’s account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a spiritually challenging passage—one that ultimately reminds us that to receive Jesus is to receive God, and to reject Jesus is to reject God. Knowing that some people would reject him at great cost to their own eternal well-being, Jesus wept for their souls. Indeed, his tears were an ominous sign that the week ahead would be a long and difficult one for him.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Holy City: Lift Up Your Gates and Sing!

Palm Sunday worship is a glorious experience. As is often the case, I had trouble this morning getting through the opening hymn, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” without tears. It was doubly difficult this year because my pre-service playlist included “The Holy City,” which captures a glimpse of our glorious King and all that awaits the people of God. I can’t stop thinking about the message of this song, which started the waterworks, so here it is (in several different versions) for your encouragement.

(And, while I’m not a Mormon, I sympathize wholeheartedly with the soloist in the second version below trying to make it through this powerful piece without completely losing it.)

The Holy City

Stephen Adams, Frederick E. Weatherly

Last night I lay asleeping
There came a dream so fair
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there
I heard the children singing
And ever as they sang
I thought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang
I thought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Lift up you gates and sing
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna to your King!”

And then I thought my dream was changed
The streets no longer rang
Hushed were the glad hosannas
The little children sang
The sun grew dark with mystery
The morn was cold and chill
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Hark! How the angels sing
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna to your King!”

And once again the scene was changed
New earth there seemed to be
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea
The light of God was on its streets
The gates were open wide
And all who would might enter
And no one was denied
No need of moon or stars by night
Or sun to shine by day
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Sing for the night is o’er
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna for evermore”

The Gospel Unchained, Part 12: Hope in the Midst of Hardship (2 Timothy 4:9-22)

What would you like your final words to be? When it comes time for you to leave this life and enter the next, what would you wish to say to those who remain behind? The Apostle Paul’s last words to the church can be found in 2 Timothy 4:9-22. 

In this passage he chronicles the kinds of earthly hardships he endured throughout his ministry (i.e., the pain of seclusion, desertion, deprivation, opposition, and isolation). But he also sets forth the kind of support he received—and believers can expect—from God, even as they follow in his footsteps. To paraphrase, Paul reminds the church, “God will supply you, God will strengthen you, and God will save you.” 

In short, Paul instructs the church to overcome earthly hardship with heavenly hope. He reminds his readers that the earth cannot take them when God is keeping them, and the earth cannot keep them when God is taking them. He is sovereign over the lives of his people and the unfolding history of the world.

Paul then bids farewell with a blessing: “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22). After this, we hear nothing else he says. After this, we read nothing else he writes. After this, we learn nothing else he thinks. His martyrdom is imminent, so these are the final words of Paul to the church. What does he want believers to remember as he signs off? What does he want ringing in their ears until Jesus comes back? 

Paul wants the church to remember the presence of God (“The Lord be with your spirit”) and the powerof God (“Grace be with you”). Grace, of course, is the unmerited favor of God that can captivate a terrorist like Paul. It’s also the unlimited power of God that can convert a terrorist like Paul and use him to change the world in Jesus’s name. What could the grace of God do through you?

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 11: Fight to the Finish (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest conflict of the Civil War. Nearly 7,800 people were killed, 27,000 were wounded, and 11,000 were captured or went missing. The North defeated the South in that 3-day battle. Had they not done so, it’s likely that today the United States would not be united. In fact, most historians regard Gettysburg as the turning point of the war. 

One of the heroes to come out of that battle was Joshua Chamberlain, a professor of theology and rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine. On July 2, 1863, the second day of battle Col. Chamberlain defended the left flank of the Union on a hill called Little Round Top. Had he failed to hold that position, the Union line would have collapsed, the battle would have been lost, and the Confederates would have marched on Washington and overtaken the White House. 

But Chamberlain and his men from the 20th Maine held firm. With great courage and tenacity, they repelled wave after wave of attack late into the afternoon. Even after his men ran out of ammunition, Chamberlain refused to retreat. Instead, he ordered that famous bayonet charge down the hill, which put the Confederates to flight and ended their plans to penetrate the Union line.

What’s not so famous, however, is a crisis that Chamberlain faced just two days before the Little Round Top incident. Chamberlain inherited 120 insurgents from the 2nd Maine. That regiment had folded because there were so many casualties in it. Naturally, the survivors assumed that when their unit ended, their term of service had ended, too. But not so, according to the military brass. They had to be re-assigned. Understandably, the men of the 2nd Maine were furious, so they dropped their muskets, and they refused to fight. 

They had seen enough war. They had seen enough death. And some of them were wounded themselves. They were emotionally drained; and they just wanted to go home. But they were rounded up like cattle and marched at gunpoint over to the 20th Maine. Now, put yourself in Col. Chamberlain’s boots for a moment. You’re preparing for your next campaign just north of where you are now, when suddenly, 120 grumpy, burned-out insurrectionists are dropped into your lap. What are you going to do with them? How are you going to get them on board? 

How do you motivate a group of wounded and weary soldiers to keep fighting the good fight? Chamberlain gets them on board with a speech—a stirring exhortation that is almost as powerful as the Gettysburg Address itself. After promising not to shoot the insurgents—which he had every right to do—Chamberlain talks to them with respect. In short, He reminded them that their purpose far outweighed their pain, and their prize far outweighed their price.

When it comes to Christian service, that’s a message believers need to be reminded of on a regular basis because ministry can be hard. Kingdom work is exhausting. Volunteer ministry can sometimes be discouraging, dispiriting, or disillusioning. Certainly, there are moments of great joy and celebration, but Christian service has a way of wringing us out like a wet dish rag. Paul’s burden in 2 Timothy is to light a fire under his young protégé to fight like a good soldier and keep fighting, even when the battle gets fierce. To that end, Paul tells Timothy—and he tells believers today—to press on in view of both the pain and the payoff. In short, he says fight to the finish, and receive your crown from Christ.

Paul, the old war horse, now in chains, sitting in the shadow of execution, just weeks away from martyrdom—what’s he concerned about? What’s foremost on his mind? The continued sharing of the gospel after he’s gone. It’s no time to go AWOL on the gospel, says Paul. He tells God’s people to fight well as a service to Christ (4:1-5), and finish well as a sacrifice to Christ (4:6-8). Just as he did.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 10: Navigate the Last Days (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Here’s a black and white photo that doesn’t look like much, but it tells an amazing story:

It’s an SAR—a Synthetic Aperture Radar— image of Hurricane Ike as it approached the coast of Texas in September 2008. Ike was the seventh costliest Atlantic storm in history, leaving about $38 billion worth of damage in its wake.

If we look at the picture carefully, we can see within the well-defined eye, near the right side toward the bottom, a tiny white dot. That dot is the 584-foot Cyprus bulk freighter Antalina, which got caught in the storm when its engines failed. 

There were 22 souls aboard the vessel when the storm hit. The wind was so severe, the Coast Guard had to call off its rescue attempt. The ship and the crew were forced to ride it out—inside the fury of the storm—hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be swamped or capsize. The satellite image shows the ship still safely afloat as the eye passes over them, giving them a brief respite until the southeastern wall pummeled them again.

Happily, the Antalina made it safely through the storm, and a tugboat pulled it safely to port after it was all over. All 22 crewmen survived, and the ship was undamaged. Quite significantly, the crew always knew where they were. Even though their engines had failed, they had a map and a compass to navigate the adventure. Better yet, the Coast Guard never lost sight of them. They were always on the radar, and officials always knew exactly where they were. It’s disorienting to be in a storm, but the tools of navigation have a way of keeping crew members tethered to reality—even when they’re getting pummeled by a hurricane. 

Can you imagine what kind of storms will visit us in the last days? Can you imagine how disorienting it will be when all hell breaks loose and unleashes its fury one last time prior to the return of Christ? We have hints and glimpses in Scripture of what those days will be like, but the intense depravity and deception will swirl around God’s people like never before. Jesus said it would be so bad, he put the question like this: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). In other words, the hurricane of depravity and deception will be severe. 

On another occasion, Jesus described these days like this: At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

But how do we stand firm to the end? How can we be saved in the storm? Paul tells us in this passage to navigate the last days by the map of God’s word, the compass of God’s workers, and the North Star of Jesus Christ. It’s not a specific battle plan, but a general one, and believers do well to implement it now. We can do so by emulating God’s faithful workers (vv. 10-14) and examining God’s faultless word (vv. 15-17).

Indeed, the launching point for believers is always the inspired, God-breathed Scriptures because: (1) they are the sacred writings; (2) they are the source of saving truth; and (3) they are the spoken word of God. Thankfully, God has not left his people without a map and compass to navigate the storms of life. As Vance Havner once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart is usually owned by somebody who isn’t.” Best of all, God never loses sight of his people. They’re always on his radar.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.