The call to live a courageous and strong Christian life is a challenge today. Our multitudeof choices and daily distractions grows out of our love of pleasure and new experiences. Our feet take us to the newest restaurant in town, put our children in specialized sports filling their summer days and our weekends throughout the school year until our calendars bulge. With most Americans working 50-80 hours a week in addition to all of the other activities in our lives, is it any wonder why we are also some of the most stressed and tired people in the world? The brutal fact is that being an active part of a Christian community (aka: a local church) is just one more choice among many for most of us. It is hard to choose between watching our kids or grandkids from travel team bleachers or worshiping the Triune God with our family and church community. Oftentimes these schedules conflict. Christian community matters. Jesus drew people to himself, his teaching about God and life and invited them to a radical new way of life. It was radical because it called people to die to their self-centered way of life and to rise with Christ to love God and love people and the world God loves. Those who followed Jesus formed a community which is the church. As followers of Jesus, we need the Holy Spirit and each other to grow in the Lord and for support and encouragement. Serving the Lord and our neighbors together, we can accomplish more than we ever could alone. Being an active part of the church matters as we worship God and work to impact our city for good and for God. As negative as dualistic thinking can be: either/or; right or wrong because it limits our choices and/or it can lead to bias and judgement, at some point we do need to respond. One of the powerful teachings of Jesus for his followers says: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house,” (Luke 6:46-49). Jesus calls his followers to act in accordance with his teachings. This is what we call discipleship. We live strong and courageous lives when we are mindful of our Christian identity. Jesus calls us to come to him in prayer, listen to his word and act as the Spirit guides us. When we live in this way, the foundation of our life is solidly built on the purposes of God. The ancient Christian devotional practice of reading of the Word of God begins with a prayer of openness to what God may reveal to us. Secondly, we read and listen to what the Scripture is saying. We pursue insight on how God is calling us to act in response to the Word. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 has been our theme verse since Easter 2016. It says: Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. The first study was based on “keep alert” called Eyes Wide Open. This eight week study introduced us to the Christian evangelist Paul, based on the first mission trip in the book of Acts, chapters 13- 14. The second study was based on “stand firm in your faith” called Run (the race of faith) Resolutely (with purpose). This six week study was focused on the second mission trip of Paul and his team in the book of Acts chapters 16-18:23. This study is the third book in the series and is based on the phrase from 1 Corinthians 16 which says:“be courageous, be strong” called Live Courageous and Strong. This study will engage the third and final mission trip of Paul and his team from Acts 18:22- 20:38. We will also read and reflect on Paul’s letter to the churches in the Roman region of Asia Minor called Galatia: Galatians. This letter demonstrates how the church was courageous and strong in faith as it faced the challenges of following Jesus in changing times. It is always important in reading the Bible to keep key biblical principles or lens through which we read Scripture and interpret life. The first three are core to us at Grace. The last three keys inform how we understand God’s work of change. Saturate your mind consistently thinking about them.
Keys to understand how God works:
- It all begins with God. God initiates a relationship with us and we respond. God persistently pursues and woos us because God is a God of love – a relational God.
- It’s all about relationships. Life is a collection of relationships. God created us for relationships – to love God and people…the Great Commandment (Luke 10:25ff).
- God works through people. A major way that God get stuff done on earth is through imperfect people like you and me. People come to discover and believe in God through the witness of others.
- Changed circumstances often lead to new discoveries. When your road of life comes to an intersection, you have to make a directional choice which can lead to something new. Transitional times in life like an illness, relational break-up or job loss can disrupt our patterns of comfort enough that we may be open to discover that life’s truest meaning is found in others: both in God and other people.
- No one is beyond God’s ability to reclaim and recycle for good and for God. All people have a root of good because God created everyone and everything God created is good. Jesus never gave up on anyone. He saw potential in everyone to find their true home in the God who created them. We are to be salt and light to others to bring out the best in them and point them to the love of Jesus.
- There’s no perfect time, just the right time. With Eyes Wide Open any time can be the right time to see God at work in others as well as our own situation.
Overview of this study
Each weekly study will begin with a Bible verse about strength. If you find it helpful you could use it as a screen saver on your computer, memorize it or write it our and put it in your Bible, on your visor or on your bathroom mirror to serve as a reminder of God’s strength. A Story of Courage is written to encourage our boldness in Christ. These stories are drawn from history both national and international as well as stories of people from Grace, past and present. The Ground Work section is a few brief thoughts on the Bible reading. The goal of this section is not to tell us what to think but to tease out our thinking as we deciper the meaning of this reading and its impact on our lives. Discussion Questions follow to guide your processing of the reading. Each weekly study concludes with a Final Thought about Love. May God enrich your faith and service. I am drawn to the word Courage and its rich meaning. In Old French Corage means heart or spirit. Courage possesses the quality of being fearless, brave, and marked by valor. It has the implication to face rather than withdraw from danger, pain or challenge. I particularily am fond of the Bible stories of women and men of great courage. By their faith in God, people like Ruth, Abraham and Sarah and the Apostle Paul demonstrate deep conviction whom God empowers to do great things. My own family story is marked by courageous and faithful ancestors. Think about your own family stories. Share them. Grace Lutheran Church is filled with stories of great courage and faithfulness as well. As much as God has done great things in and through Grace in the past, I believe God desires to accomplish great things in and through us right now. In fact, I see how God is at work among us as we respond courageously. Let us dare to believe and step out in faith as God leads us forward.
Week 1: July 17, 2016: Acts 19:1-7
A Bible Verse about Strength God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, Psalm 46:1
A Story of Courage Martin Luther was spurred on by his quest for salvation. As a young man, Luther viewed God as a righteous judge and himself as ensnared by sin. The thunderstorm of 1505 in which he vowed to become a monk opened the door for Luther to pursue salvation deeply. All of his attempts to restrain his sinfulness by religious rigor and frequent confession of sin drove Luther to deeper despair. His vicar, Johannes von Staupitz, at the Augustinian Black Monastery in Erfurt, Germany, encouraged Luther to study to earn a doctoral degree (1512), preach and take the chair of Bible at the newly formed University of Wittenberg. Luther began his teaching at Wittenberg lecturing on the Psalms in 1513, Romans in 1515 and Galatians in 1516. It was in his study on Romans 1:17, “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith,” that Luther experienced a new birth through faith in Christ. He later reflected on his experience: “I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood about the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed,’ that had stood in my way. For I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,’ which according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, ‘As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!’ Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me,” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, pp. 336-337). Luther encountered the power of justification by grace through faith in Christ in his evangelical discovery (some scholars date this discovery in mid-1518). Luther’s quest for peace with God resulted in a gradual development of his theology (faith in God) resulting from his lectures, sermons and other writings focused on the Scripture. His theology evolved as he studied the Scriptures and reacted to the sale of indulgences. In response to the reaction of the Church to his 95 Theses, posted on October 31, 1517, Luther wrote an Explanation of the Ninety-Five Theses in early 1518, and said: “The church needs a reformation which is not the work of one man, namely, the pope…but it is the work of the whole world, indeed it is the work of God alone,” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 31, p. 250).
Ground Work: Read Acts 19:1-7 When Paul begins his third mission journey it could appear that Paul traveled alone. This is in fact doubtful for several reasons. First of all, when the disciples went out to do the ministry Jesus had modeled for them, he sent them in teams of two (Mark 6:7-13). Later, Jesus sent seventy additional followers in pairs (Luke 10:1-12) to prepare villages for Jesus’ future ministry in these communities. Like the work of the twelve, the seventy were to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God. All this work was done two-by-two. Secondly, the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas on the first Christian mission (Acts 13-14). Paul chose Silas and later added Timothy (Acts 15:36-18:22) to serve with him during the second Christian mission. Priscilla and Aquila accompanied Paul on his trip to Jerusalem but he ended up leaving them in Ephesus (Acts 18:18). Every mission began and ended in the mother city of Jerusalem where the Christian faith was born. For Paul, there are at least four trips to Jerusalem. What Rome is to Catholics, Jerusalem was to the first century church. In summary, while other mission travelers are not named, it is doubtful that Paul would have revisited the churches of Asia Minor alone. What are the advantages of team ministry? Here are four keys: First of all, more eyes and ears in any situation means a wider vantage point and a clearer perspective. Three people working together on problem-solving or brain storming often are more effective than just two minds. Secondly, each person brings their own gifts to the work which means greater resources. Third of all, when it comes to giving witness to the Lord or opening a door in conversation for ministry, while one person speaks the other can be in prayer for guidance and wisdom for the speaker and an open heart and mind for people listening. Finally, it is flat out more fun on some days and can better be endured on other days with a group or team. When it comes to a local church and its witness to the Lord and its ministry in the neighborhood, it is always wisest and safest to go in teams of two. Whether it is by appointment with a neighbor or going door-to-door meeting or surveying the neighborhood, two people provides a back-up, accountability, a witness to what is said and done and gives encouragement and prayer support. Reaching out in Jesus’ name is important work initiated by Jesus who wants everyone to know his love and to follow in faith. We must be wise in these days and we all need encouragement to continue this great work!
- In Luke 10:2, Jesus said there is a great harvest in the world but few laborers. Why do you think the work of witnessing about Jesus to others is important?
- What is it about the work of giving witness to Jesus that results in so few participants or laborers?
- Share a story of a time when you gave a witness or wished you had the courage to do so. How did it go or what prevented you for taking that step to share your faith?
- What individuals or families that may be distant from God and his church are on your heart? In prayer, share those names with another person or your group.
A Final Thought about Love (Let all that you do be done in love, 1 Corinthians 16:14): (Jesus) said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ Matthew 22:37-39