Wednesday, February 22, 2023

PUT for the Gospel (even in the most wicked of places)

As I type this, I’m still in Rome. It’s Thursday here… I come home on Sunday.

What a joy to walk streets and to stand in front of places where no doubt the Apostles Paul and Peter stood…to be where so many were martyred and spilled their blood for the faith. Their convictions ran deep and they BELIEVED the gospel enough to defend it with their lives. 

On Saturday, I will have the privilege of stepping inside the Coliseum: the place of gladiator games, exotic wild animal exhibitions, and execution of criminals (many of whom were Jesus-followers who refused to worship Roman Gods). The Coliseum at one time held between 50,000-80,000 attenders, averaging 65,000 who were hungry to watch blood shed for the purpose of entertainment. 

Hard to fathom, right? 

Even more, so sobering.

These “games,” unbelievably, lasted almost four centuries. 

I recall reading in Foxes Book of Martyrs about the day the games “ended”…just before the Coliseum was turned into a quarry. 

One man made the difference.

Did you catch that? ONE! MAN!

His name was Telemachus. 

His heart beat with a burden to speak out against the shedding of blood, the cruelty of the games, and the malevolent, barbaric, horrors of “creative” killing. 

The Lord had spoken to him.

The gospel was his mission.

To speak against the games as he defended the gospel became his entire purpose. 

So, he traveled to Rome from somewhere in Asia.

He happened to arrive on a day of celebration that followed some big military victory for the Roman army.

Telemachus approached the Coliseum and jumped over the wall, as two gladiators were in combat.

Stepping between them, he looked up at the crowds and began shouting his message, as they momentarily quieted at hearing his voice.

“In the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords, and the King of Kings, I command these games be stopped. Do not requite God’s mercy by shedding innocent blood.”

 Disgruntled the onlookers began to throw down rotten fruit, daggers, stones, anything that could act as a “missile,” and the crowd screamed out with a cacophony of sound that accompanied those projectiles. 

Hoping to gain the crowd’s applause and favor, one of the two gladiators raised his battle axe and sunk it deep into the skull of Telemachus.

As his body fell lifeless to the ground, a shift took place among the crowd and silence profoundly fell over the arena. 

In that moment, as if the message born on the breeze tendered each individual heart, the crowd appeared to recognize a new truth:


Slowly, person by person, the crowd left the Coliseum and never returned. 

The games found their demise.

The appetites of the people began to change.

Bloodlust ceased.  

An interesting story, isn’t it?

Where's our Coliseum? 

What message would the Lord ask us to share? 

I can, but think of one thing.

It’s the same message, the same mission of Telemachus…it’s the gospel.

We, Jesus-Followers, are being asked to carry the gospel within our cities, our states, our countries, and throughout all the world.

Not embarrassed by it.

Not silent to it.

Not turning our heads.

Not loudly. Lovingly.

There is a gospel-illiteracy; yes, even in America, and we are all partly to blame.

There is an understanding among many with a canyon as wide as the Grand one in Arizona where the message is concerned.

It’s time to find our voices…

The Apostle Paul had found his years before this, but his challenge is forever true and for us today. 

…For I am put here for the defense of the gospel (Phil 1:16) - Paul, in prison.

Wherever you are…you have been “put” (ordained and appointed) for the gospel!


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Joy in Suffering: Slavery

This past weekend, Bay and I had the privilege of stepping back into time. 

Well, it felt very much like we had done so. 

Months ago, we agreed to speak at a youth retreat for students from a variety of churches here in our hometown (and many who are totally "unchurched"). These are students who gather together for worship, study, and, of course, lots of fun.

For years, "youth-were-us" when it came to ministry. 

How we loved the students who walked through our doors! 

Our lives intersected at almost every juncture with how we could best present, and even re-present, Jesus to the best of our abilities.

As I've said before, we didn't do it perfectly, but we were wholeheartedly "for them" and for their spiritual well-being.

So, the opportunity this past weekend to come alongside some incredible teens, some pretty awesome leaders, and do what we used to do, felt fairly time-travel-ish. 

The only difference: names and faces had changed. Everything else remained the same. 

(Well, there IS one other difference. We are MUCH OLDER.)

We centered our talks around the theme of "Finding Joy."


Since I'd just begun studying Philippians (a book of joy), the whole theme fit my current trend of focus.

You can't get far into Philippians before you realize that for Paul, his joy equaled Jesus.

Knowing Jesus.

Reflecting on Jesus.

Living for Jesus.

Following Jesus. 

Dying for Jesus.

In fact, in Paul's greeting (1:1) lies one of his secrets to finding joy (synonymous with the word "contentment" in Philippians 4), even among the current trials of his life (imprisonment).

"Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus."

Paul considered himself a servant of Jesus (not just a simple servant); he saw himself a slave!

His key 🗝🗝 to joy is all wrapped up in the Greek the word "douloi (plural)." 

Here's the definition in Strongs Lexicon:  

A slave, a bondman, man of servile condition (metaphorically, one who gives himself up to another's will). Used of those whose service is devoted to Christ for the purpose of extending and advancing His cause among men. An individual devoted to another at the disregard of one's own interests.

Gordon Fee, well known theologian, who wrote the New International Commentary on Philippians says this:

While “servant,” found in most English translations, is an acceptable rendering, it also causes the English reader to lose something of its force. 

For the (basically Gentile) readers of this letter, this word would have only meant “slave.” 

Indeed, douloi were so common in Greco-Roman society that no one would have thought it to refer other than to those owned by, and subservient to, the master of a household. 

To be sure, the institution of slavery in antiquity was a far cry from racial slavery, as we know it... Even so, the slave in the Roman Empire was not a free person, but “belonged to” another. 

Thus, whatever else, the word carries connotations of humility and servitude.

A bond-slave chose servitude out of love, trust, relationship, identification with, and security. 

Paul knew this...fully assumed it, as he spoke that word into his letter.

He wanted those who read it to always remember where joy begins: 

...with a surrender to the ONE perfectly loving, kind, grace-filled, compassionate, long-suffering Lord, who proved the depths of His love at the cross. 

Jesus can be trusted, and, we can follow such a master, knowing His heart is absolutely, completely, at all times for us.

It takes all the weight of wondering "why" in our hardships and heartaches when we have a Lord who loves us like this!!!

Because He would allow nothing to touch our lives that wasn't first for our good and His glory in some very significant way!

That said, on Saturday night, Bay shared this message, and the Spirit of the Lord began to move.

As he brought the night to a close, students began to bend their knees in agreement - THIS JESUS IS WORTH SURRENDERING MY LIFE TO COMPLETELY...and as they did, we saw them enter into the JOY of their salvation. 

The only way to start a journey of joy amidst the struggles that life can bring? 

There is no question: begins with a mind-set on serving Jesus with everything in us, because we know what kind of Lord to whom we are offering our lives. 

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Let Suffering Speak!

 I recently began a personal, inductive study through the book of Philippians. 

Chosen because it is one of the Apostle Paul's happiest letters (and, one of my favorites), Paul is writing to the church at Philippi from a less-than-desirable spot. 

Paul's in Rome (by the way...I leave for Rome next Wednesday, and, on Thursday morning I'll have just planted my feet on Italian soil. I'm excited to have an opportunity to encourage global women serving in Europe; and, I always appreciate prayers that I might be God's chosen vessel 🙏 for such a time as this).

Anyway...Paul's in prison! 

Not the depths-of-despair-Mamertime-horror-prison, but he's on house arrest and chained to a palace guard 24-7. 

Paul's circumstances are less than desirable.

He's totally dependent on others for all his provisions and personal needs (in fact, because many turned their backs on prisoners of the state, most in Paul's shoes starved to death and Rome didn't care). 

That's partly why Paul's writing to the young church (14-years-old, at best). He's thanking them for a financial gift they sent to him through their beloved Epaphroditus. 

Paul's encouraged by the Philippians' ongoing friendship, while at the same time concerned for their "progress and joy in faith.." (1:25)

He longs to be with his friends to encourage them through the suffering they are enduring from outside the church, and the unrest and divisiveness they are experiencing from inside the church.

So, he writes.

He writes about the joy that is possible in the midst of heartache and hardship; and, he can do that because he's "learned the secret of contentment" (4:11-13) 

Oh! My! Goodness! 

How we all need a Paul; someone who has been there, done that, and they "get it." 

I don't know about you, but I'm constantly looking for someone whose road map I can borrow...

There have been so many times I've needed a Paul to come alongside me, someone to nudge me and remind me, "even in this you can rejoice, and rejoice again (4:4)!" and then, the Lord allows me to be a Paul, to use the things I've walked through, to remind others of the same; but, we can't be a Paul until we've learned his secret, and that's why I'm diving into Philippians.

I'm going to invite you to join me on a bit of my exploration of an old letter to a now by-gone church in Northern Greece, simply because we need more folks to be the hands, feet, heart, and mouth of Jesus and mimic Him, just as Paul did (1 Corinthians 11:1). 

Today's church is struggling much like the Philippian church - from outside and from within. It is undeniably so; and, there's potential for even more difficulty to come. The voices against the evangelical church are loud and getting louder. It wouldn't take much for persecution to be reality.

The church needs counter-voices that flow out of Kingdom-centered-hearts to help pass on Paul's secret of joy in the midst of affliction and trials.

(By the way, it's really no secret, since Paul unravels the mystery of contentment for us throughout Philippians. Wait for it...come back and learn it with me...)

Our voices don't have to be loud...they just need to be kind, gentle, and filled with compassion. They also need to be willing and unashamed!

Gotta tell ya, as I began Philippians, the Lord spoke to me, firm but sweet: 


"Never fail to share the stories of the hope that is within you. Be a Paul."


I don't think those words are just for me, but for you, as well.

The Lord's gentle whisper came with a few things to I need to keep in mind and prayerfully consider before I speak. So, I "examine myself" - always and first:

 1. Have I earned the right to speak into a life? Is there credibility? Paul's ongoing, reciprocal relationship with the church at Philippi gave him the nod. Together they built a "partnership in the gospel" (1:5). 

2.  Have I checked my motives? Birthed out of "holding them in his heart with great affection (1:7)," Paul exhorted them out of a great longing for their deeper, more intimate faith (1:25). What is my reason for speaking up?

3.  Have I learned some of those secrets of joy, myself, and applied them to my own story? Sometimes I think Jesus-followers are afraid to speak up...maybe they think they have no story to tell; maybe they think they need seminary training; maybe there's an underlying fear they won't be taken seriously... 

I don't know the reasons, but if the Lord has walked with us at all in this life, we've got stories to tell of how He has brought us through: like how we've been in His Word and felt the great peace it's brought to our hearts; or, how we've sensed His dear presence, and encouragement, to put one foot in front of the other; and/or, how we've experienced Him bringing folks to cross our paths right when we've needed a hug or a Word of Truth. 

We don't need to possess great teaching skills, we simply speak our story. 

4. Have I prayed? To this question, I wanted to answer, "Duh!" 

Yet, I had to stop and ask myself, "No, REALLY, have I prayed?" 

I will never earn the right to speak, have the correct motives, or be able to bring a word-of-life into someone's heart if I have not stopped to give thanks, to pray blessings over, and specifically make requests of the Lord on behalf of my friends (period and exclamation marks).!!!!!!

I am convicted, and take note of some tweaking that must occur within my soul; yet, I am challenged:


Let Suffering Speak!


Thursday, February 2, 2023

Chocolate Soldiers? or Rare Pearls?

In 2022, the Lord gave me, not a "word" on which to focus, but, rather, a prefix:


"RE" written in front of a word simply means to do something again with the intention of seeing something you haven't seen before, achieving more, or, perhaps, doing a thing better, perfecting. 

I liked this take on it: for the purpose of maturing. 

I use this as an introduction, because as a part of my "RE"-flection, I "RE"-read a number of books I'd enjoyed in the past that had soul-challenging inspiration on my life. 

This small pile of Kindle downloads included books about women in ministry, primarily women who'd served on the mission field, now gone on to Glory and to be in the presence of their Lord.

Isobel Kuhn.

Amy Carmichael.

Helen Roseveare.

Darlene Diebler Rose.

These, but a few of the women whose written words began stirring up a longing to travel deeper into intimacy with my Savior.

Each one a heroine - not as the world might gauge heroism, but definitely in the sight of their Lord.

It became quite obvious, reading their stories, they shared many commonalities, not one of which were the trials they faced in life. 


Immense loss.

War wounds.




Sufferings unimaginable.

Yet all lived to share their stories of great hope, internal victory, and sweet fellowship with their Savior. 

This I know is true:

One never knows what is in the heart until placed in the crucible of suffering.

CT Studd began a message that he preached sometime in the late 1800's that speaks volumes. Here is his first line:

"Heroism is the lost chord; the missing note of present-day Christianity. Every true soldier is a hero; a soldier without heroism is a chocolate soldier."

The Lord calls us all to be soldiers...

Military language is used throughout the New Testament writings, particularly Paul's letters.

Paul even challenges us in times of difficulty and distress:

"share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus; remembering that no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him (2 Timothy 2:3-4)."

Here is what the Spirit of the Lord through His apostle, Paul, asks of fellow followers:

1. Endure hardship - being a Jesus-follower is not a cushy work; by joining forces with our Savior, we automatically enlist in a battle.

2. Avoid worldly entanglements - as one enlisted in the Lord's army, our focus is heavenward; our eyes on our general; our feet, though planted on this earth, ever marching in the place to which our commander calls us. How subtle the wiles of the enemy to attach our hearts to the things of this earth. Those things that distract, feed the flesh, bring pleasure to our hearts, and entice with comfortable living (believe me, I'm guilty of all!).

3. Remember our purpose: to bring pleasure and glory to the one who created us. Remaining steadfast as we recall the suffering of our Lord, who went before and gave His all for us, is but one way we honor Him. Another: magnify our Jesus through the holding forth of God's pure, unadulterated Word!

4. Trust that what we journey through is producing a far greater character within us...that in the end, we will not "dissolve in water and melt at the smell of fire (CT Studd)." Instead, we become rare pearls (Remember how pearls are formed? From irritating, annoying, afflicting grains of sand!)...

The choice is ours - 

Chocolate soldier?


Rare pearl?

I've shared this poem before from dear Amy Carmichael... Yet, again, it is the prayer of my heart, one I've memorized and pray at night as I drift off to sleep:

From prayer that asks that I might be

Sheltered from winds that beat on me

From fearing when I should aspire

From faltering when I should climb higher

From silken self, O Captain, free

Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,

From easy choices, weakening

(Not thus are spirits fortified…

Not this way went the Crucified)

From all that dims Thy Calvary

O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way

The faith that nothing can dismay

The hope no disappointments tire

The passion that will burn like fire…

Let me not sink to be a clod,

Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God…