Paul’s Self-Portrait

The inspired apostle Paul wrote thirteen letters that are preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament.  In them, he gives various details about his life.  These are like pieces of Paul’s autobiography.   In writing to the young preacher Timothy, Paul took the time to explain just why he was so thankful to Jesus Christ.  In doing this, Paul (with words) painted his self-portrait.

He first was thankful to Christ for counting him as trustworthy and making him a preacher (Timothy 1:12).  Since Paul is writing to his “son in the faith,” it is obvious that he is trying to impress on Timothy the great blessing of being a preacher.  How beautiful are the feet of those that preach the gospel of peace (Romans 10:15)!  Paul’s thankful that he’s been given the opportunity to teach others.  He painted himself as a man who knew the blessing of proclaiming God’s word.

After expressing his thankfulness, he explains some of the reasons why he is so thankful.  Previously, Paul was a blasphemer, one who spoke against Christ and, by extension, God.  He was also a persecutor of both Christ and the church (Acts 9:1-5).  In addition to those, he was also injurious to Christ and the church, causing them untold harm and speaking evil of them.  But even after having done all of these things, Paul received mercy from the Lord.  He says that the grace of the Lord was “exceedingly abundant.”  This shows that not only is the grace of our Lord plentiful, but that it is far more than we could ever conceive.  The mercy shown to him made him extremely grateful to the Lord.  He painted himself as a man unworthy of being a preacher, but also painted himself as a man blessed by God’s forgiveness and mercy.

Paul then explains the reason he received that mercy and grace: Christ came into the world was to save sinners.  Paul declared himself to be the chief (or greatest) sinner (I Timothy 1:15).  Paul here paints himself as a humble man, knowing the terribleness of the deeds he had committed.  He expresses that this grace was extended to him to show others the exceedingly abundant mercy of God and Christ (I Timothy 1:14).  It was to show the longsuffering of Christ (I Timothy 1:16).  It was done to be a pattern or example for all future believers: If Christ could forgive Paul–the chief of sinners–and show mercy on him, they could receive mercy as well.  Timothy was reminded of this so that he could then proclaim this truth to others.  Paul painted himself as a man blessed by the mercy of God.

Paul’s self-portrait becomes clear in this passage.  He paints himself as a thankful man, blessed to preach the gospel.  He also paints himself as one who knows he was unworthy because of his sins.  This shows the humility with which he described himself.  He then brightens the picture, painting himself as a recipient of  God’s monumental grace.  Paul’s self-portrait shows an extremely thankful man who knows the importance of the mercy and grace shown to him by God.

That is the apostle Paul.  On multiple occasions, however, he told people to follow the example he left (I Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17).  Are you following the example of Paul?  You have been given the opportunity to teach others.  Are you thankful for those opportunities?  The more important question is “Are you taking advantage of those opportunities, or wasting them?”  You have been shown mercy by the Lord.  Are you continually thankful for it as you should be?  Thank God for His mercy and His gospel!  Thank God for allowing us to teach others!

–Bradley Cobb

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Restoration Moments

Beginning next week, we will be starting a series called Restoration Moments.  These are stories taken from the lives of men who lived for Christ, and struggled to bring about the restoration of New Testament Christianity.

However, these stories aren’t about the work of people leaving denominationalism behind to just be Christians.  These aren’t about doctrinal struggles.  These true stories are about people who lived for Christ, and how that affected their thoughts and actions.

For example: next week’s Restoration Moment is about a drunken wretch, a compassionate preacher, and what happened when the congregation made it clear they didn’t want him as part of the church.

A later Restoration Moment tells about the moment that a prominent preacher let go of any feelings of racism.

These Restoration Moments are meant to be informative, encouraging, and helpful to you.  They also happen to make really great illustrations.

We are confident that you will enjoy them.

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Spreading the Good News About Gas

One person I know used to call the local radio stations every morning and let them know which gas stations had the cheapest gas that day.  He wasn’t paid to do it, nor was he ever asked to do it.  Instead, he viewed it as a public service to let others know where they could save five or ten cents per gallon on their gas.  If you add that up, in a normal SUV, that’s perhaps $2.50 you can save!

The man did this every day.  Why?  Because he wanted to help others.

Sure, $2.50 isn’t much, but people sure do feel like ten cents per gallon is a big deal.  In fact, they’ll drive a mile or two out of their way to get their gas cheaper…never bothering to consider that they wasted a gallon of gas doing it—and thus wasted more money than they saved.

Because he thought they would be interested.  Saving money seems to interest most people, even if it is a little amount.  I know of one person (I won’t mention his name) who uses a calculator at the grocery store to figure out how much things cost per ounce.  And if it happens to save him a penny, he’ll buy the big container instead of four of the little ones—even if he’s not going to use all of it for months.

Because he hoped it would be important to them.  For some people who are on a very tight budget or a fixed income, every little bit helps.  And hearing about the best price in town is very useful.

Now, answer honestly: have you ever told a total stranger where they could find something cheaper?  I was in a grocery store once, and heard someone complaining about the price of Ritz crackers.  I then heard someone else say, “they have them for half the price over at _________.”

People spread this kind of news all the time, and many times it is to total strangers.

About this point, you’re either wondering where I’m going, or you’ve already figured it out.

Why is it that people (including Christians) are so eager and unafraid to spread the good news about cheap gas, but are so timid and scared when it comes to spreading the REALLY good news about the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Do you want to help others?

Of course you do!  But what is more helpful, telling people how to save $2.50, or telling them how to save their eternal soul?

Do you find Jesus and the Bible and salvation interesting?

There’s a lot of other people out there who do as well.  What do you think is more interesting to most people?  $2.50 or freedom from the guilt and consequences of their past sins?

Do you think salvation is important?

If you don’t try to talk to others about it, then the answer is “no.”  Most people have no problem telling total strangers about good deals, all because they think saving money is important.  Do you think saving souls is important?

If you want to be helpful—truly helpful—to other people, tell them about Jesus.  And if you want to tell them how to save $2.50 while you’re at it, then they will have two things to thank you for: helping their pocketbook, but also helping their soul.

–Bradley Cobb

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The Story of Victor Cross–International Missionary (Part 5)

Don’t forget to read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 first!

The preacher laughed in teenage Victor Cross’s face when he said he wanted to be a preacher.  It was over 25 years later before Victor finally overcame his sadness and bitterness towards the church.  But when he came back to Jesus, Victor started working and never looked back.

We saw in yesterday’s post how Victor used the power of a simple question: “Do you read your Bible every day?” to open doorways of opportunity.  We saw the power of using tracts to spread the gospel throughout the world.  In this, the final installment of The Life of Victor Cross, we look at the power of the postal service in evangelism.

There are millions of people around the world who would love to receive letters from the United States.  Victor Cross learned this as a result of his tract-spreading activities.  He was contacted by someone in Nigeria who had received a tract he left on board a ship, and that led to over 100 correspondence courses completed within a year, with many of them obeying the gospel.

Once, a ship was actually beginning to pull away from the harbor when Victor quickly rushed up the gangplank to ask if anyone read their Bible every day.  A British man on board said “Sir, I read my Bible every day.”  So, Victor handed him a tract—“The Old Paths” by Batsell Barrett Baxter.  The man said, “If this is of any value, I’d like to hear from you further.”  So Victor quickly wrote his name and address on the back before running back to the dock, just barely making it.  Another fifteen seconds, and he would have had to swim back to the dock.

It was nine days later that Victor received a letter in the mail, stating: “your ‘book’ impresses me very much.  I can’t bear to part with it, but I’d like my wife to have one.”  He gave her address to Victor, and that same day, copies of the tract, and four Bible courses were mailed to the British West Indies.  Within a few short years, 16% of the entire island had completed the correspondence courses!

Victor Cross has since gone on to his reward.  But his life should be an encouragement to each of us to do what we can to spread the gospel.  We don’t have to be pulpit preachers.  We don’t have to be eloquent.  What we have to do is make the opportunities, and use what God has given us.

So, next time you go to church, pick up some tracts and hand them out.  Ask people “Do you read your Bible every day?”  Help get people interested in taking a Bible study course through the mail.  You can even help to spread the word about Bible study courses through email, Facebook, text message, and many other forms of communication.

You, too, can be an international missionary without leaving your hometown!

(Note: Victor Cross and his evangelistic efforts were discussed in Firm Foundation, March 12, 1968.  Much of the information in this series came from that article).

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The Story of Victor Cross–International Missionary (Part 4)

To get caught up, read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Victor Cross wants to do more for Jesus.  There are so many lost souls out there that need the gospel, but how can I do it? Once again, Providence intervenes.

Victor took a job operating a crane, unloading cargo from ships that came into the bay near Houston, TX.  This job put him in contact with seamen from all over the world.  His first day on the job, he met some Germans who were bringing in a shipment, and he asked them about studying the Bible.  They were very enthusiastic about it, but not being fluent in English, a study would be difficult.

That very night, Victor wrote to Otis Gatewood, a preacher in Germany, asking for Bible material in German.  Within a few weeks, Victor started receiving tracts and Bible study materials in German, Finnish, Spanish, Swedish, and many other languages.  Victor went to work.

He invited some of the sailors to his house for fried chicken (these foreign seamens had never had fried chicken before), showed them the filmstrips, and then gave them some tracts in their own language.  He soon had Bibles, tracts and materials in 17 different languages.

Victor met with thousands of foreign seamen each year, giving them tracts, Bibles, and encouraging them to read them.  But sometimes the people aren’t so friendly.  One day, he went aboard a Greek ship, and every single person refused to talk with him.  So, he simply left three tracts on the ship and left.

It was over a year later that the same ship came into port, and Victor again went on to see if he could talk with anyone.  He entered the mess room where he saw a man reading something.  It was a tract!  It was one of the tracts that Victor had left over a year earlier!  As Victor said “hi” and sat down, the man spoke to him.

“The Americans are the most wasteful people on earth.  Over a year ago, when we were here, some American threw this little book away.  And it’s the greatest message I have ever read!  Three weeks after we departed from Houston last year, we docked in Japan where I got a Bible, and I checked all the references given.  And everything in it is true!”  The man continued, “I will be discharged soon.  And when I get home, I’m going to tell the patriarch in our church that he has been teaching us a falsehood all these years!”

Victor never told the man that it was he who left the tract.

The captain of another Greek ship was asked by Victor, “Do you read the Bible every day?”  The Captain said he had no Bible, so Victor gave him one, along with a tract.  Later that week, the captain invited Victor to dine with him on the ship.  He told Mr. Cross, “This book is the greatest thing I have ever read!  Why didn’t you come along 25 years ago?”

Curious, Victor asked why.  The answer was astonishing.

“My father was a Greek Orthodox priest, and said that it shouldn’t be a Catholic Church or a Greek Church, but Christ’s church.  My father said the Lord’s Supper should be observed every Sunday, and that it should be accompanied with prayers, and songs, and study of the Bible.  But he could never find anyone who would agree with him.  Now he’s gone.”  Then the Captain concluded with these words: “I’m going home to establish the church that belongs to Christ, and maybe someday we’ll send missionaries back to evangelize the United States.”

To be concluded tomorrow…

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The Story of Victor Cross–International Missionary (Part 3)

If you missed it, here’s part 1 and part 2

Victor Cross is discouraged.  He wants to preach.  He wants to help bring others to Jesus.  But each time he tries, he runs into the same question: “What denomination are you with?”

It was late afternoon as Victor started to leave the doctor’s office.  He stopped before leaving, and asked the secretary if she’d be interested in studying the Bible.  And, as always, the question came, “with what denomination, Mr. Cross?”

After pausing for a moment in silent prayer, asking God, “How do I answer?” Victor turned and said, “Look at me.”

Confused, the secretary replied, “What do you mean?”

Victor turned again and said, “Look at me!  Do I look like a denomination?”

“You surely don’t.”

Victor quickly responded with a smile, “Then will you study the Bible, with me?”

She did, and later was baptized.

Victor has done the same thing with multiple thousands of people, and the success rate is amazing.  Others have followed his approach and found that it works for them too.  Why?  Because even people who aren’t willing to go inside a church building to save their lives are open to talking to an individual about the Bible.

It’s interesting that when you look in the Bible, you won’t see a single person converted by a sermon preached during the worship.  They’re all converted outside of the “church building.”

And though Victor Cross brought several people to Christ this way, his biggest impact for Christ—one that was felt world-wide—hadn’t even begun.

To be continued tomorrow…

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The Story of Victor Cross–International Missionary (part 2)

See part 1 here

Victor Cross has left the church.  He has no intentions of ever going back.  He’s incredibly cynical and jaded because of the way he’d been treated by some preacher.  But let’s fast-forward a couple decades.

Victor has been without the grace of God for twenty years, despite his wife’s best efforts to encourage him to come back.  One day, as providence would have it, Victor met a couple men.  These men were kind, sincere, and godly.  They also happened to be elders in the church.  After learning Victor’s story, they said they understood why he would make that decision, from a human standpoint.  But they also encouraged Victor, and told him, “Don’t give up on Jesus just because someone else treated you that way.  Jesus didn’t do that to you.”

And Victor came back to the Lord.

His desire to work for Jesus came back fiercer than ever before.  And in his very first prayer after coming back to Christ, Victor uttered these words: “Lord, make me a fisher of men.”

Because Victor knew that he had to help be the answer to his own prayer, he began to study the Bible, and collected a modest library.  He wanted to preach, but knew that he would also need to work a “regular” job to pay the bills.  He bought a film projector and a set of filmstrips, and showed them to anyone who would watch.

But again discouragement struck.  He tried many times to get people to take a Bible correspondence course, but every time he did, the same question was asked, “what denomination?”  He learned quickly that regardless of how he said it, as soon as the words “church of Christ” left his lips, the door was shut, and people’s minds became closed.

To be continued tomorrow…

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The Story of Victor Cross–International Missionary (part 1)

Quick!  Who is Victor Cross?

Here, I’ll give you a hint: He’s a powerful evangelist whose influence has been felt around the entire globe.

Still don’t know who he is?  That’s just how he’d prefer it.  You see, Victor Cross doesn’t want to be a big name.  He wants Christ to be the focus.

But the way that Victor has gone about it—the way he has influenced people all over the world—is something incredible, because it is so simple.

And you can do it too.

Victor came from a family of Christians.  Both of his grandfathers were gospel preachers, and he wanted to follow in their footsteps.  When he was 18, he was baptized into Christ and in less than a week, he announced that he wanted to preach for Jesus.

But then discouragement hit—and it hit hard.  The local preacher laughed at him for wanting to preach.  Laughed in his face!  This same preacher (who was also the one who baptized Victor) later accused him of stealing the typewriter that Victor had loaned to the church.  Then Victor had to watch the drama unfold when it came to light that the preacher had actually sold Victor’s typewriter so he could buy himself a better one.

As a result of these constant discouragements, and seeing this poor example of a preacher, Victor left the church, and therefore left Jesus too.

As Providence would have it, Victor got married.  He started going to church with her, and when she decided to be baptized, he went forward to publicly repent for being unfaithful to the Lord.  But the preacher demanded that Victor itemize all the sins he’d committed while he was away from the Lord.  This didn’t sit well.  Victor left the church, and this time it was for good—so he thought.  He was bitter.  He was angry.  He was resentful to all things related to the church.

To be continued tomorrow…

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Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?

A year ago today, I wrote this article.  The message is still timely.  I pray that it is encouraging to you.

Who’s gonna fill their shoes?  Who’s gonna stand that tall?   Those words were made famous by George Jones, the legend of country music who died Friday morning.  The song was written mourning the passing of many classic country singers.  It was also written mourning the fact that the “new country” of the time was becoming more and more like pop music instead of country.

When the song was first released, there were people who were up and coming in country music who still held to their musical roots.  There were people like Alan Jackson, George Strait, Randy Travis, and others who kept more traditional county music alive.  If the question were asked today, however, the answer might well be “none.”  Real “country” music has just about disappeared from the airwaves, and all that is left is pop/rock music with an occasional fiddle or steel guitar.

Those country singers who truly play country music have been ostracized and rejected.  Even though the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou” sold over a million copies, it was deemed “too country” for country radio.  Two of the most popular country artists of the 90′s (Alan Jackson and George Strait) accused the record companies of killing country music in their song “Murder on Music Row.”  Brad Paisley gathered together some legends of country music and recorded a song in protest called “Too Country.”

But George Strait and Alan Jackson are rarely heard on the radio anymore and Brad Paisley has defected to the synthesized pop side.  And again, the question lingers, Who’s gonna fill their shoes?

What does this have to do with the Bible and Christianity?

As more and more preachers, elders, and other faithful Christians pass on, we need to seriously consider the question of Who’s gonna fill their shoes?  Who is going to step up and continue to carry the banner of true Christianity?  It seems that a lot of Christians think that somehow the church will just keep on going strong without them—so they do nothing.

Jesus pointed out to a group of disciples that there is much work to be done, telling them “The harvest is truly great, but the laborers are few.  Because of this, pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).  Jesus was concerned about who was going to carry on when He was gone.

Today, there is a massive push to leave real Christianity behind and go with a man-made imitation.  The ones who stand for the truth are labeled with such epitaphs as “legalists,” “boring,” “outdated,” and even “dead.”

There are Christians who speak out, but their voice is being marginalized.  Even when “big name” preachers speak out for the truth, their words are given little attention.  And more preachers and Christians continue to defect to the imitation Christianity that is supposedly more “popular” with people.

So, the question again rises and smacks each of the faithful in the face: with more preachers, elders, and Christians passing on, Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?

Are you willing to stand up and say, as the great prophet Isaiah did, “Here am I, send me!”? (Isaiah 6:8.)

Who’s gonna fill their shoes?

I am.  And I pray that you will too.  You are needed.

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Bible Q&A – Disciples and Apostles

Here’s a brand-new question from the question box!  Let’s get straight to it!

What is the difference between a disciple and an apostle?—Anonymous

That’s a question that I’m sure lots of people have.  Thanks for asking it!

A disciple is someone who learns from someone else and studies under them.  They follow that person’s teachings.  When Jesus was on earth, He had lots of disciples.  People followed Him around everywhere, wanting to learn from Him.  Of course, some of the ones following Jesus were just in it for the free food.  Those weren’t really disciples.  Those were moochers.

However, there were several people who were dedicated to studying under Jesus’ teaching.  They wanted to know everything they could from this great Master Teacher.  These were the disciples of Jesus.

One evening, Jesus spent all night on a mountain praying.  The next morning, He met with His disciples.  From among those many disciples, Jesus chose twelve men to be His primary messengers (Luke 6:12-13).  These men were named Peter, Andrew, James (the son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Bartholemew, James (the son of Alphaeus), Simon, Thaddeaus, and Judas.  These are the men who Jesus called the apostles.

So, a disciple is a follower, or a learner of someone else (John the baptizer had disciples, too—John 3:25).  The apostles were a special selected group of Jesus’ disciples.  All of the apostles were disciples of Jesus.  But not all of the disciples of Jesus got to be apostles.

But what is an apostle?

The word apostle means “one who is sent out on a mission.”  Jesus was called an apostle because He was sent by God with a mission (Hebrews 3:1).  Paul and Barnabas were called apostles because they were sent by the church in Antioch (Acts 14:14, see also Acts 13:1-3).  The twelve men that Jesus selected to be apostles were men who He was sending out on a mission.  That mission was to spread the gospel to the whole world, starting in Jerusalem (Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:47).  All of Jesus’ apostles were given special abilities—miracles—so that they could prove that what they were saying was true (Mark 16:20, Acts 1:26-2:4).

An apostle of Jesus Christ was a special disciple, selected by Jesus and sent on a special mission.  Today, we can be disciples of Jesus Christ, learning from Him through His word, but no one today can be an apostle.

–Bradley Cobb

To submit your own question, contact us.

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