The Apostle Paul … and Me

If asked, could you describe the Apostle Paul?

I am betting the odds are pretty good you can, especially if you have spent much time reading the New Testament of the Bible or attending a Bible-preaching church.

What words would you use to capture his personality?

Bold. Outspoken. Unafraid. Unashamed. Demanding of self and others. Vibrant. Energetic. Intense. Strong. Charismatic. Verbose. Wise. Opinionated. Focused.

Those are just a few of the many words that immediately pop into my mind. No doubt … Paul was an incredible giant of the faith. His leadership did much to propel the message of Jesus Christ from the dusty streets of Jerusalem to the far corners of the ancient world. His influence continues to this day for he authored 13 books in the Bible, words which spell out how a follower of Christ should live life on everything from marriage and children to giving and church leadership.

But there is another aspect to Paul that intrigues me … his self-introductions.  You find them in every New Testament book he authored, right at the beginning, yet another testament to his bold personality.  The words of introduction found in each book are similar and yet different, telling who he is, on what authority he speaks, and occasionally what compels him to continue his mission for Christ.

For example, in his letter to Philemon, Paul referred to himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus.” In other letters, he used the word “slave.”

Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus … Philippians 1:1

Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus … Romans 1:1

Paul often identified himself as an apostle, which in the Greek refers to “one who is sent away with a message” … rather like an ambassador.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will … Colossians 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will for the promise of life in Christ Jesus …         2 Timothy 1:1

Paul, called as an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will … 1 Corinthians 1:1

I love Paul’s introductions found in his letter to the church of Galatia for he plainly states his authority to speak and write come only from Jesus Christ.  Basically, Paul says that he doesn’t care what men might think of him, for he is only concerned about following what God has called him to do.

Paul, an apostle — NOT from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead  … Galatians 1:1

I think my favorite of all of Paul’s introductions is the one is his letter to Titus.  It reads like this:

Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to BUILD UP THE FAITH of God’s elect and THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH that leads to godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began. In His own time He has revealed His message in the proclamation that I was entrusted with by the command of God our Savior.

Paul leaves no doubt about who he was, what mission he was given, and by whose authority he is qualified to write and speak.

Has there ever been a follower as effective in personal mission as the Apostle Paul?

I would certainly be hard-pressed to name one.  Perhaps part of his ability to be so effective was that Paul truly knew who he was in Christ. He realized the calling for his mission, his ability to perform at a high standard, and even the authority on which he stood all came from one source … God Almighty. He was “singled out” (Romans 1:1), “called” (1 Corinthians 1:1; Romans 1:1) and “an apostle by command” (1 Timothy 1:1). Paul recognized who he was, and he was able to define it in words for himself and the world.

As a Christ follower, I’m also part of a mission … The Great Commission. I even believe that God has given me a much more personal mission as wife, mother and writer. Lately, I’ve been pondering if I really understand my calling from God.  What if I’ve misheard God? Maybe I’m not really qualified to do His work?  I certainly don’t have a seminary degree or special letters behind my name announcing my qualifications.

This morning I found myself pouring over the New Testament, finding all of Paul’s letters, reading his words of introduction announcing who he is and why he writes.  The thought crossed my mind that perhaps Paul repeatedly gave his qualifications not just for the benefit of others, but also to remind himself of his own mission to serve God, the calling he received on the Damascus Road.

As a writer, I wondered what might happen if I wrote my own Paul-like introduction.  Could I even put into words what I hope I know God is asking me to do for His purposes and glory? Could I share it, not to brag or boast, but to define for myself why I am here and what exactly I am called to do?

In the end, I decided to accept my writing challenge. It did boost my self-esteem and confidence, reminded me of times when I heard God’s calling loud and clear in my life. I’d like to share my final version.

Paige, blessed to be the wife of Jon and mother of five by God’s will, and called by the Savior and Creator of the world to write and speak words of encouragement in order to increase the faith of women who long to find God on a daily basis, even if the mundane parts of life. No longer held a prisoner to sin and fears, but rather a servant, eager to work for the King of Kings.

Perhaps I’ll redefine later on, but for now just writing down these words has given me a clearer idea of what it is the God wants most for me to do with my life.

What would you write if you had to define your purpose and calling for God?

I’d love to read the thoughts and ideas of my readers so that I may have the privilege of praying for you to do well in your own missions for God.

When Mountains Don’t Move

He (Jesus) told them, “For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matt. 17:20)

But what if we pray, and the mountains don’t move.

          One of my children cannot swallow pills. We’ve tried every trick in the book, bought several cool gadgets and throat sprays, and have even spoken with a variety of doctors and pharmacists while seeking for a solution to this exasperating problem. Nothing works.  The pills will not go down. Perhaps it is only psychological, but it is creating big challenges for my young teen.

I cannot lose weight. No matter what I do, the number on the scale doesn’t budge. From diet programs like Weight Watchers to medically-supervised diets like Medifast to diligently watching carbs and sugar while incorporating 20+ minutes of exercise a day … I’ve tried it all and nothing works to take the weight off my body. Hormonal imbalances caused by a medical condition and genetics are both partly to blame.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’m sure that age must play a factor as well. (In this particular way, forty is definitely not the new thirty!)

This past week, my child and I have both felt overwhelmed by our problems. We are hopeless things will ever change, and so we react to our situations from that deep, dark place of defeat.  It’s as if we are standing at the foot of a looming mountain, trying to figure out a way to get to the other side. And from our vantage point, it feels like trying to scale up a vertical cliff without a harness, rope or anchor to help make the climb.

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Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

      Mountains are an expected part of this journey called life, and truthfully mountains aren’t necessarily a bad thing. When looked at from a distance, mountains create a lovely and picturesque landscape. Traveling a path that goes nearer a mountain still adds a certain scenic quality to the journey. And though climbing up a well-laid mountain path might be hard, everyone knows the journey is worth it. Standing at the very top, the weary traveler can look out with confidence, knowing the mountain challenge was conquered. Hard won victories give extra meaning to the traveling, and at some future date the traveler will have a tale to tell with those he meets along the journey.

But there are times when a mountain is right in the middle of the road you must take. There seems to be no path around it. There seems to be no path that leads over it.  All a traveler can do is work to forge a road that will get them to the other side.  It’s at times like this that believers begin to pray for the mountain to move.

My faith tells me that even with just the tiniest bit of faith, the mountains that block my path will move.  With all my heart I believe this is true. I’ve known mountains in my life that have miraculously moved out of the way with a single prayer. I can testify time and again how a little faith  in God, combined with prayer, have made the impossible happen.

But what about when the mountain doesn’t move? What does that mean? Is it because I lack faith?  Perhaps I’ve sinned?  My typical response is to fret and fume while trying to figure out why my prayers seem to just bounce off the ceiling.  As defeat sets in, anxiety and depression begin to control my thoughts and actions. A sense of hopelessness takes over and soon I no longer believe my mountain can be conquered.  Thankfully, God is teaching me a better way.

~I need to trust the heart of God more than the hand of God.~

     My faith is too often based on the evidence of God working in my life.  But what sort of faith is that? After all, the Apostle Paul reminded us to “walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)  A believing faith has to be more than a seeing faith.

~I need to remember that I am not ever alone.~

     When I pray and nothing happens, I begin to fear that God has abandoned me right there at the foot of the mountain.  Instead, I need to remember what Moses said to Joshua as he prepared to take the Israelites into the Promised Land,  “The Lord is the One who will go before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.”  (Deuteronomy 31:8)  Not only does God not leave me at the foot of the mountain alone, He promises to go before me!

~I need to believe God’s plans for my life are good.~

     God is showing me that in spite of the problematic mountains I encounter in my life, He still has great plans for me. My husband’s favorite scripture is Jeremiah 29:11, a testament to that fact.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   A mountain I can’t cross yet does not mean God is through with me.

~I need to remember the power and the purpose in praying without ceasing.~

     My mountains definitely keep me praying, and this is a good thing.  One of my biggest tendencies is to neglect talking with God on a regular basis whenever my life is humming along without problems. However, in 1 Thessalonians 5:7, the Apostle Paul reminds believers to “pray constantly.” I believe if nothing else my problems serve a great purpose just by keeping me on my knees, talking to God and laying my burdens down at His feet.

     And this brings me right back to the beginning:  Sometimes mountains don’t move out of my way, no matter how much I pray. But when the mountain doesn’t move, this simply means there is an opportunity for me to move closer to God.