It’s All God, From Start to Fuel to Finish!

What God starts, God fuels. What God fuels, God finishes.

Sounds a little bit like running a distance race, doesn’t it? You make your start. You make sure you’re fueled up during the race. And then you overcome all the obstacles and “walls” and make it through to the finish line.

But in the race of faith, the subject of all those sentences is God. God makes my start. God fuels me up. God overcomes the obstacles and walls and sees to it I make it through to the end. That’s important to know. Because what this means is that we don’t have to start this race, fuel it, or finish it.

That might sound pretty crazy at first, but think of it this way. God chose us and called us by the work of the Spirit to come to the starting line. He did this by having the gospel taught to us — typically through someone he sent. It might have been a parent, a friend, a family member, or just someone we know at work or in our neighborhood who invited us to church.

God then fuels our faith. Again, this is not our work, but the work of the Spirit. He does this through Bible teaching, and through sacraments like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This fueling of faith is typically done at a church. Paul told the Thessalonians, they had only to stand firm and hold fast. In other words, don’t push the Spirit away. Don’t stop listening to the word. And as it imperfect as it can certainly be at times, don’t despise the church.

And it’s God who finishes the work, too. By grace he encourages us to eternity. By his steadfast love he gives us good hope. And with his forgiveness and power, he strengthens us to experience life-change. Our deeds and words change over time and become more and more attuned to the deeds and words of Jesus. Stay in touch with word and sacrament, with Christian friends and leaders, with growing and serving, and God will finish his work in you.

In the book of Hebrews, God is called “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” And in the book of Philippians, we read that the apostle Paul is confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

That’s really what Paul is also saying in today’s reading. But here in his second letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us just a little more detail about how that works. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther described the process beautifully in his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church he forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you are the impetus, the fuel and the finishing power in my race of faith. Give me the strength to overcome every obstacle and wall in my race. By your forgiveness, your wisdom, your power, and most of all, your love, take me through to victory!

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 14, is Jeremiah 29:24 – 31:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 and Psalm 119:33-40.

Header image based on "Spartan Race 092411 472" by Edwin Martinez, CC By 2.0

God-Given Disabilities

Paul was one of the most well-educated and brilliant scholars of his day. He had a gift for leading and communicating. He was energetic and hard-working. He was a man with a huge heart and a passion for people.

And he loved God deeply.

So why would God allow him to be imprisoned in a Roman cell, locked up and left to rot? Why would the God he loved disable him that way? Why sideline him?

It’s a great question. And the answer is that our disabilities play an important role in God’s kingdom. Our weaknesses can allow others to step up and grow stronger. Sometimes our being on the sideline can allow someone else to step on to the playing field.

That’s what happened when the apostle Paul was put in prison. Others had to step forward. They had to be strong and confident. As Paul had been doing, they would now need to get past their fear and proclaim the gospel. They had to act daringly, by faith in Jesus.

So yes, God gives us both our abilities and our disabilities.

Because he doesn’t want any of us thinking we’re indispensable to the work of the kingdom, or that we can do it all on our own. Our disabilities persuade us to work together with those whose abilities match our disabilities.

And so the church functions together as one for the glory of God.

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear” (Philippians 1:14, NIV).

Lord, help me to be content with both my abilities and my disabilities. Lead me to see that my disabilities can be part of your plan to include others in the vital work of your kingdom. Lord, thank you that you have built the church in such a way that we all need each other to function.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 29, is Zephaniah 1:1 – 3:20, Philippians 1:1-26 and Proverbs 23:29 – 24:4.

Header image based on "There's an Injured Player Down on the Field" by Ron Cogswell, CC By 2.0

Solving World Poverty

What’s the work of the church?

It is firstly to solve the problem of spiritual poverty. This is why Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NIV).

We have the gospel. As we share the gospel, we share the kingdom of heaven with those around us. And that’s exactly what the apostle Paul and his team loved to do as they reached out to the Gentile people of their day. They were solving world spiritual poverty by giving people Jesus.

When Paul spoke with the pillars of the early church, though, they emphasized that one could not divorce solving spiritual poverty from working to solve physical poverty as well. So these godly men made only one request of Paul as he asked them for their blessing to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

“As you teach people about Jesus, and share the beautiful gospel message with them,” they said, “continue to remember the poor. Extend a helping hand not just to the spiritually poor, but to the physically poor as well.”

And Paul’s response was, “That’s the very thing I’m eager to do!”

There’s no question that the first work of the church is to help people know Jesus. We want to be Christ’s ambassadors to share Jesus as the world’s Lord and Savior.

But it’s also clear that God wants us to help people know the love of Jesus. This love of Jesus is the very thing that caused him not only to forgive sins and offer reconciliation and peace with God, but also to assist those who needed his help and healing.

For Jesus, the work of the kingdom was not an either/or choice between the spiritual and the physical. It was a both/and proposition. Clearly, this subsequently became the commitment of the early church as well.

And still today, the work of the church is a both/and proposition. It is solving world poverty — spiritual poverty first, while always remembering to work on the problem of physical poverty as well.

What an amazing privilege! What an awesome responsibility! What an outstanding opportunity!

“On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. “For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along”(Galatians 2:7-10, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for saving me from my spiritual poverty. Thank you for richly and daily providing for me. Give me the same heart for those who struggle with poverty — spiritual or physical — as you have for an entire world struggling with poverty.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 15, is Isaiah 36:1 – 37:38, Galatians 2:1-10 and Psalm 107:23-32.

Header image based on "Poverty: Damaged Child," Oklahoma City, OK, USA, 1936" by Kelly Short, CC By-SA 2.0