Friday, April 14, 2017

Joanna Yu Easter 2017 Message

No Confidence in the Flesh
Philippians 3: 1-14                              
KV: 10-11 “ I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
Hi, I’m Joanna. I’m a senior at Lincoln Park High School. And I am also part of Chicago HBF. I just want to say congrats! You guys have made it to the last message. I thank God for the words he has spoken to you guys through Deborah, Olivia, Jessica, and Joanne’s messages. If we look back, we thought of the death and resurrection through Deborah, Olivia, and Jessica. Yesterday we saw the importance of the Gospel and grace in Joannes message. Today, we will focus on a passage also written by Paul except this time in Philippians, a passage that looks at one person, Paul, and how he lives his life according to what he gained through the gospel. Through this passage I pray that the Holy Spirit may come and speak into your hearts. I’m gonna say a quick prayer.

Part 1: No Confidence in the flesh (1-7)
            Paul’s letter in Philippians is a letter to the church in Philippi. He writes first as an encouragement to them due to the pressure and large influence against the word surrounding the church. Chapter three of Philippians is part of Paul’s letter that serves mainly as a testimony to the power of resurrection faith over his life and through this passage, Paul talks about not putting confidence in our flesh. From verse 1 we know that this is not the first time Paul has written to the church and that there is this importance in the repetition and reminder of gospel lessons. He tells the church to “Rejoice in the Lord!” as not only a greeting to them but also an encouragement of where to get joy from and a subtle reminder that this is the basis of fulfillment. From then Paul warns the church in verse 2 to Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.”  Because of the occurrence of false prophets, persecutors of the church and those who were bound to legalistic practices. Instead he encourages them that they should not be bound by legalism.  if ________ could read verse 3. “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”  Through verse 3, Paul reminds the church of Philippi that they are more than qualified to claim that they are genuine Christians because they do not rely on practices of the flesh which wereback in the olden days, symbolized by circumcision. Rather that they serve God and are driven by the spirit. That among everything they do not put any assurance of their faith on practices of the flesh. Paul then uses himself as an example of how limited we become if we value everything on our flesh because, if you look back to his life when he was Saul, he was perfect in regards to the law. Verses 5 and 6 exemplify the qualifications that Paul had and it reads “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”  Paul had dedicated his life thus far to perfecting his accomplishments to be exemplary and on the basis of the law his faith was close to perfect. Paul was qualified from the very beginning of his birth and carries forward these qualifications into his adulthood. Imagining someone like Paul today seems a little difficult but if you think about it, Paul’s situation correlates to someone who is good at everything. To put it into more realistic terms, it would be someone who has everything. Like someone who seems to have everything, and I mean everything together. (MENTION SOMEONE). Yet Paul discloses to us in verse 7 that even with the utmost qualifications he possessed, all of it meant absolutely nothing to him and because they meant nothing, he gave them up. Think of that. He gave up comfort, stability, and everything else that he expected would give him a sense of satisfaction. What could possibly have made Paul give those things up?

Part 2: Knowing Christ (8-11)
While we might view it as a huge loss for Paul, in reality it really wasn’t and he lets us know in verse 8. Can I have _____ read verse 8.  “What is more I consider everything a loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” Paul makes it clear to mention that what became his gain was knowing Christ, and because of that he was able to consider everything else that he had so far as garbage. It wasn’t his higher education or pursuit of Christians but it was that he was able to say he was striving to know Christ which was worth so much more. What Paul is mentioning here in verse 8 is that realization of Jesus as his most basic necessity, that his entire life’s work amounts to nothing, brings no lasting fulfillment, and cannot and will not do anything for him if it is not rooted in his strive to know Christ. It seems that the most common misunderstanding of Paul’s mention of “knowing Christ” is that it is confused with “knowing of Christ.” These are two very different things. Knowing of Christ is the knowledge you have about him, alike the knowledge you have of any other person. It requires no personal connection, no relationship, and realistically never progresses past the relationship of two acquaintances. What Paul had was very different, Paul knew Christ. What that meant was that he talked to Jesus, got to know the in’s and out’s, and if you want to think about it in a humanistic sense, he got to know what Jesus liked and disliked, his favorite things to do, his favorite prayer activity, and what made him passionate, all the characteristics of genuinely getting to know someone. In verse 9 we learn even more so that getting to know Christ is only possibly through the faith that was made possible in when Christ was crucified and resurrected. Paul makes it very clear to mention that there is no more reliance on the law, but instead there should be reliance on faith. (MENTION BEST FRIEND)
Paul’s confession in verse 10 hits two major points that he wanted to point out to the church in Philippi. One, that he views Christ as a necessity and because he does so he is able to assert with confidence “I want to know Christ.”  Paul mentions here that he wants to know Christ. Paul WANTED to know Christ. When we want something, we get it. Whether that be a candy bar from the store or to do well on a test . And this want that Paul describes is as simple as that. As simple as spending time with Christ in prayer. As simple as talking to him and as simple as reading a verse a day. Because Paul declared that he wanted to know Christ, his heart was in the right place to pursue it.  Second, he was able to strive to know who Christ was through the second half of verse 10 and verse 11 which states “to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his suffer, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”  Clearly, what Paul meant was not that he was going to physically die or to get crucified just to go through what Jesus went through. But what he meant by the participation is Jesus’ sufferings was the hardships he faced. Through those hardships he is able to come closer and closer to Christ and as result closer to knowing Christ. So what Paul describes to us in verses 10 and 11 is his confident claim in wanting to know Christ and the process in which to do so. Paul’s very clear intention to know Christ motivates his entire life and it is only possible through the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Part 3: Pressing on toward the goal (12-14)
            Paul’s testimony of the changed life he lives does not end there, his encouragement to the church in Philippi as well as to us is to press on toward the goal. He tells us that even after he gave everything up, after he developed this passion to know Christ that he is not at the goal yet. Fear not though. In verse 12 he says “Not that I have obtained this or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold for which Christ Jesus has took hold for me.” Paul is motivated to press on because that is exactly what Jesus did for Paul. However, what is the goal that Paul is referring to. The goal that he mentions and motivates us to look to is to be able to fully know Christ. This might seem extremely difficult because we are limited in our abilities to know the full extent of Jesus; however this is exactly why Paul is encouraging the church in Philippi. He tells them how he has changed and how he keeps pressing on toward what he now is able to say is his true goal. Verse 13b reads “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”  Now you might think that if we cannot ever know the full extent of our Christ Jesus, than what is the point of Paul trying to encourage us. The whole pursuit is futile. Right then, Paul knows just the right thing to say and does so in verse 14. Can _____ read it. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” This is the reason for the pursuit. Without knowing there is an eternal prize there is no comfort in the hardships that we go through on earth. But we do have a goal and the result of which is our prize, that is our calling to heaven to be reunited with our Lord in an eternal life. This “eternal perspective” of our life and the hardships that occur in them give us hope to press on as Paul says. The prize that we gain is heavenward and thus it lasts forever. What we gain on this earth will only take you so far and because of that we look forward to what will last forever and what God has called us for. Our citizenship is heaven. Meaning that as citizens we have an essential belonging to a particular community.  More importantly our belonging is in heaven and not on this world. This is our comfort, that we are not here to live for what this world has to offer but our finality belongs with our Savior Jesus. And because of this fact, our motivation is to life that focuses on developing a relationship with God.
In the same way that Paul was motivated to press on, we should also be encouraged that despite
hardship and struggle that our pursuit of Christ is not futile by any means. That to know Christ is to live a life that is constantly motivated by our strive to know Christ.  That by the death and resurrection, through our faith on the basis of the spirit, that we WILL be reunited with God in heaven and when that happens we will have arrived at our goal, our goal to know Jesus our Lord and Savior.

So, flashback to these last 3 months.  I felt as though I have been working so hard to gain some type of success, to make me feel like I was worth something more. I had channeled my inner Saul and decided that I was tired of feeling so less than compared to those around me. I tried so hard to succeed in school and I remember very vividly working so hard on this one Chemistry test that I had coming up. I had made study guides, practiced problems, and reviewed endlessly. Yet when I got the grade back I saw that I had completely failed it. Just when I thought I was getting somewhere, and yes it is one Chem test but it was difficult being told that the one subject that I thought I was good at, the one subject that I liked, was just another reminder of what I was not good at. What came about in the months after was a vicious cycle of failure despite my effort, limited success, and not long after, feelings of bitterness, hate for those around me, and a sinking feeling of being completely worthless. Somehow I had made up in my mind that my worth was completely dependent on what I was able to succeed at, what successes I achieved and that is what fueled my everyday mentality. Each failure was met with a mindset that said I would not be good enough; I would not be worth enough until I achieved something. I got it stuck in my head that God wanted only my success. That failure is not in his dictionary and that to please him and to please myself that I had to gain value in terms of this world. When the semester ended God blessed me and in his accordance I was able to get straight A’s for the first time since like 7th grade and a couple months later I got accepted into a top university and while it seemed like I gained so much, I felt absolutely nothing. It seems so stupid to complain about such a great success but in reality when it seemed like I had achieved so much, is when I was reminded even more so how worthless I still felt. I felt like I hadn’t actually gained anything of worth, that no matter how many A’s I might have gotten on a report card that I wouldn’t be as good as the next semester. That even though Northwestern was such a great school and that so many people regarded it highly, that it was just another school. I couldn’t celebrate even though I was expected to be overwhelmingly ecstatic about my situation. This expectation of my self-worth to suddenly go up like points on a scale faltered and instead of feelings of bitterness overcame me. I was left completely at a loss. I expected fulfillment and happiness and yet again I was left unsatisfied and full of frustration of why. But Paul lets us know that God wants the exact opposite. Paul, while perfect in the legalistic manner, was nowhere near perfect in what God actually wanted from him and his faith. What He wanted from Paul was this pursuit to know Christ and that is what Paul found. 
Its funny because I went into this message writing completely excited and ready to learn a new word and be able to share it with HBF and MBF. Soon after the message writing process began, I felt an overwhelming feeling of dread. I was no longer enthused, I was behind the schedule every week and within a span of 2 weeks I felt completely unmotivated to share any type of message and especially not on a passage that had no connection to me whatsoever. Paul was cool, he was admirable, and he gave up his accomplishments to seek Christ. Objectively speaking, Paul was encouraging. And while I was 100% sure it encouraged thousands of people over hundreds and thousands of years, I, myself, found no source of encouragement. Each week I became less encouraged and with the dread of writing and sharing a message piling up, it was purely a source of stress and nothing more.
While sharing testimonies within our senior message group one Friday, Miriam, an HBF leader told me something along the lines of “I think you just need to wrestle with the Word.” And while my sounded really helpful, I still left the meeting feeling underprepared, under qualified, lacking any ability, and confused about how I would go about “wrestling” with God’s word. While I would like to say that something in me changed, it didn’t. I spent that long weekend with those same feelings. On the following Monday, I decided I should just muscle through it and at least have something even if it wasn't good. That evening I had what I would like to call a little scuttle with God’s word. God had made it very clear to me as he did to the women in Olivia’s message and the disciples in Jessica’s message and I was able to see where Paul was coming from and that what was important was the shift that he had when viewing what were gains to him. What Paul considered as his wins and losses, his priorities, his values all came down to his will to know Christ. And consequently, it made me question what I considered as my values and priorities especially considering my confident claim that I am a Christian. Even though I knew that the right answer was to “Know Christ”, it really was not. My first realization was that my priority was not in knowing God and that my life was not motivated by my pursuit to know Christ.
Fast forward to later that week, I had actually wrestled with the word. I had sat down to write the second half of my message and for some reason I still felt unmotivated despite having my first realization earlier that week. While reading V.10 again I felt a sense of rebuke. God asked me why I had put all my confidence in my own abilities and into my own I accomplishments. Why had I amounted my worth to what I could accomplish by my flesh alone. Thinking back to that one Chem test, God was saying here, this is what failure feels like. Then in reference to NU here this is what this world’s vision of success feels like. And while of course they are different in the initial feelings I had toward them, they both quickly ended and as result I was left in the same place. This is what God wanted to say, that here is failure and success in this world. But what good is any of it if through it all, you don’t have me. What I realized was that I was not looking at God. God had made it very clear as to what I was missing and why I had felt no sense of happiness in my “success.” Our souls are from God and because they are, they cannot be satisfied with the things of this earth. That even if I achieved the bucket list of accomplishments Paul had, that is will never fill the desire that I actually want.
And while it wasn’t as graceful and a complete turn around like Paul, I ended up in the same place as him. God brought me back to him while I was bitter and completely lost in what I thought mattered to me. He reminded me that none of this matters, shattering this idea that all I had and could possibly offer was only good if it was based on the limited success this world offers. Yet, NONE of it matters because what is my everything is Him. What my everything is, is God. Every time I was brought back to God I was reminded that what mattered was not the small gains I got through this world but that the greatest gain I have is through the gospel. That because of Jesus’ death and resurrection I can confidently say, like Paul, that I want to know Christ. That I want to walk with him and talk to him and like Jesus who suffered, to live proclaiming this gain despite the possible persecution, nonetheless living a life walking with my Lord and Savior. And because of this I can again with confidence strive towards this prize in heaven for which God has called me.
            While I have this confidence in saying I want to know Christ, it was a very difficult process full of tears, hardships, but most importantly peace that I know can be found through Christ. However, it is worth it all, Christ is worth it all and because of that I encourage you guys to find why you want to know Christ. If you don’t want to know Christ, why not.  I pray that we may experience what Paul testifies about through Philippians 3, to be able to live out a life centered on the pursuit of knowing Christ. That each one of us may be able to recognize the overwhelming worth and gain we have in Christ in comparison to what the world has to offer and in doing so may be able to confess with confidence as Paul did that “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Joanne Lee Easter 2017 Message

1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
Key Verse 9-10 “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”

Hi, I'm Joanne Lee, I'm the youngest of six kids, fours sisters and one brother. I was born and raised in Chicago. I'm currently attending Lincoln park and am part of the IB program.

One of the earliest memories of grace was during an afternoon play session with my older brother Moses. We were wrestling, which we usually didn’t do and I somehow got on top of him. It was apparently a thing to split on each other but pretend to until you saw the split hanging from the other’s mouth. So you see where this is going, I was on top, spit hanging down from my mouth and Moses squirming. In my defense, he squirmed and the spit fell from my mouth, right on his cheek. I jumped off, completely taken aback, immediately apologizing. He stormed off into his room and shut the door. Dread, and horror overwhelmed me, I had just lost my closest play buddy and it was MY fault; he made it so I couldn’t even blame him for leaving! I jumped into action, I’d need to send a snack under the door, send a letter apologizing, again, whisper and look through the keyhole and hope he opened the door for me. He came out approximately five minutes later and as I stared ready for his wrath but nothing happened, instead he told me it was okay-- I was so taken aback and felt like my life had been spared.
Today, we will learn about a greater grace that God showed on us and how this grace of God changed our lives. I pray that through this message we may think about two questions, first: what is the gospel to YOU and second: why do we need living hope.
Let’s pray

Part I: Standing Firm in the Gospel verses 1-2

First, the love Paul had for the Corinthians and the reminder he gives them.
Corinth is known for being a port city full of hustle and bustle, those passing by seek to buy and those set up, seek to sell. Corinth was naturally a place of mixed ideals, beliefs, and lifestyles-- sounds like an environment we are used to. Paul writes this beautiful letter beginning with a reminder to the Church in Corinth. His reminder can be seen in the first two verses, in it he addresses them as “brothers and sisters” (1). He says “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” Paul reminds them exactly of what they did; they heard the gospel he preached to them and took their stand on it. But what exactly does taking a stand really mean?

In one way, these verses push us to remember to live holding firmly to the Gospel. Joshua 1:8 highlights the blessings that come when we hold onto the word of God. It reads “Keep this Book of Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” When we keep the word of God actively in our hearts; when we constantly meditate on it, we are able to stand firmly in the word and it is able to yield such blessings in our life. Another verse that helps illustrate what holding on to the Gospel looks like is Psalm 1:2-3 “but whose delight is is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-- whatever they do prospers.” When we hold onto the word of God we are able to stand firm, bear fruit, and not wither away. Again, we are given the blessing of prospering. The prospering and success may not come from what we may consider success and prospering; it is more valuable than that-- it is, knowing the will of God. This is actually so much more valuable than getting recognition by others, looking good on paper, presenting yourself to please those around you. The prospering and success that these verse refer to can be seen in things like wisdom, discernment, patience, fruit of the spirit that help us prosper and be successful in a completely new way.

Can _____ read verse 2. “Otherwise, you have believed in vain,” I think what Paul is trying to remind the Church to be genuine in their faith. We should be careful not to speak our faith and not live it out. If we have taken our stand in our faith, we must also hold firmly and live it out. These words we hold onto are unlike human words, we may obey and listen and understand human words, but the words of God are powerful, life-giving words.

A verse that comes into mind is Hebrews 4:12 “for the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” the word of God is alive and active, it’s not something we read like a book, it’s not something that sits on the shelf. We are reminded like the church of corinth, to hold firmly to the gospel, it is not in our nature to remember, it’s quite opposite-- we forget and we are okay with it. Our world presents us a daily struggle to hold firmly to the gospel, we are faced with so many challenging beliefs and patterns of this world that we want to follow. Holding onto the gospel is holding onto the truth, holding to it will allow us to face any type of hindrance this world throws at us.
Last year, I was faced with a really tough decision of living and practicing my faith. I was really swayed by the culture and the norms of this society and satan had tempted me with the “boy temptation”. I was really overwhelmed with this feeling of fitting in and proving I could do “normal” girl things like date a guy. I can say that it was God to hit me with a freaking rock at this point of my life. It wasn’t that I felt bad for liking someone or that I wanted to date someone but God telling me to focus on my life of faith. He gave me 1 Peter 1:23- “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” and 1 Peter 3:3- “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.” These verses were not joking, and they were not something I could argue with. It was so clearly stated. I was more than the things of the world, I was not made in the image of God to conform to the world and what it might seem to offer me. Let me tell you though, when you make that decision of faith, when you make a change like that in life, it is not from yourself-- again, it is NOT from the things YOU decide to do-- it is the work of GOD in you, stand firm in the word of God, stand firm in the Gospel.

Part II: Believing and Living According to the Scriptures Verses 3-8
Let’s have _____ read these verses.
Second, what believing and living according to the Scriptures looks like and being witnesses of God. It is through remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus that connects everything Paul preaches to what is according to the Scriptures. The death of Jesus as we learned from Luke 23 was according to the Scriptures, the pain, the suffering, the forgiveness that was poured out was all according to the Scriptures. The resurrection of Jesus and appearance of Jesus in Luke 24 was according to the Scriptures, the victory over death, Jesus meeting his disciples and giving them living hope even in their scared, shivering state. The hope that Jesus gives to them is the same to us; and that is all according to the Scriptures. According to the Scriptures does not translate to the old words people said some long time ago, according to the Scriptures is according to the word of God-- this is not a tragic death of an innocent man. This is the death of the Son of God, it was thought of, planned by, and executed by God the Father.

Paul concisely explains everything according to the Scriptures in verses 3-4; let’s have _______ read these verses for us. What Paul passes on as a message to the Church is the message of the Gospel. This message goes into verse 6-7 and describes those the risen Jesus appears to “he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at the same time. Most of whom were still living though some had fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born.” These appearances are to those who followed Christ. They lived out this Gospel, they encountered the risen Christ and were turned into witnesses of Christ, how does the Gospel apply to our life though?

It is important to think of what the Gospel means to you. The Gospel literally translates to good news, but it may come in the form of something else for you. It may be your living hope, it may be your saving grace, or it may be nothing. But the Gospel really is the good news that we receive. That ALL people receive. Paul has a very personal connection with the Gospel. He was a very righteous man by law and actively persecuted the church. On his way to Damascus Paul is met by God who questions him saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”.This is just the beginning of Paul’s conversion, after meeting God, he is blinded, prayed for, healed by Ananias, baptized and completely changed. He was renamed Paul which means small or humble. The Gospel to Paul is the foundation of his faith, he experienced it in a very literal way. He states in verse 8 “as to one abnormally born”, the risen Jesus appeared to Paul, an apostle that actually wasn’t an apostle at all. Paul makes it clear that he was undeserving of this direct, personal, and completely life changing.

In reality, we all are undeserving of meeting the risen Christ. I fall short of meeting the risen Christ. But that is where the Gospel faith comes in, when we believe that we are saved through the grace of God and when we accept this grace for ourselves are met by the risen Christ. This is where the core of gospel faith is rooted in, the fact that we are undeserving of this opportunity, where we have no right to this saving grace yet the risen Christ becomes our saving grace, the mercy and love that we don’t deserve is given as a gift to us.

When I think about the Gospel, I question what about the Gospel I believe, why do I need to practice this at all?

Within my program, I face a constant cut throat but cheating system. There are those who are willing to do ANYTHING to be the BEST, this might mean bringing everyone down around them, this might mean proving a teacher wrong in front of the entire class, being so absorbed in studying that you have no social life or mean cheating their way through the entire program. Our world is actually like this, people are so set on proving themselves to peers, teacher, parents-- anyone who is willing to look at them. I found myself so unhappy three months ago and overwhelmed with this feeling of sadness, this continuous unhappiness and lack of motivation that felt like a rock in my heart. I had taken 5 ACTs, I had missed the opportunity to apply to Northwestern ED which meant my acceptance percentage went from 45% to less than 10%, I felt like I was working nonstop and that I was living my parents’ life. Not only was my mind full of these lies, but I was telling myself these lies so many times a day that I began to believe them; that my life wasn’t my life, that I was just a body. I can’t begin to explain how bad this is, this is what I call the black hole of lies.
The Gospel to me, is acceptance. It’s that I don’t need to prove myself to my peers, it’s that I don’t need Northwestern to prove my value or intelligence. When I accepted Christ as my savior, I also accepted myself.
It’s something that still challenges me, I still get self conscious and sometimes my doubts slip back into my mind but it’s the Gospel that reminds me, “Joanne, you can’t do ANYTHING and there is no running tab with God, he’s already accepted you with your flaws and your doubts and all your sins, you are more than this world’s standard, stop comparing yourself to people around you”

Even though I am not an eyewitness like those in Luke 24 like we learned in Jessica’s message, I am a follower and I am a believer. That makes me just as qualified to share my testimony of faith like all Jesus appeared to. Jesus appeared to me in many different ways in my life. I see Jesus working through my life and saving me everyday with his blood. I am reminded that I have witnessed the risen Jesus.

He may have appeared to Paul in a bright light, he may have ascended to heaven in front of the disciples but he is living and active in your life too. Our life is full of encounters with the risen Christ, these encounters are undeserving, full of grace, and build us in our gospel faith. We are equivalent to the Gentiles that were not the chosen people, the people who were the most disconnected and those that do not deserve to be saved. No matter what we do, no matter who we are, no matter how great we are, we are considered the worst; but this gospel, changes that.

Part III: Verses 9-11 The Grace of God

Lastly, Paul concludes his letter with a very intimate personal moment and his testimony to the grace of god. Paul is my favorite apostle in the sense that he is full of flaws and mistakes and detours in his life, but his change is a complete change that he constantly seems to be reminding himself of to remember the grace of God. After meeting the risen Christ his testimony is always about the grace of God in his life, and this testimony is just that. Paul is able to call himself an apostle because he accepted the gospel for himself.

When I hear Paul’s testimony I am reminded of the grace of God that was and is with me. This is an personal experience of the Grace of God in my life. My entire bubble of a life that I grew up in, popped when I entered high school, it wasn’t that I was left swimming with sharks but rather that I realized my life was not going to be as easy as it was up to the point. My family who always encouraged me to do my best and told me I was the best, still did, but inside I felt worthless and like a failure. I felt like going to Lincoln Park was a path that was paved for me, that it was just another thing planned for me in my life. The grace of God to me, is not that God made my life easy, or a piece of cake. The grace of God to me was realizing this was not actually that this was a pre-paved path by my family but by God. The grace of God to me was going to Lincoln Park, being supported by the amazing girls who go there, to be academically and spiritually challenged and to glorify God in all I did there. It was the grace of God that I was challenged and constantly struggled with many things to make me a Christian that sought out the will of God above all else. It was not that I knew automatically the way out, because I really didn’t. But that I was given the opportunity to practice my faith. It is  through the grace of God that I was able to learn to turn to God in my struggles. It is through the grace of God that I have living hope. It was through the grace of God that through all my failures and all my shortcomings, I am saved over and over again. It is through the grace of God that I don’t have to worry about the successes and failures I make in my own plans, in my own eyes, because the grace of God is accepting the undeserved love and mercy God freely gives me. I continue to struggle with accepting this Grace of God as I face “planning and deciding” my future. I struggle still to remember that I’M not actually planning and deciding my future but that my life is in God’s hands and that through the Grace of God I can face any hardship I might face. It was through the grace of God that I am what I am, because his grace to me was not without effect.

Verses 9-11 highlight the active participation and practice Paul puts in, to live out his faith. He encourages us with his personal testimony of what God’s grace has done in his life. The grace of God as he says, is not without effect. There is an impact of God’s grace that Paul sees very clearly in his life. Paul considered everything he did nothing compared to the grace of God he experienced. The value of his life changed and his standard reset. We will see this in his letter to those in the Church of Philippi and the impact of this grace of God that led him reevaluate his life’s purpose. He then goes on to say in verse 10 that “he works harder than all of them.” This further encourages us to work hard at our faith, to be conscious of how we live our faith and to remember that it is only through the grace of God that we are saved. It is not that the grace of God saves us and it stops there, but rather that we use the grace we receive to live out our faith.

Again, he reminds them that this is what he and the witnesses preached and this is what they believed. Our faith is something rooted in not only the gospel and made possible through the grace of god. We are saved through the grace of god constantly, and we can learn this from Paul’s attitude and life of faith. Let’s remember how to live our lives remembering what we believe, what we hold onto, the power of the word of God, and the reason why the gospel is for us, why we need it and how we can live our lives of faith.
God's not dead, and his word is not dead, Jesus has risen and our faith should not be dead, we too need to remember why we believe what we believe.

At this point, you may be wondering, what is the living hope?, I just hope to pass this test I have coming up. Literally me, I have a TOK oral that I have NO idea how to do and I’m hoping that I just PASS. I hope to be taken off the waitlist at Northwestern, I hope there’s not traffic going home, I hope the weather gets warmer. When I set my hopes on something in this world, big or small, I replace my living hope with temporary, superficial hope. Living hope to me is the solid identity I took on when I met the risen Christ. My hope is not in this world, it is knowing I am a child of God and looking for an eternal life with him. These hopes of the world are not bad hopes, it’s not bad to want to be successful, to want to prosper but many times when we close our minds to achieving something in THIS world, we fall short of the eternity we spend with God. We allow the hopes of the world to take over us to the point where we forget that there is an eternity with God waiting for us when we accept Christ as our savior.
My hope was for the past two months was getting into Northwestern. When God delayed me from, again, an easy path, I was really convicted. I kept repeating to myself that I believe in the living hope, that the things in the world do not define who I am, that the email I get from them actually doesn’t pave my life but that God does. I ignored what I was feeling for a while because I didn’t want to fall into the black hole of lies but I also didn’t fill my hole of sadness and discouragement. I didn’t turn to God in my time of need and fully depend on him, I numbed myself out and tried to move on. It is a real battle for me. It felt like God knew exactly what would hurt me the most and did exactly that. For a while I listened to the lies of Satan who made me question God’s love. I found myself blaming God, “you know she’s my best friend and the closest to me, you know that I can’t even be mad at her because she deserves to get into Northwestern”. I was really rebuked from this passage. “For i am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to be called an apostle” it was God bringing me to my lowest point and then facing me saying “is my love conditional, is your living hope, is your faith based on the action of service I do for you? Are you that quick to sway into believing lies?” I had made my hope a temporary, superficial hope. God didn’t shove anything in my face, he was challenging me to come closer to him. My security isn’t getting into Northwestern, my security is in the living hope, this is the truth: that Christ died for me, for my pride, self-righteousness, my occasional craziness in public, overstepping in conversation, my critical judgement, for everything that separates me from God. This is the truth: that I am set free with the blood of Christ, that I look forward to the living hope and eternity with God. This is the truth: that I was made in the image of God, that I am very good, that God did not make me to fall into the black holes I create by listening to Satan.
The truth is, you are saved, you are saved over and over again, that you were a sinner lost but that you were accepted by the Grace of God and made new.
I’ll end with my favorite verse 1 John 4:18- “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Your faith is your faith, I can’t make you believe something you don’t and your parents can’t either. But this I can assure you, the Gospel is the a love story where we are rescued and we pay nothing back to the savior and that living hope is our secure identity in Christ.

For you are what you are through the grace of God and his grace is not without effect.