NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

More Than A Christmas Story

Last week, we began a series on the life of Jesus Christ. We talked about how important it is how we answer the question, “who do you say Jesus is?”. This week, we talk about Jesus is God in flesh.

I’m sure most of us know the story of Jesus’ birth. This is the story we tell every year at Christmas time. But, God descending to earth in the form of Jesus Christ is more than a story to listen to one day a year. This is a reality that has huge implications for how we live our lives and how we realize God is working in our world.

What are some aspects of the Christmas story we like? Well, we like to see children dressed as angels, sheep, Mary, Joseph, and the whole realm of characters we read about. We like the cuteness and quietness the story provides. We like to hear God became flesh and that gives us a warm heart. We’ll even end by singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

But, on the night Jesus was born, I bet it was not a silent night. There would have been creatures calling in the middle of the night, the animals moving around, stirrings within the city, strangers coming to pay homage to the newborn baby. I bet Mary and Joseph did not get much sleep that night because of all that was going on, especially after giving birth.

Jesus’ birth is much more than a Christmas story. It is much more than the cute things we like to have portrayed so we have a warm, fuzzy feeling within our hearts. The noisy world Jesus entered is still as rough, dark, dangerous, as it was back then. The only difference is that Jesus is God in flesh, Emmanuel, “God with us.” This. Changes. Everything. Now, the world has glimpses of the true light, hope, peace, and joy of the world. All because God walked among us.

READ LUKE 1:26-33 and JOHN 1:1-5,14

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Because God came down to earth to live as humans, one of the important things we need to hear is the same thing the angel told Mary:

BE NOT AFRAID.

This is something that is easier said than done. We live in a world that says to be afraid of many things. All we have to do is pay attention to what the media is telling us and we become afraid. We end up listening to the voice of fear more than the Voice of God who is speaking life, love, joy, grace into our lives, into our world.

What is something you’re afraid of? Me? I have a few fears. (I really don’t want to tell you because someone would make them happen, especially when I walk into my office one day J). But, we all have fears, things that make us anxious. Because of the falling, sinful, broken state of humanity we live in, fear drives us and fills our minds.

We are fearful of terrorism. We are fearful of child abductions. We are fearful of job security. There are so many things we are afraid of. On some level, fear helps us to live safely. If we allow the fear to consume us, we will find we will isolate ourselves so we can try to keep everything safe. But this doesn’t help because we lose the relational aspect of community we all crave.

365 times in scripture, God’s messengers, and God Himself say, “don’t be afraid.” We can think about this as one for every day of the year. Now, this is not saying to blow off concerns and live recklessly. Instead, “don’t be afraid” means to not allow the concern to stop us from hearing what God has to say or do what God would have us do.

We can live as courageous people because we worship and follow God, who knows what we go through in this life. God not only came down to be with His people, He lived the life we humans live. He knows, through Jesus Christ, exactly what it is like to be human. So, we do not need to be fearful to live our lives. Instead, we can live with courage, still be concerned, and offer the light of Christ into the dark places of the world. How? God is already working where we go.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ was not a one and done event. His presence, his life on earth continues and is with us today. This is why the promise of Jesus as he ascended is so important for us to remember:  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1] Because of this, we can live in hope!

Christianity is the only religion where God comes to dwell with His people. There are stories of gods who visit people, but not other world religion has their god live as a human and experience life as a human. No other religion can claim their god knows what humans experience.

Through the incarnation

GOD SHOWS HE’S WILLING TO DO WHAT IT TAKES

to bring people into salvation. Even if that means personally entering into this world…our world.

Through Jesus Christ, God came into a world that is His already. He came to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose humanity. “He came and lived in this world, our world, which was evil and dangerous then as it is now.”[2]

I think this is something we all, no matter where we are in our walk of faith, need to be continually reminded of. God came down to this earth. God came down and lived in a dangerous place. He knows the kinds of things humans do to themselves, each other, and the environment. Why would God descend from his place in heaven to come to earth? Scripture says, “Heaven is [God’s] throne, and the earth is [his] footstool.”[3]

But this is what God did. He came to earth to be among the people and bring salvation with him. God could have come as a full-grown adult. He could have come as a member of a ruling, or rich, family to make change happen at the governmental level. He could have come as any person who has the credibility to make a change in the world. But he chose to experience the fullness of life we experience. God came to earth and started out as a human baby from a poor, unknown family.

J.I. Packer explains, “It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word was made flesh’; God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child…The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.”[4]

Every time I think about this truth, I am amazed at the love God has for people who do everything they can to turn away from him. God’s love never fails. To me, this shows us what is really important in this life. It is not being the best at everything, earning the most money, achieving all of our goals. The most important thing in this life is relationships because without relationships everything else is wasted.

Jesus Christ, God in flesh, desires to be in a relationship with all people. His presence is, now, within grasp of all people; but many do not know, or even try to hear his voice and know him. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” It is about the relationship with God. This is how the world changes. When heaven enters in and fills the heart and life of a person, their world is changed forever. Then, the changed, heaven-filled, person goes out to share the love of God with another person and their world is changed. This creates a rippled effect and we can begin to slowing, yet fully, see the world being transformed to look and act more like the Kingdom of Heaven. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, this is what we’re praying for, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God is so into being in relationship with his people and being known and glorified throughout the world that he has done something incredible. Through Jesus Christ,

GOD HAS BROUGHT HEAVEN TO EARTH.

The Book of Revelation even paints the picture of the City of New Jerusalem coming down to earth so God can dwell with his people in life everlasting. C.S. Lewis describes it as the “lower reality being drawn into the higher reality and becomes part of it.”[5]The whole point of life is to witness the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us so we can see and experience what really matters, what really changes people’s lives.

Jesus walking on the earth changes everything. Now, we can experience the awesomeness that is heaven and seek to live into the light of the world. We also get to share and shine the light of Christ wherever we go and in whatever we do. Remember where we go, God is already working there.

For a few years, I was able to go with the University of Texas campus ministries to South Padre Island during Spring Break. If you ever want to see what 100,000 people on an island looks like, this is your chance. Traffic. Drinking. Drugs. Injuries. One-night stands. You name it. It seems as if there is nothing but darkness prevailing, especially at night.

But among the 100,000 people (mainly college-age people) on the island, there are around 500-1,200 other college students to present to share Christ. How do they do this? By giving free van rides to anywhere the people want to go so they don’t have to walk or get into a car drunk. By giving free pancakes for breakfast and free pancakes at midnight so the stomach has something to soak up whatever is in their system.

This is done, not to condone or say the behavior is okay. This is a time when people seeking to share Christ enter into the world of the life of partying and seek a relationship with people to help them see and experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Many conversations, prayers, lives transformed. All because the light was brought into the darkness and people had the opportunity to hear something other than, “drink this…buy this…do this…and THEN you’ll be somebody special.”

One day, Brendan, a young but rising DJ in New York, was coming home to his Brooklyn apartment when a homeless woman asked him for money. He said, honestly, that he had no money. By the end of the week, she asked two more times, and each no he answered “no.” Finally she frankly replied, “you better not, because every day you say no.” Inserting some rational thinking into an otherwise awkward conversation, he proposed, “I am on my way to a job interview. If I get the job, I will take you out for Chinese food.” This promise yielded a friendship that neither were prepared for — that changed the trajectory of their lives, both forwards toward each other.

Brendan got the job. But their friendship didn’t just end with Chinese food. They built a friendship of mutual support, spending their birthdays, holidays and tough times together, over a period of eight years. When Brendan’s heater broke, she made him a blanket. Two days later when he told her that he had lost his job, she disappeared, returning minutes later, bringing him groceries, and which continued to do throughout the winter. Even with so little, she never hesitated to give back. 

Over these years, Jackie moved from the streets and subway stations, into a halfway house, YMCA, and is now moving into an apartment. To celebrate this occasion, Brendan wanted to do something special for Jackie. He went with her to Target, and helped her to pick out everything she’d need for an apartment, starting a registry. Then, he set up a campaign to raise the money to pay for the registry (now closed), along with an awesome video telling their story. While their original goal was to raise $500, the campaign went viral and they’ve raised more than $6,000, and are now looking to use the extra funding to support other women in need.[6]

We can easily think that we have to be the light of Christ to those on lower social scales than we are. But, how many times have we missed someone being the light of Christ to us and still looked down on the person because they were not in our class, not our race, not from our same country, not our gender?

Christ did not come into the world just so we can choose who we want to help or be in relationship with. Christ came into the world to “seek and to save the lost.”[7] Jesus gives his followers this same command to go into the world and make disciples and teach everything he taught.[8]

God in flesh, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, is still with us today. He is in the lives of those who seek to help. He is in the lives of those who need the help. He is working in and through medical personnel and caregivers. He is working in and through the lives of missionaries and truck drivers.

Every time we have an opportunity to share and show the love of God through our actions and words, we show people that Christ is still alive and working in this world. His promise is true! He has never left us nor forsaken us.

Because of the incarnation, we can know what God is like. We can know God on a personal level. And, we have many opportunities to walk with others, live life with the “lost” and show a God who is real, who is alive, who is still speaking and working in the world today.

This is much bigger than a simple story we hear at Christmas time.

 

Works Cited

[1]Matthew 28:20 NASB

[2]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[3]Isaiah 66:1 CEB

[4]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 53

[6]https://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-fredericks/love-your-neighbor-inspiring-story-of-two-friends_b_2127070.html

[7]Luke 19:10

[8]Matthew 28:19-20

Loving to Life Pt 5

SHOW GOD’S LOVE DAILY

As we continue in loving people and organizations to life, we remember we have been praying and seeking God’s direction, we have been allowing the people to be their real selves without judgement, we have been meeting with people in small groups, and we have begun a visioning process for the future of the church/person/organization.

This may all seem like a simple, easy-to-do process (it really is); but it will take time. It can take as long as God is needing. We have to be patient when things are not going as well as we would like right at first.

With this in mind, the saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is very true. When we are in a new area, the temptation is to go ahead and begin new steps, new vision, new processes without really taking the time to learn the history, the passions of the people, or really loving the people.

Our mission is to show people the value and worth they have in God through Jesus Christ. Because the people have value in the eyes of God, they also should have value in our eyes.

I have dared congregations and people to pray a very dangerous prayer: to ask God to break our hearts as his heart breaks. Why is this a dangerous prayer? Because, if we begin to see the world, the redemptive potential of the people and the world, we will find ourselves being more compassionate, and therefore, more loving. This goes against the flow and MO of the world.

We hear messages all the time of how evil people are, how many times people do bad things, how we should distance ourselves from those unlike us. The only issue with this is Jesus never did such thing. He was always with the people no one liked, or who were outcasts, and made them experience and live into the worth God has placed in them.

Helping people moving from a place of being stagnant means we have to make sure we love the people and then we show people love through acts and words of grace.

What are some ideas for this?

Number one is to simply spend time with the people and continue to listen to their stories. This is very important because you can simple be present with the people. We all love to know other people have interest in our lives. Now, we may not be able to get to everyone, at first, but this is okay. There are still many ways to try and interact with as many people as possible (many of which we have already talked about in the past few weeks.

Some other things we could do are:

  • Personal, handwritten notes: Have you noticed how many handwritten notes come through the mail now? When you get one, how do you feel?
  • Phone calls or texts just to check on the people
  • Visiting when sick, or at least calling
  • Showing up to important events with them
  • Thank you notes
  • Words of encouragement
  • Of course praying with and for people

These may all seem like small things, and they are; but they have a huge impact on the lives of the people we are around. As we continue to work through a process of loving people to life, keep in mind the great love God has for the world, for the people.

Ask God for help to love the people as he loves them. Seek to do everything, within reason, to show people God’s love through you. Show and remind them of their value in the eyes of Christ. Help them remember the worth they have because they are created in the image of God.

Then, watch God’s love begin to take over in you and see how much you care for the people you are working with and living around.

Loving to Life Pt 2

MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

Last week we began a series to help us love people to life. When we go to a new place, it it easy to assume we know what people need to do. In many cases, we may be right.

The best thing to do is to pray, and listen, to see where God is working and how God is working in the new area we’re in. Go night to a new place and driving forward our plans, without seriously paying attention to the work of God already in progress, can create some issues. This is not saying God will not bring redemption through work we do;  but the work could actually take longer.

So, we’ve prayed and we believe we have listened carefully to God’s voice and have opened our eyes to see the work in progress. We must be careful not to give into the temptation to get to work right away. I know this seems odd to say. The truth is we would do so much better if we took our time.

Taking our time means we begin the process of getting to know the people. Plus, it gives us a chance to “meet people exactly where they are.”

Think about that for a minute. How did Jesus Christ begin working with your life? He met you, the person you were, in the exact situation you were in. I would also bet to say that when you realized Jesus was right there with you, he did not start off by saying, “I’m here to fix your life, so you need to do these steps right away!”

Instead, I believe Jesus first said to you, “I love you. Come and see what your  life can and will be like with me.” That’s basically what he said when he called the disciples in Matthew 4, Mark 1-2, Luke 5, John 1. He invited the disciples to join him, just as they were. That’s when the transformation begins.

Our number one priority in this life, aside from loving and worshipping God through Jesus Christ, is to love the people God created.

Now we have to ask the question, what does meeting people where they are look like?

This is really one of the hardest things we will ever do. This involves simply listening to their stories, what they say about other people, how they say they live their life, anything they want to tell you…without judgement. It involves us learning the area, past customs, past traditions, history of the area, learning what dreams people have. All of this is done at the same time we are praying for God’s wisdom, vision, for the area while we are there.

I have found that, most of the time, you will hear people begin to say things that are very similar to what God has been speaking to you. And, when we take time to get to know the person and witness their life, trust is formed through this relationship. Then, we can begin to see the work of Christ in their life. Afterall, this is how we would want other people to treat us.

We may have a grand vision, grand ideal, for an area, for the life of a person, or people group; but Jesus may be working on something deeper than what we can see and experience at the surface. This is why it is so important to meet with people where they are, as they are, so we can see how God is using us to work with him in that person’s life.

Here is something I have had to learn to consider in every situation: maybe it’s not just about working to make change in other people’s lives; maybe it is also about God’s redemptive and transformative work within our own life.

How is this sitting with you, right now? What did you know about this concept? What do you not agree with?

Additional questions to consider:

1) What do the people do/act like, that is hard for you to be around?

2) Do you think you have to patience to continue this work for getting to know people for months or even years without getting frustrated or impatient?

3) What do you sense God working on in your life, as you get to know new people and their stories?

Finding God Series: Part 1

Finding God at Walmart

Many people can find their “god” at a place like Walmart in the form of deals, money savers, etc. But I think, if we look close enough, we can find evidence of God wherever we are.

EDA5EEE0-F6AF-481A-9F92-35D214DC184AWhen I went to Walmart a few days ago, I went for groceries and other items; but I also went on a search to see if I could see God there. I left disappointed because the consumerism, rushed shoppers, and items all over the place were too much for me to see beyond. At that time, it looked like a bunch of people (I was in the crowd) just focusing on themselves and getting what they only wanted.

I found myself feeling discouraged especially when I was in the parking lot and saw a person asking other people for money. I left that day feeling disappointed because it seemed like the consumerism was too powerful.

But I couldn’t let it just stop with that feeling. I was determined to see how we can find God at Walmart. So, I began looking at pictures of Walmart online and began to see pictures of many, many people. My mind started thinking about the memes and videos of the “people of Walmart.”

That’s when it hit me. We can see God at Walmart simply by looking at the people!
“God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”
(Genesis 1:27 CEB)

There is always an abundance of people, of diverse people, shopping at Walmart, even at 3:00am. The people are all different, in there own way. This is what I think we can think about to find God at Walmart.

4CFDC740-8956-4390-9E93-3C0B8DFCB7ECNow, are there people only interested in themselves and not interested in God? Yes. Are there people at Walmart who are not as kept as others? Yes. But this doesn’t mean that anyone there does not have the attention of God.

I am finding out one of the best places to have a Spiritual conversation is at Walmart. No, not in a creepy, dorky, or even weird way. When we have chances to be around people, do our lives reflect the light of Christ?

D1CC4349-AD66-42B7-ACE6-83AB334127CAThere are people at Walmart, people created by God, that need to hear there is hope. That need to hear they have a purpose. That need to hear God’s love and desire for them.

So the next time you’re in Walmart, I invite you to pay attention to the people. You’ll see a vast array of emotions, especially people hurting.

In your actions, words, and even thoughts, show the light of Christ to a world seeking healing and redemption. Who knows, you may be the person God uses to help others find God while at Walmart and help them become part of a community of faith.

Remember the words of Christ:
“I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”
(Matthew 25:40 CEB)

I Saw God at the Water Treatment Plant

Recently, I have heard about clergy turning in their credentials. The reason? He says he realized he doesn’t believe in God.

Too often, I think we get so much in our heads and think too intellectually about God that we can miss the feeling/personal side of him. At the same time, we can get so caught up in the feeling/personal sensations we experience that we can completely miss the intelligence and logical aspects of God. We can completely miss God’s presence and his work all around us.

I would not have expected to see God at a water treatment plant; but all of a sudden, there he was!

From the design of the plant to the area where the clean water comes out, the process involved is incredible. Imagine what you flush down the toilet, throw in a stream, dump down the drain, all ending up at the same place. What you would witness would be something dirty and just plain gross.

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Water was not meant to be filled with so much trash and unclean substances. But there it is. Gross water that really has no purpose…until…it gets cleaned and able to be used.

This is the same with humans. We can put so much gross stuff in our lives (pride, lust, laziness, greed, egocentric attitudes, narcissistic attitudes, and so much more) that we end up being completely unusable to do good work in the world because we get too wrapped up in ourselves. That is until…we realize Jesus Christ has already freed us from being slaves to ourselves, being slaves to sin. We all need to be cleaned and filled with the presence of God in our lives.

There is a process that cleans the water. First the filthy water has to get the big items out (money, turtles, snakes, basketballs, really anything that is flushed or thrown in the water). Then it goes through several other processes where it is filtered even more, and more each with each step. Finally, it ends up in a creek like area where it keeps getting more refined to get even cleaner to be sent for us to drink.

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When I took time to look around, I saw the design of the facilities. Everything was designed with a purpose. The waste water was not able to get to the clean water. Yes, this plant was made by humans; but it was God who gave the people the gifts and talents to design and create these facilities to keep our water drinkable.

We read in Genesis 1 and 2 that God had a design when he spoke creation into existence. Everything that was made was made for a purpose. From the place where they collect the water, to where the water is beginning to get clean, to where the water is clean, even in the lab to test the water. Everything has a design and it is perfectly placed. The same is true for creation and humans.

B036B40A-3AC1-4104-A06E-C03CF4D1B974Then, we got to one of the cleaning ponds and they had goldfish in them. The purpose of the goldfish was to keep cleaning the water by eating and removing algae and other bugs. At this point, I was reminded of the Holy Spirit who works within our lives, constantly convicting and cleaning us out. John Wesley referred to this as “sanctifying grace,” the aspect of grace that is working to make you and I perfect in love.

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There was something there that made me think about Jesus: solar panels. What was interesting was these solar panels did not work. I began to wonder where they got their source of energy. Then I remembered Jesus as the light of the world, and as the living (running) water. (In the beginning…the water…God said, “let there be light!”). If we pay close attention, Jesus is always in the picture.

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The point of this is, just because we are in a somewhat “ordinary” situation, there are signs of God all around. God will always find ways to reveal himself to you and the world. Listen to the nudging of the Holy Spirit to show you his presence. God is even found at the water treatment plant…just keep open eyes.

I pray, you continue to seek and find God in your everyday life. He is there. As Jesus says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Where have you seen God lately?

 

Connecting Points

Click here to read Acts 17.

“All you need to do is to teach that person how to…” This sounds simple enough; but is it really that easy to get people to learn new things? Just teach them? When we teach, we are actually connecting the person to what they have seen, what they have experienced and give it meaning.

The same thing is true for sharing our faith. If we listen to the stories of those around us, we can hear something that we can help connect them to Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus did. He would look around and see everyday objects and use them to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven. Think about your life for a moment, what part or aspect has someone used to help you know Jesus Christ or help you deepen your faith in God through Jesus Christ?

When the Apostle Paul was traveling, his goal was to preach Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.” He was showing that when we go to people, we find what speaks to them and go with it. He understood where he was, and knew the people’s culture, so he spoke to them in the way they were most comfortable with and he gave the people the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Many people turned away; but many accepted the message. I’m sure it bothered Paul when people criticized him for the message of Jesus Christ; but he stayed the course and kept preaching Christ and him crucified and raised. He may have used the language, symbols, culture of the people, but his message was always clear cut. When we speak with people, we should have this same kind of conviction.

Acts 17 gives us a time when Paul had a great opportunity to share his faith, and he gets ridiculed. He is placed in front of some of the smartest and brightest minds in Athens to be mocked. How would you feel if you were placed in that position? Paul never waivers; he searches around and sees all of the gods the people have made. It must have been hard to try to find something to relate to Jesus Christ; but there it was, a statue to the “Unknown god.”

That was his starting point. Paul used the people’s own poetry, about Zeus, and gave it new meaning to point the people to the real God. Again, some accepted, some left. But, he stood firm in the gospel message and people responded. Imagine what would have happened if Paul never spoke then? Imagine what happens when we don’t take time to really connect our lives with Christ to another person so they can experience Christ.

There are connecting points all around. Look at everything you can see and you might be amazed at how the Holy Spirit gives new meaning to worldly objects.