Even in the Bleak Midwinter, the Hope of Spring
So.. (!) Liz Curtis Higgs took me under her gorgeous proverbial wing last year when this knee-knocking farm girl said yes to God & sharing what He’s done in my life at several Women of Faith events last year. We’ve become true heart sisters, praying that God would make ours beat with His.
So when Liz jumped at The Romans Project and said she was IN — I thrilled to happily (nervously!) fling open the farm door to welcome her to this quiet space as we all memorize Romans together.
Liz is the humble, wise (and funny!) author of 30 books, including her nonfiction bestseller, Bad Girls of the Bible , and her newest release, The Girl’s Still Got It: Take a Walk with Ruth and the God Who Rocked Her World , and she has presented more than 1,700 inspirational programs in all 50 United States and 14 foreign countries. As a wife and mother, she is grateful to call Louisville, Kentucky home — and she’s about as down to earth and warm as it gets. I just love her — and this post? Well, have a seat on the porch with us!
Love the Bible, love a challenge, I’m in.
I hopped onto The Romans Project online community at ScriptureTyper.com, figured out how it works (slight learning curve, but manageable), and began typing away. In a matter of minutes I tucked that first verse in my memory bank, filed under Important.
But I wasn’t ready for what happened next. Romans 1:1 quickly burrowed into the soil of my heart and took root.
These aren’t simply words. They are seeds filled with Life.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”— Romans 1:1 (NIV 84)
Less than twenty words, only ten in the original Greek. The opening line of a letter, a salutation, a greeting.
We’d write, “Hey, how you doin’?”
But Paul started out with, “Here’s who I am, whom I serve, and why I’m on this planet.”
Whoa. What’s with this guy? He comes off as both humble and boastful in half a sentence.
I want to know more. Mind if we break down the verse?
He’s the only Paul in the Bible. And Paul wasn’t the name he was born with. His parents called him Saul, which means in Hebrew, “asked for, prayed for.” He was loved from the start. A welcome addition to the family, an answer to prayer.
But that’s not how the early Christians felt about Saul. Not for a minute.
Saul stood on the sidelines, nodding in approval, as a devoted young believer named Stephen was stoned to death. Then Saul did his best to destroy the fledgling church, dragging men and women off to prison, breathing out murderous threats against the disciples.
He’s the last person we’d pick to write more than a dozen books of the Bible, right? The very last.
But God chose Saul. Chose him.
The Lord called down from heaven while Saul was traveling to Damascus. Spoke the man’s name twice to get his attention.
“Saul, Saul…” (Acts 9:4). Asked for, prayed for.
Saul responded at once, then ended up on Straight Street. (yes. really.) He kept the name Saul for several more chapters in Scripture, until one day we read, “Then Saul, who was also called Paul…” (Acts 13:9).
Wait. Who gave him this new name? God? The other believers? Paul himself? The Bible doesn’t tell us. But this much is certain: Paul means “small, humble.”
The perfect name for a man who wants to be less-than.
…a servant of Christ Jesus,…
We know all about servants; we’ve watched Downton Abbey (Well, Ann hasn’t — thanks for taking the farm hick anyway?) The people below stairs work eighteen hours a day, wear the same clothes, sleep in tiny rooms with creaky beds, and earn so little money they can never hope to leave service.
Yet Paul willingly, openly calls himself a “bond-servant” (NASB), a “devoted slave” (MSG), and in his later years, a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:9).
Servant, slave, prisoner.
Conviction pierces my heart, sharp and swift. Small. Humble. I don’t pray to be those things. I don’t even want to be those things.
Oh, I’m happy to serve the Lord wherever I’m needed, but I’d rather not be thought of as a servant. And I definitely don’t wish to be treated like a slave, let alone like a prisoner.
Yet God said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). And Paul welcomed it. Even got excited about it. “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Few of us would say, “I’d like to suffer, please.” Yet Paul says, in essence, “Bring it.”
I’m so not there. Even after thirty years of knowing God, I’m not even close.
If this was my letter to the believers in Rome, the most I could say at the start is, “Liz, a…” What? Pew warmer? Choir member? Nice person? Groan.
This is the awful truth: I pray to be Christ-like, when I’m not even willing to be Paul-like.
The Lord’s patience overwhelms me. His grace astounds me. So, at the start of a new year, as I memorize chapters from the timeless book of Romans, I whisper again, “Change me, Lord.”
Please, please change me.
God certainly changed Paul. Not because the man was worthy or good, but because God had a plan, and Paul was a vital part of it.
From Romans 1:1, this story isn’t about Paul. It’s about God.
…called to be an apostle…
Make no mistake, Paul was “authorized” (MSG), “summoned” (OJB), and “appointed” (NIRV). This was something God alone could put in motion. Paul was a hater, a destroyer, an enemy, until God called him to be something else, something more: “a special messenger” (AMP), “an emissary” (CJB), “a missionary” (NLV).
Such power, to change a man completely. To turn him around and point him in a whole new direction.
Thirty years ago I was decidedly going the wrong way. I hadn’t killed anyone, but considering how many times I parked my inebriated self behind the wheel of a car, I might have ended someone’s life, including my own.
Though I didn’t throw anyone in jail, I belonged behind bars for selling drugs to my coworkers. Though I didn’t persecute Christians, I wrote a paper for my college Philosophy class titled, “Why I Don’t Believe in God.”
I am the last person you’d pick to teach the Bible, right? The very last.
But God had a plan. He did, he did.
A plan for Liz, just as he has a plan for you.
It’s not who we were that matters to God. It’s who we are becoming in Him.
Even so, we may wonder why God called us to a task for which we feel so utterly unworthy.
Paul surely felt the same. Not me, Lord. Never me. Yet here he is, writing to the Roman believers, certain of his calling.
…and set apart for the gospel of God —
Ann reminded me in an email, “Liz, we’re set apart for the gospel.” It scared me when I read it. It scares me still.
To think of being “separated” (ASV), of being “singled out “ (HCSB), when I know full well where I’ve been and what I’ve done. Oh, dear Jesus. How can you possible use me?
Not one of us is worthy, yet “the Lord has set apart the godly for himself” (Psalm 4:3). “Godly” doesn’t mean equal with God. It means belonging to God, cherished by God, counted among his people.
Paul’s charge and ours is to share this hope, to spread “God’s good news” (CEB). What is this happy news exactly? This life-changing, world-spinning news? This gospel of God?
Looks like we’ll need to keep memorizing Romans 1, because the definition of the gospel comes after the dash. …—
Seriously, that’s the last part of the verse.
On SciptureTyper.com, you’re not done with Romans 1:1 until you type that dash—a reminder that the best bits are still to come.
Right from Paul’s opening line, the Lord is beckoning us forward.
Keep digging. Keep planting. Keep growing. I have more for you. So much more. Don’t stop now.
Isn’t Liz just a wonderful Jesus-sister? (I can’t wait to see her in March — come join us in Minnesota?) And Liz and I are praying to share more through The Romans Project, with videos of us reciting to each other, and Lord willing, Liz will meander up here to the farm porch throughout The Romans Project and share how God is changing her through the memorizing of Romans 1, 6, 12. (It’s only 2 verses a week for the year — come join us? Over 2300 of us are gathering over at Romans at ScriptureTyper.com — Liz and I would love to have you! Consider Scripture and your heart and the 1 Habit that God really wants for your new year.
And oh, your heart would be deeply nourished by Liz’s weekly Bible study blog, posting every Wednesday.
Her current feast-series is Embrace Grace: Welcome to the Forgiven Life. Who doesn’t need that?