Catalysts of Church Growth

Exegetical Text: Acts 7-9

Adolescence of the Early Church Part II from Cape Alliance Church on Vimeo.

A video recently popped up on my Facebook feed, shared by on old acquaintance of mine from Seattle. It was a decidedly liberal video, which is why I found the title of it quite odd: 5 Ways that America is Already Socialist. Out of curiosity I started to watch it—I didn’t finish, but that’s partially due to it not being interesting—and only got as far as the reasoning that we are socialist because of the labor unions (which they described as a good thing) and their efforts to get “fair”wages along with the weekend. At first, I passed it of as dumb propaganda, which it was, but the more I thought about it more I was amazed at how much has changed politically even over just the simple span of my lifetime.

  1. In elementary school, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every day. I don’t remember doing it after that.
  2. The popular 80s sitcom, Murphy Brown, almost got cancelled because her character got pregnant out of wedlock. Today, Duck Dynasty is ruined as a show because they want to pray on TV.
  3. In high school, we held a Bible study/prayer group that met at school.
  4. There was a section on creation in my high school biology textbook.
  5. Also in high school, we could have faith based discussions and the teacher could allow/participate as long as they didn’t start it.
  6. 2001 brought us the Bush Doctrine, which gave the government the ability to act on the threat of aggression. This led to the US government spying on US citizens by 2006.
  7. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act was signed, effectively giving the government control over our health.
  8. Just a few months ago, the Supreme Court changed the definition of marriage, which has been held since the beginning of history.

This list could go on, but the point is clear: the times, they are a changin. In a relatively short amount of time, the government has significantly increased the amount of control it has over people’s lives, thus reducing the freedom each individual citizen holds. While not all political issues directly coincide with our faith, there are many that do. People point to landmark cases such as Roe vs. Wade or Brown vs. the Board of Education to show that as these rights are taken away, our ability to fully practice our faith is hindered. Just this past week, the gentlemen who played Gimli on the Lord of the Rings, went public on a radio show to talk about how we have lost our moral compass and Christian are the ones who are suffering the most for it. Simply put, the farther this world runs away from God and to lawlessness, the more difficult it is going to be as a Christian.

For contemplation, I ask you to consider this question: is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Privilege of Persecution

Our text today centers around a few stories in the early life of the church, highlighted by three standout examples of Christians that led the “Mountain Dew lifestyle” like I described last week. The point of these stories (Spoiler Alert!) is that God was pushing the expansion of the church outside of Jerusalem and Judea and was prepping the world for the gospel message. Jerusalem and Judea had already been taken by storm and there were many who were living a life devoted to God through Jesus, but the pressure had begun to mount.

We left off last week with Stephen and his appointment with the others to ministry – and the great things the Holy Spirit was doing through him. The high priests and Pharisees and already begun to take notice of him and get upset about Stephen’s ministry. Chapter 6 ends with people falsely accusing Stephen and getting him arrested. The first part of chapter 7 is a beautiful retelling of the gospel story and its relation to the Old Testament; specifically Moses. Like Peter, Stephen was not afraid to tell it like it is. Let’s pick it up in verse 51.

READ Acts 7:51-60

The Jewish officials had finally broken the seal and gotten away with their first documented murder of a Christian. It was at this point that the persecution they had previously been suffering (threats, minor arrests, arguing, some flogging) took a new and drastic turn – due to, at least in part, a guy named Saul. We’ll talk more about him later, but catch this:

READ Acts 8:1-3

In the NASB, they use the word ravage – Saul ravaged the church with this new persecution. These are tough chapters to read and the persecution the early church endured was absolutely horrible, but again I ask the question – was this a good thing or a bad thing for the church? These chapters highlight the lengths that the Jews would go to try and snuff out the gospel, but instead, what do we ultimately read about in these chapters? These three chapters mark the expansion of the gospel and the church outside of Jerusalem and Judea. The doors are opening for the rest of the world! The church, Ekklesia, was now no longer confined to a location or a people; but is now openly spreading throughout the rest of the world!

Chapter 8 talks about Philip and his work in Samaria and with the Ethiopian Eunuch – who was an official of the Queen of Ethiopia. The message was spreading – and it was spreading out of the control of anyone who would try to stop it! The question is, then, what does persecution have to do with church growth? Let’s briefly take a look at larger church history.

The early church was persecuted and also grew like wildfire for the first couple hundred years. Then a huge event happens – Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian and in the beginning of 313, develops the Edict of Milan, which stated that Christians should be allowed to follow their faith without oppression. He also worked a lot to bring a unified theological base to the faith; in essence, establishing an orthodox set of beliefs. He brought about the First Council of Nicea in 325, at which came the Nicene Creed, which is still used in many Christian circles today and sung in songs by popular Christian artists such as Third Day and the late Rich Mullins.

After this happened, while the church continued to grow, the church of the middle ages looked very different from the early church. Complacency and infighting replaced passion and mission. Indulgences became a thing. In essence, Christians got comfortable and received a taste of what it means to be in power. Pretty soon, Christians were forcing people into the faith and opening the doorway for the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.

Christians forgot that God promised persecution for believers (2 Timothy 3:12 – in fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted) and stopped seeing God as the refining fire (Zechariah 13:9 and Jeremiah 9:7). In fact, it wasn’t until the Reformation and the reemergence of persecution (this time, from the Catholic Church) that the really spread and made its way to America and the far east. Today, I think we are seeing another round of persecution beginning on the heels of the last few hundred years of Christian affluence. I see this as important and ultimately good for us Christians because of what it forces us to do – to stop resting on our laurels and actually run the race with perseverance.

Persecution is a refining act that God uses to sanctify us and, through that passion and zeal for Him, spread the gospel message to the remotest ends of the earth. Look at it like this – if you are out for a run in the forest, you may push yourself a bit, but your body will rest when it can. Now imagine a bear chasing you while you run – that’s pushing your body to the extreme. That’s how to run in a Mountain Dew lifestyle.

People with Passion

Persecution is not the only catalyst that God uses to build His Ekklesia, however. The next two stories, chapters 8 and 9, highlight other individuals who absolutely lived that Mountain Dew life with a zeal and a passion that led to many being impacted by the gospel message.

Philip the Evangelist

First we have Philip, who it shows as one that was scattered from Jerusalem due to the ferocity of the persecution. He travels to Samaria and hides, right? No! He preaches in front of crowds and performs miraculous signs of healing and deliverance from demons. In fact, the work of the Holy Spirit was so powerful through Philip that we hear of him being followed by a former magician looking to gain that kind of power for himself. Of course, Simon doesn’t get it and seems to repent at the end.

And angel of the Lord then appears to Philip and leads him south where he runs in to the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip’s simple obedience to go where called and speak when given the opportunity led to many being saved and the advancement of the gospel to another continent. Philip’s circumstances were not easy, as he was one who had been scattered and on the run from persecution, but was he worried about himself? Was he nervous about getting into more trouble? Or was he passionate about his Savior and willing to go to whatever ends for the glory of the Lord?

Obviously, Philip was willing to do whatever God asked of Him, which is why, to date, he is the only one we know of to be teleported (Acts 8:39-40). For those curious, the distance between Gaza and Azotus was about 30 miles. Philip kept going, not stopping at all, but preaching the gospel as he continued on his way. To Philip, it didn’t matter what obstacles were in the way or who was trying to stop him. It did matter, however, to God.

Saul the Persecutor

I find the information we have on the young Saul makes him a perfect juxtaposition to Peter. Of all the negatives Peter had stacked up against him until the Holy Spirit took control, Saul had all of the positives. He was educated, had good lineage, was well liked and respected and an intensity in his personality that commanded fear, or at least extreme personal strength. Saul was a tiger – not afraid of anything and probably needed reined in more than anything else. And, at the point we meet him is actively working against God by persecuting the early church.

Paul said himself later on that God chose the foolish things of the world to same the wise, and God’s saving act for Saul on the road to Damascus certainly looked about as foolish as one could get. God took the world’s leading persecutor of the church and turned him into the world’s foremost evangelist, missionary and theologian…to this day!

READ Acts 9:1-19

A couple of interesting things we see here:

  1. God can reach anybody. God’s calling on a person’s life is not dependent on anything other than what He has planned for them. In 19 verses we see one of the worst persecutors of Christianity become one of its leading evangelists. If God can turn around Saul, then think of what He can do with you!
  2. God’s plan is God’s plan. We have been given the opportunity to accept, but God still wants us to respond. “Who are you, Lord?” Saul, as evil as he was, earnestly was wanting to follow God properly – he was just severely misinformed on how that works. Do you want to be a part of God’s plan? Do you want Him to use you in mighty ways? Do you have the passion to be a world changer in Christ’s name?
  3. Saul gave up everything to follow Christ. His position, money, lineage and fame were, in that instant, a distant memory. Instead, Saul took on suffering and a Mountain Dew life for Christ.

Saul’s Ministry Credentials

READ Acts 9:19-31

It is here where, on some levels, I really start to relate to Saul. His passion and zeal was not a good fit for those at “home” and this new convert to the faith all of a sudden had become a catalyst in the early church for major change. The Pharisees now hated him and wanted him dead, and the believers didn’t trust him. So what did he do? Did he fly under the radar? Did he lay low for a few months or years? Did he go to Bible College and earn a degree? No – he simply started preaching. We can look back today and see the wisdom from his writings that came straight from God and that Saul was specifically chosen by God to be a mouthpiece, but imagine being back then and seeing this guy—loud and obnoxious—come and take charge of everything, throw his weight around, argue and get in everyone’s faces. Would Saul be welcomed here, today?

Saul’s credentials were the result of a direct appointment from God. He acted from his calling and the Holy Spirit that resided fully in him. He took his loud and obnoxious personality and used it for kingdom glory. If the Holy Spirit indwelling Peter gave him a spiritual confidence, it made Saul BOLD. It gave him a vigor and a restlessness that would not stop. Saul cared about nothing else than seeing everyone come to Christ and traveled all around the known world to make that happen. He wanted to see Christ come back in his day!

The Return of Christ

That’s really the question posed here today. How much do you want to see the mission accomplished? What is the completion of God’s mission mean to you? Does it mean enough to willingly risk persecution and hatred? Is it enough to sacrifice your comfortable life? Is it enough even to get you out of that chair and on to your knees? Do you have the passion to stand up and fight the good fight; run the race with perseverance, and set your eyes firmly on Jesus? How would that look in your life? Plain and simple, friends, this is what our life is about. This is what the Christian life is about. God is calling us to be people of passion who, refined by the fire of persecution, are honored to give our very lives to the gospel. Consider the words of Saul from 1 Thess 1:5-10.

Are you ready to live that Mountain Dew lifestyle?

The Adolescence of the Early Church

Expository Text: Acts 3-6

It has been an absolute pleasure of mine to have spent the last 3 years with the teens at Cape Alliance Church. They bring a certain something to the table that, well, can’t be put into words. Maybe it can be put into words: crazy coffee concoctions, whispy whiskers, the kingship of the great dalmuti, and chicken sounds in the dark. We had a lot of fun – there is something special about being a teenager.

Lately, the church has been looking at the early church—Ekklesia: a group of people called out—and how they built this family group based on what they had in common, namely Jesus. The group grew quickly, and that was after 3000 joined them in a single day! Pretty soon, the early church found themselves trying to figure out who they were and what they needed to do in this larger world. The infancy of this brand new group quickly gave way as they became a force to be reckoned with and a noticeable entity in the larger world around them. After all, they were not commissioned to stay where they were at, but to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. That meant growing pains. Pretty soon, the church was experiencing adolescence and had to figure a lot out. As we look through Acts, chapters 3-6 today, we see the early almost as a teenager, forming a structure and a model that has lasted through today and beyond.

Rejecting of the Establishment

Continuing the practice they were shown during their time with Jesus, the Apostles continued right on as if nothing had happened. Instead of Jesus by their side, modeling the way, Jesus was indwelling them with the Holy Spirit. They were walking with Him more intimately than before and it was showing!

Just take Peter – before being filled with the Holy Spirit, he looked more like an uncoordinated toddler than anything else. As sweet and inspiring as they can be, with every memorable event comes one where they trip over their own feet. Peter was no different; he walked on water only to fall in, claimed Jesus was the Christ, then tried to stop him from His mission, and followed Jesus to the cross only to deny him 3 times. The Peter we meet at Pentecost and as the leader of the early church in our text today had Jesus living in him and through him – and it was evident.

READ Acts 3:1-10; 4:1-12

The ministry (and controversy) of healing did not end with Jesus.

With the Holy Spirit working through Peter, a lame beggar was healed. This incited the exact same response as Jesus’ acts of healing; namely that the one healed couldn’t stop praising God, and the ones in charge got angry about it. Peter was fully aware of how the high priest’s office would respond, as he has seen it many times before. Peter wasn’t worried about how he looked to the leadership and didn’t stop to question the effect this might have on others. He saw an opportunity to bring glory to God and acted. This is a key point – he sought no focus group or advisory board, but saw what needed to be done and acted (though, let’s remember that he was full of the Spirit and being clearly directed by God). He was not seeking his own leadership or glory, but was just living his life out to please his Lord.

There are no shades of grey with the early church.

Peter was not afraid to speak out with a clear and direct message about God, the only name that brings salvation, and even those that had Him killed. Peter was not trying to make people feel comfortable, fit himself inside a political box or agenda, make himself look good or anything else; he simply recognized that he was given an audience and used the chance to share with them the gospel message.

He infuriated the standard.

Think about it – who was this guy? He was uneducated, poor, had no lineage to his credit, and ended up as a fisherman because no one wanted him as a priestly apprentice. And now he was putting them in their place. A younger, more brash and raw personality now filled with a confidence and power that they knew not was telling them they were wrong and proving the power behind him with the miracles and connections to Jesus, whom they all remembered. He stood up to them and didn’t even consider, let alone care about the consequences. This of course led to him and John being arrested, which only gave Peter a chance to tell it directly to the face of the high priest himself. The high priest was ultimately powerless and could only muster the courage to threaten them. Even later on in chapter 5 when they get arrested again and escaped through the help of an angel of the Lord, those in power were too afraid of them and hid behind the counsel of their elder, letting them free again under threat.

The Apostles proved through their actions of faith and fearless abandon that there is no real power outside of God. The ones who seemingly held power were proven impotent by young men standing firm and talking about the love of Jesus. Like any teenager, they challenged authority and pushed away from what they once had known and trusted, following their heart – what they chose to trust in for themselves. Thankfully, because of the Holy Spirit, the new establishment they created blossomed and became something what was real and grew. Now that there was an early church and others were relying on the Apostles as leaders, rules had to be set up.

Developing the House Rules

Game nights are popular in our church and mercifully all of the house rules have been established for the different games we like. But have you been there when those rules are getting laid out? It can easily start to look like a scene of Ralph against Jack in the Lord of the Flies. Do you have to buy the Monopoly property when you land on an unowned space? What about creating alliances? And what about the Free Parking rules? My finds and I would get into such intense games of RISK during high school that our main house rule was that we would be friends again at 7 in the morning.

The Apostles now had a large and constantly growing group on their hands and management was needed. Obviously they had never done anything like this before and had no idea what to expect – so they established policies based off of the needs that arose. What we can see through the following passages show us the principles they based their decisions and policies from. They certainly did not sit down and transpose a theological thesis or a 12 part essay on the regulations of elderhood. While those kinds of things would come later, this was not that day, nor was that the point. They had to establish the basics of life together in community – the beginning of Ekklesia.

READ ACTS 5:1-16; 6:1-7

Transparency is required.

No one asked Ananias or Sapphira to give everything they had. In fact, I am confident that had they said they were only going to give a portion, they would have been fine – but they wanted the recognition of being givers of all and hold back some in secret. This was all about appearance for them – they had not given themselves over to God and yet wanted to look like heroes. This is a classic problem today among Christians and non-Christians alike. We easily forget that God is the one who looks at the heart and think we can get away with our scheming in front of others. Ask yourselves that question – what are you holding back? What in your life are you trying to keep hidden so you can look good in front of other people?

Service is a calling.

Everyone wants to be called to do something great. For example, when I was in college and got the chance to address around 1000 people during my chance to speak, I thought I was destined for huge crowds. Yet, look at this – one of the first major group decisions in the early church was about who would be in charge of serving food to the widows of the group. Verse 3: “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” And this is for serving food! The Apostles them laid their hands on them and prayed for those chosen – and this is where we get introduced to Stephen, who, in verse 8 it says he was, “full of grace and power, performing great wonders and signs among the people.” Allow me to confess something for a moment – the first time I walked into the youth group to teach and saw only 3 students there, I had a hesitation (going back to my large crowds destiny), but God called me to be obedient and deliver the message, so I did. And He has blessed me through that group in so many ways! There is no service not important enough – we can strategize about the best and most efficient ways to reach the most people – but God is not a strategist – he is a lover and our calling is to love each person – 1 to 1.

Church – Ekklesia – at its heart is not complicated or overly theological. Church, as originally introduced was Christians coming together to worship God through the fulfillment of the mission – which is to love and serve. As the numbers grew, there were more people to love and serve more. And God added daily to those who were being saved. So what about us? Do we warrant more people coming to us each day? Are we living in a way that glorifies God and serves other people? Is love our language with each other? Are we focused on what is ours individually – what we have, what we can do, our rights – or are we focused on how we can show love to those here and around us? Are you living like Ananias and Sapphira, holding things back for your own benefit, or are you living what I like to call a Mountain Dew lifestyle – holding nothing back and leaving it all out there.

Living a Mountain Dew Lifestyle

One of the things I miss most about being a teenager was the absolute vigor to go – to run and do. No burden could hold me back, no adventure seemed boring. Since there weren’t such a thing as energy drinks when I was a teen, all we had was Mountain Dew – that is, until they created Surge, which I am pretty sure was just Mountain Dew with additional green slime. And yes, we had Surge parties in my high school youth group. We wanted to live like Mountain Dew – to be that active, that free, that intense. Whether it was playing basketball for hours without a break or intense 3am theological conversations, we didn’t hold back. We fought to live life to the fullest extent possible and let the idea of mission run our lives. The early church did the same thing.

They held nothing sacred, save Christ.

Everyone had jobs to do, but no one was above anyone else. In the book of Galatians, we read about Paul, the hotshot newcomer to the group who calls Peter on the carpet for trying to look good in front of the large group (Peter didn’t get perfected until he got to heaven – just like us). And Paul was in the right! In 1 Corinthians 8 we learn that our rights and privileges are secondary to the needs of others in the church. We are called to give stuff like that up. Who needs it when all that matters is the mission? What would Ananias and Sapphira done differently had they been truly sold out to the mission and to Christ? Would they have held such a tight grip on what they felt was theirs?

They didn’t worry about the risks.

In this passage, we see two different times where the Apostles were preaching the gospel and got arrested for it. We worry about being wise, we worry about what others think, we worry about the ramifications and repercussions, we worry about the consequences. The Apostles lived in a time when what they wanted to do was illegal and unliked by all those that weren’t Christians. We don’t know persecution today. We may think we do, but we, here, don’t. While the cultural and political landscape are changing that, and I am pretty sure persecution for us may not be far off, it’s not that far yet. However, churches are still underground in China and there are many other parts of the world that will shoot you on sight for being a Christian. Imagine preaching the gospel in a public square in Iran. Is there anyone here that would do it without hesitation? We need to let go of ourselves, stop worrying about who’s in power and what could happen and just live for God – let Him run our lives and only care about what He has to say. That how the Apostles lived, and that’s the legacy that was passed on.

They focused totally on the mission.

It was all because of the mission. READ Acts 5:33-42. There are accounts of all the Apostles and their deaths; their martyrdoms – all for the glory of God. The only one we don’t know how he died was John who was banished to the island of Patmos. Other Apostles were beheaded, crucified, murdered, starved, etc… all for the mission. All because Jesus told them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. They understood that was all that matters. Today we have distractions. I am guilty of this just like we all are. “But I have to make a good wage”; “I need to save up to buy a new car soon”; “I just want to watch this last episode of my favorite TV show”. It doesn’t matter what it is, good or bad, if it is keeping us from preaching Christ and Him crucified, then it is a distraction and is a tool being used by the enemy to keep you out of the game. What is keeping you out of the game?

There is a lot of stuff we hold on to today. Our stuff, our rights, our entertainment, our worries, our memories, out anger, our hurt, our bitterness and resentment. Those are just a few. God is calling us to let go of everything else and grab on to Him. Just like he did to the early church He can do today – power to do miracles, adding daily to the number of those being saved; these are easy to God. I think the problem is us. We are too busy holding on to everything else that we are afraid to let go and live that Mountain Dew lifestyle.

The Church as Christ’s Body

Growing up, my family always taught me their understanding of the church, often best explained through the old rhyme one would say while interlocking their fingers; “To have a church, stick up your fingers for the steeple, open the doors and there’s all the people!” While this was a clever use of one’s fingers and a great way to introduce the very basic idea of going to church to a youngster, it is severely lacking and does not explain or educate as to the true nature of the church as the body of Christ.

There are many examples I could use from my evangelical Christian upbringing that helped give me a skewed version of the definition of the church, such as some classics like; “Make sure to put on your Sunday best!”, or, “Stop! We don’t play in church!” These are all things I heard growing up in a God-fearing Christian family, and they were said to help me grow in reverence and respect towards God, yet they did not provide me with an accurate starting point for my burgeoning faith and ultimately became things I had to overcome as I grew to fully understand my journey of faith and place in the church, the body of Christ.

The Foundational Mission of Church

As I learned more and more about the true purpose and nature of the church, I found myself focusing on the church’s starting point. To completely grasp the reason the church exists, we must understand when and how it started. We see God lay out his plan in the Old Testament. The original intention behind the nation of Israel was to fulfill the blessing God originally gave to Abraham for the benefit of the whole world. “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed'” (Genesis 12:1-3). There are a few basic fundamentals that we see in this passage:

  1. God has a plan for bringing His blessing to the world
  2. God intends to use humans to be the messenger of that blessing

While the physical nation of Israel did not live up to this mission, it is clear through God’s use of the “remnant” that a spiritual nation of Israel was rising up inside the physical. This became clear through Jesus’ life and teachings. “He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches'” (Matthew 13:31-32). This movement of Jesus was the catalyst of God’s eternal plan of bringing his love and grace to everyone on earth.

Jesus started by calling this movement the “kingdom of God” and explaining his plan for it all throughout his time on earth; that it would grow and be a source of life for all around it. His intention and plan was always that “all around it” would refer to the whole world and would come from the few gathered in front of him that day.

As it then was, even as it was on the day of Pentecost, it was smaller than any sect or party in Palestine or Greece or Italy. It was sown in God’s field of the world, but it was to grow till it became greater than any sect or school, a tree among the trees of the forest, a kingdom among other kingdoms (comp. the imagery of Ezekiel 31:3; Daniel 4:10), a great organised society; and the “birds of the air” (no longer, as before, the emblems of evil)—i.e., the systems of thought, institutions, and the like, of other races—were to find refuge under its protection.

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers for Matthew 13:31

From this, the church’s directive and promise of fulfillment is here in Matthew 24:14: “The kingdom of Heaven shall be preached to all nations and then the end shall come.” At the time Jesus said this, the disciples were still trying to figure out the mystery of what Jesus exactly means by this, but it fit exactly in line going all the way back to God’s calling of Abraham in Genesis 12. The point of blessing the Israelites was to bless the rest of the world with God’s love. It makes perfect sense that Jesus wouldn’t return until everyone alive has had the chance to receive that love and grace.

Jesus is the Head of the Church

From the start of Jesus’ ministry all through until he charged the disciples to carry on the mission, the charge was always spreading the gospel. The good news of salvation must be preached to everyone; every human must know the truth of their own lostness and inability to regain their own standing in front of God. Only by trusting in the atoning act of Jesus can a person be justified in the sight of God and reunited into His family.

We know from Paul that all a person has to do is “Believe with your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The plan of God—the mission of the church—is eternal salvation through Jesus Christ for the rest of the world. But why does humanity need that blessing from God?

Simply put, the world is without hope. You only need to watch the news for one day to see reports on mass murders, natural disasters, horrific acts of terror; the results of which can deflate joy and happiness faster than a pin can pop a balloon. “This generation thinks that nothing faithful, vulnerable, fragile can be durable or have any true power. Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for a dropping light bulb” (Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 342). The evil of Satan and the power of sin have robbed humankind of its connection to life and love. The hope we have does not come from this world, but from the God who smuggled himself into this world through the virgin birth and carried our sins on the cross. “There is hope, and it comes to fulfillment when we believe and obey the gospel. Because the gospel has been, is, and will always be the way of salvation, the only way, the church must preserve it at all costs” (Erickson, 342).

The church is the embodiment of the calling and blessing God gave to Abraham all those years ago. Just as the physical nation of Israel was to be the light of the world and bring others to God, the church is now the spiritual remnant of Israel and is charged with the same task: to reach the lost of this world with the message and hope of Jesus Christ. The church started with the first Christians to meet and hear the words of Jesus.

Jesus started the church by bringing salvation. He is the ignition, the catalyst, the message of the church. And though it did start as small of a mustard seed, 2000 years later it has grown into an intricate network that spans every continent and countless languages. Though the church has not reached the whole world, it is world-wide and fully cross-cultural. The Church, universally, is the collective group that includes every Christian that has ever lived. “The Church (Universal) is the Body of all saved people everywhere. It includes all those who have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood, have received forgiveness of their sins, and have been born spiritually into His family. This is the sense in which the word church is used in Matthew 16:18, which Jesus promised to build” (

The Growth of the Church

And it is an intricate network. After spending years in the business world, it is easy to see the genius way Jesus developed and built the church. It is a network that any business would love to perfect and many businesses try to model, albeit without giving the proper credit where it is due. Take for example, Coca-Cola. In the early days, during their major expansion efforts outside of the Atlanta region to national and global levels, Coca-Cola used one specific strategy for developing interest in its brand.

As Coke would work its way into a new town, it would take a small network of trucks and salesmen, enter a new city and immediately give away a certain amount of Coke to the local populace. They knew that if people got a taste of Coca-Cola, they would want more. The company initially dispatched these small networks throughout many smaller, local communities so that as people traveled back and forth, this new sensation would be ready and available for them quickly and easily. As Coke took hold in a particular town, the company would immediately establish carrier routes and help tout the local places that sold it. All of a sudden there was a dense network of Coke channels that lead all the way back to Atlanta (Pendergrast, For God Country and Coca-Cola).

Jesus initially developed this pattern of “market saturation” when he sent out the 72. He created small teams of disciples (2 by 2) and sent them out into the neighboring towns to share the message of the gospel. What this ultimately began and was formalized during the time of the Book of Acts was a local pocket of believers that could travel and connect to other pockets that had the same teaching as they were all connected to the hub.

Leadership and Structure of the Church

As the church grew and grew, many “hubs” popped up over the Mediterranean region, the headquarters moved locations and they all found themselves at different points questioning certain tenants of faith and their own existence. “The apostle Paul set the pattern for evangelism in the early centuries of Christianity by settling for a time in one of the great cities of the empire and, through his younger helpers, thrusting out from this center to smaller towns of the region” (Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 29).

Thankfully, instead of focusing their trust on what the hubs had to say, the church stayed together by a focus on God through prayer and stern rules on what was good teaching and what was not. A lot of the overarching theology was solidified through the early church councils where topics such as heretical teaching, the Scriptural canon and individual issues were discussed and decided upon. For example, the Council of Nicaea was formed so “a general council of the church would solve the problem created in the Eastern church by Arianism, a heresy first proposed by Arius of Alexandria and affirmed that Christ is not divine but a created being” (Encyclopedia Britannica, Council of Nicaea).

The local churches (or city churches at that time) would take the information they had from the overall church leaders and the councils and would prayerfully use those tools to follow God. Centuries before the World Wide Web and complex business structures, the church strategically built an infrastructure that would survive controversies, politicians, popes, wars and many other attacks (yet the heart of the church held together In those small units); through times like the Renaissance and the Reformation and still survives to this day. The sharing of the Gospel is the beginning of the calling for the church to be a blessing to the world, accomplished through local networks of churches.

Today, ecumenical councils have been replaced by denominational organizations that are as numerous and varied as the sands of the sea. Each of these are constructed based on their theology, philosophy of leadership and organizational style (among other differences). Denominations are then broken down into districts and local churches. While many agree on at least the main salvation-related issues, it has become more and more vital for each person to study the Scriptures on their own and choose a church that can logically, thoughtfully and clearly define and teach the theological truths of the Bible.

Leadership and authority of the church is dependent on its larger governing body, but Christ is the Head. This was modeled back in the early church with the 12 apostles taking leadership roles to ensure the continuity and correctness of the teaching – as they were the ones that had a direct, first person relationship to Christ. Paul then lays out in 1 Timothy 3 the qualifications for leadership in the church as it continued to grow. Protection of Christ’s message and the mission were (and are) vital, so Paul explained the type of individuals that should be trusted with certain positions of leadership. Proper teaching and doctrinal stability has helped ensure that Christ and Him crucified is what is preached. This is not the end of the mission, though. Jesus is not just our Savior, but also our Sanctifier and he uses the church as a vehicle of blessing in this way as well.

Sanctification through the Church

Matthew 28:19-20 and Romans 12:1-2 (among many other verses) make it clear that the job of the believer is to live a lifestyle of worship, through which a ministry-minded outreach should be a significant part. In other words, we are called, as we are living our life, to share the Gospel and invite other people into relationship with Christ. The Christian life, however, does not start and stop at the point of conversion. In order for a new believer in Jesus to reach the point of spiritual maturity and the faith/ability to go out and share Jesus themselves, they need to learn and grow.

“The first decisive step in sanctification is an act of will by which we renounce evil in every form in which it is made manifest to our consciences and brought into the light. We deny further not only evil in its manifestations but also the whole evil self and sinful nature from which each separate act has sprung. We also separate ourselves from the world and its embodiment of the old natural condition of things and the kingdom of the prince of evil. We recognize ourselves as not of the world even as He was not of the world. We put off, not merely that which is sinful, but that which is natural and human that it may die on the Cross of Jesus and rise into a supernatural and divine life” (Wholly Sanctified, A.B. Simpson, 10).

It is not the responsibility of the church to sanctify its members, as that is the work of Christ Himself. However, God did establish the church as a way for believers to live and grow with each other, learn the proper teaching and achieve, in a matter of speaking, a separation from the world through the community of believers. The Book of Acts speaks of this purpose of the church beautifully.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, NIV).

The Church is One Body, Many Parts

Whether we are looking at the local church down the street or the world-wide community of believers, God has brilliantly constructed a living body of Christ that has all the right pieces in all the right places at all the right times. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks of the roles of the body of church down to the individual members through the explanation of spiritual gifts. God has gifted every believer to fulfill a role in His plan and laid people out accordingly so that the whole of the work can be accomplished. It’s just like any business would dream to be able to fabricate: having a team of different talents and giftings that complement each other so that the commission may be fulfilled.

A.B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, saw the mission of the church in a fully realized way as he developed a movement of teams with specific abilities to accomplish specific purposes for the Gospel world-wide. That can be seen even in the name of the denomination, as the missionary agency and sending churches in the states eventually grouped under one organizational hierarchy. Just as he saw the mission from Jesus and formation plan of the early church over 100 years ago, we are all called to work together in that early church mindset that Acts describes so that, as we come together, the fullness of the body of Jesus is realized both for internal sanctification and external impact. This is the key to experiencing the blessing offered in Acts 2:47; seeing the multitudes come to Jesus.

God does the work in both the acts of salvation and sanctification, yet He offers us the opportunity to “go along for the ride” and be a part of His workings in the world. The church, being made up of people is certainly imperfect, but it is the way He chose to work: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). This is so there is no question that it is His work; His power. We are weak, but God has united us through his power to each other and to Him and is using us to accomplish great things locally, nationally and internationally. We are not a scattered group of people or a nursery rhyme, but through the power of God we are one body, one church; His vessel to bring the blessings of His love and His grace to the rest of the world.


Erickson, Millard. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992.

Pendergrast, Mark. For God, Country, and Coca-Cola. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Shelley, Bruce. Church History in Plain Language. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1982.

Simpson, A.B. Wholly Sanctified. Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1991.

Ellicott’s Commentary on Matthew 13.

A Study of the Nature and Meaning of Jesus’ Church.

The Council of Nicea.

Refilling an Empty Spiritual Tank

bird flying

Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot like Peter Gibbons. Living in the rat race is a continual track of non-stop motion, distraction and usually frustration. Every so often I feel like asking myself why I keep running along, or what’s the point of all this? When I start asking myself questions like this, it becomes obvious that tank is on empty. As much fun as it would be to destroy an office machine, I’m not talking about dealing with a problem or fixing a negative. I’m talking about what happens when the positive-ness runs low.

This isn’t about being hungry, or depressed, sad or even upset; but just like our bodies can only go so long without nourishment and a car can only go so many miles without a stop for gas, our souls have a tank as well. What I am talking about here is exactly with Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:18 when he says to be filled with the Spirit. When a person accepts the offer of eternal salvation from God through Jesus, we join His family and God Himself (through the Holy Spirit) takes residence inside our souls, as Jeremiah 31:33 suggests. While God does “move in”, that does not mean we give up ourselves, our free will or our mind. It does mean God becomes the Lord of all we are, but He does not reprogram us; He frees us.

What this means is that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior can still get frustrated, can still go through hard times and can still fall into times of sin. Even though sin’s hold on us is broken, we can still pick it up. God intends for us to continue living in this world; it is our calling, our mission – we are His workmanship, created in advance to do His good works on earth (Ephesians 2:10). Since we are here and have a job to do, we must still deal with and live in the world around us. And this world can get very annoying at times.

So, in league with all my other “empty tank” friends, here is a (short) list of things really annoying about this world.

  1. The Bill Lumbergh factorbill lumbergh office space
  2. The sounds my dogs make when they are scratching or licking themselves
  3. Lack of objectivity in the media
  4. Anything that has to do with Glee or High School Musical
  5. Florida drivers
  6. Reality TV
  7. Uneducated opinions
  8. And so on…

Life is an Endurance Race

I list these out to commiserate with everyone else on the planet. No human is immune to pet peeves, getting frustrated or having an empty tank at times. The Bible knows and understand this, which is why there are numerous references to life being an endurance race; one that takes training, refreshment, rest and strenuous effort. Take Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Hebrews 12:1-3 shares similar advice:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Both of these passages are written to Christians; people who have already placed their faith in God! It is clear and natural to accept that sometimes Christians get run down, haggard, worn out and burned up. I believe those serving in churches (both professional and lay) are even more susceptible to empty tanks, though they can be the most difficult to help. Just like Martha in Luke 10, it is normal that people allow themselves to get overworked without recharging, and many Biblical passages exist to help us through such times.

I have no complaints about my life at all, but despite how enjoyable the individual aspects of it can be, adding them all together makes for quite a full existence. Think about it: I am a husband, father, son and brother. I am a friend, a teacher, a leader and a servant. Nita and I both work full time, are foster parents (currently to two gorgeous little girls), have two dogs, serve in multiple capacities at church, work hard to exercise and stay healthy and do what we can to spend time with each other. These are all great things! However, it can be quite overwhelming when everything happens at the same time. I certainly have been feeling lately a bit strung out and tired. The truth is, I am writing about this because this is exactly how I currently feel! Thus, as a lesson to myself and hopefully some good advice for any readers, I am here to discuss Biblical ways to refill.

Get in the Game

A full gas tank sitting in a car that never gets used is a waste. Sitting on the bench and not getting involved is not healthy, it is not God’s intention and does not do anything to fill us with His Spirit. Only if we are actively using the gifts and opportunities that God gives will we experience opportunities to be filled. If we are watching from the seats and being armchair quarterbacks, God has no need to fill us with anything; we’ll just get bloated.

The first step to getting filled by God is to get your feet moving. Start serving – start pouring out what you may or may not currently have and let God turn on the faucet. As someone who spent some extended time on the sidelines, I can say with confidence that you won’t get a refill until you are using what you have.

Nourish the Spirit like we Nourish the Body

It is perfectly natural to eat when we are hungry, right? But what about making sure we get spiritually filled? I know people right now who are constantly serving across this country in nurseries and Sunday schools that completely block their opportunities to join with others in the main worship service. How is that possible? How can we, as Christians, let other people serve non-stop and not even notice that it’s been years since they’ve joined together with the church body on a Sunday morning?

We need to grow; to learn. Congregating together to offer praise to God and learn from His Word is a vital piece of nourishment that is so easily set aside (much like eating fruits and vegetables). Whether you are a volunteer or a leader of volunteers, make sure that opportunities to learn, grow and “take in” happen often and consistently.

Other than sitting in a church service, make sure that you are also regularly spending time in the Word and in prayer. Jesus many times compared Himself to food – for a good reason! He is our spiritual food and the more time we spend with Him in communion, prayer, service, singing, study and corporate worship (there are many other options as well), the healthier we will be. How can anyone ever go thirsty if they are always connected to a source of clean water? Though we may forget to drink every now and then, we’ll never die of thirst.


“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

couch nap rest time

Despite the Pharisees trying their hardest to turn every breath into a list of complicated rules, not every aspect of life is about giving or doing. Receiving is ok. The Sabbath is a gift from God to turn away from the rat race of life and catch your breath. There are times when we need things, whether it be a day off, a particular tool to do the job better, or an opportunity to blow off steam and enjoy a few moments. All of these are acceptable and things that God wants to give you! There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break. Stopping to rest, stopping to remember. These are the reason that God instituted the Sabbath as well as holidays. As humans, we need to STOP sometimes. We are not the Energizer bunny.

Ask for Help

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11)! God knows what we need and when we need it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask. He wants us to come to Him. In Philippians, Paul tells us “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Jabez asked God and received (1 Chronicles 4), there is no reason that, if you truly need something from God that He won’t supply it.

God’s sole purpose for our existence is to lavish His love and affection on us. Jesus’ existence was the ultimate proof of that love. While He often times gives it without being asked; for Him, to have us come to His feet and ask Him for what we need, it is pure joy to be asked. What do you need?

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

My Own, Personal Scapegoat


There is a story of two young boys, Ralph and Mario. Mario lived near some woods and brought Ralph over one day to play. Both of them aspiring handymen, they chose to spend their time in the garage, building things out of the available spare wood scraps. Mario was very careful to explain to Ralph that there was one major garage rule, a declaration not to touch daddy’s hammer. It was daddy’s special hammer. Any other (non-power) tool that was within reach of the boys could be used for their creative aspirations, and there was even another hammer if they needed. Both boys were careful to avoid the special hammer and continued enjoying their afternoon.

As time went on, they wanted to go take their inventions out into the trees and see if they could find other scraps whit which to build. Ralph packed up a bag of tools to take with them and thought it would be fun to bring along the special hammer. Mario had no idea until they got to their building station among the trees. Seeing no point in harping on Ralph’s blunder, Mario reminded him of the rule, but figured he’d keep an eye on it and everything would be ok.

Arriving home in just enough time to unpack, Mario was mortified to learn that his dad’s special hammer was not in the bag of tools and was nowhere to be found among their other supplies. Boys will be boys, and completely due to the fact that they were two ten-year-olds, they forgot the special hammer when running back home to the sound of the dinner bell. There was no time to go and find it and Mario could see his father’s car heading up the street towards their house. This would not be good.

When Mario’s father got home, Mario fessed up and admitted to losing the special hammer in the forest. His father, visibly upset, kept his composure but was very unhappy at Mario’s carelessness. He led Mario down to the basement and gave his son a stern lecture that ended in a particularly painful spanking. Ralph could do nothing but watch his friend take a whipping for a crime that both he and Mario knew was his fault. Yet Mario stayed quiet and took the punishment for his friend.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53: 5-7).

 The Price of Sin

While this is certainly not a perfect analogy, the story is a particularly powerful example of the act of our Savior on the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life, fully God and fully man, and chose to take our punishment, so that, as Paul stated, “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Christ had to come and save us, because we couldn’t save ourselves.

Genesis 3:8 shows that God regularly walked and communed with the first couple, enjoying a deep fellowship. That was lost after the incident at the tree and has been the reigning affliction for mankind since. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God and eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the catalyst that broke humanity’s intimate relationship with God.

 Separation from God

One simple bite of fruit and the essence of humanity’s relationship with God became one of opposition instead of inclusion. God never broke the relationship with man; He just remained consistent to His nature. It was man who changed the situation; who chose to trust himself instead of God. “According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, 109-110). All of a sudden, mankind thought they belonged in the inner circle; they wanted to determine the outcomes. Unfortunately, none of the possible outcomes led to profit.

In 1 Corinthians 15, while Paul is making the argument about the importance of believing in the resurrection, he makes this statement about the nature of mankind since Adam. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Without Christ, mankind is stuck in their sins and separated from God. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is an unstoppable plague to which not one person (save Jesus, due to him being full God as well) can avoid. Every human is a sinner and in need of salvation in order to be reunited with God.

With the entrance of sin, the very nature of the world was changed; altered. Enduring fell to decay; permanent became temporary. The consequences of the original sin were far more reaching than banishment from the Garden; it was the birth of pain, suffering, death and judgment. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Man had been fully separated from God, and although physical death did not arrive immediately, that separation from God did bring an immediate spiritual death. Because of our sin; because our pride fooled us into believing that we could be like God, we immediately became slaves to sin and death. “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness” (Romans 6:20).

 The Nature of God

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13a). God’s nature is perfect and holy and evil literally cannot exist in His presence. He is above it, outside it, completely unconnected from the ordinary and from our understanding. “We cannot grasp the true meaning of divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of” (Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 104). To be holy, in Hebrew, means to be completely marked off or separated from common use (Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 89). This is simply something outside ourselves; and understanding too infinite to grasp. And not only is God holy (or separated/pure from the common), but He is righteous. “The righteousness of God means, first of all, that the law of God, being a true expression of His nature, is as perfect as He is” (Erickson, 89). Because God is perfect and holy, He can only be in the presence of purity and right-ness.

Therefore, because mankind is inherently sinful, we cannot exist in the presence of God. What was the point? By merely reading the account of creation in Genesis, the experiment of God and the destiny of man are both complete failures. By the end of the third chapter everything was ruined; that is, without an understanding of the reason God created humans in the first place. As shown above, God desires relationship with us. He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:27) and placed us above the animals. He took care in designing us and gave us the ability to commune with Him as He communes with us. The reason for creation is relationship; the reason is Love. He simply wants to be with us and for us to be with Him. Though through sin we broke the relationship, God knew this to be the beginning of the story; not the end. Before laying out the consequences to Adam and Eve, God started the conversation by punishing the serpent (and ultimately Satan) which is both a foreshadowing of the full victory of God and the initial promise of a return of the relationship. Genesis 3:15 is the promise of an offspring of the woman who, though Satan would seemingly win victory, would crush evil forever.

 A Plan for Restoration

Ever since then man has had a longing to return to the original place of relationship with God. Although many have tried to create their own pathways, the actions all speak for themselves; in the heart of every person is a longing to return to that original relationship. God has not let us go; he continues to work in the very depths of our souls a desire for something deeper—a desire for Him. “Philosophers call this Romance, this heart yearning set within us, the longing for transcendence; the desire to be part of something larger than ourselves, to be part of something out of the ordinary that is good” (Eldridge, The Sacred Romance, 19).

Yet, because our nature is utterly sinful, we cannot find our own way back to God. We are lost; depraved. The chasm between us and God is impassible by any man, because every man is trapped in their sins. Like an infant stuck in its dirty diaper, it has no hope of cleansing in itself; it can only hope that something outside itself can intervene and come to the rescue. This is the power of that Romance. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God did not leave us to ourselves, but from the very moment of the fall showed us a pathway to salvation. He acted first; He created, developed and executed the plan of salvation completely on His own. His plan; His ultimate display of Romance is the person of Jesus.

 The Action of Jesus

Jesus, fully God and fully man, emptied himself and became obedient to the point of death; even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8). That means he left the riches and glory of Heaven, giving up his divine attributes in the ultimate riches to rags situation. Living a life of chosen poverty and humility, he was born in a stable, raised the son of a woodworker and associated with the dregs of society. His mission was not to show us a good example or scare us into living right; He came to make things right between man and God. “God’s violated honor can be put right again either by his punishing us humans or by accepting satisfaction made in our behalf. To be effective, the satisfaction rendered and to be greater than what all created beings are capable of doing, since they can only do what is required of them” (Erickson, 244-245). Yet, even though God was the only one who could make satisfaction, humans are the guilty party. Reparation to God had to be made by a human. The only possible outcome for this dilemma was Emmanuel, God with us.

“Christ, being both God and sinless human, did not deserve death. Therefore, his offering his life to God in behalf of the human race of which he was a part of went beyond what was required of him. Thus, it could serve as a genuine satisfaction to God for human sins” (Erickson, 245). Jesus did not ransom us back from Satan, but satisfied the justice of God by taking the punishment on our behalf as the only one who could possibly qualify. Faith in Christ and his salvific act satisfies our debt to God. We are therefore declared righteous through that faith and welcomed back into the intimate relationship with God.

While his death satisfied God’s righteousness, it was Christ’s resurrection that won the fullness of victory over all things evil. To reiterate Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15, since Jesus defeated death by rising again on the third day, we are able to be raised again and granted eternal life in the presence of God. The Romance, the relationship, is restored in us through the person of Jesus. All we have to do is trust in this plan of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).

 New Life and a Restored Relationship

Once, “by the grace of God we are saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), we can begin to fully experience the wonder and majesty of our Creator through personal relationship. The Romance is fulfilled; the bride presented to her groom. As the Westminster Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” ( We are finally able to experience ourselves the original reason for creation—intimate closeness to God.

Through Jesus we have been declared righteous and are restored to that wonderful Romance. Yet this is not the end of the story either. To be justified is not to be automatically made perfect; our growth in trust and obedience is the work of Jesus which he is faithful to complete, as we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Upon our restoration to God, He immediately embarks with us on the journey of renewal and cleansing in ourselves. This is the process of sanctification. The work is not final until the day we see Jesus face to face (Philippians 1:6).

 The Calling of Faith

And that is where I stand. When my eyes were opened to the reality of my sin and separation from God and the sacrifice of Jesus, my seven-year-old heart broke. I, like Ralph, watched as someone else paid for my crimes. It was clear that my savior, however, was not guilty. In his perfect love, he loved me before I knew him and was still trapped in my sins, and he loves me now as I seek to grow closer to the one who gave it all just to be with me.

Through the loving faith of my parents and the explanation of my mother, Jesus gave me new life and I can do nothing better with this life but give it back to him. Since the age of fourteen God has made it clear there is a calling on my life for ministry that I cannot deny. As Paul continues in Romans 10, the message of this Romance needs to be spread and God is giving us the opportunity to be the ones to spread the Good News of Jesus. I have traded the chains of sin for the yolk of Jesus and I have never been freer, as Jesus is my light; my life. I am on a journey of love as one freed from sin and have a passion to share that opportunity with those who haven’t yet grasped that wonderful, romantic, restorative message. “For I have been crucified with Christ and it is I who no longer live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).


Curtis, Brent and Eldredge, John. The Sacred Romance. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.

Erickson, Millard. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1943.

Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1961.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism.


Trust and Obey | A Workout Guide


I hate working out. Never a friend; it sits and stares at me while I try to build of the drive and the energy to wear myself out. People kept telling me it would get easier, I’d get addicted and start liking yet. That has yet to happen. I have become more disciplined, however, it is still discipline that drives my workout routine. Though I have held to a fairly regular exercise routine since 2006 (24 Hour Fitness in Omaha did serve me well for a while), it was January of 2013 that saw me take the next step in my workouts: cycling…in Florida…during the hottest part of the day.

Physical Training and the Swim-Cycle

Swim-cycling—I call it that due to the Florida humidity—has without question helped me take a significant jump in my aggressiveness of workouts and, to be honest, it has made a difference physically. Though, due to the arrival of the kids (whom I blame completely for my lack of time and energy), I have seen a slight drop in days per week I can work out, I am still pushing hard and seeing gains and physical improvement in myself. While it does not get easier every day (it’s a mix of good days and bad days), I am getting stronger and healthier. This is why, as much as I hate it, physical training is vital to my life.

I could site articles and stats that show the value of aggressive exercise and how it can add years to a person’s life, but I won’t do that (except for this). There is no researched of logical argument that can negate the positive physical benefits of vigorous exercise. That’s not the point of this post. The point is the value of training – whether it be physical training, mental training, spiritual training or so on.

Why We Train Physically and Spiritually

We currently have a two-year-old foster child who has been living in our home long term. “A” (to protect her identity) is, for the most part, a very well behaved little girl who really wants to please Nita and I, make her little foster sister laugh and is conscious enough to automatically pick up after herself and treat the animals gently. For those reasons and many more, she has been an absolutely wonderful child to have in our home. She certainly does have her issues and can be very stubborn (let’s not forget that she’s two), and though she does have our trust in certain small things, she does not have a long leash.

For example, early on we had to help her wash her hands after using the restroom. She needed us to lift her up to the sink and help with the faucet and soap. A few weeks ago, I caught her coming out of the bathroom without us helping her wash up. Surprised that she didn’t call for help, I figured she forgot and got up to remind her of what she needs to do. Yet, when I grabbed her hand, I noticed it was damp. Curious, I asked her if she washed her hands, to which she said “Yes”. Though hopeful, the story didn’t add up and I did not believe her. After walking her back to the bathroom, I asked her to show me how she washed her own hands. To my astonishment, she climbed right up the vanity, turned on the faucet, grabbed the soap and washed her hands totally on her own. She had just earned a little bit of trust. Because I knew I could trust her in that, I was open to allowing her an appropriate level of freedom in that area, plus opportunities to increase that trust level even more.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.

Matthew 25:14-28, NIV

Training to Trust and Obey

Jesus used this very example to describe the nature of trust. It starts small and then is given opportunities to grow as the student learns to obey and be faithful. “A” is nowhere near ready to handle all of the hygienic responsibilities adults take care of while half-asleep, because it’s too early in the morning and the coffee isn’t done percolating yet. Her version of brushing her teeth is a huge, toothy grin while holding the toothbrush up her nose. She’s not there yet. So, while she can handle the hand washing duties on her own, she still has a lot of progress to go.

This, obviously, is normal and an expected part of growing up. My point exactly. She’s only been alive a little over two years, it would be crazy to expect her to playing Mozart flawlessly, let alone actually brushing the food off of her teeth. The lesson here, the one I am learning how much I still have to learn is one of spiritual obedience.

“A” does not understand why she needs to wash her hands. The complexities of germs and bacteria are still years away in her cognitive development. What she does understand is that her job, as our foster daughter, is to obey. We are the authorities in her life and the only thing she needs to worry about is obeying Mummy and Daddy. This is a perfect analogy of our growth and sanctification in Christ. This side of heaven we will never know what the plan is; Proverbs 3 makes it clear that God is the one who lights our steps and makes our paths straight. Yet that lighting generally only shows us the next step. And that’s the key.

The Goal of Spiritual Training

We are not responsible for the plan. We are not responsible for our lives. We are purely responsible to stand. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” This is the first verse in Philippians 4, directly after Paul wrote about following the example of Jesus and living life as a long distance journey. We cannot control where the path leads, nor can we control what obstacles fly in our way. All we can control, and all we are ultimately asked to do is to obey. Obey Christ and stand. Stand firm in our faith, following where the lighted path leads and trust that He has everything under control. That is faith and obedience. That is our calling, our job description as Christians.

So, while I must admit that I have not been very obedient to God this week, (and I only fit in two workouts) I get up each morning, get back on the bike, open back up the prayer lines and keep training. Some days are better than others, but as I look back through my life, my days are far better than they were years ago. I am a different person than I was and am continually being made new as I grow closer to God through trust and obedience. Maybe in a few years I’ll be trusted to brush my teeth on my own as well!

Your Job Is… from Cape Alliance Church on Vimeo.

Memes of New York

someecards meme creation for facebook

I have always been a big fan of the late, great Dave Barry. I say late because, as of the writing of this post, he is fifteen years late responding to my fan mail. Seriously though, his writing style has been truly inspirational to me. Every word so carefully crafted, it’s as if his filter was not a six pack of Budweiser, but a chain mail of brilliance. A lot of what made his writing so ingenious was his ability to pull together the most random of objects or discussion points, find a hidden link and tie them together to a wonderfully resounding denouement.

In the hopes of following in his steps, I want to talk about the memes that have recently been littering my Facebook news feed (I am referring to the images with a clever quote overlaid ..or something like that). Where did this phenomenon originate? Who came up with this crazy thing? To find out, I decided to use some investigative journalism. [Note to the IRS: Yes, it has been a long time since I’ve done any investigative journalism, but if you take a look at my previous articles, you will see I definitely do it for business reasons.] This time, my professional journalistic nature took me to the grand city of New York.

For those of you who have not yet been to New York City, let me tell you a bit about this wonderfully stuffed berg. It houses two of the most hated baseball teams in the Major Leagues and is the only logical city for Spiderman to sling around in. Let’s be honest – imagine if Spiderman lived in Omaha, NE. All he could do would be to spin a huge net between the Woodmen Tower and the First National Bank Building. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think he’d be very effective that way unless criminals were sling shooting themselves through the air.

Back to New York. While there, I ran into the tremendously helpful Jolene Smithers. When asked about her knowledge of the funny card corporation, Someecards, she excitedly responded, “Who?” To help jog her memory, I told her I was talking about those funny cards that get passed around a lot on Facebook. Now clear on what I was asking about, she said, “Oh, I don’t do that Facebook thing. Sorry.” That confirms only 1 of the 18 million people living in New York are not familiar with these memes, proving these are obviously significant no matter where you live.

Why does this matter? It matters because these memes are so completely helpful to our daily life. Thousands of barely surviving business struggle on Facebook trying to provide relevant and informative information to their constituent base, but they’re not doing anything for the gazillion Facebookers out there; nobody cares about helpful information anymore – mindless entertainment is the way to go! I could not agree more, as I am certainly a huge fan of mindless entertainment. I must say though that I am not a fan of the letter games going around; I’ve spent all day trying to figure out how many states do not have any vowels and I’m now way behind on work.

That is why I am so fond of Dave Barry’s work; his mind is as disconnected as mine and he doesn’t use words more complicated than “potato”. I’m pretty sure if they had memes back in the 80s, he would have become a millionaire (but only if he had been the one to invent them). [Note to the IRS: I admit this does not seem like a lot of research for an entire trip to New York, but I can assure you that I have more crackpot investigations to come; such as, what would happen if the Incredible Hulk got trapped in the subway? Or, what exactly does crab juice taste like? Trust me, there is a ton more where that came from.]

someecards meme creation for facebook