Philemon | An Exercise in Removing Roadblocks

I was recently challenged to pray for those who have hurt us, such as with the example of praying for Muslims in response to the 9/11 attacks. I think one of the toughest parts about that, however, is that in order to truly pray for another person (or people), there has to be a significant level of forgiveness that you have reached with them. In other words, can we pray for Muslims with a pure heart if we still hold grudges against them? I don’t think so. Let me share a story I heard of that happened a few years ago; it will bring this down to the personal level.

In Iran, it is standard practice for families of murder victims to oversee the execution of murderer of their family member. They are also given the choice to pardon the offender. Such was the fate of a young man who had already served seven years for killing 17-year-old Abdollah Alinejad in a street fight, according to The Associated Press.

In May 2014, Samereh Alinejad watched as a noose was slipped around the neck of Bilal Gheisari, her son’s killer. This was her chance to have the vengeance she’d waited seven years to have. Instead, she and her husband stepped forward at the last minute and removed the noose from his neck. Gheisari’s death sentence was commuted and he will finish serving a 12-year prison sentence instead.

Forgiveness is a powerful thing. But how does that play out in life? Sure we all would like to have the love in our hearts as shown by the Alinejad family, but is that practical? In fact, I wonder how Onesimus felt walking up to the front door of the house of his master (whom he ran away from), preparing to face the wrath of Philemon. How confident did he feel in his chances of being forgiven? Today we are going to take an in-depth look at the Letter to Philemon and see what true forgiveness is all about.


Why was this such a potentially volatile situation? Let’s dig into the background and find out.

  • Onesimus was a slave (bondservant), but worse a runaway slave. Evidence shows that he skipped out on Philemon and his work, along with possibly stealing goods at the same time. He became a believer and worked with Paul.
  • Slavery, as discussed in the NT, was not like we understand it now. People were not really kidnapped or forced into slavery. When a person needed money, it was common for them to sell themselves into slavery for a time so they could earn the money they needed to pay back their debt. It was a choice and a way to make an income. It was a voluntary giving up of certain rights for the monetary gain. In fact, that term could possibly be used for people who are tied to long-term jobs now.
  • Paul had never been to Colossae. He heard of them, and was a father of their faith because of those whom came from him to found the church there, but he was not directly involved.
  • Onesimus, along with Tychicus, were the ones who delivered Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Colossians 4:7-9). Research seems to show that Philemon lived there, meaning that Colossians and Philemon were delivered to the same city at the same time.
  • Since Paul had never been to Colossae, it stands that he most likely had never met Philemon, and the language used in the letter asserts that premise.
  • Colossae, as a city, was well past its prime. Income inequality had become common place, as most of the trading opportunities had moved on to nearby Laodicea. That probably added to the sting Philemon felt when betrayed. Philemon, as the owner, was fully within his rights to do as he saw fit to Onesimus.

With that background in mind, we need to put ourselves in the Philemon’s shoes. After all, the letter was written to him, so we need to understand him as best as we can so that we can come to the best response for us.

IMAGINE PHILEMON SEEING ONESIMUS WALKING TOWARDS THE HOUSE – I bet that he immediately went to pulling out the punishment or torture equipment and was going to make extra sure Onesimus couldn’t escape again! With retribution for Philemon that close at hand, how hard would it have been for you to stop and read this letter that Onesimus hands to you?


Paul knew this letter had to be worded perfectly and he setup an argument in this letter that makes an amazing case for the benefit of everyone. Most Bibles have this book laid out in a different structure, but let me offer a way of looking at this letter that might make more sense.

  1. Building Rapport with Philemon | v4-9
    1. REPEATED WORDS – familial language – Paul was pressing, starting with the first verse a strong family connection between him, other workers in Christ and Onesimus. 7 times in this letter a familial term was used to describe someone, including Onesimus. Another 6 times Paul used descriptive words that are almost as strong as family, such as fellow worker, or partner.
    2. KINDNESS – Paul’s tone here is different than we are used to from him. His tone is gentle and his words uplifting – the opposite of his usual direct nature. He knew he couldn’t just tell Philemon what to do, he had to make him want it.
  2. Persuasion Argument | v10-19
    1. APPEAL OVER COMMAND – Paul makes a significant distinction of not telling Philemon what to do, but to ask (even though Paul would have the authority to command).
    2. PRISONER/SLAVE – the other set of repeated words refers to being locked in – whether it be prison or slavery, of which Paul uses to tie a direct line from Paul to Onesimus, and references freeing him from his ties, just as Christ freed us from our ties to sin.
    3. FINAL COMMANDS – the commands at the end of the letter are for Philemon to see Paul as he looks at Onesimus and treat him as such.
  3. Emotional Appeal | v20-22
    1. CONFIDENCE – Paul ends it with confidence that Philemon will do the right thing.

So what was Philemon’s intended response? He was to take Onesimus back and forgive completely, holding no charge or grudge against him. What Paul wanted from Philemon is pretty clear. The question is, how do we understand the application for us (our intended response) through the instructions for Philemon?


  • Forgiveness does not consider the grievance | Notice what Paul does NOT talk about in the letter. Onesimus’ sins are not discussed. We can infer a few things, but it really doesn’t matter. That’s not what is important. Forgiveness is an action that takes place inside the offended and is not dependent on the offender’s actions.
  • Forgiveness is not about the offender | While a refusal to forgive would have been a hindrance to Paul, as it seems he had future plans for Onesimus, that’s not the reason to call on Philemon to forgive. Take a closer look at verse 20 – Paul wants benefit from Philemon. Philemon must get past this “roadblock” for him to be useful (as Paul says in other places). Philemon is the one at the fork in the road – Onesimus was already faithful in delivering the letter. It was the wronged party that had to deal with the anger in their heart and let go.

I had to be able to forgive God and my parents for having this disease. Though no one was actually to blame, as it was no one’s fault, I had to be able to forgive so that I could get past that roadblock and grow in my relationship with the Lord. As we prepare to pray and finish up our time here today, I ask you to consider who you may be holding a grudge against. Regardless of who was right, regardless of how serious it was, regardless of how long ago it may have been, I believe God is calling you to let it go. Forgive, let your heart be free, and open yourself back up to the Lord. Consider Paul’s argument for forgiveness and the depths of what Philemon had to forgive – not to mention the depths Jesus went to in order to forgive you – so that you can let go of anger in your heart and turn your eyes back on God.

Gospel Footprint: Who Are You?

gospel footprint

gospel footprint

As a fan of The Lord of the Rings, I enjoy getting into conversations with other fans and discuss their favorite characters. When people talk about characters like Sam and Frodo, they usually focus on their innocence and devotion as reasons for loving the story. For those fans of Gandalf, they usually resonate with his wisdom and strategy used in the fight against evil. Then there are those fans of Aragorn. His fans focus on how Aragorn grows into the man that ultimately leads the whole world against Mordor, along with his skill during the fighting. Yet, to be a fan of his seems odd, being that he spends so much of the story hiding who he is and trying to run away from his destiny.

We learn through the story that Aragorn was fully aware of his lineage and what it meant to be the last in the line of the kings of Gondor. It was that knowledge that led to fear of himself, and that fear led to him changing his name and becoming an unknown loner roaming across the countryside.

Aragorn is introduced to the audience as a failure; an anti-leader. He was someone who couldn’t stand up to responsibility and did all he could to hide the reality of who he truly was. Maybe that is why his fans argue for him so passionately; his condition is relatable. We’ve all been there; failure and the desire to hide (at least) parts of ourselves because we don’t think we can live up to who we think we are supposed to be.

Our Similarities to Aragorn

The goal of every disciple is to leave a gospel footprint. Yet, I think that those of us who are Christians (those who have placed their faith in Jesus) tend to live this way more often than we know, specifically in regards to our function and purpose in connection with the world around us. Let’s open up the Scriptures today and see what God tells us about who we are.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Jesus had just finished talking about the blessings that come with what we know to be a sanctified life, rich in Him. He spent 11 verses saying what we had as Christians, including blessings and expectations of persecution. He then focuses in to tell them what that means. He tells them who they are. Let’s be clear on it, and if you gain nothing else out this, please catch this. Jesus was NOT pleading with them to be witnesses of His message, nor was He telling them what they SHOULD be doing. He said you ARE the light of the world; you ARE a city on a hill. Let me put it this way: regardless of what you may be doing or any effort on your part to hide, if you are a believer in Jesus, then you are a missionary. You are living with the light of Christ in you, no matter how hard you may be trying to cover it up.

I’d like to take a deeper look at what it means to be a Christian; to be one who carries the light of Christ in their lives. This directly fits into our developing definition of DISCIPLE and what it means to grow closer to Jesus in our daily lives. Let’s look at 3 questions that can help you determine your footprint and how to take the next step.

Qualifications of a Missionary

“Who can resist his will? Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use” (Romans 9:19-21)? The point here is that your designation; your place before God is up to Him. He declares you valuable and measures your worth, which He paid for in blood. Your calling is not yours to determine, but His.

God is the giver of gifts through the Holy Spirit and determines who receives what. Yet it is clear that we are all called to do the work of an evangelist, regardless of our spiritual gifting (2 Timothy 4:5). We are instructed to give out of what we have received. This is a precedent that started long ago with the calling of Abraham.

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). God is the protagonist; the main character. It is God who declares and determines and calls us to obey. Abraham, despite all of his shortcomings, becomes a hero of the faith ultimately because of what happens in chapter 15. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Please note that this was not the generic belief has no impact on one’s life, but with Abraham, belief meant obedience. Abraham trusted God and stepped out.

What qualified Abraham and today qualifies us is our trust. If we believe in God and whom He has sent, then we are part of God’s family and called to pass that blessing on to other people. That’s really it. While you may have to pass through rigorous testing, education and experience to become a paid missionary, that doesn’t matter in this context. Becoming a missionary only requires one qualification: trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. If you are a believer, then you are a missionary. You carry the Holy Spirit inside you and are therefore the light to the world.

Whether or not we feel like we are ready or deserve it, this calling is on God to give, which He does to every believer. This was the case back when the exiles started returning from Babylon as well. They had just faced many years of punishment and were finally getting the chance to head home in Zechariah 8.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Let your hands be strong, you who in these days have been hearing these words from the mouth of the prophets who were present on the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built. For before those days there was no wage for man or any wage for beast, neither was there any safety from the foe for him who went out or came in, for I set every man against his neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong. Zechariah 8:9-13

God reminds them of their punishment and of the reputation they carried into exile, yet shows them they are to be the blessing to the nations. Remember this: regardless of where you are in your walk with God, as long as you have placed your faith in Him, you are a banner carrier of the Lord, you are the light of the world, you are the city on a hill and called to let it shine.

Hiding from Your Purpose

While there are countless ways for this calling to be worked out in each person’s life, there is still a strong desire to hide; to run away from our responsibilities. Yet this is why He saved us. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Of course, God saved us because He loves us – that’s the whole point. Remember who the main character is? Is it us? Is it me? Am I the protagonist in my story? I certainly hope not.

God is the protagonist, and while He knows us and loves us by name, you, my friend, are not the only person He died for. He loved the world so much that He died for it. Each of us individually being a vessel for God to bless the world is the way God chose to work and by hiding from your calling, you are 1) being disobedient, and 2) losing out on the blessing of being that blessing.

And God takes this very seriously! Take what is said in James: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18)!

By ignoring our calling, we are doing wrong by our Savior and actively disobeying our Lord. If opportunistic lepers in 2 Kings 7 realize the selfishness in hoarding God’s blessing, then we need to see it as well.

“Now there were four men who were lepers at the entrance to the gate. And they said to one another, ‘Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die.’ So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians. But when they came to the edge of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.’ So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them. Then they said to one another, ‘We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.’ 2 Kings 7:3-9

Why Now?

Looking at the tragic state of our country and the world, this job of ours is 1) severely lacking in effort, and 2) needed now more than ever. The division in our country today is horrifying, and there is no such thing as righteous anger when it includes hurtful and hate-filled rhetoric.  A few weeks ago I shared a meal with a friend and listened to him as he slammed the liberal left and its policies — He spoke with anger as he talked against those who would impose their will or beliefs on other people. He became visually confused when trying to understand why people just can’t let people be. He decided for himself that he wouldn’t hold any position so that it wouldn’t affect any relationship he had. To him, this was love.

His world-view was filled with fear and hate. His version of love was to not get in an argument. More than ever we see how obviously lost this world is. No longer do we need to look in the secret places, but the hurt, pain and sin of this world is displayed—often with pride—for all to see! And everyone just wants to be accepted, loved, and pardoned for no other reason than that’s just what they think they deserve. Therefore, the safe move is to hide and run away from a calling that could get us in trouble with this world.

I responded back to my friend by asking him this question: If, for the sake of argument, there was a right answer to all this, and I had the answer, would sharing it with you be an act of love or of dominance/assimilation? He pondered for a moment and came to agree with me in that it would be an act of love. So I explained to him the passion behind many of those movements and used that as a chance to share Jesus with him. While he did not want to leave the comfort of “fence-riding”, he could see our discussion as friendship and not assimilation.

You are blessed. You carry inside your heart the light of the world. Jesus, on many occasions tells us what we should do with it. Our denomination pushes that even farther with our focus on the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). What will you do? Will you keep the light hidden and selfishly hold back those blessing for others? Or will you boldly go and obey, sharing your faith, talking about Jesus in a way that makes the message clear, but is done in love?

Aragorn eventually stopped running and accepted the mantle of King. He ran into danger instead of away, becoming the kind of leader that any of us would follow. He gave no regard for himself, but did everything for others. This life in the open is not a safe road, but it is the right road. This is our calling as Christians, as followers of Jesus, as His disciples. Pick up your mantle as missionary and live boldly a lifestyle that engages with this world in love. Pay no heed for yourself, but live for love, love with abandon and trust in the one who made that all possible. This is how you begin to leave a gospel footprint.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news'” (Romans 10:14-15)!

Thanks to the Southeast District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance for help with the video in the video and the graphic.

From Death to Life: The Holy Spirit at Work

For Mother’s Day this year at our church, Pastor Greg talked about the love a mother has for her children during the message. With this being a Father’s Day message, we get to discuss punishment and death. I am not sure how these weeks lined up like they did, but even though we talk about some darker things relating to the passage for today, there is still a very strong river of love that flows through; it just might look a bit different than a mother’s love.

History on the Body of Death

It is hard to speculate exactly how well versed Paul was in regards to Greek history and torture practices, but his lament at the end of Romans 7 uses language that calls a very specific act of execution to mind. Originally attributed to Mezentius, an Etruscan king who most likely lived about 1100 years before Christ, the execution called “body of death” involved the criminal to be bound to the person they murdered; hand to hand, face to face, etc… forcing them to walk around tied and trapped to this dead body. Under penalty of death, no one was allowed to remove the corpse from the body of the condemned person. The consequences of this death were obviously very public and led to a slow, excruciating death. As the dead body decayed, it would seep onto and into the living person attached to it, meaning that the criminal was literally carrying around their own body of death.

“It proves a very appropriate ending to such an intense section of Scripture as Paul makes the connection from a merciful person who would condemn themselves by removing the binds of the criminal to our very own Savior, Jesus. It is with this imagery that Paul leads us into chapter 8 and introduces, in a significant way, the third member of the trinity into the work of sanctification.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:1-11

Requirements of the Law

We have learned throughout the last few chapters that the law can do little else besides shine a light on our sin and show us our need for a redeemer. God, however, does much more by sending Jesus to condemn sin in the flesh, so that the law can be fulfilled. Just as Jesus says in Matthew 5, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The law, though insufficient to answer the problem of sin, still holds true as a requirement for God in terms of us humans. The crucifixion of Christ was the culmination of the punishment God required for our sins. God did not just “let it go”, but fully and completely condemned our sinfulness. He just took it out on Jesus; much like this story I heard a while ago.

There were 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 his father’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. Later on, they decided to take their inventions out into the trees and see if they could find other scraps with 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.

Arriving home in time for dinner, Mario was mortified to learn that his dad’s special hammer was nowhere to be found in the garage. Ralph admitted to Mario that he brought the hammer and must have forgotten it in the haste to pack up and get back to the house in time. There was no way to go looking now 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.

Jesus continues his statement in verse 20 by saying that, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). He fulfilled the requirements of the law through his death and resurrection. God punished sin and was satisfied in Christ’s sacrifice. Because Jesus unbound us from the body of death—our sin—through his death on the cross, we are no longer condemned to punishment. The Spirit’s work of regeneration (re-birth of our spiritual lives after being baptized into Jesus’ death) has set us free. Our death in Christ has ended our enslavement to sin and our new life in the Spirit has set us free to live for God.

A Deeper Look at What We Set Our Minds On


Maggie had set her mind on getting up to the top shelf. It took a couple of days, but she did it and hasn’t tried again since.

I find it worth noting that Romans 8:2 is the first mention of the Holy Spirit since 5:5, however he is mentioned numerous times throughout the rest of the chapter. This is because Paul is introducing us to the work of the Spirit in our lives as believers—as those who have been set free in Christ. To understand how this applies, we need to understand the context of Paul’s language. Paul uses the phrase “set their minds on” 5 times in verses 5-7. What does that mean? In our context, the connotation of that phrase means little more than studying a section out of a textbook. “If you set your mind on something, you can do anything.” We understand it to mean “focus”, which is strong, but how many of us can change our focus rather quickly? I have to be able to change my focus really quickly while at home, as each child, every 30 seconds, wants my focus on them individually. I wind up bouncing back and forth from one child to another and back again.

If we use that connotation to interpret this passage, our understanding of “setting your mind on” either the flesh or the Spirit can be something that changes rather often. In fact, if you take that thought process to its logical end, verses 5-8 can say that whatever your mind is set on when you die determines what happens to you. Or, if you sin and die before you can confess it, you are in trouble. All of a sudden our basis for reconciliation with God is based on the latest time we said “sorry” as opposed to Christ’s sacrifice being enough once for all. This is not what Paul is saying. He just spent the last few chapters laying out the argument for faith in Christ and his sacrifice being enough to rescue us from sin—our body of death. So what does Paul mean when he says “set your mind on” either the flesh or the Spirit?

In Colossians 3, we see a very similar discussion being laid out.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4

Verse 2 is the same Greek word used in this section of Romans 8. The context and language of that time explain that phrase as a much stronger use than we understand it today. It indicates the full preoccupation of thought and will with a chosen and engrossing object. In other words, a good example of this is today’s world would be “obsession”. It has pulled you in to the point that you really cannot focus on anything else. This is how it should be in a healthy marriage; two individuals so “set on” each other that no one else can break their focus, no one else can distract them from each other. It is not a passing fancy but a life-long

By using this phrase, Paul is drawing a distinct line between Christian and non-Christian. If our minds are set on, or obsessed, with the Spirit (i.e. with God and following him in discipleship), then our lives are marked and bound up in Christ. If not, we are still enslaved and obsessed with our own sin and will reap the consequences of that obsession. We cannot please God if we are still trapped in sin; we cannot break that enslavement without death. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It is the Spirit who gives us life.

The Spirit Gives Life

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:9-10). Herein lies the reality of the situation, thankfully to be concluded with a big promise. Though we have been reborn in Christ/regenerated in the Spirit, our physical bodies are still marked for death. Obviously physical death is still in the world. Christians die on earth. We all in this room will die; that is, unless Christ comes back first.

I see it like this: Christ, as the merciful friend, gave up his life to unbind us from our bodies of death. He cut the bonds. Our physical bodies, however, still bear the disease and death we contracted while the bonds were still tied. This is why our physical bodies are decaying. They will all die, but we will not be stranded. Our souls are immortal, given new, eternal life through the Spirit during the act of regeneration. God promises that with the Spirit alive in you, he will give life to our mortal bodies. We know from this passage, 1 Corinthians 15 and others that our physical bodies will be resurrected, transformed and glorified into perfected, eternal physical bodies. Eternal life is eternal physical life.

I think this also speaks to the physical regeneration work that God does in regards to physical health and the sustaining power he gives us. Since we are alive to do his work on earth, he is not going to remove us from this earth until our job is complete. That means, if you are alive today then God still has more work for you to accomplish.

How Do We Respond to the Offer of Life?

What should we do with this passage? Rejoice! If the Spirit is in you, God has promised you life and is working it in you this very day! Follow his lead and remind yourself regularly that you are dead to sin. If, however, you have not been forgiven of your sins and not experienced the Gospel work in your life; if you do not have the Spirit of Christ, then you do not belong to God.

Thankfully, Paul lays out simple instructions for changing your eternal living destiny, both now and in the future. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Ralph accepted that Mario took his punishment for him in regards to the hammer; you need to accept that Christ took the punishment for your sins, and let him into your life.

A Long and Winding Road: The Path of Sanctification

wall of china

I have always wanted to visit the Mediterranean. The beauty of the sea and the landscapes; the history; the culture; they all call out a deep desire to travel. This desire is only frustrated when my wife and I are watching something that gives us a glimpse of that area, and she reminds me that she has been there. While it could be tempting to get a little jealous, it is actually quite amazing how many places Nita has been around the world. She traveled across 6 of the 7 continents in her years doing missions work before we met. She even lived in some of the most awesome locations! She has spent her time boating up the Amazon river, adventuring her own way through eastern Europe or even taking midnight jogs in India. It is not a good idea, however, to watch The Lord of the Rings with her – she will constantly remind you of her time living in New Zealand; she has been to all the locations from the filming of the movie!

Traveling has been a passion of mine as well, and an important part of our life together. There is something deep, and even unspoken about the life experience that comes with travel. It builds an understanding and deeper desire for the world as a whole, and a powerful wonder for the creation that God gave us. For those who have traveled, it gives a new perspective; a larger world in which to understand the beauty and creativity of God. It is one thing to imagine what the Great Wall of China looks like. It is wholly another to have walked it.

wall of china

Paul’s Reasons for Writing the Letter to the Church of Rome

I have found that I am not the only person with a desire to visit the Mediterranean. In fact, the book of Romans was born out of Paul’s desire to visit Rome, specifically, but his efforts to reach the city had thus been unsuccessful. Granted, he spent most of his life traveling around the Mediterranean, but he had never been to Rome, despite his deepest longings.

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each others faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” ROMANS 1:8-15

For Paul, reaching Rome has a monumental goal. Even when he was finally on his way, he faced a harrowing sea storm and massive shipwreck leaving him stranded for a time on the island of Malta (see Acts 28). At the time of his writing the letter to the Romans, though, Paul had not yet made it there. His desire to visit those there, however, was so strong that he wrote the letter to the church in Rome as a detailed walk through of the Christian life in case he were never able to make it there in person. This is in part why Romans is largely considered the deepest and most detailed writing on the basics of the Gospel and what it truly meant to be a Christ follower. The book even outlines itself in three basic sections:

1) the problem of sin and the imparting of righteousness by God;

2) the Christian life and the Sovereignty of God; and

3) practical applications to a life of faith.

I would like to focus on the second section, the walk of our life with Christ and how that is affected by the first section.

The Stages of Salvation

In the second half of Romans 5, Paul lines up the illustration of the one-man representation. Sin came into the world through one man, Adam. We were in Adam when death came through sin. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). We were in Adam when he sinned and therefore we are all sinners. Christ, however, was the perfect representative for us, as He was totally human and able to be an accurate sacrifice for us, but He was also totally divine, and therefore able to bear our sins and conquer death. The law, then, did not come into play to make us sinners, but to convict us of the sin we were already committing. “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).

This point – the end of chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6 – is the point at which conversion happens. But before we can start into the way we need to live as Christians, we need to fully understand what happens at this point; what really happens in the moment at which a person places their trust in Christ. There are four specific things that happen when one person’s name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Allow me to introduce some $20 words.

JUSTIFICATION | The act of God to declare a person righteous. This is a legal term and official description of our standing with God. “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). This is the act of forgiveness; God choosing not to count our sins against us anymore.

REGENERATION | This is what Christians often refer to as the act of being born again. Regeneration is the receiving of a new heart and a new nature. It is the life of the Spirit breathed into us and the beginning of our eternal life. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

ADOPTION | With the gift of a new life, the act of adoption is the guarantee of our inheritance in Heaven. No longer are we outsiders or aliens in a foreign land, but we are granted the right to be children of God. In just the same way that Maggie now has a right to Nita’s and my belongings as our full and permanent child, we are granted “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might…” (Ephesians 1:18-19).

SANCTIFICATION | This is our focus for today and the next few weeks. During our regeneration, we were given a new heart and are no longer slaves to sin, but have been freed to be slaves to righteousness. God has a purpose for us. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). In order to accomplish that purpose, our actions on this earth need to change. This is the work of sanctification, and although it starts at the point of new life, it does not end until our promotion into glory.

Sanctification is the sovereign act of God whereby He sets apart a person, place or object for himself in order that He might accomplish His purpose in the world by means of said person, place or object. It is totally an act of God, just like the other things that happen during salvation, but this one, unlike the others, 1) includes us in the process, and 2) happens in stages. This is where Romans 6 begins.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” ROMANS 6:1-14

Positional and Progressive Sanctification

The act of sanctification is fully the work of God, and it happens in two main parts. Positional Sanctification happens first, and that is God separating us out for His Holy purpose. Once we have died, we have been freed from sin and are given a new nature; death and sin no longer have control over us. Some of you may remember the suitcase example from last time I spoke. This is the same thing here. We have been separated from death; we have been separated from sin. The briefcase has been unlocked and God has removed it and its power from us. In one act of grace, we died, crucified with Christ and were changed forever.

This is very similar to the way Major League Baseball sanctifies the baseballs they use during games. In order for a baseball to be used during an official MLB game, it must be in proper condition. It can only be used once, and becomes unusable after hitting the dirt, leaving the field of play, or even at the behest of the pitcher (among other reasons). This is necessary to preserve the fairness and consistency of the game, making sure that each pitcher and each pitch is consistent and dependent only on the quality of the pitcher, and each batter has equal opportunity from pitch to pitch. They cannot use batting practice balls or ones from fans – not even ones directly from a store with the correct logos on it! The game balls are set apart by the team and umpires before the game and prepared in advance.

In the same way, God, through the act of sanctification, sets us apart from death and sin and raises us to new life in Christ, connecting us to Him and the Spirit. It is not until then that we can go about the work of God, as He has not yet prepped us for His work until then. This part of sanctification, Positional Sanctification, is done immediately at the point of conversion for a new believer. This is what Paul wants us to understand as He starts his discourse on the life of the Christian. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:10-11). We need to know this; to understand it. We have already been set apart to God, we are sanctified! That does not, however, mean we are automatically freed from bad habits, struggles, or normal mistakes of life. It means we are acceptable to God for use according to His purpose. Progressive Sanctification, or the next stage of sanctification, is where God, through the work of the Spirit, works to change our actions and our attitudes to be more like Christ.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This was the theme verse of my sophomore year of college at Crown. Paul wants us to understand that we are sanctified by God, but we still have work to do. Progressive Sanctification is the on-going, step-by-step grunge work of growing closer to God through His work in our daily lives. It is long and tedious; often leading us into situations where there are hard decisions and challenges that seem like a constant uphill battle, but that’s why Jesus gave us the parable of the narrow road and Paul encourages us in Philippians to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Paul later in that letter uses the example of life being like a marathon.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” PHILIPPIANS 3:12-16

Paul talks about what we have attained, but that we are not perfect (himself included) and must continue to press own and make it our own.

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” ROMANS 6:12-14

Progressive Sanctification is the day to day constant work to resist sin and obey God. Why? There are a few schools of thought as to why we do this and it really comes down to a simple opinion on semantics. The first approach says that God fully does the work of sanctification and we are really only called to trust and obey. This is because we have already been fully saved, and the Phil. 3:12 is referring to us working out the experience of that salvation through our lives. The other view says that the process of salvation has started, but is not fully complete until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). Thus, we are working out/earning our treasures in Heaven in a step-by-step process. Simply stated, the first view says that we already have the fullness of the riches of His grace and our motive to grow closer to God is because He told us to. On the other hand, the second view says that while we are saved, it is actually a life-long process and our experience of Heaven is directly related to how much we live out His sanctification here on earth. However you see it, the motivation is to trust and obey.

Conclusion: Sanctification Requires Action

How do we do that? We have seen Paul refer to the Christian life as a marathon race, a job to work out daily, and a new life led by God all culminating our ultimate promotion the day we see Jesus face to face. Regardless of our motivation, our task, our life-long job is to resist sin and to present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness. I would like to finish by discussing a few different ways to live that out in a practical day, and ultimately it all comes down to action.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” JAMES 2:14-18

Going back to Ephesians, Paul makes it clear that we are God’s workmanship, not to sit around on our couches, but for a purpose to do good works, to make disciples, to love our neighbor, etc… Sanctification is worked out in the day to day actions we take. Each choice we make is an opportunity to trust and obey. So what are we doing to work towards that? Here is a list of practical things you can do to work out your salvation with fear and trembling:

  • Study the Bible | When was the last time you picked it up on your own? How can you expect to make choice to obey if you aren’t learning how to see them? Whether you have been a Christian for 50 years or 50 minutes, the Bible is the written Word of God and our source for illumination, allowing us to see the right way to go.
  • Prayer | By this I do NOT mean asking God for stuff. I mean opening your heart to Him, listening in the silence for His instructions and bearing your heart for the things in your life that you need His involvement in. This is not asking God to bless your food before you eat; this is going to your secret place and conversing with Him – both talking and listening. How are we to expect to know what he wants us to do if we aren’t listening to His voice?
  • Tithes and Offerings | Put your money where your mouth is. Do you spend your money on the things of God? That is more than simply giving money to the church; it is using the money God has given you for His purposes, of which there are opportunities to do so constantly throughout our days.
  • Service | There are opportunities to serve God all around us, inside the church and out. All one has to do is see the need around them every place they go – it doesn’t hide in the shadows anymore. Need and depravity are all around us. What are you doing about it? Do you know how many opportunities there are to serve this world through your church? We have a multitude of ministry opportunities available, from caring for infants in the nursery to working with children and youth, all the way up to elderly ministries. There are ministries for men and women and even the facility and grounds. There is no lack of opportunity for you to live out your faith right where you are.

Simply put, the application is to act. Obey and trust God to work through your obedience. Jesus wants us to yoke with Him. That means we need to do what He does – what He wants us to do. We’ve just listed out many simple and practical ways to take the next step, so your challenge is that. The challenge is to pick something off of the list above that you are not currently doing and to start doing it. Find a ministry to volunteer with; join a Sunday School class; read your Bible! Whatever it is, take a step – God is not asking you to do this all at once. This is a lifetime growth plan. But if you are going to move anywhere, you have to take a step. Happy walking!

The Darkside: Sin’s Engagement with the World


THE DARK SIDEI think we have reached an interesting crossroads in American culture. Causes abound for people to get behind some movement to create change for good. It almost seems popular now to join a cause or fight for others who may have it more difficult. Whether it is saving old buildings from being torn down by renovating them or making sure a service dog gets a proper retirement, there are GoFundMe pages for pretty much anything, and it is nearly impossible to scroll through your Facebook New Feed without seeing someone ranting about some problem or cause. It almost seems like our culture has taken a few positive steps ahead and is finally looking past ourselves and on to those whom we could serve, but I’m afraid it is merely a veneer, covering the reality of our current culture.

Take this for example; there is currently a GoFundMe page for someone trying to save the lives of two pit bulls. What the page doesn’t explain is that those pit bulls (along with their owner) are being prosecuted right now because of an attack on a person and the dog they were walking. What seems good on the outside may not be exactly the story taking place. Or how about this?

Last week in Seattle, according to Seattle Parks and Recreation, a man wearing board shorts entered the women’s locker room and took off his shirt. Women alerted staff, who told the man to leave, but he said “the law has changed and I have a right to be here.” “Really bizarre,” MaryAnne Sato said. “I can’t imagine why they would want to do that anyway!” Sato uses the locker room a few times a week, but she says this is a first for her. It’s also a first for Seattle Parks and Recreation. Employees report that the man made no verbal or physical attempt to identify as a woman, yet he still cited a new rule that allows bathroom choice based on gender identification (King5). This man has not been charged with a crime, and according to the report, has since done it again!

This ought to give us good insight into the reality of where we are at today as Americans. The last few years have been spent trying to defend everyone and not make anyone feel uncomfortable (which is impossible, by the way), which is where this Seattle law came from – anyone can go into any restroom they want as long as they admit to identifying with that gender. Miss Sato even said she couldn’t believe that someone would use the law for their own desires, yet this is exactly where we are.

We Have Changed the Definition of Good

As a nation, the outside actions may look like the choices people make are motivated by care, love, or some other kind of goodness (that, of course, depends on your personal point-of-view), but the reality is quite different. We have, as a nation, each become our own wolf in sheep’s clothing. Why?

The problem of sin has hit an exponential growth rate in this latest generation. With the open acceptance of sin and the refusal to publicly call it sin anymore, independent sin issues have given way to corporate sin permission. Basically, whatever is evil is not called evil anymore and whatever is right is now considered evil. Guess what, friends, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Let’s pray that He light a pathway through these next few chapters to give us some insight into how we can live a Gospel-centered life and not only navigate the murky waters of our communities, but also be a source for good.

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” (Gen 4:3-12)

There are numerous other stories through these passages that could be looked at and referenced, such as the Nephilim, details on the flood, etc… but with this being an overview of sin’s engagement with the world, we don’t have time to go into all the details. You can read those on your own and see how they add to the exposition here.

Dueling the Sin Nature of Man

The duality of man is a difficult subject and intensely personal battle we all face. Cain was seeking the favor of the Lord, though He was not offering his first fruits, or the best he could offer, therefore the Lord chose Abel’s offering instead. Cain’s sin was rooted in his selfishness and desire to hold back the best for himself, yet his pride deceived him into real anger when he found out that Abel had the better offering – Cain seriously believed his offering would be accepted, despite its impurity. God still gives Cain a choice, a better option, yet with warning. Verse 7: “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

When we allow the Gospel into our lives through the saving grace of Jesus, the old has gone and the new has come. That slave ownership to sin is dead, but we have not yet been perfected and sin still wages its war in us. Paul described that very battle in Romans 7. It is a lot like this. Imagine a  briefcase as my sin. Before I received the Gospel of Jesus, it was handcuffed to me and there was nothing I could do to put it down or get rid of it. It was shackled to me. Even when I wanted to do good or keep it at bay, the best I could do was hide it for a while. With Christ, he unlocks the handcuffs and frees us from the sin. It is no longer stuck to us, and its power to enslave is gone. We can, however, still pick it up and carry it along, yet all we need to do is put it down and focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Sin is still right there and we can pick it up anytime we desire. This is why God’s offer/warning to Cain returns in Revelation 3:20; except this time it is directed to the church, to Christians, and it is Jesus knocking at the door. It becomes very easy as Christians, especially for those that have been following God for a long time and who have allowed Him to make changes in their life to become more like Jesus, to forget how close to sin we really are. No matter a person’s age or maturity level, that briefcase will still be right there, available for pick up. All you need is the right trigger at the right time. We are not that different from Cain, even as believers. We don’t get farther away from sin; we can become stronger against its advances, but don’t let yourself believe it’s not right around the corner waiting for you.

It is this ultimate reality that leads God to question this quest; to test Himself and His resolution.

A Glimpse into the Person of God

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. (Gen 6:5-13,17-19)

Allow me first here to make a specific note on a few theological items. First, we cannot look at God’s story using linear chronology. What this means is that, as we read the Bible starting from Genesis 1, it can look like God’s plan unfolded like this: Creation-Fall-Redemption. Simply put, that means that what happened is the way we read about it. God created the world, we messed it up, then He set about on a plan of redemption. However, from passages like Psalm 74:12-17, 1 Peter 1:18-20, Eph. 1:4 and others, God’s chronological order was Redemption-Creation-Fall. Basically it means that before the world was created, the Holy Trinity existed and knew they wanted to create humanity for the purpose of showing us how much He loves us. Jesus and the cross was the whole plan. That’s why He created the world.

Second, God is allowing us to see in verses 5-8 a glimpse into His “person-hood”; His emotions. Our sin grieved God to a point where He actually felt betrayed by us and wondered if the love of those who would follow him was worth the pain caused by everyone else. Verse 8 teaches us a profound lesson – but for Noah. All it took to save humanity was the return love of one individual. God’s whole purpose is love, and it doesn’t take much to get Him to notice. We see this kind of response from God again in Genesis 18. What we are given through this story of the flood and even of Sodom and Gomorrah is God defining for us His views on justice and mercy.

Verse 13 makes it clear that God does bring judgment down on the earth. Justice will be served; wrong-doing will be accounted for. However, that is not the end of the story. With the ark, God provides a remnant, a survivor and makes that survivor a promise – this will not happen again. Humanity will not be wiped away in one fell swoop. In the end, the sheep will be separated from the goats, but that is a different act. What God is saying to Noah is that God is merciful in His justice. That’s the key.

God is saying that justice and mercy are not separate terms; they are one in the same. They cannot exist without each other; for justice without mercy is revenge and mercy without justice is enablement. True justice includes mercy. This becomes clearer at the end of the flood.

God’s Definition of Mercy

And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. (Gen 7:21-24)

Noah is that mercy in the justice of the flood. This is the precedent that God is setting when He promises not to flood the earth again; no hasty decisions, no surprises. Each person will one day have to face God and account for their life; but His mercy is offered by way of a pardon in the person of Jesus. His mercy is time – patience. I can’t tell you how many blog posts I have read talking about the world today that end in “Come quickly, Lord Jesus”, and yes, I am all for that, but the reason that evil still exists in the world is purely a result of His mercy! See what Peter says here: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God has allowed time to unfold and His return to be stayed not because He is off doing something else or doesn’t care anymore, but because He does! The longer He delays the more people have a chance to repent! If you all knew that in 1 hour the world would end and you would be in front of God, how different would that last hour be compared to the previous 23? Instead of being weary of the world around us and begging for His return, shouldn’t we take advantage of His patient mercy and make sure everybody has the opportunity we’ve had?

We are given a chance to be a force for good in this world. The Gospel in us, the hope of salvation and the only source for change is in us. God is holding back His return to give us time to share and others time to respond. The problem of evil in our world today is a gift of His merciful justice! No one is escaping punishment, but we are all given the chance to have our debts paid by Jesus. Yet the Gospel is even more than that; it is the power in us to make us Holy and strengthen us against sin.

A Christian’s Fight

Regardless, sin never strays far from us. Christian or not, it is still crouching at the door, waiting for an open opportunity to strike. It is weakened, in that once we choose Christ, it cannot re-enslave us, even though it can distract us. Those who are honest with themselves know all too well that sin can creep up anytime.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. (Gen 9:20-23)

Notice that sin did not die with the flood. As soon as the covenant with the rainbow was in place, Noah got drunk and Ham fell into corruption and gossip. Evil still exists; it is still there in you and won’t be fully gone until the day of perfection in Christ Jesus – the day you see Him face to face. What we Christians have today is a choice. We have options – we can pick that sin up if we want and will most likely have some earthly consequences to deal with; or we can go step by step and day by day, giving our life over to God and being asked to be filled by His Spirit. We can choose to do good, not for earthly reward, but to please our Lord and build up treasures in heaven.

Engage Sin or Engage God?

We can choose to be angry and disconnect from the world around us, or we can choose God’s pathway – to engage with the people around us and, through patience and mercy, stand up for God and show others the way to freedom. How does that look in our lives? We need to stop hating and ranting against what we don’t like and focus on solutions. Here is an example – I saw a Facebook meme recently that posed an interesting question. “If you call yourself pro-life, what are you doing for the orphans and homeless?” It can be so easy to take up the cause against abortion and fight to make it illegal again; yet being pro-life is much bigger than that, isn’t it? Jesus showed us the power of human touch and love through His miracles – how many lives have you touched lately? Many people have asked me how I can be a foster parent – they say that the fear of a child being taken away from them is just not something they can face. I agree with them – that is a terrible feeling, but that’s not the right way to look at foster care. People shouldn’t be afraid of a child being removed from their care, but of the countless children in southwest Florida alone that are going without love, food  and care tonight.

This is just one way to engage with the world and there are many angles on which to fight for Jesus through love and mercy. But the challenge today is simple: you need to be careful, because as God said to Cain, sin is crouching at your door, especially if you are not engaging with God.

God engaged with us when the whole world was at its most corrupted and defined true justice. He has chosen to make us His representatives today. I think there is a direct correlation between our passionate activity following God and the strength sin has to distract us. It will always be there, it will always try, but if we don’t have time for it because we giving all of our time to the Gospel, then there won’t be as many chances to pick it back up. What do you need to put in your life today that will help you stay strong against sin and be God’s mercy in the world?

What is Your Macguffin?

This weekend marks a wonderful milestone of the year. It is a special weekend, and not just because it is the 4th Sunday of Advent; it is officially the week of Christmas! But that is not all, friends, it is also the beginning of the culmination to an event 30+ years in the making: this weekend marked the release of Star Wars Episode VII! This is definitely something to be excited about (I plan to go see it this evening). And as much as I am excited for this, the 7th cinema-based installment, I am equally excited for recent news that another beloved Disney/Lucasfilm franchise is working on its next script. Yes, Indiana Jones himself is expected to return to theaters again in the near future. Granted, it took 20 years between the 3rd and 4th films, but there is still hope that the anti-hero who combines academia with action will be back soon. And, yes, sources say Indy will be played by none other than the original; Harrison Ford.

Why am I so excited about that? Because of its macguffin principal. Nobody handles a macguffin better than George Lucas did. What am I talking about? According to Alfred Hitchcock, who coined the phrase, “a macguffin is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot” (Wikipedia). George Lucas takes the role of said plot device a bit further. George, on the other hand, believes that the MacGuffin should be powerful and that “the audience should care about it almost as much as the dueling heroes and villains on-screen”. With Indiana Jones, the macguffins are clear and vital to the story. In a clear good vs. evil chase to dominance, the macguffins that Indy chases are things such as the Ark of the Covenant and even the Holy Grail.

Bringing Movie Macguffins Down to Earth

With any good movie, there is a macguffin in some form or another. As we continue through this series at Cape Alliance Church in Cape Coral on the birth of Christ, let me propose this question to ponder: what is the macguffin in your life? And what does that have to do with Christmas? As we look into the visit from the wise men, we get a good look at the macguffin in the lives of not only just the wise men, but Herod as well—and God too. An understanding of macguffins gives us a profound understanding of why Jesus came “Down to Earth” and how that changes us. We look at a race against the clock in an effort to uncover the hearts truest passion.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:1-11

How can we best define the word macguffin? Something that we cherish above all else; something that we would give everything to have; something that makes life worth living. Jesus made it a point to acknowledge that there are macguffins in everyone’s lives; take a look at Matthew 13:44-46. Everyone has them; the question is, what is yours? Jesus suggests to us that it should be the kingdom of heaven. “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). Of all the things that could be macguffins; even Christian-type macguffins such as ministry, missions, study, etc…; Jesus wants us to not care about any of that and put our focus solely on Him.

In Luke 10, we hear about the differences between Mary and Martha, sisters who were both friends of Jesus – and happened to have a brother named Lazarus. When Jesus came for a visit, Martha put all her effort into work: cleaning, cooking, etc… while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, simply listening to Him. This, obviously, did not make Martha happy. She complained to Jesus about all the work that Mary was skipping out on. The response was certainly not what she expected. Jesus replied back to Martha that she was the one distracted, not Mary, for she was the one that had all these other things in front of her while Mary was totally focused on her Lord. This is not a typical reminder of the importance of people over tasks in our lives, though I would love to talk about that more in-depth, but a specific lesson that there is nothing—no possible macguffin—more important than simply being in the presence of Jesus.

The Wise Men’s Macguffin

This is what makes the wise men’s story so remarkable. Imagine all the work they had to do to seek out and find Jesus! These guys had to know their stuff. As wise men of the east, it is possible that they had connections to other wise men (or magicians as referred to in that time) of the past. In Daniel chapter 2 we see that Daniel himself, who prophesied about the coming Messiah was the chief administrator in charge of the wise men in Babylon. That connection goes back even farther to the character of Balaam in the book of Numbers. Though Balaam was called on by the Moabites to curse Israel, but because of God’s work in Balaam (a fun story for another time), he was only able to bless them. During those blessings, we get this verse (Numbers 24:17): “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult.” Let’s also add in this verse from Genesis that connects to the idea of a Scepter (Genesis 49:10): “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” Thanks to Creation Today for some help on this history lesson.

Chances are actually more likely that the wise men in Matthew knew about these passages from the Torah more so than the one from Micah, which Matthew quoted. Had they known about the Micah passage, they would have had no reason to stop in Jerusalem, instead heading directly for Bethlehem. What does this mean? It means that these wise men had been looking for this, probably for a long time. In fact, it means they (and those in their order, maybe?) could have been looking for generations. This was their macguffin. They didn’t really know what to expect or exactly how it would all turn out, but they followed the signs, studied the stars and knew it was time to go when the star shone over Jesus as He laid in the manger. Obviously this means they were not there the night of his birth, but they saw the star that brought fear to the shepherds and ran to it. By their gifts we know that they knew who they were bowing to in front of that lowly manger.

Herod’s Macguffin

Herod had a different macguffin. While he certainly feigned desire to meet Jesus, he never had any intention of getting on his knees. We know that because 1) God warned the wise men to go by a different route, and 2) later on in the chapter we learn that because Herod didn’t know which baby this king was, he had all boys 2 and under killed. It was a horrendous massacre all so that Herod could feel unopposed in his seat of power. Take a look at Matthew 2:13-16. I am reminded of a line from the prologue of the Lord of the Rings.

“It all began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the Elves; immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven, to the Dwarf Lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of Men, who above all else desire power. For within these rings was bound the strength and the will to govern over each race. But they were all of them deceived, for another ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret, a master ring, to control all others. And into this ring he poured all his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life. One ring to rule them all.”

Herod was deceived. Power was certainly his macguffin, but just like the 9 kings of men, he could not see that he was merely a puppet of the prince of this earth. Enslaved to his sin, Herod acted out of selfish maliciousness and while he was able to grasp his macguffin temporarily, it did not last long nor actually provided what he was ultimately longing for.

Many Macguffins, One Top Priority

We found out this past week that our little 2 year old, Maggie, was fully emancipated from her biological parents (given a 30 day appeal window) and we are now well on our way through the adoption stage. It is possible that she could be fully adopted by the end of January. We knew we wanted to call her Maggie ever since she first came to live with us, but that is, at this point, not her real name. When we signed paperwork this week to finalize our part of the process, one of the important pages included finalizing what we wanted her name to be. The name Maggie is a short version of Marjorie (which is what her official name will be, God willing). According to the memaggie-and-daddyaning of baby names, Marjorie means “pearl of great price”. It has always been a major goal in both Nita and my life to be parents and finding out that having biological children was not what God wanted for us was a difficult thing to process. He never wanted us to give up on that dream, and led us on a very direct path to becoming Maggie’s parents. With her as the first child we are adopting, we wanted to name her something that held real meaning to the importance of this journey to parenthood. Maggie being our “pearl of great price” perfectly defines the journey God is leading us on with her.


You see, we all have and are drawn to human macguffins; this is not necessarily a bad thing. To have a drive, something to work for, or motivating factors in our life is a natural part of being human. What I am referring to, though, is that pinnacle; the challenge as to what takes that #1 spot in your life. As much as I am absolutely in love with Maggie as her father, she is not even the most important woman in my life, let alone the most important macguffin. While it can be easy to forget that order at times, God is asking us to put Him first. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). This passage is given to the church! This is for Christians! This verse specifically was given to the church in Laodicea who had become lukewarm in their faith. Without God as your macguffin, there is no real passion, no heat to your spirituality. This is what He wants for us – for us to seek out Him as our life macguffin.

God’s Macguffin

While God does not shy away from asking us to make changes like this in our life, there is one major difference with our God – and that is whatever He asks of us, He does it FIRST. He isn’t just asking us to hold Him as the top priority in our lives, but He shows us clearly that we are the top priority in His–FIRST.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.

Psalm 139:1-18

Jesus had your name on His mind before the world was ever created. He sought you out. He is gently romancing—wooing—you even now. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11).

There is no doubt you are God’s macguffin. He came DOWN TO EARTH to live out his love for you. He left the very pinnacle of glory to become the lowest of the low, all so that you could see how much He loves you. He didn’t do it to be an example, nor did He do it to prove His power. He did it because He wanted to; you are worth it to Him. In Jesus, you are so loved that you are His macguffin – the pearl of great price.


What do we do with that? It is only because Jesus came down to earth that we have the ability or capacity to return His love. The challenge today, therefore, is very simple: is Jesus your macguffin? If not, what is in the way? What holds the priority in your life?

What about those who can say that Jesus is their macguffin? How does that live itself out in your life? Jesus showed you His love in that while you were still in your sins, He died for you. What actions are speaking for you? Paul tells Timothy to always do the work of an evangelist; Jesus himself said the harvest is plentiful. We are commissioned to spread the good news of great joy that will bring peace to all mankind. Have you spread news of that peace lately? Have you lived that peace out? Or has your life this season been more about harried shopping, road rage, unbreakable heat or crying over your bank balance?

We do not serve in order to receive goodwill from God, but serve out of love and a calling (which every Christian receives) to spread the good news of Christ. Remember Jesus, who, did not come down to earth to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many. This is ultimately the point of the wise men’s story. Jesus loves us first and foremost – His trip to earth was not about Him, but only about us. We are His macguffin. Who, or what, is yours?


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?