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

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 driver.wedding

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.

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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!

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?

Trust and Obey | A Workout Guide

bike-riding-cape-coral

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

Physical Training and the Swim-Cycle

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

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

Why We Train Physically and Spiritually

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

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

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

Matthew 25:14-28, NIV

Training to Trust and Obey

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

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

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

The Goal of Spiritual Training

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

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

Your Job Is… from Cape Alliance Church on Vimeo.