“5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Our spiritual growth and renewal is a joint effort. But not in the way many of us practice. We know that God is changing us, conforming us, transforming us, sanctifying us, working in us and through us… but our practice might reflect a more formulaic approach to our own regeneration. We, through our own systems and processes try to manufacture our own righteousness – effectively transferring our American value of being a self-made man.
As critical as it is to foster spiritual disciplines in our lives and to implement behavioral change, it is imperative that we remember that we are broken and that our righteousness comes from God. Out of that desperation of brokenness – a daily awareness and gratitude of the cross, we let go of the chrysalis of sin and the past, and open our wings to the life in Christ that He paid dearly for us to have. To cooperate as God works in us and through us to transform and conform us into the image of Christ. Ruth Haley Barton writes in her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (IVP, 2008):
“Some of us will wear ourselves out trying to change ourselves before we realize that it is not about fixing; it is about letting go – letting go of old patterns that no longer serve us. This is frightening, because we are not sure such an approach will really work. And we are not sure what we might lose in the process. At this point it is helpful to remember that all we have to lose is what we don’t really want anyway.”
“On the Way”
“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon” Acts 3:1
On the verge of our Ridiculous study let’s focus our attention this morning on a story that combines both ridiculous love and a dangerous witness. In Acts 3 we find Peter and John on the way up to the temple to pray. Remember, this was no planned evangelistic effort, it wasn’t a strategic outreach initiative… it was just a regular day. This prayer time was a part of their regular daily rhythm. I wonder if they knew God was about to do something amazing.
As they walked through the temple gates (v3) they met a crippled man. Had they seen him before? We’ll never know. What we do know is that on that particular day they stopped. He asked for money… they gave him Jesus (v6). He was healed in an instant and it drew a crowd. It’s not every day that you see a crippled man dancing. Peter boldly shared the gospel with the crowd that gathered around them. It says after that day the number of believers grew to 5,000 men (up from the 3,000 mentioned in Acts 2:41).
It’s likely that Peter and John left for the Temple assuming it was a regular day. They had no idea how God would respond to their simple act of faith… stopping to notice a person in need… engaging in a conversation and then offering them Jesus. It changed everything for that man. But it also allowed God the opportunity to work in and through Peter and John. We often focus on the crippled man who was healed. But what about the crowd that was gathered who heard the gospel and were saved that day? Sometimes… when were simply going along the way… God has opportunities for us all around. If we’ll simply engage in those everyday opportunities might God do the miraculous through you and I? If God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow than I’d like to think so. What’s going to be your “on the way” story today?
“Who Then What”
“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.”
Colossians, Ephesians, and Romans are three vivid examples of “who before what.” In each letter (book), Paul intentionally describes our position in Christ before describing our practice of following Christ. Romans 1-11 describes our identity (in Christ) before prescribing action (for Christ) in Romans 12-16. The same can be said of Ephesians 1-3 (identity) preceding Ephesians 4-6 (action). This brings us to the passage cited above. The first two chapters of Colossians emphasizes who we are before addressing what we are to do.
The great temptation for many of us is to get the two out of order. We try to “do” in order to “be”. We assume that if we simply behave better, we’ll be more loved by God with greater security in that relationship. In this case, we run on the treadmill of good works in order to earn our relationship with our Heavenly Father. This is not the way it works in His Kingdom.
The Bible teaches that action does not lead to being. Rather, being leads to action. We “seek the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1) and “set our minds on things that are above” because we have already “been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1) and “died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Our actions spring forth from a new nature; our being leads to our becoming; our spiritual wealth in Christ motivates our spiritual walk for Christ.
Who are you? Then, what are you doing about it?
“A Set Heart.”
“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD,
and to do it and to teach his statues and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
I more than realize that most of us don’t speak of “a set heart” in our everyday life. I love the picture of conviction and resolve found in these three words attached to Ezra. He was a skilled scribe (7:6), a priest from the lineage of Aaron. In 458 BC he led the second of three waves of returning exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. Fifty-seven years after the Temple was dedicated, traveling 4 months and 900 miles, this man born into captivity, made his way “back home.” Israel had already returned to her sinful ways and Ezra had been sent to teach the people the Law of the LORD. He was firm to search with great care the meaning of the Law for God’s people. He was fixed to live out what he found there. He was resolved to teach all that God had placed upon his heart. In other words, his heart was set.
Ezra has been a hero of mine. His faithfulness in study, application, and exposition inspire me. Now and then I see it expressed in a concrete and visible way. A number of years ago I was privileged to be in Papua New Guinea. A Scandinavian translator, a single-woman of extraordinary courage had spent 20 years completing the Scriptures for one of PNG’s people groups. She, with emotion, handed her manuscript to me and said, “This is my life’s work.” There and then I understood a set heart. “Oh God, keep me from drifting. Give me a set heart to study, do, and teach your Word, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:35 & 37
There are two great promises in these verses concerning our relationship with Jesus Christ that are worth celebrating. One is that we will never be separated from the love of Jesus. Most of us have experienced the loss of someone we love and the pain that comes with it. Break-ups happen as a result of many outside forces including competing loves, conflicting opinions, physical separation, or an unwillingness to compromise. But, while human relationships may end, the one we have with Jesus never will.
The other great promise is that we will conquer all things through this love. Having been married for almost 30 years, Sara and I share a love that trusts we can get through anything as long as we are together. I feel that I can overcome anything because of Sara’s love for me. But her love wouldn’t take cancer away should I face it. Her love won’t erase mistakes and bad decisions I’ve made. Her love won’t change my financial picture or secure my retirement. Eventually, our love will give way to death. So as strong as our love for one another is…it really doesn’t conquer all. But Jesus’ love for us is different. We conquer everything (yes, everything – go ahead and read Romans 8:38) because of his love for us.
So welcome to Monday. Jesus and you are never breaking up and his love will help you overcome anything. That should change the way you face the day.
“What do you think, Simon?” Matt 17:25
Jesus is the master teacher. He knows all things. He knows what is on our mind even before you do. Yet Jesus asks a lot of questions to the disciples, Pharisees, crowds, etc. Often a good question is better than a good answer. Jesus knows this and asks key questions to engage us and help us to search our hearts and minds.
In this particular instance the tax collectors were pressuring Jesus to pay the temple tax and so Jesus asks Peter the question. “What do you think, Simon?” From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes – from their own sons or from others? Peter answers, from others. Then the sons are exempt, Jesus said to him.” Jesus is exempt because he is the King of Kings and his Father is the Creator of the Universe. However, Jesus does not want to offend the authorities nor does he want to break the law. So Peter is instructed to go fishing, catch the first fish, find a four-drachma coin in its’ mouth, and use it to pay the tax.
What do you think of this story? What lesson is Jesus trying to teach you?
This story highlights Christ’s authority and how he once again gives that authority up in order to accomplish his mission. As children of the King of Kings we have a lot of freedom. However, we do not use this freedom to take advantage of others or to show our status in the kingdom. Rather, we are children of the most high God and we use this relationship to serve and honor others.
What do you think?
“Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out. The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.” Psalm 10:15-18
The psalmists often write laments about the evil that existed in their world. Proud, violent, hedonistic, wicked, unjust – these godless leaders used fear, oppression, and force to create kingdoms of depravity. Psalmists like King David would appeal to God’s justice, asking God to “Arise!” and bring justice to the oppressed.
Gordon MacDonald notes that one sign of a transformed Christ follower is that “he maintains an informed, even prayerful, view of local and national affairs.” (I would add a global perspective as well). There are evils all around the world that we could be praying against like the psalmists: abortion, sex slave trade, domestic abuse, crooked governments that cause hunger and poverty, child slavery, rampant orphaning of children, and more.
I invite you to listen for a call to prayer from God today about an injustice in the world, and pray that God will “break the arm” of evil and bring the light of the gospel into the darkness of the oppressed and fatherless in our world.