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All posts for the month July, 2013

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What struggles are you facing today? Sickness, financial crisis, divorce, depression…? There are so many things that can come against us.

Paul writes in Romans 8:31: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Do you ever feel like God is against you? I have. What’s interesting is that when things are going great, God often doesn’t get the credit, but as soon as it turns, He gets all the credit.

Last week I was in Papua New Guinea and I saw and heard stories of real poverty and anguish. Women who had to give birth to their child outside in the mud and couldn’t go back in their home until they had stopped bleeding from the birth. You see things and hear things that make you question God’s availability and wonder, “is He really with us?”

You have to wrestle that one to the ground. I remember the day I came to terms with God. I was sitting on the side of the road in my car that had just been hit by a huge crane truck. It knocked me and my dad to the side of the road. Just weeks earlier we had lost our baby to a miscarriage. I’m holding onto the steering wheel just mad at God. And I heard Him gently say, “let go.” It changed everything. I realized in that moment that God was for me not against me. That the more I try to control my circumstances the less He gets to be good on my behalf. I also realized that stuff happens and no one is to blame. It just happened.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-38)

Awhile back in a message I mentioned that God doesn’t hide from us, but we hide from Him. You see nothing can separate us from Him. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Not our sin and not our sickness. Not our depression and not our disdain. Nothing. There is nothing you have done or are doing that separates you from God. So, stop hiding. Come out from behind the walls that you’ve built and embrace the love of Jesus.

Action: What walls have you built up between you and God? How can you tear those walls down today? On a scale of 1 to 10 how convinced are you that God loves you and that nothing can separate you from that love (1 is not convinced at all and 10 is utterly convinced)? What one thing can you do today, believe today, think today that can increase your conviction by one point? You can comment on my blog or facebook so others can be encouraged.

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This weekend, Evan Earwicker, our High School Pastor said some very powerful things. Let me simply quote some of what he said in my post this morning:

Throughout this series, we’ve talked about the weight of sin that pulls us towards death. How from the first time mankind messed up, we became estranged from God. For thousands of years, the only way to gain God’s acceptance was this: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44)

Clean yourself up, and you’re in. Sacrifice enough animals, and your sin will be atoned for. Come see me when you’ve fixed your failures. Good luck. And we withered under the weight of it. Far from God, sickened by sin. Powerless to shake it.

One more quote on love: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

There was no greater obstacle than our sin, and no greater demonstration of love than the cross of Christ. In Christ, we no longer had to work our way to Him, He came to us – became Immanuel, GOD-WITH-US. And for the first time in human history, the deck was stacked in our Favor. Finally, the pull of His Grace was stronger than the gravity of sin. On the cross, He couldn’t make the message any more clear : I AM FOR YOU. And the proof was Jesus.

“When we encounter the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ, we must revise all our previous thinking about God. Jesus…defines God as love. In light of this revelation, we have to abandon the cankerous, worm-eaten structure of legalism, moralism, and perfectionism that corrupts the Good News into an ethical code rather than a love affair.” Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus

Leave the legalism and perfectionism here today, and let His love ring in your ears and settle on you.

Action: Do you agree with Evan? Why or why not? Take some time today and let the love of God, through Jesus Christ, invade your space. How does it make you feel? What does it make you think? Does it change the way you go about your day? If so, how?

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Do you remember singing songs about heaven? “Soon and very soon we are going to see the King…” As a young boy I remember my church singing songs like this all the time. There was a sense that we all wanted to escape this world of sin to a better place.

Then I read this section of Romans 8, and I realize that’s not what we were to hope. Our hope was to be on our future condition. Focus on escaping this world put us immediately at odds with this world. Then we would start talking about how everything is going to burn and pass away. It would get very negative really quick.

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) (Romans 8:22-25 NLT)

As you read Paul’s writings you begin to realize that our future hope encircles our future condition. We will be released from sin and suffering. We will have full rights as adopted children of God. We will have new bodies. That is our hope.

It makes me think about family vacations. I so look forward to time away with my family. Matter of fact, my looking forward to what will be helps me deal with what is. I can get through the day when I know that I’m getting away soon. Does that make sense?

I’m a proponent of living in the moment and enjoying life right now. But I also realize that when life is really tough right now, hope for a better future may be the only thing keeping me going. That’s what Paul is saying here. Keep looking up. One day you will have life, full life, amazing and abundant life. One day you will not suffer. One day you will not struggle with sin. One day you will have a brand new body!

Action: How does that reality change your present perspective? What’s one way that you can apply this future hope to your everyday life? For instance, I’m going to start every day this week with thanking God for the new body I will one day have (my wife will probably thank God for that too:). Let me know your thoughts.

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Paul is an interesting guy. He takes us really low (“we are sinners and can’t help ourselves”) and then takes us really high (“children of God and joint heirs”) and then in this next section of Romans 8, brings us back down a little bit. I think he does that, in part, to connect the truth of God’s word to our present reality. Kind of the “don’t be so heavenly minded you are of no earthly good” concept.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. (Romans 8:17-21 NLT)

So, we are God’s children which gives us an amazing heritage and access to the most powerful entity in the universe (read Ephesians 1 to see the scope of this). Paul then uses two words: glory and suffering. You see we typically want the good without the bad. We desire the Jesus with the little lamb on his shoulders; the popular Jesus that had throngs of people around him; the son of God Jesus who did amazing miracles. We just don’t want the suffering Jesus who was persecuted first by his own family, then later went to the cross and suffered horrible torture and death.

Paul wrote this to Christians who were about, or were already, being persecuted for their faith. The gladiatorial fights in the coliseum and Christians being martyred there are not just stories they are facts of history. So Paul was telling a group of people that we must suffer if we are to share in Christ’s victory. How does this relate to us today?

We all know we were made for something more than to suffer. Our bodies yearn for it and our souls cry out for it. An internal working that tells us there is more to life. Those “groanings” as Paul puts it look forward to a day when there will be no more suffering or pain and no more death.

When you wake up dissatisfied with your current state, know this: you are tapping into something God put there. But instead of looking at your present sufferings as a curse, look at them in light of Christ’s sufferings, and then turn your present discouragement into a future hope: “one day I will be free.”

The first Christians, amidst persecution, had a future hope that was stronger then their present suffering.

Action: In what ways can you make hope stronger than discouragement in your own life? List some thinking patterns that might help you turn the switch from discouragement to hope.

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When we started on this journey in Romans we were sinners. Paul made a strong case in Romans 7 and the first part of Romans 8 that we were hopeless and destitute without God. Now read this:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16 NLT)

From sinners to children.

If you have kids do you identify them by their sin or by the fact that you had something to do with their birth? When you introduce them to people you don’t introduce them as your “little sinners” (even though we know you could), you introduce them as your children. Let that sink in. Because that’s exactly what God does with you.

Sure, we deserve to be labeled all kinds of things, but a “child of God” is not one of them. But we’ve been invited by God Himself to embrace sonship and daughter-ship and call Him “daddy”. Stop trying to be so mature and adult-like and instead see yourself as a child who makes mistakes, but has a loving and compassionate father ready to forgive, ready to discipline in love when needed, but totally accepts us because we are His children.

Here’s the key: recognize the merging of our spirit with His Spirit. You are a symbiant being. We are not alone. The very Spirit of God that Jesus sent to his disciples when He left (John 14-16) lives in us and affirms that we are indeed children of God. If you have a hard time grasping this concept, then it means you haven’t fully recognized or embraced the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Action: On a scale from 1 to 10, how convinced are you that you indeed are a child of God right now in your present condition (1 not convinced at all and 10 very convinced)? List some ways that you can or have increased your awareness and involvement with the Spirit of God who lives in you. Comment here to give others ideas.

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This past weekend, Pastor Jim Stephens spoke an amazing message called “Let’s Talk About Sin” and this weekend Pastor Ken is speaking a message entitled “Who’s Your Daddy.” We’ve been looking at one of the most powerful chapters in all of the Bible: Romans 8.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. (Romans 8:12, 13 NLT)

So, how do we live a sin-free life? No, I’m not asking tongue-in-cheek. I actually think it’s possible for Christ followers to live a life by the Spirit that the misdeeds of our body become less and less over time.

1) Just decide to stop sinning. Let me know how that works for you – I’ve tried it.

2) Discipline yourself. You might make incremental improvements over time, but even the most disciplined of all people fall short. Like a rubber band being stretched – eventually it will snap.

3) Will power. Win the battle. Be stronger. Mind over matter. Problem: my flesh is a strong mama.

4) Give up. No, really. Stop trying so hard. Realize that you are not God and that you are powerless to control your urges.

Then invite the work of the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do in your life.

Pastor Jim, last weekend, gave us a process for this to happen:

  • Awareness – of your powerlessness. Don’t give up the dream and desire to change, but realize you can’t do it on your own.
  • Repentance – acknowledge that you don’t want to live like you are living and make a decision to live differently – repent.
  • Confession – ask God to forgive you (and anyone else that you have hurt)
  • Encounter – God speaks, God instructs and you respond in faith.
  • Transformation – you begin to notice the difference in your life and you keep walking through this process of awareness, repentance, confession, and encounter.**
  • All of this can happen in a moment. Just as it only takes a moment to mess up, it only takes a moment to become right with God. Today is the day to make this process a lifestyle. Why don’t you start right now and take some time with Jesus and walk through this wonderful, restorative process with Him.

    **Special note to those who struggle with addiction: don’t try to do this by yourself. We have some amazing pastors and leaders who have been where you are and are available to help you in your journey. Please reach out to me and I can help get you connected: smickel@westsidechurch.org.

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    Do you think the church today is too soft on sin? Why do you think that?

    I used to be really hard on my boys when they messed up. It was like, “watch out, Dad’s coming.” The reason I was so hard on them is that I was afraid for them. I was afraid that if I didn’t jump on them quickly and firmly, they would spiral into a life of sin and shame.

    Then a few years ago I realized something: they were afraid of me. My grand scheme had worked: I had scared them out of sinning. Problem: They are not always going to be with me. At some point in their lives they will be on their own and what’s going to stop them from making the wrong choice then?

    So, I decided to help them make right choices rather than to not make bad choices. It was a subtle shift, but had very different results.

    First, I didn’t lead out of fear of what they might do, but out of faith of what they could be. Everything, including my rules, became “for their good” rather than “to keep them from something.”

    Second, when they did make a mistake, it was a learning moment for their future, not a mark on their past. Pastor Jim Stephens used the phrase: “observe without judgment.”

    Finally, it has dramatically changed my relationship with them. We smile more. We laugh more (especially at ourselves). We enjoy the journey a lot more.

    So, is the church too soft on sin? If you think so, ask yourself if fear is driving your thinking? Are you afraid that a little leaven (sin) will leaven the whole loaf (his church)? I’m not saying that we should take sin lightly. Matter of fact, I’m very concerned that we no longer strive for a better way of living within the church. But, think about the people you know who sin (yes, start with the one in the mirror). Now think about how you can change your approach to them and their sin. First, instead of approaching them in fear (“what they do”), approach them in faith (“what they can be”). Second, instead of counting their sin against them, be quick to forgive them – “observe without judgement”. Third, instead of taking life so seriously, start enjoying the journey.

    Which of these three is an area you want to work on this week? What can you do to think and live differently in one of these areas?

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    Remember the movie, The Three Amigos? Steve Martin’s character is chained to a wall and he is striving to get to the lever that will free him from his bondage. Just as he reaches for the lever he loses his momentum and the chains pull him back hard against the wall.

    That’s a picture of my life some of the time. I strive to do the right things, yet something is pulling me backwards, constantly tempting me to do what I don’t want to do. Do you have that same issue? Why is that?

    Growing up in the church I often heard messages about sin – do this, don’t do that. I thought the way to relationship with God was based on following the religious code. Live a better life, have a better relationship.

    Do you know that’s not true?

    Recently one of my sons committed, what I would term, a serious sin. Now, before you start dreaming up what he might have done, let me just say it’s not anything you or I haven’t done. As a father it’s so tempting to let his mistake drive a wedge between him and me. I could tell by the way his eyes looked me that he thought he had committed an unpardonable sin against me. So when I reached over and held him something broke inside of him. He cried, I cried. Why? Because what he thought would separate him from me, actually brought us closer together.

    Am I saying that the more you sin, the closer you will be to God? Maybe. Depends on how you see Him and how you receive Him. Am I saying you should sin more so you can be closer to God? No, that’s borderline stupidity. But what if the very thing that you believed separated you from God can be the catalyst to bring you closer to Him?

    And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8:2 NLT)

    This powerful verse has everything to do with how you and I look at our sin. Sin’s power leads to death – total separation from God. That power is neutered when you ask Jesus into your life and immediately, without revocation, the power of the Spirit comes into you. Now, nothing you do can separate you from God’s love.

    Do you believe this is true? If not, why not? If so, how does it change your approach to God? Encourage others by sharing your thoughts here.

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    Paul introduces a new concept in Romans 7:18-23 – that there are two parts at war within us, our sinful nature and our spirit nature. He recognizes that once we attach ourselves to Jesus our sin nature is put on notice.

    And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. (Romans 7:18-23 NLT)

    Sometimes I wish that my sin nature would just leave, but I have found it is a process that takes a lifetime full of obedience, suffering, discipline, consistency and relationships. Over time our spirit nature begins to win more and more battles.

    Here’s the deal: Paul tells us that when we do wrong it’s not really us, it’s sin living in us. That sounds like a cop-out, but think about this – do you have the power to stop sinning all by yourself? If you did, why haven’t you stopped yet? If us not sinning was our responsibility, we would still be living under the law. Paul is showing us that we must separate our sinful part from our spirit part and recognize that it is on its own.

    Action: Do you recognize the war raging inside of you? How responsible do you feel for the sin in your life? Do you think you have to fix it?

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    Sin is far more destructive than many think today. It’s part of the human condition so, in a way, we have embraced it. Most people think there’s nothing that can be done about it except try harder, be better, work at it. But Paul uses an interesting word in Romans 7:13017 to describe our relationship to sin. He says we are a slave to sin. Another translation is that we were sold into it.

    But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes. So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:13-17 NLT)

    Are you familiar with the phrase “to sell out”? It often is used in the entertainment industry to describe someone who has left their values to pursue personal gain. It denotes someone who was meant to live a different way, but “sold out” and now is caught in a contract that they can’t get out of and have to live under.

    Sin is the same. We were meant to live a better, greater, more alive life, but we were sold out and now live under a contract that we cannot break on our own.

    Action: In what ways have you sold out to sin in your life? Are there areas that you recognize have a hold on you? How have you tried to curb those things and “better” your life outside of God’s help? Have you found that to work long-term?