Responding to Your Debt

Last summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on what it costs a family to raise a child. It found that “a middle-income” family with a child born in 2010 can expect to spend about $226,920 ($286,860 if projected inflation costs are factored in) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise that child over the next 17 years.” [1] Can you imagine turning 18 and receiving that bill from your parents?

But, take a minute and think about all the time and money that has been invested in you…from your parents’ expenditures (who provided room and board, clothing, medical care, etc) to the teachers at all levels who sought to impart knowledge and wisdom. What about the volunteer coaches or Sunday school teachers, who gave up many hours to train you in some skill or application of God’s truth? Move into your adult life to think of those mentors from whom you have gained some expertise. Take a moment and write down those names and ways in which you are indebted to these individuals…I’ll wait.

Now, look over that list. Who would you say has made the greatest contribution to your life? That may be a tough question to answer, since some accomplishments in life are achieved only after the multiple influences of others. But, when it comes to here and now, can you point to one individual and say, “I am who I am today because of [insert name]“? If you were able to do that, what do you owe that individual? How could you ever pay back the investment they have made in you? Perhaps a cash payback is out of the question for their influence has been invaluable. Maybe you have already thanked them profusely, but your gratitude seems insufficient. What, then, is the greatest way to honor that debt?

As a parent who spends massive amounts of money on your child(ren), what payback do you really expect? You hope that you will pass on enough life skills so that they aren’t returning home as adults to live with you. You pray that God will give you wisdom to raise them, so that they will follow after Christ and not be alienated from the love of the Father by a faulty representation of Him by their earthly father. So, when that adult child says, in a complimentary fashion, “I’m going to raise my child like I was raised,” there is a sense in which the investment has been paid in full. When one is able to take what you have invested in them and then begins to invest it in others, you gain an invaluable satisfaction!

As we have been examining Romans, we see that we all have a greater obligation [debt]. What we do and what we receive from God has obligated us in serious ways. While Paul has previously spoken of the unbeliever’s sin debt that brings eternal death (Romans 6:23), Paul speaks now of the believer’s obligation to “live” in Romans 8:12-13:

12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live…

In these two verses, Paul clearly states “we have an obligation.” Our obligation is not to the flesh; he implies our obligation is to the Spirit since life in the Spirit is the context of these verses. And with that debt to the Spirit comes the necessity of mortifying, putting to death the deeds of the flesh; that is, all of the selfish, self-directed, anti-God behavior of our sinful nature. As that daily denial of self happens, real living begins to happen. The life that God intended us to have in uninterrupted communion with Him begins to be realized. But, it takes more than will-power to “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Paul suggests that it is by the Spirit, Who resides within us, with all of the resources of God.

Therefore, our indebtedness to the Lord for the great cost expended on us for salvation is best “paid back” when we live by the Spirit of God, as evidenced by putting to death the deeds of the flesh. We then begin taking on more of the resemblance of Christ in word and deed and “re”-presenting Him through our lives to the world around us.

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1 This is the press release of the USDA, June 2011 report “Expenditure on Children by Families.” Complete report can be linked from here: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome contentid=2011/06/0241.xml&contentidonly=true

For Fun:

The Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, The Great Stone Face, is a wonderful tale of one whose focus is so determined on an item that he begins to take on the very character and nature of that desired object. There is great spiritual application in this story. Read it online HERE

Here is a link to a USDA calculator that estimates the cost of raising a child based on region http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/calculatorintro.htm

The New Way of the Spirit

As we talked on Sunday about our life in the Spirit in Romans 8:5-11, I was reminded about the first teaching I can remember of the Spirit-filled life. I was a 15 year old, who reluctantly went to my church’s youth camp in the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, TN. While I was involved in the regular activities of my church, I didn’t participate in the extras (youth choir, youth trips, etc.) because I was more of a band geek, not very athletic and somewhat introverted. I thought I would be out of my comfort zone at camp, but since our pastor, Herb Hodges, was leading the teaching sessions, my parents encouraged me to go.

In his sessions, I remember Herb teaching with a chalk board – writing outlines, Greek words and drawing illustrations. One of those sessions portrayed three circles, each with a chair [throne] in the middle.[1]  We were told that the circles represented three different types of people – the non-Christian, the Christian and the carnal Christian. Each illustration had an “S” for self and a cross to represent Christ. Additionally, small dots within the circle represented the various decisions and activities of life.

The first circle had the “S” on the chair with Christ outside of the circle. The dots inside the circle were in disarray, representing a life that was out of control. This depicted the life of the unsaved, who was living the self-directed life. Whether out of ignorance or rebelliousness, this individual had not yielded his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Consequently, the dots inside the circle were in disarray, representing the inability of man to really control life under his own power.

The second circle was one in which Jesus sat on the throne and self was at the feet of the throne. In this circle, the dots were in an orderly form, representing the life of a Christian under the control of the Spirit.

The final circle pictured Christ still in the circle, but He had been dethroned by the “S”. Once again, the dots were in disarray…a life in chaos without the controlling nature of the Spirit of Christ on the throne. The carnal believer, one walking in his own power and self-direction, but nevertheless saved, was represented by this circle.

When pressed with the question, “Which circle best represents you?”, I knew that it was not the Spirit-filled believer. In fact, I was not even sure that I had ever really experienced salvation.[2]  I made a decision that night to have Christ on the throne of my life and to seek the life of obedience to Christ through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, filling my life. This teaching revolutionized my understanding of God’s expectations for me. I was no longer under the impression that I was on my own when it came to living for Christ. He had given me His help and power if I would only choose against myself and choose Him.

Youth camp provided some additional dividends. I made connections with some older youth beyond by own grade, who accepted me and provided me with some of the important accountability touches that were needed outside the church setting. Did I (and, do I) still blow it at times? Yes! But, praise the Lord, He is faithful in forgiving, restoring and enabling His children to follow after Him!

YOUR RESPONSE

  • On the night before His death Jesus spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He explained the role, which the Spirit would have in the life of believers. Read through John 14-16 and write down what each chapter says about the function of the Spirit.
  • Ephesians 5:18 is often used as an admonition to avoid the use of alcohol. It is more an issue of control. You are going to be controlled by something or Somebody. Are you going to be controlled (filled) by the Holy Spirit, or are you going to be controlled by a substance, a hurt, a hang-up or a habit? Think about your life. What or who is in control right now?
  • Galatians 5:16-25 is a great passage to contrast between the sinful nature and the life in the Spirit. Compare the lists and consider which best describes your life. Ask God to begin to manifest more of the fruit of the Spirit in your life as you keep in step with the Spirit.

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1 This was not original with Herb, but is published by Campus Crusade for Christ. Here is a link to the online version (and illustrations) of Have You Made the Wonderful Discovery of the Spirit-Filled Life? You would be wise to master such illustrations, enabling you to have “napkin drawings” with family and friends at the dinner or restaurant table as God directs the conversation to spiritual matters.

2 Having made a profession of faith at age 7, I did not have the intellectual capacity to understand the more abstract concepts of the Lordship of Christ and its implications for my life. So, as a 15 year old, those concepts were now connecting and resonating in my mind and heart. Looking back from adulthood, I believe my early conversion was valid, and I committed as much as I knew of Chuck to as much as I knew of God at age 7 (which at the time was more of the saving role of Christ). Due to a lack of understanding (or the lack of teaching), I thought I was on my own to live in obedience to God by rule keeping and will power. What a relief to experience the life of the Spirit!

No Condemnation

Romans 8 begins with the incredible statement “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” These are some of the most liberating words found in the entire Bible. But they can only be fully appreciated by those who have come to realize they deserved a death sentence. To this point in Romans, Paul has made it clear that Jew and Gentile alike, deserve that eternal condemnation:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…For the wages of sin is death… (Romans  3:23, 6:23a, NIV)

Imagine you are awaiting the execution of the death sentence. Barabbas was one such man; a convicted insurrectionist, who was condemned to die on a Roman cross in Jerusalem. His execution was deserved according to the Roman law for he had incited rebellion against Roman rule.[1]  Barabbas, as a Zealot, was a religious man in a sect of Judaism that held a high view of the Law and nationalism – so high, in fact, that they sought to rid their land of the pagan Romans by force.  Viewed through our modern lens, we could equate Barabbas with today’s religious terrorists. He, like they, believed the cause to be righteous. Nevertheless, civil law had been violated and Barabbas was condemned.

However, when Jesus was brought before Pilate, the Roman governor had a dilemma: either sentence an innocent man and appease the Jews, or release Jesus and incite the crowd. He chose a method that let him off the hook by invoking a custom of releasing a criminal of the Jews’ pleasing. The crowd chose Barabbas! We are not told of Barabbas’ reaction to the crowds’ choice of Jesus Christ for crucifixion instead of him. Certainly, it was one of great relief as he was the first to realize those words, “no condemnation,” in association to Jesus Christ. We can only hope that Barabbas embraced the true sense of the meaning by coming into relationship with Jesus Christ. However, if he did not – if he continued to pursue his own path of righteousness – he only experienced a reprieve.

Do we really appreciate those words, “no condemnation”? Even after having received the gift of salvation, I need to remind myself of the abject depravity from which I was saved. Thus, Paul’s lament, ” What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, NIV), garners a greater appreciation towards God when we realize:

1  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.                                                                                                        (Romans 8:1-2, NIV)

Not only do these words bring relief, but they bring security. While life in the Spirit is a theme of this chapter, the security of the believer is a predominant theme, too. We have the assurance of not being put in “double jeopardy” because Christ has once and for all paid the penalty for our sins, bringing “no condemnation” and nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39, NIV). HALLELUJAH!

Your Response:  If you have made a spiritual inventory (as suggested last week), be sure to take time to dwell on the fact that Christ no longer holds you guilty for your sins as you have trusted in Him!

  • Have you failed in a marriage?…He does not condemn you!
  • Are you struggling to overcome some hang up?…He does not condemn you!
  • Have you made wrong choices in the past?…He does not condemn you!
  • Do you have a criminal record (as Barabbas)?…He does not condemn you!
Take some time to read and reread Chapter 8, highlighting the repeated words: Spirit, sin(ful), life, death. Write out the contrasts that you see.
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1  The word used to describe Barabbas as “robber” in John 18:40 is the same word the Jewish historian, Josephus, used to describe the Zealots.

Leadworship Workshop

Eight members of our worship team are having the opportunity to take in some special worship leadership training this weekend led by Paul Baloche. He is the songwriter of such songs as Open the Eyes of My Heart and Hosanna. We were invited to come early for his band’s rehearsal and sound check before this evening’s concert, giving us the opportunity to observe the musicians and techs work together to ensure a worshipful experience happened tonight.

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Baloche talks to sound tech during rehearsal

Baloche is not as much a performer as he is a practitioner of worship, serving for over 20 years as a worship pastor in his Texas church. I have appreciated his giving spirit as his website has a number of free resources to aid worship leaders in learning and sharing his songs. I’m grateful for the great resources God has given us to engage in worship and develop our gifts, enabling us to more effectively lead others to the Throne Room of God.

Who, Me…Covet?

Last Sunday, we considered the value of the law. Because Paul said that our sinful passions are aroused by the law (Romans 7:5), some may have asked if the law was sin.

7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind (Romans 7:7-8 NASB).

What good is the law? As we considered how the law is beneficial to us in revealing our sin, we also saw that the law provokes sin. Paul made this clear from his own personal experience. If the law had not said, “You shall not covet,” he would not have known it was a sin. But sin, took up a base of operation in Paul because of the commandment and “produced in me coveting of every kind.”

The command to “not covet” is, of course, the last of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17), but is perhaps the root of all other sins. “Coveting in and of itself seems to do no harm to anyone, but it very frequently provides the motivation for stealing and even murder. To put a stop to coveting is to ‘head other sins off at the pass.’” [1]  Even the sin of idolatry, covered in the first and second Commandments is alluded to as having its origin in covetousness:

For be sure of this: that no person practicing sexual vice or impurity in thought or in life, or one who is covetous [who has lustful desire for the property of others and is greedy for gain]–for he [in effect] is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”  (Ephesians 5:5 Amplified).

We don’t use the word “covet” much anymore, but it is still an ever-present and serious danger. Coveting describes one who is “grasping”, one who is always eager for more and especially for what belongs to someone else; greedy for gain; one who desires to have more than is due.

Are we, like Paul, convicted by this commandment? Does it not only put a name to our inner desire, but does it also seem to cause that desire to operate with greater vigor inside of us? We live in a culture that incites our covetous bent. With “new and improved” products constantly promising a better life, our covetous spirit always wants more. Beth Moore’s daughter, Melissa Moore Fitzpatrick, speaks of the lure of a popular online community where you catalog the things you love. It is a virtual pin board of beautiful things (places, people and things). While she admitted there is nothing wrong with the site, she recognized her own propensity to daydream about her next purchases or to think about extravagant vacations she had never been on. Melissa goes on to say:

Like the sin of lust, when we know something cultivates immense greed in our hearts, we need to cut ourselves off from the source, whether or not the source is sinful. Even if I pay all my bills and rightly pay every laborer I employ, is not my superfluous spending on myself when others need the basics for survival a contradiction of loving my neighbor as myself? [2]

And it’s not only “stuff” we covet. I’ve concluded that the popularity of social networking is because we covet personal worth and value for which our increasingly isolated conditions cry out. But we find ourselves so tied to social media that we often neglect the relationships in the same room with us. Or, we are checking to see how many comments have been made to our status updates, as if that is proof that our lives are significant. I confess that this is a temptation in even writing a blog. A stats page for the blogger reveals not who, but how many have visited the site. As the “publish” button is pressed, the questions run through my head, “Will people read it? Will they respond?”

Finally, do we spiritually harbor a covetous spirit? Consider what Bob Deffinbaugh says:

Coveting comes in other forms, especially in those which appear to be spiritual. The preachers of the “gospel of the good life” appeal to the covetousness of men by promising them all that their hearts desire, if they but give to their ministry. Coveting can also occur when we focus our attention on that which we do not possess. How often today the word “need” occurs in the vocabulary of the Christian. We present Christ as the “need-meeter.” We spend a great deal of time and energy trying to surface and explore our needs. These “needs” all seem to be things which we do not possess. Is our “need exploration” only producing coveting? If I understand the Scriptures correctly, God has met all our needs in Christ. That which we do not have, which we think we need, may either be that which God has graciously withheld, or it may be that which He has already provided but which we have failed to receive or to appropriate by faith. I fear that we are far too “need” conscious. [3]

Paul’s wake up call needs to be ours too. Will you commit with me to pray that God would illuminate our hearts and minds to covetousness, the “root” of other sins and idolatry!

YOUR RESPONSE:

  • If you are concerned about the amount of time you spend on social media (texting, Facebooking, tweeting, pinning, on-line gaming), consider a day-long, week-long or month-long fast. Use that time to engage in face-to-face interaction and spiritual discipline (prayer, Bible study, etc).
  • Become aware of the amount of time you pray for your personal needs. Are you more interested in how God can meet your needs than you are in how you can serve Him? It’s not that He is uninterested in your needs, but He may want to supply your needs to enable you to meet the needs of others. To take the emphasis off your needs, try to balance your prayer time with A.C.T.S. (Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; and Supplication-praying for your own needs and the needs of others).

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1 Bob Deffinbaugh, http://bible.org/seriespage/loveliness-law-and-ugliness-sin-romans-77-13

2 Beth Moore, James, Mercy Triumphs (Nashville: Lifeway Press, 2011). 161.

3 Deffinbaugh, loc. cit.