Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How NOT to Lose Your Zest for Life

Mike Hosey, An Elder

In Romans 6, the Apostle Paul writes about the intersection of death, sin and life.  Towards the end of his chapter, he argues that the wages of sin is death (Proverbs 6:23).  That means that the payment for working for sin, or working to fulfill sin, or living for sin, or being alive to sin is funded from the payroll account of death!  Interestingly, that payment of death is most often delivered in a very peculiar but cruel way.  To understand this cruel method of payment, consider the ironically evil benefits of sin. A person derives a certain amount of pleasure from sinning.  There really is no denying this. It is usually the chief reason people sin.  This does not mean, however, that pleasure is bad.  In fact, pleasure is good. It was created by God, and it exists for a good purpose. It is obtaining pleasure in a way contrary to how God intends for humans to enjoy it that is bad or sinful.  As a person pursues the pleasures of sin, his senses become more and more dulled to the pleasures he thinks he is getting. All addictions are an excellent example of this life-stealing sin process.  With addictions, a person gets less and less pleasure, and so needs more and more exposure to the substance or behavior to which they are addicted. As one famous theologian put it, there is an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.  And pleasure is a hallmark of full life.  A person who pursues sin is dying. And the more he pursues it, the more dead he becomes. He becomes more dead to pleasure, more dead to general life, and more dead to the joys of Christ.

But if that same person dies to sin, and decides to come alive to Christ, his life becomes new.  Interestingly, the more he pursues Christ, the less he will enjoy the pleasures of sin. That same person will increasingly enjoy Godly pleasures.  In truth, most of the pleasures he might have enjoyed in a sinful context, he can enjoy in a Godly context, and not only can he enjoy them, they become greater as they are transformed to healthy joy. The slaking of lust becomes loving marital intimacy. Those who have experienced both sides of that spectrum will tell you the wholesome side is far more pleasurable than the sinful side.  Partying in selfish wild contexts converts to solid and true fellowship. Pursuit of self-ambition becomes pursuit of the advancement of God’s kingdom, and then witnessing (and sharing in) the joys of changed lives.  The more you live for Christ, the more you will wish to die to sin. Once come alive to Christ and are able to compare the pleasures side by side, you will find that there is no comparison!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What God's Resurrection Power Can Do For You Right Now!

Mike Hosey, An Elder
Many people think that the most important and powerful moment of the New Testament is the birth of Jesus.  It is not. Others think it is the crucifixion.  But it isn’t that either. The most important moment of the New Testament -- in fact -- the most important moment of the entire bible, is the resurrection of Jesus.

The New Testament references it over and over again, by one scholar’s count, more than 200 times.  And even when there isn’t a direct verse related to the event, the concept is often explored obliquely by the New Testament writers. That is because the event was extremely powerful to those who witnessed it. It meant that the chief enemy of man, namely death, had been defeated by Jesus. Jesus had promised that we would be resurrected and that we would live with him with restored physical bodies, not just in some vague spiritual state (John 5:25-29). He also promised that he, himself, would die and be resurrected in a restored body (Matthew 17:22-23). When this event actually occurred, people understood the significance. They knew that the promises of Jesus were true!  It meant that death no longer had a sting, that suffering on earth was more than just temporary, and that a real life in a real body with the real God of the universe was a real eventuality!  Without doubt, it caused them to live differently! It caused them to live boldly.  It caused them to come alive after the depression of seeing their Lord die. So powerful was the event that the Apostle Paul made it the linchpin of the Gospel, stating that if Christ had not been raised that everyone was still dead in their sins and that Christian faith was worthless (1 Corinthians 15:7).

Resurrection was perfectly in line with the nature of God. God is a deliverer. Just think about all the deliverance stories of the Old Testament. Resurrection is deliverance from death. But not only is resurrection deliverance from death, it is deliverance from sin, and even the ultimate consequence of sin. The ultimate consequence of sin is physical, spiritual and eternal death.  But God is so powerful that he can restore a spiritually and physically dead person to eternal life.  Think about it, God is in the business of resurrection and restoration.

The power that God uses to raise the dead is available to you right now. God has the ability to resurrect life in you.  And this is the best part, when God resurrects that life in us, he doesn’t give us our old life back, he gives us new life!  So if you feel dead in any area of your life, give that to God and let him work his resurrection power in you to make you newly alive again. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Adjusting the Contrast

Mike Hosey, An Elder
Contrast is a word that means to be strikingly different.  For instance, if you were to stand Shaquille O'Neal next to Mike Hosey, you might notice a contrast in personal elevation.  On the other hand, if you were to enjoy a spoonful of sugar, and then try to enjoy a lick of lemon, you would notice a strong contrast between sweet and bitter. There is an enormous contrast between the comfort level of a Walmart parking lot in Gainesville, Florida on a mid-August day, and one in Anchorage Alaska on the same day.  The bible very frequently illustrates truth by using contrast. One of the biggest illustrations it uses is the contrast between light and dark.  Consider the prophet Isaiah.  The prophet calls for Israel to rise and shine. He proclaims that when they do, the glory of God will show on them, and it will contrast with the darkness of the peoples of the world. This contrast will draw those nations to God’s people (Isaiah 60:1-3)!

In Ephesians 5:1-16, Paul makes a similar claim. In fact, in verse 14 he likely is referencing the above passage from the prophet Isaiah.  He describes to the Ephesians the behaviors of people who are not saved, and reminds them that they are no longer like those people because they have been called out of that kind of darkness (Ephesians 5:7). Paul warns the Ephesian church not to partner with those people. Instead he charges them to expose them. To expose means to convict, confute, or to point out a flaw. His use of the word leaves room for Christians to point out with their mouths or other direct methods the darkness of the unsaved. However, his primary and larger method on how to expose them is found in his second use of the word (Ephesians 5:13).   His greater implication in the whole passage is that when we live a life that originates from an awareness of our salvation, then the contrast between those of us who are saved, and those of us who are not will be so great that the darkness of the unsaved will be exposed by how we live.  

Now notice in Ephesians 5:14-16 that he calls for the church at Ephesus to wake up! Arise from the dead, he tells them.  He is telling them to quit walking around in a slumber, to get some life in them, so that Jesus can shine on them, and they can be contrasted by life and light with the rest of the world. Instead of looking and living dead or asleep, they can demonstrate life, and the nations can be drawn to them, and darkness can be exposed and forced to flee.

Then he follows up with something even more important. He tells them to make the best use of their time, because the days are evil. Consider Paul’s command here, and think about the last time you slept in when you had a whole day’s worth of things to do, then contrast that with days that you arose from your sleep early and attended to your tasks!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

You Don't Have to Be a Bag of Dry Bones

Mike Hosey, An Elder

In measurable terms, we tend to equate life with certain parts of our bodies.  Most often we do this by how we declare death, and thereby assume a lack of life. For instance, one doctor might declare a person dead if there is no heartbeat.  Another doctor might judge a person to be dead if there is no basic brain activity.  Of course, these organs (and others) need to be functioning for our bodies to be considered alive.  But life isn’t in any particular organ or group of organs. It’s not in our hearts. It’s not in our muscles. It’s not in anything physically attached to our bodies.  Dead bodies, after all, can be kept “alive” by artificially causing a heart to pump and lungs to work.  Instead, life is in the very breath or spirit of God.

Consider the story of Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14).  In this story, the nation of Israel has suffered in exile because of her sins, and because of the military conquests of her enemies. The nation is, in fact, dead and separated from life, culture, history and activity.  God powerfully takes Ezekiel in a vision to a valley full of scattered bones.  The bones are dry, meaning that the bodies they belonged to had been dead for quite some time. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones that they will come alive.  He does, and the scattered bones come together, form skeletons, and grow tendons, muscles, and skin. Standing before Ezekiel in the valley is an army of bodies, but they are not alive until the prophet, obeying God, calls for breath to fill them. God fills them with breath and they become alive.  This was God’s way of showing Israel that he was serious about his power to resurrect and restore them as a nation (Ezekiel 37:11-14). He tells them that he shall put his spirit in them and they shall live.

This kind of power applies to us as Christians as well.  When we are down, and out of hope, or when our activity has kept us from serving God as we should, or when we have moved our minds and hearts away from God, he has the ability to breathe life into us again. In those moments when we are down, we equate life with a lot of different physical things like money, spare time, recreation, a relationship, or any host of things.  But real life is only life when we are breathing in the breath of God (Genesis 2:7, Acts 17:25). In fact, the Old Testament Hebrew word for spirit, and the New Testament Greek word for spirit (as in the life giving Holy Spirit) are words that mean breath!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Why You Shouldn't Look for God.

Mike Hosey, An Elder
In the English language we often consider the verbs “to seek” and “to look for” to be synonyms.  That is to say that we consider them to be interchangeable, and we generally use them in that way.  But they are not technically interchangeable.  In the strict sense, to look for something is to search for something using only our visual senses.  On the other hand, to seek out something means to search for something with every sense we have.  While not entirely passive, “to look for something” is not near as active as “to seek out something.”  To seek means an energetic, pedal-to-the-metal effort to search a thing out. Consider how we seek treasure, while we just look for the remote control in the couch cushions – where we think it might be.
But ask treasure hunters about their quest to find a lost treasure they believe exists.  They will tell you that they use their minds, their ears, history, maps, computers, and just about any resource they can employ to locate that treasure.  They leave no stone unturned. In fact, their lives will go on hold to seek out that treasure.  Some have been known to drain their life’s savings in order to seek it out. Those that are most diligent, are most often those that find it. And even when they don’t, the skills, knowledge, and experience they earn in the search is incalculable.
God wants us to seek him, not just look for him.  Hebrews 11:6 tells us he rewards those who seek him.  In Deuteronomy 4:29 he instructs the Hebrews that if they stray from him and suffer the consequences of trying to live a life without him, that they can find him again if they seek him with all their heart.  In Proverbs 8:17 we are told that those who diligently seek him will find him.
Notice that Proverbs 8:17 is a promise.  We are promised that if we diligently seek him, we will find him.  If someone of credible authority came to you and told you that they knew a treasure was out in the desert and that if you diligently sought it, you would find it, you probably would waste no time birthing a search party.  You would find a posse that will listen to you, and you’d be on your way. But the difference between an earthly search for treasure, and the spiritual search for God, is that God has promised you that if you seek you will find (Matthew 7:7-8).  And there can be no greater treasure than the one God has guaranteed you will find – and the value of the quest itself is incalculable.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Children are Heritage from the Lord

Mike Hosey, An Elder
Psalm 127:3 tells us that children are a heritage from God. That is to say that they are a special kind of gift. They are special in many, many ways. They are special because we love to hold them, to teach them, and to share in their delight as they experience new things. They are special because they love us, look up to us, and when they are little, value us with a beautiful and innocent kind of awe. But they have a specialness that is far greater than any of those things. They are a heritage in the same way that your family history is.

We call our family history a heritage because it is a cultural gift that was created by those members of our family who came before us. It is expected that we will add to that heritage, own it, preserve it, make it better, and pass it on to the next generation. Children are a heritage in the very same way. It is God's way of preserving our history, and giving us an opportunity to pay cultural dividends forward. That means that our gift is also a great responsibility.

Here at Fellowship Church, we take that responsibility seriously. As a church we want to help our families preserve and develop that heritage. We also want to help those families in our communities who don't belong to Fellowship Church do the same thing. We know that by running a VBS program like we just finished, that we are impacting the larger High Springs and Alachua communities. We know that we will be reinforcing important values for those children who already have Christ in their homes. We also know that those children who may not have Christ in their homes will be exposed to the most important gift they could ever have. And maybe most significantly, we know that in that group of children who came, there might be someone who will be come a pastor, teacher, missionary or future church leader, and they will both sharpen and expand the heritage. Hopefully, everyone will be equipped to share what they've learned.

All of this means that the Kingdom of God will be advanced because people in Fellowship Church have given of their time and their talents. Thank you to every single person involved in the effort.

Monday, July 11, 2016

One Thing it Takes to Be a Successful Follower Of Christ

Mike Hosey, An Elder
If you’ve ever watched a skateboarder on a half-pipe, you’ve watched an amazing thing. The half-pipe is that giant ramp they negotiate that looks like a big “U.”  They roll down a vertical wall on one side that gently curves into a flat area, and then after the flat, they roll through another gentle curve and up a vertical wall on the other side. Often, when they reach the top of that vertical wall on the other side, they launch into the air, execute a full turn around, land on the vertical wall, and then roll back up to their starting point.

I used to skateboard a little as a teenager. In those days I was a bit braver (read stupider – if that’s a word) than I am now, and was willing to try a few crazy things.  But I never had access to a half-pipe. So one day as a full grown adult man, I went with my then teenage son, Caleb, to a park with a half-pipe.  There was a boy there skateboarding on that thing like a pro.  I thought I’d get a few pointers from him and give it a try. The first thing he taught me was that I had to lean into the initial fall on that first vertical wall. This was a totally counter-intuitive skill.  Every cell in my body screamed that I had to lean back as I went down the wall. I never mastered it. And although I didn’t hurt myself, as a man in my forties, I was flirting with disaster.

By Ingo Steinke (Fraktalisman) - Ingo Steinke, CC BY-SA 2.0 de
The point of the story is that some tasks in life require us to go against our normal programming in order to succeed at those tasks.

Many places in the Bible command us to go against the programming of our body, and follow the programming that God’s spirit imparts to us.  Consider Romans 12:14-21, where Paul tells us to bless those who curse us, to feed our enemies if they are hungry, and to give them drink if they are thirsty.  This goes against our programming.  For some people, this is like leaning into that first fall on the half-pipe.  Every cell in your body will scream against it.  But if you want to be successful as a follower of Christ, you must force your body into submission (1 Corinthians 9:27) and throw yourself into the task.  Unlike the skateboarder, though, you have some powerful help. You have the power to do anything that God asks of you, because he is there to strengthen you (Philippians 4:13).