Redirection

Last week, Pastor Mike told us the apostles continued their work in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God was moving there and Simon, that misguided magician, believed in the power of God and was baptized and went with Phillip. Simon was continually amazed by what he saw, but thought he could purchase the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter rebuked Simon and encouraged him to repent of what was in his heart. We left with Simon asking Pete to pray for him not grasping the power of God. This morning, we’ll see what happens when you’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

I hope you’ll take the time to look at Acts 8:25-40.

We start with a Holy Spirit detour. How many of you are planners? Don’t you just hate it when you have everything all planned out and then something happens that causes you to change plans? Like Hurricane Irma? She messed up a lot of people’s plans. I had a haircut scheduled for the Wednesday after and it was cancelled. For many of us, Irma brought minor inconveniences, but for a lot of people in the Caribbean Islands and in south Florida, their lives were changed forever. I think we have all experienced the curve balls of life, but what about when the Holy Spirit redirects you? Acts 8:25 says, “So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” The apostles were working their way back to Jerusalem and were sharing the truth of the Gospel as they went. There was no exclusivity in the message; it was available and applicable to all who would listen. Phillip began his ministry to the Samaritans in 8:5 and that mission was very fruitful.

Sometimes the best laid plans are changed. Remember Samaria is in the northern kingdom and the apostles are going back to Jerusalem. “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)” Instead of going to Jerusalem with the apostles, Philip is singled out for an individual mission. How do you respond when God changes your plan? Understand there’s a difference between God’s plan and your plan. Herein lies a real danger when you go around playing the “God is leading me card” to justify your scatterbrained plans. I know some people that God seems to be toying with. He tells them to do one thing, then He changes it a week later, only to change it again, and again. My God is not wishy washy.

I love how Philip responds to this change of plans. Luke tells us that Philip, “Got up and went.” Obedience. Nike faith. He just did it. I know what you’re thinking because I’ve heard it before: “If God would tell me things, if He’d speak to me then I’d do it.” God tells us to do things all the time that we ignore. Honor your mother and father. Give generously and sacrificially to the work of the Lord. Study your Bible. Share your faith, love people, pray for those in authority. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church. Be holy, be honest, be trustworthy. You see, God tells us a lot of things that we ignore or dismiss.        For most of us, a simple life of obedience is what God desires. There are people that God has called to a national or international platform to share the truth of Christ, but for most of us, loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and living a life of obedience brings Him honor and glory and has God saying well done. So, Philip gets up and goes where God told him to go. Notice that there is no plan of action that the Spirit lays out, no guidance, no inkling of what God had in store for Philip – he is simply told to go. Philip heads down the desert road, the road that leads to Egypt.

As God’s timing would have it, Philip comes face to face with a guy that, “was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.” Really get this in your mind. Philip is walking where God wanted him to go and because of his immediate obedience, he meets a man that is coming from Jerusalem where he worshiped. Luke gives us some pretty good details about this man. He was Ethiopian – a Gentile. He was a eunuch. In biblical days, slaves were sometimes castrated as young boys and then used as keepers of harems and the treasury. One Bible scholar says that eunuchs were particularly trustworthy and that’s why they were often put in charge of the treasury. This practice became so widespread that the term eunuch and treasurer became synonymous. I share this because it is likely this man is a physical eunuch because both terms are used. That’s important because the man had just come from Jerusalem where he worshiped so he was probably a convert to Judaism. Deut. 23:1 says, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”  He would have worshiped at the court of the Gentiles and not in the temple. This man is an official of Candace who is queen of the Ethiopians. Candace is to Ethiopia as Pharaoh is to Egypt. Candace is her title, not her name. This guy is in charge of all the queen’s treasure. He’s sitting in his chariot reading from the book of Isaiah.       So now you’re caught up on this Ethiopian eunuch.

“Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip does and asks the guy, “Do you understand what you are reading.” Philip’s not being mean. In fact, the eunuch says, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me.” This is critical and I don’t want you to miss this. This man is reading Scripture through the lens of someone that does not understand Jesus, that has not embraced Messiah. He needs someone whose eyes have been opened to the truth to explain Scripture to him. 1 Cor. 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

So what’s the point? The eunuch is reading from Is. 53:7-8. We know this passage is talking about the Messiah, but put yourself in the eunuch’s place. He does not understand the passage. It’s confusing to him. He knows what it says, but not who Isaiah is talking about. I can picture the excitement building in Philip and he is probably praying and asking that the Lord would give him the right words to say. So, he asks Philip, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” And there it is. The purpose for God sending Philip down this long and dusty road. Acts 8:35 says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” Philip didn’t say, “Well Bub, here’s a pamphlet that will explain it.” He didn’t say, “I’ve got a great book that will help you.” He didn’t say, “Let me call Peter, he can explain this stuff really well.” He didn’t say, “Come back to Jerusalem, my small group is awesome and you can get your questions answered there.” Why am I telling you what Philip didn’t say? Because those are the things I hear people say in response to someone that is asking questions about Jesus. If you are a believer in the Messiah, you have the answers to the questions people are asking. So, you better be studied up, prayed up, and ready to tell people why you have hope. Don’t outsource your faith.

Philip opens his mouth and speaks on behalf of Jesus who is the Messiah. The Scripture the eunuch read from was the starting off point. “Beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” What did Philip say in response to that question? Philip must have presented the Gospel in a way the eunuch understood. He must have covered sin and its penalty. He must have shared the virgin birth of Christ and why that’s important. He must have shared about the sinless life of Christ and how the sacrifice of Christ atoned for sin. Keep in mind that the eunuch was coming from the temple so he would understand sacrifice and atonement. Philip must have shared about Christ’s crucifixion, His shed blood, and His death. I’m certain he shared about Christ being in the tomb for three days and then being miraculously resurrected in fulfillment of the Scriptures. He must have shared about Christ walking the earth for 40 days before ascending to heaven. He must have shared all about what Christ had done in him and in his friends. He must have shared about the picture of baptism. How can I come to that conclusion? After a while, “the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” The eunuch understood; he got it and wanted to have what Philip had. You may or may not have v. 37 in your Bible. It does not appear in early manuscripts of Acts. It was probably added by a scribe at some point during copying to bring a conclusion to the eunuch’s conversion. With or without v. 37, the conclusion is the same. The eunuch heard the truth and responded to it. He wanted to be baptized as sign of his conversion.

The story takes a shocking turn here. The eunuch stops the chariot and he and Philip go down into the water where he is baptized. Like other places in the New Testament, baptism is by immersion. They come up out of the water and, “The Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” Standing there dripping wet, Philip disappears right before the eunuch’s eyes. One second, Philip is there, and literally the next second he is not. That would freak people out today, but the eunuch? He went on his way rejoicing. “But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.” Philip landed about 37 miles away and continued what he knew to do and that is preach the Gospel.

Philip surrendered to an unknown mission. God changed his plans to go back to Jerusalem and he was obedient. Because of his obedience, the Ethiopian eunuch was miraculously saved and became the first foreign convert in Scripture. The seed of the Gospel is carried to Africa. Philip’s ministry is really incredible. He began evangelizing the Samarians – a half-bred people despised by Jews. He shares with the crowds in Samaria and they responded. On the desert road, we see Philip engaged in personal evangelism – one on one. The message he shared was identical. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – the good news of the Gospel. The expected response was the same: believe and be baptized. In all cases, the response to the Gospel brought joy and it should be the same for us today.

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The Persecution

Last week, Pastor Zane told us that Stephen was murdered for his faith at the hands of the people, yet he remained full of faith. Christlike to the end, he prayed forgiveness for the actions of the ignorant people. We see one man’s life ending and we were introduced to a young man named Saul whose story was just beginning. This morning, we’ll see what happens when a man full of self-righteousness and misaligned zeal goes on the offensive.

Take a couple of minutes and read Acts 8:1-8.

In Georgia, you can be charged with a crime simply because you knew it was going on. You can ask my buddy, Pastor Zane, for details because that’s what happened when he was convicted. We have Saul being in, “Hearty agreement with putting him to death.” The Council, led by the high priest, found Stephen guilty of the crimes to which he was falsely accused and drove him out of the city where he was stoned to death. While Saul agreed with putting Stephen to death, it had a profound effect on him as we’ll see later in Acts. This martyrdom of Stephen ushered in widespread attacks against Christians living in Jerusalem. “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” When we read Scripture, we tend to think in periods of time, but all that we have been looking at the last several weeks occurred over a two-day period.

Stephen’s dead body was still warm when Satan went on the offensive against God’s holy plan for humanity. Every believer in Messiah was driven from the place most of them likely had lived their entire lives, and fled to places unfamiliar to them. They literally ran for their lives. Believers were scattered in the regions of Judea and in Samaria. Scattered mean to sow throughout. Now that’s pretty interesting. It’s the same word used when scattering seed. What happens when you scatter seed? It grows. The seed of the gospel left Jerusalem just as Jesus commanded in Matt. 28:19-20. But, the apostles remained in Jerusalem and we’ll see them mentioned again several times in Acts. Stephen is dead and, “Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentations over him.” This is not some misplaced parenthetical thought. These men took a real chance burying Stephen. Jewish law prohibited funerals for convicted criminals and Stephen was convicted of blasphemy and speaking against the temple and against the Law. They buried him, cried and wept loudly and beat their breasts.

It goes from bad to worse for believers. Saul, “Began ravaging the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravage comes from the same word that is used to describe what lions, and tigers, and bears do to their prey. He was vicious in his attacks against believers. He burst into houses and was an equal opportunity destroyer dragging men and women out. Saul would stop at nothing. How he put them in prison, we don’t know, but remember how many people turned to Christ in the first six chapters. There were thousands in Jerusalem and just because Luke says they were scattered doesn’t mean that everyone got out safely. Imagine sitting down for a meal or to unwind and the door to your house is kicked in and before you can react, a man grabs you and literally drags you out. Don’t think Saul was by himself in this, there had to be others that were working with him to bring such widespread destruction on the church.

The narrative takes a startling turn here. In v. 4, Luke says, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Do not read this verse lightly. Understand what is going on. Family members, loved ones, friends, people they knew had been dragged off to prison or worse, and yet they preached the word. How can these believers, who are suffering such hardship, continue on the mission before them? I think it’s not only a fair question, but a stark contrast to how we react to adversity today. One of the seven men that the apostles chose to relieve them of the responsibility to feed the widows had been falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, and was stoned to death. These new believers who were forcefully driven from their homes fleeing for their lives went on doing the very thing that got Stephen killed. How can these things be? The only conclusion I can draw is that they truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of old, that Jesus was Emmanuel meaning God with us, that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for sin, that new life is found in Christ, that all hope is found in Christ, that Jesus is the avenue to reconcile a sinful people to a holy and perfect God. It seems to me that they genuinely loved the Lord and that love moved them to action – to tell other people about Jesus. It’s not enough to say you love Jesus. If there is no action, then your love is just words. You love your children? You work a job to support them, to provide a place to live, food on the table, clothes on their back. You scrimp and save to give your kids a chance for a better life than you had. All this is motivated by your love for them. You say you love Jesus, but why don’t you share what Jesus has done for you with people that may not know anything more than we celebrate His birth on December 25th?

These believers are scattered throughout the land and they preached the word. Luke calls out Philip who was one of the seven mentioned in Acts 6:5 as, “Being full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Verse 5 says, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.” Samaria was the region northwest of Jerusalem and that’s where Philip ended up. The them refers to the people in the city. Philip took to heart the message that he heard and saw and wanted to share that with others. So, he begins by, “proclaiming Christ.” The Samaritans were largely considered half breeds by the Jews so they were neither Jew nor Gentile. Samaritan lineage goes back to the northern tribes of Israel when God divided the land to each tribe. The northern tribes were known as Israel and the southern tribes were Judah. Israel was taken captive by Assyria in 722 B.C., but not all the people were taken captive. Those that were still in the land intermarried with the native population and did things that were detestable to God like installing their own version of the high priest to conduct worship in the temples they built in the high places. Idolatry was widespread in Samaria. So, for Philip to begin ministry there is pretty incredible, but it wasn’t the first time a Samaritan would be shown the love of Christ. Remember the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well?

Let’s take a quick look at Jo. 4:5-26. This is the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. V. 20 gives us some insight into the misguided notions the Samaritans have. She tells Jesus that her fathers worshiped on Mt. Gerizim, but the Jews say you have to worship at Jerusalem. Jesus then gives her the bombshell that there is coming a time that worship will not occur at a place. She tells Jesus that her people are looking for Messiah who is called Christ, but she doesn’t know that she is talking to the Messiah until Jesus reveals it. Jesus had to clear up some wrong teaching the woman received at some point. So, we fast forward to a time when all that Jesus said has been fulfilled. Remember that Philip is “proclaiming Christ” and for all the misunderstanding and idolatry in Samaria, the message Philip shared was exactly what was needed in that area. Luke says, “The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.” The crowds paid attention to Philip and the message that he preached was confirmed by corresponding signs. Demons were cast out, the paralyzed and the lame were healed. Don’t put the cart before the horse here though. The gospel was preached and that’s what the people responded to. Miracles are great and awesome and they can provide a draw to the truth of Jesus, but they do not take the place of genuine faith in Christ. The miracles are not the point of this story – the gospel is the point of the story.

The conclusion: “There was much rejoicing in that city.” The gospel is the great cycle breaker. The unclean are made clean under Christ. The lame are healed under Christ. Half-breeds are adopted by God. People of questionable backgrounds are made new. Racism eliminated; hatred replaced by love. I believe it can still happen today. There was much rejoicing just as was promised in Lk. 2:10 when, “The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”

The good news really is for all people. It seems that the Samaritan people were ready to hear the life changing news of the gospel. Believe it or not, there are still people today that are waiting for the message. Be like Philip. Even in the midst of persecution and suffering, he proclaimed the Christ.

The Green-Eyed Monster

Last week, Pastor Zane went over the characteristics of the early church. We saw some incredible signs and wonders being accomplished through the apostles. The people had such faith that they would carry the sick into the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow would pass over them which led to others bringing their sick and afflicted to the apostles so that they could be healed and people flocked to get closer. God was using the apostles to do incredible things, and He wants to use us to transform the world. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people in authority get jealous.

I encourage you to take the time and real our passage for today found in Acts 5:17-32.

We start with a very important word: but. Signs and wonders were taking place by the power of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Sick people were healed; the afflicted were made unafflicted. The popularity of the apostles was growing and as people heard the message of the Gospel, they responded with decisions to follow Christ. The church was growing to the point that the number of people became multitudes, there were too many to count.

And then we see something that can plague any ministry leader. “The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealously.” And there it is. Jealousy is not always a bad thing. Divine jealousy is a single-minded pursuit of things that are holy. Ex. 20:5 speaks of God as a jealous God in the exclusivity of our worship. 2 Cor. 11:2 refers to jealousy in the exclusivity of the marriage relationship because you need that to make the marriage permanent. Not jealous because your spouse was talking to someone else or because they have a job. It’s jealousy over the importance of the marriage covenant. In modern English, jealousy is defined as a feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. In this context, jealousy is not good. In fact, I think I’ll paint with a broad brush and say that jealousy in ministry is rarely good. When we start looking at what others are doing for the Kingdom, or how many people they have, or how many salvations they experience, it can lead us to feel inadequate or somehow that we’re missing the mark. I’ve been there and it’s not a good place to visit. Your pastors regularly pray for other churches and pastors in our area. We must be Kingdom minded and not inwardly focused and that takes effort.

The high priest and all his associates were jealous of the apostles because of what was going on. They were filled with or consumed by jealousy. So, the high priest orders the apostles taken into custody and they were physically dragged to jail – again. Remember they were thrown in jail in 4:3. The next day, there was an inquisition as to what and why they were doing the things they were doing. Remember after the last encounter with the Council, they were, “commanded not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18) Don’t forget the important conclusion from that story: the Sanhedrin that Pastor Mike spoke about: the Pharisees and the Sadducees found no fault in them and let them go – they didn’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. We don’t know the exact time frame between that day and the day we’re talking about now, but it couldn’t be long. The Council was jealous of the success experienced by the apostles. Success is very difficult to define, especially in church. I’ve experienced this myself when I was seeking a job in ministry. Search committees wanted measurable means of success that they determined. The Sadducees were envious that people were responding in droves to the truth that the apostles were teaching and demonstrating in their lives and in the lives of countless individuals that responded to the message.

So, into jail they go with the intention of being tried the following day just like in Chapter 4. The Lord had something else in mind. The Spirit of God is moving mightily and things are happening that are inexplicable – they are by definition miracles: people healed, demons cast out, people selling stuff and giving to those in need. These miracles could only be attributed to the power of God. And He shows up again in the form of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord, “Opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” This isn’t just a great escape, this is miraculous! They were let out and were told something very specific: “Tell the whole message of life.” Keep doing what you’ve been doing; tell people about the resurrection, tell people about the transforming power of God, tell people how He dragged you from the miry clay, tell people how you’re a new creation, tell people how you’ve been redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Don’t miss this! The apostles, “entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” No prayer service, no consideration if they should do it again and risk being thrown in jail again – it’s already happened twice, they simply obeyed. The high priest sent his minions to get the apostles out of jail, but those guys find the apostles gone and the jail locked up tight as a drum with the guards in place totally unaware that the prisoners had been set free. The officers report back to the Council and tell them what they found inside the jail – nothing.

“Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.” They didn’t understand how those guys weren’t still locked up. As they’re scratching their heads, someone comes in and says, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” The Sanhedrin are not the kind of people that take too kindly to having their orders ignored. Back to the temple the captain and his officers go to do over what they did yesterday. Remember the captain is second in line after the high priest and is responsible for what happens in and around the temple. If you want something done right, do it yourself, right? Something different happens from the previous day, the captain and officers brought them back to the Council, “without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” Normally, the punishment for disobedience would be stoning and the captain probably wanted to make that happen, but the apostles were so popular that if they were harmed, the captain and his officers feared retribution from the crowd. Remember the Council was filled with jealously over these men of God.

Here comes the stand-off. The stand-off includes one of the most often misquoted and misused phrases in Scripture. The apostles are brought before the Council again to be questioned by the high priest. The high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Remember in Peter’s first and second sermons, he placed responsibility for the death of Jesus on those he is standing in front of. Of course, the Council is responsible for Jesus’ death just as we are in the sense that we needed atonement for our sin. The difference is the Council thought their religiosity would save them. Their message was not received by the people. The message of the apostles was received by many people and the Council sought to shut that down once and for all.

After the high priest’s accusation, Peter and the apostles respond by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” I want to spend some time here to clear up this phrase. I have heard this used as justification for civil disobedience, for not submitting to a husband, for trying to dominate a wife, and for beating children. I’ve heard it used to justify witnessing for Christ on the job and not working. I heard it used as a legalistic proof text for anything and everything church related. What Peter says has nothing to do with any of that. If we are to take 2 Tim. 2:15 to heart, and we should, then we must understand what is happening in the context of the verse you’re looking at. I think we often get interpretation and application mixed up when studying scripture. Just to set the record straight, there are some things in Scripture you can read and understand the meaning in the context in which it was written. But there is great danger in carelessly handling the Word of God. It must be studied with the understanding of the human author, the intended audience, the time in history, the culture at the time, the language, and a host of other important aspects. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, that sounds a lot like work; I thought we’re supposed to sit back and enjoy so great a salvation! Let me put it in perspective. The average American spends just over 8 hours a day at work. That same guy spends almost 9 hours a day in personal care which includes sleeping, 2.5 hours a day in leisure pursuits, and just over an hour eating. The average American spends about 7.5 minutes a day in pursuit of religious activity. Hold on now, I’m not an average American, I am a Christian! How you spend your time reveals your priorities. When Jude says to, “Earnestly contend for the faith” in Jude 3, he means it. I cannot comprehend how people will work so hard at things of this world and casually pursue the things of eternity or perhaps even ignore them all together. If you find yourself without time to study God’s Word, to spend time with God, to pray, to fellowship with believers, to go to church, or to pursue God, you need to reevaluate your time.

“We must obey God rather than men.” Do you think God would tell us to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” (Heb. 13:17) yet not really mean it? Do think He would tell us, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God,” (Rom. 13:1) and not really mean every person? If you’re at work and your boss says you cannot witness on the job, consider what he is saying. Are you witnessing when you should be working? Do you have an attitude that you’re going to do whatever you want regardless of the authority? Do you think that God would have you sin no matter what you do? Obey God and sin against the authority. Obey the authority and sin against God. No win situation. If your boss really, really says you cannot mention God or Jesus at all, ever at work, find a different job. There are breaks that legally cannot restrict your conversation, but when your boss expects you to work, then be the very best worker you can be. Be a model employee. If you’re going to use the obey God card, you better know what God says and many, many times, people use that to justify their own desires.

Peter concludes his defense before the Council in vs. 30-32. He reiterates what he said the last time he was before these men. God had given these men the privilege and responsibility to carry the Gospel message to the people. The Council was attempting to stifle the message of hope the apostles carried to the people. What the apostles were doing was not illegal, but teaching about Christ did not line up with the goals of the Council. The message of hope carried people from the burden of religion to the freedom found in Christ.

I do not believe that God will put you in a situation where you must sin to honor Him. Believers absolutely should obey God, but it’s rarely an either-or situation. If you want to use the obedience card, you better play it consistently in every avenue of life. So, what happens next? What will become of the apostles? Will they be able to escape the clutches of the Sanhedrin? We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens to these heroes of the faith.

A Matter of Trust

trustYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned that God has provided us with the latest, up to date, accurate road map that offers a guarantee on finding the destination . . . if we’ll just use it. Staying on God’s highway will cause you to depart from evil. It doesn’t mean evil will be eliminated from your life, but it won’t take hold of you because you evaluate it from God’s perspective. Solomon tied the dreadful sin of pride with robbery – an angle you may not have previously looked at. The prosperity of the thief is short lived, so that’s not even an option for the Christ follower. Society tells us life is all about us, but that’s a deviation from God’s plan. Life here on earth is all about God and life in eternity is all about God. You’ve probably heard that you can’t trust anyone, but this morning, we’ll see how trust plays into real life.

Proverbs 16:20-23 says, “He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly. The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”

Who can you trust? It’s a question often asked. Some people will say, “You can’t trust anyone.” Others will say you can’t trust certain people. There are people that have betrayed your trust that resulted in you trusting no one and then conclude, “I have trust issues.” You’ve heard me say, “You can trust me.” So what’s Solomon talking about? He says, “He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.”  So we have to first know what the word is. Pro. 13:13 says, “The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, but the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” Solomon is talking about a willingness to place yourself under the authority of the written Word of God. Just because someone doesn’t like the Bible, understand it, believe it, or follow it, doesn’t mean it’s not applicable. People can disagree and hate the Bible, but it doesn’t make it less applicable to them. Even if they don’t know everything in it, they’re still accountable to it and so are we as believers. When you pay attention to the commandments, teachings, and principles of Scripture, you’ll find good. Good in this verse means pleasant and joyful; that which pleases the senses or give moral satisfaction. Paul uses the Greek form of the word good when he says, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12)

We don’t need to be afraid of the word of God because it brings life changing instruction for us. “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” That means that you lay aside what you don’t understand and you simply place your confidence in the One that created all that you see around you. You place your complete confidence in the One that hand crafted the human body. You place your complete trust in the One that keeps the stars in the sky, that causes the earth to continue rotating that gives us night and day, that gives us glorious sunrises and sunsets. You’re placing your complete confidence in the One that knows tomorrow as well as He knows yesterday. It is a choice and the choice is yours. Remember, this phrase is attached to the previous phrase about giving attention to the word. It’s the written word of God. When you read it, study it, and get to know the Author of it, it becomes easier to place your complete confidence in the Lord.

The proof is in the pudding. Most people that you are around probably have a good idea about who you really are. It’s very difficult to hide your true identity from those people that you spend a lot of time with. Your family, co-workers, and classmates probably are not fooled by who you really are. Sometimes, people of faith go undercover. Don’t be afraid of revealing your true identity of faith. Don’t apologize for being a follower of Christ. If you’re a true follower, you’ll never be able to hide it anyway because you will be different. That’s what Solomon is saying here, “The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” Let’s break this down and start with, “The wise in heart.”  The heart is the same heart that Solomon refers to as the center of who you are that we’ve seen numerous times. If you’re wise in heart, it’s who you are regardless of how you came to be like that. Contextually, we’re talking biblical wisdom as we’ve seen before. I think we’ve established throughout this study that real wisdom comes from God; real wisdom comes from  understanding the Bible and when you have that understanding, other people will recognize it in you. That’s why you will be called understanding.

Our behavior says a lot about who we are. If you have some time, I encourage to look at Acts 11:19-26. The people recognized their actions and called them Christians. It happened in Antioch first because the people were acting like Christ and other people called them Christians. We didn’t come up with the description ourselves. Other people saw Christ in these early disciples and concluded they were like Him. When you are wise in heart, the conclusion is that you are controlled by Christ. Since you’re controlled by Christ, you have the fruit of self-control. Since you have self-control, you’re able to control what, when, and how you say things. This is the, “Sweetness of speech” in the verse. The Hebrew word for sweetness can also be translated pleasant and persuasiveness is better translated learning. When we take it all together, Solomon is conveying the idea that when wisdom fills your heart, you’re able to increase learning in others. People will be drawn to you to find out what makes you tick; they’ll seek you out for answers to life’s issues because you exude wisdom, not in a haughty arrogant way, but a confidence in knowing who you serve.

This leads directly into the next verse. “Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it, but the discipline of fools is folly.” We’ve seen where understanding comes from. I’m not talking about understanding how atoms split to make energy or how an engine works. I’m talking about understanding what really matters. I think we’ve been pretty clear about that. The only thing that matters here is preparation for eternity. We all need a fundamental understanding of what is at stake so we have the proper perspective. When Jesus came to earth and walked around Galilee and Jerusalem, it wasn’t just to teach great things or provide an example to follow. He understood the importance of what He was called to do. I think many of us discount the importance of what we are called to do. That fountain of life flows freely from those who have the understanding of their purpose. The purpose I’m talking about is far more important than a vocation. We have a vocation to fund our primary calling and that primary calling is the same for every believer. We are to point people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. When a believer has that purpose in mind, it’s like a free flowing fountain that satisfies all who drink from it.

The opposite is also true. “But the discipline of fools is folly.” Discipline here doesn’t mean punishment, it means learning. You’ve heard of academic disciplines. That’s the meaning here. Solomon is talking about areas of learning, but it can also be applied to the nonsense that fools teach. Foolish people tend to get more and more foolish because as they live their lives in their foolishness, they tend to move farther and farther away from wisdom. Solomon gives us another restated verse when he says, “The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”

Trusting people can be a difficult thing to do, but God is not asking you to trust Him without good reason. When you get to know the God of the Bible, you’ll see He is exactly who He says He is and you really can trust Him. When you trust Him, you’ll be blessed – you’ll find favor with God. When you gain knowledge of God through the Bible, you’ll also gain understanding which leads to wisdom. That wisdom is easily recognized by people around you and provides them a limitless refreshing fountain of life if they’ll only listen to the godly wisdom that is contained within you. Fools don’t have that persuasiveness of speech. They just have nonsense. When it comes to eternity, don’t be a fool.

No Regrets

No RegretYou can check out the podcast here.

If we think about our lives even for just a moment, we’ll think of things we could have done differently; things we shouldn’t have done, decisions we’d like a do over on. I call it what if land and it’s not a good place to be. The Apostle Paul provides us some excellent insight in his letter to the Philippians. This letter differs in some respects from any of Paul’s other letters. It contains less logic and more of the heart. His letter to the Romans has incredible logic. His letters to the Corinthians rebuked certain prevalent sins. Galatians rebukes a dangerous heresy that threatened the welfare of the Galatian churches. Ephesians unfolds the mystery of God in reference to the Gentiles. This letter is the outpouring of the love towards one of the most affectionate and faithful of all congregations which he had planted. The church at Philippi was founded in A.D. 50 or 51 (Acts 16). On his second missionary journey, Paul, led by a vision at Troas, crossed into Europe, landed at Neapolis and went directly to Philippi. Why Philippi?  It was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia.” (Acts 16:12) It is interesting to note that this was the first church planted in Europe.

Take a careful look at the incredible words of Phil. 3:1-14.

Paul begins with what is not the Way. He starts by this third chapter by telling the church what the way is not. Religious ceremonies are not the way. Paul was, “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”  (Phil 3:5-6) If anybody had a heritage to brag about it was Paul. He met all the religious requirements of a good Jew. “Circumcised the eighth day.” In strict compliance with the Law. “Of the nation of Israel.” He could trace his lineage as far back as any Jew. “From the tribe of Benjamin.” Remember that the tribe of Benjamin and the tribe of Judah were the only two tribes not to revolt under the leadership of Jeroboam and maintained their allegiance to God. The tribe of Benjamin was physically located next to the temple. “A Hebrew of Hebrews.” He belonged to a tribe that was as honorable as any other, and that had its location near the very center of religious influence; both of his parents were Jewish with no mixture of Gentile blood. Not one of his ancestors had been a proselyte, or of Gentile extraction. Paul says he was entitled to all the advantages which could be derived from it. “A Pharisee.” The Pharisees strictly adhered to every letter of the law. “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem.” (Acts 26:4) If religion could save anyone, it certainly would have saved Paul. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law.” He was zealous in his persecution of the church who he thought was in great error in doctrine. As a Jew and a Pharisee, he believed righteousness was found in the Law.

Notice how Paul introduces his religion to the Philippians: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:2-3) Look at the warnings. Dogs – the greatest insult you could give someone. The Jews called the heathen dogs, and Islam calls Jews and Christians by the same name. The term dog also is used to identify a person that is shameless, impudent, malignant, snarling, dissatisfied, and contentious. Evil workers. Probably the same people Paul considered dogs – Jews who taught that religion saved you. False circumcision – from the Greek word meaning to mutilate. These dogs and false teachers were not truly circumcised. True circumcision comes after salvation as a sign of obedience; it does not cause salvation. But Paul says, “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:3) We are the circumcision. We worship God the only way one can worship God – in Spirit. We rejoice in Christ Jesus and place no confidence in the flesh.

What is the way to God? You’ve got to look at verses 7-11 to find out. All things were loss except the knowledge of Christ Knowledge in this verse is the Greek word gnosis. This is head knowledge. Anything he had mentally. His seven religious credentials. In v. 8 Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” “Suffered the loss” comes from a Greek word that means to willingly give up. Paul gave up “all things.” Anything thing that someone might depend on for salvation: works, religion, heritage, earthly favor, position. Paul considered it rubbish. Rubbish comes from the word that means excrement. Just as you rid your body of waste, Paul wanted to rid himself all of the earthly advantages and Jewish privileges as a means of obtaining salvation. Why?  Look at what Paul says: “That I may gain Christ.”

In verses 9 and 10, Paul speaks of his own righteousness which comes from the Law. Paul wants the righteousness of Christ which can only come through faith. What is faith? Faith comes from the Greek word pistis meaning a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God. “That I may know him.” This is a different know. This is from the Greek word meaning to know and understand. Paul wants to know Christ so he could share in His sufferings and be conformed to His death. This knowledge or understanding of Christ’s sufferings is obtained by experiencing the daily challenges and needs of ministry that will draw us closer to Christ. Sharing in the Lord’s sufferings will bring you into a more meaningful and intimate relationship with Christ. Comfortable or conformed unto death has a double meaning here. Just as Jesus died because of the sin of the world, Paul is dying more and more to sin in his daily life. Remember that Paul is in prison as he writes and is prepared to die for Christ if that is what’s necessary.

In v. 11 Paul desires to attain the resurrection of the dead. In v. 12 he denies that he has attained it. The word “attained” means to have arrived at the goal and won the prize, but without having as yet received it. Paul knows Christ, but not to the fullest extent possible. He has experienced God’s power, but not to the degree he desires. He has been made like Jesus in His death, but Paul can still die to sin and self. Paul walks in newness of life, but there is still room for improvement. Paul didn’t think he arrived after 25 years of serving the Lord, so we shouldn’t either. In verse 13 Paul says, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Notice that Paul forgets those things that are in the past. The wrongs you have done. The sins you have committed. The things you should have done, but never did. The things Satan tells you cannot be forgiven. Put all of them behind you and forget them. In his pursuit to know Christ, Paul refuses to let guilt drag him down and doesn’t rest on past accomplishments. We don’t sail on yesterday’s wind. He’s pressing toward the mark. What is the mark? The mark is contained in vs. 10 and 11. Be like minded with Paul because his thinking comes from the Lord.  If you don’t think like Paul, the Lord will reveal it to you.

Are you living in the past or allowing Christ to renew and refresh you? Are you repeating mistakes or sins of the past? Rom. 8:1 reminds us, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritual Persecution

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You can listen to the podcast here.

Today we observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted church or IDOP. 100 million of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Why does God allow persecution? Why is the church growing fastest in countries where persecution is most severe?

The book of Acts opens with the very last moments of Christ’s physical presence on earth. Jesus gave His apostles one last instruction to witness to the city of Jerusalem, the area of Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth and then Jesus was, “lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9) And so the apostles did just that. The early church was growing by huge numbers. Peter preached his very first message at Pentecost where 3000 souls recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Those 3000 people didn’t know any better and so they began, “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Over the next couple of chapters in Acts we see something extraordinary take place. Opposition began to grow against this loving bunch of guys that walked and lived by faith in a passionate, authentic way. Peter had just healed the lame man and he, the lame man, and the apostles went together to Herod’s temple and find themselves inundated by the people in the portico of Solomon. Peter gives his second message where 5000 men were saved. The priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees were, “greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2) As a result, these religious leaders toss Peter and his colleagues into jail. They hold a trial and question Peter as to what authority he had to speak of such things. Peter lays it on them by answering the question of the ages by concluding that, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given my men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The apostles were released with the warning that they would not preach in the name of Jesus again.

A short while later, perhaps the next day or two, we find Peter and the apostles back at the portico of Solomon teaching in the name of Jesus, the very thing they were told not to do. Back to jail they go for the night, but this night would be different. An angel of the Lord opens the gates of the prison and tells them to go back to the temple and teach the whole message of this life. They arrived back at the temple about daybreak and began to teach. That brings us to our passage in Acts 5:27-42. I hope you’ll take the time to read this great passage.

To be sure, biblical persecution results because of our position in Christ. For those of us that follow Jesus, can we expect persecution? 2 Tim. 3:12 says, “Indeed all who desire to live godly will be persecuted.” While we may not suffer the same type of persecution here as in those top 50 countries, I think our persecution may take a different form. Satan is our enemy, our adversary and he knows and understands how things work. Our enemy can use most anything as a trip wire to get our focus away from God. Satan is not so concerned with lost people. He seeks to destroy you, to deceive you, to discourage you. Why? When people watch us, we serve as an example of Jesus Christ in the flesh. We are not Christ, but we have His DNA. While I believe the tortuous persecution will come to these United States, for now religious persecution is not tolerated . . . unless you’re a Christian. The church has taken a defensive position and has fallen back on her heals under cultural screams of intolerance and judgment. In America I believe we are spiritually persecuted. We’re told by society how we’re supposed to act and many Christians have become introverted in their faith. We become unwitting pawns in Satan’s plan.

The enemy of Jesus Christ is real. I think one of the top attacks of the enemy is confusing us with things that aren’t bad in themselves, but they misprioritze life even if for a moment. How does he do this? He attacks us. He is on the offensive. He attacks our marriages, one of the principle foundations of society. He attacks relationships pitting friends against friends. He leads us to think about ourselves rather than others. We are deceived about the truth because we form opinions of  the Bible without ever looking at the Bible. When C4 first started in 2007, our leadership was committed to keeping things simple. Some of us were particularly weary of church busyness so we committed to not have activities and things every day or night of the week. Christians were so busy with church activities that there wasn’t an abundance of time to do actual ministry. Now it seems that we’re too busy for church. We have the freedom to worship the One and only true God and yet we fall in the trap of our enemy. We’ve bought the lie that we can have casual, shallow associations with believers. We’ve bought the lie that we don’t need the fellowship the early believers had. They were together continuously and we find it nearly impossible to spend an hour or two a week with believers.

I think we’re persecuted with the mind games of the devil. At least our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world can see the tools Satan uses against them. Those that oppress and persecute are visible. The enemy can be seen. Christians are fighting among themselves and attacking one another when Satan is the enemy! The world desperately needs to see the power of God that was evident in Peter’s life in us. The world needs to see that we’re confident in Christ, that we’re bold in Christ, and most of all that we’re loving in Christ. After the disciples were flogged in Acts 5:40, we come to vs. 41-42:

“So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

In their time of greatest need, they continued in what they knew; they were not deterred. The time we’re supposed to draw close to Christ, we actually withdraw and blame God for abandoning us in our time of need. The principles of prayer, trust, hope that once grounded us in faith are cast aside and traded for doubt, anxiety, and fear.

These all fall right into our enemy’s plan. Shifting the focus from God to ourselves and we’re lost in a sea of despair with no way out. Will you allow your circumstances to control your faith? Or will you allow the power of Christ to shine in your life regardless of what’s going on? We often ask the question, if faced with adversity, would you deny Christ? That’s a difficult question to answer and probably the wrong one to ask. Maybe a better question is, if faced with life, would you deny Christ? Isn’t that, in essence, what we do when we abandon the fundamental principles of the faith?

A Tale of Two Men

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This time of year brings about lots of changes. The trees get new leaves, the flowers bloom, and the grass comes back to life. Our students took a break from school and eagerly await summer vacation. Is this what Easter has become in our culture? Is it just another day, another time of year that bridges the gap to something better? If Easter represents the risen Christ, what significance does that hold for us today?

We are in an age where simple profession of faith has replaced transformation. Churches seek the right mix of charismatic leaders to draw the crowds. Find the right mix of musicians, creative teams, and speakers and it doesn’t even have to be a Christian church. Elaborate, high energy worship services filled with emotion seem to draw the bigger crowds and people look around and conclude, “God must be doing something here.” In order to more effectively understand Easter, we need to go back in time. Does the resurrected Christ represent the same thing today as it did back in the first century? For many people in our culture, Easter is part of the semi-annual pilgrimage to church. For others, it represents the culmination of the truth that was foretold from the beginning of time. The church was growing dramatically in the first century and continues to grow at a rapid rate in countries where it is most dangerous to be a follower. I want to look at a first century man that was considered extraordinarily religious, yet was not a Christian.

This is a tale of two people. Stephen was an example of Christ like behavior and our story picks up as his life is ending. I hope you’ll take the time to look up the Scripture references. Look at Acts 7:51-57. Stephen was brought before the religious leaders of the day. They were the Sanhedrin, the elders, and the scribes and he was brought before them because of his testimony of Christ. He told them the truth about the history of Israel telling the leaders about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David. They had received the law yet did not keep it. This was total hypocrisy and when Stephen pointed this fact out, they became outraged. So outraged that they took him outside the city and began stoning him where we focus on a man whose story is just beginning.

Look at Acts 7:58-60. Who is this cruel, wicked, evil, heartless man that was so opposed to Stephen that he just stood there? His name was Saul. Stephen and Saul were polar opposites. Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit and Saul is without the Spirit. But Saul is more than an innocent bystander. Keep reading Acts 8:1-3. There was no coercion for Saul, he heartily agreed with what was happening. Heartily means loudly vigorous and cheerful. Think cheering like at a sporting event. The persecution of the church in Jerusalem began that day at the hands of Saul forcing Christians to scatter and Saul begins, “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravaging means to cause extensive damage, to devastate. Saul wasn’t content to do this in public settings; no he went in people’s homes and dragged them out and it didn’t matter if they were men or women, he was an equal opportunity hater. To say that he was evil incarnate might be an understatement. But something happened in his life that would change the course of his life and change the course for humanity. Read some more from Acts 9:1-22.

Saul is an example of a total life make over. I want to compare his life prior to Christ with his life following his decision to follow Christ. The key for Saul was written in v. 18, “And he got up and was baptized.” We have to understand the biblical meaning of this word. It wasn’t just that he got put under the water. Biblical baptism comes after a change of mind and heart. It is the outward demonstration of what happened in Saul’s heart. It was a miracle. When you look at Saul’s life, there was a complete and total transformation that could only be attributed to the power of the Spirit of God. Look what happened immediately following Saul’s baptism. Read Acts 9:19b-22. Saul went from destroying Christians to preaching the risen Christ. What he was saying so upset the religious crowd – the Jews – that they developed a plot to kill him. The tables are now turned on Saul. The hunter now becomes the hunted.

In order to protect him, look what happens in Acts 9:26-30. We don’t hear anything about Saul until Acts 11 when Barnabas was sent to get him in Tarsus. Are you thinking, that’s just two chapters over? Even though it’s just two chapters, those two chapters represent about 14 years. Another year passes before the Bible calls this man Paul in Acts13:9. We don’t know all that went on in those silent years of Paul’s life, but I’m sure he knew firsthand the meaning behind 1 Cor. 2:14 as he wrote, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We often think that Saul got saved, God changed his name to Paul and he packed his bags and began his first missionary journey. That just isn’t so. There was a period of years where he must have studied the Scriptures with fresh insight and renewed vigor. We know he taught some and shared the Gospel during that time. He was preparing for ministry during the time he was engaged in ministry. We do get insight that God had big plans for Paul from Acts 9:15, but for about 15 years, Paul did what he could where he could. Paul had a lot of baggage and I’m sure people had their doubts about his authenticity. This is evident in his later writings. Paul mentions his turnaround I his letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Philippians, and to Timothy.

There was such a radical transformation in Paul’s life that after his first recorded sermon (which was off the cuff) in Acts 13, the people begged him to speak again the following Sabbath. Look at Acts 13:42-44. That kind of turnaround can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul went from being a persecutor of the church to one that was persecuted because of his faith. Why should we expect less of modern day people that are indwelt by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead that we celebrate today? One last passage from Phil. 3:3-6. You see, Saul was very religious, but had no relationship with Christ. His attempts to get to God were fruitless because Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jo. 14:6) That’s the key to get to God. Saul resisted Jesus for the same reason we resist Jesus. We think we can make it on our own. We think we make the rules, we think we’re doing good and right in our own eyes. Easter is about the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:17 says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Easter is about acknowledging what Christ did on our behalf and trusting that His words are true.

The teaching of Jesus was countercultural and it still is. We talk about self sufficiency and Christ speaks of total dependence. Living authentically for Christ is the best way to show others He is alive. Saul was a religious zealot, Paul considered himself the chiefest of sinners. That can only be accomplished through the work of a holy and perfect God. We don’t see a period where he did nothing for Jesus, we don’t see a period where he was too busy to serve, too busy to study, pray, or be with fellow believers. We don’t see where he ever quit or gave up when things got hard or didn’t go as expected. For all the incredible things Paul did through the power of God, his main purpose in life, his main goal is found in Phil. 3:7-11. It should be our goal too.