For the past few days I have been working to get you to understand the importance of The Church and yesterday I spoke more specifically about our spiritual family and how our Lord was elevating the spiritual family, even above our physical family.
Yesterday we looked at Peter’s experience and how this new spiritual-family impacted is life. Today I want to take this even further, and we will begin by looking at Paul, er Saul, which was his given name. Soon after the birth of the spiritual family, Saul began to persecute the church but on his journey to find some more of them, Jesus meets him. As a result of that encounter, he was saved, and his life was never the same. Three days later he meets Ananias who lays hands on him and says “Brother Saul . . .” (Acts 9:17). Brother . . . ? How strange, how tender, how new! Unless Saul had physical brothers, probably no one had ever called him that before. It obviously meant something to him because when he retold the story of his conversion, he repeated what Ananias had called him (Acts 22:13).
From here on the message was, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Whether they came by ones or twos or by fives, they became part of a wonderful new and eternal family — of spiritual aunts and uncles and grandparents and sons and fathers!
As the old Pastor joke goes, “a man walked up to his Pastor and said that he had a new revelation that Paul’s father was one of the men crucified with Jesus.” Obviously, the Pastor was quite confused and asked him how he knew that? “Well, Paul said, ‘My old-man was crucified with Christ,’ so I knew one of them had to be his dad.” No, no . . . that wasn’t the old-man he meant.
But consider Timothy. He was a young man with a grandmother and a mother who were believers (II Timothy 1:5), but a father who apparently wasn’t (Acts 16:1). Are we going to say, “Poor Timothy! He will never amount to much; he didn’t have a good father-image?”
No, that is a crime against God’s grace and his ability to prove Himself! I don’t care what kind of father you had. It doesn’t have to affect how you relate to your Heavenly Father. The scriptures say that your physical father derived his title from God, so if you want to understand what a true father is, don’t look to your physical father, look to your Heavenly father!
Quit trying to explain all of your problems on your past. You have a new life, so live it to the fullest! Paul took Timothy right to his side as his son and became his spiritual father (I Timothy 1:2). He had him circumcised; he kept him beside him on trips; he called him “my son” and led him in the ways of the Lord. When Paul faded off the scene, Timothy was one of the leading lights of the early church.
Sure, Timothy’s physical father may have been a spiritual loser; we don’t know. If he was, that was his decision. We hope he was eventually converted, but there is no record of it. Nevertheless, Timothy was not grievously injured because he belonged to that glorious spiritual family. The purpose of our spiritual family is to heal all the hurts and fill in all the cracks created by the imperfect physical family; to turn out whole people — people who can love their physical families better than ever before.
The term “dysfunctional families” has become the all-inclusive justification for our weaknesses and failures. The truth is when you are dealing with imperfect people to begin with; there is no such thing as a “functional family,” is there? I know what people are like, and I have heard the testimonies of many, many people, who have come out of the worst type of family histories you can imagine. There are stories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, alcoholism, emotional distress, absent parents, abusive siblings, and the list goes on. Yet through the power of God, the transcendent power of the Holy Spirit and the support of God’s people, these individuals have become whole and healed.
Our Father has built within each of us a hope that our future will be better than our present, and certainly better than our past, and that we can still become what we long to be. Why did He build this hope into us? So we could become anxious and depressed because we don’t measure up? No! Because He wants us to discover how strong His big hands are, to change us, and to change our family. Then He will get all the glory! Jesus is masterful at taking the dung from our lives, and by His Transcendent Power turn our worst memories into our greatest victories!
Modern secular thinking is just the opposite. It tells you that you are the product of the way your mother buttoned your coat, and how she wiped your nose. That is just the way you are, and there is nothing you can do about it. You are now called the Adult Children of whatever sin and can be analyzed to understand yourself better, but you cannot change.
I am here to tell you straight out; that is Satan’s lie! He spreads around that story because he wants to keep all of us fixed in position, thinking we cannot get out.
When you were a kid, did you ever play the game Freeze? The kids running like crazy, until the one who was “it” suddenly yelled “Freeze!” Then you were “frozen” in that position. Today, Satan is busy shouting “Freeze!” to all the believers. Doing his darnedest to get people to stay their ugly old selves, discouraged from thinking they could ever be different.
Satan looks at you squirming around, trying to makes sense of your life and says, “It’s the way your momma raised you, You’re ‘in cement‘ and there is no way out.
Paul Tournier admits the problem. In the book The Strong and the Weak, he wrote, “it is as difficult to help a strong man to see his weakness as it is to assist a weak man to regain confidence . . .” He goes on to say that God’s grace will do it:
“Since we are at one and the same both strong and weak. Grace also at one and the same time convinces of wretchedness and saves us from despair — it breaks and restores us.”
The Grace of God! The Power of God! The Love of God! The Favor of God, unearned and undeserved — that enormous miracle power can change and remake and remold our cement. Jeremiah said it this way:
“I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping is as seemed best to him.
“Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Can I not do with you as the potter does? Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.’” —Jeremiah 18:3-6
The loving, gracious hands of God are strong enough to rework any life. Even yours. II Corinthians 5:17 states that when someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! One translation says that he has become “a new species of being” — something that never existed before!
God reshaped Augustine after having a well-deserved reputation of sleeping around with the girls. One day as he was walking down the street, one of his old girlfriends spotted him.
“Augustine!” She called.
Augustine did not answer; he just walked faster.
“Augustine,” she called again, “it is I!”
Augustine began to run, as he called back to her, “But I am not I!”
Augustine’s clay, the original material, was the same, but God had reworked him into a completely different shape, a new pot. That is what He intends to do for you! First He imparts that new life and then uses other brothers and sisters to help bring change about.
Not only did Paul function as a spiritual father, he was also a brother to spiritual sisters like Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and men like Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). He was like a son to Rufus’ mother, who he said was a spiritual mother to him (Romans 16:13).
Each of us have many roles to play, and we must learn to play them all. We are told to not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (I Timothy 5:1-2).
There have been many teachings over the years about the churches being the Body of Christ. We are instructed to think about hands, feet, eyes, and mouths. We have sought to discover our gifts and function with them. That is one picture of the Church, and an important one and we praise God for the rediscovery of this Truth.
However, that concept is not the whole story. If that is how we think, we have left many single adults standing awkwardly around the scene without family. We have single-moms being ignored and overlooked. We have teenagers from non-Christian homes who have no spiritual parents to guide them.
They get all their wisdom from their peers in the youth group, a bunch of “Timothy’s” without “Paul’s“! And folks, I have been there. I asked the Lord into my heart when I was in 7th or 8th grade, but no one ever told me I was supposed to do something with my new faith. I know what it is like to be a “Timothy” without a “Paul.”
Yes, we have to reach people with the Truth of Jesus, but we also need to lead them in the ways of Jesus; to disciple them. We have lonely widows and widowers and other former wives and husbands floating around like second-class citizens because we think mostly about physical families and make our churches couples-oriented and physical-family oriented.
Maybe what we are doing is functioning like Dust instead of Stars! We could be trying to force the New Testament scene to fit the Old Testament pattern of fathers, families, clans and tribes. If we are, then hooray for the rare and lucky physical families who fit the bill, whose members can all answer to the spiritual roll call, too. We gear our churches to meet their needs.
Unfortunately, that is not the ecclesia! The called-out ones come from every possible broken family situation. And nothing will change until we see ourselves as functioning first as a spiritual family. Once we accomplish that, we will we all draw together and meet each others needs.
Despite the effort of many groups and churches, this certainly cannot be organized . . . but it must be taught. We must learn it well . . . then let the Holy Spirit make it happen! It comes out of a deep understanding and realization that the Body of Christ is to be second in priority only to God Himself, and to a deep commitment to each other.
With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.
The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.