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Power of the Cross: 35th Edition, June 10, 2018


Mike Cleveland
 

Hello friend,
 
Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a short gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging. 

This week’s teaching is the first lesson of our new group study, which will hopefully be available within the next year. The following is designed to be done over the course of one week, in preparation for meeting with your group to discuss and pray together. 

Here it is:

Setting Captives Free - Lesson 1: Man’s Remedies Vs. Gospel Freedom


As I look back over my life, I can clearly see the times when I was trapped in  destructive behaviors. At one point, I was involved in overeating; at another, I abused various substances such as alcohol and drugs. There was also a period when I was trapped in a lifestyle of greed where I was trying to build my empire in this world, and lust (pornography and sexual impurity), as well as bitterness, unforgiveness and other damaging attitudes and behaviors.


My experience is not uncommon. People have struggled with captivity to ruinous behaviors, attitudes and activities since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. And, of course, becoming a captive to these things can lead to anger, discouragement and/or overwhelming sadness and eventually hopelessness. Even seemingly good things can become a trap; things such as family, work, taking vacations, philanthropic or ministry work can all become traps and a source of bondage if overused or abused.  


It’s important to understand that becoming trapped, or being taken captive to these and other things can happen to both believers and unbelievers. People with no faith have longings and needs that only God can satisfy; and this emptiness causes them to look anywhere and everywhere to find fullness, intimacy, or connection to something and to have meaning. Or to put it in another way, we are all born with hearts that are restless and seeking to find comfort in someone or something.


Christians, likewise, can become trapped when we turn from Christ to anything or anyone else. Notice the warning given in this passage of Scripture to Christian believers:


Galatians 6:1 (NIV) Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.


The word “caught” above can also be translated “overtaken”. We might picture a man on a beach fleeing from a tsunami wave, yet he is overtaken by it and dragged under the water. Sin is much like a tsunami wave and can overtake us quickly.


And the passage in Galatians 6:1-2 is written to Christian believers, so it’s clear that anyone can fall into a trap and become caught or overtaken. Scripture calls this “captivity” (2 Timothy 2:26) or “slavery” (John 8:34). These behaviors or attitudes  can become life-dominating if we persist in them, and often it seems that there is no way out. Perhaps we’ve tried to stop, made decisions to work at the issue, maybe sought out help from other people, yet have discovered that we are still captive and possibly even worse off than before we started our efforts toward reform.  


Question 1. Can you identify with the above description? Please share your thoughts:

When thinking of physical problems and illnesses, there are some things that doctors can repair through surgery, physical therapy, long-term care or other methods, but there are also some things that are beyond their abilities and remedies.


Likewise, in dealing with spiritual issues and problems that all people experience in life, there are times when no man, professional, or expert, no program, no pills, etc., can provide a long-term or permanent solution.


For example, when I was in bondage to the sin struggles I mentioned earlier, I tried going to different groups, doing different diets and exercise challenges, seeing doctors, therapists and other experts; yet looking back on it now, none of it seemed to help in the long term. While there may have been temporary changes, there was nothing permanent. So I went from program to program, group to group, continually looking for something that would go deep, and address my problems and issues in a lasting way to no avail.


Question 2. What has been your experience?


In this course, I am setting out to show the biblical solution for our troublesome heart problems. I will share with you how God transformed my own heart with His gospel and how He brought lasting freedom to my life. This solution comes through God’s Word, the Bible, which we will be using as our textbook to study together. This solution is available to you and to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.


So with that in mind, let’s begin by considering the middle verse in the Bible. It is Psalm 118:8, and it says this:


Psalms 118:8 (NLT) It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.

In this verse, we see a comparison. This comparison is between taking refuge in the Lord and trusting in people, and the verse says that it is better to take refuge in the Lord. The great reformer Martin Luther was inspired by this Psalm and wrote his most famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God in which he declares,


“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing...”


The language is old, but the truth is timeless. The Lord is a shelter in the storm for us, a mighty fortress, a defensive wall (bulwark) that never fails, a harbor where we might find peace and rest, a haven of safety for all who will come to Him.

And taking refuge in the Lord is better than trusting in man(kind). Why?


  1. God made us. God is our Creator (Genesis 1:1-5), and able to help us in times of need far better than humans, many of whom have the same problems we do. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11).


  1. God does not suffer from the frailties of humanity. He is an ever present Help (Psalm 46:1); He does not sleep (Psalm 12:4); He cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).


  1. God is able to heal the wounds of our soul (1 Peter 2:24). While man works in the area of behavior, God works deeper, on the level of our hearts, our soul, our spirit. That’s why King David in the Bible prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again” (Psalm 51:10), for only He can heal so deeply like this.

This biblical truth that God is a true and eternal help is an important one and often repeated in the Scriptures. Notice the contrast in this passage:


Psalms 108:12-13 (NLT) Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless.  With God’s help we will do mighty things, for he will trample down our foes.


Here the psalmist boldly asserts that “all human help is useless” but that God will give him victory. There are times when despite their best efforts, humans are unable to help, and I found this to be true when it came to overcoming my life dominating issues.


I saw a painting the other day of two men trying to push a huge boulder up a very steep hill. Of course these men will never make any progress whatsoever, the boulder will forever be at the bottom of the hill. I don’t know what the author was trying to convey, but it reaffirmed my understanding that some problems in life are too big for us to handle, and that “all human help is useless.”


When I was a captive to habitual sin, I needed God Himself to change my heart and to set me free. Over time God showed me that two thousand years ago Jesus came to this earth and He pushed my huge boulder of sin up a hill all by Himself. It took everything out of Him and there He died on a cross, making atonement for my sin, and there He broke the power of sin in my life and set me free. “God sent him to die in our place to take away our sins. We receive forgiveness through faith in the blood of Jesus' death” (Romans 3:25 NCV).


If you are feeling let down by people and if you’ve grown weary of the grind of self-help programs and groups and the latest gurus then I have good news for you: there is a place of refuge, a cross of help and healing provided by God. He can help you where man has failed you.


Question 3. Why do you think it is better to turn to God than to man? Please explain your thoughts on this issue:    


As we consider this fight we are in for freedom, we need to know that our enemies are our own flesh, Satan and the world-the culture that is against God and His Word (1 John 2:16, James 1:14, 1 Peter 5:8). We also need to understand that we simply don't stand a chance against these foes by ourselves.


The solution is not in the help of "man'', whether it's reaching out to the world to help us and rescue us, or whether it’s reaching within ourselves to our willpower and self-efforts. It's all worthless and has no value or power to mend the brokenness of the human heart (Psalm 108:12-13).


We are not saying in this study that people are never helpful. Indeed, God has chosen to use people as instruments of His grace: to preach, teach, counsel, help, encourage, exhort, admonish, etc. But it is the people who point us to the Lord and His sufficiency that are used by God. We must learn to turn to the Lord Who made us, to God and His Word in order find His help and to experience Him as our refuge, rather than to place our confidence in man or his remedies.


God is able to work on the level of our hearts, to effect changes in us at the core of our very being, thereby changing our desires, our longings, our loves, passions and thoughts. This is a deep-level change in the way we think, what we desire, how we live and what we do or don’t do.


I once watched a well being drilled. The drill kept going deeper until it found its purpose.  First penetrating the surface, then continuing down foot by foot to the place where the water was hidden. God is like that, able to penetrate to the deepest level of our hearts and our spirits: “The LORD's light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive." Proverbs 20:27 NLT


Question 4. Can you see how important it is to have a deep solution? One that penetrates below the surface of behaviors to reach our heart and our spirit? Why do we need this?


Please study this passage of Scripture and then answer the following questions:


Matthew 23:25-26 (NLT) What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.


In the above passage, Jesus is speaking to the religious leaders of the day, and it is clear, from what Jesus says here, that they were teaching mere external obedience and behavior change as their priority. They taught the Law of God and insisted that people obey it. “Stop doing wrong. Straighten up, live right”, etc. This is much like step groups and programs that only deal with external behavior, leaving the heart untouched and unchanged.


Question 5. What did Jesus tell the religious leaders to do instead of continuing to focus on the externals (behaviors and actions)?   

 

Yes, Jesus told them to first wash the inside of the cup and dish. This means that they were to focus on the heart, to provide teaching that would clean people’s insides; that is, they should be focusing on helping people with their internal desires, their thoughts, emotions, wills, etc.


Question 6. According to Matthew 23:26, what did Jesus say would happen if people got clean on the inside?   


Yes, the outside would be clean too. This means that when the heart changes, the behavior changes. When the desires change, then the life changes.


This is actually wonderful news! Maybe you’ve been like I was when I was going to so many different groups and professionals, etc. and all I was taught was to change my behavior. To stop doing certain things and start doing different things. But now, can you see how that is merely trying to “clean the outside of the dish”? That is, to change our behavior externally!


The great news is that God does exactly what Jesus told the Pharisees they should do: He cleanses our hearts (our “insides”) which determines the way we think, what we love, our passions, etc. And as He does this, our lives change. He cleans the inside of the dish (the heart) and then the outside (actions and behaviors) is cleaned too! This is wonderful news.


Friend, maybe you’ve experienced God working in your heart before and maybe you haven’t. Either way, I want you to know that whatever issue(s) you are dealing with in your life, no matter what you’ve tried before, can be addressed deeply and thoroughly through God’s method of transformation. Remember, God works on the inside, in our hearts, changing what we love, changing our desires and interests and passions, and as a result, changing our lives.


Here is a promise from God for you to consider:


Ezekiel 36:25-26 (ESV) I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.


In this passage from Ezekiel we see God’s promises to us. God says five times “I will….”. He says “I will sprinkle.… I will cleanse…. I will give…. I will put…. I will remove….” The promise is that God will cleanse His people and make a deep-level change in them; He will give us a heart transplant. That is, He will remove our heart of rebellion - our stubborn heart, our hard heart - and He will replace it with a loving heart, a tender heart, a heart responsive to Him. In other words, He promised to make deep changes in us.


Question 7. How does the above statements of what God will do differ from other methods of freedom you may have heard about or tried?

  

Our world today focuses us on what we must do, whereas the message that sets us free is all about what God has done for us and what God will do in us. These are obviously two very different messages; one tells us to try harder, do better, measure up, work the program, etc. and the other tells us what God accomplished on the cross for us, and what He will accomplish in our lives.


As we finish up this lesson, let’s consider how God works in our hearts to make changes at the core of who we are. How does He change our desires, our longings and loves, our passions and thoughts? It’s a very important question.


The answer can be found in two words: “the gospel” which mean “good news”. The gospel is the most powerful spiritual force in the universe. According to the book of Romans, it is spiritual dynamite!


Romans 1:16 (NLT) For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.


Question 8. In Romans 1:16, how does the writer, Paul, describe the gospel? What does he mean by using this description?


Once in the winter my family and I were up on Mt. Hood in Oregon and off in the distance we heard explosions. Upon asking around, we found out that the Avalanche Control Crew were using dynamite to purposefully cause avalanches on certain places on the mountain, so as to remove unstable snow from the mountain to make it safer. It was amazing to watch the snow fall away helpless to resist the power of the explosives.


The gospel, this “good news about Christ”, is the power of God at work. That word “power” in the original language of the New Testament is where we get our word “dynamite”. The gospel contains spiritual force and energy. It is the explosive power needed to make a spiritual avalanche in our lives, the result being that sin begins to fall away from our hearts and lives, helpless to resist the power of the gospel. The gospel begins to change us at the core of our very being and over time makes genuine and lasting changes in our lives.


Rob Robertson, one of the board members of Setting Captives Free, put it this way:


The gospel is dynamite to blow up false belief systems that hold us in bondage, dynamite to blow away the years of baggage that weigh weary sinners down, dynamite to blow away the forest of lies and deceit that have blinded us to the simple, singular, delightful truth that will set us free.


This power can free us from struggles we may have had all our lives, making changes in the very depth of our being. It is greater than anything else in the universe, and once God’s gospe lpower works deeply in our hearts we come to know what we’ve been missing all our lives.


As I look back on my life, I see that all my attempts to fix my problems were done in my own strength. I had no dynamite, not even a small firecracker. Therefore, all my resolve melted away in the heat of temptation, and I continued to struggle with all my issues and problems.


If you’ve felt this way also, continue on in these lessons, to see exactly how we get this power and how we apply it to the problems and issues of our lives, and how we experience gospel change at the heart level.


Question 9. Please take a moment and make a summary of anything that you have learned in this first lesson. Please pray about it and be thorough in your response.



Lesson 1 Testimony: Kelly


Kelly writes, "Food was not a problem in my life when I was growing up. My struggle with food really began with sexual impurity. It was one of those things where, one sin, as sin always does, led to more sins. There seemed to be no limit to the ways I can indulge my flesh and food was definitely one of them.  Even as I began to put on more pounds and the health issues that came with it, I still didn't see myself as having a problem food. I was gaining weight and losing control of my appetite but it didn't seem that big of a deal to me. I even proudly called myself a Foodie. Food was fun and exciting and had to be a part of everything I did. I was desperately blinded to my sin.  


It wasn't until after the Lord saved me and delivered me from sexual impurity and other sins in my life that I admitted having a real problem with food.  I tried diets of all kinds that included everything from food restrictions to pills, and even injections, but in the end, I found that I couldn't gain control over my appetite and cravings. Oh, I would have a measure of success while on a diet but when the diet ended or a moment of emotional crisis came up in my life, I would find myself turning to food again trying to comfort and satisfy my empty and hurting heart.  


I remember one night just crying out to the Lord. I had just drowned my hurting heart in yet another binge on food and Netflix and was experiencing the immense and overwhelming flood of emptiness guilt and shame that followed. I cried out to the Lord that I couldn't do this anymore! I couldn't go on living enslaved to food, but I couldn't stop myself either. I told the Lord that I need Him to do it all! I needed Him to not only make me stop but also make me want to stop. I was completely powerless and without any strength to do anything about this sin that had taken over my life.


At that same time, I began digging deeper into learning about the Gospel at Setting Captives Free. Though being a Christian I didn't seem to know very much about it other than that it keeps me out of hell. I didn't know that Christ’s death on the Cross and resurrection also goes on to do the daily sanctifying work of saving my life from sins control. This was such wonderful news for me because, at this point of my life, I was totally convinced that if I was ever to break free from the grips of gluttony and laziness the Lord Jesus would have to completely do it with no help from me at all. Yet what I desperately needed Him to do He had already done for me on the Cross. By dying for my sins He had already destroyed sins power. He had already broken the chains of slavery in my life, and by His resurrection, I was already set free in Him.  


The more I learned of His immense and unfathomable love for me, a sinner who had replaced Him with something as dead and empty as food, the more my heart was being broken over what I had done to Him and won over by what He had done for me in spite of it.  He was breaking my heart and winning my heart with His love all at the same time. As I was falling in love with the Lord I was falling out of love with food.


One of my favorite songs is a simple song called "Love Lifted Me".  If someone was to ask me to explain in Twenty words or less how I overcame my sin of gluttony and laziness I would simply say "Love lifted me, love lifted me, when nothing else would help love lifted me!" The love of Jesus Christ lifted me out of the prison of my sins. His love lifted my heart out of the prison of guilt and shame. His love healed the brokenness of emotional and physical abuse, which I was medicating with food. And His love gave me back me!  


I won't pretend and say that this was an easy journey nor a short journey nor one that I'm not still traveling with the Lord. But 2 years and 60 pounds lighter He is passionately and intimately loving my heart back to where it needs to be.”

- Kelly, Mentor with Setting Captives Free


Question 10. Please share your thoughts on the above testimony here:



Dear friend, we are desiring to get the message of the power of the cross out to as many people as we can. Please consider forwarding or posting and inviting others to subscribe. Anyone can subscribe by sending a blank email to main+subscribe@SettingCaptivesFree.groups.io. 

Sincerely,

Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free