I am a self confessed Marvel Nerd.  I have watched all the Marvel movies at least once and most more than once, apart from Hulk but that’s not real canon in my books.    We have done a couple of midnight showings of new releases and have loved 2021 the golden year of Marvel tv with Wandavision, Falcon and the Winter Solider and Loki.  

Okay here are a few did you know about Marvel movies:

Did you know that Tom Hiddleston auditioned for Thor – even put on 20 pounds of muscle – that’s commitment – but lost out to Chris Hemsworth but was asked right away to play Loki – and for us fans, aren’t we so glad!

Speaking of Chris Hemsworth – he has 5 prop hammers around his house including one of which sits in a bathroom as a toilet paper holder.  Chris Pratt has one of his Star Lord Jackets, but the most notable prop steal goes to Robert Downey Jr who has the 30 foot A from the Avengers building in his office in venice.  He didn’t steal it, he joked that he wanted it and they gave it to him for his birthday.   Another funny RDJ fact is that he kept food hidden all over the lab set, and apparently nobody could find where it was, so they just let him continue doing it. In the movies, that’s his actual food he’s offering, and when he was eating, it wasn’t scripted, he was just hungry.

And hopefully we all know that we never leave a Marvel movie without staying to see the end credit scene. 

Coming up in the Marvel universe of shows is What If?  What If flips the script on the MCU, reimagining famous events from the films in unexpected ways.  What if peggy carter got the super serum?  What if T’Challa was Star Lord?  What if spiderman saved his uncle ben? What if tony stark died in Iron Man 1?

The possibilities are endless.

But life isn’t like the movies or a the MCU.  We cant rewrite our history or mess with the timeline.

That can give us both feelings of hope but more often than not discouragement.   We can feel stuck in a cycle of shame and be dealing with the repercussions of our life choices.   Sometimes we can feel like things are never going to change and that life is always going to be this way.

Whatever happened happened.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

As Christians however we can have a God perspective that gives us a hope not based on our past, our future or ourselves but based on the promises of God that strengthen us from the inside out.

Romans 8:28 says

God works all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

The big what if is what if we believed that?

What if we believed there was no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. 

What if we believed that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

What if we believed that God is for us, who can be against us and that we are more than conquerors because nothing can separate us from the love of God?

You see we can read these amazing verses but they can “lose their power” as we become familiar or if we don’t let them drop the 6 inches from head to heart.

These verses, and in fact all of Romans 8 – are written not to just make us feel good, oh that’s nice, im encouraged, they are meant to fuel total and complete life change, in the way we see ourselves, in the way we see God, in the way we see the world, in the way we see every aspect of our life.

Sometimes we believe a lie and come into agreement with thinking that diminishes God’s power and ableness to be God in our lives.

So often there are things that we have come into agreement with – lies that we have believed about who we are, lies about our past, lies about our future, lies about who God is – that we need to break up with and really get the truth from God.  We have given those lies power but we need to break up with them and come into agreement with the truth of who God is, of who He says I am.  We need to trace the lies and replace them with the truth.

There is no condemnation.  I am free from sin.  Nothing will separate us from the love of God.  If God is for me who can be against me?  God works all things for good.

All through Romans Paul is leading us to this moment.   We have had that realization that without Jesus we are screwed, we’re lost and our very nature is broken, but we’ve been rescued and now have peace with God and a brand new start with a brand new identity.

Romans 8 shows us what that new identity looks like.

  1.  We have a new legal status

Starting with Romans 8:1 there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ – those who are Christians – ask yourself this.  Do you think God is disappointed with you? 

I was listening to a podcast – not about serial killers and cold cases – but about youth ministry and the guest was talking about a group of students who had all grown up in Christian families, were regular at church and plugged in with youth group and serving but who like all humans, struggled with habits they knew were sin.  The youth pastor asked them to put their hands up if they thought God is disappointed with them.  Hands went up all over the place.  

Maybe that is something we’ve thought too.  

We can relate with Paul who touches on this in Romans 7.  I do things I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things I want to do.  I’m messed up.  I’m flawed.  The struggle is real.   Therefore – there’s that old preacher adage, if there is a therefore find out what it is there for – and I think Romans 8:1 connects to this part of Romans 7.  I don’t do what I want to do and I do the things I don’t want to do but there is no condemnation for those who have given their lives to God.   This is a now present tense – not for when we clean ourselves up or sort our stuff out.  It’s not for when we are perfect or we act like good Christians, its now right as we are.    It’s a new legal status.  Before we were condemned but now we are declared not guilty and innocent not because of our own good works or try hard efforts, but 100% because of Jesus.

But if we think that God is disappointed with us we picture Him as stern and unwelcoming.   Nothing paralyzes us like guilt and shame.  Hebrews 4:16 says let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need. 

At our time of need – at our time of brokenness, at our time of failing – we can come right into the presence of God and find grace and help.

Matt Chandler says:  The litmus test of whether or not you understand the gospel is what you do when you fail. Do you run from God and go try to clean yourself up a bit before you come back into the throne room, or do you approach the throne of grace with confidence? If you don’t approach the throne of grace with confidence, you don’t understand the gospel. You are most offensive to God when you come to him with all of your efforts, when you’re still trying to earn what’s freely given.

There is no condemnation.  God doesn’t cross His arms and say “you again?” “Haven’t we talked about this?”  He doesn’t eye roll and look down on us.   

Romans 8:15-16 says  So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.[h] Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

2. We have a new family

That word Abba is not a reference to a famous Swedish band, but is a personal term of intimacy.  It’s closer than Father, closer than Dad.  It is – dare I say it – daddy God. 

Jesus was the first person to use this term – Abba.  He experienced God as tender and loving, courageous and kind, near, compassionate and forgiving.  Abba, a colloquial form of address used by little Jewish children toward their fathers and best translated “Papa” or “Daddy,” opened the possibility of undreamed-of, unheard-of intimacy with God. In any other great world religion it is unthinkable to address almighty God as “Abba.”  This is the closeness we have been invited into – to be as close as child to parent, as close as Jesus is to His Father in heaven.

Now I’m aware here that some of us may not have had great examples of what a Dad can be like.  Some of us may have fathers that left the family or were abusive or worked so hard that there isn’t much of a connection.   Because of that disconnect between our reality and what that word should mean we can have trouble picturing God as our Father, as the best father ever.    God will never abandon you, never let you down, is never too busy for you and wants you to know His love and care like a child that runs into her Daddys arms and feels safe and protected and loved.

3. We have a new way of thinking

What if we believed what God says?  What if we let God rewrite our story and rewrite how we think?

Romans 12:2 calls this renewing our mind.

The NLT says Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

I love the way the Message says it too: Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Have you ever noticed when you’re watching youtube or any streaming platform that more of the same videos go into your queue or appear on the suggested watching list.  If you watch lots of cute cat videos – cue more cat vidoes. 

In the same way our mind defaults to think about more of the same of what we’re thinking about.  If we’re filling our mind with negative thoughts – cue more negative thoughts.  If we’re filling our mind and actions with things that please the flesh as paul says, cue more of the same.  

What we dwell on in our minds will shape the way we live our lives. What you set your mind on shapes your character and behaviour.  We live in the stories we tell ourselves.

Romans 8:5-8 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

What does it look like to have our mind set on God?

To set your mind is more than simply thinking about something. It means to focus intently on something, to be preoccupied with it, to let your attention and imagination be totally captured by something. Wherever your mind goes most naturally and freely when there is nothing else to distract it—that is what you really live for.

Earlier this year the River Youth leaders had a leadership session as part of the big day out with ps Graeme may and one of the most challenging things he spoke about was our calendar.  If I got hit by a bus and you looked at my calendar and how I filled up my day it would tell you who I am and what I am living for.   How much of that calendar would be filled up with family, church, personal time with God, friends – the things I say I value vs Netflix, Instagram, other things that.  Challenging right? 

What are our minds dwelling on?  Worry?  Fear?  Marvel movies?  Lust?   Anger?   Meanness?  Judgement?  

Another thing I am a nerd on is personality types.  I remember doing my first one when I was about 19 as a youth leader at my church in Dunedin.  I confess I was not impressed with my results.  Everyone else on the team were cholerics – powerful leaders, or melancholics – deep thinkers and I am a sanguine.    I googled sanguine this week to get the description right – highly talkative, enthusiastic, active, and social.  Translated in my as a 19 year old as a fluffy social fluff fluff.  I was not impressed.

Since then I have reconciled myself to the reality that that is who I am and it is a superpower and I’ve done other tests that help me know myself better and how I process emotions and information. 

I am wired to be optimistic.  I am wired to be enthusiastic.  I am wired to believe the best and to be confident that it will be okay in the end.

But I know that there are personality types that are wired to question everything, to be critical, to be cautious and realistic/negative.

What Romans is saying in every chapter is that no matter how we are wired we get a brand new nature when we are born again and then we continually choose to think different and live different.

We all have different challenges in this and it looks different for every person but the reality is the same.  We set our mind on following the Spirit of God. 

Ephesians 4:21-22 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

At some point, we all have to choose, between what the world wants us to be, and who you are.  We are under new management.  

We don’t overcome or change our mind set by our own strength.  We are empowered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit to be transformed.   

Ezekiel 36:26 I will give you a new heart and a new mind. I will take away your stubborn heart of stone and give you an obedient heart.

Transformation begins with pointing our minds at what we should be focusing on. 

Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Hebrews 12:1-2 let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

I remember thinking that that verse in Philippians was so naff.  That was totally one you see on a poster with kittens that you hang in your toilet.  But as I’ve matured I’ve realized that that is one of the most powerful verses for dealing with the way we think and healing our thought patterns.  We can get into negative thought spirals that then cause our bodies to react with anxiety and depression and while its not as easy as a b c – thinking about what we thinking about and changing the way we think can be an incredible tool.  Neuroscience are discovering that this is the way we are wired and that we can make healing steps as we retrain our brains to think in different ways.

4. We have a new perspective

Romans 8 shows us a whole new way to think and gives us fresh perspective on life right here right now and the big picture.  Which includes the good times and the hard times.

No one enjoys suffering – you’ll end up on the other podcasts I listen to if you’re like that – but the Bible feels so counter intuitive when it says count it all joy when you go through all kinds of hard trials. 

Time and time it reveals that through the suffering God is shaping us and transforming us from the inside out. 

Romans 8:28 So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together for good,[a] for we are his children who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

God reframes suffering for us.    Sometimes it can feel so random.   Sometimes we make our bed and have to lie in it.  But even then we can be confident and assured that God has got it.  If we love Him and are His kids then He has the endgame.  The battle is not over.   God has a way of bringing good things out of wrong turns. Nothing is wasted with God.   

Sometimes when we are suffering it can feel like God is so far away.  We can be disappointed and discouraged.   Suffering hurts.

I love the raw honesty of David in the Psalms.  There are so many that begin with David saying life sucks, you suck, I suck, everything sucks, I hate my life, everyone hates me, Im drowning and the world is burning around me.   There have been a few that I’ve read that I’m like well tell us how you really feel there Dave… but he always reaches that point of going BUT, But you are with me, you are my rock, you will rescue me, I put my hope in you God, you are good.

God is good all the time.  We might not be having a good time all the time but God remains good and faithful.  Will we only praise Him and serve Him if He is blessing us?     As Christians we don’t get a get out of jail card when it comes to suffering but we have a God that walks with us each step of the way.  Knowing Him personally while in our hard times is the key to becoming stronger rather than weaker in it. 

As Christians we hold onto hope.  We hold onto the truth that behind the scenes God is at work turning all things around for good.   We keep praising Him.

Romans challenges us to live this inside out transformed way, to live in our new identity.   As I said last week the whole book is a journey in transformation – starting with our desperate need for the grace of God, that puts us all on the same playing level, no one is able to be good enough or work their way into God’s good books, but that Jesus died for us to make a way and that then radically changes our status with God and with each other as we deal with our sin and our issues.

Paul ends Romans 8 with these verses:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Who can separate us from the love of God? 

Can trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword… you know this sounds like Pauls list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 of the crazy circumstances he had experienced as a Christian and servant of God.  Shipwreck, flogging, stoning, beatings, in danger in the city, in danger in the country.  It’s almost as if Romans 8:35 looks back to these real life experiences and its as if Paul is saying “I know that this love of God is real because this is my story, even in the worst God was right there, even in the hard times God was sustaining me”.  Hard times don’t reveal an absence of God.  Good times don’t reveal the favour of God. 

He takes it further neither death nor life, angels or demons, no spiritual power, no attack of the devil, no season of oppression,  the present nor the future – so what I do today or what I face tomorrow.  He goes one step further – in case you think something might separate you Paul says neither height nor depth or anything in the whole universe can.  He stretches the boundaries to include anything else he hasn’t mentioned – anything you can possibly imagine or face, God has it covered. 

Did you guys hear about the Gorilla Glue lady this year?  It feels like this is an only in America true news story no offence Americans.  But here was this lady who had run out of hair spray and she wanted to spray down her hair for her long braided pony tail.   So she used Gorilla Glue Super Strength Adhesive Spray.  When she had finished spraying she had no idea she would end up with hair that wouldn’t budge. At all.  She was stuck with her ponytail hairstyle for over a month, frozen in place and fearing for the worst. She had accidentally created what can only be described as a helmet on her scalp. In her viral video, she clicks her nails against her scalp, and it makes a sound like a marble countertop. Originally posted on TikTok, her video was a plea for help and a warning to those who might consider Gorilla Glue as an alternative to hairspray. As of this writing, it has been viewed more than 50 million times.  She went to the ER, tried all types of solvents and ended up having to have a 4 hour 15 thousand dollar surgical proceeure done, and of course her braid cut off.  Nothing was separating her hair from the gorilla glue.

Well corny point I know, but the love of God is stronger than any Gorilla Glue.

The love of God is right there in the middle of the mess.  In the middle of our hard season.  In the middle of our failure.  In the middle of our success.  In the middle of good times.  In the middle of a health crisis.  In the middle of losing our job or breaking up a relationship.  When our kids go off the rails, when we go off the rails or we do that sin again or we have depression or anxiety or we’re feeling content and comfortable.  When we feel like we’re drowning or walking on water.  God is right there.  His love never fails, it never gives up on us.   God’s love knows what we need right now.  It’s big enough to deal with the famine, hardship, nakedness, demons, the present and whatever life throws at us.  

Here is the challenge for each one of us.  It feels like it is a With great power comes great responsibility call.  We can hear these words and read these words in Romans 8, but will we live these words.  Will we let them penetrate our heart so that we live from that position as a much loved child of God?  Will we set our minds and hearts on the things of God, choosing to see the world from His vantage point?  Will we shake off the guilt and shame that tries to hold us back and receive the new legal status of forgiven and set free?