Saturday, June 23, 2012

Transformed by Christ’s Love


            TRANSFORM, vb: To change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance of, to change in character or condition.

            Dallas Willard, in his book Renovation of the Heart, masterfully makes the case that to be a follower of Jesus is to be transformed from the inside out. My heart resonates with what he is saying. I desire to be transformed by the love of Christ. Not only that but I desire to see others transformed as well. This is at the very heart of the Gospel. But I must confess that I am a little discouraged. The majority of what I am reading paints a less than rosy picture of the Church. Instead of seeing lives transformed in significant ways, we see all of the problems of the world resident in the church. How do we turn this around? What does it mean to be people whose lives are transformed?

            God has been challenging me with several thoughts about living a transformed life. I offer them to you not as the end of the conversation but as the beginning of a dialogue.

            First, true transformation is an act of God and not the product of our efforts. I have always been one who wanted to do it myself. I have struggled with the false idea that I had to somehow change myself so that I would be acceptable to God. The bad news is that I will never make it. The good news is that I don’t have to. God, by His grace and mercy, has done all that needs to be done for me to be transformed.

            In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us to stop trying to measure up to external standards. Instead he tells us to yield to the transforming power of God from the inside.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

            So how do we put ourselves in the place where this transformation can happen? Paul gives us the answer in Philippians 4:8-9. Finally, brothers, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

            Paul tells us that there are two things we can do to access the transforming power of God’s grace. We can fill our minds with the right things and we can fill our lives with the right actions. As we meditate on the right things our whole way of thinking is changed. As we consciously act on what we are learning the way we live is changed.

            The second thought I have about transformation is that it takes place in community not isolation. Americans have been trained to think and live independently. We are “rugged individualists.” This kind of thinking is foreign to scripture and hinders us from experiencing the transforming power of God. The Gospel is an invitation into a community of faith. Colossians 3:15-16 helps us see that being a part of a community is at the heart of our spiritual transformation.
            Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

            Genuine transformation takes place through relationships. We enter into the life-giving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That relationship empowers us to develop new relationships with others. God uses the community of faith to be the agent of transformation.

            The third thought I have is that genuine transformation means submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In Romans 12:1 Paul calls us to give our all for Christ.
            Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.

            If we are going to experience the transforming power of the Gospel, we must yield completely to Christ. Jesus said we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him.

            The last thought I have is that transformation is a process and not a product. Although I firmly believe there is a point in time when we cross from death to life through faith in Jesus, that is not the end of the story. We are always in process spiritually. The transforming work of Christ is a long term commitment on his part to restore the image of God in us. Paul clearly states this in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.
            Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

            Many people are staying away from the Church today because they do not see the transforming power of the Gospel in the lives of Christians. We can change that if we are willing to humble ourselves before God and let him do his work in us. We are the light of the world. It is time to shine.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A LIFE OF INTEGRITY


            I am back from a week of vacation. We traveled to the North Shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. It was glorious. We had to return a little early because I had to officiate at a funeral. The funeral was for a 93 year old man. I was with him and his family when he died.

            Al was one of the “Greatest Generation” of Americans. He grew up during the Great Depression. Like many others, he had to struggle to find a job and just to make ends meet. Then WWII broke out. He answered the call and enlisted in the Navy. He served in the South Pacific. Returning home after the war he started a family, farmed and eventually operated a small town bank. He retired in our community and became a part of our church.

            At the funeral several people reflected upon Al’s life. There was a recurring theme that popped up in each of the reflections: integrity. Al was a soft spoken man. He was disciplined and conscientious. But the thing that stood out was his integrity. He was guided by principle and not popular opinion.

            No one lives a perfect, sinless life. We all make mistakes and even fail along the way. But we all can live lives of integrity. In Ephesians 4:1-3, the Apostle Paul challenges us to live up to our calling in Christ. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

            True integrity is not a fa├žade we create for others to see but the core of who we are. Integrity begins on the inside and works its way out. It begins with a deep conviction to live according to God’s standards.

            A person of integrity is not perfect, nor do they always get things right. They are willing to own up to their mistakes, make amends if necessary and learn from them. They are unwilling to hide their mistakes or push them off onto someone else. Instead they acknowledge their failures and seek to grow through them.

            A person of integrity is generally consistent in their attitudes and actions, not being swayed by public opinion or pressure. So much of life today is controlled by the latest opinion poll or the loudest voice in the media. A person of integrity has developed the ability to discern truth from error and to choose the truth. Having a firm handle on the truth sets a person free from the ever changing winds of society. To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-32 (NIV)

            A person of integrity understands who they are. They know both their strengths and their weaknesses. They are comfortable with their gifts and talents and feel no need to flaunt them or call undue attention to them. Paul urges us to gain a proper understanding of ourselves in Romans 12:3. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

            A person of integrity is not consumed with their image. In many ways they are self-forgetting, not needing or wanting to have the spotlight focused on them.

            A person of integrity is in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. They do not presume to have made it. They do not assume that they are better than others. They focus on knowing and serving Christ. Paul modeled that for us. I leave you with his words of challenge and encouragement.

            But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

Friday, June 8, 2012

THE FINAL ENEMY


            Today I stood with his family as he took his final breaths. Each breath more shallow, more labored, farther apart. Then they stopped and it was over. I will never get used to it; death. Over the years I have done this a number of times. I wish that it was getting easier, but it isn’t. There is no way around the fact that death is the enemy; we fight against its ugly grip for as long as we can.

            Death is the direct result of sin in our world. God didn’t design us for death; he designed us for life. When sin entered the world, death took up residence. It has been reigning ever since. It comes in many forms; emotional death, spiritual death, relationship death, physical death. When it comes, it brings heartache, pain and sorrow.

            Death is our final enemy. It parades through our world with arrogance, bravado and total disregard. It acts as if it is the master. It acts as if it is unstoppable, but it is wrong. Death is a defeated enemy.

            When Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose to new life, he conquered death. Even though we must still face physical death, Jesus has taken away its power. We no longer have to fear death because, in Christ, we have hope.

            It is natural for us to fear death. Death seems like the final statement of our life. But in Christ, death is only the birthing canal to new life in Him. The Apostle Paul wrote words of encouragement to give us the courage to face death unafraid.

            I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (NIV)

            Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)

            In both of these passages, Paul puts a different face on death. Death is the passageway from mortality to immortality, from perishable to imperishable. Death becomes our metamorphosis experience; shedding the frail form of our physical body for a resurrection body.

            Death has been defeated by what Christ did on the cross for us. He cancelled the power of sin and death and set us free. We have the ultimate victory.

            We can face death with hope for the future. One day we will be gathered with those who have gone before us and we will stand together with Christ forever. For the believer in Christ, death is not the end of the story, but only the end of a chapter. A new and more glorious chapter is ahead. As C.S. Lewis put it, we leave the shadow lands of this world to enter the vibrant world of eternity.

            When Jesus faced the death of a close friend, he mourned over the pain that his friends were experiencing. In the midst of the pain, he issued a promise for all that will fully trust him.

            Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26 (NIV)

            We stood around the bed and watched as he slipped from this life to the next. We shed tears of grief. We also celebrated the promise of Jesus, for although his physical body died, he has won the ultimate victory in Christ. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” We believe it!