Transformation or Conformity

“You are the you I created you to be”-God

Genesis chapter 1 clearly tells us God’s blueprint for mankind was Himself. Take a look at Genesis 1:26-27.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (NASB)

Ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, man has lived a contradiction. We are created to be the very image of God yet as Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is a vacuum created in the space between who we are and who we were created to be. The only way to fill this vacuum is to be transformed. Romans 12:2 begins, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

We are presented, by God’s gift of free-will, two choices. We can choose conformity to the world’s standards which are never absolute and shift from day to day, or transformation to God’s standards which are presented to us in His timeless word. To illustrate the difference between conformity and transformation, God has been bringing to my mind construction, using either brick or stone. I don’t think it is coincidental that in their Egyptian slavery the children of Israel were forced to make bricks. Bricks were formed with a mixture of straw and clay which was forced into a mold to ensure uniformity.

The systems of this world, including dead lifeless religion, will try to force some type of uniformity. Those lacking the moral clarity to control themselves from within must be controlled from the outside, which gives rise to the political correctness we see around us. In one form or another the result of conformity is always slavery. Diversity becomes a perversion of its true self as it tries to justify the gap between God’s righteousness and our sin nature. This system denies any intent in our creation, we are just randomly shaped pieces who must be forced to fit together. Apart from God, the world needs to form humans into bricks. This is being conformed to this world.

God, however, created us exactly as He wanted us to be. Like a stone selected by a craftsman, we are created with the exact shape to fit in the larger creation precisely as He intends. True diversity can only be celebrated as each stone is used as it was created to be used. A mason may need to chip off pieces of a stone that protrude in the wrong place but this does not change the natural state of the stone, it merely refines it for better use. This is transformation by renewal, using the Bible as the tool to smooth the rough edges. The opposite of slavery, this is the path to true freedom.

Transformed by the Word or conformed to the world, those are our choices. Transformation is the only way to become who we really are, someone created in His image. The only way to get there is by studying His word and allowing it to shape you. Dig into the Bible today, not just to learn it, but to be changed by it.

Put on Christ

A couple of years ago I attended an executive development leadership program. An interesting component of the training was a psychological profile intended to highlight each of our individual strengths and weaknesses, specifically pertaining to leadership. Of course every person has a combination of both strengths and weaknesses. That is true today and has been true throughout the history of mankind. There is one exception.

Jesus Christ, who did nothing but what He saw His Father do, and said nothing but what He heard His Father say, is the lone perfect man. Jesus is the personification of God’s glory and therefore the complete embodiment of every positive trait available to humanity with none of the typical negatives.

Thinking back to the results of my leadership profile, there were several areas where my natural personality was lacking. Obviously the intent of such an exercise is to recognize both strengths to accentuate, as well as weaknesses to improve upon. In dealing with our weaknesses, one of the awesome things about a life in Christ is the opportunity to do what the Apostle Paul calls “put on Christ”.

I like the way the NASB translation puts it in Galatians 3:26-27.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Clothed with Christ. The image here is to be enveloped within Christ like you would be enveloped within a large robe. The concept of “being clothed” is more than just a Pauline analogy for being in Christ. Paul uses the same word in Colossians 3:10, encouraging us to “put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him“. Putting on Christ entails taking on His character. Paul illustrates this further a few verses later in Colossians 3:12-14.

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things [put on] love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

A heart of compassion, kindness, humility and the rest of the list are all characteristics of Christ and we can put them on only to the extent we put on Christ. The strengths of Christ are not limited to those listed here by Paul, nor are we limited by this list. When surveying the results of my leadership profile, I can take comfort in knowing that I don’t have to be limited by the things I am not. When the need for a trait I naturally lack arises, I am able to put on Christ.

Two Veils in Exodus

There are two completely different veils found in the book of Exodus, both of which have implications for us as New Testament believers in Christ. The first is found in chapter 26 as God is giving instruction for construction of the tabernacle. Here God prescribes a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread to be hung as the entrance to the Most Holy. This veil served the purpose of separating God’s presence from the holy place which contained the alter of incense, the table of showbread, and the golden lampstand.

After the nation of Israel arrived in the promised land the temple was erected to replace the tabernacle. A veil placed in the temple served the same purpose, to create separation between God’s holy presence and His people. One of the results of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was the removal of the need for this separation. Matthew 27:51 records the tearing of this veil when Christ died for us, securing our admission to His presence by the atoning work of Jesus. There is no question that this veil has been removed, both physically and spiritually.

The second veil in Exodus is found in chapter 34 when Moses went into God’s presence on Mount Sinai. Moses removed this veil when coming into God’s presence and then replaced the veil when appearing before the nation. Unlike the veil in the tabernacle which stood between God’s presence and the people, this veil was put in place when Moses left God’s presence. Its intent was to shield the nation from the reflection of God’s glory that shone on Moses’ face.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18 talks about the spiritual removal of this veil. Just as removal of this veil from Moses’ face would have displayed God’s glory to the nation, we are called in 2 Corinthians to have an unveiled face so that God’s glory can reflect from us to illuminate those who He wants to reach. His goodness should be reflected from His people. Romans 2:4 tells us that it is the goodness of God that draws people to repentance. The veil that separates us from Him has been removed, as has the veil that prevents His glory from being reflected. Go about your day today radiant, reflecting His goodness for the nation to see.

One veil separates us from His presence, the other stops His glory from reflecting off of us to the nation. Neither are in place any more.

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Delight is an interesting word, one that I almost never use when writing and even less often when speaking. When I do use “delight” it is usually as a noun, as in “much to my delight.” Most English translations of Psalm 37 use delight as a verb. The New King James reads, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” There is an subtle difference between how I typically use delight and what David is expressing in this Psalm.

I might use the term like this, “I found a $20 bill in my coat pocket, much to my delight.” In this case I am an inactive recipient of delight. The unexpected cash in my pocket is responsible for causing joy. In Psalm 37, David places the responsibility for delight not on God, but on us. (Don’t stop reading and call me a heretic just yet, stick with me.) We are instructed to “delight yourself” in the Lord. In other words, we are to take the responsibility to find joy in Him. The Hebrew word translated “delight” עָנַג (anog) comes with a connotation of being soft and pliable. The implication is we conform our will to His. We lay down our desires so that His desires can become our own.

This does not mean that God isn’t delightful or a source of joy. His goodness is a never-ending fountain of joy, but we can not appreciate His goodness in areas where our will is not His will. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” is not a prescription for what you can do to get God to give you whatever you want. Rather, it is instruction for submitting to Him and taking on His desires as your own. He promises that if you look to Him as your source of joy (delight yourself) He will place His desires in your innermost feelings and deepest thoughts. David uses six verbs through Psalm 37 as his instruction: delight, commit, trust, rest, wait, and obey. Until we decide to find our joy in Him and not in getting our own way, we can’t fully commit, trust, rest, wait or obey.

The awesome part is found in verse 23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” Once we start submitting our will to Him, He can then truly order our steps and not only do our desires (which are His) come to pass, our delight in Him now causes Him to delight as He leads us through life. What an adventure!

Glory of the Savior

My wife is beautiful. I’m not. One Biblical analogy that I don’t think I’ve ever fully appreciated is the comparison of the Church to a bride. I do appreciate the analogy for the way I am to relate to my bride as Christ relates to the church. In that regard I think the “Jesus to Church as Groom to Bride” comparison is great. I suspect I’m not alone among men feeling a bit lost though when it comes to being a part of the Bride.

Maybe this will help. There is an interesting passage in 1 Corinthians that has caused much disagreement within the Body of Christ pertaining to the roles of men and women. 1 Corinthians 11:7-8.

For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man [NASB]

My intent here is not to wade into the contention about men and women. I want to look at this verse from another angle all together. (I’ll also bypass the temptation to comment on this verse from the perspective of a man with less covering on his head than he would like.)

If scripture uses the groom or man, to represent Christ and the bride or woman to represent His church, is it reasonable to see if this principle applies to 1 Corinthians 11? I think it is. Let’s look at this verse in the context of Christ and His church. Christ ought not have His head covered because He is God and has all authority. The church is the glory of Christ. For Jesus does not originate from His church, but the church originates from Jesus.

Interesting. What does it mean then to say, “the church is the glory of Christ?” The glory of Jesus is His character, who He is. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, three manifestations of a single character and existence. We learn from the Bible that you know a tree by its fruit. The fruit of the Spirit, and therefore of Christ, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That is His character. If the glory of Christ is the revealing of His character, His true self, and His character is in us, it stands to reason that to say the church is the glory of Christ is to say the church displays the fruit of the Spirit.

Today, display the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that have been deposited in you. In doing so, you apply the principle of 1 Corinthians 11. You, as part of the bride of Christ, bring Him glory by living in a way that displays His character to the world. Christ in you, the hope of glory.

That is the recipe for a beautiful spotless bride.

Journey to Tyre and Sidon

For some reason I’ve found myself returning to the Gospel of Matthew quite a bit recently. I was reading Matthew chapter 11 and went past a verse that grabbed my attention in a new way, even though I have read it many times over. Matthew 11:21.

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. [NASB]

Jesus performed mighty works right in the midst of the citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida. These towns near the Sea of Galilee were in the epicenter of most of Jesus earthly ministry. Tyre and Sidon, near the Mediterranean in present day Lebanon, were known as sinful cities in the time of Christ. Why would Chorazin and Bethsaida (and Capernaum if you read further) fail to respond to the same set of circumstances that would cause Tyre and Sidon to accept what God was doing and repent? Perhaps the three Galilean cities had preconceptions of Messiah that didn’t match His actual appearance.

Maybe those cities were so bogged down in their religion and its traditions they failed to recognize Him when He walked right among them. The United States is on a journey from Chorazin to Tyre. Christianity in the U.S. had become like Judaism was to Christ’s contemporaries living in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Rather than affecting culture with the love, power, and glory of Jesus, the church was largely stagnant.

In the vacuum created by the slumbering church, culture moved to what is being called post-Christian America. Some are distraught over this. Take a moment though to reflect on what Jesus said. Yes, it is true that He proclaimed woe on Chorazin and Bethsaida, but what about Tyre and Sidon? Jesus very plainly tells us that the display of His kingdom had no significant effect in the “religious” places. However, when displayed in cities lacking that dry religion, His kingdom, when demonstrated, produces results and repentance.

Don’t despair and withdraw from culture as a reaction to its withdrawal from God. Instead, engage. Acts 1:8 says you have the goods.

but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth [NASB]

When Jesus spoke of the “miracles” that would bring repentance to cities, the Greek word is δύναμις (dunamis). When He told us the Holy Spirit would bring us “power” it is the same Greek word. Go out today and use the power of the Holy Spirit that you’ve been given. Be mighty and demonstrate the love, power, and grace of Christ to your city.

Inconceivable

Movie quotes are frequently bandied about our house. The Princess Bride is a frequent source of quotes. Anyone who quotes The Princess Bride has to utter the word, “inconceivable.” After kidnapping the Princess, criminal mastermind Vizzini is so assured of the success of his plan he continually assures his henchmen that every problem they foresee is “inconceivable.” Fortunately Wesley, the hero of the story, is able to overcome every obstacle presented by Vizzini, prompting Inigo Montoya (Vizzini’s hired swordsman) to remark, “You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

One of my pet peeves with Christianity is a tendency to speak “Christianese” without really understanding the meaning of the words we use. Words lose their power without a grasp of their full meaning. One word that, at times, makes me want to say, “I don’t think it means what you think it means”, is “grace.” The Greek word χάρις (charis) appears in every New Testament book except Matthew, Mark, and 1st and 3rd John. It may be a small word but it has big meaning and implications. There are many facets to grace, I want to focus specifically on one aspect of its definition here.

James 4:6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” [NASB]

Often a good way to get at the meaning of something is to begin by looking at what it is NOT. In this verse James brings two contrasting concepts, proud and humble. Proud and humble are adjectives that are exact opposites of each other. Not surprisingly these two opposite characteristics elicit opposite reactions from God. To the proud, God is opposed. To the humble, God gives grace. Therefore we can conclude that grace is the opposite of opposed, just as humble is the opposite of proud.

If you have ever sat on a board or attended any meeting that followed Robert’s Rules of Order, then you have heard a voice vote where the chair puts a question to the board and then says, “all in favor say aye, opposed say no.” This illustrates that “favor” and “opposed” are diametrically opposite, just as “grace” and “opposed” are opposite. Grace is favor.

There is more to this verse however. When James says that God is opposed to the proud, he uses the word ἀντιτάσσομαι (antitassó) which carries more meaning than simply opposed or against. It is a military term for an organized and active plan and alignment designed to resist an enemy. It is one thing to be opposed to someone in principle. It is something else altogether to actively take steps to thwart and resist the efforts of someone. This is how James tells us God reacts to the proud, by actively resisting.

Since we are making a study in contrasts, think of the implications for grace. If grace stands directly opposite of God’s active resistance, it stands to reason that grace involves not just favor in principle but favor in action. Grace does not mean that God merely approves of you, it means that he actively empowers you. Biblical grace literally is connected to the idea of God leaning in, applying weight or force, in order to provide blessing or benevolence.

A few weeks ago I wrote about being a steward of grace. If you haven’t read that post, please do. It compliments this post and puts it into practice.

Unshakable

Everything that can be shaken will be shaken from within
Better have your house in order when the shakin’ begins

I’m so old I got a metal slinky for Christmas, remember the U.S. bicentennial celebration (barely),  and had to choose between Carter and Ford in an elementary school mock election. As was typical of a Christian teenager in the 1980s, I was a fan of Petra, the band many consider the pioneers of Christian rock music. My first Petra album was actually on vinyl, the subsequent ones were all on cassette. While I haven’t listened to many of these songs in decades, I can still remember many of the lyrics. One Petra song that has been floating around in my head of late is Shakin’ the House from the 1986 album Back to the Street.

It seems the song is even more appropriate today than it was thirty years ago.

There’s a rumble, in the distance
A trembling in the air
It’s uncertain in direction
Does is come from here or there?
It’s approaching by the minute
Does it lead you to despair?
Feel it shakin’ your foundation
When you haven’t got a prayer

The people today who don’t have prayer are feeling the effects of the chaos we see around us in today’s headlines. Despair is common as people search for answers and try to find footing in the shifting sands of culture. The answers do not lie in any man-made institution, they are found only with those who know the truth. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified”, the answers are found in Him.

You examine your foundation
Does is stand on rock or sand?
When the smoke clears does it bring fears
When the houses fall or stand
In the fire of refining with flames too high to douse
You remember someone saying
It’s beginning in the house

Matthew 7:24-27 relates Jesus’ parable of the men who built their houses on the rock versus the sand. Increasingly our culture and its ever evolving morality is slipping off the slippery slope of complete moral relativism where there can be no right or wrong. 1 Corinthians 3:11 tells us “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Paul saw in his day the human desire to try to base life on our own thoughts or desires rather than His.

Psalm 46 is a great reminder that God makes Himself available as a place of refuge and strength during times of trouble. We don’t need to fear, even though the earth changes. When everything looks as unstable as the roaring ocean, our immovable God gives strength and stability.

Hebrews 12:25-29 tells us to expect the shaking.

25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, i]much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” 27 This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us j]show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire. [NASB]

God intends to remove those things that can be shaken, leaving only Himself the unshakable as a viable foundation. If you are not firmly planted on Him and His word, decide now to plant your feet firmly on the rock of revelation that tells us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. You have the answer and are duty bound to reach out to those around you treading through perilous sand. Resolve today to be influential for His kingdom.

But don’t fear when it comes near
And you see the raging fire
If you hold fast it will all pass
Til your heart has His desire

 

Wax On Wax Off

If you’ve seen the 1984 film The Karate Kid, the title ‘Wax On Wax Off” makes perfect sense to you. For those unfortunate, uncultured few who have never seen it, let me explain. Daniel, a bullied teen, meets Mr. Miyagi, a handyman who happens to be a martial arts expert. Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel karate, but for days simply has his protege working at seemingly mundane chores. After sanding Miyagi’s deck, painting his fence, painting his house, and waxing his car, Daniel finally grows tired of providing free labor and angrily asks when he can learn karate. Miyagi then demonstrates that the motions Daniel has been making during these chores was actually creating muscle memory to help him defend himself using karate. The small circles he had been instructed to use applying wax were actually the motion necessary to deflect an assailant’s punch.

The entirety of my understanding of karate is based on this three minute segment of a thirty year old movie, so I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of this training technique. I can confirm the importance of muscle memory when you don’t have time to think and must simply react. Muscle memory is built through practice and repetition.

There are times when I wake up with a thought or picture in my mind that seems to have been dropped there by the Holy Spirit during my sleep. Earlier this week the phrase, “precision movements in the spirit” was in my head which made me think of martial arts for some reason. While I know nothing of martial arts, I do know the Bible and I’m convinced that time spent studying God’s word is a prerequisite for precision movements in the spirit. When Paul was writing his letters to Timothy one of his instructions is found in 2 Timothy 2:16.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. [NASB]

We all have access to the Bible or “word of truth” but just as it takes hours of diligent practice to be accurate shooting a basketball, swinging a golf club, playing a piano, or typing on a keyboard, it also takes hours of diligence to accurately handle the most potent weapon known to man.

Hebrews 4:12 elaborates on this further.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [NASB]

According to the writer of Hebrews, the solution to understanding your own thoughts and evaluating your own motives is to know His word.

In John 6:45 Jesus tells us that He expects us to demonstrate His goodness with our lives but this can only happen by first ingesting His goodness. His word is His self-revelation to us, His way of showing us His character and goodness that we are to emulate.

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil [man] out of the evil [treasure] brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. [NASB]

Spend time filling your mind and heart with the goodness of His word of truth. Doing so is like building muscle memory for your spirit, honing your skills so you can wield this sword with precision movements of the spirit. Every time you have read the Bible or listened to good teaching about the Bible you weren’t wasting time. The spiritual muscle memory is priceless. Be so full of his word that your first natural reaction to any situation is a reaction that reveals His character.

Time to Start Your Harvest

I grew up on an Iowa farm, and that experience gave me a real understanding of the cycle of planting, cultivating, and harvesting. While I understood the process in terms of agriculture, somehow I kind of missed the spiritual reality that Jesus taught through His seed and harvest metaphors. During the process of planting and harvesting a crop, there is actually more work for the farmer associated with the harvest than with the seed.

Despite this, I somehow associated my walk with Christ as sowing seeds and subconsciously allocated the job of harvest to God. It is true that God brings the harvest. I am no more responsible for causing the harvest on my actions than the farmer is for causing his seeds to sprout. However the farmer’s work has just begun when he plants the seed. God brings the harvest but He does not gather the harvest. That is the job of the farmer.

A freshly harvested field
A freshly harvested field

In the fall in Iowa, the harvest is a busy time. Farmers move through their fields with massive combines, gathering the grain they planted many months prior. You can’t drive through the countryside during autumn without seeing visual confirmation of the harvest. There is much work that goes on immediately prior to putting the machines into the field that many would not see or be aware of. A huge part of harvest is preparation.

Jesus used agricultural parables in Matthew 13 where Matthew recorded the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and tares. Verse 19 informs us the wheat seed sown represents God’s word. The wheat is the fruit we bear from His word. The parable of wheat and tares begins in verse 24 where we discover that God’s kingdom is like a man who sowed good wheat seeds into his field. This is us sowing God’s word into our hearts and lives. Unfortunately something happened amid the wheat seed (God’s word). If wheat represents the truth of God’s word, then the tares represent that which is not truth, deception.

Verse 25 tells us God’s enemy came to sow deception. It even warns us it happened “while men slept”. The appearance of truth and deception mixed together caused concern among the field hands, and rightly so. The reaction of the master in verse 30 is interesting. He instructs them to let both grow together for now, until harvest time. Once harvest time comes, it is no longer OK to allow the deception to remain. Doing so would compromise the harvest.

The sowing of tares is done “while men slept”. It is subtle. Outright and obvious lies are rejected on the spot. Deception comes in the whispered question that has been asked since the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say?” God’s enemy becomes our enemy and His goal is to steal, kill, or destroy God’s work in us. It is time to wake up, recognize this tactic and stop allowing tares to be sown in your heart.

We all have various lies that have taken root, small deceptions contrary to what God says about us. Maybe God’s enemy has been whispering “you can’t” into your ear but God says “you can.” Perhaps fear has taken root in place of faith. Whatever the tares may be in your heart, now is the time for harvest. It is time for the tares to be uprooted so they don’t interfere with gathering of the wheat. Verse 30 is very specific about how this is to play out. “First gather together the tares and bind them into bundles to burn them.” So how do you recognize the tares in year heart?

When bank tellers are trained, they are not shown every possible type of counterfeit bill. Rather they become so comfortable with the characteristics of the real bills they will know a counterfeit by what it is not. This is the only way to spot the tares in your heart. Become so familiar and comfortable with the wheat (God’s word) that you will know the tares (deception) by what they are not.

Once you identify the tares, be relentless. Uproot tares, do not tolerate them for they will ruin your harvest. The time for letting wheat and tares co-exist has past. It is now harvest time. Find your tares, uproot them, bind them, and burn them. Only once this is done can you see the conclusion of verse 30 and gather the fruit of God’s word into your barn. Time is short, the field is white unto harvest.