Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sudden, Overwhelming, Joyful Harvest

When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us,
And we are glad.
(Psalm 126:1-3)
Sometimes we sow and know when we can expect to reap; it is a matter of waiting. Other times we sow and have no idea when the season of harvest will come; it is a matter of watching. In this psalm, the writer describes a harvest that came so suddenly and was so overwhelming that they thought it was all a dream. It was a wonder that filled them with laughter and uncontainable shouts of joy. The Hebrew word for “singing,”“rejoicing” and “joy” in this psalm refers literally to creaking; imagine continual squeals of delight.

So great was this harvest or returning souls, the pagan nations (who had no covenant with God) could not help but notice, declaring, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The psalm writer reiterates, almost as if with fresh wonder, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are glad.”

Now, one would not necessarily have thought of this amazing event in terms of sowing and reaping, except for what the psalm writer says next:
Bring back our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the South.
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.
(Psalm 126:4-6)
“Sow in tears, reap in joy.” That’s how the psalm writer describes it. No doubt, many tears were shed by him and his countrymen, who probably had been exiled from their homeland all their lives. They wept and they wailed, but then the “suddenly” of God came upon them quite unexpectedly, returning them to the land of promise.

There were, however, others of their own who were still in captivity, and there was yet more sowing to do, more tears to weep. But there was also the certainty that when they sowed their seed, they would come again with fresh harvest, creaking and shouting for joy.

Sow your good seed and do not quit. Your harvest will come, and it may be sooner than you could ever imagine.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bountiful and Wondrous

Deal bountifully with Your servant,
That I may live and keep Your word.
Open my eyes, that I may see
Wondrous things from Your law.
(Psalm 119:17-18)
This morning, as I was going to the Psalms, which is my devotional habit, my Bible flopped open to Psalm 119 and my eye was caught by these verses. I had marked these verses before, with circles and underlines, and a few words penciled in the margins.

“Deal bountifully with Your servant.” The psalm writer is calling on the abundance of God to take care of him. He is well aware how much he needs the grace and mercy of the Lord if he is going to survive. When he says, “that I may live,” he is not merely speaking in a metaphorical way of enjoying the richness and beauty of life; he is looking to God to preserve his physical life. One of the poignant realities of this psalm is that he is singing these praises about the Word of God even though things have not been going well for him — he is leaning in on the promises of God to guide him through.

Even so, he does not just want something from God — he wants God Himself. He is leaning into his covenant relationship with God. He does not just want God to honor His promises to him; he wants to honor God’s word by doing what it says. But he cannot do that without the help of the Lord.

“Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.” The law of God is indeed a wondrous thing. Many religious folks think that God is waiting for us to break His law so He can clobber us. But His law is instruction. Indeed, the Hebrew word torah, often translated as “law,” can just as well be translated as “instruction.”

That is what the psalm writer wants. He is not cringing in fear of divine retribution; he is eagerly looking for divine instruction. He deeply desires wisdom and revelation from God, and he knows that is why God has given His torah in the first place. God does not hold back from us; He freely gives to us, if we are ready to receive. The problem is that, very often, pride and arrogance and our own brand of “wisdom” get in the way, and we have to be emptied out of these things.

This morning, I thought of all the prides and arrogances I have had in my life, back when I was a very young man but also in my later years. God has been gracious over the years to expose and uproot so many of them. I am well aware that it is an ongoing project. The process is not usually very pleasant, but the results are well worth it, because it readies us for the pleasures of God and the joy of knowing Him. I want to be emptied out of myself, of vanity and ego, and filled up with the Lord. It is, as the psalm writer says, wondrous — thinking God’s thoughts with Him, walking with Him in His ways, our hearts being brought into rhythm with His.

Deal bountifully with me today, O Lord. Open my eyes to the wonders of Your Word, that I may know You more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Don’t Give Up — Your Harvest is Coming!

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9)
There is a season for sowing and a season for reaping. Whenever you sow a seed, you are establishing a harvest. What you sow is what you will reap. The only way you can lose your harvest is if you give up.

The Greek word for “season” is kairos. The Greek word chronos speaks of the sequence of time ; kairos speaks of the fullness of time. It is a word of opportunity, the favorable combination of circumstances. The “due” season is the proper season, a season that is appropriate to the seed you sow and the harvest you reap. “In due season” means that when the time is ripe, the harvest will come. That is how the kingdom of God works. Jesus said,
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come. (Mark 4:26-29)
You don’t have to understand how the seed multiplies or how the plant sprouts and grows. You don’t have to keep checking on it to help the thing grow. Just continue going about your business, sleeping by night and rising by day. When the time is reap, the harvest will be ready, and the harvest is always greater than the seed.

Do not “grow weary while doing good,” Paul says. What is doing good?
  • It is doing what pleases the Holy Spirit, letting Him fill you and guide you. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8 NIV).
  • It is delighting in the law of the Lord and continually mediating on it, letting it instruct you and reveal to you the wisdom of God. The Bible says of the one who does this, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3).
  • It is seeking the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). God’s kingdom operates on the principle of sowing and reaping. When we seek His rule and reign, and His way of doing things in whatever we do, we are doing good. “Seek the kingdom.” That’s sowing. “All these things shall be added to you.” That’s reaping.
Keep doing good, following the Spirit, letting the Word of God fill your heart, seeking the kingdom. You will reap in due season, and it will be BIG. Don’t give up — your harvest is coming!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Spiritual Disciplines and Intense Desire

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Christian discipleship is about learning. It means that one is in training. As you can probably tell, the word “discipleship” is related to the word “discipline.” To be in training, following a discipline (a practice, a habit, a rule) means that one is learning to do what has not yet become natural to them. Thankfully, there comes a point when one moves from doing things as a matter of discipline and training and becomes “second nature.” One moves from doing things merely because he ought to do so, to doing them simply because it is the desire of his heart.

Yes, we should all have an intense desire to fellowship with Christ. We should be loaded with desire, as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection discovered, to do all things for His sake. Brother Lawrence, however, called this “the practice of the presence of God.” He had a desire to be full of desire for God, and he practiced that desire to be full of desire until he truly was full of desire for God — and God filled it.

So it is good to have some practical spiritual disciplines that help us focus on the things that we ought to be focused on. Many times, I do experience an intense desire for fellowship with Christ; other times not so much. I know what it is like to be like Mary, focused on the one thing, the good part; but I also know what it is to be like Martha, worried and troubled about many things. The value of practical spiritual disciplines is that they can help us make room to hear the voice of the Lord; and hearing His voice, faith comes and desire awakens.

We have been much discipled by the world and/or a church that has been much infected with the faithless way the world thinks. So we not only have to be delivered from the ways and thoughts of the world, we need to be discipled, trained in the ways and thoughts of God.

Spiritual disciplines and practices can be good “tools” toward that end. They do not change God; they change us, preparing us to receive what God has already graciously promised and provided. To suppose that they change God would be nothing more than magical thinking. Our relationship with God is not a mechanical one, but a personal one, and the disciplines, when properly approached, help us empty out and make room for that relationship. Brother Lawrence had a wonderful relationship with God, experiencing his presence just as much in the kitchen as in the chapel — but notice that he described it as practicing the presence of God.” The discipline he adopted helped him enter into that place of relationship.

The disciplines can be very good servants, but terrible masters. Apart from dependence upon the grace of God, they can quickly become a cage. But when approached with faith in God and His promises, they can provide a good framework for exploring our new life in Christ, helping us become more aware of Him. They help us do what we sing at Christmastime: “Let every heart prepare Him room.”

There may be thousands of ways that a Christian can practically implement a truth from God's Word. If one particular method doesn’t work for you, there is another one that will. When Brother Lawrence first joined the Carmelite monks, he considered a number of practical suggestions and spiritual practices, but he found none that fit. That was when he decided he would simply practice the presence of God (you can read how he went about this in his little book The Practice of the Presence of God).

A good spiritual discipline or practice can help you empty out the many distracting things so that you may have an intense desire for the one thing, the good part — fellowship with the Lord Jesus. He will fill it, and He will never take it away.

To learn more about spiritual disciplines and how they might be of help to you, read The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blessed in All Things

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. (Genesis 24:1)
Abraham lived a long and healthy life of abundance and wealth — God had blessed him in all things. The NIV says “in every way.” Not just in spiritual things, but in all things; not just in spiritual ways, but in every way.

So what does that have to do with you and me? Just this: God wants us to enjoy the same blessing. That’s why Jesus came.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)
Jesus did not go to the cross for us just to deliver us from the curse of the law; He went so that the blessing of Abraham would come upon all who believe the promise. God blessed Abraham in all things and in every way; Jesus came so that we, too, could be blessed in all things and in every way.

Just as God’s blessing on Abraham was not just in spiritual things and spiritual ways, but in all things and in every way, so His blessing on us is not just limited to the spiritual, but covers everything in life. The apostle John understood this well, and his prayer for Gaius demonstrated God’s will and desire for each one of us.
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 2)
For a great picture of what the blessing and prosperity God has for you and me looks like, read and meditate on Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and Psalm 112.

God’s desire is for you and me to be blessed and prosper in all things and in every way. That’s why Jesus came.

(Listen to the listing of blessings in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, from our Healing Scriptures and Prayers CD 2.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Table of Divine Glory

Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house,
And the place where Your glory dwells.
(Psalm 26:8)
David loved the house of the Lord, the place where God manifested His presence in a special way, the place where the light of His glory shone bright. It was the place David most wanted to be, the place where he could gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and inquire of Him (Psalm 24:4).

The Hebrew word for “glory” is kabod. Literally, it means weight; figuratively, it refers to the weight or value of that which is good. The glory of God is the expression of His goodness, the manifestation of His majesty. In Isaiah 6, the seraphim in the prophet's vision of the temple declared that “the whole earth is fully of His glory.” The glory of God has always been here. What is needed, though, is the revelation of that glory.

In the Old Testament, the tabernacle was the place where God made His special habitation on earth; the Ark of the Covenant was His abode, the throne of His glory. In the New Testament, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are now the house God inhabits, the place where His glory dwells.
Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s glory. Indeed, He is called “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3). He is the Word of whom John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Jesus is the full expression of God’s glory. The mystery of the Gospel is that Christ dwells in us with all the glory of God. He is
the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:26-27)
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are now the place where God dwells by His glory. There is for us a positive expectation, a joyful anticipation that His glory will be fully expressed in us. This is what John is talking about:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
The Table of the Lord is a divinely instituted sign of Jesus’ presence in His body, the Church. When we take the bread and the cup, we are receiving the signs of His glory into our bodies. Though He is already always with us, the Table of the Lord is a place where He makes His glory known in a special way.

The Table of the Lord is the Table of Divine Glory.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Jumping for Joy by Faith

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls —
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18)
Here is a man who is not moved by outward conditions. Maybe things did not appear to be going well for him. Maybe his crops had failed, his trees were barren, and his stalls were empty. And yet, he rejoices in the Lord and joys in God.

These two words, “rejoices” and “joys,” are not tame words. Habakkuk is not speaking merely of some quiet, inner peace in his soul. No, his words describe a wild exuberance, uncontained and uncontainable. The Hebrew word for “rejoice” is alaz and means to “jump for joy.” The Hebrew for “joy” is gheel, and means to whirl and twirl and spin; it is dancing for joy.

Habakkuk is describing exultant jubilation, extreme elation, unrestrained and outright joy — even in the face of difficult circumstances. But he is not moved by what he sees; he is not troubled by the farm reports; he does not worry that he presently has no cattle in his stalls. These are merely facts, and the facts are subject to change. But Habakkuk is connecting with the truth, and the facts must eventually line up with the truth.

What is the truth he is connecting with which allows him to remain full of joy in the midst of adversity? Simply this: He is in a covenant relationship with God, and God is his salvation. He rejoices in “the LORD;” this is the Hebrew YHWH (Yahweh), the name by which God reveals Himself in covenant with His people. He joys, not just in “the God of salvation,” but “the God of my salvation.” His relationship with God is not generic or hypothetical, but real and personal.

The Hebrew word for “salvation” is yesha, which speaks of safety, deliverance, victory and prosperity. Things may not have been looking too well at the moment, but Habakkuk was hooked up with the God of his prosperity, and that is something to cut loose and dance a jig about. God made covenant vows to His people, if they would trust in Him and obey His voice (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14), and the facts would soon have to line up with that truth. Habakkuk tuned into those promises and pressed into his relationship with God. That is why he could jump and dance for joy, and confidently declare:
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer's feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
(Habakkuk 3:19)
Your prosperity and future are not determined by your present circumstances, but by your relationship with God. That is why Jesus came. Trust in Him as your salvation, rescue, victory, and even your prosperity. When you put all your confidence in Him, no matter what setbacks and adversities you may face, you will still be able to jump and shout for joy, because He is the Lord of your covenant and the God of your salvation.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Proportion of Faith

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)
Every believer in Jesus Christ has been given a measure of faith, and a gift with which to function in the body of Christ. The Greek word for “gift” is charismata, and refers, not to natural talents and ability, but graces given by the Holy Spirit. No one has been left out in this distribution; all have received a gift and the faith by which to exercise it.

We are to operate in these gifts only in proportion to the faith we have received. We are not called to function apart from faith, for it is faith — believing the Word of God — that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). Nor are we to go beyond the faith that we have received; that would be nothing more than presumption. Rather, we are to exercise the fullest extent of our faith, whether we are prophesying, teaching, exhorting and encouraging, giving, leading, sowing mercy, or anything else the Lord has given us to do.

With God, it is always about faith. Jesus likened faith to a mustard seed.
So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
Notice that it is not the size of the seed but what you do with it that matters. Until you sow it, it makes no difference how big the seed is, but once you release it and put it to work, even the impossible can happen. Another important thing to understand is that when you sow a seed, it multiplies and brings back a harvest that is much greater than what was sown. For example, a seed of corn will bring a harvest of 6-8 ears of corn, each ear with a couple of hundred seeds. Faith is the same way; when you exercise your faith, you will grow and develop in your faith and end up with more than when you began. It is really quite enough to operate in proportion to the measure of faith God has given each one of us. As we do, it will increase, and there is always room for us to grow. That is what discipleship is about: learning to walk in faith.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, Paul tells us (Romans 10:17); the more we hear and receive the Word, the more developed we will be in our faith. Faith is also a fruit of the Spirit (Romans 5:22-25). God has given each one of us the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, reveals the life of Christ in us, and enables us to love and serve God and others. The more we learn to yield to Him, the more all the fruits of the Spirit will come forth in our lives, including faith.

If you know the Lord Jesus Christ, God has given you all the faith you need. The more you use it, the stronger you will become in it. The more you hear and obey His Word, and yield to the Holy Spirit, the more your faith will increase.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Post 9/11: We Will Not Fear

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear.
(Psalm 46:1-2)

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
(Psalm 46:10)
The message is clear: We will not fear.

According to the Measure of Faith

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)
The word “for” indicates that Paul is continuing the thought of the previous verse. In the previous verse, he spoke about being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Now he is talking about how to think, and how not to think. Here is how a few other versions translate it:
Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of faith. (J. B. Phillips)

Stop thinking too highly of yourselves beyond what it is necessary to be thinking, but be thinking [so as] to be thinking sensibly, to each as God apportioned a measure of faith. (Analytical-Literal Translation)

Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. (The Message)
Renewed thinking means that we do not have an exaggerated sense of our importance, as if we have merited special recognition before God. Rather, we are to maintain an accurate assessment of ourselves, and our relationship with God. This means that we are not to undervalue ourselves either, for God loved us so much that He gave us His Son.

The key is found in these words: “As God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”Our relationship with God is always about faith. Faith comes from God, by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17), and only that which comes from faith is pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6).

On the one hand, this means that nobody has room to boast about themselves, because nobody does anything pleasing to God apart from the faith that comes from God in the first place. On the other hand, there is no room for any Christian to feel left out, because God has apportioned a full measure of faith to each one of us. So it is not about us and what we do, but about God and what is doing in us and with us. Faith is the equalizer, the liberator that frees us to love and serve God and others, as Jesus did.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name. (Philippians 2:5-9)
The renewed mind is the mind of Christ. But there is also a new body. In verse 1, Paul urges us to offer ours bodies as a living sacrifice to God. In verse 4, Paul talks about our place in the body of Christ.
For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)
As believers in Jesus, we are all part of the body of Christ. We do not all have the same function, but each one of us does function in some way. Whatever function we do have comes from God, and we are to operate in it according to faith, which also comes from God. There is no overvaluing of ourselves in this, because the faith and the function are of God. Nor is there any undervaluing, because God has given faith and a function to each one of us. It all works together to the glory of Christ.

God has given us a new way to think about ourselves, not in striving after reputation, but in yielding in cooperation with God, to bless the body of Christ, and the world through Him — according to the full measure of faith He has given each one of us.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Table of Victory

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)
In Jesus Christ, we are more than conquerors, even over tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword (Romans 8:35). As John tells us, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). That mission was accomplished for us at the cross, though we must each appropriate it for ourselves.

How do we do that? By faith! “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).

The Table of the Lord is an opportunity to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, the faith that overcomes the world. In the bread and the cup, we receive the sign of the victory Jesus has won for us through His body and blood. Having received it by faith, we give thanks.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
The Greek word for “thanksgiving” is eucharistia. The Table of the Lord is often referred to as the Eucharist because it is a meal of giving thanks to the Lord for the gift of His Son.

The Table of the Lord is a revelation that the works of the devil have been destroyed, and that in all things we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ. It is the Table of Victory.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Exploring the Mind of God

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)
Paul is not telling us to transform ourselves, as if by following a set of rules and regulations we can become what we are supposed to be. No, he learned the hard way that this is not God’s plan for us (see Romans 7). Thankfully, he soon learned
  • that in Jesus Christ we can now live from a position of no condemnation (Romans 8:1)
  • that the law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus sets us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)
  • that God has many things specifically designed to bring us into line, inwardly and outwardly, with the truth of who Jesus Christ is (Romans 8:3-29).
No, Paul is not telling us to transform ourselves. Rather, he is telling us to be transformed. God wants to transform us, and if we let Him, He will do it for us. Our role is simply to respond to His work in us.

How does God go about this work of transformation? By the renewing of our minds. Again, this is not about us trying to renew our own minds. We don’t have the proper vantage point to be able to do that for ourselves, for we would have to already have a renewed mind in order to know how and what to renew our minds to. Rather, it is about letting God renew it for us, and He has always been more than willing to do so, as we see in this Old Testament promise:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
    And He shall direct your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)
God will renew your mind if you will let Him. Paul put it this way in his letter to the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

Now, listen to what God says in Isaiah:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:8-11)
God’s ways are not our ways, but He wants us to walk in His ways. Likewise, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, but He wants us to think His thoughts — that is why He sent His Word. His Word and His ways reveal His thoughts to us, so that we may know His will, His plans and His purposes. We could never discover these things on our own, nor could we ever understand them by ourselves.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:9-16)
God reveals His thoughts by His Word, and causes us to understand by His Spirit, so that we may receive the mind of Christ. Our part is to yield to the work of the Holy Spirit. He will renew our minds with the mind of Christ so that we may “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

To “prove” means to test, examine, discern and recognize as genuine. Weymouth’s New Testament has it as, “so that you may learn by experience what God’s will is.” It is really an invitation to investigate the mind of God, to explore and discover His will and desire, and to experience how good, well pleasing, full and complete it is.

If you will let Him, God desires to fill you with His thoughts and change your life, inside and out, so that you may know and experience how wonderful His plan is for you, and how much it pleases Him to bless you.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Not Conformed—Transformed!

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is god, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (J. B. Phillips)

And do not follow the customs of the present age, but be transformed by the entire renewal of your minds, so that you may learn by experience what God's will is — that will which is good and beautiful and perfect. (Weymouth New Testament)

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. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message)
The contrast Paul presents here is really quite stark: Being conformed to this present age, or being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

The Greek word for “world” in this verse is aion, and actually refers to a period of time, an age. The god of this age, satan, is always trying to squeeze us into his mold by blinding us to the glory of God.
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Jesus came to deliver us from this present age.
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
To be conformed to something is to be made like it, but outwardly; it does not necessarily reflect the inner being. But to be transformed means to be changed from the inside out, so that the outward appearance truly reflects the inward being.

The Greek word for “conform” comes from the word schema, which is where we get our word “scheme.” It has do with one’s manner of life and what may be perceived about a person by the physical senses. The word for “transform” is metamorphuo, which is where we get our word “metamorphosis.”

Think of a caterpillar when it goes into its cocoon, then later emerges as a beautiful butterfly. It looks much different coming out than it did going it, but now we see what it was really intended to be. The outward appearance has now been changed to reflect the inward reality. That is metamorphosis — transformation!

We find a wonderful example of the difference between conformation (schema) and transformation (metamorphuo) in the life of Jesus Christ.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus was in the form of God. The Greek word is morphe. He was fully divine, through and through. Then He took upon himself the form (morphe) of a man. That is, He became fully human, through and through. He became a unique being — the God Man, fully divine and fully human.

Notice that he was “found in appearance as a man.” The word for “found” refers to how He was perceived. The word for “appearance” is schemati. He was truly God and truly human at the same time, but to the physical senses, He was perceived as simply a man.

Now consider this unique event in His earthly life and ministry that shows us transformation.
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. (Matthew 17:1-2)
The word for “transfigured” is metamorphothe — transformation! The reality of His divinity, which before was not perceptible to the physical senses, now became quite evident. The outward manifestation now reflected the inward reality, and now it was apparent to the senses that He was both God and man. The disciples saw “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). He has now ascended to His throne in heaven to rule and reign forever as the God Man, and His divinity is just as perceptible as His humanity, even as the disciples experienced that day on the Mount of Transfiguration.

All those who are born again through faith in Jesus Christ are born from above. Though we are living in this age, we are not of it — we are of heaven. Paul teaches us to not let ourselves be shaped by the ways of this present age, whose god is satan, but to let ourselves be changed by the plans and purposes of God, so that our outward manner matches us with the reality of who we really. Then the shape of our lives will speak of where we are really from — heaven.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Divinely Reasonable and Infinitely Joyful Worship

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)
Paul was not commanding or demanding anything; he was beseeching. The Greek work means to call out to someone, to exhort, entreat and encourage. He was not speaking from a position of law or requirement, but on the basis of God’s compassion and mercy. That sums up what the “therefore” is there for:
  • The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (1:16).
  • Though all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (3:23), and the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ (6:23).
  • Those who receive the Lord Jesus are now dead to sin; that is, we no longer have to be enslaved by sin, but are alive to God (6:11).
  • We are also now dead to the law, the commandments ended up only condemning us (7:4). The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the law of sin and death (8:2).
Because of all this, Paul now encourages us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice.” We find this same word “present” in Romans 6:13.

Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Notice that we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. In the Old Testament, the sacrifices were slaughtered before they were presented. In Jesus Christ, we are now dead to sin and the law, but alive to God, for He is the God of living, not of the dead (Matthew 22:32).

This sacrifice, being dead to sin but alive to God, is a holy one. To be holy means to be set apart for God’s purposes. It is not about who we are and what we are doing; it is about who He is and what He is doing. We could never make ourselves holy; only He can do that for us, and that is what He has done in Jesus Christ—we are accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6).

Yes, we are acceptable — and accepted — in Jesus Christ. The word for “acceptable” in Romans 12:1, and again in 12:2, means to be well pleasing. When Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice of the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). God is well pleased in Him, and with us in Him.

Pleasing God is always a matter of faith — believing His Word — for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Becoming a living sacrifice that is well pleasing to God is a matter of faith, believing the truth of His Word and the goodness of His grace.

Presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice is what Paul calls our “reasonable service.” The Greek word for “service” is latreia and refers to worship, the service given to God. We present out bodies as living sacrifices as an act of worship. The word for “reasonable” comes from logikos, which is where we get our word “logical.” Paul is referring to reason, not the reasoning of the world, though, but the reasoning of God. The wisdom of God seems foolish to this present age, but the “foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). But those who have been made alive in Jesus Christ have received the Holy Spirit, who reveals the wisdom of God to us. In the natural, it is foolish for us to give ourselves away, but in the divine logic, it makes perfect sense for us to give ourselves to the One who has given Himself to us so freely. It is no burden, but joy itself.

When we understand the love and mercy God has shown to us in Jesus Christ, and the richness of the salvation He brings to us, it is divinely reasonable, and infinitely joyful, that we should offer ourselves to Him, dead to sin but alive to God, presenting everything about ourselves as instruments of His rightness.