Christianity 201

May 12, 2017

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

We’ve linked to The Christian Examiner at Thinking Out Loud before, but never here at C201. We noted this devotional article and thought we would share it here. Better yet, read this at source — click the title below — and then navigate to their news pages for a Christian perspective on current events. Bookmark the site for frequent reference.

Wait Is a Four-Letter Word

by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Wait is a four-letter word. Coincidence? I think not.

We’re all waiting on something from God: true love or a baby, a job or a cure. And the period between answers can feel like a place where dreams—and faith—go to die.

I have often thought to myself, The worst part of waiting is the uncertainty. I wish God would just give me a yes or no so I can move on with life.

Have you ever thought something like this:
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to find true love, maybe I could get busy building a fulfilling life as a single person.
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to have the career breakthrough I’ve longed for, maybe I could devote my time and energy to other things.

We tell ourselves the problem is the not knowing. Dealing with uncertainty. We tell ourselves we wouldn’t mind waiting so much if God just told us, “You’re going to get what you want in the end, but buckle up for a long ride—it’s going to take awhile.”

But who am I kidding? When I’m waiting, I want more than just a yes or no from God. It’s not enough to know if, I want to know when. I want a timeline. A fat red circle on the calendar.

I’m going to wait two years and nine months before I get pregnant, You say? Okay. I don’t love that timeline, but I can work with it. I’ll do the Pinterest thing and make a cute countdown calendar, and I’ll find a way to be happy the whole time I’m waiting.

But life doesn’t work that way, God doesn’t work that way. It is in the not knowing that God works on our heart, our faith, our character. It is in the not knowing that 2 Peter 1 and James 1 collide:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5–8

Christians are meant to grow—to become godlier, more loving, more self-controlled, better at persevering—so we don’t stagnate spiritually. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically, accidentally, or overnight. Spiritual growth is a lifetime process we never outgrow. It takes conscious effort—every effort, in fact. The perfectionist in me finds this both overwhelming and comforting—overwhelming because I want to be done growing (meaning perfect) yesterday; comforting because I realize I’m not supposed to be done growing yet. Character is built slowly: step-by-step, choice by choice, even mistake by mistake, one strength building on another over time. Smack in the middle of this character-building process we find the trait we desperately need when we are waiting: perseverance. Now let’s pair this passage with what James says about perseverance:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2–4

Did you catch that last phrase—”let perseverance finish its work”—as in it’s up to us to allow that work to happen so we can grow? As in trials produce perseverance, and perseverance can lead to spiritual maturity, but we have to let it happen, not fight the process? If we let Him, God can use our waiting journeys to shape us, to make us into the people He created us to be.

Knowing our weakness, knowing our need, God offers us many stories of godly people who have wrestled with waiting with varying success. People like Sarah, who received a definitive promise from God but then crumbled in the face of bleak fact: seventy-five-year-old women just don’t have babies. The good news for those of us (all of us) who wait imperfectly? Many of our fellow waiters in the Bible got second chances. (Remember Sarah’s miracle baby, Isaac?) And third and fourth and fifth chances, and on and on goes the grace of God.

Waiting seasons aren’t fun, but they are opportunities. Through our waiting seasons—yes, through the not knowing—we can build character one step at a time. Through our waiting seasons, perseverance can gradually “finish” its never-ending work in us. As waiting does its thing, and God does His, we get the chance to become our best selves, the people God designed us to be. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.

May 8, 2017

Preaching for Change

CEB Acts 2:36 “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier today I wrote these words at my other blog, or perhaps I should say these words wrote themselves:

I have been noticing a recurring theme lately in sermons I have listened to online and books I have been reading. Perhaps it’s personal conviction about this subject.

The idea is very simple: Many of us read the Bible and Christian books, and many of us listen to sermons in order to gain information when God is wanting to see our transformation. Perhaps you even are in a position where you give leadership or mentoring to others, or simply have occasion to speak into the lives of friends, and what you’re imparting is more informative than transformative.

I know I’m a guilty of this. Do you ever track your spiritual progress by the month, or by the year? Each day I have more knowledge and a better understanding of the ways of God and the history of his dealings with his people. But am I a different person than I was last month or last year? To ask the question bluntly, what good is all this information doing for me? What good is all that Bible knowledge and understanding of systematic theology doing for you?

Spiritual formation is not simply about building up the mind’s knowledge base. It’s about forming the character of the heart. It leads to different speech, different choices, a different mindset, and different actions.

The Word of God should bring change. As I write this now, later in the day, I realize that there are people for whom God’s truth needs to be rediscovered. They don’t even have the basic Bible knowledge that was once common among people in North America and Western Europe, regardless of their personal beliefs. It reminds me of Nehemiah (see chapter 8) bringing the scrolls to be read to a people who had not heard this word in a long, long time.

At the blog Clergy Stuff I read this:

In this information age, where any piece of information can be accessed at our fingertips at any time, it might be hard to believe that God’s people had lost touch with their God. But they had been exiled – ripped from their homes, families, and faith practices. After so many years of living apart from the community of faith, it is possible to see how easily the faith practices of a broken people could unravel.

But after they returned, a scroll was found. The scroll contained God’s word lost long ago. When Ezra read it to the people, it brought up many emotions for them. It was a word of hope and promise to a people that had nearly lost all hope of ever being a united people again. But the promise of restoration had been fulfilled, and on this day, the word of God spoke loudly throughout their gathering.

At the Our Daily Bread archives, I found this in reference to our key text today:

In 1738, an Englishman named John Wesley entered a church service where someone was preaching from the book of Romans. As he listened to the message of the gospel that night, Wesley wrote that he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he knew deep within that Jesus had died to save him from his sins. John Wesley would go on to found Methodism, an approach to living out Christian faith that continues today.

In today’s world, the message of the gospel can sound strange to some who don’t yet know God. The idea of receiving salvation can seem like a foreign concept.

We can be encouraged, however, for a person’s heart being transformed by the gospel takes place through the work of the Holy Spirit—a work we trace back to that first day of the early church.

So today we have both situations: People who have great quantities of Bible knowledge at their fingertips but have not allowed themselves to be changed by it; and people for whom the Bible narrative has gotten lost and they need to hear it as if it were the first time.

Because we’ve posted this song before, here’s a different version of it.

God, help us all in this information age when we have so many Biblical resources so easily accessible; help us that we don’t track our progress simply in terms of knowledge gained but in terms of hearts and lives changed. For those who lead, help them to lead with change in view. Amen.

 

February 18, 2014

Spiritual Growth

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Stages of Spiritual Growth

See below for information about today’s graphic.

This article is from a blog making a first time appearance here, Laced With Grace. There are several authors, this one is from Debbie and was titled Are You Growing Up?


Are you growing up?  Recently I gathered a few of my after school students and showed them photos from the previous year.  They laughed and pointed as they noticed how little they once looked.  They had grown in so many ways and it was obvious.

But how about spiritual growth?  It’s not measured the same way.  You can’t look at a photo to see the changes.

A Christian’s salvation is a work of God alone.  We are saved by grace alone.  There’s nothing we can do to earn it.  It is a gift of God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works so that no one can boast.

Christian growth is a call to labor.  In Philippians 2:12 Paul is addressing the church at Philippi.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

As I grow in my relationship with the Lord, spiritual maturity develops.  It is a life time pursuit and one I can participate in.  I study the Scriptures, pray, attend church and fellowship with other believers.  Often I gain insight from more mature believers by their example and experience.

As I grow in sanctification, my heart’s desires change.  People who knew me before begin to notice.  I attended a reunion for my nursing school a number of years ago.  I used to be a bit wild in my younger years.  Although I hadn’t yet mentioned anything about my faith, one of my old friends asked me when I became a Christian.  I told her and asked her how she knew.  She told me I was different and since she was also a Christian …she knew.

Your Christian maturity will reach a level that is in direct proportion to your willingness to labour in this great vocation.

R. C. Sproul, in What Does It Mean to Be Born Again

I love that I can be diligent and participate with the Holy Spirit as I grow in my faith.

Philippians 2:13 says:

It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

He gives me all I need to grow and mature.  The question is are you and I willing to participate?

  • Do you see growth in your spiritual life?
  • Do others notice a difference in your life since becoming a Christian?
  • Are you actively pursuing activities that stimulate and nurture your Christian maturity?

As I prepared to post today’s devotional/study, it occurred to me that part of the growth process God may be calling you (and me) to may be to step up in terms of your role in your local church. If there are any areas where you feel your church is lacking, maybe you are the answer its prayers. Reconsider this brief list of the fivefold ministry gifts and see if you might be one of the people so described.


Today’s graphic: Go deeper with this article on the Stages of Spiritual Growth from the blog The Total Man.

December 28, 2012

Continue to Come as a Child

Oswald ChambersIn our generation the most enduring devotional resource has been My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Many years ago a bookseller named James Reiman undertook to rewrite the entire book in more modern language, so that the type of sentence construction employed all those years ago wouldn’t be a barrier to people getting to the depth and riches of the material.

A year ago we ran a few Oswald Chambers Quotations, and  you can read a short biography of him here,  and also at Wikipedia.  It’s worth noting that Chambers never “wrote” My Utmost, rather, after his death his wife, who was a stenographer, transcribed notes from his talks.

The sample devotionals below are from the website utmost.org  and are the  readings for yesterday and today. Click the calendar page on the site for the permanent links to each.

Where the Battle is Won and Lost

’If you will return, O Israel,’ says the Lord . . . —Jeremiah 4:1

Our battles are first won or lost in the secret places of our will in God’s presence, never in full view of the world. The Spirit of God seizes me and I am compelled to get alone with God and fight the battle before Him. Until I do this, I will lose every time. The battle may take one minute or one year, but that will depend on me, not God. However long it takes, I must wrestle with it alone before God, and I must resolve to go through the hell of renunciation or rejection before Him. Nothing has any power over someone who has fought the battle before God and won there.

I should never say, “I will wait until I get into difficult circumstances and then I’ll put God to the test.” Trying to do that will not work. I must first get the issue settled between God and myself in the secret places of my soul, where no one else can interfere. Then I can go ahead, knowing with certainty that the battle is won. Lose it there, and calamity, disaster, and defeat before the world are as sure as the laws of God. The reason the battle is lost is that I fight it first in the external world. Get alone with God, do battle before Him, and settle the matter once and for all.

In dealing with other people, our stance should always be to drive them toward making a decision of their will. That is how surrendering to God begins. Not often, but every once in a while, God brings us to a major turning point— a great crossroads in our life. From that point we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy, and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our utmost for His highest— our best for His glory.


Continuous Conversion

. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven —Matthew 18:3

These words of our Lord refer to our initial conversion, but we should continue to turn to God as children, being continuously converted every day of our lives. If we trust in our own abilities, instead of God’s, we produce consequences for which God will hold us responsible. When God through His sovereignty brings us into new situations, we should immediately make sure that our natural life submits to the spiritual, obeying the orders of the Spirit of God. Just because we have responded properly in the past is no guarantee that we will do so again. The response of the natural to the spiritual should be continuous conversion, but this is where we so often refuse to be obedient. No matter what our situation is, the Spirit of God remains unchanged and His salvation unaltered. But we must “put on the new man . . .” (Ephesians 4:24). God holds us accountable every time we refuse to convert ourselves, and He sees our refusal as willful disobedience. Our natural life must not rule— God must rule in us.

To refuse to be continuously converted puts a stumbling block in the growth of our spiritual life. There are areas of self-will in our lives where our pride pours contempt on the throne of God and says, “I won’t submit.” We deify our independence and self-will and call them by the wrong name. What God sees as stubborn weakness, we call strength. There are whole areas of our lives that have not yet been brought into submission, and this can only be done by this continuous conversion. Slowly but surely we can claim the whole territory for the Spirit of God.

February 9, 2012

God I Need Patience, and I Need It in a Hurry

Late last year the blog Reign of Faith began a series of articles under the series title Breakthrough.  We’re going to use one here today and another tomorrow.  This one appeared mid-January under the title Breakthrough: Patience.

The element of patience, spoken of in a prior post, is vital to, and on, your journey towards breakthrough. You may feel as though your journey is taking a long time. Maybe you are questioning if you will ever see the promise fulfilled. These feelings and thoughts are from the enemy. He hopes to cause a spiritual abortion within you through your feelings, thoughts, words and actions. Remember, the enemy cannot harm, curse or disable you, but he can get you to harm, curse, or disable yourself.

Maybe you have been waiting months, or even years, for manifestation. I understand how frustration can begin to surface; however, you must rebuke your flesh and subject it to the power of your spirit.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. (Hebrews 6:13-15 NKJV)

Your breakthrough is going to come after your patience has been tested {probably multiple times}. Things are going to seem like they are “going your way” and then take a so-called “turn for the worst”. People around you may begin to place pressure on you, treat you unfairly. Many things can and will happen and they are designed to test and perfect your patience.

Even Jesus, the Son of God, endured a test of His patience, steadfastness, endurance, and conviction.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. (Matthew 4:1, 2 NKJV)

Take note. When did the enemy show up? He began His attacks right after Jesus spent 40 days fasting. The enemy is not going to attack you when you are already headed down the path of destruction or when you are already off course. His attacks will come when you are seeking after God, pressing towards the mark, praying, fasting and getting new revelation. Also notice that verse 2 emphasizes the fact that He was hungry. Satan knows the points of weakness in your flesh {not to be confused with your spirit}. On your journey, before your breakthrough, when you are about to receive, he will send something your way that he knows would have typically bothered you. If worry concerning your finances is something you have done in the past, then he may throw something your way which requires you to pay money you did not feel comfortable giving up. If you are not subjecting your flesh to your spirit, then this may get you in a frenzy.

Learn to recognize areas where you previously struggled. When the enemy attacks those areas, you will be able to recognize those attacks and cast them down. Remain patient throughout every test and trial. Your patience will help propel you forward just like your faith and obedience.

Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:11 NKJV)

Jesus withstood all attacks from the enemy. He was not drawn away by the lust of the flesh (1 John 2:6) nor did He grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9). He continued resisting the devil, whom had no choice but to flee (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8,9).

You will reach the point that God has promised you. Remain faithful, obedient, and patient!

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere.  An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives.  The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

January 12, 2012

Strength of Character

Anyone who can’t find Biblical encouragement and devotional material online isn’t looking very well!  Today we dropped by the devotional site of Campus Crusade For Christ International…

Be Strong in Character

“Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete” (James 1:2-4).

A friend of mine had been very successful in business, but after he became a Christian everything seemed to go wrong. Problem after problem seemed to plague him. Yet he never seemed to be discouraged or defeated.

As we counseled together, he assured me that there was no unconfessed sin in his life. So I rejoiced with him that God was preparing him for a very important responsibility in His kingdom. That is exactly what happened. He is now the director of a very fruitful ministry for our Lord. The problems and testing served to help equip him to be a better ambassador for Christ.

If you are experiencing difficulties in your life – physical illness, loss of loved ones, financial adversity – remember the above admonition from God’s Word. Be happy, knowing that God will work in your life to accomplish His holy purpose.

You can decide how you will respond to problems and temptations – you can either become critical and cynical, or as an act of the will, by faith, you can choose to believe that our sovereign, loving God is allowing this to happen in your life for your own good and for His glory.

Even the hairs of your head are numbered. “His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9, KJV). He is tender, loving and compassionate, concerned about your every need.


Bible Reading:

James 1:5-12

New International Version (NIV)

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

 9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

 12Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

 


 

Today’s Action Point: When difficulties and temptations enter into my life I will – as an act of the will, by faith in God’s faithfulness to His promises – rejoice and be glad, knowing that He is always with me and will never forsake me. As I trust Him and obey Him, he will supernaturally turn tragedy to triumph, and He will change heartache and sorrow to joy and rejoicing. I will trust Him in the darkest night of circumstances.

 

…and found not one, but two devotional readings to share with you…

Nothing You Cannot Do

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”(Philippians 4:13, NLT).

What would you give for the power to live a truly holy, fruitful life? Strangely enough, it is yours for the asking. If your problem is timidity in witnessing, God promises to help you share your faith with others: “For the Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them” (2 Timothy 1:7).

If it is victory over temptation, He reminds us that temptation is not a sin; it is only in the yielding that it becomes sin.

If you need victory in your thought-life, He promises to allow no tempting or testing above that you are able to bear – and that certainly includes your thought-life (1 Corinthians 10:13). You are invited to “cast all your anxiety upon the Lord, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

If it is forgiveness you seek, He offers it freely. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, KJV).

In short, you have no burden, no problem, no need that is too big for our Lord to handle. “Ye receive not, because ye ask not,” He reminds us.

If your need is for physical healing, know that He is able to heal you if it is His will. If His answer to your prayer is no, thank Him for the sure knowledge that His grace is sufficient in the midst of pain and suffering. Acknowledge His sovereign right to be God in your life, whatever the cost may be. “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him to help you do it and He will” (Psalm 37:5).


Bible Reading:

Philippians 4:6-12

New International Version (NIV)

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 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. 9 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.

Thanks for Their Gifts

 10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.


Today’s Action Point: I will begin this day – and every day – by committing everything I do to the Lord and expecting Him to help me. I will remember that I can do everything God asks me to do with the help of Christ, who gives me the strength and power (Philippians 4:13).

October 15, 2011

Satisfying The Craving

Today’s item is jointly posted at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201

Several years ago, I introduced the modern worship song “Breathe” by the group Passion with something like this:

“Some of you have had to have a medical procedure where you’re told that 24 hours beforehand you’re to stop eating solid food. You may be a light eater generally, but once you’re told that can’t eat something, you find yourself really craving it.

“Then, they might tell you that for the last three hours prior to the procedure, you’re not to drink anything, either. You’ve probably gone longer without quenching your thirst, but once you reach that no drink stage, you suddenly find yourself aching for something in the beverage category.

“But the real kicker is when, five minutes before the procedure, they ask you stop breathing…”

I reminded our church that while the first two situations — being denied food and drink — are achievable in the short term, we all need to breathe. (Actually, Need to Breathe would be a great name for a band.) We simply can’t live without oxygen, and so also we should be hungry and thirsty for God.

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence
Living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word
Spoken to me

And I, I’m desperate for You
And I, I’m lost without You

I relate this because this week we were at a Christian camp, and if you’ve ever been on the grounds of a Christian retreat or conference facility, you know there’s an unwritten rule that if you’re a guy, unless you’re swimming, skiing, windsurfing or water skiing, you’re supposed to keep your shirt on.

But Ontario experienced record high temperatures on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, with temperatures hovering close to 30 ° Celsius all three days, which for our metricly challenged American friends is around 78 ° Fahrenheit. Beautiful sunshine. No black flies, mosquitoes or bees. No humidity. Reduced risk of sunburn in October.

I was craving maximum sunlight. So I climbed up a hill to what the kids call “the mountain” and doffed my t-shirt and stretched out on a rock in nothing but shorts and let the sunshine vitamin soak in; in the process becoming a human solar panel, absorbing the rays at just the right angle.

And I started thinking about the warmth of God’s Spirit that we’re supposed to experience as part of what the Bible considers normal Christian living.

the warmth = the comfort of God’s spirit
the sunshine = the spiritual ‘nutritional benefit’ of God’s presence

In a previous century, a songwriter wrote about “Heavenly sunshine, flooding my soul with glory divine.” We express things differently today, but the principle is the same; food, drink, oxygen, the light of the sun; all these analogies in nature exist to remind us of our need for God. A craving that is intended to be natural.

Just like a deer that craves
streams of water,
my whole being craves you, God.

Common English Bible Psalm 42:1

But none of this would have struck me, and my Vitamin D fix would not have been fulfilling had I not first climbed the mountain… but we wouldn’t want to add another metaphor, would we?

In our culture, we really don’t know what it is to be physically hungry or thirsty. There’s always a snack bar just around the corner. Do we know what it means to truly be spiritually hungry? Have you ever experienced true spiritual hunger or thirst?


Watch ‘Breathe’ previously posted here with some additional thoughts

March 8, 2011

Christ Formed In You: Spiritual Transformation

I want to introduce something a little different today.  Sometimes a blogger will work their way, chapter by chapter, through a current Christian book.  Others will dedicate a whole blog to promote a particular book they’re enjoying.  We’re going to crash in the middle of a blog which is the latter type, set up to promote the book Christ Formed in You by Brian Hedges (Shepherd Press).   If it whets your appetite for more, click back to the beginning or, better yet, buy the book.

This one is titled The Pattern of  Spiritual Transformation.

How does God get us up on our feet and moving in the right direction? What are some of the basic elements we need to understand in order to walk more like Jesus? Two related passages of Scripture give us the answer.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

In these verses, Paul provides us with five essential elements which make up spiritual transformation: the goal, the motive, the cost, the process, and the power. Each element is important. We must have the right goal, if we’re to know what we’re striving for. We also need to be rightly motivated in our pursuit, while at the same time fully understanding and embracing the cost. An understanding of the process is also essential, if we’re to fully cooperate with it. And, of course, we must be resourced with power, or we’ll get nowhere.

1. The Goal: The Image of Christ

As we saw in chapter one and have repeatedly emphasized throughout this book, the goal of spiritual transformation is conformity to the character of Christ. We see this in 2 Corinthians 3:18: we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” This is God’s eternal purpose. As Romans 8:29 says, God has “predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son.” He wants to make us more and more like Jesus in his spotless holiness, humble service, radiant joy, and self-giving love.

2. The Motive: The Mercies of God

Next, consider the motive, which Paul declares with the phrase, “the mercies of God.” This again takes us back to the thrust of this book. All genuine spiritual transformation is driven by the gospel.

Sometimes Paul’s letters are somewhat evenly divided between an exposition of the gospel and encouragement to his readers to live differently because of the gospel. But in the book of Romans, the first eleven chapters (out of sixteen) are almost entirely one great and glorious exposition of the gospel. Then we come to the first phrase of the first verse of chapter 12, which includes a “therefore” encompassing all that came previously. After eleven complete chapters explaining and extolling the glories of the gospel, how does Paul summarize it all in a single phrase? “Therefore, by the mercies of God . . .”

Paul is saying that the gospel is ultimately about God’s mercies [i] lavished on us in Christ, even when we were enemies to God (Rom. 5:10). God has justified us freely in Christ (Rom. 3:24), liberated us from sin’s slavery (Rom. 6:6-7), and indwelt us by his Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 13-17). God did not even spare his own Son, but gave him up for us (Rom. 8:32). This level of mercy and grace, this stunning demonstration of unwavering commitment to those whom he loves, assures us that God will give us everything we need. What amazing mercy! Only the ravishing taste of such mercy and grace can change us.

3. The Cost: Present Your Bodies as Living Sacrifices…

4. The Process: Renewing the Mind…

5. The Power: The Spirit of the Lord…


[i] God’s mercies include: righteousness (3:21-26), redemption (3:24), grace (3:24), peace (5:1), grace (5:2), justification (5:1), hope (5:4-5), the love of God poured out in our hearts (5:5), union with Christ (6:1-11); freedom from sin (6:1-23; eternal life (6:22), freedom from the law (7:1-25); no condemnation (8:1), the Spirit (8:9), sonship (8:14-16); the hope of the future redemption of our bodies (8:23); the Spirit interceding (8:26-27); all things working together for our good (8:28), conformity to Jesus Christ (8:29), calling (8:30), glorification (8:30), and so on.

March 6, 2011

Promise Box Theology

I’ve decided on some benchmarks that I think moving into deeper Christian living should contain:

  • getting away from prayer lists and focusing in on intensive prayer for God to something specific for an individual in a unique situation;
  • getting away from “promise box theology” and reading entire chapters or even 3-4 chapters at a time;
  • getting away from devotionals that begin with quick stories, and instead considering a topic or an idea and thinking about how that would play out in the life story of someone you know;
  • being consciously aware of ways for improvement in terms of manifesting the fruit of the Spirit;
  • being aware of things that are sin even though you didn’t consider them sin a few months earlier;
  • becoming genuinely excited about evangelism both in terms of personal involvement and hearing stories where “it’s working;”
  • finding yourself more deeply part of the picture as you read a New Testament narrative;
  • understanding your own brokenness and the brokenness of others, and how it draws us closer to God;
  • increasingly becoming an agent of grace and being drawn to others who are
  • feeling more and more “at home” with both personal Bible study and spending time in God’s house.

I’ve left many other possibilities out, I’m sure.  Feel free to add to this list in the comments.

March 4, 2011

Discernment: Two Gifts in Scripture

It was the title of this post that caught my eye.  Dr. Greg Burts, at the blog Dying to Live, called this post Are There Too Many Milk Drinkers? But then he goes on with something that suggested to me that perhaps many Christians lack discernment because they’re thinking in terms of the supernatural gift that’s mentioned in a list of other supernatural gifts that perhaps they see as outside their spiritual reach.

Throughout 2,000 years of church history, there have always been those who distorted the Scriptures. Paul provides a “who’s-who” list of false teachers to avoid in 2 Timothy. With increased television and Internet exposure for anyone who wants to promote his ‘take’ on Christian teaching, has there ever been a greater need for Christians to exercise discernment?

We need people with discernment who can detect false teaching (Heb. 5:14), and spot impostors who try to mislead them and others (2 Tim. 3:13-14). You may be saying, “but I don’t have the gift of discernment.” But Paul is not talking about the “gift of discerning spirits” found in 1 Corinthians 14. He is talking about discernment as a quality each of us is expected to grow in (Phil. 1:9).

And you can sense Paul’s frustration as he writes: “You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong [discern] and then do what is right” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT).

Dr. Greg Burts.

February 13, 2011

First Faith Lessons

I want to go in a totally different direction today.  I literally stumbled onto this blog and you gotta love the title: Becoming Me: Living a Life of Surrender — The Triumphs and Struggles of a Young Christian.  Sometimes the fresh take of a young believer can give us a perspective we might otherwise miss.  She calls herself Kicking and Singing (!) and titled this post Lesson 114.

I’m really happy to be back and I’m honored that you take time to read my blog. I don’t even know where to begin… I’ve learned so many lessons…here’s what’s on my heart at the moment:

A good friend told me that studying won’t speed up the process, because it’s all in God’s time. I knew that, but it didn’t stop me from trying! I have dreams, big dreams. My dream is to become the woman God created me to be. I want every gift and power released and manifested in my life and I want the generations that follow to be blessed beyond measure.

That’s fine. The issue is when a pure passion becomes perverted. Perversion occurs every time I try to do it myself. Don’t judge, most of the time, I don’t even realize when I’m stepping into Daddy’s (God’s) boots.

Like a child, I only know that I admire Him and I want to be just like Him when I grow up…that’s why I keep asking him, “When am I going to grow up?” I know I’m making progress and that’s great, but when I read the Bible and see glimpses of who He created me to be, I get excited and say, “I want to be her!..now.” Well, that time hasn’t come, so I tried to transform myself, then God justly disciplined me publicly….I got the message that time.

So prayerfully, I’m going to slow down and stop trying to read 6 books at a time. I’m going to love and accept myself for who I am and where I am right now, flaws and all. Why not? Jesus does.

I’m learning that this journey is not about perfection, it’s about the finished product.  So don’t be so hard on yourself, if we could perfect ourselves, we wouldn’t need Jesus.  And don’t try to fix yourself, it won’t work.

Let your mind be renewed, cast out pride, seek humility…

Humility=Awareness, Acceptance and Appreciation of one’s own true worth and value, ability to transfer glory, ability to control knowledge and power even though you know its yours to exercise. (From: Mrs.Green)

He’s the Master Potter: Be Clay
Thank God: He’s Not Finished With Me Yet

Check out Kicking-and-Singing at Becoming Me