Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Effort vs Heart

And do not be conformed to this world, 
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, 
so that you may prove what the will of God is, 
that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

What's on your mind today? Most likely what you are thinking about will shape your day.  If you are mulling over a tough conversation that needs to be had, your brow may already be furrowed and that tightness in your chest won't go away until it's accomplished.  If your running through a to-do list, you might feel your blood pressure rising, knowing there may not be time to get it all done.  If you're frustrated about the behavior of a child, that frustration may be accelerated as the day goes on, if that behavior continues to manifest itself today.

We all want transformation, don't we?  We watch the videos at church of how the Lord is meeting people and changing lives, and we write our own "God-at-Work" video in our heads and it's boring and super short.  So we set out at the hard work of transformation, committing a great amount of effort to change.  Our hearts may truly be in the right place - a desire to have a different life, different outcomes, different goals and values.  But in the end, old habits die hard and we find ourselves, efforts exhausted, back where we began.

As much as we try, real life happens and it's hard to control our minds all the time.  We worry about tough conversations, to-do lists and wayward children.  It's our reality and though we've put a lot of effort into transforming ourselves, we seem to be short on energy and creativity.  

Okay, so how about if we try doing things God's way? All the effort you've put into changing yourself, though it has been valiant, is more about your strength and not your mind.   If you notice in the verse above, there are six words that we tend to overlook.  Here's how we read it:  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed, so that you can prove what the will of God is, good, acceptable and perfect. Acting on this would be a fail without those six words - "by the renewing of your mind."  

It really is about your mind.  At church we sing, "I have set my heart, set my - set my heart on you." A better, more straightforward but less beautiful way of saying that would be, "I have set my mind, set my - set my mind on you."  Getting to the heart is getting to the mind, and if we want true transformation, we must focus on the act less and think more.  Trust me, the actions will follow the thoughts.

There was a man who worked for my father.  He was a retired State Police officer and he was a rough and tumble, no nonsense, you-can't-trust-anyone-because-they're-all-scumbags kind of guy.  And his language matched his attitude. Because of his employment for my father, he found himself hanging out at our church on Sunday mornings and after a few months, met with the pastor with a list of questions and surrendered his life to Christ.  And then, everything changed.  For the first time he was reading the Word and learning things about a loving God that he never knew before.

At his funeral, several, well, actually many of the state troopers who knew him way longer than I knew him, said to me that working for our family had changed LT (that's what we called him).  The first obvious sign that he was changing was his language. The cuss words were less and what he talked about had changed.  This had nothing to do with my family and everything to do with Jesus.  LT had set his mind on the Lord and it transformed him from the inside out.  If he had rolled up his sleeves and said, "I'm going to stop swearing like a sailor," it never would have worked.  But he was filling his mind with the things of the Lord and the language changed.

We must renew our mind in the Word.  We must listen to good music, listen to good preaching, immerse ourselves with the lovely truths in God's Word on a daily basis and I promise, that transformation that you long for will happen faster than you can imagine.  Yes, it will take effort, but when your mind is leading you and you're not just forcing yourself to act a certain way, the transformation part becomes a miraculous adventure where God takes over your heart and changes you from the inside out.

There will still be tough conversations ahead, mile-long to do lists and rebellious children in our future.  But when we frame our lives with the knowledge of who God is, what He has done and is doing in our lives, the beauty of His majesty, the future that awaits us in glory - when we set our hearts on Him, the reality of every day life will be handled in a different manner.  No longer will we marinade in the brokenness of today, but instead we will be renewing our mind in the truth that this is not all about us, but rather it's about Him and He's already handled everything to His glory.

Friday, February 17, 2017

For HBCSL Women's Study Gals

So...in my sheer excitement to explain the double Sabbath at the time of Christ's death, I totally skipped teaching how Jesus fulfilled the four spring festivals on the actual day of the festival.  I know I said it ten times, I just didn't expound.  So, please forgive my oversight and to finish what I started, here goes:

1. The Passover - On the actual day of Passover, Jesus became our Passover Lamb. This one is most easily understandable.  At sundown, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, then went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and to be arrested.  The trials ran through the night and by 9 am, Jesus was on the cross - the innocent shedding His blood to cover the guilty.

2.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread - this is the festival that deals with sin and ceremoniously cleans the house of leaven in order to present themselves sinless before the Lord - this begins the day after Passover and as we studied, it was a "holy convocation," as well.  This would have been Jesus' first day in the grave.  From Ephesians 4:8,9 we understand that upon His death Jesus went into Sheol and led those in Paradise into the presence of His Father.  He was finally dealing with sin, applying His sacrifice to the accounts of those who were waiting for the Messiah to come (Old Testament saints) and basically cleaned house.

3.  The Feast of First Fruits - this feast began on the first day after the Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It was the feast to offer the first fruits of the first harvest.  This would have been the first day of the week - Sunday - when Jesus rose from the dead.  I Cor. 15:10 tells us that "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."  His resurrection is the first harvest of a greater harvest to come.  Fifty days later a much larger harvest would come in on Pentecost.

4.  The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost - this is 50 days after the resurrection and on Pentecost, the Lord added 3,000 to the church.  It was the second harvest celebration, three thousands souls brought back to life through the gospel.

Okay, I feel better.  Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 13, 2017


Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, 
implore you to walk in a manner worthy 
of the calling with which you have been called...

Ephesians 4:1

Worthy - deserving effort, attention, or respect; 
good enough; suitable; having the qualities or abilities 
that merit recognition in a certain way

How badly do you want to be worthy?  How much of your life have you spent trying to become worthy?  What in the world does it mean to be worthy anyway?

From our definition above we see that being worth simply means being deserving.  When we get an A on a paper in school, our work proves that we were deserving or worthy of that grade.  In the same manner, if we fail a test, we can be worthy of a poor grade, as well.  With day to day life experiences, most of us long to be found worthy - we want people to see that we deserve praise, kindness or even just plain old respect.  So we work hard, maybe even extra hard, to get that attention and credit that we long for.

When it comes to salvation, the gospel is kind of a blow to our ego, wouldn't you say?  The gospel tells us that our efforts are in vain - that no matter how hard or how long we work at proving to God that we deserve His acceptance and love, we are unworthy. This is not a judgment call; it's reality.  God is holy; we are unworthy and undeserving. We cannot earn His attention or respect, our efforts are not good enough and they merit no recognition.  Frustrating, right?  But at the heart of good works for salvation is the exact reason we are not worthy - because our efforts in salvation are completely selfish.  We're working hard to look good.  We're working hard to prove that we have value. It's all about us.

The good news is that Jesus is totally worthy.  Everything about Him oozes worth.  He is humble, responsible, respectful, truthful, honest, patient, sacrificial and loving.  He honored His Father with a sinless life and willingly went to the cross to cover the debt of people who are completely unworthy. Because He is worthy, because He is deserving, He has been rewarded by the Father with children - image bearers whose eternity laid in the balance of His decision to die.  And now, He works to draw His children to Himself, loving them patiently, molding them masterfully, calling them to good works because His worthiness covers their sin.

I have even more good news:  in the context of a restored relationship with God, you absolutely have the ability to be worthy.  In fact, you're commanded to be.  In Ephesian 4 it says, "...walk in a manner worthy of your calling..."  The time to put the effort in is now.  You have a high, high calling:

  • You are an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • You are a child of the King (I John 3:1)
  • You are to walk in good works that God has prepared for you (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You are to walk in the light (Ephesians 5:8)
  • We are to love... (John 15:17)
  • ...even our enemies (Luke 6:27)
  • We are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)
  • We are to become like Christ everyday in all we do (Romans 8:29)
And the list goes on and on...our calling is high and the Lord wants us to choose to walk in a manner worthy, deserving of this calling.  Without Christ, we cannot do it.  With Christ, we are fully equipped to be found worthy of this calling.  This is a totally different kind of worthiness that we are seeking than before.  It's no longer my efforts to prove that I am something that I am not.  It's my love producing something in me that Christ has made me to be.  There's a big difference.  

And we have a whole lifetime of sanctification to do it! (Oh, great...another big word...look it up.)  

Big idea today, friends:  Because Jesus is worthy of all praise and honor, I can choose to walk in a manner worthy of the calling that He has personally given to me.  What great freedom there is in Christ!  Freedom from the bonds of selfishness and pride that weighed me down.  May this truth give you something to marinate in today.

Monday, February 6, 2017

5 Benefits to Forgiveness - Part Deux

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered!
Psalm 32:1 

We are blessed, aren't we?  The fact that our sin is not on our account anymore is nothing short of miraculous.  We know that since we have been forgiven such a great debt, the Lord wants us to be great forgivers. This act of imitation brings Him great glory.  But it's hard to do, isn't it?

We've talked about how choosing not to forgive breaks relationships, hinders our capacity to serve the Lord, changes our identity from forgiven to victim, and affects our testimony and fellowship with the Lord.   Last blog we discussed how when we forgive, our capacity, identity, testimony and fellowship fall back in line.  Today I want to talk about the restoration of relationships.

You've heard it before - there are no enduring relationships without forgiveness.  Yes, restoration to relationships does come with forgiveness.  A marriage can't survive without it.  Friendships can last for decades because of love and forgiveness.  

But forgiveness doesn't automatically restore relationships.  Here are a few exceptions.  First of all, when there is no repentance, the relationship will be limited.  We are still called to forgive so that a root of bitterness does not spring up in our hearts, but the brokenness of the relationship begins healing when there is acknowledgement and repentance.  When you are the one hurt, you are not in control of that process.  It still is not cause to hang on to the hurt, marinade in the offense and build up a wall that would be impossible to climb for restoration.  But there are consequences to sin and when someone has a hard heart towards you, you are not responsible for the loss of relationship that comes from that brokenness.  

A second exception is in regards to the specifics of the sin.  In some circumstances, while again, forgiveness is paramount for you to continue walking close to the Lord, the consequence of the sin means permanent separation.  For example, a young mother who was sexually abused by her father must choose to forgive for her own well-being, but because of the nature of the sin, she will never have a close relationship with her father again. He will not be a part of her life and she will not take her children to his house for him to babysit or even sit on his lap and play with grandpa.  This is not because she is unforgiving but the nature of the sin is so heinous, that these consequences must not be overlooked.  

A final exception that comes to mind is unhealthy relationships.  Though perhaps there is sin on both sides, when there is a need for repentance and forgiveness, sometimes the relationship cannot go back to what it was.  When a dating couple becomes intimate with each other and then through the Spirit, responds to the guilt of crossing lines that the Lord put in place for their protection, there can be repentance and forgiveness, but they can't just go back to what it was before.  Boundaries have to be set and changes made to keep them from temptation.  Though the relationship can continue, it can't be the same.  Same with a marriage that falls into adultery.  There can be restoration but the marriage will be different on this side of forgiveness.  It's not because there is unforgiveness, but the necessity to change in the marriage to make it stronger means they can't just go back to what they were before the affair.  And a truly repentant heart understands this and wants it, as well.  

As simple as it sounds, when we say "I forgive you" to someone, it's a hard process.  We are making the agreement not to hold the offense against the offender or talk with others about it.  But more importantly than these two things, we are agreeing not to talk to ourselves about it.  If we are forgiving on the outside and not on the inside, we are still germinating the seeds of bitterness in our heart if the heat is still on the inside.  We must take our thoughts captive and choose not to dwell on the hurt.

In taking our thoughts captive, we have to replace our hurt with different thoughts.  Even better, when we find ourselves thinking about the sin against us, we should ask the Lord to forgive our lack of forgiveness, and then put our mind on something else.  A few practical suggestions:
  • Scripture - memorizing scripture is perfect for these circumstances
  • Worship music - turn it on and sing it loud
  • Prayer - pray for someone completely unrelated to this circumstance - pray for their work, for their family, for their health, for their church, for their relationship with the Lord
  • Study - get a notebook and pen, open your bible and read through a book, noting observations about God through out your reading - God is sovereign, He has a sense of humor, He really doesn't like the Pharisees, etc.
  • Phone a friend - if worse comes to worse, call a friend, don't give them the specifics because that would be gossip, but ask them to pray for you and to tell you to "Knock it off" and get on with your day!
In closing, let me add two more words of wisdom.  First, don't spend your whole life being offended and a victim of other people's sin.  Most of the hurt in our lives can be covered by love.  We don't have to correct every offense against us, constantly telling people how they made you feel and waiting for repentance.  Because we have been loved so much, we can cover a lot of offenses in love. Love is patient and kind, and it doesn't keep track of wrongs.  It's super gracious, not jealous and can bear a lot of things.  Its ability to endure is off the charts and it always hopes for the best in people.  

And finally, remember that forgiveness, though difficult, is a protection for your heart.  We are to put off bitterness and anger and the only way to do that is through forgiveness.  It will keep you tenderhearted and kind, and it will make you more like your Savior.