TRANSFORMATION

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  II Corinthians 3:18  (NIV)

 

 

Have you ever wished you could change a certain attitude or drop an unattractive trait?  The Good News is that it’s possible.  Paul tells us how it can happen in a couple of his letters.  First, by exposing our true selves and concentrating on Jesus (II Cor. 3:18), his attributes, his character, and his love, we become more and more like him.  Then, we trust his working in us will be for good.  Remember, he has already begun a good work in us and will continue it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6), and he is working in us just now giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases him (Phil. 2:13 NLT).

Finally, if we really want to grow and to change, we must listen to the Holy Spirit who speaks to each one of us.  It is his job to convict us regarding sin and righteousness (John 16:8).  Essentially, prior to our pursuing an attitude displeasing to God or speaking unkind words or acting in a manner unbecoming his child, the Holy Spirit quietly warns us.  In this millisecond we have a choice:  Do we follow our selfish instincts or do we respond to God?

God always does his part in changing us from glory to glory, but we have to do ours.  God has given us free will to follow him or to indulge our flesh.  The instant his Spirit softly alerts us, we can respond in obedience and find ourselves more like our Lord or we can reject him and become more entrenched in the behaviors and attitudes that even we despise.

So we return to that life regimen we call discipline. To cooperate with God’s work in transforming us, we listen when his Spirit speaks, and we discipline ourselves to do his will.  In that instant of decision, he empowers us, and as we continue this right behavior, it becomes a habit.  At last, with practice, we are no longer enslaved by that sinful attitude or behavior.  It’s really quite simple.

God’s part:  conviction and empowerment; our part: disciplined obedience.  Result:  transformation.

 

 

Father, how long have we tried to change ourselves when we know that only you can make us like Jesus?  Give us ears to hear your Spirit and determination to do your will.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

SPENDING TIME

…making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Ephesians 5:1  (ESV)

 

Summer is just around the corner, and I so look forward to it.  Even though I’ve been out of school for a while now, I still mentally organize my days by the school calendar:  For me, the year begins in September, and the end of May brings the summer vacation.  All of us tend to consciously or unconsciously arrange our days according to a system of our own devising.

What do you do with your time?  Some of us work, but all of us have time that is free to allocate according to our priorities.  Time is a valuable commodity.  In fact, we have a number of sayings relating to time:  Time is money.  Don’t waste time.  I need to make up for lost time. Time flies. Time heals all wounds.  And so on…

Have you ever thought of giving God your time?  The Psalmist said, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15).  Whatever we do in the next twenty-four hours, time will pass.  If we use that time for good, it will be invested.  If we use it for ill, it will be lost.  If we use it foolishly, it will be wasted.

So here we are at the beginning of the summer season when 60% of Americans take time off work for vacation.  How will you spend your “free” time this summer?  In September, will you be able to look back with joy at the investment you’ve made in a life, in your family, in your community, in the Kingdom?  No matter what you do, the time will have passed.

Make plans now for how you will invest your time this summer.  To paraphrase another old saying, “Only this time, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

 

 

Father, here we are at the outset of another period of great potential.  Help us to wisely number our days and seek your direction for how best to use them to your glory and our highest good.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

START YOUR ENGINES

“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”  James 4:17

 

Someone I know suffers from severe depression and has for years.  She is a faithful believer and spends time in the morning reading and studying the Bible.  In fact, she wouldn’t think of skipping a day without devotions.  When I mentioned that it might be helpful to look each day to see what God was actually telling her to do—something actionable—in the Word, it was as if lightning had struck.  This was a whole new concept.

How much time do we spend reading and studying the Bible with absolutely no intention or thought of doing what God says in order to be transformed?  We are enjoying the status quo rather than being changed day by day into his image.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine (principles of belief), for reproof (reprimand), for correction (making right), for instruction in righteousness (right standing with God):  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.  (II Timothy 3:16-17)

The Word of God gives direction (Psa. 119:105); obeying the Word brings blessing (Luke 11:28); doing the Word protects us in the storm (Luke 7:24); the Word provides understanding (Psa. 119:130); the Word is truth (John 17:17); the Word heals (Psa. 107:20); whoever keeps his Word loves him (John 14:21); keeping his Word brings success (Josh. 1:8).  AND living in the Word is the surest way to grow spiritually and to maintain a joyous relationship with him.

Why should we sell ourselves short when delight in him is so easily accessed?  Pick up the Bible; ask him to speak through his Word; talk to him; and live in him.  He’s made the way so plain that even the most stupid can’t miss it (Isa. 35:8 TLB).

 

Father, in you is everything we will ever need for life and righteousness.  Strengthen our faith to trust you in all things, and help us to discipline ourselves so that we may be transformed into your likeness.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

KEEP RUNNING

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  I Corinthians 9:24  (NKJV)

 

Our city is justly proud of our wonderful, world-class basketball team.  During annual playoffs businesses display massive banners with the team logo, cars fly team flags, and people wear T shirts bearing the likeness of the players.  One of my colleagues has a player’s form on a bobble head in her office, and another jokingly created a candle to be burned during games.

And so it was that after they’d won their first series of playoffs this past week and began the second round, I was totally confident they’d again be champions.  I watched the first half of the second series game and went to bed confident in their 25-point lead.  In the morning I was totally shocked to see that they’d lost the game by one 2-point basket.  Just 2 measly points.

Paul often used sports metaphors in his preaching.  He talked about fighting a good fight; finishing the race (II Timothy 4:7); not running in vain (Phil. 2:16, Gal. 2:2); running well (Gal. 5:7); and competing to receive a crown (I Cor. 9:25).  He saw the importance of not only beginning a contest and continuing it, but the necessity of finishing the race well.

All of us are engaged in a fierce competition to win a prize that is eternal and in which we must not fail.  We may falter, we may be benched for a while, we may even be injured, but we must persevere.  And all the while, Christ Jesus is running in and with us encouraging us to keep going.  It’s not enough to be ahead midway through the battle; we must persevere to the very end where he will greet us with a well done, good and faithful servant.

Hebrews 12:1, 2 says it best:  …let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

 

Heavenly Father, you’ve called us to live a life we cannot live and to run a race we cannot run.  But in you, we can do everything you ask of us, and we always triumph through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  We press on, looking to that blessed hope in you.  AMEN.

SINGING IN THE DARK

 

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Acts 16:25

 

Upon a recent reading of this text, I was struck not by Paul and Silas’s singing in prison, which in itself was remarkable,  but by the little comment that “the other prisoners were listening to them.”  Of course, they were listening.  Never having occupied a prison cell for my Christian witness, I have no firsthand experience of what words and phrases would daily bounce off the walls of those cold, dark, forgotten places.  But I do have a vivid imagination.

I can imagine that angry, bitter expressions and vile curses would be commonplace as the wicked, the innocent, and the politically disfavored wasted away hoping for rescue.  And then these strange men are tossed in among them.  Men who were thrown in prison for healing a demon-possessed woman.  Of all those locked away, Paul and Silas had reason to complain.

And yet, “about midnight,” the time when all one’s aches and pains and worries and emotional angst are exacerbated, that time when the Prince of Darkness wreaks havoc in our bodies and minds, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.  Do you wonder that the prisoners were listening to them?  Paul and Silas had been beaten and severely flogged.  They were probably bleeding and were surely suffering.  Instead of cursing and complaining, they were singing because there was a joyous melody in their hearts.

There was something beyond the realm of ordinary religion.  Rather than comfort, the gods of the day made selfish, extraordinary requirements of their supplicants and were known to wreak havoc on their lives.  Paul and Silas were praying and singing to the Almighty, Omnipotent God.  What a mighty God they served, one who caused them to sing in suffering, one who brought joy to the darkest circumstance, and one who caused them to experience his presence in the hopelessness of their situation.  Of course, the prisoners were listening.

Today people around us are watching, and they’re listening.  Will we pray, will we sing in difficulty?  Will we “count it all joy” when we experience trials that threaten to overcome us.  Will we sense that there is a Fourth Man in the fire with us?  And will we sing?

 

Father, only you are able to give us those songs in the night.  It’s not a matter of putting on a happy face, but it’s rather a matter of absolute abandonment to your faithfulness.  Strengthen us to keep singing of you, and cause our lives to be lived to your glory at all times.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

PAIN

 

Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?  Jeremiah 8:22

 

Nighttime pain seems to go on and on, and the hours seem excruciatingly longer.  But finally, morning comes.

Just before daybreak several weeks ago, I called my son who lives fairly close by, and I told him I needed to go to the hospital.  The pain was becoming as much as I could bear, and I needed help.

Does everyone wait until the pain becomes intolerable before asking for help?  Or to make an appointment with the counselor?  Or to check in with a physical therapist?  Why we wait so long is not the point.  When the pain becomes more than we can bear, we usually ask for help.

So why is it that when we begin to have emotional or psychological angst, we find a way to cover it with distractions or denial, anything that makes the pain subside?  Except that it doesn’t go away.  It’s merely repressed.  Emotional or physical pain DOES NOT GO AWAY.  Time does not heal all wounds.

Just as an elevated temperature indicates infection in the body or unusual discomfort alerts us to abnormal body function, so the pain experienced with certain memories or chance encounters or random happenings should be a red flag about inner sickness.  Those aches that surprise us when we think we’ve moved beyond a hurtful relationship or emotional wounds should be recognized as God’s tender reminder of our need for his true, deep, and total healing.

God knows when we are spiritually mature enough to allow the deep wounds to emerge so that we can be forever healed.  Let us be at peace with psychological pain, even when it surprises us.  It’s God’s way of saying he wants to excise the thing that causes us to obsess on our inadequacies or someone else’s duplicity or any number of injuries that haunt us.  It’s his way of saying It’s time to be healed.

And we are healed by focusing on him, not the pain or ourselves, giving him all the wounds, all the wound-ers, and thanking him for his stripes that bring healing.  Then when we are tempted to revisit those wounds, we gently, again and again, turn our eyes away from the injury and back to Jesus who is our healer and the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Father, we are so engrossed with ourselves, even the worst part of ourselves, that we really need your saving power every single moment of every single day.  May we seek you and your Kingdom above all else that you may be glorified.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

SURPRISES

And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them…  Ruth 2:16

 

 

I love surprises—the good kind.  And, actually, the difficult ones make us dependent on the Lord and add spice to our days.  Today I had a good surprise.  The mailman left a package on my front step, something I hadn’t ordered.  I brought it inside and discovered that my daughter had sent me a little gift.  It was a surprise for no reason at all other than our mutual love.

Have you ever had those surprises, handfuls on purpose, dropped in your path by the Lord just because he loves you?  A card comes from a friend you’ve longed to see.  You experience unusual courtesy in your routine of daily errands.  Someone thanks you for a past kindness during a difficult time.  You find something you thought you’d lost.  In your devotional reading a word or phrase says exactly what you need…

We can overlook and be blind to these small things or we can open our eyes each morning in anticipation of the “handfuls of purpose” that God drops on our paths.  It’s quite lovely to discover little tokens of good that remind us of his love and special care—as if we were his only children.

And think of the joy we can bring to someone else by scattering little handfuls of purpose along his or her way.  Little unexpected gestures of kindness and love.  Signs of our love and God’s.

 

Father, open our eyes to see you before, behind, and around us blessing and loving us.  Help us to be generous in sharing our tokens of love that others may see and know the love of our Father who is in heaven.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.