The New You

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This morning I was reading in Romans 6 – the NIV titled this chapter as “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ.” It struck me: for a man who had grabbed hold of the holy life of Christ Jesus, Paul sure talked a lot about sin. And that is a good thing. In fact, it’s something we hardly hear about in the church anymore. But we’re sure doing a lot of sinning, aren’t we?  It seems that the less we say about it, the more we participate in it. Almost like our silence is approval. Hmm.

But not our friend Paul. His mantra in this portion of his letter to the church in Rome was: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:2). He pressed this point over and over. He said that our old body of sin was crucified with Christ, that we are no longer slaves to sin, that we have been freed from sin. He insisted that we must consider ourselves dead to sin, that sin must not reign in our bodies, that we must not obey sin nor offer the parts of our body to sin. I love this: “sin shall not be your master” (v.14). And this: “You have been set free from sin” (v. 18 and 22). Paul said that we used to live for and serve sin, but – oh hear this loud and clear – that’s not who we are anymore. Let me say it again: If you are in Christ you are not who you were – you are dead to sin but alive in Him.

I know – you have a past that is riddled with sin. So do I.  But like those before and after weight loss ads – that is who you and I used to be, but this is who we are now. Redeemed. Righteous. Pure. Holy. Beloved, I want to encourage you to leave your sinful desires in the grave with the old dead you. You have been made new in Christ. Believe it. Receive it. And walk in it. Holiness looks so good on you.  

The Call

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I like to look back at my Facebook memories each day. I love seeing Joy grow over almost two years. I cherish memories of friends who are now in heaven. I especially love to recall God’s hand in my life. It helps me remember His faithfulness. And I cringe at times I thought I was so intelligent and spiritual.

This morning FB reminded me that seven years ago today was my last day after 17 years of serving at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church. I was devoting myself full-time to seminary, Bible study, writing, and teaching. That was a huge leap of faith. But it wasn’t a decision I made willy-nilly; God called me to it and I had to obey.

A few months before I had encountered a verse that became God’s call on my life and still guides me today: “The gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws to Israel” (Ezra 7:9b-10). God said to me, “Devote yourself to study my Word, live my Word, and teach my Word.”  And that is what I set out to do and am still dedicated to doing.

But the call goes back even farther than seven years. Ten years before that I was sensing a call to ministry. I was ready – or so I thought. God had some sifting and refining to do in me first. And some major humbling. So much so that I thought He had rescinded His call and I burned all my notebooks filled with years of writings because I believed it was all over. But He was just beginning – and so was I. Today, seven years from the day I surrendered to that call, I am still studying, writing, teaching, and preparing – now in graduate school.

Why am I sharing this memory and my story? Because someone has felt God’s call in the past. You were excited about it and ready to go. But you’re still waiting and it seems like a long-lost dream. You may have had to go through some hard refining and you wonder if God has changed His mind. He hasn’t. He’s just been preparing you. Paul said, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). I’m living proof of that. Beloved get yourself ready to do what God called you to do. He’s not through with you yet.

Factory Settings

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My laptop did an automatic update last night. I know it’s necessary, but it is also annoying. Every time my laptop does an update and restarts, it returns to the factory settings and changes the changes I made to help me as I work.  Like all laptops, mine has a touchpad on it which I don’t use because I have better control with a handheld mouse. This thing drives me crazy. I have rather large hands and the touchpad sits right where I rest my hands. When my hands brush it as I’m typing, it moves the pointer so that I am typing in the wrong place on my document. Argh! I have to stop what I’m doing, go to the settings, and deactivate the touchpad. Then try to go back and reclaim my train of thought. So this morning I was typing a verse of Scripture and looking at my Bible, not at my screen. When I lifted my head, I realized my verse what not where it was supposed to be. Then I remembered the restart and had to go back to turn the touchpad off again. I do wish there was a way to permanently deactivate it so it wouldn’t come back on with every restart.

It made me think of our human “factory setting,” of our sinful nature that came with us when we were born. My granddaughter is almost two, and we are dealing with temper tantrums and disobedience and “NO!” At this age, it’s not entirely intentional; she is reacting out of the sinful nature that bedevils every human being. How I wish for her sake and mine there were a way to turn that sin nature off completely.

Unfortunately, it isn’t an automatic adjustment when we are saved.  Rather, it is our daily task to put aside our sinful nature and take up the righteous life of Christ Jesus. It is taking control of our thoughts (1 Cor. 10:5), renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2), “putting to death the misdeed of the body” (Rom 8:13), and “living in accordance with the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). And it’s a lifelong fine-tuning. But the end result will be a beautiful thing because we will become more and more like Jesus, which, by the way, is our original factory setting.

Tested and Tried

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I am a “word nerd” – I love words. I especially love to discover the root of Biblical words because that brings a deeper understanding of what the original text was saying, which is crucial to studying the Bible for life transformation. Hebrews 11:17-19 describes the account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord. The passage says that “God tested [Abraham],” and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” So I grabbed my exhaustive concordance (my favorite tool for deeper Bible study) and discovered something so vital to the Christian’s walk I knew I had to share it with you.

The word “tested” (peirazo in the Greek) has two meanings: to temp and to examine. Listen to the follow-up: “The difference between a test and a temptation is found in the tester’s motivation and expectations: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and so sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no focus on making the believer fail.” The devil will put you in tempting situations with the intention of bringing you down. God puts you through tests with the express purpose of perfecting you. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

Beloved, I don’t know what temptation or test you are facing in this season, but I now that there is only one right way through: with God. He will not let you fail.

Okay, I’m Saved. Now What?

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Yesterday I wrote about God’s grace, about how salvation is a work that God alone accomplishes on our behalf. It is truly an amazing thing. But what comes next? Now that we are a “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17) do we just wait around for heaven? No. Now a new work begins. It’s called sanctification and it’s not just behavior modification though your behavior will change. It involves a transformation on the inside that works its way to the outside.
Like salvation, sanctification is God’s work. But it is not His work alone. It is also our work. It is a combined, life-long partnership between us and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained it well saying, “It is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:13) as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12). After His opus of salvation, God works in us through His Word and His Holy Spirit. We read the Word which “teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains us in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The Spirit roots those truths in our hearts. He convicts us of sin, encourages us to persevere, and empowers us to obey and to walk in righteousness. That’s a lot! What’s left for us to do? Our part is studying His Word, praying, coming together with the Body (the church), and especially, responding in obedience to His commands and His promptings.
“Working out” what God is “working in” us is a daily discipline. And it’s hard work. There are no shortcuts to sanctification. It will require everything of you. Part of sanctification is pruning – removing from us those things that hinder our progress – habits, addictions, wrong thoughts, immorality, prejudices, pride, rebellion, selfishness, anger, laziness, lack of self-control. Oh, He has so much work to do in me. But then He begins the building work – filling us with “the fruit of the Spirit:” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). That’s where we see the transformation on the inside working its way to the outside.
What’s the goal? That you and I might be “conformed to the likeness of the Son of God” (Rom. 8:29). That the world might see Jesus when they look at you. Beloved, will you join God in the good work of sanctification?

This is My Testimony

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I was always a church kid. From the cradle roll in the church nursery to a “sunbeam” with perfect attendance bars cascading from my pin.  I “asked Jesus into my heart” and was baptized when I was 9. I tried hard to live by the rules, but always had a nagging sense that something was “off.” So I tried harder. For every time I fought with my brothers or disobeyed my mother, I sentenced myself to extra chores as penance.  I swore I would do better – that I would be better. I repeatedly “rededicated my life to Christ,” And I failed more and more. As an adult I heard preachers talk about thinking they were saved, even serving in ministry, only to discover that they were really not. Surely that was me. So I would pray the “sinner’s prayer” again and wade through those baptism waters trying to get it right.  I was convinced that I had to do and say all the right things to be saved and finally stop the cycle of sin in my life.

Then in my late 30’s through the Scriptures, I came to understand grace. Paul said, “It [meaning God’s compassion to sinners] does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16). A light dawned in my heart and I realized that it wasn’t anything I did or anything I was that saved me. It was the work of Christ because of the love of God that saved me. The only thing I contributed to my salvation was realizing that I was a sinner in need of a Savior.  I surrendered to His amazing mercy and grace and was set free from the demands of my own guilt and shame. I am no longer driven by the need to be good enough for God. Now I am driven to live by the Word and the Spirit. I desire righteousness, not doing everything right.

Mine isn’t one of those “powerful testimonies” of Jesus saving me out of a life of debauchery – though I was just as lost as the ones who were. But I’ve discovered that it is a testimony a lot of people who live a frustrated Christian life can connect with. Beloved, God didn’t save you because of you, He saved you because of Jesus. And Jesus is enough.

Holy Light

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“The lamp (light showing the way of truth) of the LORD searches (examines, tracks down) the spirit (breath, life) of a man; it searches out his inmost being (heart, chamber, bedroom, the most intimate part of the heart),” Proverbs 20:27.

When I am searching for something important – keys, wallet, phone – I turn on every available light and look throughout the room. I move things that might be covering up what I’m seeking. I may call for help in my search.  I  go back where I’ve already looked, just in case I missed it the first time. I check every corner, hunt through drawers, closets, and shelves, and keep searching until I find it.

God has a holy light, a brilliant, powerful light that illumines every corner and crevice of our lives. When we read His Word, He shines that spotlight on you and me, searching our hearts and minds, our thoughts and intentions, our desires and passions, and our actions. At the same time, His Spirit moves everything we use to cover over our hearts. He looks far deeper than we even know exists, to the most intimate levels of our being, to the place where we find the truth about ourselves. His purpose is to locate and root out everything in us that does not meet the perfect standard of His children. It is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:11).

I need this holy light of truth to examine my life, to track down everything in me that is not conforming to the image of Christ. I need God to search out every offensive way in me (Psalm 139:24). In the deepest part of my heart, there are passions and desires – and as I’ve learned this week fears – that need to be crucified to Christ Jesus (Col. 3:5; Gal. 5:24) if I am to truly love Him and be a vessel for His glory. I want to be fully open to the Spirit’s examination. I want Him to freely roam throughout my heart, mind, and body and expose me to the core. That is frightening, but it will release me from the bonds of my flesh and the world. Beloved, will you let the Word and the Spirit do a sanctifying work in you?