Monday, September 27, 2010

Conformed to Transformed, Part II

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is
sinking sand. (Edward Mote and William B. Bradbury, The Solid Rock, Public Domain).

When I began reading God's Word to understand Him, I was asking Him to define Himself to me.  Instead of coming to His Word with my own expectations and definitions, I came to His Word with nothing.  Nothing but a heart that wanted to understand, that wanted to be changed, that wanted to know Him.

Up to that point, my life had been built on an unstable foundation.  It was unstable because it was built on a belief system that was not totally based on God's truth.  I had come to my own conclusions about God, about how He should do things in my life.  Because of this, much of my life was built on misconception, thus on sinking sand.  My life needed to be built, as the song says, on "nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness".

I recognized how much I needed God, but solitary recognition of my own poverty of spirit was not enough.  My spirit wanted to be controlled by God's Spirit, my flesh did not.

The flesh, striving for control, coddles our feelings and strokes our pride.   The flesh flaunts assets, virtues and ideas, telling us that we are self-sufficient, that we are good, that we need to live for ourselves.  But God alone is good, there is nothing good within us.  Once we are in Christ, our life is not our own.  The voice of our flesh should not be our guide, but when we live for our own definitions and expectations, our flesh is our guide.  Recognition of faulty definitions and expectations is a necessary starting point, but we must go a step further: our definitions need to be replaced with God's definitions.

Romans 12:2 says: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." (NIV)   We are conformed to whatever we believe.  What we believe shapes us, defines us.

Our flesh is conformed to the pattern of the world, it is built on the foundation of sin and self-gratification.  Our fleshly instinct is service to the flesh, but because we are in Christ, we no longer have to fear or serve the flesh.  The Spirit will enable us to live in His power and deny the flesh.  Yet we must understand that the flesh will not die graciously, it does not want to surrender power.  The flesh will constantly try to raise the scepter of its power and get back its control. In order for the Spirit to rule our flesh, we must conform (align ourselves) to God's truth instead of our own fleshly definitions and instincts.  Every definition of our life must be built on "nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."

More than anything, I want to be controlled by God's Spirit.  As I believe God over my own feelings, emotions and expectations, my mind is slowly but surely being renewed: flesh-minded is becoming Christ-minded.

Part III will soon follow...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Conformed to Transformed, Part I

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.  ~Hebrews 13:20-21 (NIV)

To many, the Bible is seen as a bunch of rules and regulations and the Christian life about following those rules and regulations.  When in reality, the Bible is a description of who God is and what He desires to do for anyone who would believe Him.  The Christian life is not about rules and regulations but about relationship with a loving and just God.  God pursues man that He might give something to him which will fulfill and transform -- Himself.

I have known God since the age of 5, at which time I accepted the gift of redemption offered by Him through His Son.  I have no memory of life without God.  I memorized His Word, but did not always understand His Word.  I desired to serve the Lord, but did not always know what that meant.  I read God's Word but, when it came to meaning, I usually accepted the explanations of others.

I did have a relationship with God.  I talked to Him.  In so many ways, I trusted Him.  He was everything to me, yet I did not realize that He was everything to me on my own terms.  My life was about what I could give to Him, about doing for Him -- and then, due to illness, it came to the point that there was nothing I could do for Him.  I had nothing to offer, no strength, no ability, nothing...and I was broken.  Lonely. Scared. Confused.  Disillusioned.  I was filled with doubt, filled with questions.  Who was this God who allowed extended times of physical, emotional and material loss without any sign of relief?

Like Jacob, I struggled with God. (Genesis 32:22-31)  Though I was scared, confused and disillusioned, I kept crying out to God, kept holding on to Him.  I began reading His Word to understand Him.  Little by little, focus was shifted from my circumstances to the One who wanted me to know Him.  The eyes of my heart were opened to the unseen, to the eternal.  For the first time in my life I realized that I never had anything to offer God, there was nothing I could give to Him, nothing that He needed from me.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3 NIV)

As I adhered to God, as I sought Him as the only Source for life and godliness, my heart was truly ready for both fulfillment and transformation.

Part II will soon follow...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Master Treasure Hunter

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ... Philippians 3:7-8 (NASB)

I love watching Antiques Roadshow. To me, it is exciting to see what people find at garage sales and flea markets. I laugh with them as they find out that their $2.00 find is actually worth $2,000. They found treasure! In one way or another, all of us are treasure hunters. It is a thrill to pay next to nothing for an item that is really worth something. But sometimes the thrill of treasure hunting taints our outlook. When we find that we can get something for almost nothing, we begin to think that greater effort or investment should bring a higher margin of reward. Pretty soon, we begin to apply this outlook to every part of our lives, even our service to Christ. We tithe - we expect God to increase what we have. We sacrifice our time - we feel that God should reward us for our sacrifice. We expect our service to reap dividends of blessing and for the most part, the blessings being sought are material and physical.

In Job 8:5, in the midst of Job's intense suffering, Bildad said these words to him: "...if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, if you are pure and live with complete integrity, he will rise up and restore your happy home."(NLT) Bildad felt that if Job was really serving God and doing what He desired then Job would not know his current suffering. In his own way, Bildad was a treasure hunter. He expected godly living to reap material benefit. How much do our expectations line up with a Bildad-view of blessing? In some ways, do we want the material and physical reward so that others will see it and say that our life is blessed? Or, do we just think that we deserve material and physical reward? Is material reward the only thing that makes service to Christ worth it?

If our focus is on external benefit -- in suffering: release, in sacrifice: reward, in ministry: praise -- then our service is to ourselves. Such a description does not define a bond-servant or true friend of Christ.

Philippians 3:7-8 shows us that Paul did not agree with Bildad's outlook. Paul had known the deepest of suffering and yet he did not see this suffering as a lack of blessing. On the contrary, he saw the suffering itself as blessing. Why? Because he entrusted his entire life to God. He knew that anything that God allowed in his life was to bring about the greatest of treasure: deeper relationship with Christ which would enable him to be made into the image of Christ. Yes, Paul was a treasure hunter, but his treasure was not financial gain, physical blessing or release from suffering, Paul's treasure was Jesus Christ -- his greatest pursuit was to know Christ more.

External reward will deteriorate, but true friendship with Christ is an eternal treasure which will never depreciate. Paul, like any good treasure hunter, knew that consistent appreciation is the most coveted characteristic in treasure. Actually, Paul was not just a good treasure hunter, he was a Master treasure hunter. He sought the lasting treasure of his Master, Jesus Christ.

~Lord, you know I love a good bargain. I want to be a good steward of all that you have given me, but I do not want to look for external treasures at the expense of eternal treasures. May lasting treasure be the focus of my life. I want to be a Master treasure hunter. In Jesus' Name, Amen~

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Words Fitly Spoken

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
~Proverbs 25:11 (KJV)

In the third testament, Malcolm Muggeridge says of Saint Augustine: "Augustine was so aware of the universality of God's love and presence that he could easily communicate with all sorts and conditions of men."

This statement gives hope, for I desire to easily communicate with all sorts and conditions of men. I realize that my faith in God's love, His working out His will in me and my yielding to it, is the vehicle by which this becomes a reality. Faith in God's love - a love that has no evil in it, a love that will go to any length to make me like His Son - is the prompt of His leading in both word and deed.

Such faith in God's love produces an abundance that fulfills and stimulates a thirst for more of everything that God desires to bestow. This thirst (seeking) for more of God's abundance is what Mark 9:50 refers to when it says, "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other." Salt in yourselves is a constant desire for righteousness, a consistent thirst for more of Christ.

This thirst for more of Christ will have an impact on every moment, word and deed of your life, for yielded lives are Christ-empowered lives. Your saltiness, or thirst for Christ, will impact others. To some, it will be a source of thirst, leading them to thirst for Christ (or thirst more for Christ). For others, such saltiness will repel, yet seeds of salt will be planted.

Words fitly spoken -- words suited for every occasion (for all sorts and conditions of men) -- result from yielded, salty, lives. Christ knows the words which need to be spoken. As we trust Him and surrender mind and heart to His full command, we become salt-dispensers and His salty words of life are spoken through us.