Mind Renewal

bible-85815_1280You may heard it quoted that we only retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we see, 30% of what we hear.  I don’t think I come anywhere close to that. I can’t remember what pastor said a month ago. So was it a waste of time? No, hearing his teaching is part of my mind renewal. What am I filling my mind with? 1Corinthians 10:5 commands me to “take every thought captive.” What does that really mean? What does that look like in everyday life? I compare it to sorting a deck of cards. Heart-Out. Diamond-Out. Spade-Keep. Diamond-Out. In my thoughts it’s: Bitterness-Out. Lust-Out. Kindness-Keep. Hope-Keep. Fear-Out.

If I want to take thoughts captive, I need to examine the books I read, the TV programs I watch, and the music I listen to. Each of those is planting thoughts in the soil of my mind. What I sow I will reap. (Galatians 6:7-8) The more I consistently sow the right thoughts, the faster I will experience change in my thinking. I remember cramming for history tests. I could cram all sorts of facts into short term memory for the purposes of the test, but it had little long term impact.  One summer I took a Western Civilization class. I can only remember one question from that entire semester: What was the name of Alexander the Great’s horse? The answer: I have no idea! It is what I focus on consistently every day over a long period that will make a lasting change.

Mind renewal happens through diligence. I tried to learn Spanish but I didn’t have the diligence needed.  I tried to learn cha-cha but I lacked diligence. Lasting change only happens when I am fully committed to do whatever it takes.

In college, a group of guys and I decided it would be fun to go up the down escalator. I could make some progress for a while but as soon as I stopped I quickly lost everything I had gained. Mind renewal takes continuous effort. Just like salmon swimming upstream, if I let up on my efforts I will tend to slide right back into old patterns of thinking and reacting. Laziness doesn’t hack it. Renewal is a continuous effort. Whatever family environment I grew up in becomes my “normal”. Even if intellectually I now see that it was dysfunctional, I will gravitate back to that familiar way of living unless I make a concerted effort to reprogram my thinking.

There is a constant battle going on for who will control my mind. Satan is not a gentleman. He will use every trick and deceit he can to win the fight. There is more to this battle than just sin. There is depression, fear, insecurity and false beliefs.

Romans 12:2 warns don’t be conformed to the world. That deals with thoughts. The more I fill my mind with Scripture, the more I listen to Godly music and conversation the more likely I am to react in a Godly way when the pressure is applied. My actions when I encounter hard times show what I truly believe.  My attitudes and behavior are just a reflection of what goes into my mind! My goal is to no longer being conformed to the world but to be conformed to the Word. Transformation as a Christian is not about how I dress or how I comb my hair. Transformation must be about what is on the inside. Without the inner transformation I cannot be a light to a dark world because I am spiritually still just like the world. If I am conformed I have nothing different to offer.

Psalms 1:1-3 (NKJV) – “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” This describes the one who has decided to control his thoughts, to meditate on the Word of God and break from the patterns of the world.

If I am going to put on a new way of thinking, I must first put off the old (Ephesians 4:22-24). I must let go of old ways of acting – “Everything . . . connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it!” (Ephesians 4:22 MSG)  What is the old way? Hurt, lust, fear, pride, doubt, bitterness, or any barrier that would keep the fruit of the Sprit from shining forth in my life. It includes the victim mentality that wants to blame others for the crummy life I find myself in. I can’t change the old man, I must get rid of him. I spent years developing the worldly life style. Now, with God’s help, I must work to put that off so that putting on the new man is possible.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1Corinthians 2:16 (NIV)) What does it mean to have the mind of Christ?  I am choosing to exchange my thoughts for God’s thoughts. It does not happen without surrender to God’s will and His truth, without the constant decision to let go of those old thought patterns and instead make the choice to think differently.

The Israelites left the bondage of Egypt but they still had a slave mindset, a grasshopper mentality that prevented them from entering the Promised Land. I can get buried in my own hurts, and the result is broken relationships, rejection, betrayal, and addiction. Sure it is easier to just let my thoughts rule, to let them take me captive, but freedom comes when I take my thoughts captive. When I allow negative thoughts to rule, I have given in to the principalities and powers of the kingdom of darkness.

When I was reborn as a Christian, my spirit experienced a transformation. Some day at the last trumpet my body will experience a transformation.  Today in this day to day life it is my mind that is undergoing transformation. It is a process that will last a lifetime. Mind renewal empowers me to live as He intended my life to be, to experience His power in my life and to be the light He has called me to be. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 (NIV)). I am free not because I have to follow a bunch of rules but because I experience His love and I can respond to that love by loving others.

Education was a god in my family growing up.  Both my parents were educators.  My sister has a doctorate in microbiology and a career in teaching as did my brother.  I was under a lot of pressure to complete a doctorate (although I never did). Our problem is not that we do not have enough education, our mind is fallen. It is hostile to the lordship of God.  Pride wants to elevate my thinking above God’s truth.

When driving my VW bug as a teenager, I turned too soon and hit the curb pretty hard.  After that the car pulled to the right to the point that it was tiring to drive until I got an alignment. If I “just let go” of the wheel in my life, where will my mind and my heart take me? What forces are tugging on me trying to take my attention off Christ, and His love for me, His plan for my life, His forgiveness, mercy, and grace? Relationship troubles, health concerns, finances, a sin I refuse to acknowledge as sin, something from my past that won’t let me rest?

Ultimately I am the one who must decide if I am willing to do the hard work of mind renewal. Sorry to break the news but it is hard work. I have built ruts in my thinking that, even though contrary to truth, I accept those habits of thought as truth and they lead me to wrong choices.

When my family traveled in a motor home, the furnace and air conditioner allowed us to keep the same temperature regardless of the outside. The oven, stove and microwave enabled us to cook the same meals we cooked at home. The beds were comfortable and the bathroom convenient.  We could watch the scenery outside change but it really didn’t need to affect us. I don’t want to live my Christian life from the motor home of isolation but rather I choose to allow transformation of my heart and mind take place that will allow me to be truly free. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 (NLT)) Truth in my thoughts results in freedom in my life.

From Quarks to Galaxies

gallaxyThe ancient Greeks believed that there were only four elements that made up everything: earthwater, air, and fire. When I was in school, our microscopic world consisted of cells, molecules, atoms, neutrons and protons. Today scientists have discovered neutrinos and bosons, leptons and quarks. What will be discovered tomorrow? Every time man makes a new discovery he gets puffed up with pride but God just sits back and says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

We turn our eyes to the sky to see moons, comets, planets, stars, black holes and galaxies. The Hubble Space Telescope has photographed an area of the sky less than 10% the size of the moon and discovered over 6,000 galaxies. Imagine if our eyes were opened to the entire sphere of the heavens. Our mind staggers before the complexity and enormity of creation yet man declares there is no God. What a joke!

A single fertilized human egg divides and divides again until, from only the blueprint in that single cell, every muscle, every nerve, every organ is formed. Under a microscope we could probably not distinguish it from the first cell of any other animal. And yet never once has a human egg produced a canary or an alligator. Only a human with every blood vessel and gland duplicated to such perfection that my doctor knows exactly where to find every bone and how my body will react to a catalog of medications. Bacteria may try to invade my body, but it will automatically fight to repel them. If I am injured, this body has mechanisms that begin the healing process. There are seven billion people on this planet each with unique fingerprints, unique DNA profile and unique facial characteristics. I think to hold there is no creator defies logic. It’s a hypocritical choice to ignore the evidence of nature. Hold a newborn baby and tell me that life is not a miracle.

All of Psalm 139 is excellent, but let’s focus on verses 13-16 (NIV), “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” These are probably the strongest verses in the Bible on the evil of abortion but that is not the point here. The world may say I am an accident; God says I am special to Him.

My sin separated me from Father God. Nothing I could do would satisfy the righteous justice of a holy God. Yet, the One who speaks stars into existence, who breathes and galaxies appear, the creator of it all came down to earth to suffer and die as a substitutionary sacrifice for me so that I can stand before God’s throne forgiven and justified.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11, NKJV) What is my response? If I don’t stand in absolute awe of the majesty of God, I simply haven’t understood His nature and power.

An earthly king depends on pomp and fancy clothes to impress those that come before him, because underneath he is just another man. Jesus didn’t need any of those trappings because He knew who He was. Do I know who I am? I am a carpenter. I am a nurse. I am an engineer. I am a housewife. Strip away the job and the doing, who am I on the inside? I am a child of the King. Apart from Christ, the world clings to the doing and the title because they have nothing else. They are afraid to look at the emptiness apart from the job. I have read that many will die shortly after retirement because they no longer find meaning in their lives. In Christ I am loved, forgiven, victorious and chosen. I have an eternal destiny plus my life here has meaning in Christ.

The prodigal son (Luke 15) returned from the pig pen with a servant mindset but his father still saw a son. A servant mindset says I need to earn approval and love. A son relationship is not based on performance but on position. Even the servant mindset was a step up for him.  He was stuck in the pigpen until he made a change.  The change didn’t happen when he changed his clothes or changed his job. No, he changed his mind, his thinking. Verse 17 says, “He came to his senses.” As long as I hold onto the old thinking, I will stay in the pigpen. To experience a new destiny I need new thinking.

Deep down I know I am a sinner unable to stand before the creator. Since the beginning of history, man has created religious rituals and rules to placate the justice we inherently know is demanded. Baal worship, Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism all have one thing in common: How can I do enough good things to counter the sin and tip the scales of justice in my favor? The simple truth is I can’t. No amount of prayer or fasting or feeding the poor or killing the infidel is enough. Only one thing can satisfy God’s justice: the blood of Jesus.

The Everlasting God is supreme over the past, the present and the future. By Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice 2000 years ago, we were redeemed from slavery to sin. Medicines have expiration dates; medical isotopes have half-lives; milk will sour if kept too long. The Blood of Jesus never loses its power.

The Old Testament prescribed animal sacrifices for sin. These offerings were made over and over. Jesus once and for all entered the heavenly Holy of Holies to place His own blood on the mercy seat for our justification (Hebrews 9:12). God’s people in the Old Testament brought their offerings to the priest. The priest examined the animal sacrifice to ensure that it was without blemish. The priest did not examine the sinner. If the animal was without blemish, God accepted the animal sacrifice as well as the one bringing it. When I approach God, it is not based on my good works, but on the sacrifice Jesus made in my place. His sacrifice was without blemish.

Early in my Christian walk I prayed to better understand the Father’s heart. In reply God showed me a picture of my mother. My older brother Gene died of polio before I was born. This was an insidious killer that brought tragedy to many families in the first half of the twentieth century. When I was in 5th grade the Salk polio vaccine was released. Since we lived in a rural area all the children in our school were bussed to a central location for the vaccine. The picture I saw was returning on the bus after the injections, my mother went done the aisle of the bus checking on each child. What was going through her mind? I think it was something like, “Thank God these children are protected, but why couldn’t it have come soon enough to save Gene?” In that picture I saw Father God. I think the Father looked down with tears in His eyes on Calvary, at the broken body of His Son and thought, “My children are redeemed, but at such a great price!”

The spotless Lamb of God, the One who created the galaxies and set the stars in place, the one who created atoms and electrons and quarks, took my sin to the cross. Now because of the divine exchange, I can stand before the Father accepted and forgiven. Jesus is the One who came down to this infinitesimal dot in the vast universe. He died a shameful death in my place to pay a debt I could not. To the world it looked like the end, a promise that fell short. But three days later He shook the foundations of hell. He ripped the keys to death and the grave out of the devil’s hands and strode triumphant out of the tomb.  Today, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). He is our eternal intercessor (Romans 8:34). Because of Jesus’ victory we now declare Him Lord of all.  From quarks to galaxies, Lord of all.

What I Learned From Rocky, Part 2

boxingIn 1976, a low budget film starring an unknown actor was released that immediately became a classic: Rocky. We experienced the exhilaration of his dancing at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We experienced his pain in the grueling training. We experienced the satisfaction of a goal met. We felt his pain and his joy because he was no superhero. He was just one of us.

There are a number of life lessons conveyed in this movie. Last time we looked at “Don’t let the world define what success looks like” and “Believe in yourself.” Let’s continue on:

#3 Don’t give up

Rocky faced setbacks, ridicule and obstacles that should have ended his dream, but he refused to give up. From the minute we are born life is a struggle, it always was and always will be. We are reminded as we watch our newest grandchild, Caleb. He started life by struggling to breath, to roll over and then to crawl. He would try to stand up but fall down time and time again until he learned to balance. Then came walking and running along with its scrapes and bruises. Did he stop? No, in spite of the struggles, in spite of the falls, he pressed through. Now mom has to run to keep up with him! Ahead is still bicycle and baseball, grades and graduation. Still further is job, marriage, children, aging, loss of loved ones. Reality is life is going to knock him down.

We can rest assured we will encounter pain and struggle. Everyone does. But it is the one who gets up before they are counted out who has a chance at seeing victory. These people look toward the prize. They know that failure is not about getting hit and knocked down; that is to be expected when you are in a fight. Failure is when you stay down. One of my favorite toys when the kids were small was an inflatable punching bag that was weighted at the bottom. When you hit it, it would fall over but then pop right back up. Down and back up, down and back up. The bottom line is: we get knocked down and we get back up.

There will be times when we try hard, give it all we’ve got and still get beat up by life. Rocky Balboa tells us: “It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…that’s how winning is done.” That goes along with the Bible in Philippians 3:14 (NKJV); “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

#4 Use what I have

Rocky didn’t have it all growing up in a troubled Philadelphia neighborhood. He trained by running the trash strewn streets. Who could forget the classic scene of Rocky pounding a side of beef in a meat locker? While his opponent trained with the finest equipment and latest technology, Rocky used what he had. I can’t expect to always have the best tools at work, so I must learn to work with –and appreciate – what I have and trust God to do what I can’t.

Paul said in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” My strength comes from God but it is still up to me to step out and put action to my faith. If I don’t have the desire to make something happen, then it’s not going to happen. Success comes when preparation meets opportunity. Rocky was fortunate in that his opportunity allowed him plenty of time for training, for preparation. Most of the opportunities we encounter will require advance preparation.

You have probably never heard of Shamgar. He only gets one verse in the Bible: Judges 3:31. One day he was attacked by the enemy Philistines. All he had to defend himself with was an ox goad, a pointy wooden stick, but with it he killed 600 Philistines. That happened not because he was highly skilled at using a pointy stick as a weapon but because he depended on God and used what he had.

Samson picked up the jawbone of an ass. David had just a sling and 5 stones when he faced Goliath. A young boy had a lunch of 5 loves and 2 fish that he gave to Jesus. Each used what he had and great things resulted. Their obedience allowed God to put His super on their natural.

Everything I hold in my hand is either a burden or a blessing depending on what I do with it. When I hold on, it becomes a problem. When I yield it to the Lord, He is able to release its potential for blessing in my life.

#5 People matter

According to Rocky, “You hang around coconuts you get nowhere…. You hang out with nice people you get nice friends. You hang out with smart people you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo people you end up with yo-yo friends. You see? It’s simple mathematics.” That goes along with Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV), “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Imagine yourself standing on a chair surrounded by four friends. Your job is to lift all four up onto the chair while their job is to pull you off of the chair. Who is most likely to succeed? It is impossible to associate regularly with evil people and not be contaminated by their ideas and habits. 1Corinthians 15:33 (NKJV) warns, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” When someone influences us to make a choice we know is wrong, we have, in effect, decided that their approval is more important to us than God’s.

We constantly face the temptation to follow the crowd, but not all who smile at us are going in the same direction. We need discernment and a willingness to distance ourselves when needed. That is when unity with other believes is so important. Being in relationship with like-minded friends shields us from that pressure. We need to choose a few fellow disciples to be with us. You might call them “lifeboat buddies”. Eccl 4:9-12 Proverbs 18:24 (NIV) tells us, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

I don’t live in a vacuum. I need to ask myself who is influencing me. Are they moving me closer to the cross or further away?

Finally, we need to allow the Word of God to transform our thinking. That is where our guidance, our strength and our hope comes from. Psalm 118:6 promises, “The LORD is on my side.” Perhaps in a boxing match we cannot expect that but certainly in the battles of life we can depend on that promise. Paul, in 1Corinthians 5:59a (NIV) admonishes, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” Sounds like Rocky read that verse.

What I Learned From Rocky, Part 1

boxersIn 1976, a low budget film starring an unknown actor was released that immediately became a classic winning 3 Academy Awards: Rocky. We experienced the exhilaration of his dancing at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We experienced his pain in the grueling training. We experienced the satisfaction of a goal met. We felt his pain and his joy because he was no superhero. He was just one of us.

There are a lot of life lessons I learned from Rocky:

#1 Don’t let the world define what success looks like

What does winning look like? In boxing, you’d think winning means knocking out your opponent. For Rocky, in his first movie, it was about “going the distance”, which meant lasting all 15 rounds with Apollo Creed, the world champion. Winning shouldn’t be what others define it to be, it’s a goal I set for myself. As a Christian my fulfilling God’s purpose for my life marks success.

There will always be people around telling me what constitutes success. The world says success lies in what I have accomplished and what I have accumulated. If I buy into their standards, those same people will be happy to inform me when I’ve failed.

The Bible tells of a young man who was his father’s favorite. Jealous brothers sold him into slavery. Falsely accused of rape, he spent years in prison. Through the trials, rejection and suffering, he remained faithful to God. His name was Joseph. Was he a success? His actions saved his family, the very ones who had betrayed him. In Genesis 50:20 (NLT), Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” He fulfilled God’s purpose for him.

Another man served as God’s prophet for 40 years. He was rejected by his neighbors and family. He suffered deprivation and imprisonment, but he remained faithful and courageous in proclaiming God’s word. His name was Jeremiah. Was he a success? As one of the major authors of the Old Testament that we still read today, he fulfilled God’s purpose for him.

Finally we can read about a man who had little in material possession. He was rejected and hated. His family thought he was crazy, religious leaders ridiculed him and his closest friends deserted him. Finally, he was tortured and killed. His name was Jesus. Was he a success? In God’s eyes, the redemption of all mankind was accomplished that day on Calvary. Philippians 2:7-11 (NKJV) says, “(He) made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus too fulfilled God’s purpose for Him.

There will always be adverse forces trying to thwart our goals. There will be contrary winds. The world pushes in on us. The Phillips translation of Rom 12:2 warns us that the world will try to “squeeze you into its own mold.” The world considers power, prestige and prosperity to be the highest goals, but when my security and value rests on my own wisdom and performance, success has become an idol. 1John 2:15 (NIV) warns, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” Stephen Covey said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Proverbs 21:21 (NLT) declares, “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.” What is your definition of success? Mine is fulfilling God’s purpose for my life.

#2 Believe in myself

Rocky was just another run of the mill boxer, a bum in his words. The only thing that got him a shot at the title was his nickname, “The Italian Stallion”. As long as he saw himself as a bum, he would stay there. The story of Rocky is the odyssey of change as he begins to believe in himself.

In the hard times we need an anchor that grips on solid rock. We once chartered a small boat with two other couples. The skipper put down the anchor when we stopped to snorkel but when we went to leave, the anchor was hung up on a rock and no amount of pulling would free it. Finally he had to dive down to free it. As Christians we are anchored to the rock of Jesus Christ. The strength of that anchor enables us to believe in God and believe in ourselves.

As I minister weekly in the county jail, the men I encounter believe in God but many don’t believe in themselves. We have been made new creations, but religion and tradition develops a mindset of unworthiness and failure. As long as we are trapped in sin consciousness we cannot live in the revelation of our identity in Christ. If I truly believe in God then I should believe what His Word says about me, that I am loved, forgiven, chosen and victorious. I am the righteousness of God in Christ. God has so much confidence in me that he made me His ambassador.

The devil goes about like a roaring lion trying to stir up fear in people with his roars (1Peter 5:8). But the people who are not devourable are those who refuse to be intimidated by his roars because they know the true Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:5), has already come and rendered powerless him who had the power of death. (Hebrews 2:14)

Many churches use a declaration: “I am who God says I am. I can do what God says I can do. I have what God says I have.” That is a declaration of “Christ in me” and it strengthens my belief in myself.

Next time we will look at other life lessons further.

Joanna

Great Wall of China

I want to tell you about Joanna Grace.  That is not her real name, at least not yet. Her real name is… No, that’s not important because that is part of who she was. What is important to us is who she is becoming.

Our daughter and son-in-law are in the final days of adopting a 3 year old from China. It has been a long, frustrating process for them, but in just a few days we will welcome our newest grandchild, Joanna Grace. I am sure that little girl has no comprehension of what will become hers in a few days with a new name and a new inheritance.

I have been adopted into the family of God. Therefore I have the rights and privileges of a son, just like Jesus. The intimacy that was broken by Adam’s sin has been restored through the blood of Jesus. Just as Joanna lived the first three years of her life with no knowledge of my daughter’s family, so I had lived my life apart from Christ. But now I have been adopted into a new family with the rights and privileges that come with that adoption.

Just as Joanna did not seek out my daughter’s family, I did not first come to God seeking salvation. He first sought me out offering it to me. I may not be the choice of the world but I am the choice of God. When someone asks me who I am, I can say, “I’m one of the chosen.” “Oh, chosen by whom?” “God.” “Really, when?” “Forever.” “Why?” “It had nothing to do with me. There was no me when God decided it.” I am temporarily living in the earth but I am a citizen of heaven.

Ephesians 1:3-8 (NLT) – “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” Let’s take a quick look at some of the key spiritual blessings referenced in this passage:

  • Chosen: My daughter looked through hundreds of profiles from dozens of countries before choosing Joanna. God had you and me in mind since before the creation of the world. No one is a mistake or an accident, despite what someone might have said. My mom was 42 when I was born. A surprise, yes, but not a mistake. It doesn’t matter what a miserable life we may have had: rejected by family, abandoned by loved ones, betrayed by friends. In Christ each of us is chosen.
  • Adopted: I have been brought into a new family with its rights and privileges. Through adoption, I am a son of God. This is not a relationship of “Oh, Heavenly Father, high above the earth in unapproachable light!” but it allows me to cry out “Daddy!” and run into His arms. That is the meaning of “Abba” in Romans 8:15b (NLT): “You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”. Let’s not pass by that statement without thinking about it. To the first century reader it was a radical concept. God had never been addressed in such a personal way.
  • Grace: One of the translations of the Greek word for grace is empowerment. In Christ, I am empowered to live a new life, empowered to break the bondage of sin and empowered to impact those around me with the Gospel.
  • Purchased: Other translations use the word redeemed. That means bought out of slavery to sin and given freedom through Jesus’ blood. When my future was the hopelessness of death and damnation, God picked me up and set my feet on a new course.
  • Forgiven: Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for my sin so that I can stand before the Father holy and without fault. In other words, righteous. Because of His sacrifice in my place, I am forgiven.

2Corinthians 5:17 declares that I am a new creation. What do I receive as a new creation?

  • A new name. In Biblical times great emphasis was placed on the meaning of a name. Hosea named his children as a means of prophesying against Israel. He named one Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”); the next he named Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”). Just as Joanna received a new name so also Revelations 2:17 promises those who are victorious will receive a new name. “I don’t feel very victorious.” The Bible tells me that in Christ I am victorious. (Romans 8:37(NIV)) The walk of faith means I believe the promises of God regardless of my feelings.
  • A new family. Colossians 1:13 (NLT) tells us, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” Just as Joanna is being brought into a new family, in Christ, I too have a new family in a new kingdom. I am no longer in bondage to the bitterness and defeat of the past but I now come to the Father as my daddy. Who I was before is gone, wiped out.
  • A new inheritance. Romans 8:17a (NLT) promises, “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” Joanna is entitled to an equal inheritance with her new brothers and sister.  I may not receive a great inheritance of money or land, but my inheritance as a joint heir with Christ is untouchable, unchanging, and inexhaustible.
  • A new destiny. I once was destined for hell. My destiny now is heaven. Ahead of Joanna lies opportunities that could not be imagined in a remote Chinese orphanage. I can get far too focused on the here and now and lose an eternal perspective. Life comes with trials. “We must pass through many troubles to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22 GNT)  Endurance is based on perspective. If I focus on just today, I can become discouraged and defeated. An eternal perspective reminds me that the present troubles fade in the view of heaven.

Has Joanna’s past left scars? Certainly, and they will take time to heal: scars of loneliness, rejection and hopelessness. The promised land was a land of rest where God promised His people would receive “large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant”. (Deuteronomy 6:10–11 (NKJV)) but the scars of their life as slaves kept them from having the faith they needed to enter.  I have a new destiny, a new relationship with my Heavenly Father and the family of God. I can choose to enter or, like the Israelites, wander in a wilderness of despair and hopelessness. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11 NIV)

My heart breaks for the thousands upon thousands in orphanages around the world, many in abject poverty and deprivation. The problem is overwhelming but the life of one little girl will be changed forever because our daughter is willing to make a tangible sacrifice. There is a story of a little boy who came across thousands of starfish washed up on the beach. He began throwing them back into the water when an old man came by. The old man said, “Look at all those starfish. Do you really think you can make a difference?” The little boy picked up a starfish and said as he threw it into the water, “I can make a difference for this one.” Where can I make a difference today? I may not be able to impact the world but I can impact one life.

Let me tell you, my daughter has become an amazing mom. I know of no one more dedicated or self-sacrificing: home schooling four kids, laundry, meals, ball games and practices, constant demands and constant stress. And she always does all this with a cheerful attitude? Well, I said she was amazing, not perfect. God isn’t looking for perfection; He is looking for growth. At the end of the day, can I say I’ve grown closer to God that day? Has it been a day of progress or retreat? Have I pressed toward the goal of His high calling?

Hebrews 12:2 describes a great cloud of witnesses that is cheering me on in my earthly race. That is my family, not just my mother or father, but the family of God, the one I was adopted into when I made Jesus Lord of my life. That place is secure.

“The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18 NLT) Joanna is beginning a new path. I too am challenged to continue my pilgrimage through this life fulfilling God’s purposes and drawing closer to Him each day, knowing that I am a son of God, a joint

A House on I Can Do It Street

san-franciscoImagine with me God the Father seated on His golden throne, His feet resting comfortably on a velvet foot stool. The air is heavy with the fragrance of flowers; Hillsong music is playing quietly in the background. He looks over the side of His throne down to earth and suddenly His eyes widen in horror, His feet drop to the floor with a thunder that shakes heaven and He says with a slight edge of panic in His voice, “Jesus, My Son, come quickly. Look at what Joe just did! Did Your sacrifice cover that?!” Jesus extends a nail-scarred hand to rest gently on the Father’s shoulder, “Yes, Father, My blood covers even that.” No, that conversation just ain’t gonna happen.

If I told you some of the things of my past would you be shocked!? Perhaps. Is God shocked? Of course not. If I could look into the future and see everything I will do someday would I be shocked? Undoubtedly. Is God? No. The truth is I cannot shock God. There is nothing God can’t fix through the blood of Jesus. More than that, there is nothing He hasn’t already fixed through the cross.

There is nothing spiritual about guilt and condemnation. God does not expect a penance of beating ourselves up for a period before he will forgive us. Guilt is just unforgiveness of myself and, like unforgiveness, it keeps me chained to the past and the devil loves it. Why would I continue whipping myself when Jesus took the whip for me?

When our oldest son, our firstborn, was little we made a lot of mistakes. We used negativity to motivate and we disciplined out of anger. We basically followed what was modeled to us by our parents. Today he is bitter and angry. The choices he has made sadden me but we have asked his forgiveness and God’s forgiveness. That is something “behind” (Philippians 3:14) and I will not be chained to feeling guilty about the past I can’t change. Not forgiving myself would be destructive to my destiny. I could not be a light of God’s love if I remained under a burden of guilt for every sin and failure of my life.

I was burdened by guilt and condemnation for many years after I became a Christian. Then I read a verse that changed my life: Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” The key is to repent and let go. 1John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Once we confess, once we repent, they’re gone. Why would I keep holding on to them? That just sucks me back in.

I will never be who God wants me to be if I am loaded down with guilt. There is a difference between healthy grief and carrying a burden of guilt and condemnation. Sorrow for sin is normal but a burden of guilt drains my energy and my desire to grow and serve God. I will be held back from going where God wants me until I am willing to let go of my past.

Isaiah 43:25 promises, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Why am I still talking to God about things He has forgotten. Am I waiting for God to do something in my life? He has already done all He is going to do. Now it is up to me. I can’t change yesterday but I can change today and changes made today will change my tomorrows.

When our children were small we would load them in a backpack and hike with them. Problem was as they got older, they were darn heavy. So often I carry around a sack of guilt. I may put it down for a while when I go to church, shove it under the seat in front of me but after the closing prayer I pick it up again and carry it out with me. I may feel energized to carry that burden more easily for the moment but it is still there. It weighs me down and soon I am stumbling and shuffling under the unbearable weight again. That is the time I need to remember Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Ever feel like you can never do anything right and please God? Romans 5:20 promises, “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” Grace is the empowerment from the Holy Spirit to overcome sin.

When Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees strikes out, do you think he comes off the field saying, “I’m such a loser. I can’t do anything right.” Or is he saying, “OK, I’ll do better next time. What do I need to change? I better be out for batting practice early tomorrow.” He is not dwelling on the past; he is focused on the future and that focus makes him an overcomer. Forward focused. When I sin I need to be asking: What was the trigger? What do I need to be doing differently? Every failure can become a launching pad to growth.

Guilt starts as a thought, becomes a feeling and we too often live by our feelings. When I live by what I know is true and not my feelings, my feelings will eventually change to line up with truth. All problems can be traced back to the way I think. That is why the Bible talks so much about our thoughts: Be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2), As a man thinks in his heart so is he (Proverbs 23:7), Bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2Corinthians 10:5). Meditating on the word of God will change my thinking, change my feelings and ultimately change my life.

Romans 6:2 declares I died to sin. Yet sin seems to be alive and well, screaming at me every day. Here is the difference: The new me does not want to sin. Sin has been taken care of. I am a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17). I have a new heart to replace a stony heart (Ezekiel 36:26). I am the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 6:19). Is God giving me a license to sin? No! (You wouldn’t be reading this if you were looking for an excuse to sin.) God sees my heart. I have a new heart, a new desire to please God.

Jesus was my substitute in taking sin to the cross. All sin was taken care of. I don’t need to pay for it because Jesus paid for it.  In God’s eyes that was me on the cross. That is not, “I hope so, maybe it’s so, I wish it were so.” It is a fact. My name is written in heaven. Romans 6:3 promises that I can live in newness of life. That comes from knowing who I am in Christ.

What do I think are God’s expectations of me? God is not as hard to get along with as I may think. Matthew 5:48 says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Whoa, that’s a pretty high standard, impossible in reality. I can get discouraged pretty quickly trying to live to that standard, but the Amplified Bible gives a fuller picture, defining perfect as “growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity.” Life is not about having arrived but about growing. It is time to leave the city of regret which includes thought like, “I should have…” “I shouldn’t have…” “I did it again!” “I should know better.” “I’m never going to change.”

I died with Christ and now I live with Him.  The closer I am to God the more strength I will have to do the right thing and reject the wrong thing. When I fail, I repent, recognize that I have more growing to do in that area and keep moving. I don’t need to fear sin because it can’t conquer me.

According to 1John 2:1, if I should sin I have an advocate, a lawyer, someone on my side. When our son was killed, we hired a lawyer to help with the insurance settlement. He was the one on our side though all negotiations.  That is who Jesus is for me before the Father. He was the atoning sacrifice.

Hebrews 12:1 describes a cloud of witnesses that are cheering us on in this race. That is my son, my mom, the child we lost to miscarriage.  You may finish reading today and make a nasty comment to someone or dwell on a selfish thought, and the devil is right in your face saying, “How can you do that when you just came from church! You are never going to change!” “Devil, shut up. I am growing.” Hebrew 9:12 (NIV) says, “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” The work of redemption is complete. That promise is not just for Billy Graham or your pastor or Roy the gal in the next row at church. It’s for you!  Every stain removed. We have been set free.

Let’s start building that house on I Can Do It Street. Here are some construction materials to use:

  • I am a friend of God. (John 15:15)
  • God is on my side. (Psalm 118:6)
  • God lives inside me. (1Corinthians 3:16)
  • I have been made alive with Christ. (Ephesians 2:5)
  • Nothing can separate me from God’s love. (Romans 8:35-37, 39)
  • I am more than a conqueror in Christ. (Romans 8:37)
  • I am a new creation. (1Corinthians 5:17)
  • I am the righteousness of God in Christ. (1Corinthians 5:21)
  • I am free of condemnation because I am in Christ. (Romans 8:1)
  • The Father loves me as much as He loves Jesus. (John 17:23)

The Power of the Cross

Kneeling at the crossI recently read about the effects of an electromagnetic pulse from a solar flare or a nuclear weapon. It can cause a power surge that would wipe out the power grid, computers, cars, airplanes, basically anything with wires and a chip. The result would be widespread power failures, fried computers and car electronics, planes falling from the sky, etc. It’s a pretty apocalyptic picture. I wasn’t so much struck by the destructiveness of such an event as I was struck with the realization that the cross was more powerful against sin through all generations. I am incapable of meeting the requirements of God’s justice for one jealous thought yet Jesus took on the punishment for all of man’s sins: past, present and future.

Colossians 2:14 (NLT) says, “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” God’s Word translation puts it this way: “He did this by erasing the charges that were brought against us by the written laws God had established. He took the charges away by nailing them to the cross.”

The record of sin that stood between me and heaven was taken away. Sin stood between me and God the Father. The devil was saying, “You’re not qualified for heaven. Look at this list of sins.” “OK, let’s have a look.” And when he unrolled it, it was blank. “Where’d it go?” “Over there, on the cross.”

When our daughter and her family visited recently, they wanted to order pizza and asked if we had any coupons for local pizza parlors. We said, “Sure”, but as we went through the stack: expired, expired, expired. When we leave our condemnation and guilt at the cross, God stamps them “Expired.” Isaiah 44:22 (NIV) promises, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

Made alive! I was dead in sin, helpless and hopeless, but God made a way through the cross that we can come into new life. It should’ve been me hanging on that cross, but instead He took my place. Colossians 2:12-13 (NLT) says, “For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.” Read this verse often. Get ahold of the hope that is infused in those two words: Made Alive!

The ceremonial cleansing for someone healed of leprosy is prescribed in Leviticus 14:4-7. The priest takes two birds, kills one draining the blood into a clay pot of water. The second bird is washed in the blood of the first bird and then released. One bird died so the other could go free. This was a picture of what Christ would do on the cross.  We may not have a skin disease but we all have a sin disease. Jesus died so that we can be washed in His blood and we are set free.

Psalm 103:12 promises, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Many schools and businesses today use the dry erasure boards. Write anything on them in an array of colors then wipe it clean as though it was never there. The record of our lives was covered in the red stain of our sin. Through the substitutionary work of the cross, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV) Just like that dry erasure board, our sins are wiped clean.

We bought a car a few months ago. Actually the credit union bought the car and lets us drive it around. But I better pay them each month or I will lose that privilege. What can I do to pay my debt to God? Clearly it is impossible. Only the cross.

Such an action on God’s part demands a response from us. Acts 3:19 (NLT) says, “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.” Faced with the truth of the cross how will we respond? (Matthew 13:18-23)

  • “Ho hum. What time is dinner?” Apathy. It comes from not truly understanding the power of the cross. They have the hardened soil of a closed mind. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2Corinthians 4:4 NIV).
  • “Yea, yea. I know that’s important but I’m super busy now. Can we talk about this later?” Skimping on our time with God leads to a life that becomes more and more shallow. We may listen to God’s Word, and maybe even get emotionally moved, but we never in fact do anything about it. We become seed on rocky soil with no moisture and no root. This is where a small group can give you encouragement and accountability.
  • “That’s too good to be true.” This attitude shows that we are still in bondage to religion and the belief that we must earn our way to heaven by good works. The Bible is clear: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV) If we don’t live or grow in the forgiveness and mercy of the Lord, we tend to fill our spiritual lives up with works and religion. Those works may look good but they can be the thorns that choke out the true power of God in our lives. Our good works are simply not enough to save our souls. But the work that Christ has done for us on the cross is enough.
  • “I surrender my life.” We are called to step into the freedom that comes from forgiveness and right standing before God, that comes when we pursue relationship with the living God who is pursuing us with His infinite and eternal love. Here is where we will see our lives bear fruit. “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT) Our lives have been restored from the destruction of our sinful past by God’s free gift.

Those of us who have been Christians for some time can easily become complacent about the Cross. We keep rethinking and reliving those old sins that happened years ago. We start all over again with the accusations, the guilt and the condemnation. 2Corinthians 5:21 is key: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Even though He had never sinned, Jesus took upon Himself my sins and your sins and the sins of the whole world. If the Gospel were to ever be condensed down into only one verse, it would be 2Corinthians 5:21. Charles Spurgeon said this verse is the “Heart of the Gospel”. In this verse is the heart of who we are in Christ.

If we don’t stand amazed at the foot of the cross we have missed its meaning and power. Without the blood of Jesus, every act of disobedience would add to the debt. Every moment of every day we are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. The last entry on our record was not the day before our conversion. We are in need of forgiveness even on our best day.

Stepping into that forgiveness is what brings freedom. I really need to clean out my garage. There are empty paint cans, smelly rags and parts to long forgotten projects. There is all sorts of stuff there that hasn’t been touched in the six years we have lived there. More importantly I need to clean out the guilt I continue to carry. I will never experience the freedom of the Gospel until I do.

As we shed the guilt and condemnation, we step into a new way of thinking and living that demonstrates to the world the victory that is ours through the cross. As we understand our identity in Christ, as we go through the transformation of mind renewal, we develop the spiritual strength to live free from the bondage of sin.

In an old Roadrunner cartoon, Wiley Coyote sends Roadrunner a package containing a bomb. It is returned to him “Postage Due”. Forgetting what is inside, he rips it open only to have it explode in his face. At the cross, the devil was dancing in victory not realizing the truth of what had happened. Three days later, it blew up in his face. 1Corinthians 2:8 (NIV) tells us, “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

What do you think of when you hear the words “public spectacle”? Jesus did that to demonic powers. Colossians 2:15 declares, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” The devil lost his power. I no longer have to live in condemnation and shame when I understand who I am in Christ. Romans 8:1 (NLT) promises, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Jesus calls us to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:14). We are to “shine like stars lighting up the sky.” (Philippians 2:15) We can’t do that if we look like the world. Then we would just fade into the background. The power of the cross makes us different, makes us shine with a light that penetrates the darkness of this age. To some the light will be welcome as they embrace the hope and promise it brings; to others it will generate anger as the light exposes their deeds. But it is God’s plan and purpose to give each one that choice.

Won’t you join me in that journey?

Tunnel Vision

TunnelI recently saw a video used in police officer training. In it the officer was directing a suspect to put down the rifle he had in his left hand. The suspect was compliant but the officer was so fixated on the rifle that he didn’t see the suspect reach with his right hand for the handgun that was in the small of his back. It is called tunnel vision as the field of vision narrows and the individual is blinded to all distractions and other threats.

Tunnel vision is what a wide receiver has, not thinking about crowd noise only the football as it spirals toward him. Or the batter as he concentrates on the baseball hurling toward the plate. Even the Anheiser Bush Clydesdales wear blinders to block out distractions.

In 1994, Tom Amberly set a world record by making 2,750 free throws in a row. Some important facts about this record are:

  • He was not a professional basketball player, he was a foot doctor.
  • He was 71 at the time.
  • He did not miss number 2,751. The building manager shut off the lights and closed the gym.
  • According to Amberly, “The only thing limiting you is yourself….we are more limited by our beliefs than our ability.”

Tunnel vision on the right things can be good, on the wrong things it is a disaster, because what I focus on gets bigger in my life. A man is so focused on getting ahead in his career that he neglects his family. A mother is devoted to her children at the expense of her relationship with her husband. A teenager emphasizes sports and lets the grades slip. We get so busy with the cares of life that we lose sight of what is of eternal value. Matthew 6:33 (NKJV) tells us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Samson (Judges 13-16) could have been one of the greatest leaders of Jewish history, but his focus was in the wrong place. He allowed the anointing of testosterone to overpower the anointing of the Holy Spirit. A man who could not be defeated from without was trapped by what was within.

Naomi (Ruth 1) returned to Israel after the death of her husband and sons and said God has dealt bitterly with me. She lost sight of the bigger picture that led to Obed, Jessie and David, the beginning of the generational line that would lead to Jesus. Tunnel vision gets us to focus on the pain and disappointment of today.

In Matthew 19:16-22, Jesus is approached by a young man who asks, “What must I do to have eternal life?” “Obey the commandments.” “I’ve done that all my life.” Jesus then hits at the heart issue for the young man, “One thing you lack. Sell what you have, give it to the poor so you will have treasure in heaven then come, follow Me.” The young man couldn’t do it. His focus was on possessions, not on following Jesus.

Matthew 13:22 warns that the thorns of power, fame or wealth will choke out the seed if we don’t have the right focus. Life is a race to be run. An athlete is focused on the finish line. In Paul’s day, the prize was a crown of olive branches, a perishable crown that soon wilted. Our prize is eternal life. We must live life with a sense of urgency. That requires ignoring the distractions of the world.

In Luke 10, Martha complains to Jesus because she is doing all the work and Mary had tunnel vision on Jesus. His reply in verse 42 (NKJV, emphasis added) is, “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The Garden of Eden was beautiful with all of the trees and all of the animals. God would walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. But Eve focused on only one tree and therefore lost sight of God’s plan.

Peter walked on water as long as he had tunnel vision on Jesus, but as soon as he allowed the wind and waves to distract him and took his eyes of Jesus, he went down. (Matthew 14:39)

In Psalm 27:4 (NKJV, emphasis added) King David declared, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” Tunnel vision.

In Luke 9:51 we read that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. He knew his purpose; He knew His Father’s plan and He would keep His focus on fulfilling that despite the suffering and shame involved. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV) tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 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. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We can read Paul’s take on tunnel vision in Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV, emphasis added), “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,  I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

“I do not count myself to have apprehended”

Picture a police office in pursuit of a suspect running down the street. “Officer Jones, what is your status?” “I have not yet apprehended, but I am in pursuit.”

Paul was a Jew of Jews, a teacher of teachers yet he counted all that as rubbish. He was imprisoned, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger of death throughout his travels. He had given it all yet he says “I do not count myself to have apprehended.” Paul spent much of his life in prison, but he did not sit there feeling sorry for himself or thinking about what he would do when he got out. Much of the New Testament was written while he was in prison.

How often do we get wrapped up in the “little” picture: a focus on today, how we feel, the present circumstances and forget tomorrow’s hopes.

“One thing I do”

Not 10 rules, not 5 steps, not 3 points, one thing. God keeps it simple: one thing. Tunnel vision. Another word is intensity. There was a time we were intense in pursuit of the devil’s plan for our lives. Are we now just going to be bench warmers? Someone does not become a winning athlete by listening to lectures or reading books or cheering from the sidelines. We must get in the game.

Paul did not say, “One thing I will do…” or “One thing I’m going to do…” He was living and acting in the present. What is the busiest day in the world? It’s not Christmas. It’s not Super Bowl Sunday. It’s not even Black Friday. It’s tomorrow! Tomorrow I’ll start that diet. Tomorrow I’ll put in that job application. Tomorrow I’ll start that Bible reading plan. Tomorrow I’ll really get my act together! Tomorrow, tomorrow.

“Forgetting those things which are behind”

There are times when I just want to feel sorry for myself. Sometimes I want to have a nice little pity party, sing a little “Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” and just pout. Joseph in the Old Testament was sold into slavery and then spent years in prison. He could have been bitter but instead he told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20a NLT)

Is it easy to “forget the things behind”? Of course not, but if I wallow in the sorrows of the past, I hinder my outlook on the future. Paul could have walked around all his life with a tremendous burden of guilt for his persecution of the church, but instead he used it to motivate himself to press forward.

“Reaching forward to those things which are ahead”

I don’t want to stay the same. I refuse to become satisfied or complacent. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1Corinthians 15:19 NIV) Joy does not come from external circumstances; it comes from the assurance of what I have in Christ and who I am in Christ.

“I press toward the goal”

When our son Paul was in grade school, he was active in competitive swimming. He was pretty good at it but he had one fault: when he was ahead he would look to the right or look to the left to see who was there and as a result lose time. We can’t be worried about what somebody else is doing. Like an athlete in the 100 yard dash, I don’t have time to look around comparing myself to others. I need to keep my eyes fixed on the finish line.

“For the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

This is a call to a higher way of living. I cannot stay the same. I cannot become satisfied or complacent. “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2 NLT) The things that sidetrack me now are trivial compared to eternity.

Press toward the goal:

  • “I just don’t feel it.” – Faith is not about feelings; it’s about choice. Press!
  • “I don’t think I can do it.” – With God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27) Press!
  • “I’ve failed so many times.” – His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23) Press!
  • “The devil has such a grip on my life.” – Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. (1John 4:4) Press!

Finally I ask that we reflect on the old hymn:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full into His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”

Intensity in our calling. Tunnel vision on Jesus.

Slippery Slope

golf-244041_1280I haven’t played golf since I was 18. I didn’t enjoy the game but my dad was a fanatic so, if I wanted to spend time with him it was golf or nothing. I will always remember a Par 3 that turned into a disaster. Only 150 yards but with a water hazard right in front of the green and it was straight into the wind. I hit a beautiful shot straight for the pin and… blonk into the water. I walked up to the edge of the pond and threw my second ball down in disgust. To my horror it hit the hard dirt, bounced once and rolled over the edge toward the pond. Unwilling to lose a second ball I dove for it catching it just before it reached the water. Then disaster struck. I was head down on a slippery slope. I started to slide into the water, up to my knuckles, up to my wrist, up to my forearm. That’s when I yelled, “Dad! Help!” Fortunately he was nearby and dragged me out by my ankles. I’m sure he always had a little chuckle thinking about that incident.

Psalm 40:2 (NIV) promises, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” If you have ever experienced a slippery slope, that is a good promise to have. Ever been on a water park slide? Now there is a slippery slope! Once on you are committed. No turning back. Every one of us was on a greased pole to hell, helpless and hopeless. Then God reached forth His hand to remove our guilt placing it on Jesus, rescuing us when we could do nothing for ourselves.

Ephesians 6:10-17 (NIV) tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

I want to focus on verse 15: “Feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” In wrestling is being on your back a good thing or a bad thing? In football what if your quarterback is on his back at the end of every play? For a Roman soldier if he was on his back he was in serious trouble. It is essential that a soldier stay on his feet. The movie 300 began the main battle with the massive Persian army pushing against the ranks of the Spartans. They had to stand against a tremendous force.

The Roman soldier had an answer for the slippery slope. The sandals of the Roman soldier had spikes in them to give good traction. His very life depended on them. Those spikes in our sandals are how we have prepared by making the Gospel a part of our soul. If I don’t get it down deep on the inside, when I need it for traction it won’t be there. My sandals will be slick. Does it do any good for me to carry around a pocket full of spikes? No. Just carrying around my Bible is just as useless if I am not working to make it impact the way I live. The devil wants me to fall. 1Peter 5:8 (NLT) warns, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” He is looking for the Christian whose sandals are slick, unable to help him stand.

A classic example of the slippery slope is in 2Samuel 11. David first decides not to lead his army when they go out to war. Maybe this was irresponsibility or neglect of duty or just laziness, but it led to lust when he saw Bathsheba bathing. The slippery slope took him into adultery, deceit when he called Uriah back to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy, and finally murder when he ordered Uriah killed.  Jesus said that a man who looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:27, 28). He knew the slippery slope that it could lead to. If we tolerate sin, soon we rationalize the behavior and compromise what we know is right.

Jesus hinted at a slippery slope in the Sermon on the Mount when He said to cut off your right hand or pluck out your eye to avoid sin (Matthew 5:29-30), and Scriptures are filled with admonitions to avoid temptation at all cost.

We may be firm in our purpose and intentions but outside influences start to exercise their impact. 2Kings 11:4 tells us Solomon’s wives turned his heart. Amos 5:14a (NLT) warns, “Do what is good and run from evil — that you may live!” In Hebrews 2:1 (NIV) we further read, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”

In Mark 8-22-26 Jesus healed a blind man. He warns the man not to go back into the village, back into the old environment, the old influences that will suck you right back to old ways of thinking and acting. Will I choose to live by what my Papa taught me, or what Uncle Joe told me? Am I going to live by what Oprah says, or Dr. Phil, or Bart Simpson? “Oh, I may watch The Simpson’s, but that’s just for entertainment. I don’t let it influence the way I live.” If I listen to it, even if I don’t consciously follow what it is saying, it is getting into my subconscious and influencing my choices. Even if I depend on what my Pastor says, all can be shaky ground, a slippery slope. I must live by the Word of God.

What examples of “slippery slope” can you think of?

“Yea, I’m having a beer, but I’ll stop at one.”

“I’m moving in with my girlfriend, but we have agreed that we will not have sex.”

“I’m going to the bar with my friends tonight, but I won’t drink.”

“Sure there will be weed at the party, but I don’t use anymore.”

“My friends at the club like to gossip, but I just don’t listen.”

Watch for the but. B-U-T spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

I have the privilege of helping our daughter homeschool our grandkids by teaching science. Recently we were studying friction. We looked at when friction is minimized (Winter Olympics need a slippery slope for bobsled, skiing or snowboarding) and when it is important (braking, steering, even walking). To have spiritual “friction” takes preparation, getting those spikes in our sandals.

Today we’re obsessed with speed, but God is more interested in strength and stability than swiftness. We want the quick fix, the shortcut but that does not produce character. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 4:18 (NIV): “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” Growth is a process.

Life is a series of seasons: seasons of preparation and seasons of trial. There is seed time and harvest time. There is a time to prepare and a time to stand. Now is the time to prepare. Those that are best prepared will stand. “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it.” – T. Alan Armstrong.

We fear change, even if our old ways are self-destructive because, like a worn out pair of shoes, they are comfortable and familiar. My recliner’s worn mechanism can be rebellious; the upholstery is torn in places but I don’t want to replace it. It’s comfortable. I must let go of old ways in order to experience the new.

We can get very comfortable in church, but when we step out into the world, the going can be very slippery. It’s easy to get complacent. “Oh, it’s so nice and peaceful here. I want to stay here forever.” Well, you can’t. Look at the horizon. The dark clouds are gathering. A storm is coming. It’s time to get ready.

Every time I memorize a Bible verse, every time I meditate on God’s truth, I am adding a spike to my sandals. What are some of those verses?

  • I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. (2Corinthians 5:21)
  • Nothing can separate me from the love of God. (Romans 8:39)
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
  • There is therefore now no condemnation because I am in Christ. (Romans 8:1)
  • I am a new creation; the old things have passed away. (2Corinthians 5:17)
  • This one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and looking to what is ahead I press toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

I want us all to become cobblers, shoe makers. I can’t make sandals for you. We can’t go to the store and gat a pair of “made in China” spiritual sandals. Every morning when I put on my shoes I want to ask, “Are my feet shod with the Gospel?” At night when I take off my shoes off I want to ask, “Did I add a spike to my sandals today?”

Pulling Down Strongholds

hohensalzburg-fortress“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I’m sure you have seen that bumper sticker. Our issues have different names but the question is the same. I am “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37) yet I still struggle daily. I’ve lost more than my share of battles to worry, fear, unbelief, pride or lustful thoughts. Maybe someone has said to you, “If you really wanted to change you could.” Or “You must not really be saved.” And there is a little demon on your shoulder saying, “Yea, that’s right!”

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NLT) Everything except live victorious it seems. “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” (2Corinthians 1:20 NKJV) Yet I seem to experience some of God’s promises are yes and amen while others are just hit and miss.

In Romans 7:15 (NIV), Paul cries out, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Why can’t I overcome trust issues? Why am I so selfish? Why, if I’m promised perfect peace, do certain fears seem to have such a grip on me? Why do I struggle with pride, anger, bitterness? Why do I continue to struggle with “old things” rather than they’re being entirely gone? Why can’t I seem to be what God’s Word says? Because as long as strongholds remain, it is difficult to be truly free.

I lived in bondage to a stronghold for years: the belief that I had to earn my way into heaven. If I could just be good enough, do enough good things to counterbalance the bad, God would accept me. The dirty little secret that I hid from everyone was that I knew I was failing miserably.

What strongholds have you overcome? What are you still fighting?

  • “This is all a big cosmic accident.”
  • “My identity is in my job.”
  • “I have to look out for me. No one else will.”

A paradigm is a mindset, a filter for my actions that becomes a prison, a stronghold or negative destructive thought pattern tattooed on my mind. If allowed to develop it can imprison me for life. We are not controlled by truth; we are controlled by what we believe to be true. What happens to me (the facts and events) is not really what creates the stronghold; what I believe about what happened creates a stronghold. Parents divorce: “It was my fault.” Not chosen for a sport’s team: “I’m not good enough.” I use coping mechanisms to minimize the pain I feel and end up reinforcing the stronghold and adding another brick to Satan’s fortress inside my soul.

Strongholds produce involuntary actions. Consciously choosing to believe something contrary to what’s in my subconscious doesn’t bring lasting differences. Zig Ziglar said, “You cannot consistently perform in a manner that is inconsistent with the way you see yourself.” The subconscious is not changed simply by a conscious choice. Because of those strongholds, it is difficult for me to accept new truth. We all know those who came forward to the altar for salvation and within a few weeks were right back living full on for the world. What happened? Their spirit was reborn but it never impacted their soul.

My soul needs realignment. You’ve probably driven in a car that was out of alignment. It can be very tiring to constantly pull on the wheel to keep that car on the road. If my soul is out of alignment with God’s truth, I will need to work extra hard to stay on track.

I am already a new creation in my spirit; I am becoming a new creation in my soul. My spirit is new; my soul is being made new. 1Timothy 6:12 says we must “lay hold of eternal life.” What God has already given me in my spirit I can fail to experience in my mind, emotion and will unless I “lay hold”. But it’s not too late for breakthrough. We must become who we are. Becoming is a process.

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) declares we are “being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.” My spirit may declare “I believe.”, but my soul instinctively says “Prove it.” My soul will constantly seek to haunt me with reminders of the old sinful nature. It will try to paralyze me with fear over all of the “what ifs”.

Romans 12:1 declares that we are to be “living sacrifices”. To do that we must take those old belief systems and strongholds to the cross. That requires that we “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” according to Romans 12:2. I can’t afford to accept the blueprints that the world around me and my past experiences have drawn. It is time for transformation.

John 12:24–26 (NKJV) says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was as a substitute for me but in another sense He insists I go there too. We hear too often a “what’s in it for me” gospel but transformation will not occur without dying to self and crucifying the flesh. For me to experience victory, my will and emotions must die.

2Corinthians 10:4 (NKJV) tells us, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” It is in taking up my cross daily (Luke 9:23) that I experience the daily release of power and life. Jesus calls me to join him in the crucifixion so that I may have life. We are not called to stop thinking or to squelch our feelings, but we are called to bring our thinking and feelings under the control of our spirit. It is then that we can say no to pride, to revenge, to dishonesty, to addiction, to fear, to the spectrum of self-centered attitudes and choices.

In 2Corinthians 12:9, God tells us, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul recognizes the inherent weakness of his flesh and is forced to rely on God’s ability working in his spirit. The soul cannot heal itself. The power for healing is only found at the cross. My reborn spirit is stuck behind a carnal soul determined to get its own way. It’s trapped behind thick walls fortified by pain, sadness and suffering.

My soul has been in the driver seat for a long time and it does not enjoy taking a back seat. My mind, will and emotions by their nature do not like to be held in check or corrected. We can react in one of two ways to Christ’s offer of rest: whine, cry and scream about wanting our way, or settle down, take His yoke and know that He’ll come through. My soul says “I want what I want, and I want it now!!” but that is not the path to freedom and life.

How do I see myself in the mirror of my mind? Fat? Unwanted? Stupid? Perhaps I’ve experienced abandonment or rejection. Then there is verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. All of that creates a self-image, beliefs that are formed and then control me, whether true or not. Until the mirror in my mind is transformed it will trump God’s view of me. Casual daily Bible reading or hearing a sermon on Sunday will not do it. The Word is to us spiritually what natural food is to our body (Matthew 4:4). As a cow chewing her cud, we need to get everything out of the Word. When we digest God’s Word we are receiving His life.

Hebrews 4:12–14 (NKJV): “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” It’s not enough to simply think about it; we must say it. Planting the seed of God’s word in our soul involves confession: saying what God says about me. The first step in confession is agreement – to acknowledge the truth of something.  The second step is to submit, to obey. This allows the Holy Spirit to make the written word become the living word. As we abide in God’s Word the Spirit begins to enable us to truly understand and embrace it.

We will not experience growth and maturity unless we are willing to embrace the process that yields them. We long for the finished product but we must embrace a passion for the journey. Life is a process. Our journey is not going to be a quick fix. 1Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV) promises, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Keep that promise in mind as you press forward.

I have had experiences that I have walked away saying, “I’ll never be the same!” And a few days later I was the same. Why was that? All truth comes in seed form. As I abide in God’s Word, I will see the fruit of that seed tomorrow. I shouldn’t expect freedom while short-circuiting the process. Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) that if the seed is nurtured and protected, it will grow to produce fruit. Abiding in the Word means meditating on the Word, memorizing it, singing it, writing it out, and declaring it. In a word: perseverance. Galatians 6:9 (NIV) promises, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

If we fail to carry the process of freedom all the way to its completion, sooner or later that remnant of the stronghold will grow back to its former size. When I pull a weed in my garden, I have to be sure to dig down and get the entire root or that weed will just grow back stronger. The same is true of strongholds: if I leave part of it behind, I will pay a price later.

Pastor Rick Warren  says, “I am a product of my past but I am not a prisoner of it.” I can rewire my brain by overwriting old memories. It requires focus. Just like sunlight focused by a magnifying glass, increases the sunlight’s power, I need focus to overcome stronghholds. In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul declares: “This one thing I do…” That’s focus!