It’s The Thought That Counts

Igirl THINKING can be born again but my life can still look like something out of Loony Tunes, right up until “Th- th- that’s all, folks!” Inside, I’m perfect―born again in the image of God Himself. But on the outside I find myself falling frustratingly short. What am I going to do? The answer lies in renewing my mind. Romans 12:2 (NIV) commands, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Instead of conforming to the world’s image, I seek transformation into the image of the reborn spirit within me. (Ephesians 4:24)

Wishing for it is not enough to bring about change. My mind is where the battle takes place. Whatever I allow to dominate my mind will rule my life. Will it be the Word of God or the lies of Satan? My choice.

James 4:7 says to “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The devil is going to attack my mind and cause me to wrestle with thoughts of fear, shame, guilt and rejection. How can I resist the devil? Jesus showed the way in Matthew 4 – combat the devil’s lies with the Word of God. When fear comes that I am going to fail, I remind the devil Jesus already won the victory! Every lie of the devil has a corresponding truth from God’s Word, so I will use the Word as my weapon and fight until the devil flees. The Word of God is my sword (Ephesians 6:17).

Jesus healed a blind man by spitting in the dirt and spreading mud on his eyes. (John 9) Gross!
That whole process certainly would have made the man uncomfortable, but there was a miracle on the other side of the discomfort. We went through a remodel of our home. It was not comfortable: no bedroom, no kitchen, workers in and out, a constant mess. Transformation is not comfortable but it is worth it. Breaking from destructive relationships is not pleasant. Mind renewal is not easy. But there is a miracle just on the other side.

Feeling bad about my current circumstance doesn’t mean I am going to get better. We deceive ourselves by thinking if I really feel bad about the way things are, then I’ll do something about it. I can look at the scale every morning and say, “I really should do something!” But there is no motivation, no energy. Nothing will change. I just go back to my Twinkies. Being dissatisfied doesn’t mean I will change. Being unhappy about where I am doesn’t mean things will get better.

Renewal leads to a better place. Renewal gives me a new thought, a new goal, a new vision, a new dream and that will bring change to my life. I can look at what the Lord has for me and move toward that hope. That brings energy and passion into my life. Then I am not stuck in my past but rather moving with expectancy into my future.

Mind renewal is a battle against the strongholds and mind sets that have taken root in my soul. What is my story? Not the one I tell the world but the one I tell myself. That is the one that will pull me down or enable me to climb higher. I can put up a front to the world of confidence and godliness but behind closed doors I’m on internet sites I shouldn’t be or I’m focused on failure, self-pity, unforgiveness. If I can change my thoughts, I can change my life. New thoughts will bring me to new places.

I find myself in the middle of a failure again and I am surprised and shocked and shamed. I ask myself, “How did this happen?” The truth is, it started with a seed thought that I didn’t capture and it grew into something I never intended it to be. Is there an area in my life where I’m asking myself how I got there, how I let it get so bad or so out of control? There is a way out! “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)

I don’t have to think every thought that comes into my mind. Just because I have a thought doesn’t mean it’s beneficial for me or that I should dwell on it. We should test thoughts and throw them out if they aren’t taking us where we want to go. 2Corinthians 10:5 tells us to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. When a thought crosses my mind that is negative, destructive or damaging, I am to test it against the truth of God’s Word and watch what happens. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 to think on whatever is noble, pure and lovely. I plan to think about what I’m thinking about and find ways to focus on the good. If I think like Christ I will live like Christ.

I have one shirt that I love. It is comfortable and sturdy so I can wear it for any job in the garage or the yard. But I can’t tell you how many times I have rescued it from the give-away pile because my wife hates it. In the same way, strongholds give me a sense of familiarity and comfort. My mind is going to go to what is comfortable and familiar in times of difficulty. A stronghold can be the most comfortable thought I have. I have thought it so many times that I don’t even realize the power that stronghold has! The Word of God is given to us in order to help us break free from the comfort zones that ensnare us.

Christians (even non-Christians) love to quote part of John 8:32; “The truth will set you free.” But the full verse makes it clear it is the truth that I know that sets me free, and the verse before sets an important condition: “If you continue in my word.” “Continue” is key. There’s a depth of revelation that comes from consistency that the inconsistent person will never see. Joshua 1:8 admonishes us that if we want to experience success, it comes by meditating on the Word.

When my wife and I were dating, she played a trick on me. She called me on the phone but put her girlfriend on to speak to me instead. This other girl answered, “Hi, sweetheart. It’s so good to hear from you.” I was oblivious and carried on the conversation as normal until I heard the giggles on the other end. They both thought it was great fun. (I wasn’t laughing.) Jesus said “His sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger.” (John 10:4b-5 NIV) Do I know God’s voice or have I listened to the devil’s voice for so long that he is not a stranger so I follow him easily? It is time to make God’s Word an integral part of my life so that I know His voice and the devil becomes a stranger. The Spirit of God will never guide me in opposition to the written Word of God (John 16:13). So, if I’m not familiar with what the Word says, I will find it more difficult to discern His leading.

The faucet in our garage sink was leaking. When I turned it on, water sprayed all over. That’s the kind of job I like. I went to Home Depot, bought some parts, grabbed my tools and a couple of hours later, all fixed. I felt accomplished and the good news was the next day I went into the garage, turned on the faucet and it worked perfectly. Unfortunately mind renew isn’t like that. It isn’t a once-and-done type of thing. It’s a daily process. Also, it’s a process that I must welcome the Holy Spirit into.

What does a Holy Spirit directed mind look like?
1. Decided. In Joshua 24:15, Joshua declared, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” An overcomer makes up his mind and is not sidetracked. In 48 years of marriage we have had the opportunity to be sidetracked by hurt, unforgiveness and self-focus, but we have remained decided. It takes backbone. It means standing when everyone else is running. Daniel’s friends faced the fiery furnace but they refused to run. Romans 1:16 says we are not ashamed of the Gospel. The “decided” mind makes the decision and sticks with it.
2. Disciplined. Living any ol’ way does not produce a champion. The attitude, “Mañana, mañana. Tomorrow I’ll take care of it.” That attitude is for the loser. The “disciplined” mind has integrity and humility. It is uncompromising. Daniel in the Old Testament exhibited it; Timothy in the New Testament also. Godly character is to choose to live by Godly principles. Problems are not going to go away. Battles will continue. The devil will continue to be after you. But discipline wins.
3. Diligent. We are constantly bombarded by the world. We may joke about the picture of a demon on one shoulder and an angel on the other whispering in our ear but reality is the devil is whispering to me all the time. Am I goin’ with the flow or am I fighting upstream? Colossians 1:23 (NIV) tells us to “continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” Thoughts motivate actions; actions repeated become habits; habits collectively show character; character determines destiny. What is the foundation of your destiny? Are you built on the Rock?
4. Dominating. The enemy is defeated. It is time to stand up and enforce our inheritance. When we take up the whole armor of God (Eph 6:10-17), we will experience the truth of Romans 8:37 (NIV): “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. (Revelations 12:11) Jesus is King of kings.

Don’t let Satan bind you with the grave clothes of yesterday’s sin and defeat. You’ve been raised with Jesus. Like Lazarus (John 11), come out of the tomb and start living resurrection life! “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV) That’s a promise to get ahold of.

A Moth or a Cockroach

Moth-CockroachEveryone who hears the truth of the Gospel behaves like a bug. Which are you: a moth or a cockroach? Let me share two experiences that illustrate the behavior of these two insects.

When we were on vacation on a Caribbean island we went to dinner at an outdoor pizza parlor. We had never before seen an outdoor pizza parlor and we were about to find out why. After eating about half of the pizza we noticed these strange lumps in the cheese. It turned out that the pizza was kept under warming lamps while waiting to be served. Being outdoors, moths were attracted to the lamps, be killed by the heat and fall into the pizza. We complained to the management and, since we had already eaten half of the pizza, they offered us a 50% refund. My stomach still does flip flops at the memory.

The second episode dates to 1972. We rented a cottage at Wrightsville Beach, NC for a month. One night I came into the kitchen quite late and flipped on the light only to see a dozen or so big black bugs scurry quickly to their hiding places. Cockroaches!

When you turn on a light, a moth is immediately attracted to it. The opposite reaction happens with a cockroach. He will scurry away to hide. People are the same way with the Gospel. John 3:19-21 (NIV): “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

For someone who is fully enjoying their life of sin it is difficult to turn away. Sin can have a tight hold. For those of us who have given our hearts to God, we are to be drawn to the Light of truth as a moth is drawn to a light. Eph. 5:8-9 (NIV) “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” In short, be a moth and not a cockroach!

The Bible says a lot about light, darkness, and the people who prefer one over the other. John wrote, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Paul described Jesus as “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus described Himself and His followers like this: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).

Darkness is a common biblical metaphor for sin. Jesus also spoke of darkness as something the natural, sinful person prefers above light. He said, “The Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-21).

You are either like a moth or a cockroach. You either love the Light and find peace in His presence, or you are repulsed by the Light and prefer hiding in the darkness of your sin.

The non-Christian has a defective compass. Rather than helping him find his way to safety and security, it makes him more lost, more enslaved. John 3:19,20: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” Just as a cockroach by nature prefers darkness over light, fallen man by nature prefers sin over Jesus.

The true Christian, on the other hand, has a compass that has been renewed by God. The Holy Spirit dwells in him, giving him new desires which lead him away from sin and toward righteousness. No matter what the world insists is better, this person knows there is nothing better than Jesus. The light of truth has entered his heart so that he sees “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Sin has an ever-decreasing appeal. John 1:5 NLT “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Just as we might use a sanitizer for our hands, there is Purell for the heart. Our hearts can be sanitized. As David prayed in the 51st Psalm, we can ask God to “wash us thoroughly from our iniquity, and cleanse us from our sin. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us.” God has the ability to sanitize our hearts, cleaning out the filth and grime of sin, through forgiveness offered by his Son’s death upon the Cross. We don’t have to remain in the shadows.

God calls us to be light, a light that has the power to transform us and others. We welcome the light of a new way of thinking and living. Our hearts can be filled with a new outlook as we experience His peace.
Pick up a cockroach and place it in a lighted room; what happens? It will scurry for a dark corner as quickly as possible. A change of nature is needed before the light is accepted. The same with people. We all know those who run from the light.

But don’t we each run from the light in some are of our lives that we have not yet surrendered: pride, selfishness, lustful thoughts, anger, unforgiveness? When we came to the Lord, our soul was filled with cockroaches. It is a lifelong process to bring light to those dark areas.

Paul said in Ephesians 5:11, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness.” In Colossians 1:13, he said, “[God] has rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” That’s past tense. It has already happened. He sees us already complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10), new creations (2Corinthians 5:17), partakers of His divine nature (2Peter 1:4) and more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). That doesn’t sound like a cockroach to me.

We are separated from the light by veils of guilt, shame, unforgiveness and disappointment. In Christ, we enter a new and living way. The veil has been torn in two and we can step into the Holy Place.
The news reported recently about a man who had escaped from prison in North Carolina in 1968 but was captured in Connecticut after applying for social security. Someone who escapes from jail is free but looking over their shoulder. They are not free indeed. A runaway slave was free but not until he reached Canada was he free indeed. The Israelites escaped Egypt but they were looking over their shoulder as the Egyptian chased them. Going through the Red Sea meant they were free indeed. God wants us so free we are not looking over our shoulder wondering when our yesterday will catch up with us. Free but the drugs are chasing me. Free but I still have a temper out of control. There are bars I can see and bars I cannot see. Jesus declares me free indeed.

Romans 8:37 “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” If God’s Word says that we are more than conquerors through Christ, then we are. We are not going to become, we already are. We may be experiencing some failures or setbacks in life right now, but only good will come out of our situations because God says that “in all these things we are more than conquerors”. We have the victory!

God has placed us in Christ, whom He has exalted to the highest place in the universe. We are not trying to get to victory. We already have victory. We don’t speak God’s Word to get victory. We speak His Word because we are victorious.

The moment you accept Jesus as your Savior, you are born again and the new person inside you is more than a conqueror. Born again is not doing God a favor. I gave my life to God. It was so rotten He had to throw it away and give me a new life.

Perfection is what we are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. We can only do the best we can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts.

If you don’t cleanup your kitchen, the cockroaches are going to move in. If you don’t cleanup your life, demons are likely to consider you their best friend and bring you all kinds of trouble.

Recognize that demons are not to be feared. They run and hide in the shadows and darkness when confronted with the light of the Holy Spirit. When I think of Satan, I am reminded of the wizard in The Wizard of Oz. He tried to be intimidating and scary but in reality he was a little guy behind a curtain. Isaiah 14:16 (NIV) describes Satan, “Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: ‘Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble?’” Someday we will see the devil for who he is and say, “Why was everyone so scared?”

The devil will try to steal our victory. He will come against us with lies and fears, and cause us to be conscious of our failures and weakness. “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith.” (1 Peter 5:8,9) Who can he devour? How do we resist him? He devours the one who has separated himself from community. We resist him by staying connected to others who will support and hold us accountable.

No one has it all together but together we have it all. I will always meet the negative crowd on the way to a miracle. The road to transformation will be lined with scoffers. Who I run with is a prophesy of my future.

The devil will shout, “Who do you think you are? Look at your past!” God has something to say about my past: “Get over it.” What is keeping me from taking the next step forward? Phil 3:14-14

The rule of Satan is broken. Romans 6:6-7 declares we are no longer slave to sin. The old man died. A new person is living here. Someday we will stand before the Judgement Seat. The prosecutor will be Satan but our defense attorney will be Jesus and has never lost a case.

My job is not to push out darkness, but simply to turn on the light. I must let go in order to move forward. I am not chained to the past, I am choosing to hold onto it.

You say you want to get ahead. I ask what head do you want to get: the head is addiction, pride, pornography, anger? David had to confront Goliath to take off his head. To conquer in any area of my life, I must first confront it then pick up the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and take its head off.

We face decisions every day in the areas of relationships, integrity, forgiveness, purity, in living the Good News. Light or darkness. Moth or cockroach. Your choice.

Close to the Fire

fire-173072The Pogo comic strip appeared in the1970’s featuring a possum and an alligator. It’s most famous quote was, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I have faced many enemies: the pitcher who wanted to strike me out in grade school, the young man who tried to steal my girl in college, the boss who cut me down behind my back. Then there is the continuing lure of the flesh, the snare of unforgiveness. The most dangerous enemy I will face is me: my beliefs and my thinking. “I’m a failure. I’m worthless.” My mind wants to go back to what is known even if it is destructive. I know how to eat right but do I do it? I know I should drive the speed limit, but… It is mind renewal that produces change. Mind renewal is like learning to drive. It’s overwhelming at first: brakes, accelerator, mirrors, traffic. Oh My! But eventually driving became natural.

When I first came to God, I had a closet full of worldly attitudes, misguided beliefs and negative thoughts toward myself. I was born again but there was still that closet. The nation of Israel left Egypt in body but not in mind. That kept them from entering the Promised Land. We each face a lifelong process of going back to that closet and attacking another shelf. Who holds the keys to my closet? I do.

Jeremiah 12:5 (NIV) warns, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” Am I ready for the next level or do I want promotion without the process? Bishop TD Jakes says, “If I learn to do great things in a small place, I will be ready for greater things.” I am not ready for promotion without practice. Without the rehearsal, I will not see recognition in the performance. Without the practice, game day will be a flop. Yes, practice is boring. Yes, it is painful, but I must be patient with the process. If I compromise on the practice, come game day I will still look great in my uniform until I step out on the field and have to face an opponent. In case of fire, we are told don’t take the elevator. God wants a fire in my life. There is no elevator to my destiny. I must take the steps.

A few years ago while camping with our men’s small group I participated in what came to be known as the skunk dance. We were all seated around the campfire when one man gave a startled yell, “Look!” Down the trail toward the campfire came a very large skunk. We all jumped up and huddled on the opposite side of the fire. The skunk started around the fire one direction and we all shuffled to keep the fire between him and us. He turned and went the other way and we shuffled the opposite. This went on for a couple of iterations before he got bored and ambled back up the trail. The fire of God’s presence keeps the devil away. The devil is seeking whom he may devour (1Peter 5:8). We will not be counted in that category if we keep the fire between us and the devil.

Suppose a couple of minutes earlier I had excused myself to go down that trail to the restroom. I might have come back with a whole lot of stink on me. James 4:7 (ESV) says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” If I try to resist the devil on my own, he has no obligation to flee. It is when I come close to the fire of God’s presence in submission that I can stand against the devil’s attacks.

Fire signifies the presence of God. The pillar of fire led the Israelites (Exodus 13). Fire came down to consume Elijah’s sacrifice at Mt. Carmel (1Kings 18). Tongues of fire descended on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2). The fire is not just words on a page in a book we call the Bible. It is the living Word written on our hearts. The fire is the Holy Spirit that leads us and guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

Ever experienced being handcuffed? Daniel 3 tells the story of three young Jewish men who were handcuffed and thrown into a furnace for not bowing down in worship to the king’s statue. What burned off? The ropes, the bondage. Isaiah 43:2b (NIV) promises, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” What will burn in that fire? The bondage, the addictions, the guilt.

One of the most repulsive insects I have encountered is the tick. Thinking about them makes my skin crawl. In grade school I had a pet dog names Butch. He loved to roam through the woods near our home but he would come back infested with ticks. Those little suckers (literally) would swell up to the size of a dime. Is my soul burdened with ticks of anger, unforgiveness, lust or greed sucking the life blood out of me? Do you think those ticks can stand the fire of the Holy Spirit? I don’t think so!

Without glasses I don’t see a clear picture. I want to see myself through God’s glasses. The prodigal son was unable to forgive himself thinking, “I’m not worthy, I will just be a slave.” The father wouldn’t even listen to him. My worth is not based on my performance. Others may look at me that way, even those in the church may look down at me, but my worth is based on my relationship with the Father.

In order to grow spiritually I must understand who I am in Christ. It was by His mercy that my sins are forgiven and more than that I have received His righteousness. As I understand that, I will gradually do more things right. God has put a seed in me, a seed of patience, a seed of integrity, a seed of love. Now my job is to nurture that seed so it will grow strong. Inside an acorn is everything needed for a tree. It may just look like a nut but it is in there. I don’t need people who look at me and say, “He’s a nut!” I need people who will see the tree inside, the potential inside, the destiny inside and celebrate it.

I have downloaded music to my phone. It’s in there but I must take certain steps to get it to come out. God has downloaded His character into me. I am patient. I may not act very patient but I have it inside me. I just need to learn to let it out.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is in me. I have the ability. In 2Corinthinas 12:9 (NIV), God tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His grace empowers me.

Paul tells us to “press toward the prize.” (Philippians 3:14) Why does he say “press”? Because there will be resistance. I need to push against the pressure to go back. I am forgiven. I need to confess that; speak it out. Revelations 12:11 says, “They triumphed over him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Our two year old grandson is just learning to talk and his mother frequently reminds him, “use your words.” I need to use my words to enforce the victory.

Growing up I was taught not to talk back to my elders. Now the devil is older than me, but it is OK for me to talk back to the devil. I may not feel righteous; I may not feel victorious; I may not feel loved. Will I believe my feelings or believe the truth? I can’t wave a magic wand over you and make all those feelings go away. It takes a change of thinking.

Philippians 2:12 (NIV): “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” What will you do after you read this? Paul tells me to work out my salvation. (Note: that is not work FOR salvation, but it will take work to see the salvation that is in me to start showing up on the outside.) Keep at it. I can develop muscles through daily weight training. How quickly will I lose them if instead of exercising I lie on the sofa all day munching on chips? Vs. 13 tells us this happens by God’s power not mine. I can’t change myself.

Ephesians 1:4 (NIV) declares, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” Holiness comes from my position in Christ, my identity in Him. From knowing my identity comes a desire to live right. Religion will say, “Better clean up your act, mister. God is really mad at you.” Relationship says, “Come close to the fire.”

From age 22 to about 45, I suffered from migraine headaches. They got progressively worse until I had them almost every day. I learned about God’s healing power and began to cry out to Him, “God, please heal me. Please take these away.” But nothing happened. Finally I said, “OK, God. If you want me to have these, I accept that. I just want to worship you; I want to come close to you.” A few weeks later I stopped and realized I hadn’t had a migraine in over two weeks. The fire of His presence had done its work.

The fire of God’s presence produces change. God is not interested in your quitting drugs; He is interested in your getting close to the fire.  God is not asking you to stop sleeping around; He is asking you to get close to the fire. God doesn’t care if you throw out the pornography; He wants you to get close to the fire. God is not looking for you to become more humble, more loving or more forgiving: He is looking for you to get close to the fire. He is not so much concerned with our actions as He is with seeing a change of heart. If you feel drawn back to alcohol what is the problem? What is the solution? You have pulled back from the fire and you need to again draw close. You don’t need to try to change; you just need to get close to the fire.

There are those reading this today who struggle with addiction to alcohol, to meth, to coke. God is not expecting you to change. He is calling you to get close to the fire. The fire will bring about the change. The fire will burn out addictions. The fire will restore relationships. The fire will produce the transformation we each need. Do you want your life to be better? It won’t happen by just trying harder. It will happen when you come close to the fire! Worship Him. Seek His presence. Our goal is obedience. Our goal is the walk with Him. That will happen when we come close to the fire.

There Will Be Willow Days

willowThe Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of a successful harvest season at the same time being a reminder of God residing with His people for 40 years in the wilderness. Leviticus 23:40 (NLT) commands, “On the first day gather branches from magnificent trees–palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows that grow by the streams. Then celebrate with joy before the LORD your God for seven days.” Leafy trees I think represent provision and abundance. The palm in Scripture spoke of victory and success. Think Hawaii; think happy dance. The willow, on the other hand, represents tears, trials and adversity. Life is a combination of all of these. We have palm days and willow days. I will not have palm days all the time; I will not have weeping willow days all the time. Life is a mixture but through it God is the same, unchanging. His goodness is with me all the time. He is not just the God of palm days. God is there in the valley, in the tears.

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV) says, “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Willow days do not mean I am out of the presence of God. Happy days, experiencing His blessing, are good but they are not a sign that God is with me more strongly. He is unchanging. I need to learn to rejoice through it all. Paul in Philippians 4:12 (NIV) said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Whether in a palace or a prison, Paul made the decision to praise. How is that even possible? He goes on in verse 13, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

A palm day can switch to a willow day in an instant. I might be enjoying a beautiful spring day cruising down the street until the blue lights start flashing in the rear view mirror. About 4 years ago I was walking into church anticipating a great service. There was a light dusting of snow that covered an icy patch. Down I went fracturing my pelvis. Palm to willow in the blink of an eye. Philippians 4:4 commands, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” There are days when I feel tore up from the floor up, but even if it is a willow in my hand, God says rejoice.

Ever notice how we make a bigger deal of our willow days than our palm days? We whine, complain and make sure everybody feels sorry for us (not that anybody cares because they are too busy focused on their own problems.) Is the only time God can get my attention is when I am in trouble? Is that why I am so often in trouble? Reality is that in good times we tend to coast. Over 40 years ago, I broke my hand playing volleyball. Today I can still feel where the break occurred, not because it is still broken, but because it grew back even stronger. Our trials make us stronger.

I tend to think of palm days as no big deal while I make a big deal about my trials. I need to make a big deal about my blessings too. We ought to shout so much about our blessings we get on our neighbor’s nerves. How do we pray? Is it always needs and petitions (willows) or do we focus on worship and thanksgiving (palms)?

There is man-made pain: war, crime, hated and prejudice. There are natural disasters: floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, also sickness and disease. Where is God in that suffering? Isaiah 53:5 promises, “By His stripes we are healed.” Yet our Pastor died of cancer. My son was killed by a drunk driver. Nearly every day we read of terrorist attacks, bombings or beheadings. Psalm 23:4 says we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Aren’t we under the shadow of death our whole lives? From the day I was born I was on my way to leaving this world. James 4:14 (NIV) tells us, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Romans 8:16-17 (NKJV): “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” Wouldn’t it be nice if the verse ended there, but it goes on, “if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” We like to skip over the “suffer” part. I don’t suffer for the victory Jesus achieved on the cross, but I will face negativity, face my own laziness and face the desires of my flesh. I can say Jesus is Lord but am I willing to go through the challenges of serving Him as Lord?

The passage continues with verse18, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” I have lost a child, but that pain does not compare to the joy of being reunited in heaven. I will not minimize or trivialize the pain we go through: it’s bad. God is not expecting us to ignore the pain or deny the hurt. But that does not compare to the glory to come. Yes, life here sucks. But there is more to life than here on earth.

David had his share of struggles. His older brothers looked down on him. King Saul used him for target practice with his javelin. He spent years running for his life. But 1Samuel 30:6 says David encouraged himself in the Lord. In our battles if we will turn to God we will be strengthened to find joy and peace. Isaiah 43:2 (NKJV) says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” There is a key word here, repeated three times. Did you catch it? When you go THROUGH…

Romans 8:19 tells us we lost union with God at the Garden and all creation was placed under a curse. Now all of earth groans because the door was opened to the devil. My spirit is reborn but my body will still struggle with negative habits, destructive desires, addictions. If I’m a Christian, why do I still deal with all this junk? That’s my flesh. There is a battle, a fight of faith. Satan is trying to destroy me. He won’t stop with a pornographic web site or an attack on my marriage or filling me with fear and depression. Those are just little steps along the way. He wants to see me lose my hope and my faith in God.

Romans 15:13 (NLT): “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.” My joy and peace don’t come from my circumstances. They come from faith. If I let go of hope because of the circumstances, what is left? I won’t get better, only bitter. Look at someone who is full of hope and joy. Is it because their life has been easy? No, they have learned that circumstances do not define them. We groan within ourselves because this world is rough. But that is not the end of the story. Breathe in, breathe out. If you could do that, God’s not finished. Our hope is not in the world, it is in God.

Some problems we bring on ourselves. Some are just part of life. In 2Corinthians 11:23 Paul defends his ministry. He doesn’t talk about his theology degrees or his CD’s or how many come to his services. He points to his suffering. What do you think his back looked like? Whipped 5 times, beaten with rods 3 times, stoned once. If I had to go through even one of those beatings, you can keep ministry; I’m out of here. To Paul it was normal Christian life. In 2Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) the Lord assures Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

If I got a new job, I’d be happy. If I got a bigger salary… If I moved to a new town… Spoiler alert: I’m still won’t be happy until I change me. I am focused on my comfort while God is more interested in my character. Everything we see is temporary. If I define myself by what I own or where I live or how much money I make, my world view is messed up. 1Corinthinas 15:51 says this will all change “in the twinkling of an eye.” Everything I think is so important in this world becomes nothing the moment I put on that glorified body. I am not looking to get out of here, but I want to keep my priorities right as I am on this journey. The negatives in my world may never change but I can rise above them by trusting God.

We can get stuck in our problems and they define us more than our relationship with God. The problems I face may never get better, but I can get better. The mountain in front of me can become a barrier to moving forward or it can be the path to a higher life. The problems in life may never be fixed, but I can rise above them in Christ and not be defined by them. God isn’t going to fix everything. I don’t know why, He didn’t check with me on that. There will be times that aren’t fun. But that doesn’t mean He has left me or that He is finished with me. I can get stronger and climb that mountain. James 1:2-4 (NIV): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” That won’t happen by running from the negative circumstances. When those struggles come do I look to the Lord for help or do I get angry and distant? I choose to press in and find joy and peace in Him.

2Timothy 2:3 encourages us to endure hardship like a good soldier. Life is a battle. We have an enemy. The bad day is not the time to skip Bible reading; that’s the day to spend extra time. “The Lord let me down. He didn’t come through when I prayed. I’m going to go watch TV.”  Who am I punishing? Do I expect God to feel bad because I am mad at Him? God is not my problem; He is the answer to my problem.

I refuse to let my whole being be defined by one tragedy. Shortly after our son was killed we were encouraged to join Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We attended a meeting where a speaker from out of town described her experience. She spoke with such bitterness and pain that we thought her loss must have been recent. Then we learned it had been 13 year before. That tragedy consumed who she was. My wife and I agreed we would not let that happen to us.  Romans 8:37 promises I am more than a conqueror. How do I introduce myself? My name is drug addict. My name is divorced. No, my name is child of God, a joint heir with Christ, forgiven and redeemed.

Let’s read these verses together (NKJV):

  • Psalm 34:1 “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
  • Psalm 103:1 “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!”
  • Psalm 115:18 “But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”
  • Psalm 30:5 “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Don’t throw in the towel during the night. A palm day is coming.  God won’t leave me in my darkness. If I am willing to praise Him in the willow days He will bring the palm days.

Let me leave you with one final verse, Revelations 7:9 (NKJV): “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” What is missing? No willows. No more tears, no more trials. That’s God’s promise.

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?

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!

Crack in the Foundation

crackA few years ago we lived in a home where on occasion we would step into the basement family room and feel the squish, squish of water in the carpet. We eventually correlated the problem to times of heavy rain or overwatering the front lawn. In other words, there was a crack in the foundation. We chose to ignore the problem for some time but eventually we had to go to the expense of excavating the foundation, sealing the leak and installing drainage piping to pull the water away from the foundation.

It is so important that we be careful of the foundation upon which we build our lives. Build on the wrong values and we are headed for disaster. The only foundation that will never crack or weaken is Jesus Christ. He is our unchanging God. Hebrews 13:8 promises He is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” I can build my life and my eternal destiny on a foundation that is unshakable and unmovable.

There are times when we feel our foundation beginning to crumble; we know we are on shaky ground. If you have ever experienced an earthquake, it is an unnerving experience. Living in California we experienced a few. The earth that we always think of as stable and unmovable is suddenly rolling and lurching like a ship on the ocean. Pastor Casey Treat of Christian Faith Center in Seattle, Washington says, “If you are ever in an earthquake, stand on your Bible. It is the only thing that is unshakeable.” No other foundation will stand the storms of life. The foundation of Jesus will stand forever. Jesus is our only firm foundation.

1Corinthians 3:11-15 (NKJV) warns, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Each option that Paul describes becomes less and less stable, less and less durable. Allow me to offer my thoughts on these building materials.

  • Straw – I suggest this describes those that say they are Christian but don’t live by Christian values. They try to find their identity in job or possessions, living for what feels good.
  • Hay – We seek salvation based on works. We hope to earn our way to heaven because we have lost sight of God’s grace. We set our own agenda, and we no longer listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit trying to speak to us.
  • Wood – We begin to compromise and make excuses. “I’m not as bad as so-and-so.” We have lost focus.
  • Precious stones – Here our foundation is no longer “in Christ” but in the trappings of the Christian lifestyle: going to church, wearing a cross, saying “Praise the Lord”, listening to Christian music. We might even pray when we’re in trouble but it is no longer a close personal relationship.
  • Silver – This is where we put our trust in past experience, not a vibrant, living relationship. We have ceased to grow and aggressively pursue God.
  • Gold – At this level we are building with the best. This can be many things. Among them are undivided worship, fervent prayer, consistent Bible meditation, selfless service and unconditional submission.

This reminds me of the story of The Three Little Pigs. Straw and wood could not stand up to the wolf (a picture of the devil). Only brick had the durability. When we rely more on our works to get to heaven than on the grace of God, we have a crack in our foundation. As a Christian gets farther from the Lord as the center of their life, the more they will look for other things to act as the foundation.

A crack in our spiritual foundation can take many forms:

  • Thinking – I am trying to justify my wrong choices. I look for my identity in the values of the world.
  • Character – I am falling down in areas of integrity and compassion. I am compromising what I know is right.
  • Focus – I have moved away from the call on my life, allowing distraction to get my eyes off of moving closer to God.
  • Faith – I lose vision and hope. I spend less and less time in my Bible because it just seems to highlight my failures.
  • And on and on…

If I have a crack in my spiritual foundation, I don’t want to stuff it full of straw. I don’t want to use it as a setting for precious stones. I don’t even want to gold plate it. I want to get the right foundation that is going to hold up through the storms of life. Psalm 40:2 (NKJV) says, “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand.”

If I ignore the crack, my life will become a ruinous heap. My life will return to chaos without my constant oversight, just like darkness returns when light is diminished. Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” I am called to be a light in a dark world, a crack repairer in a cracked world. How will I repair the crack? How about with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, in other words the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)?

Thank God, I can build my life and my eternal destiny upon a foundation that is unshakable and unmovable. If I build on Jesus Christ as the absolute focus of my life, then I can rest assured that I will not fall. The Holy Spirit is helping me to build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ one spiritual lesson at a time. Jesus is the cornerstone. 1Peter 2:5a (NLT) says, “And now God is building you, as living stones, into His spiritual temple.”

I want to accomplish the vision God has for me. The vision of the world for my life is to find fulfillment in a job and in stuff. The vision of the devil for my life is defeat, despair and hopelessness. The vision of God for my life is victory, joy and an eternity with Him. To get there I must keep my eye on the prize, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14)

Past present and future are all “now” to an eternal God. He will reach into the past to heal the abuse, to heal the abandonment or rejection. When I think of eternity I think of endless days and endless years forever. That’s wrong. Eternity is not endless time. Eternity is where time has no meaning. In eternity there is no future, no past, only now. How can God promise me heaven in my future? Because He is eternal. How can God heal the hurt of my past? Because He is eternal.

The Everlasting God is supreme over the future and the past. By Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice 2000 years ago, we were bought back, redeemed from slavery to sin, slavery to the kingdom of darkness. 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 cracks don’t happen quickly. They develop slowly, almost imperceptibly. It happens with the choice of compromise: “I forgive everyone who has hurt me except…”, “I surrender every area of my life to God but…”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV) warns, “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock. “Everyone who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it will be like a foolish person who built a house on sand. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and struck that house. It collapsed, and the result was a total disaster.” Jesus wasn’t concerned about thunderstorms or flash floods. He was asking how we would stand against financial crisis, legal problems, broken relationships or death of a loved one. Before the storm came, both houses looked identical. It is the storm that reveals the foundation. It’s easier to build on the sand; digging to the rock takes extra effort. It’s easier to just show up at church for an hour a week than to develop deep spiritual roots. Everybody sounds like a believer when times are good. True faith is shown when we must trust Him in the dark, when the storm clouds hang heavy over our lives.

In 1Samuel 17:40, we are told before David confronted Goliath he took up his staff. Now I thought that a little odd since he didn’t use his staff in the fight, but recently it was explained to me that in that time they would carve pictures into their staff to depict past victories perhaps like an Old West gunslinger would put notches on his gun to show his kills. On that staff was David’s reminder of the lion and the bear he had defeated. He had a strong foundation. The staff wasn’t used in the battle but he needed to take his history of past victories into the battle. Don’t have a Godly history? God would say to you, “Start building tomorrow’s history today.”

The people of Jesus’ time would be familiar with the slave markets, the hopelessness and despair. Some of His listeners were likely slaves themselves. Today if you are a slave of anger – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of bitterness – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of alcohol – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of drugs – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of porn – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of fear – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of rejection – God says, “Redeemed!” When the devil comes against us with his lies and deception, we can declare boldly, “My foundation is secure. I am redeemed!”

When God Says No

sunset-229335_640I want to start by taking us back to March 4, 2000. It was 4:30 in the morning when we were awakened to an insistent knock on the door and flashing police lights in front of our house. Our 22 year old son, driving through Montana on his way home from college with his fiancé, had been hit head on by a drunk driver driving on the wrong side of the freeway. Amy was dead at the scene; Paul was airlifted to Missoula with massive head and chest injuries. The family gathered at his bedside and, along with our pastor, spent the next 3 days and nights in continuous prayer. The evening of March 6th Paul was declared brain dead. We contacted friends back home, Paul’s classmates at Trinity Bible College and others across the country and around the world. At 10:00 AM on March 7th, we began corporate prayer to raise Paul to life. United we sought God and at the end of 30 minutes, God said…no.

I am not negating the reality of miracles, those divine interventions into the progress of life. I have personally experienced a miraculous healing of migraine headaches. There were too many “coincidences” in starting Your Personalized Bible to not see the hand of God in its creation.  I have been in driving situations where I look back and say, “There is no way I could have made it through that.” Yet here I am. I remember stopping at a rest area one winter, getting out of the car and landed on my butt. Without realizing it I had driven the last 50 miles on black ice. Why wasn’t I in a ditch or wrapped around a tree?

But there will be times when, no matter how hard we pray or how strongly we believe, loved ones die, friends go to prison, marriages end. What do we do when God says no? Do people 20 years in a wheel chair get up and walk? Are dead raised to life? Are prison sentences suddenly commuted? Yes! But there are times too when God says no. When that happens, will my faith be destroyed? Will I walk away in a temper tantrum and say, “I’m through with You, God.”? What do I do when God says no?

Some would say if I live righteously, I will never be attacked by Satan. Some would say if I don’t see an answer, I must be praying wrong, I’ve opened the door to the devil or there is unrepented sin in my life. The fact is there will be times when there is an unexplainable no. God fully see, fully knows and fully understands. Will I trust Him through the good and the bad? Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NLT) says “I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.” And sometimes the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let’s look at some Biblical examples of when God said no:

  • In one day, Job lost all of his property, his family and his health. For the next 30 some chapters we listen to his friends accuse him of lack of faith and unrepented sin. Finally God speaks and asks, “Who are you to question what I do?”
  • Abraham, at 70, was promised he would be the “Father of Many Nations” (the meaning of his name). That was followed by 25 years of no. Can you image for 25 years introducing himself as “Father of Many Nations”. “Oh, how many children do you have?” “Well, we are childless.”
  • Moses asked God to heal his sister, Miriam, of leprosy. God said no, she had to live outside the camp for a week before she was healed.
  • David prayed and fasted for seven days for the life of his son by Bathsheba, but still the baby died.
  • In 2Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV), Paul “was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Three times Paul prayed for deliverance, yet God said no. His conclusion was, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
  • Do you think Jesus was exempt? In Mark 26:36-44 (NIV) Jesus faced the agony of the cross, taking on the sin of mankind and abandonment by His Father. Three times He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” And God said no.

In each case, God heard the petition but they were overruled. We have the right to object but He has the right to overrule. When God says no, what do I do? I say yes to His grace, His empowerment and I choose to surrender. Surrender easy to sing about but will I live it when His answer is no? This isn’t for a good day. This is for when all hell is breaking loose.

The prophet Habakkuk encountered a time like that. In Habakkuk 3:17&18, he said, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” When life sucks, what ya gonna do?

What overwhelms me? You see, obstacles define who I am. They separate the men from the boys. When I hit a wall, it is time to exercise faith. It is not the time to quit. Going back can’t be an option. This is part of God’s training. God bought a fixer upper when He got me. He is working on me. A promise is for when something is in doubt. We don’t need a promise for the obvious. Know this: God is with you as He is with me. Have you had storms in your life? Did you die from them? I rest my case.

Don’t take the presence of the storm to indicate the absence of God. We will face storms: financial, emotional, health, relationships. Isaiah 43:2 (NLT) promises, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” You are not alone. Let the light of God shine into the darkness of that pain, shine into the fear, the despair, the hopelessness, the loneliness, the emptiness.

I can get self-help books from the bookstore but there are times when self can’t help. I need God. I need His grace. Psalm 46:1 (NKJV) says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” 1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV) tells us, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” God is doing a divine exchange: beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). That’s a good deal.

In making a sword, the steel is heated, hammered, folded, heated, hammered, folded again and again until it’s very microscopic structure is transformed. What fire, what hammering do I need to go through to become the weapon in the hand of God He desires? Ephesians 6:13 encourages us that having done all to stand then stand. Growing in faith and trust will help us to stand.

What is the will of God for my life? 1Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The will of God for my life is to give thanks in everything. Not for everything, but in everything. Anyone can be thankful for good things. We all have an excuse to be bitter. The devil will try to push my buttons so that I lose my joy, but a wall of thanksgiving will frustrate him. Trust says, “God, You know what is best for me.” There is the key word: Trust.

Faith must go beyond belief in facts and step into trust. James 2:19 (NLT) says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” I read of a daredevil who was about to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He turned to the crowd and said, “Do you believe I can do this?” “YES” they screamed back. “To make it more difficult, I am going to push a wheelbarrow across with me. Do you still believe I can do it?” “YES” “OK, who wants to ride in the wheelbarrow? Silence.

Faith is not a feeling, it is not goose bumps: “Oh, I feel the presence of God today!” Faith takes hope, mixes in past experience and the product is trust when I don’t feel His presence. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In court if my defense is based on evidence that can’t be seen, I’m in trouble. In life it is called faith.

Hebrews 13:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. How do I build my faith? Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. We read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The seed on rocky soil died off because it did not have roots that went down deep. We must sink our roots deep. Jesus didn’t say, “I’ve come so that you might have religion.” Or rules, or regulations, or rituals. He said, “I’ve come that you might have life.” (John 10:10) Life comes through the Word. John 1:4 says, “In Him (the Word, Jesus) was life.”

As we sat together in a restaurant after leaving the hospital for the last time, our pastor warned us, “Don’t ever ask why.” That is the essence of trust. A few days later we tucked our little boy in for the last time. Closing that casket is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But my trust in God is not shaken. Paul’s tombstone quotes 2 Corinthians 15:54: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

New ID Required

ButterflyI changed my name a few years ago. My first name was Walter but that caused confusion because I go by my middle name, Gill. So I petitioned the court and legally changed it to simply W. Documents in hand, I went down to the local DMV, paid my fee, had my picture taken and got a brand new ID. I recognize that I have one ID that doesn’t expire. It looks as good today as it did the day I got it 35 years ago. If I am every pulled over by the State Patrol, he will want to see my driver’s license but this ID will show through my actions and attitude. It is my ID in Christ, my identity in Him.

I could write to you about salvation but chances are if you are reading this you are already born again. But if we don’t understand our identity in Christ we will never live in the fullness of what salvation means. Sure we’re going to heaven but without understanding our identity in Christ we are unable to live in victory today.

We are not fighting for victory, we are fighting from a place of victory. God has already done everything He is going to do. He is waiting for you and me to step up to our place of victory. We must recognize what God has already done. His victory is mine. His blessing is mine. If I understand it, nothing can take the smile off my face.

What do I build my identity on? Job, looks (obviously not), relationships, popularity? You can push my buttons if I allow myself to care too much what you think of me. Proverbs 29:25 (NKJV) warns “fear of human opinion disables.”

My mouth reveals what is inside. Luke 6:45 (NLT) says, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” If I am negative, it reveals a fearful heart. Harshness shows the anger inside. Boasting reveals insecurity. Being judgmental covers up guilt. A critical tongue is a sign of bitterness. On the other hand, an encouraging tongue shows a joyful heart. Gentleness comes from a loving heart. One who is controlled despite the circumstances is peaceful inside.

Our family has had several experiences with organ transplants. When our son was killed we had the privilege of meeting his heart recipient. Recently a friend received a kidney and pancreas transplant. Ezekiel 11:19 (NIV) promises, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Salvation is a transplant, giving us a new identity. I may look the same on the outside but there is something new inside.

I am a new creation in Christ (2Corinthians 5:17). On the outside I still look like a man but inside I have the God kind of righteousness, the life giving power of God, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. TD Jakes says, “You may have done what they say you did but you are not who they say you are.” I don’t know what you may have done but I know what Jesus has done. I have been a volunteer chaplain in our county jail for over 6 years. In that time I have ministered to hundreds of men: drug traffickers, DUI’s, assault, sex offenders and other crimes. I have never asked, “What are you in for?” It doesn’t matter. We are washed in the blood.

My wife loves being a grandma. One of her gifts as a grandma is being able to put fussy babies to sleep. When they are in her arms, they find a peace that takes the fussiness away and very soon they are sleeping peacefully. When we are in the secure arms of Jesus, then hurt, frustration and fear disappear. He replaces the hurt with love, anxiety with peace, fear with power. Romans 6:4 (NIV) declares, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” When we identify with Jesus’s death in baptism we also experience a new life, a new identity.

What determines my identity now?

  • Not genetics. A doctor will ask about diseases your momma had, or your daddy, grandpa, etc. because some things are carried by genetics. Who’s your daddy now? Romans 8:17 says we are joint heir with Christ. That means we are in an equal position. I am born again, born from above. My bloodline, my genetics have been changed.
  • Not environment. My identity is no longer tied to race or culture. I am God’s son or daughter, a child of the King.
  • Not psychological. What has happened to me in the past? What abuse, rejection or defeat have I experienced? Philippians 3:13-14 tells us, “Forgetting what is behind…”
  • My identity is in Christ. I am saved. I am forgiven. I am chosen. I am victorious.

I like to find spiritual parallels in everyday things. One of my favorite treats is a root beer float. Now there is a technique to making a root beer float. You can put in the ice cream then add the root beer. The result is lots of foam. You can pour the root beer first and then add the ice cream. That gives less foam, but I like to make the root beer flat first. The result is less foam and more room for ice cream and root beer. Seems like a no brainer to me. What do I need to remove from my life to make more room for God’s presence? What genetic, environmental or psychological connection must be broken to make room for my identity in Christ?

God specializes in changing identities:

  • Abram the childless to Abraham the father of many nations,
  • Jacob the deceiver to Israel the prince,
  • Moses the fugitive to Moses the deliverer,
  • David the shepherd to David the king,
  • Peter the denier to Peter the leader of the church,
  • Saul the persecutor to Paul the apostle.

Why is sin important to the devil? According to Romans 8:38, it can’t separate us from God’s love, nothing can to that. Sin undermines our identity as a son or daughter of God. From time to time we will see in the news a house on the Pacific Coast near Los Angeles where erosion has undermined the foundation and is taking it into the ocean. Sin causes erosion of our identity. It’s no big deal at first but over time it keeps wearing away a little at a time, weakening the foundation. Well, it’s time to shore up our identity. How? First is Bible reading and study. Second, listening to sound, Bible based teaching. Finally, and so often overlooked, fellowship with believers who will build up and encourage us. Proverbs 12:26 (NKJV) tells us that the righteous choose friends carefully.

My identity in Christ brings power. The important thing is not what man saw when Jesus rose. It is about what God saw in Jesus’ death and resurrection plus what the devil saw when Jesus stepped out of the tomb. Philippians 3:9-10 (NKJV) “and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” I don’t care where you came from or what you’ve been through. I don’t care who your daddy is or how long your rap sheet is. Our right standing before God comes through the power of Jesus’ resurrection and our identification with Him.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in me. How much power was in the resurrection? Enough to reverse the effects of sin for all time, once for all. The world may worry about a power shortage, but there is no power shortage in God. We don’t have to say, “Better hurry and come to Jesus before the power runs out.”

2Corinthians 5:17 in the Amplified Bible says we are “engrafted into Christ.” Grafting requires the branch to be cut off of the old plant and the new plant must be wounded to receive the branch. Jesus was wounded on the cross so He could receive me into Himself. His blood made it possible. I was raised with Him, raised above my past, raised above my failures, raised above my insecurities, raised above my doubts. My identity is in Him. Hallelujah!

The same power that conquered the grave lives in me (Ephesians 1:18-21)

His love that rescued the earth lives in me (Galatians 2:20)

(You Are Here, Hillsong)

If I Change

racoonIf someone gave me $100, would that change my life? One night out to dinner and a movie and that is gone. What if I had a new job? Give it a month and I’ll probably find something to grumble about. On the other hand, one thought can change my life. For me one of those thoughts was Romans 8:1: “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” Those words began my journey to understand who I am in Christ.

My confession can say “I’m in trouble” or “I’m in Christ.” If it’s “I’m in trouble”, who am I blaming? My wife, my boss, my parents? Colossians 3:10 (NIV) tells us, “(We) have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” It’s time to put on the new man. That means to put on new thinking. Here is the Key: If I change, everything changes.

We have all heard of the witness protection program on police dramas: a witness whose life is threatened is given a new identity. They have a new name, a new home, new ID, but are they a different person? Without a change on the inside, they will go back to the same habits resulting in the same outcome wherever they go: stealing cars, doing dope, whatever. We recently traveled to Florida. I got off the plane, proceeded to baggage claim and guess who was there? Me! Wherever I go, there I am. I can’t get away from me.

What words define my life? Stress, financial pressure, anger, frustration, rejection. We need a new vocabulary. Ephesians 1:4-5 describes the new man, “Even as He chose _____ in Him before the foundation of the world, that _____ would be holy and without blemish before Him in love; having predestined _____ for adoption as a son/daughter through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His desire.” Here we are described as chosen, holy and adopted. Verse 7 tells us we are redeemed and forgiven. Often our attitude is, “I’ve always been this way.” “I’ve always thought this way.” “It’s so hard to change.” Who ever said it would be easy? But the reward is worth it. If I change, everything changes.

Have you ever see fun house mirrors? One makes your stomach balloon out, the next gives you a watermelon sized head. We grow up never seeing a true image of who we are. Words from friends or teachers, abusive or neglectful parents, a home broken by divorce, a dysfunctional family have left an imprint on our soul. I remember my parents saying, “You never follow through on anything.” That has always made it hard for me to push through to the end of a task. “I can’t…” “I’ll never…” It is time to get a new image of who you are. The Word of God is the only accurate mirror that can tell you who you are.

What is our excuse for not trying? ADHD, I can’t read, I failed in school. A tattoo artist had just completed a tattoo on a man’s arm saying, “Loser.” He was asked why anyone would want that tattoo. His response was, “It first must be on their heart.”

Let’s get our focus on a new self-image.  The world is trying to pull us off course, distract us from God’s purpose for our lives. James 1:8 warns that the double minded man is “unstable in all they do.” Here is a key to recognizing double minded: “but”. If I say, “I am in Christ BUT…” I am double minded. “But” is a U-turn. I am headed toward the in Christ reality, then the “but” jumps in and turns me the other way. The “but” cancels out everything before it.

Acts 17:28 (NIV) tells us, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” In Christ is our connection to life. I have rights as a citizen of the United States. When I travel overseas, I can expect help and protection from the local authorities as a US citizen. As a citizen of heaven my rights are exponentially higher: child of God, destined for heaven, protection from the evil one. In the natural, our identity may be from family history: divorce, addiction, abuse. 2Corinthians 5:16 says we are no longer identified according to the flesh. Paul goes on to say in verse 17 we are a new creation. We have a new identity, a new passport.

Ephesians 4:22-24 commands, “that _____ put away, as concerning his/her former way of life, the old man/woman, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that _____ be renewed in the spirit of his/her mind, and put on the new man/woman, that like God has been created in true righteousness and holiness.” Success depends on change. Bottom line, I can’t change anything but me.  My past is my fault, but so is my future. I may want to blame others or blame the past, but the truth is it is up to me to change my future. Philippians 3:13-14 encourages us to step forward and don’t look back. If I change, everything changes.

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” If I am expecting my life to be the same (or go down hill) it probably will. Why not expect a miracle. In Psalm 23:6 David said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Have you ever lived looking over your shoulder for a bully or a bill collector or maybe the police? Why not look over your shoulder expecting goodness and mercy? In Mark 2:3-5 four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They came expecting, so much so that when they couldn’t get in because of the crowd they tore a hole in the roof to get their friend to Jesus. Expectation is a magnet for the blessings and miracles of God.

Proverbs 4:23 warns us to guard our heart. Good News Bible puts it this way, “Be careful how you think, your life is shaped by your thoughts.” Are those thoughts in line with new creation reality? If I don’t believe it, I will never live it. Winning the battle in my mind will lead to winning in life. If I change, everything changes.

Surfers watch for waves. We have seen them in Hawaii, sitting on their boards for hours waiting for “the” wave. Demons watch for words and they will ride those words right into my soul. I can’t afford to say what my feelings tell me, what my family says, what friends think of me. Philippians 4:8 tells us to keep our thoughts on “whatsoever is true, noble, just…” We are to think on these things, speak these things. Next time you find yourself in a lousy mood ask, “What have I been thinking about?” There will be thoughts that led to that mood.

“My Mama taught me…” “Uncle Joe always said…” “My friend James told me…” What does God’s Word say? Deuteronomy 30:19-20 points out the choice: “I call heaven and earth to witness against _____ this day, that I have set before him/her life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore _____ should choose life, that he/she may live, he/she and his/her seed.” Choose life! Right thinking attracts the blessings of God. It doesn’t matter how many sermons I hear if I don’t change my mind. My life may change because of a miraculous touch of God but that isn’t the norm. However, if I have changed my mind, I’m ready for a miracle. If I change, everything changes.

What is the most important thing we can do as Christians? Pray? Witness? Serve the poor? Those are all good but I submit the most important thing is to change. All those other things are good but they will follow naturally as we change to be more like Him. We want life to be easy; God wants to grow us up. We want God to do something for us; God wants to do something in us and through us. If I change, everything changes.

One of my favorite things about the Bible is how honest it is about the shortcomings of the men therein. I think that is so we can realize that we can overcome our shortcomings too.

  • Jacob – In Genesis 27, he used deceit to get Esau’s      birthright as firstborn. Blessing will not override a lack of integrity. Jacob      continued to pay for that character flaw because character is the steering      mechanism for our lives.
  • Moses – He suffered from low self-esteem. He spent 40      years in the desert as a murderer, rejected and isolated. In Exodus 3:11,      Moses whines, “Who      am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”      Yet he went on to be a great leader.
  • Gideon      – Judges 6 describes how Gideon is hiding in the wine press when an angel      shows up and calls him “a mighty man of valor.” When Gideon gets the      understanding that he is God’s mighty man, he becomes the leader God needs.
  • Peter      – When Jesus first met him, Peter’s reaction was “Depart from me for I am      a sinful man.” Later he denies even knowing Jesus. Yet he is the one who walks      on water in Luke 5. At Pentecost he speaks as the leader of the church and      thousands were brought in.
  • Paul,      David, Elijah, Noah, Samson, Jonah… They all had their faults but they      didn’t stay there. Can you live as an overcomer? Luke 1:37 promises, “With      God, nothing is impossible.”

What is required for mind renewal? Joshua 1:8 commands, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Meditate on the Word. Like a cow chewing her cud, get everything out of the Word that you can. Part of Biblical meditation is speaking the Word. As our pastor calls it, “Mutter-tate.” As we declare the Word with our mouths, it takes stronger root in our heart.

I want to conclude this study with Psalm 1:1-3:

“_____ is blessed because he/she doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor does he/she stand in the way of sinners,

Nor does he/she sit in the seat of scoffers;

But _____’s delight is in the LORD’s law;

On His law _____ meditates day and night.

_____ will be like a tree planted by the streams of water,

That brings forth fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also does not wither.

Whatever _____ does shall prosper.”

What was the key? If I change, everything changes.