How to Make Lasting Change

We are often perplexed on why we make commitments to change yet fall miserably short of success. One essential start is to make your life based on the Bible:

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” (John 8:31b NASB)

One cannot stress enough how important it is to make a commitment to reading the Bible regularly. Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31b NASB). It’s a long-term commitment to learn from Jesus and his Word that makes us his disciples.

How do you continue in the Word and stay connected with Jesus through his Word for the long-term?

1. Make the decision. It starts with your commitment to actually do it. Don’t wait for a better time to make God’s Word a regular part of your life. Start your commitment today.

2. Make a declaration. Announce your intentions to others. Hold yourself accountable and allow yourself to be held accountable by others. If you keep your commitment to God a secret, it’s easier to slip up.

3. Make a determination. Don’t allow anything to knock you off your commitment. Absolute determination can make this a permanent habit in your life, particularly in the early months. If you start skipping days, it will be much harder to stay committed to God’s Word.

4. Double up. Get a spiritual partner to come alongside you for support and encouragement. This is someone with whom you can share what you learn in your quiet times. It could be someone in your small group, a friend, or a family member. The Bible says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT).

[print_link] [email_link] [Based on a devotion by Rick Warren]

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Remember Failure is not Final

Take a moment and think about some of the familiar stories we heard as children (like “Cinderella” or “The Ugly Duckling”). What do they have in common? They are stories of transformation.

There’s a story of true transformation you will find in Genesis 28, where Jacob turned out to be one of the brightest stars in the Hebrew heaven, but he didn’t start out that way. He began as a failure with so much going against him.

Jacob had a lot of family problems. His father, Isaac, loved God, but he was a very sensual man. His mother, Rebekah, was a scheming woman who helped Jacob deceive his father (Genesis 27:5-17). Jacob’s twin brother, Esau, was a self-sufficient, self-centered brute who didn’t care at all about the things of God.

Jacob also had internal problems. His name originally meant “trickster” or “liar,” and that’s what he was by nature. It was hard for him to do right. He was just moving through life from one failure to another, but I want you to see God’s grace in Jacob’s life.

With all Jacob had against him, he did have a couple of redeeming factors.

The first thing he had going for him was that God loved him. The Bible tells us clearly in Romans 9:13 that God said, “I loved Jacob.” He didn’t love him because of his faults, but in spite of his faults. God didn’t change him in order to love him. God loved him so he could change him.

The second thing Jacob had going for him was that he had a spiritual hunger; he wanted to know God. Early in his life, he had cheated his brother out of the birthright which was the spiritual blessing (Genesis 25:19-34). Although Esau didn’t really care about the spiritual blessing, Jacob wanted it, but went about getting it in the wrong way.

Because of these two factors, Jacob experienced a transformation in his life (Genesis 28:10-22). Jacob had left his home because Esau was trying to kill him. He had been gone for many years and on his return trip he spent the night in the desert and had a dream about a ladder that came down from heaven with angels ascending and descending on it.

Up to this point, Jacob had been a religious man, but I don’t think he was a saved man. He was like a lot of people: he knew ABOUT God, but he didn’t KNOW God personally. He was separated from God, separated by his deceitfulness and sentenced to death.

New Consciousness: God began to reveal Himself to Jacob, and suddenly he had a new consciousness of God. Genesis 28:16 says Jacob awakened out of his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” God revealed himself to Jacob but he almost missed him!

New Communion: Along with a new consciousness, Jacob also had a new communion with God. Genesis 28:17 says he was afraid. He said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

Then Jacob rose up early in the morning, took the stone that he had used for his pillow and set it up for a pillar. He poured oil on the top of it and worshiped God. Jacob then changed the name of the place as it’s told in Genesis 28:19, “He called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.”

  • Luz means “separation,” which is what it used to be.
  • But now he calls it Bethel, which means “the house of God.”

Bethel is the place where he met the Lord. Meeting God at Bethel transformed Jacob’s life.

Do you have a Bethel? Do you have a place where you moved from separation to fellowship with God? From failure to success? God loved Jacob, and he loves you. Even though you may see yourself as having so much against you, you have the same thing going for you that Jacob did, and that is that God loves you.

Do you have a hunger for God? God would not just let things go. He saw in Jacob a hunger for himself. It was likely there all along, but God had to awaken this knowledge in Jacob. Do you have a hunger for God?

Do you have the ladder? There’s a ladder that goes from Earth to heaven and his name is Jesus. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) and he wants to transform you from a failure into a success.

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Everyone Needs Recovery

I’ve been thinking about how our church might better reach into the neighborhood, what needs to we see? Marriages need to be strengthened, kids are involved in recreational drugs, pornography attacks half of the male population (according to the national average)… what is a church to do in order to impact our community with the gospel?

The Home Run movie came out on April 19 this year, and I sense THIS is the next wave of hands-on help that can make life transformation practical and possible for so many people.

Here is some introductory research into that which Celebrate Recovery is based:

The Eight Principles of Recovery:

1.   Realize I’m not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. — Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.  (Matthew 5:3)

2.   Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover. — Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

3.   Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control. — Happy are the meek. (Matthew 5:5)

4.   Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust. — Happy are the pure in heart. (Matthew 5:8)

5.   Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. — Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires. (Matthew 5:6)

6.   Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others. — Happy are the merciful. Happy are the peacemakers. (Matthew 5:7, 9)

7.   Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.

8.   Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and by my words. — Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires. (Matthew 5:10)

The Twelve Steps with Biblical Comparison:

1.    We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. — I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18)

2.    We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. — For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

3.    We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God. — Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1)

4.    We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. —  Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD. (Lamentations 3:40)

5.    We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. — Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

6.    We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. — Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)

7.    We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. — If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

8.    We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. — Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:3 1)

9. We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. — Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

10.   We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. — So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10.12)

11.   We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out. — Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. (Colossians 3:16)

12.   Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs. — Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

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God’s Unique Design

This is the third study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

Because each of us is different, God’s plan for each of us is also different. If we are to know that plan, we must know ourselves; our gifts, talents, strengths and shortcomings. So, if we want to make better decisions based on God’s will, it is a good this to look at how we are wired.

In the first eleven chapters of the book of Romans, Paul tells about the facts of the gospel. Beginning with chapter 12, he speaks of the practical implications of the gospel for our behavior. His words have much to say about God’s plan and direction for our lives.

1. After reading this chapter, how would you define a “living sacrifice?”

John Stott makes the following comments about the living sacrifice: It is not to be offered in the temple courts or in the church building, but rather in home life and in the marketplace. It is the presentation of our bodies to God. This blunt reference to our bodies was calculated to shock some of Paul’s Greek readers. Brought up on Platonic thought, they will have regarded the body as an embarrassing encumbrance. . . . Still today some Christians feel self-conscious about their bodies. The traditional evangelical invitation is that we give our “hearts” to God, not our “bodies.” . . . But Paul is clear that the presentation of our bodies is our spiritual act of worship. It is a significant Christian paradox. No worship is pleasing to God when it is purely inward, abstract and mystical; it must express itself in concrete acts of service performed by our bodies.

2. Romans 12:2 says that being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” will allow us to “test and approve what God’s will is.” What is a renewed mind? How does it differ from a mind that has been conformed “to the pattern of this world?”

“These two value systems (this world and God’s will) are incomparable, even in direct collision with one another. Whether we are thinking about the purpose of life or the meaning of life, about how to measure greatness or how to respond to evil, about ambition, sex, honesty, money, community, religion or anything else, the two sets of standards diverge so completely that there is no possibility of compromise. No wonder Karl Barth called Christian ethics ‘the great disturbance,’ so violently does it challenge, interrupt and upset the tranquil status quo” (John Stott).

3. How do our minds become either conformed or renewed?

“Because human beings are inveterate conformists, the temptation to simply fit into the picture and fade into the scenery can be practically overwhelming. The committed life, however, is shown by the degree in which the believer stays in the secular world without being trapped by it and without failing to be a witness to it. The tension is aptly described by the Master’s words explaining that we are ‘in the world but not of it'” (Stuart Briscoe).

4. What disciplines are helping you to renew your mind?

5. What responsibility do you have to “test and approve what God’s will is”? How can you take this responsibility seriously?

“[Paul] does not promise that the careless, the casual, and the uncommitted will somehow land on their feet and find out that they did God’s will by accident. Rather he states that those who genuinely do what is required will find in their own experience the reality of the sweet will of God” (Briscoe).

6. What does Romans 12:3-8 teach about God’s plan for the Christian community?

“Diversity, not uniformity, is the mark of God’s handiwork. It is so in nature; it is so in grace, too, and nowhere more so than in the Christian community. Here are many men and women with the most diverse kinds of parentage, environment, temperament, and capacity. Not only so, but since they became Christians they have been endowed by God with a great variety of spiritual gifts as well. Yet because and by means of that diversity, all can co-operate for the good of the whole” (F. F. Bruce).

7. What is meant by making a “sober judgment” of yourself (Romans 12:3)?

“By this expression Paul means that God equips each believer for a particular task and expects him to discover and fulfill his special role in the context of the believing community. Once this is understood, the believer is delivered from a number of potential miscalculations. He will not aspire to be more than God intends him to be, but he will not settle for being less than he was created and redeemed to be. Accordingly, he will be delivered from an arrogance which is destructive of harmony in the body of believers and will be content to make a ‘sober’ evaluation of his own gifts and calling” (Briscoe).

8. How will failure to do this lead you off track in understanding God’s will?

9. As you look at yourself with “sober judgment,” what do you believe to be your function and gifts in the body?

10. How has an understanding of your gifts helped you to “test and approve what God’s will is?”

11. How does Romans 12:9-21 tell us that we should be treating other people?

“Mutual love, sympathy and honor within the brotherhood of believers are to be expected, but something more is enjoined here love and forgiveness to those outside the fellowship, and not least to those who persecute them and wish them ill” (Bruce).

12. Why would it be futile to seek God’s will if we are not being renewed in our love for others?

13. Continue to make a sober judgment of yourself by evaluating whether you have been conformed or transformed according to each of the ethical instructions in Romans 12:9-21.

Read Romans 12:9-21 aloud, pausing after each phrase to respond silently to God. Your response should be either, “Thank you, Lord, for the transformation in my life,” or “I confess that I have been conformed to the world.”

Ask God to continually renew your mind, and confess to him where you have been conformed to the pattern of this world.

Now or Later: Make a list of the spiritual gifts that are mentioned in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31; and Ephesians 4:11-13.

1. Write out a definition for each of these gifts.

2. Which of these gifts has God given you? Remember to take the free online inventory at www.TeamMinistry.com

Warren Wiersbe Writes About Romans 12:

The biblical pattern is to relate doctrine and duty, for what you believe must determine how you behave. In these closing chapters, Paul discusses your relationship with the Lord (Romans 12:1–2), yourself (Romans 12:3), the church (Romans 12:4–16), and your enemies (12:17–21).

Transformation (Romans 12:1-2). The Spirit of God transforms your life by renewing your mind (2 Corinthians 3:18), but He cannot do this unless you give Him your body. When you give yourself to God in spiritual worship, you become a living sacrifice to the glory of God.

Evaluation (Romans 12:3). To think more highly of yourself, or less highly, is sin, so have a proper estimate of who you are and what God has given you (Galatians 6:3–5).

Cooperation (Romans 12:4-16). You are part of the body of Christ with a ministry to fulfill, so do your part lovingly and joyfully.

Vindication (Romans 12:17-21). If yours is a godly life, you are bound to have enemies (Matt. 5:10–12; 2 Tim. 3:12); but leave all judgment to the Lord. If you let the Lord have His way, He will use your enemies to build you and make you more like Christ.

Conclusion:

Believers are not of the world any more than Christ is of the world. However, they are sent into the world to testify that its works are evil and that salvation is available to all who put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We should not only be separated from the world; we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind, which means that we should think the way God thinks, as revealed in the Bible. Then we can experience the direct guidance of God in our lives. And we will find that, instead of being distasteful and hard, His will is good and acceptable and perfect.

Here, then, are three keys for knowing God’s will.

  1. The first is a yielded body
  2. The second a separated life
  3. The third a transformed mind

Take a look at the document on the Spiritual Gifts Descriptions found in Romans 12. If you’re up to it, I designed an Spiritual Gifts Discovery inventory years ago, a PDF document that ads your score on the tally sheet at the end.

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Transformational Churches

I have known about the book, but it is funny how something really grabs your attention after a while. I found this information online and have moved this book to the top of my reading list. How has the church gotten away from the original mission of making disciples, and growing an “army” of disciple-makers? And how do we measure our success, certainly it can’t be by the standards of the world. Take five to see this video. Who is doing this, and how has it worked?

Transformational Discipleship, by Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley and Philip Nation

A Christian’s desire to grow in faith is beautiful and biblical, best illustrated in Jeremiah 17 where Scripture describes “The man who trusts in the LORD” as being “like a tree planted by water… It will not worry in a year of drought or cease producing fruit.”

But how do people really grow spiritually? Transformational Discipleship describes the process that brings to life that kind of person described in the Bible. There’s no magic formula or mantra to recite here, but rather a substantive measure of research with churches and individuals who have wholeheartedly answered the call of Jesus to make disciples.

A compilation of their wisdom and stories, it guides church leaders and members to practice the intentional efforts needed to foster an entire culture in which people grow in Christian faith.

And people will grow, not because of human research, but by the power of God’s Word and of the Holy Spirit working through the church; the same way disciples have always been made. When the people of God engage in the mission of God through the Spirit of God, lives are transformed.

The Transformational Discipleship Assessment: The TDA is an online assessment tool that helps individuals and churches assess spiritual strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to help churches in the process of making disciples.

Anyone who would like to understand better where they might begin to grow spiritually should use this tool. The TDA was designed so that a small group, Sunday School class, or even an entire church could participate in the assessment.

Here are the eight discipleship attributes:

  1. Bible Engagement
  2. Obeying God and Denying Self
  3. Serving God and Others
  4. Sharing Christ
  5. Exercising Faith
  6. Seeking God
  7. Building Relationships
  8. Unashamed (Transparency)

Transformational Church: by Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer

How are we doing? The church, that is. And how are we doing it? Congregations have long measured success by “bodies, budget, and buildings” (a certain record of attendance, the offering plate, and square footage). But the scorecard can’t stop there. When it does, the deeper emphasis on accountability, discipleship, and spiritual maturity is lost. Ignoring those details, we see fewer lives transformed, Christian influence wane, and churches thin out–a situation that is all too familiar across North America today.

It is time to take heart and rework the scorecard. According to Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer, “Too often we’ve highlighted the negative realities of the declining American church but missed the opportunity to magnify the God of hope and transformation.”

Based on the most comprehensive study of its kind, including a survey of more than 7,000 churches and hundreds of on-site interviews with pastors, Transformational Church takes us to the thriving congregations where truly changing lives is the norm.

Stetzer and Rainer clearly confirm the importance of disciple making for all through active biblical engagement and prayerful dependence on God alongside of ever-increasing, intentional participation in mission and ministry activities. As the church engages these issues, the world will see the change:

  • More people following Christ
  • More believers growing in their faith
  • More churches making an impact on their communities

The transformation starts now.

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Radical Transformation

Here in America, we value transformation, remember that TV show called Extreme Makeover Home Edition? It came on ABC on Sunday nights. They take this deserving family, someone really making a difference in the community, or someone with special needs or a health condition, and they have this really run-down and unhealthy house. Then within one week they rally the whole community and totally transform the property into something very usable. It’s extraordinarily entertaining, and sometimes it’s pretty emotional. These people are so grateful and overwhelmed by the generosity of these sponsoring companies and the community’s volunteerism, encouragement and support. It really makes you feel good about people again.

Perhaps you remember the original Extreme Makeover show, the one where they took average looking girls who get the “ultimate package;” a transformation of clothing, hairstyle, veneer teeth, new makeup and perhaps even a nose job, face lift or “some other sort of lift” or augmentation. Then there are the “before and after” pictures of women who got the makeover. Not to be judgmental, but some of these girls were pretty “homely” until they got a new hair style, makeup and an outfit. Now they look like a supermodel.

These days, in order to keep up with the culture of America, there’s now a show called Extreme Makeover, Weight-Loss Edition. Well, season 2 is here. Recently we saw that Tony wants to lose weight before his wedding, and he’s nearly 400 pounds. We learned about his food addiction and unstable family life since he was a kid. At age 14 he worked at shoveling snow and at a fast food restaurant, where he would overeat because he did not know where his next meal was coming from. At 21, he and his first wife had a severely handicapped child where stress pushed him toward food for comfort. After a 30-year career in food service management, he decided to quit because his weight had gotten out of control. Now we all can pull for this jobless and divorced 49-year-old as he struggles and works to lose weight before his 50th birthday and his upcoming wedding.

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I think Americans like a good transformation story, but when you think about it, these examples of physical transformation are only temporary. These homes can burn down, get destroyed in a storm, or have termites cause tremendous damage. These new bodies that people get, through artificial means or through a year of extremely hard work… they can get ill from diseases or die from anything from cancer or homicide or an accident.

As believers in Christ, we are more interested in spiritual transformation, which is permanent. That’s what I want to talk about today.

Ezekiel the Prophet: Only two verses in the Old Testament identify Ezekiel by name (Ezekiel 1:3; 24:24). The prophet Ezekiel was raised in a priestly family in Jerusalem and educated to become a priest himself, but this was not to be. He was taken into exile with other high-ranking Jews at the first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. While there, in his thirtieth year (593 BC), he received a powerful vision from the Lord and his call to be a prophet. Between this first exile and the final fall of Jerusalem (in 586/587 BC) many Israelites hoped to throw off the yoke of Babylon, often looking to Egypt for help (rather than God). Ezekiel’s prophecies against Jerusalem and some other nations take place in this context.

Ezekiel was given tremendous visions of God; and he also was called to act out God’s messages to the Jewish captives. He does some of the weirdest things you’ll read in the Bible!

Chariot-Throne of God: One of the most striking and memorable visions of the book is the throne of God, which is placed above a kind of moving revolving chariot (Ezekiel 1:4-28; 10:3-22). This is where we get that old folk song, Ezekiel Saw the Wheel. How to understand this vision has long been debated, some have even connected it with a UFO!

The Valley of Dry Bones: This odd scene has God asking Ezekiel what he sees, a valley full of very dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). “Can these bones live?” God asks, and he eventually is told to prophesy to these bones. They begin to come together to form skeletons and soon flesh is again on them. We have sung about this too, Dem Bone, Dem Bone, Dem Dry Bones…

Extreme One-Man Dramas: As part of his prophetic vocation, Ezekiel engaged in a large number of extreme activities; he was to dramatize and symbolize his message of doom from the Lord. These activities strike us as odd, eccentric, or even weird. They include:

  1. Building a model of the city of Jerusalem and laying siege to it, part of which meant being tied up with ropes and lying on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for forty days (Ezekiel 4:1-15). He was to live on a daily ration of eight ounces of food and a pint of water. It represented the starvation diet they would experience in captivity.
  2. Shaving his head bald, dividing up his hair and striking part of it with a sword all around the city model (Ezekiel 5:1-4). Each third represented the fate of Jerusalem’s inhabitants when the city fell.
  3. Packing up his belongings every night in a mock exile, busting a hole in the wall rather than going through the door (Ezekiel 12:3-7).
  4. Trembling and shaking when he ate his food and drank water (Ezekiel 12:17-20).

Ezekiel’s wife died suddenly (Ezekiel 24:15-27): The prophet was called to do more than act out the fate of others. He was also called to experience the pain of judgment. Ezekiel was warned that his wife, “the desire of your eyes,” & “your dearest treasure” would die. God told His prophet, “You shall NOT show any sorrow at her death, don’t weep or even shed a tear. Sigh in silence, NO wailing at the grave; don’t uncover your head, or remove sandals from your feet; do NOT perform any mourning rituals, and do NOT accept food from your mourning friends” (Ezekiel 24:16-17).

While seemingly very strange, they may have been very effective, memorable ways, like using an object lesson for children. All this introduction, let’s take a look at Ezekiel 47.

After seeing the kitchens in the temple (Ezekiel 46:19-24) the prophet noticed a trickle of water running out of the holy of holies, past the altar on the south side. Ezekiel’s guide leads him out of the north gate (since the eastern gate was closed) and around the temple to the eastern gate where he saw the water running from under the south side of the gate. The guide measures the depth of the water four times and the river becomes so deep that he couldn’t swim across it.

Ezekiel learns that the river flows to the Dead Sea where it brought life to that forsaken area. The water from the temple would heal the Dead Sea as well as all the rivers. The water creatures would multiply wherever the waters went. Trees on the riverbank would bear fruit every month, and their leaves would be used for healing. What we see here is that life comes from the Temple of God, not from a king’s palace or from the government.

Jerusalem does not have a river in it, like we have the James River. These verses speak of this river as a literal body of water that accomplishes the life-giving work of God. Ezekiel is describing a literal river, yet it also has spiritual significance for us today. Think about the headwaters of the James River, which are not all that impressive, but the river gets much bigger by the time it gets to Hampton Roads. Ezekiel’s river gets water out of the temple into the Kidron Valley and to the Mount of Olives, and represents the transforming power of the gospel; life is growing wherever it goes.

Jesus saw the river as a symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39)
On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory).

The apostle John saw a similar scene in the heavenly city (Revelation 22:1-2)
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

This river is an important part of the story of God, which begins in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14)
A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches. The first branch, called the Pishon, flowed around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there. The second branch, called the Gihon, flowed around the entire land of Cush. The third branch, called the Tigris, flowed east of the land of Asshur. The fourth branch is called the Euphrates.

It appears that this river starts in the Garden of Eden and flows into the heavenly city of God. Let’s get back to Ezekiel 47. I see a couple of significant truths in this passage:

1. Radical Transformation Advances and Does Not Remain Stationary: The water is measured in four different places, getting deeper in each spot. At the beginning, he is in ankle deep water. I believe this represents a time when someone first comes to Christ. It’s sort of like young children swimming in the kiddie pool. Just as the river moves along and gets deeper as it goes, it makes no sense for an adult believer to swim in the kiddie pool. After several months of being a follower of Jesus, we need to be growing and learning. Hebrews 6:1, tells us to press on toward maturity. This is done in two ways:

  1. Obedience: This is simply doing what Jesus says we are to do. If you love me, you’ll keep my commands (John 14:15). “One step forward in obedience is better than a year of study about it.” -Oswald Chambers
  2. Discipleship: after walking in obedience, we must be intentional in our growth. We need a plan, perhaps even mentoring, in order to become all that God desires for us to become.

I love Ezekiel 47:6, this guide says, “Do you see this?” Can you imagine the scene? THIS water? The Bible says Ezekiel was led through the water, so “Yeah, I’m standing in it; I’m really wet here, Michael Phelps couldn’t swim across this river, so yep, I’ve seen it.” Are you sure? So Ezekiel is led back to the riverbank for a closer look.

Notice the waters run toward the Dead Sea. Did you know that the water in the Dead Sea is 30% salty? The ocean is 3.5% salty. The Great Salt Lake is about 18%. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea. Once any water gets to the Dead Sea, there is nowhere for the dead water to go. But notice the dead waters are made fresh, which really means HEALED. This river brings healing to the people and the nations.

2. Radical Transformation Takes You to Unattractive Places: If we are to grow spiritually, we must go to some pretty unattractive places.

Perhaps it will be on a mission trip to Haiti, working with orphans in a hot, dirty, diseased place, working among people who smell bad, flies are everywhere and you don’t understand the language.

Perhaps you are called to feed homeless people at the Union Mission, or Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, or some other place that is uncomfortable, hot, at times full of rough or intimidating people.

American cities have a low percentage of Christians. Look at NYC. NYC is only 4% Christian. People visit there every day to see Wall Street, Broadway, Museums, Statute of Liberty, Freedom Tower, but how many people head for the Bowery area of NYC. There are believers who go there in spite of the smells, burdens, drug addicts, thieves, the homeless, and the hungry, to pray for and ease suffering of forgotten people. Downtown missions attempt to transform lives.

God values the afflicted. My very first sermon was when I was 19 years old. Since I sensed God calling me into the ministry, my church asked me to go to the Jimmy Hale Mission, in downtown Birmingham. They fed homeless people all week and since they were a captive audience, they had to stay for the preaching if they wanted to eat!

I love the words of Psalm 9:18, But the needy will not be ignored forever; the hopes of the poor will not always be crushed.

Here in Norfolk, how many of us would rather drive through rather than stop at a traffic light? We LOVE worship here, and our gathering HERE, but radical transformation often takes you to unattractive places, dirty places, even dangerous places.

Ezekiel 47:10 tells us about fisherman standing at the Dead Sea. No one would do this; to catch what? But there will be such a variety and amount of fish, from the western side (Engedi) all around to the east. Why? Because this river makes all the salty water fresh. Wherever the river flows, there will be swarms of living creatures in it. Where the river flows, everything will live (Ezekiel 47:9)

Notice the marshes will remain salty, so practically, as a domestic product, people still need salt. But spiritually speaking, some people will refuse to be transformed by this life-giving river. Some people desire to remain stuck in the mire of their own sinfulness and choose NOT to be healed.

The life is transferred from the water to the riverbank; fruit bearing trees will produce every month, on both sides of the river. This life comes from the sanctuary (from Almighty God himself). This is just like John 15:5, to abide in Jesus and allowing his words to abide in you, for apart from ME you can do nothing.

3. Radical Transformation is a Catalyst for Real Change: Everywhere the river went, it made a difference. How about YOU? Like in your neighborhood, is it different in the neighborhood because you live there? What about adopting a missionary and his UPG? A catalyst for change means praying and going. UPGs are in the Dead Sea, spiritually. They need an advocate praying for them, and people going as they are able. Missions is about church planting, starting with Bible storying groups in their homes. Many people around the world are coming to Christ, and they are the FIRST EVER believers in their tribe or region. God is saving people all around the world. He is bring life and light to dark places. How can we be a part of that?

4. Radical Transformation Comes When We Allow God to Transform Us: Place your faith in Christ, NOW. No more waiting. Paul said it like this,

But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14-16)

Removing the veil and understanding happens only when you come to Christ. At the bottom of your outline, look at that statement. What are we to do? Step out of the kiddie pool, be a disciple and disciple others. It is always inappropriate for adults to pretend to be spiritually mature while hanging out in the kiddie pool. The Bible says to “grow up” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Let me tell you about Rosie Ruez: She appeared to be the female winner of the 84th Boston Marathon on April 21 1980. Her time of 2:31:56 would have been the fastest female time in Boston Marathon history as well as the third-fastest female time ever recorded in any marathon. Only eight days later, the title is taken away. She actually jumped into the race in the last mile to cross the finish line. They went back to look at tapes and found what had happened. This was not even the first time. During a NYC marathon, she took a subway and jumped out toward the end of the race.

On the other hand, Bill Rodgers won his 3rd straight Boston Marathon that day. He paid the price and trained long and hard to achieve his record-setting victories. But all his work and effort was overshadowed by the pretender.

What can this church be like when we impact our community and the world for Christ? Do the hard work, no more posers, pretending to be in the game.

We must be a people who desire Radical Transformation. No business as usual, because we want to make an impact on the world around us.

  1. We will NOT remain stationary, but advance the cause of the kingdom.
  2. We will go to the unattractive places in this city and world for the cause of the kingdom.
  3. We will be the catalyst for real change in our society and circle of influence.

God help us to make a difference.

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This is Discipleship

I found this video to challenge all of us to go beyond what we have been taught or to simply embrace that which we have grown comfortable. This gospel of grace is life-changing; the mission is clear. May God give us the passion and strength to get outside of our comfort zones, for God’s sake.

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The Biggest Troublemaker

This is a continuation of my Bible study class on Sunday mornings. We made it to chapter three. The littlest organ is the biggest troublemaker. Why is it that the mouth gets us into more trouble than anything else? Here is a brief outline of what we find in this section:

  1. The Importance of the Tongue (James 3:1-2) anyone who can control his tongue is perfect, totally mature, able to keep the whole body in check.
  2. The Illustrations of the Tongue (James 3:3-5)
    1. How it can control (James 3:3-4)
      1. A bridle to the horse (James 3:3)
      2. A rudder to the ship (James 3:4)
    2. How it can consume (James 3:5) a spark that can destroy a great forest.
  3. The Iniquity of the Tongue (James 3:6) it is set on fire by hell itself, destroying the owner.
  4. The incorrigibility of the Tongue (James 3:7-8)
    1. People can train wild animals (James 3:7)
    2. People cannot train the tongue (James 3:8)
  5. The Inconsistency of the Tongue (James 3:9-12)
    1. The contradiction (James 3:9-10) it tries to do things simultaneously.
      1. Praise God (James 3:9, 10)
      2. Curse others (James 3:9, 10)
    2. The conclusion (James 3:11-12) it cannot do things simultaneously.
      1. Fresh and salt water (James 3:11, 12)
      2. Figs and olives (James 3:12)
      3. Grapevine and figs (James 3:12)
  6. The Instructions for the Tongue (James 3:13-18)
    1. The path it should follow (James 3:13, 17, 18) control requires wisdom.
    2. The path it should flee (James 3:14-16) don’t allow Satan’s influence.

Let’s get into the beginning of the chapter. James chapter three starts out with a couple of warnings:

  1. Against too many people becoming teachers (James 3:1-2)
  2. About the untamable tongue (James 3:3-12)

I wonder if these teachers engaged other people in verbal abuse, or perhaps these were self-proclaimed teachers who got involved in all sorts of heated religious discussions. Let’s dig into what James writes:

The Warning About Not Becoming Teachers (James 3:1-2)

James does not say, “Let not many of you be teachers” but rather, “Let not many of you become teachers.” I wonder if this future orientation is James’ point. This passage is not just a rebuke of those who try to be teachers before they are ready, but a warning that many should not even become teachers in the future. Wow. I think it is a mistake that everyone should become a teacher at some point in their service to Christ. So, here is the biblical proof.

Paul often illustrated that the body of Christ has many members, and not all members do not have the same
function (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Notice especially 1 Corinthians 12:29, where Paul with a rhetorical question implies that not all are to be teachers.

Peter also taught that God’s grace toward us is multifaceted and that we should exercise our respective abilities accordingly (1 Peter 4:10-11). In view of what Paul, Peter, and James wrote, we should be careful before we apply Hebrews 5:12-14 to mean that everyone should one day be teachers (the author of Hebrews may have been writing to a select audience, whom he knew ought to have been teachers).

So, Why Should Many Not Become Teachers?

Sometimes it is easier to follow the rules when we understand the reasons why the rules are there in the first place. Consider this:

  1. Teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1)
    1. There is a serious responsibility involved in teaching others.
    2. Teachers can lead people to truth, but teachers can also lead them to error.
    3. Just as with elders (Hebrews 13:17), those who teach will be held accountable if they mislead others.
  2. Because we all make many mistakes (James 3:2)
    1. Since everyone makes mistakes, the improper use of the tongue is a major issue.
    2. Teaching the truth and living in error is hypocrisy.
    3. Damage will be done when Christians don’t walk the talk.
    4. The relationship between words and deeds? Words can normally lead to actions. Remember that “loose lips sink ships.”

So James cautions against many people trying to become teachers. This should not discourage any from trying to find out if teaching is a gift that they might have if nurtured along, but one should proceed with humility and caution. The point for me is that with responsibility comes great accountability.

The Power of Speech

James lets us know that the person who does not control his mouth is not really religious (James 1:26). Earlier we are told to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19). The power of speech is one of the greatest gifts we have. We can praise God, preach the word, communicate with others, lead someone to Christ; but we can also ruin a reputation, break a heart, tell lies and hurt others with the same mouth.

The Power to Direct (James 3:2-4)

  1. The rudder and the bridle: both illustrations are used to demonstrate that the lesser object can control the greater.
    1. They both overcome contrary forces. (bit controls a horse and a rudder controls the ship).
    2. They both need to be under the control of a strong hand.
    3. They both affect the lives of others.
      1. Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball, went into a Boston shoe store on April 21, 1855, and lead a young man to Christ, who became one of the greatest evangelists (Dwight L. Moody).
      2. Peter preached at Pentecost and 3000 came to faith in Christ.
  2. Our tongue controls the body:
    1. Biblical support.
      1. Solomon warned that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
      2. David prayed that God would set a watchman over his mouth (Psalm 141:3-4).
      3. Jesus tells us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).
    2. Practical support.
      1. If you speak a lie, it won’t be long before you find yourself living a lie.
      2. If you speak suggestively in an immoral manner, it won’t be long before you begin acting immorally.
  3. The power of the tongue to direct is easily applied to the dangers of teaching. The teacher’s words can easily set the mood of the class or congregation, in an uplifting way, or just as easily direct the class in a discouraging way.
  4. This power to direct using the tongue should humble those who teach, and caution the spiritually immature.

The Power to Destroy (James 3:5-8)

  1. A small fire can easily cause great destruction.
    1. Rremember the Great Chicago Fire? It started in the barn at the O’Leary farm, October 8, 1871, killing hundreds of people and destroying four square miles.
    2. How many times do we read about a forest fire in California getting started by a discarded cigarette?
  2. The tongue causes destruction, too. A loose tongue can ruin one’s reputation, and can destroy fellowships, families, friendships.
  3. In describing an uncontrolled tongue, James uses very vivid terms to make his point (James 3:6):
    1. The tongue is a fire.
    2. The tongue is a world of iniquity.
    3. The tongue corrupts the whole body.
    4. The tongue sets your whole life on fire.
    5. The tongue is set on fire by hell.
  4. Should not this power to destroy and defile both ourselves and others caution us in becoming teachers?
    1. As a fire burns, so our words can hurt and burn.
    2. As a fire burns, it spreads the more fuel it gets.
    3. As a fire spreads, it destroys.
    4. When you control fire, you get power rather than destruction.
    5. Despite being able to tame wild animals, man is unable to tame the tongue (James 3:7). It is full of poison, like finding venomous snakes in your path.
      1. With God’s help, we can tame it (as David prayed in Psalm 141:3).
      2. With God’s help, we must tame it (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6).

The Power to Delight (James 3:9-12)

  1. Blessing God and cursing from the same mouth (James 3:9, 10).
    1. Our words are deep waters (Proverbs 18:4).
    2. The mouth of a righteous man is life (Proverbs 10:11).
    3. Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
    4. Bless and curse: something we are likely to do, especially on Sundays.
      1. We spend time in worship, blessing God.
      2. But in driving home, we might curse men (other drivers who pull out in front of us).
      3. Racists and bigots are often guilty of “blessing God and cursing men.”
  2. The illustrations of a spring, a fig tree and a grapevine, James shows our inconsistency.
    1. Water.
      1. What comes forth is a true indication of what is inside, just as Jesus taught in Mark 7:20-23.
      2. Water gives life: but not when the flood waters rise
      3. Water cleanses: like the basin in the temple, the Bible is like spiritual water (John 15:3, Ephesians 5:26-27).
    2. Tree and vine.
      1. Trees are important to our economy, holding down soil and providing wood and shade.
      2. The most important part of a tree is the root system: they must go down deep for the tree to be healthy (Psalm 1:1-3).
      3. Nature always produces after it’s own kind: we expect a spring to provide good water and we expect a fig tree to produce fruit.
  3. The problem is not really the tongue, but the heart (Matthew 15:18). Warren Weirsbe suggests 12 words that, when from your heart, can transform your life:
    1. Please, and thank you: these allow you to treat others as people ansd not things.
    2. I’m sorry: for breaking down walls and building bridges.
    3. I love you: not the romantic version but the “I love you anyway” type, that even loves our enemies.
    4. I’m praying for you: when you talk to God about people, then you will be able to talk to people about God.

Application:

These examples of the misuse of the tongue should humble and caution all those who would become teachers, but they should also serve as a warning for us all, whether we teach or not, that we need to seek God’s help in controlling the tongue! May David’s prayer be our own:

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

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The Dangers of Self-Deception

This last part of James chapter one is really about the dangers of self deception; we must stop kidding ourselves (James 1:22). If a Christian is deceived by Satan it is one thing, it is something totally different when a Christian deceives himself. Sometimes people are deceived into thinking that they are saved or spiritual when they really are not. Jesus spoke about this in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:22, 23). The immature person claims to be rich and in need of nothing; not realizing his poverty (Revelation 3:17).

Spiritual reality results from a proper relationship to God through his revealed Word. The Bible is God’s truth (John 17:17). James states three responsibilities toward God’s Word, and if we fulfill them, we will have an honest walk with God and others:

Receive the Word (James 1:19-21): here it is the grafted Word, which mean implanted. Jesus talked about the parable of the sower (Matthew 19:1-9, 18-23) comparing God’s Word planted in the human heart.

  1. Test of the Soil: the human heart is compared to the soils; notice the same seed was soil to each piece of ground.
    1. The hard heart did not understand or receive the word and was fruitless (Mark 4:4, 15).
    2. The shallow heart was emotional with no depth and bore no fruit (Mark 4:5-6, 16-17).
    3. The crowded heart lacked repentance and permitted sin to crowd out the Word (Mark 4:7, 18-19).
    4. The fruitful heart received the Word and it took root and produced a harvest (Mark 4:8, 20).
  2. Test of Salvation: fruit, which means a changed character and conduct. Fruit can be:
    1. Winning people to Christ (Romans 1:16).
    2. Growing in holy living (Romans 6:22).
    3. Sharing material possessions (Romans 15:28).
    4. Spiritual character (Galatians 5:22-23).
    5. Good works (Colossians 1:10).
    6. Even praising the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).

Religious works can be manufactured and have no life in them, and they do not bring glory to God. Real fruit has in it the seeds to bear more fruit.

The Word cannot work in our lives unless we receive it the right way.

  1. Take heed what you hear (Mark 4:24)
  2. Take heed how you hear (Luke 8:18).

Is it the fault of the teacher if they hear yet do not understand (Mark 13:13)? Maybe, but it may be the hearer becoming dull of hearing (Hebrews 5:11).

If the Word is to be implanted, James says we must obey God’s instructions:

  1. Swift to Hear (James 1:19): If someone has ear to hear, let him hear (Mark 13:9). Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Here is a great illustration of hearing and obeying (2 Samuel 23:15).
  2. Slow to Speak (James 1:19): we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sometimes we argue with God’s Word; like the lawyer in Luke 10:29 by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”
  3. Slow to Anger (James 1:19): don’t get angry with God or his Word.
    1. When the prophet Nathan told King David, “You are the man,” David confessed and said that he had sinned (2 Samuel 12:7, 13).
    2. When Peter was in the garden with Jesus, he was slow to hear, swift to speak and swift to anger (John 18:10).
    3. Godly anger is not a sin (Ephesians 4:26) but man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (James 1:20)
  4. A Prepared Heart (James 1:21): James saw the heart as a garden; if left to itself it would develop weeds. Yet when a field is prepared, the Word is planted and takes root. If we don’t receive the Word implanted, we are deceiving ourselves. So how can you prepare for this implanting?
    1. Confess sins, and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
    2. Meditate on God’s love and grace asking him to plow up hardness in your heart (Jeremiah 4:3).
    3. Have an attitude of meekness (James 1:21), which is the opposite of wrath (James 1:19-20).

Practice the Word (James 1:22-25): it is not enough to just hear the Word, we should do it. Hearing a sermon or attending a Bible study is not enough, it is applying and doing what we learn. James give us three ministries of the Word of God as a mirror:

  1. Examination (James 1:23-25): this is the main purpose of a mirror. As we look into God’s Word, we see ourselves for who we really are. James mentions a couple mistakes we must avoid when looking into God’s mirror:
    1. They merely glance at themselves: this is not studying or examining themselves. A casual reading of God’s Word will not reveal the deepest needs in our hearts.
    2. They forget what they see: if they looked deeply into their hearts, they would not forget what they see. Isaiah had a great attitude toward being in God’s presence (Isaiah 6:5). Peter had the same reaction (Luke 5:8). Even Job (Job 42:6).
    3. They fail to obey: they think hearing is the same as doing. We are good at substituting reading for doing; talking for doing; attending for doing. Our education far exceeds our obedience. Look intently into the Word, not just a quick glance (James 1:25); and blessing comes from doing (literally “blessed in his doing”). Why is the Word called the “perfect law of liberty?
      1. Because when we obey it, God sets us free Psalm 119:45).
      2. Because when we commit sin, we are slaves to it (John 8:34).
      3. Because when we obey the Word, we know the truth and it sets us free (John 8:31-32).
  2. Restoration (Exodus 38:8): the tabernacle had something called the laver or basin (between the altar and the most holy place), where the priests would wash up before going inside.
    1. Washing with the Word is an image of its cleansing power (John 15:3).
    2. The church is sanctified through the Word (Ephesians 5:26).
    3. Christ once and for all washed us clean (Titus 3:4-6, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
    4. When David fess up to Nathan, he did not stop there, God forgave the sin and David would not die (2 Samuel 12:13). He was assured of forgiveness and cleansing.
  3. Transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18): let’s not confess sin, accept forgiveness and then go right back out to commit the same sins all over again. Let’s conquer sin. Second Corinthians three is a contrast of the old covenant of the law and the new covenant of grace. The law was external and written on stone; but salvation means that his Word is written on our hearts.
    1. Moses and the veil: he came down from the mountain and his face shone (Exodus 34:29-35). He did not want the people to see the glory of God fading away so he veiled his face; it was a veil to hide.
    2. Jesus and the veil: when he died, the veil in the temple was torn and nothing was between God and man. We are to have an unveiled face, no hiding. Take it off (Psalm 139:23-24).
    3. When a child of God looks into the Word (the mirror), he sees the Son of God, and is transformed by the Spirit of God. This change is metamorphosis, a change that comes from the inside out.

Share the Word (James 1:26-27): religion here means the outward practice or service of a god, used only five times in the New Testament (James 1:26-27, Acts 26:5, Colossians 2:18, where it is translated, worshiping). Pure religion practices God’s Word:

  1. Speech (James 1:26): the tongue reveals the heart (Matthew 12:34-35). A controlled tongue means a controlled body.
  2. Service (James 1:27): Isaiah saw the Lord and then he saw himself, and then he sought to go to the people (Isaiah 6:8). Words are no substitute for actions (James 2:14-18, 1 John 3:11-18). James mentions two groups needing special attention, orphans and widows. These are the most vulnerable of our society.
  3. Separation from the world (James 1:27): the world means “the society without God.” It is the domain of Satan (John 14:30).
    1. We are to be in the world but not of it (John 17:11-16).
    2. We are sent into the world (John 17:18).
    3. Be aware that friendship with the world (James 4:4) can lead to a love of the world (1 John 2:15-17).
    4. If we are not careful we can become conformed to the world (Romans 12:2) allowing it to squeeze us into its mold.
    5. The result will be our condemnation with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32).

Jesus remained spotless (1 Peter 1:19) even though he got involved with sinners and outcasts. When we go out into the world, it is important to go in pairs, like Jesus did with his missionaries (Luke 10:1). There is strength, safety and accountability is numbers.

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Becoming Holy, Becoming Ourselves

The primary passage for today is from Ephesians 1:3-6, focusing in on holiness. I listen to K-Love radio here in town and I love this song by Jason Gray. Here are a few lines from his song:

Now I won’t deny the worst you could say about me.
But I’m not defined by mistakes that I’ve made,
Because God says of me

I am not who I was, I’m being remade; I am new
I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved, I am new

Too long have I lived in the shadows of shame
Believing that there was no way I could change
But the one who is making everything new
Doesn’t see me the way that I do

Holiness is not talked about much these days, but the Bible is clear that God is the holy One who desires for us to be holy as well (Ephesians 1:4) and even Peter gives an imperative to, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). In many people’s minds, holiness is more associated with an attitude of superiority, like saying someone has a “holier than thou” attitude, which is actually found in the Bible (Isaiah 65:5), where in the King James says, “Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.” The NLT puts it this way, “Don’t come too close or you will defile me! I am holier than you.”

Perhaps the single most important attribute the Bible gives for God is his holiness. The most familiar may be found in Revelation 4:8, where “each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” So what does it mean to become holy?

First: I read recently that to be holy in a Christlike way, is in fact to become more truly ourselves.

  1. The point is that we should become the person God intends for us to become; no masks, no deception, no hypocrisy.
  2. We are to be people of integrity, be the same person on the inside and the outside, always being real and authentic.

Second: When we use Jesus as our example, we discover that he was a holy servant who relates to others.

  1. He mingled with people
  2. He hung out with sinners
  3. He knew lost people
  4. He made outcasts feel relaxed
  5. He accepted people unconditionally

The relationships he had developed with others were characterized by awareness, insight, and responsiveness:

  1. He noticed Zaccheus hiding in a tree (Luke 19:4, 5)
  2. He heard the passionate cry of a blind beggar in a noisy crowd (Matthew 20:29, 30)
  3. He took time for a foreign woman in distress over her daughter being cruelly possessed by a demon (Matthew 15:22, 28)
  4. He felt power leave him as a hurting woman touched the hem of his robe (Matthew 9:20-21, 22).

To become holy is to be less concerned with self, and more focused on the needs of others around us.

Third: Jesus also has a devoted closeness with the Father, and his single passion was the kingdom of God. The Bible teaches that Jesus was concerned with one thing, to do the will of the Father.

  1. Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house (or about my Father’s business)? (Luke 2:49)
  2. I can do nothing on My own initiative As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 5:30)
  3. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:24)
  4. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
  5. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:4)

Without developing our intimacy with God, holiness will always be out of reach. Holy people are the ones who have made God and his mission first place in their lives.

How to Become Holy:

H – Heaven

  1. Presence: we will live in God’s presence. Focus on the spiritual discipline of solitude.
    1. Jesus retreated to the desert for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2)
    2. Spent the night in prayer before making a huge decision (Luke 6:12-13)
    3. Sought the Father in a time of stress (Luke 22:41-42)
  2. Preparation: for heaven. Focus on the spiritual discipline of Bible study.
    1. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
    2. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. (John 17:17)
    3. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:13)
    4. Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it. (Luke 11:28)
    5. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)
  3. Pursuit: being blameless and spotless. Focus on a bride being presented to her groom.
    1. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. (2 Peter 3:14)
    2. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4)
    3. I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2-3)
  4. Paul: he called himself the chief of sinners. Focus on the worst person, yet still forgiven and made ready for heaven.
    1. No one is perfect, yet we have a new motivation for right behavior.
    2. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)
    3. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

O – Obedience

  1. Commands: of Christ, his conditional statements: Here are some awesome results for our obedience.
    1. Showing Our Love for Christ: If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15)
    2. Abiding in God’s Love: If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, as I have kept my Father’s commands and abide in his love (John 15:10)
    3. Perfecting God’s Love: But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:5-6)
    4. Having God Live Within Us: If a man loves me, he will keep my words (John 14:23)
    5. Experiencing God’s Love: Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them (John 14:21)
    6. Knowing Christ Intimately: And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments (1 John 2:3)
    7. Being a Truthful Witness: If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth (1 John 2:4)
    8. Being a Friend of Jesus: You are my friends if you do what I command (John 15:14–15)
    9. Having Prayers Answered: And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him (1 John 3:22)
    10. Bearing Much Fruit: When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father (John 15:7–8)
    11. Loving One Another: We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2–3)
    12. Being a True Disciple: I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:34–35)
    13. Demonstrating Ultimate Love: This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:12–13)
    14. Obeying the Great Commission: Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19–20)
  2. Confirmation: evidence of a changed life. Focus on metamorphosis, like the caterpillar transforming into a butterfly (Romans 12:1, 2).
    1. And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
    2. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

L – Lordship

  1. Confidence: about Christ. Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws. (Matthew 7:21-23)
  2. Crucified: with Christ. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
  3. Compassion: of Christ. Think of a heart transplant. Jesus had compassion:
    1. On the multitude without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)
    2. On the hungry (Mark 8:2)
    3. On the ill (Matthew 14:14)
    4. On the blind (Matthew 20:34)
    5. On the demon possessed (Mark 9:22, 25)
    6. On the lepers (Mark 1:40-41)
    7. On the bereaved (Luke 7:12-13, John 11:33)
    8. On the lost (Luke 15:20, 1-2)
  4. Conviction: fire insurance in one’s spiritual life may be when we say yes to escape hell but are not really that interested in the things of God. Check out these lyrics by Jason Gray.
    1. More like falling in love, than something to believe in. More like losing my heart, than giving my allegiance. Caught up, called out, come take a look at me now, It’s like I’m falling in love…
    2. Remember that we do not make Jesus Lord of our lives, he is already the Lord; will we submit to his lordship?

Y – Yourself

  1. Conversion: Take off the old self, put on the new self. Make sure that you add this part to your story. Become the person God intends for you to become. He doesn’t save us for us to go right on living the same old way we did before encountering Christ.
    1. This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
    2. Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6)
    3. In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted (Ephesians 4:22)
  2. Conforming: to the imitation of Christ. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son (Romans 8:29)
  3. Conduct: yielding to the Spirit’s leadership. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. (John 14:17)

Self evaluation is an essential component as we live the Christian life, to always make sure we are of the faith (1 Corinthians 11:28, 31).

There is security in Christ because our salvation does not depend upon our own efforts, but there is an element of being in partnership with God. Check out this verse:

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 (Philippians 2:12).

Our challenge today is to become holy. At the beginning I mentioned that when we become the people that God created us to be, we become like Christ, and therefore please him beyond anything else, that we are walking in the truth (2 John 1:4, 3 John 1:4).

MercyMe has a song called, So Long Self:

So long self
Well it’s been fun, but I have found somebody else
So long self
There’s just no room for two
So you are gonna have to move
So long self
Don’t take this wrong but you are wrong for me farewell
Oh well, Goodbye, don’t cry
So Long Self

Become the person God has meant for you to be. Look over the list in the bulletin again. Decide today that your goal is holiness.

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