Don’t Add the -es

The prayer request was simple enough.  We were to pray for unity between denominations of churches.  Unity of believers is certainly the Father’s will, so I had no problem with that part of the request.  Beyond that, it got pretty murky.

As long as there are denominations (and non-denominations), there will be division.  They are set up to separate one group of believers from another, based on beliefs that are different from other groups.  Christians are quick to identify themselves by their denomination (or non), often more readily than Christian.  (See I.D. Please, for more.)  That was the first of my struggles.

The second came with a suffix.  That’s right.  The -es suffix added to the word church to make it plural caught my attention in a negative way.  While the great majority of Christians readily give lip service to the idea of there being only one church in Christ, that’s really as deep as it goes.  Despite what we say, we believe a group meeting in a specific building is one church, and another group meeting in another building is a different church.  So, even in a very small town, we have multiple churches.  And we hope all the churches will get along, despite how “wrong” some of their beliefs are.

How do we ever expect there to be unity of the Spirit when we believe divisively – no matter what we speak out of our mouths?

Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV  3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Will it ever change?  Can it change?  As long as we still have flesh on, the struggle will exist as we lean on our own understanding, or that of our parents, grandparents, those in pulpits, friends, et al.  Yet, we are promised transformation as we renew our minds, focusing on Jesus Christ.  It is then we will be in agreement with God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will – a will that isn’t fragmented, divided, confused, or pulling against itself.  This is when we will know what it is to be His church – no -es added!

By the way, despite my struggles with the way it was written, I did pray – just not quite as requested.  Instead, I prayed for my brothers and sisters to know and experience Jesus Christ and His love beyond anything they could ever ask, hope, think, or imagine.  In this we find the unity of the Spirit.  In this is the church of Jesus Christ.

Whose Plans?

As I completed things on my to-do list of preparations for the next visit to Tom’s mother, I realized how little stress was in evidence as I readied dog, home, writing, and myself.  How different from the last time!  Not only was the time leading up to that departure extra stressful, the visit itself was hard, though I couldn’t point to anything as a reason.

Though the dog was to be boarded again, the anxious and sad feelings were not there – where they weighed heavily before.  The pre-trip cleaning wasn’t so overwhelming, and was completed in plenty of time to pack without pressure.  Even the inspiration for writing I had wanted to complete ahead of the trip came to me in a timely and stress-free fashion.

I know Holy Spirit pointed this peaceful state of mind out to me so I would notice the obvious difference the lesson from my “hard trip” had made in my life.  What was the lesson?  He hadn’t told me to go on that trip.  (Note to self . . . ask the Lord before making plans.)  Could it get any clearer?

Romans 12:2 AMP  Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].

It is so much easier simply to ask what His will is for me all the time, than trying to follow my natural reasoning.  Now I’ve had the experience of not being in His will and of being in His will in the same situation at a different time.  The difference was a matter of peace or no peace, and the latter is not something I want to repeat – ever again!  So, I choose to pursue His will for me from here on out.  How about you?

What’s Burned In?

Are you familiar with the burn-in effect from leaving one image on certain TVs and monitors too long?  That image is visible no matter what else might be showing.  Kind of like a filter, it distorts what you want to see.

I heard of someone who inadvertently burned the logo of their satellite company into their brand new plasma TV.  It wasn’t just in one spot, however, because the logo moved from place to place all over the screen, staying long enough at each place to leave its mark.  No matter what they try to watch from here on, they see it through the company image.

Let’s think about this from a different perspective.  The same effect happens in us as a result of our personal focus, though the results can be for good as well as bad.

If I give my attention to what the world offers – what satisfies my flesh – the image being burned in is the image of the world.  Though I am a Christian, people will see the world when they look at me, no matter what I hope to show them.  There will be no reflection of Christ when I go through struggles – only more of what they already know.

On the other hand, if I attend to the things of God – His Word, His love, Who He is – His image is burned in, and His reflection will be visible to others even when hard times come my way.  His Word will be what works in me in those times, so that people will be able to comprehend the reality of Jesus Christ.  For the world to believe there is hope for something more in their life, they have to see the hope of Christ alive and at work in me . . . and in you.

Romans 12:2 AMP  Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude]

Even if the reflection you currently show the world is a mirror image of itself, this does not have to be permanent.  Jesus Christ is still ready to change you into His image when you believe and apply His Word.  As you choose to focus on the Lord and His Word rather than what the world offers, you will be transformed.  It’s His promise.  The image of the world that has been burned in, and through which people have known you in the past, will be transformed into the image of Christ.

What’s that I see burning in you?

Trained or Transformed?

The whole idea for this post is not Kay’s original insight, but came from a message I heard on TV by Creflo Dollar.  I hope the simplicity of the word picture is as powerful for you as it was for me.

Becoming a follower of Jesus isn’t to be a behavior modification program – another set of rules and rituals to follow – though a great majority of the church operates in that mode.  We might work really hard to change a behavior or an attitude that we see is wrong in God’s Word.  Without a heart change to go with it, a situation will occur some day that causes us to fall back to our old ways.  After all, it’s what has been put inside, by others and by our own doing, so it is just a natural thing for us to do.  Let’s call it instinct.

Our well-behaved dog still has instincts that can take us by surprise.  He is trained to sit, heel, fetch, stay, etc.  He follows our commands (rules, laws) every time we utter them.  He may even be so well-trained that he doesn’t require constant reminders to behave appropriately – so it appears the old instincts are gone.  But let a squirrel run past when we haven’t seen it in advance, and his hidden instincts take over.  It’s natural, for he hasn’t been transformed by the words we’ve spoken to him, merely trained to respond a certain way.

(I know it's a tiger, not a lion. Same effect!)

Another illustration would be a circus lion.  He may have been “tamed,” conditioned to respond in certain ways to the actions and commands of the lion “tamer,” but he is still a wild animal.  For this reason, we wouldn’t own one as a pet.  There could come that time when his instincts could kick in, and we would end up being his dinner!  He wasn’t transformed – merely trained.

Romans 12:2 NIV  Do not conform any longer 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.

The pattern of this world is rules and laws to follow.  When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He doesn’t want us to be trained in following a new set of rules, but be transformed by growing in relationship with Him.  He is the Word of God made flesh. (John 1:1, 14)  When we spend time with Him, in His Word, the Word (by His Spirit) transforms our minds, which is reflected in our actions and attitudes. This is done by His grace, not by our efforts to be transformed.  We are simply asked to be in ever-growing relationship with Him, getting to know Him through His Word and by His Spirit.  It’s only in this that we can be transformed, not merely trained.  It’s only in being transformed that we can truly know Christ and make Him known.

Come Up Here!

clouds belowAs our jet circled Houston high above the clouds one afternoon, the Lord gave me such a clear picture.  The Houston airport had been closed to all incoming and outgoing flights due to a very bad thunderstorm that seemed to have parked over their heads.  Having been on the ground in many bad thunderstorms, I envisioned how dark it was, with the wind and rain coming from multiple directions at the same time – all while dangerous bolts of lightning struck the ground.  Where we were, over their heads, the sun shone brightly on a beautiful blue sky.  Underneath us, we could see white clouds with just a tad of gray mixed in.  As the pilot gave another update, I said, “They should come up here where we are – above the storm.”

It really wasn’t until it came out of my mouth that I saw the spiritual application.  In the spirit realm, the clouds represent all kinds of hard circumstances and personal storms of life that threaten to shut us down, as happened at the Houston airport.  Even though that natural shutdown was only for a short time, it was enough to cause backups, missed connections, and long delays in Houston, with quite a ripple effect in other airports around the country.   What kind of ripple effects might occur if we allow ourselves to be shut down spiritually?

Ephesians 2:6-76 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

If we’ve been born again, our spirits are already seated with God in Christ in the heavenly realms, far above all the circumstances surrounding our natural lives.  The change must take place in our minds.  When we renew our minds with His Word (Romans 12:2), we begin to see our circumstances from God’s perspective, from the heavenly realms – above the stuff of life.  We might still go through tough situations, but seeing through God’s eyes will allow us to live in His peace in the midst of it, relying on His strength and trusting in His direction all the way through to the other side.  And . . . we will show the incomparable riches of His grace to those around us in the process!

Jesus is saying, “Come up here!”