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Posts Tagged ‘transformation’

There is a popular adage that says, “hurt people hurt people”, which is simply an acknowledgement of our human tendency to hold on to the pain of the past, and over time, to act out of that hurt.  Indeed, many of history’s most notorious abusers were first victims of abuse.  And though we have little control over the things that happen to us, we do bear some responsibility for how we respond. 

There is also phrase that speaks of, “nursing a grudge”, which effectively points to another common pattern of human behavior, which is to keep issues alive that would otherwise wither and die, if they were left unattended.  While a victim can rightfully claim that they didn’t start the fire, adding wood and gasoline to the flames eventually breeds some level of accountability for the resulting damage. 

Finally, there is the term, “triggered”, which describes a moment in real time (i.e. right now) when we make an emotional/intellectual/spiritual connection to an experience from the past, and we react out of that former hurt, instead of what is going on presently.  In such moments, the magnitude of our reaction can reach well beyond what is reasonable for the current circumstance.  Ironically, this term also seems to acknowledge the weaponizing of our hurt.  While there may not be malicious intent, acting out of our hurt only serves to perpetuate the damage.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he specifically calls out anger, but goes on to include every form of malice (e.g. bitterness, rage, slander…).  While he acknowledges that we can experience these emotions, he urges that we not let them take hold of us, allowing them to become sin (Eph. 4:26).  He further warns that entertaining these negative emotions will give our enemy a foothold within us (Eph. 4:27).  If we carry this woundedness long enough, it weaves its way into our identity, becoming a conduit for the enemy to sabbatoge every effort, and/or relationship.  Inevitably, the idea that we’ve always been this way evolves into the belief that this is just who we were created to be. 

I believe that this is why we so often see God give characters within scripture a new name.  He is in effect saying, the world has viewed you as Jacob, but I see you as Israel; you have been taught that you are Simon, but I call you Peter; you have thought of yourself as Saul, but I think of you as Paul: your experience has led you to believe that you are the least of the least of the least, but I know you to be a mighty man of valor.

Too many of us, who are called by His name, know that we are wounded, routinely act out of that hurt, and have even passed that damage on to the next generation.  Often times, our difficulty in letting go of the pain of the past is rooted in unforgiveness.  No doubt, the demons that we’ve failed to conquer in our own lives have snuggled with our children.  But part of the transformation that the Lord has authored for us (2Cor.3:18) is the renewal of our hearts (2Cor.4:16), and minds (Rom.12:2).  Receiving this healing is an essential part of fulfilling God’s purposes in our lives.  It is also part of the abundant life (John 10:10) Christ died to give us.

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For the last couple of years we’ve repeatedly heard that the best way to avoid the spread of infection is to minimize the time spent around other people, and to maintain a safe distance and/or wear a face covering when you have to interact personally.  While the effectiveness of these actions with regard to the spread of COVID is debatable, it is hard to deny their effectiveness within the standard western religious paradigm. 

Jesus said that the world would be able to distinguish His followers by the way they love each other, but it’s doubtful that anyone would describe “Christians” in the west as a close-knit group.  Indeed, we are more famous for the contentious division that has resulted in thousands of different denominations, and other disenfranchised ministries.  Even amongst these independent tribes/sects, there seems to be precious little transparency, trust, or genuine fellowship (i.e. mask-wearing).  This obvious discord could rightfully be deemed “Religious Distancing”. 

As individuals we need to examine our own relationship with the Lord, and wonder at the degree to which our hearts have truly succumbed to His.  God means to be the end that we are pursuing, not the means by which we pursue some other end.  The truth is that you cannot walk closely with Him, and not be infected with His compassion for the lost, or His burning desire to see the will of the Father done “on earth as it is in heaven”.  You cannot spend time in His presence, or hear His voice without being changed in some way.  But just as Paul told the Corinthians (2Cor. 3:18), we must behold the Lord with “unveiled” faces in order to experience this kind of transformation.

It is unlikely that a lost world will be infected with the love of God, by a people who seem to be immune to it themselves (1John 3:15-17).

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The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  Throughout the epistles he exhorts us to do the same.  Recently, I’ve sensed the Lord highlighting some of the childish things that need to be put away.

 

First and foremost, a child is self-centered.  A baby has no capacity to concern itself with whether its parents are tired or busy or sick, it just knows that it’s not comfortable (e.g. hungry, wet, gassy, tired) and it demands immediate attention.  Presumably, as we get older, our awareness of other people and their struggles grows, but in times of trouble we can easily return to our infancy, becoming blind and numb to anything other than our own wants, needs, or pain.

 

As a baby grows into a child it becomes increasingly responsive to external stimuli, like light, color, noise, music, touch… and through this it learns to interact with the world around it.  Eventually, these external forces begin to shape the child’s concept of life and identity.  But as we grow in spiritual maturity, we’re called to become less responsive to what is seen (which is perishing), and more sensitive to what is unseen (which is eternal).

 

Young children tend to easily fall into covetousness when they see something they want, jealousy when someone else has what they want, and to have tantrums, when they don’t get what they want.  It is not a given that age and experience will cause us to grow past these things.  Often, we simply become more subtle in the ways we express them.

 

Children are also famous for their impatience and fertile imaginations, both of which can become powerful tools in the hands of the adversary.

 

Indeed, the scripture admonishes us to humbly esteem others above ourselves, to bless and serve those around us, and to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.   It commands us not to covet, warns us against the “acts of the flesh” (including jealousy, selfish ambition, fits of rage) and reminds us that “self-control” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It tells us that we must cast down our imaginations, to learn to “wait on the Lord”, and to embrace patience as a reflection of Christ’s character.  Throughout the New Testament it speaks of the transformation that God desires to work in each of us, and He assures us that He is faithful to complete this good work that He’s begun in us.

 

It’s likely that none of us want to think of ourselves as being childish, but I sense the Lord challenging us to allow Him to reveal the “childish things” that we still need to put away.  To uncover those instances where we’ve become callous and numb to other people’s pain, or those circumstances that we’ve unwittingly become slaves to, or those things that we’re coveting and maybe even making into idols.  To show us those places within our heart where self-pity, jealousy, and bitterness dwell; and to expose the imaginings that have replaced the genuine prophetic vision He means to give us.

 

Like David did in the Psalms, we need to invite Him to examine our hearts.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”.  Amen.

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As a kid growing up in the Catholic Church, my earliest and strongest impression of Jesus was that of Him hanging on the cross.  To my young mind, the fact that God would require this of His Son was pretty strong evidence of how serious He was about sin.  Thus, throughout my formative years I assumed that the mission was essentially to be good, and thereby avoid sin.

 

That seemed simple enough.  After all, I was a good person, so sidestepping the evil stuff shouldn’t be that big a deal.  It didn’t take long to figure out that there was more to it than that.

 

By my teen years, I realized that I not only struggled to avoid sin, I was actually quite drawn to it.  For a while this made me wonder whether I was just a bad person, but eventually I came to a deeper understanding of both what is “good” and what is “sin”.

 

Interestingly, the choice that Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden wasn’t between the fruit of what is good, and of what is evil.  It was fruit from the Tree of Life, or fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  One offered daily provision from the Giver of life, while the other offered the ability to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil.  The sin occurs every time we shun the former in favor of the latter.  The consequence of that choice is that there is a way that seems right to a man, but that it ultimately leads to death.

 

While it was good to discover that I wasn’t necessarily an evil person, and that everyone has to battle their fallen nature, how does one begin to battle something that so naturally bubbles up from within them?  Like Paul wrote to the Romans, the good things I wanted to do didn’t seem to be getting done, while I often managed to do the very thing I was trying to avoid doing.  Clearly, I needed some new source of power if I had any hope of winning this battle with my own nature.

 

It was at this point in my journey that I encountered the Holy Spirit of God, who up until that time had been the Holy Ghost; little more than a sacred mystery to me.  As I reread the scripture, I was amazed by how plainly Jesus spoke of the gift of His Spirit, and of all He meant to accomplish through Him.  He would be the Comforter, the Counselor, an ever present help, and the very presence of God, manifested within His children.  He would be the fulfilment of God’s promise to never leave us, nor forsake us.

 

Indeed, finding the Holy Spirit changed everything for me.  It brought God out of heaven, and Jesus out of history.  It made the scripture the “Living Word”, and for the first time, it made me feel as though all things were truly possible.  It also provided a profound sense of His nearness, and I can honestly say that since that time I have never really felt alone.  But along with those blessings came a new set of challenges, and a greater understanding of the mission.

 

Realizing that God wasn’t just speaking figuratively when He said, “My sheep know my voice, they listen, and they follow”, forced me to change the way I made decisions.  Whereas I’d previously just done whatever seemed best, my genuine desire to be a “follower of Christ” compelled me to at least try to consult with Him first.  And while He didn’t (& doesn’t) speak to me about every little thing in my life, I was amazed by how often He does.  At that point in my journey, it became all about being led by the Spirit.

 

Looking back, I guess I must have thought that following after the Spirit was going to put me on the path to righteousness, and truth, and ultimately to my calling, as though He was just some heavenly tour guide.  But over time I came to understand that I had a rather significant misconception.  Our God isn’t simply a loving God, He is the embodiment of love.  Our God doesn’t just love truth, He is the truth.  And Jesus didn’t just come to show us the way, He is the way.  Following after the Spirit isn’t us trying to get to Jesus, it is Jesus walking with us.  Like the disciples of old, we have to be willing to walk away from our own plans in order to truly follow Him.

 

Ultimately, our destiny isn’t a location or a vocation, it is a person He’s created us to be.  Paul told the Romans (Rom. 8:29) that God has predestined us to be conformed into the image of His son, and he spoke of this transformation in his letter to the Corinthians (2Cor. 3:18) as well.  Jesus taught that He is the vine and we are the branches.  He promised that those who “abide in the vine” will bear fruit.   Paul went on to describe the fruit of living by the Holy Spirit to the Galatians (Gal. 5:22-23).  Those attributes are Christ’s character, which He intends to be revealed in us.  In this we become the genuine “Body of Christ”.  Indeed, He said that it is Christ in us that is the hope of glory.

 

I would submit that this vine is the same life giving tree that was offered in the garden.  So at this point in my journey, the mission is mostly about abiding in that vine, and allowing Him to transform me into the person He conceived me to be.  In many ways it’s very simple, if we wake up to find that our phone didn’t charge overnight, the first thing we check is whether the charger is plugged in.  I would suggest that we need to act similarly when we don’t see the fruit of transformation that God promised.  It is from the vine that all provision, power, and life flow.  Apart from it, we can do nothing, but through it, all things are possible.

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