Elephant in the Sanctuary

elephant

“And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’” (Jonah 4:10-11)

We live in a human culture absolutely saturated with violence. All around our world, violence is a way of life. In many other countries, terroristic violence is a frequent regular occurrence. Our news reports often bring us accounts and sometimes images of frightening violence.   Movies like “Deadpool” and “John Wick”, and TV shows like “Game of Thrones” demonstrate that violence resonates with our hearts as an American people, and that at some level we entertain ourselves with thoughts of it.   And even less extreme examples of our entertainment choices are rarely if ever devoid of violence at least at some level. Violence surrounds us so much, that we frequently become desensitized to it. Sometimes so much so that we don’t even notice it. It has become like the proverbial “elephant” in center of the room. Violence doesn’t shock or humble us anymore. And the constant companion to violence is fear.   And Christian, you and I would be lying if we said we were immune to fear. We demonstrate fear of violence in a lot of ways.   It’s why you probably react with anger at the mention of ISIS. It’s why we get mad when we feel the government wants to remove our right to defend ourselves. It’s why political messages like “just kick all the Muslims out,” “build that wall”, etc… can seem very tempting. Even this past week, I saw Christian brothers posting messages online that say essentially “The president says we should apologize for Hiroshima. Ok: I’m sorry … that we didn’t drop the bomb sooner.” Fear drives us to dehumanize our enemies. Fear drives us to respond to violence with personal violence and revenge.   The question of how government should respond to violence is an important one, for another time, as is the topic of self defense, which is not prohibited in Scripture. But perhaps more important for those of us who aren’t the government is the question “what should be my personal attitude toward my enemies and toward violence as a Christian?”   This very question is one of the foundational questions asked throughout the book of Jonah.

We all know the gist of Jonah’s story:   God says “Go to Nineveh”; Jonah says “No”; God says “think again”; Jonah goes, but refuses to like it; God saves Nineveh and Jonah complains.   It would be very easy to judge Jonah if we don’t walk a mile in his shoes.   Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, and while that doesn’t mean a lot to us, please understand – the Assyrians were among the most violent and bloodlusting people of ancient times. They invented means of violence so extreme they shouldn’t be described in polite company. Just reading again about it today, has nearly ruined any appetite I might have had. The Assyrians celebrated violence – you can actually see today examples of their art that have survived the millennia – and it is saturated with gore. (What will people say about our art in the distant future?)   Their ancient histories that have survived boast in very explicit detail about the violence they committed.   It was all about shock and awe, and about frightening conquered peoples into submission.   Jonah likely was filled with terror, disgust and anger when he even thought about the Assyrians.   When he finally and reluctantly pronounced his warning of impending judgement and then sat back from a safe distance to watch the fireworks, you and I would have sat right there with him.   They deserved it.   And so the book of Jonah ends with the object lesson of the vine, and with the question which I’ve quoted for you.   It ends with a QUESTION. “Should I not pity?”   God does not provide us with Jonah’s response to his question, because, in the end, the book is not about Jonah’s response – it’s about yours.   God asks us “should I not show pity?”   Pity?!   On whom?!   On the Assyrians?!   On a brutal, murderous, wicked, merciless, pagan people?!   Yes, that’s precisely what God is asking.   I believe God asks this question for a reason:   like Jonah, we often think that God should show mercy to us alone – even while we sit and relish the thought of a bloodbath upon our enemies.     The human heart in its fallen state, is a tempestuous sea of violent desires, even in the redeemed.  But we look away from the violence within us like the elephant in the sanctuary, and pretend it’s not there.   And because we don’t put our eyes on the guilt of the thing, we feel justified in wishing our enemies would meet a violent end.   After all, they deserve it.   And it offends our sense of justice that God would suggest mercy.   But in the end mercy to the enormously undeserving is the only kind of mercy God shows.   God invites Jonah, and you and me, to share his empathy toward the wicked. Oh, my friend Jonah, the sound of God’s pity should be a sweet sound in our ears, and when it’s not, it should be an indication to us that we are in the wrong posture toward mercy.   After all, God’s empathy found its greatest expression at the cross, Christ dying at the hands of the violent wicked for the sake of the violent wicked.     We should abhor violence; violence is an affront to the God who created life.  But our abhorrence of violence should never exclude the violent evil in our own hearts.   And so, it should never be a proud abhorrence, but a humble one which sees its own need for mercy, and is willing to plead for mercy toward others.

Water of Life

100_8143“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:1-5 ESV

Recently, one of my sons looked at me with a wistful look in his eye and said “Only 6 more weeks of school, dad!”   It made me laugh.   I remember those feelings well: the end of the school year was like the light at the end of the tunnel.   It was a bright sunrise after a long dark night. Summer meant a lifting of burdens and a start of joyful freedom. Perhaps, Christian, you feel like you’re going through that long, dark night right now. The world we live in is a difficult place: we fear for the state of our country, and indeed, of the world; we face pressure at work and at home; we are forced to contemplate the mortality of those we love, and of ourselves; on the left and the right there are troubles, worries, and anxieties.   Do you ever wonder if there is an end in sight to all our troubles?     The answer to that question is a resounding “yes!”

In today’s passage, the apostle John sees a vision from God about the glories of the new heavens and the new earth, and what he sees is meant to give us hope, because it gives us a taste of the life we will one day experience in full.   Interestingly, Ezekiel had an extremely similar vision in Ezekiel chapter 47, so if you want to read more, go there.   So what hope does the vision offer?   First, we read that the river is a ‘river of the water of life’.   Ezekiel paints the picture of the water bringing life everywhere it goes, even to the point of turning salt water to fresh.   The river has the throne of God as its source – and that is quite the point, as God is the author of life.     When Jesus met the woman at the well in John chapter 4, offering her ‘living water’, he says “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (vs. 14)   So then, the power of God’s Holy Spirit brings life.   And so somehow, this river of the ‘water of life’, I believe, is indicative of the power of God’s Spirit.   Just as the Spirit ‘hovered over the waters’ at creation, so also, in the new heavens and earth, it will be the power of the Spirit that brings life and newness, as this river flows through the city.   Life will be at work all around instead of the death we see this side of glory.   What else? Well, we are told that along the banks of this river is the tree of life.     We are told both in today’s passage and in Ezekiel’s that the tree yields fruit that will be good to eat. Also, we’re told, in both passages, that the tree’s leaves will be for the ‘healing of the nations’.   And I can’t pretend to understand the fullness of what that means, but I can’t help but think that part of what it means is that national rivalries and the pain of our past will be done away with. No longer will the world be a hostile place, but one of fellowship and healing.   John also says of this place “there will no longer be anything accursed.”   Do you understand what that means?!   You and I have been born under the curse of sin, and all our lives have lived in a created world that has lain under a curse on account of our sin!   In this future home waiting for us, the curse will have been lifted!   Sin will no longer plague our hearts, and the home around us will no longer be cursed because of our sin! Even better yet, we’re told that God’s throne will be set up there!   Christian, I do hope that you live your days right now believing in faith that Christ is on his throne – but on that day, faith will become sight!   We will live in the place from which Christ rules on his throne – indeed we will ‘see his face’ and his name shall be ‘on their foreheads!’   You are already ‘marked in him with a seal – the promised holy spirit.’ (Ephesians 1:13)   But again, faith shall become sight, as our belonging to Christ will be on display for all to see as a permanent reminder.

Christian, take heart for just around the corner lies your home.   The dark night will end, and the sunrise of that day will come.   On that day, every burden will be lifted, and a new day of freedom will begin.   I deeply believe God gives us these passages so that hope will make our burden lighter now.   So then, take hope! And don’t forget that since that great river has a stream which runs from your own heart now, you have the capacity, in the Lord’s hand, to bring refreshment to your brothers, and even life to the spiritually dead if you are willing to share the grace Jesus Christ wherever you go.   Do you long for that future garden of delight?   Then may you, as a citizen of that great place, anticipate its coming by sharing its living waters in your thirsty world.

When government lets you down…

͞Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that
exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed and those
who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the
one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God͛s servant for your good.
But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who
carries out God͛s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God͛s wrath, but also
for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to
this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to who revenue is owed,
respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.͟ Romans 13:1-7 ESV

I rarely discuss politics, because it tends to make me upset. But the media is putting it before us constantly these days,
since we͛re in the midst of primary elections. I don͛t recall too many election seasons in recent history where there has
been quite as much general frustration and fear as there is in this one. In fact, chances are you have a good measure of
fear about what would happen if any of the most popular candidates were to get elected. Perhaps you will find both
challenge and comfort in today͛s passage.

Personally, I find Paul͛s words at the opening of today͛s passage a comfort. ͞There is no authority except from God, and
those that exist have been instituted by God.͟ Far from panic over these elections, we may find solace in the fact that
God has this whole thing in his hands. This is not to say that we shouldn͛t get involved; I͛ve had friends say ͚I͛m not
going to vote at all.͛ I don͛t think that͛s the answer; when we elect our officials, it͛s wrong not to vote, even if you feel
like your vote won͛t make a difference. But we may take comfort in knowing that whomever gets elected, that person
will have been put there by God – not apart from him. And this may seem hard to believe, when sometimes it feels like
our choices are ͞Bad͟ or ͞Worse͟, but even godless rulers are under God͛s control, serving His purposes. Don͛t forget
that when Paul wrote these words we͛re reading, the ruler over the civilized world was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus
Germanicus, known to us as Nero. Here are just a few of his infamous exploits: Nero murdered his mother, his step-
brother, and, generally speaking, anyone whom he felt to be a competitor to the throne; he commissioned the building
of a palatial estate complete with vast gardens, and a one hundred foot tall bronze statue depicting himself as the sun
god, the cost of which he took from his subjects; he dipped criminals in paraffin wax and set them ablaze to illuminate
his gardens at night; he was responsible for the deaths of many Christians, including both the apostle Peter (whom he
crucified) and also Paul himself (whom he beheaded). Such was the man to whom Paul urged the church in Rome to pay
taxes, revenue, respect, and honor. For, Paul teaches us, such a ruler is put in place by God in order to administer
justice. But what if, as in Nero͛s case, the ruler is a wicked one, often unjust? God still has a plan for such a ruler. And in
the end, that leader will have to answer for himself/herself. Paul says that we are to look beyond the man himself to
the God who put him in authority, and then, out of conscience, submit ourselves, giving what is right. What if a leader
asks us to disobey God? In that case, we are only to give our leader what is owed him; he cannot supplant God, nor
change what God has said. But we are still to give respect and honor where it is possible.

So Christian, take comfort that God has a plan for whatever leader our country elects. Pray for that individual, and
strive to show honor when possible. And most of all, don͛t ever forget that you are foremost, citizens of another
kingdom, one that we have been promised will one day cover the face of the earth. So seek the good of our country
now, but don͛t let it be your heart͛s home. You have much for which you can look forward: remember that when days
seem dark, and then give thanks to God that He is in control

Garlands

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“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.” Proverbs 1:8-9
“Aaron, you mustn’t give up. If what you’re doing is good, then God doesn’t want you to give up. You have to keep trying. You mustn’t give up.” I don’t know how many times I got this bit of advice from my mother when I was a child. But it was often. You see, my mother grew up during the Great Depression, and life wasn’t easy. Her father worked at the railroad, and her mother grew the family’s food, and made their clothing. And I can only assume that perseverance was a lesson she learned from her parents, and from the need she often faced to work hard even as a young girl. It was a lesson which took hold, though, and she worked hard to pay her own way through college to get her teaching degree. It is a lesson she not only shared but still lives by, with tenacity like a pit bull. And so I heard often “You mustn’t give up.” I heard it when my elementary school music teacher encouraged me to give up playing the cello because he thought I didn’t have the gift. I heard it when in my early college years a then close friend told me I should give up the idea of becoming a preacher because she thought I wouldn’t be any good at it. I heard it when I thought I’d done well enough, but mama felt I could do better. It was a message that could be delivered to inspire conviction or to communicate compassion. That message has had a profound impact on my life, and God has used it to shape me. It is a lesson I’m still learning, and it has often served me well. When I think about the many lessons God has taught me through me years, I have to thank Him for my mama’s influence, because one of the foundational blocks God builds a Christian life upon is perseverance.
I don’t believe that we are to idealize parents; my own parents are quite human in their faults, and I and my wife are far from ideal parents, too. That is the human condition; there are no more ideal parents than there are ideal people. But I do believe that this passage teaches us a lesson which is a common theme throughout Scripture: God uses godly parents to teach important lessons that shape both who we are and what we will become. It is no coincidence, then, that in Proverbs, God reminds us of the importance of listening to the teaching of our mother and father. He compares it to a pendant around our necks – to a garland upon our heads. In other words, the virtuous teachings of our parents, if we value them, eventually adorn our lives with virtue. God’s virtue is always pleasant and beautiful. If we receive and cherish pearls of wisdom from our parents, then they will garnish our lives in a way that is both priceless and beautiful. We will find that God will use our lives to communicate grace to the world if we listen well to the wisdom of mom and dad.
And this all sounds wonderful, but we all know in our hearts that though this principle is true, it is neither immediate, nor easy. Anyone who lives in a family knows that the process is hard both for parent and for child. It’s hard to receive wisdom from someone whose faults and hypocrisies are part of your day to day life. And it’s hard to dispense wisdom when your patience has been sorely put to the test. So how do we apply this scripture passage in the context of real life?
Well, to children and husbands, I say this: value that special lady who is mother in your household. As we all celebrate Mother’s Day, we should take time in the midst of the busy preparations and the celebration to reflect on how God has used mother to impart to you wisdom, and thank her for it. And after Mother’s Day passes, when she tries to share wisdom, though she may not do it in a way you’d like, try to listen with your heart: God has promised to use her teaching to help you!
To mothers, I say this (though it applies to fathers as well), do not doubt that God can use you to make a difference in your children. The nature of family relationships means that we often see each other at our best and at our worst, and though you may often see your advice taken lightly or discarded altogether, yet God says that your teachings are like a beautiful garland for your children, like a pendant which they will wear. The person they will become will be all the more beautiful for the influence (both seen and unseen) which God will allow you to have. And so I give to you the advice my mama always gave me: You mustn’t give up. Persevere in humility, in prayer, and in gratitude for the many smiles He will give you along the way.

Resurrection in Our Hearts

empty tomb

“. . . that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead . . . “ Ephesians 1:18-20

“. . .That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Ephesians 3:10

A number of years ago, I was preparing a message on the resurrection. Someone, having inquired what I was going to speak about, commented to me “Oh, you shouldn’t preach on that; it’s not Easter yet!” And we can relate: centuries of church and social tradition has taught us to celebrate seasonally. But the plain and simple fact is that the resurrection, from the earliest days of Christianity was a critical point of the gospel message; the gospel wouldn’t be the gospel if you skipped it! There’s a number of important reasons for this: the resurrection of Christ is supposed to strengthen the hope for us that on that great day of Christ’s return God will raise us, too; also, the resurrection is the proof for us that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice, and that we are therefore justified. In the two passages before us from the book of Ephesians, Paul lists yet another reason why the resurrection of Christ should be close to our thoughts: the power of the resurrection is already upon us!

Friend, how often do you approach the idea of personal spiritual growth from an entirely human standpoint: ‘what can I do to improve my spiritual walk’? But Paul urges us to know that God has “immeasurable greatness of power toward us who believe according to the might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead”. That is to say, friend, that God used the same power in raising Christ from the dead, which he uses to bring new life in you. Your spiritual growth is forever tied to the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The key here is the Holy Spirit. Never forget that you are unbreakably tied to Jesus Christ through his Spirit. The Spirit connects us to Christ. The Spirit takes what belongs to Christ, and applies it to us. God raised Jesus from the dead into new life; therefore the Spirit takes the new life of Jesus and applies it to us. This is why the word says that “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. (II Corinthians 5:17) So there is literally new, eternal, resurrection life within me. Christ’s resurrections leaves us forever changed, forever made new. And you might say, ‘Brother you don’t seem perfect yet!” I wouldn’t blame you for this. And the apparent disparity is because the new life you and I have in Christ is only a deposit of what’s to come; it’s like a seed that will one day grow into a mighty oak. So what you see are glimpses of light in a heart locked in mortal combat with its former darkness. But the source of that light is Christ. And the strength of that light is tied to the resurrection of Christ, and to God’s power. So I need not fear that the dark will win: he who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it. So what is left to us? We are to strive and long for the changes the Spirit will bring. That’s why Paul says he longs to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, because he longs to be made perfect. And for that reason he presses on. It seems to me, my friends, that this is a good attitude to adopt: If Jesus purchased for us forgiveness, justification with God, and resurrection, then holiness is our destiny. We should strive, then, in prayer, in repentance, and in love, asking that God will bring out in us that new life to which we are being raised.

This Easter, will you ask God to make you grateful that in the resurrection of Christ, God has promised a resurrection for us, too? And will you keep the resurrection close to your heart, then, since it is your destiny? And as you struggle – as you have times of doubt or darkness, will you remember that the battle has already been won at the cross? And the good news about Easter is that God has broken the power of death for his people. He was able to plant life in you, and in Christ, he will complete his work one day. O what a glorious day that will be. All thanks to the resurrection.

Martyrdom

cross“…we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering – since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord . . . , when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed . . .To this end, we always pray for you, that our God may make our worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power so that the name of Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 1:3-11)
Many of you will have been reading the news about what is happening in the Middle East, and chances are you are troubled about the news of the Islamic jihadist group ISIS. There has been so much violence. This group has been overrunning many villages and towns, slaughtering young and old. Several weeks ago, we read of the beheading of 21 young men who were Christians. And this week, we read that they have abducted, and plan to murder, more than 100 more. Such violence isn’t new: scripture tells us that we will see such things through the last days. So we shouldn’t be surprised, but how should we react? Perhaps you struggle with your own feelings about this situation: you probably feel anger, and have wished for vengeance on behalf of your brothers in Christ; and then perhaps you have felt guilt over this wish for vengeance. After all, didn’t Jesus tell us “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”? (Matthew 5:44) In such days, when we see brothers and sisters in Christ martyred, how, as Christians, should we feel, and what should we do?
These are some of the issues on Paul’s mind as he wrote today’s scripture passage. Paul knew that his family in Christ in the Church of Thessalonica were undergoing harsh persecution. And so he wrote this passage at least partly for the purpose of trying to bring them encouragement and helping them to stand strong. So what can we learn from this passage relevant to how we ought to feel and what we ought to do? Here are a few things: 1.It is natural to wish for justice in the midst of persecution; 2.God has promised that He will personally avenge His people; 3.We may take comfort knowing that God will avenge, for the day of his coming and setting things right, will be “to be marveled at among all who believed”; 4. We should remember our brothers who undergo persecution, and value their witness, boldness and faith. (And reject the ABSURD contention made by our leaders that this brutality was not religiously motivated. These recent 21 young men were murdered in the name of the islamic god allah (lower case intended) specifically because they were Christians. They are martyrs who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. ); 5.We should pray for the strengthening of these brothers, that their faith will shine and their will do do good will be strong for the sake of Christ.
So it is ok to take comfort in the promise of God that such evil injustice against his people will not go unpunished; why else would he give us this promise, and to whom else should we turn for justice?
Does this negate what Jesus says: “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”? No, not necessarily. When Jesus tells us “love our enemies”, he’s not prescribing how we should feel toward them, but rather, how we should treat them. Our feelings are beyond our control and are subject to change. We are to treat our enemies with love, forgoing personal vengeance; and we are to pray for them. This is, in part, why God ordains for us leaders, whose job it is to take civil vengeance and to punish evil. So we shouldn’t pray or long for the damnation of ISIS: our job is not to be judge. We should pray for their conversion and repentance; Paul certainly knew personally the value of such prayers! In such a case of repentance, God, astonishingly, is pleased to have already visited the punishment for this sin upon his own Son, just as he has done for each one who believes! So, with both our actions and also in the thoughts we hold in our hearts, we should leave vengeance to God’s own imagination, timing, and prerogative. And we should do so humbly, remembering that we deserved judgment, and instead received grace. But we can pray that God will prevent them from doing further wrong. It is loving to pray for this. So remember your brothers, pray for them, pray for justice, and pray for the persecutors that God will cause them to stop and repent. And celebrate for those who have run the good race, and who now enjoy the blessings of those who overcome.

Renewed Minds

bible and cross

I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Recently, a local man who calls himself clergy tried to convince me that God had revealed to him in a vision that God now permits homosexuality and fornication (sleeping with someone to whom you’re not legally married). But every time I would point him back to the Word, he would ask me to put out a “fleece” before the Lord to see if he was right. Which, to be honest, seemed kind of silly to me: why go back and ask God to give me a supernatural sign about an issue on which He has already spoken plainly (which, by the way, was probably the point about Gideon’s fleece to begin with). But if we’re honest, this kind of thinking is pretty prevalent today. Why are so many Christians trying to redefine right and wrong? In part, is it not because we’re under constant pressure to conform? The irony of our situation is that we live in a culture which desperately wants to think of itself as tolerant, and yet practically demands conformity to its values. Those who don’t are harshly caricatured as being hateful. Increasingly, it is becoming legally difficult for people to publicly not conform. And so there is a great temptation that has beset the church to redefine morality. Some people do it by cherry-picking the Bible passages they like and ignoring the ones they don’t. Others try to suggest that we’ve just misunderstood the Bible all along (this particular fellow tried to suggest that Jesus simply called homosexuals “eunuchs” – sorry, they’re different words altogether.) Others very simply look to other sources as a higher authority than the Bible (pick your higher authority: pop culture, ‘science’, or even visions). The world that Paul lived in was not so very different from our own. How should the Christian live in the midst of a world that doesn’t know Christ? Paul tells us in today’s passage.
It begins for the Christian with a decision that due to God’s mercy toward us in forgiving our debt that we will offer ourselves to him (even our bodies) as a ‘living sacrifice.’ The cross means that I don’t belong to me anymore: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body,” Paul says in I Corinthians 6:19. My decisions, even ones as personal as what I do with my body, belong to Jesus before they belong to me. To have truly understood the nature of God’s grace is to have understood that it makes us glad and willing servants. Paul says that to offer ourselves up to Christ is our spiritual worship. So the true worship of God is to offer myself to him all the time; not just while gathered with my church family. Then he goes on to say “Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” So here is God’s challenge for the Christian living in a pagan world. We are called to resist having our thinking dictated by the world, and instead are to pursue being renewed in our thinking. So how does this new mind come about? It comes through the word of God. Christian don’t you find that God’s word often steps on your toes? This familiar experience happens directly because our old nature is still at war with God, who is making us into something new. When we begin to take God’s word into our hearts and minds, the Holy Spirit uses it to change the way we think. This is the renewing of our minds. It is a process that began when we first received the Holy Spirit, and will continue until He calls us home and we’re completed. So, in a very real way, one of the remedies for the problem of the temptation to conform is simply to look to Gods’ word to find his wisdom. Begin with his grace; if you have met Jesus even once at the cross, then you will find that everywhere you look in scripture, you will hear whispers of his grace. Let that grace begin to change your will: you serve a giving and loving God, not a harsh cruel one. Then, out of gratitude, look to God’s word to shape and govern your values. It is true that God’s moral law (the Ten Commandments) cannot save us: only the blood of Christ can do that. And yet, because we have his Spirit in our hearts, we are to begin to love God and our neighbor (which is a summary of the Ten Commandments.) And so the moral law instructs us on what Christian love looks like. When you find that His word offends or convicts you, ask yourself why, and seek to be changed. In the end your posture toward God’s word should reflect your posture toward his grace. Won’t you receive it willingly? Christian, here is a blessing for you: may it be said of you that His word lit the path before you – that His grace captured you and changed you – that your heart’s desire is to give yourself to him body and soul – and that as your path draws you nearer to heaven, so Christ shines from you even brighter as you go.