The Transforming Power of God

transforming power of GodI love seeing the ways that God works in the lives of His people. We don’t always recognize His working in our own lives. We’re too close to the situation. We can’t step back and observe from afar. But the lives of others can be a different story.

As I read 1 Peter this morning, one verse struck me in particular. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8) That’s a profound statement that would take an entire sermon or two to fully unpack.

  • Unity of mind is a noble goal with far-reaching ramifications, isn’t it?
  • Sympathy. The NIV puts it more in the form of a verb: “be sympathetic.”
  • Brotherly love. Committed, solid, strong, caring love.
  • A tender heart. Couldn’t most of use more of this one?
  • A humble mind. That’s a characteristic that could greatly unify the Body of Christ.

These are all great and challenging goals.

But what struck me as I read was to recognize who the author is of these poignant words: Peter. Do you remember Peter from the gospel accounts? Impetuous Peter. Peter, who often suffered from what a friend of mine calls “foot-in-mouth disease.” Peter, who would happily run roughshod over anything – or anyone – in his way.

And here he is, years later, clearly and obviously transformed by the Lord. He talks about having unity of mind, being sympathetic, having brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Peter seemingly had none of those traits originally. And he now touts them as essential.

Peter was clearly radically transformed by God.

Don’t give up on the transforming power of the Lord in your own life. He’s there, working by His grace, in ways you don’t always realize.

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The God Who Pursues Sinners

God pursues sinnersMost people would say that Genesis 37 through 50 is the story of Joseph. Fourteen chapters with the focus almost entirely on the life of Joseph. It is a fascinating story that we can learn a lot from.

But stuck in the midst of that epic saga about the life of Joseph is a chapter that’s not about him at all. In fact, Joseph is not even mentioned. It’s a story about Judah, Joseph’s brother, and his family.

Judah had three sons. The oldest, Er, had a wife named Tamar. Er died, leaving Tamar childless. The practice of the day was for the brother to take the widow and give offspring for the deceased sibling. So the next son, Onan, took Tamar, but they bore no children, and Onan died, also. This left the youngest of Judah’s sons, Shelah, but he was too young to marry. So Judah asked Tamar to wait – remain a widow – until Shelah was old enough. Apparently, though, Shelah grew up, but Judah never followed through on his promise. Because of this, Tamar decided to seduce her father-in-law. So, dressed as a prostitute, Tamar tricked Judah – he had no idea it was Tamar – into an afternoon liaison. Nine months later, she bore twin boys, Perez and Zerah.

You might be thinking, Well, that’s a fascinating story, Tom, but, so what?

Let me explain. There’s a really vivid contrast drawn between these two brothers, Judah and Joseph. It was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph had done nothing to deserve that treatment. Judah was willingly seduced by someone he thought was a prostitute, a person who charges for having sex. Joseph fled away from the free offer of sensual desire with his master’s wife. Judah broke his word to his daughter-in-law. Joseph is repeatedly depicted as a man who was honorable and true to his word. The contrast between these two men couldn’t be more stark, especially when their stories are told in such close proximity to one another.

As a result, we honor Joseph, but we look down on Judah. One is a hero; the other is someone to be despised. Joseph is the guy we want to hang around with. Judah is the one we want to avoid, right? And that makes perfect sense to our minds. One is worthy, the other not so.

Until we read the lineage of Jesus in the New Testament. Joseph isn’t listed. The noble Joseph, whose life story is comprised of more than a dozen Old Testament chapters, is not in the line of Jesus. But Judah and Perez are there. Judah, the adulterer. Judah, the provocateur. And Perez, whose mother willfully seduced her father-in-law – caused an incestuous relationship – in order to have a child. Those guys made it into the lineage of Jesus, but not Joseph. Matthew even points out the connection, when he says, “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…” (Matthew 1:3).

Doesn’t that strike you as odd? God could have put anyone into the family tree of Jesus. If He really is sovereign – and, make no mistake, He is – then he could have picked and chosen whoever He wanted. He could have grabbed a handful of dirt and made a new person to stick into the lineage if He had so desired.

So, don’t think that somehow this was the Lord making a second or third choice. “Well, that idea didn’t work, so maybe I’ll try this other one.” No! God wasn’t somehow surprised.

Actually, God is the One Who willingly goes after the rebellious.

I think the story of Judah is stuck into the story of Joseph intentionally. It lets us see the difference between those two.

More importantly, it lets us see the God Who intentionally pursues sinners.

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

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Facebook or Face-to-Face?

face to faceBecause I am a public figure – having ministered in hundreds of churches all across the nation and having nearly twenty books published – some people know a lot about me. They’ve heard me talk about my family. They have read about my life and background. As a result, it is not at all unusual for someone to walk up to me and start talking as though we’re old friends. Although we’ve never met, they act like we have known each other for a very long time. The problem is that I know nothing about them at all. And, honestly, they know only a few things that I have chosen to reveal to anyone who reads my writings. My real friends know far more about me. There’s the issue. There is no actual relationship.

Relationship – true relationship – is built on time spent together. We cannot have a close personal relationship with someone with whom we never spend any time. It is possible, of course, to think we have an actual relationship with our 2,000 Facebook friends, but we don’t. Oh, we may know more about those people than we otherwise would have without social media, but that still doesn’t mean we have a true relationship. If we don’t spend time together, laugh together, hurt together, cry together, discuss, learn, argue, encourage, dream, enjoy – experience life together – without those kinds of interactions, we can’t really experience relationship. And those things can’t happen, certainly nowhere close to their full potential, on social media. It has to be real-life, real-time interaction.

That’s part of the beauty of living in biblical community. God works through real relationships with people around us. Rough edges get sanded down. Sharp corners start to get rounded off. Deep cracks and crevices begin to get filled in. But those things cannot happen in a vacuum. If we isolate ourselves from others, then we miss the benefits that relationships bring to our own lives. We need interaction with others in order for God to fully have His way in us.

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The Real Power

The Real PowerIn 2 Timothy 3, the Apostle Paul speaks of “the last days.” He offers a lengthy description of what people will be like in those times. “Lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive … ungrateful, unholy…” (2 Timothy 3:2-3) He goes on and on. Honestly, it sounds as though Paul looked forward into twenty-first century America, doesn’t it? One of his last statements, though, caused me to reflect as I read it recently. “…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

I have heard many people say that this verse is talking about Christians who deny that God still works miracles. By suggesting that healings and other spiritual gifts died out long ago, they are denying the power of God. But I’m not entirely sure that’s what Paul meant.

In his letter to the saints at Rome, Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16, author’s emphasis) The power of God is the gospel. Paul used the same phrasing in his letter to the church in Corinth. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19, author’s emphasis) What is it that is the power of God? “The word of the cross,” the gospel.

So, I would suggest that those who have an appearance of godliness but deny its power, are those who deny the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. To all appearances they are good people. They have an “appearance of godliness.” But their goodness is external only. They have not allowed the power of the gospel to make them new inside.

May God help you and me to radiate His work in us as the power of God transforms us from the inside out.

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When Being Right Might Be Wrong

owners manualI was on a plane recently and picked up the in-flight magazine. Skimming through the pages, I happened across a large quote featured on a particular page. It was by a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who said, “You got to be right with yourself before you can be right with anybody else.”

If that statement is really accurate, we’re all in a whole lot of trouble. Not one of us is “right.” We’ve all been tainted by sin.

There is a pervasive idea in our culture that we need to learn to love ourselves. Actually, the people I have met who are the most “right” are the ones who are most focused on others. There is a strange and wonderful fulfillment that occurs when we set our sites outwardly rather than inwardly.

And that makes sense because when we follow God’s ways – considering others as more important than ourselves, for example – instead of what our culture says, then there should automatically be more fulfillment, right?

When I use my lawn mower according to the manufacturer’s directions, it will work better than if I decide to use it in ways in which it was never intended to be used. Similarly, when we follow the manufacturer’s Instruction Manual, although everything may not go the way we want, there will be a sense that we’re on the right path because we’re doing what He told us to do.

The self-centered me-focus is everywhere in our society. As followers of Christ, this shouldn’t be our mindset.

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Flawed Leaders

leaders not perfectI’ve lost track of the number of people I have met who have left congregations because of some sort of flaw – or at least a perceived flaw – in the church leadership. Perhaps the pastor didn’t visit their uncle in the hospital. Maybe the leadership disagreed with their perspective on a particular issue – usually a non-scriptural issue. I’ve even met people who left because the leadership spent too much time with one group in the congregation and not another.

Don’t expect church leadership to be perfect. It won’t happen in this lifetime. In fact, it’s never happened in the history of the Church.

In the very early days of the Church, Peter acted hypocritically at one point, and, consequently, was rebuked by Paul. (see Galatians 2:11-14) Later, Paul, who wrote so much in his letters about the unity of the Body, had such a sharp disagreement with Barnabas that they parted company. Their traveling ministry days together ended because Paul refused to forgive John Mark. (see Acts 15:36-41)

Both Peter and Paul had major blind spots. They were both far from perfect. Yet, if either of those men walked into one of our gatherings today, we would, without question, afford them the highest possible respect.

So, why do we so often not do this with the leaders God has given us today?

Someone somewhere made the decision that October should be clergy appreciation month. As such, maybe this would be a good time to let the leadership of your church know that you are standing with them. And while you’re at it, why don’t you pray for them? I think God would honor that.

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Committed to One Another

Biblical CommunityLast week in our Sunday morning service, the preacher suggested to us that the ideal congregation would be one where the members are just as committed to one another as they are to Jesus. That’s a radical thought, isn’t it?

If you think about it, that’s really the Lord’s heart for His Church. As His body, we represent Him. We are His hands and feet here on earth. So, of course, we should be as committed to one another as we are to the Lord.

Jerry Bridges, in his book, Biblical Community, said, “For many years, I took an individualistic approach to the Christian life. I was concerned about my growth as a Christian, my progress in holiness, my acquisition of ministry skills. I prayed that God would enable me to be more holy in my personal life and more effective in my evangelism … But as I learned more about true fellowship, I began to pray that we as the body of Christ would grow in holiness, that we would be more effective witnesses to the saving grace of Christ. It is the entire body – not just me – that needs to grow.

“Of course, we cannot ignore our individual, personal responsibility to grow in the Christian life. The body grows as each member grows. But the ultimate focus of our concern should be the same as God’s: growth of the whole body. I should be as concerned about the other members’ growth as I am about my own.”

Our society says that everything is just about the needs and desires of the individual. But that’s not a biblical perspective.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

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