Growing & Changing

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

You are never too old to grow and change.

I’m so glad those sayings are indeed true! The question before us today is are we growing and changing more and more into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ? If you examine the Scriptures, you see quickly that there were those who were committed to staying exactly the way they were and those who were seeking to be conformed more and more to what God had called them to be in Christ. Some examples of the first group would be the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. . . the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They knew it all, or at least they thought they did, and were rock solidly cemented and committed to not changing. Unfortunately, though, they were committed zealously to a wrong understanding of the Scriptures.

But God has called us, as His sons and daughters to become more and more like His Son Jesus. We are to be conformed to His image. To walk in His ways. . . His heart. . . His thoughts and desires as opposed to ours.  In effect, Jesus has called us to a lifestyle of surrender.  Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”.  For the Christian, this is called the process of progressive sanctification and it is hard work.  The words process and progressive imply that this new life is ongoing.  There should be growth, development and change. It is a process and it is progressive. Just as a seed grows from underneath the ground and begins to break through the soil a change takes place. There is a seed, then a sprig, then a sprout, and on and on until we have a fully developed plant producing a flower or a fruit. 

Similarly, we’ve all heard about the process a butterfly goes through. It must work at and labor to get out of the cocoon.  The work of struggling to get out of the cocoon is actually what finishes the growth process for a butterfly.  I recently heard a story of a man who saw a butterfly struggling to get out of a cocoon and “helped” it get free.  The problem was, the butterfly couldn’t fly because his process was intercepted by the “help” being offered.  His wings were not fully developed and eventually died.  Sometimes the pain and agony of walking with Christ is what helps us grow and develop our spiritual muscles.  Our culture today, and I include in that our church culture at large, doesn’t think that way, but too often thinks of the fast food model.  I want it now.  Instant gratification.  Instant spirituality.  Instant growth. That’s not the way of Jesus or the Bible.

In contrast, Paul uses language like. . .  “pressing on” . . .  “straining forward” (Philippians 3:12-14) or “run” . . . “strict training” . . . “beat my body and make it my slave” . . . (I Corinthians 9:24-27). 

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

God gives grace in abundance for the living of the Christian life.  Even though we are to put forth effort in the process of sanctification, it is never to be done so in an attitude of independence, as if we can accomplish anything on our own.  It is only as we act and move in dependence on the Holy Spirit, that we can ever grow personally or be effective in ministering to others.

So, in complete dependence on the Holy Spirit, strive to grow and walk with the Lord in faithfulness and obedience. His grace is sufficient for such a task! If you are wondering, “Ok, JE, that all sounds great, but just exactly how do I grow and change?”.  If that’s you, give me a call! I’d love to get with you and talk about that more in depth.

Jon Eric Woodward

Pastor for Congregational Care & Worship Arts

Loving Like Amnon

The appalling and unsettling story of Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 was the subject matter of Aaron’s recent messages on sexual sin and past trauma. The passage paints a grim picture: In Amnon’s broken desire for his half-sister, he “made himself ill.” After he had violated her, Scripture describes Amnon’s twisted emotional response: “… for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.” In the tragic aftermath of Amnon’s sin, he sends Tamar away in turmoil and shame.

I was recently praying about a challenging relationship when I sensed the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit speak to my heart: “Susan, you’re loving like Amnon.” I was jolted into attention. I continued to pray and recognized that this was a correct assessment of my heart. Amnon’s so-called love came with an agenda, was self-serving, and evaporated when his planning didn’t produce the desired result. I couldn’t claim that my love was much better in the relational challenge I was currently encountering.

Our Amnon-love is hereditary. The sin of Adam and Eve found its origin in a self-serving agenda. They saw that the forbidden fruit was “good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise,” and they wanted it more than they wanted to obey God. So they ate it. In their futile attempt to hide from God and each other, “… they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

This act of self-protection was something new. Prior to their sin, they had no thought of self-preservation or self-justification. Sin brought with it a devastating and sinful self-orientation that has infected every person who has ever been born. Not one of us is exempt. We are prone to love like Amnon.

The inescapable truth is that we want our own way. We’re those wayward sheep in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way.”  And when wayward self-interested sheep bump into each other, the bleating begins.

One of the most beautiful passages in Scripture is found in Philippians 2. It doesn’t use the word “love”, but it is a perfect description of the love that God makes possible through the Holy Spirit who indwells us:

     Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard

     one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal

     interests, but also for the interests of others  (verses 3-4).

Paul David Tripp describes what happens in our hearts when we love with an agenda. He describes Amnon-love: “If sin turns me in on myself so that all I live for is me, then sin in its essence is antisocial. Living for myself and the satisfaction of my selfish desires dehumanizes the people in my life. No longer are they people to me. No longer are they objects of my affection and service. No, my loved ones and friends are reduced either to vehicles to help me get what I want or to obstacles in the way of what I want. When they deliver what I want, I speak kindly to them, not actually because I love them, but because I love myself and the fact that they have satisfied my desires. When they get in the way of what I want, I speak unkindly to them because I love myself, and they have made the mistake of getting in the way of what I crave.”

In Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, authors Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp get specific about what it looks like when our loving looks like Amnon’s:

  •      Refusing to let go of a moment of hurt
  •      Getting angry when our children complicate/inconvenience our lives
  •      Becoming defensive when challenged
  •      Avoiding conflict out of fear
  •      Being resigned to a broken relationship that could be healed
  •      Gossiping about people
  •      Pursuing comfortable relationships and avoiding difficult ones
  •      Envying other people’s friendships
  •      Controlling relationships out of a desire for security
  •      Blowing up at people when our agendas are trampled
  •      Living in bitter isolation in the face of disappointment

One of God’s purposes for the church is to teach us to love. We’re surrounded by bleating sheep – and they get in our space and they eat our grass. God calls us to a sacrificial love that is defined by the cross of Christ. All of our love for others must find its source in that Love that provided for us a new power and a new desire to say “no” to the self-protection and self-orientation that is our natural Adam-and-Eve inherited inclination.

When we think of Amnon and his sin against Tamar, we can readily comfort ourselves and dismiss any personal conviction, because we have never been violently or aggressively abusive. But when we dig a little deeper, we realize our love is often Amnon-love in seed form, bearing no resemblance to the patience, kindness, and goodness that the Spirit desires to produce in the hearts of those who belong to Jesus.

The love of Christ that God makes available to us and through us is costly: It requires two deaths. The first of those deaths occurred almost 2000 years ago. Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, so that we might be forgiven and receive new lives and new hearts. Jesus’s death paved the way for a second necessary death: our death to self. It’s a daily choice made possible by the power of God’s Spirit who lives in us, and by God’s grace which He offers freely to all of His children: my life lived for the benefit of others, or my life lived to benefit me.

Loving like Amnon doesn’t take work. It comes naturally. But something supernatural happens in the hearts of those who belong to Jesus when we surrender our desires to Him and find our satisfaction in Him. Our capacity for true love increases. Tara Barthel says, “As we trust in the Lord and persevere in love, He carves out a vast space that holds His grace in our hearts, for only He can enable us to obey the command, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another'”  (John 13:34-35).

I can think of no better way to celebrate Easter this year than by loving like Jesus – by the power of His blood-bought grace and for the magnifying of His resurrection glory.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

3 Ways to Worship

While every action and every thought is a platform for worshiping God, there is just something about worshiping God through music and singing that really helps us to redirect our minds and hearts away from whatever they might be latched onto, and place it back onto God. Worshiping God through music is a way of tuning our hearts back to the Spirit of God.

An anonymous author once wrote, “Worship will get you through the roughest times of your life, because it shifts your focus from the problem to the problem solver.”

With that, there are many different ways for us redirect our minds attention and the affection of our heart back onto the Lord Jesus as we worship Him in song.

In this blog, I want to share a few with you.

CELEBRATE

When we celebrate someone, we are making much of them and we are honoring them for who they are and often times for something that they have done or completed.

When we celebrate Jesus, we are making much of Him and recognizing that He is our Creator, our Lord, and our Savior.

Colossians 1 tells us that, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into [His kingdom], [in Him] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Because of what Jesus did in possessing equality with God yet coming to earth in the likeness of man and ultimately becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2), we have  been rescued, redeemed and forgiven. That means that regardless of how hard your week, month, or year has been, your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3) and you have an inheritance in Christ that never spoils or fades (1 Pet. 1).  Because of that, in Christ you have hope, purpose and provision – forever!

That means that even on your worst day, you always have reason to celebrate! Think on this reality the next time you worship the Lord through music.

REMEMBER

You may have heard it said before that past provision is evidence of future faithfulness.

I think its easy when we are in the middle of difficulty to place all of our attention and all of our thoughts onto the present circumstance and easily start feeling afraid and overwhelmed. And I totally get that.

But the reality is that when we do that, when we try on our own to pull ourselves out of a difficult situation, we fail to remember God’s faithfulness of the past and we fail to pause and let Him take control and be faithful again.

Malachi 3:6 tells us “I am the Lord, I change not!”

That means that God doesn’t change – He stays the same when everything around you changes and when relationships and circumstances change, God’s love and God’s care for us Does. Not. Change.

Let me ask you this, has God provided for you in the past?

If that answer is yes, if God has proven to be faithful and has proven that He is not going to leave you and forsake you (Deut. 31), then we can rest in the fact that He is not going to do that in the future either. That doesn’t mean that life is always going to be easy or that things are going to work out how we think they should, but it DOES mean that God is going to provide for us, He is going to care for us and give us what we need.

As you lift up the name of Jesus during musical worship, I want to encourage you to remember and think back on the faithfulness of God in the past. How has He proven His love for you? How has he redeemed you and provided for you? How has He delivered you and shown His love to you?

ANNOUNCE

Keith Getty writes, “our churches themselves bear witness to the gospel…the sight and sound of a congregation singing praise to God together is a radical witness in a culture that rejects God and embraces individualism. Our songs are the public manifesto of what we believe.”

As followers of Christ, we are called and commanded to make disciples of all nations. That means we do that through our words and through our actions as we live as a light in a dark world, but that also means we make disciples and we display the gospel through our worship as well.

Tim Keller says, “there is nothing more evangelistic, nothing that will win the world more than glorious worship.”

Acts chapter 2, after the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost, verse 42-47 describes the kingdom life lived out by the early church. It says (amongst other things) that they were attending temple daily, receiving their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

When God’s people come together and worship Him with glad and generous hearts through lifting up His name in song, people watch. People become interested. Lives changed. It just happens.

So as we worship together through music and singing let us announce to each other and to those around us watching in our community that Jesus is Lord and that there is hope in the gospel!

Celebrate. Remember. Announce.

Pig-Pen, Oxen, and a Glorious Mess

Do you remember the Charlie Brown character Pig-Pen from the famous Peanuts cartoon strip? He was Charlie Brown’s friend, who always seemed to have a cloud of dust following him where ever he went.  He could never get clean.  There was one time he was able to get clean, but as soon as he went outside, he instantly became dirty, declaring himself “A dust magnet.”

Most days as a father to 4 children, I think that we might have given birth to 4 Pig-Pens.  Often it is not dust that seems to be radiating and originating from my children, although that will change as Summer gets closer. No, my children seem to be swirled in a dust cloud of their own things.  Crayons and Legos, empty juice boxes and used sucker sticks, goldfish crackers and socks. 

You might suspect that my wife and I have never taught our children what and where trash bins are in our house. Or you might think that we prefer dirty clothes to sit for days in the first spot they land, not in the dirty hamper.  Or you might suspect that we prefer our children to take off their shoes and to make getting anywhere on time more fun by playing that stress-free game of “Where did my other shoe end up?” You would be wrong.  We really try to teach our kids about trash bins, clothes hampers, and how to put their shoes away.  Alas, somedays it feels like our kids our Pig-Pen.  They are just “dust, Lego, crayon, empty juice box, goldfish crackers in the couch cushion” magnets.

 A few weeks I came home to some creation sitting on our side table.  It was a penny and peppermint glued inside a small coin box that I got my children on my last trip to Costa Rica.  The box was held up by a Lego man.  When I asked my kids what in the world this thing was, my youngest told me, as if I was crazy for not recognizing it at first sight, that it was clearly, a “Leprechaun Trap”. Of course, a Leprechaun trap! How could I not have known?

Or this last week, as the weather was getting warmer, I came home to my kids outside with craft supplies making something.  All I could think about at the time was how much of that stuff will I have to pick up.  Who is going to leave the glue out? How many-colored pencils will be left out and how many will be put back in the box? Why do they have tape, and will they not ever make a mess?

It was later that night however that I went into our master bathroom and there on the mirror was taped a piece of paper from one of my kids.  It read:

 Mom and Dad, I love you guys.

(I+ drawn heart+ drawn stick figures to represent my wife and I)

Here (Heres) some flowers for good luck.

And taped to the paper where two flowers (probably weeds)

That paper is still up in our bathroom today.  And it reminded me of an interesting verse in Proverbs.

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”

Proverbs 14:4

This may seem like an interesting verse to think about, but I think it has a lot to do with family life and ministry to the family.

Oxen are dirty, they are expensive, and they are time consuming.  But if you want a harvest you must have them.  There was no getting around this for the ancient Israelites.  You can have a clean feeding trough (manger) or you can have abundant crops.  But you really can’t have both.

We live in a world that continually tries to tell families that they can have it all.  That you can have the perfect house, the perfect kids, the perfect vacation, the perfect on and on and on.  And we are constantly bombarded by these images through entertainment, commercials, and social media.  It even has a name online, it’s called the “curated life”. Curated means selected, organized, and presented using professional or expert knowledge.  People have even started posting about their curated messy-life, which is just a form of emotional showmanship that masquerades itself as vulnerability. God’s wisdom tells us this.  Life is messy.  You can’t avoid it.  But there is a harvest that can come with the mess.

The glorious thing is that God cares so much for us.  He cares about the small things in life and he cares about the big things.  He knew ancient farmers would worry about barns and troughs that never could get cleaned.  He cares about moms and dads, at work and at home, caring for their families in 1,000 different ways. 

Life is messy and Life is beautiful, and life is somehow beautiful because it is messy.  And that sentence wouldn’t make any sense if it weren’t for the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Who makes something beautiful out our of mess.

Because every so often, out of the mess, you might get something like this: