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Transformed Lives

Last month I was in Rockford, Illinois where my entire family gathered for Thanksgiving. It was a privilege to see everyone again. We are spread out over the United States from Washington State, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. It is a rare treat when we are all together. While there, I stayed at my nephew’s home. He and his wife recently purchased the home and are slowly remodeling it.

One morning I sat in the guest room with a cup of coffee and looked around the room. There were a few quirks that needed addressing, but I love his house. It is a mid-century modern design. I can already see in my mind how amazing it is going to be someday. I don’t see it as it was. I don’t see it as it is. I see it as it will be. I see it complete. And I love it!

I took a sip of coffee, and it occurred to me that God sees me like I see this house. God looks at me, and he doesn’t see me as I was. He doesn’t see me as I am. He sees me as I will one day be. And he loves me!

I love my relationship with God. Through my relationship with him, the Holy Spirit has transformed many areas of my life. I look back with gratitude at all he has done. At the same time, I am aware of areas in my life that still need transformation. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows me the dark corners of my heart where sin still lurks. Hidden sins like pride, lust, or seeking glory for myself slink away from the light. They try to hide, but the Holy Spirit shines his light upon them. At that moment, my tendency is to focus on all that still needs to be transformed. It can feel overwhelming. The solution is to understand how God sees me.  

None of us have arrived. In the end, we are men and women trying to follow Jesus. Some days we follow well, some days we do not. On the days when we have blown it, we tend to get discouraged. This is why it is important to understand how God sees us.

Remember, God doesn’t see us as we were. God doesn’t see us as we are. He sees us as we will be. This is because God sees us through the cross. He sees the sacrifice of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin. His death paid for all the sins we’ve done in the past. His death paid for all the sins we may commit today, and his death paid for all the sin we may do in the future. His blood covers them all. That is why God does not see us as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. He sees us completely sinless, perfect, and holy, like Jesus. This is amazing!

Sometimes I look back with regret on sins of my past. At other times I may look at my life now and see so many areas that still need improvement. Whenever I do this, I may become discouraged. Instead, I need to look forward to the day when God completes his work in my life. Like my nephew’s home, I need to imagine how amazing it will be when God completes the work in my life.

Romans 8:28-29, ESV, says “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

In God’s plan, all things work together for good. This does not mean all things are good. Sin is not good. But God still uses it for good in our lives. This is because his idea of good is when we are more conformed to the image of his son, Jesus. When we recognize our sin, it should bring us to repentance. In that repentance we are humbled. When we are humble, we look a little more like Jesus. When we look a little more like Jesus, it is good! And on it goes….

In Paul’s second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he wrote, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV).

Here we see the ongoing nature of this transformation. How we wish the transformation in our lives could be completed now. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. God continues to transform our lives into the image of Jesus as long as we live on this earth. Thankfully, you and I are in an ongoing process whereby God the Father transforms our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit so that we progressively look more like his son, Jesus. The process continues until we finally die or the Lord returns to take us home. Then the transformation is complete.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). This is great news! This is worth celebrating! God begins the work of transformation the moment we accept his forgiveness of sin through the cross. This same God continues the work within us until finally, we are complete in him. What a day that will be!

My friend, this is my encouragement for you this month. God knows all our faults yet loves us anyway. He looks at our lives and sees the man or woman we will become. He sees us not as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. And he says, “I love you!”

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

The Challenge of Change

I don’t know about you, but I really do not like change. I like things to stay the same. Even if something is not working right, at least it is predictable that it is not going to work right. At some level, I just prefer things to stay the same.

This morning one of the apps on my phone notified me that there was an update available. I use this particular app on a daily basis, so I accepted the permission requests and downloaded the update. When the download was complete, and the app had updated, something strange happened. The icon was missing from where it normally shows on the screen. I went to my complete list of apps and looked for it, but the app was gone. That was odd. How could an app update and then disappear? I finally found it in another area. It had a new name and a new icon. That was weird.

My frustration began when I opened the app. Remember, I do not like change. But in this app, everything had changed. Even though it was an update from the previous version, in reality it was a completely new app. The name was different, the layout was different, the colors were different, even the way it worked was different. I missed the old version. I missed the predictability. I was not a happy camper.

It reminds me of the way I sometimes feel in my relationship with God. I like things to stay the same. I like predictability. But that is simply not the way God works. God is always changing me. He is always working to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ. Therefore, change is inevitable. But to be honest, sometimes I like the changes, and sometimes I don’t.

The problem is that whenever we change, we must let go of what was once familiar. It is just the nature of change. This is true if you change jobs, change your relationship status, change where you live, change your diet, change your routine, etc. When we change, we have to adjust to a whole new set of circumstances.

Consider what happens when we first make a commitment to follow Christ. Everything changes! Paul, in his second letter to the church in Corinth wrote this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17. ESV). We read this, and we celebrate the work that God does in our lives. Thank you Lord! But while we rejoice in this, I think we also have to accept the challenges that come with this kind of change.

At some point in your life, as you follow Christ, you will have to let go of something in order to take hold of the new life he is giving to you. Paul acknowledges that this process of change is not easy. Here is how he describes it in his letter to the church in Philippi:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (Philippians 3:8-9a, ESV).

Notice the phrase, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things….” This is an important truth that we can easily overlook. Paul realizes how much better his life is in Christ, but in order to change from the man he was into the man that God wanted him to be, he “suffered the loss of all things.” Ouch. Did you get that? He suffered. The key is to understand that what we are gaining is so far superior to what we are giving up. Again, notice what Paul said in this phrase – “For his sake….” It was because of what he was gaining that he was willing to suffer the loss of all things. He was gaining Christ himself! Wow!

You and I face similar circumstances every day. God invites us into the same kind of relationship with him that Paul enjoyed. Part of that relationship is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. He is constantly changing us. My problem is that I often resist his work in my life because changing means I have to let go of something familiar. Remember, I like predictability. Even when something isn’t working right, at least it is predictable. I hold onto what is familiar with an iron grip. When I do, it hurts because God has to pry my fingers apart in order for me to let go of what I am holding onto. You see, I can never take hold of what God is offering me if I am continually clinging to the past.

My friend, perhaps you are like me. You may find yourself facing a choice. God wants to change your life in amazing ways, but you are afraid to let go. I understand. I’ve been there. Looking back, it seems silly that I would desperately hold onto something if I understood what I would gain by letting go. So let go. Let God change you into the image of Christ. Right now you may be suffering, as you consider all that you are leaving behind. God understands. Lift up your eyes and consider what you are gaining as a result. I think you will find there is no comparison. With Paul, we will then be able to say, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8, ESV).

After a time, I begrudgingly had to admit that the new version of the app on my phone was in fact better than the version I had before. I let go of how it used to work, and I am embracing the improved version. Maybe this morning you woke up and discovered that God has an update waiting for you. Like that phone app, he has prepared a new life for you that is so much better than what you’ve had before. Give the Holy Spirit permission to make the changes he longs to make in you. Let go of the past version of yourself, and take hold of the new version he has prepared for you. In the end, you’ll find his new version of your life is always better than what you have right now.

This article was originally published in the July 2015 Newsletter.

Two Steps for Total Transformation

I’m curious how you are doing with your New Year’s resolutions. It has been about four weeks since New Year’s Day, a time when many set new goals for the year ahead. However, if you are like me, most of us have already failed to accomplish what we hoped to do. Maybe you set a goal for growth in your spiritual life. Perhaps you set a goal regarding losing weight or getting in shape. Chances are, by this point the goal has already been abandoned. But what if there were a way that your life could change, and then the change would last? There is a way, but it may surprise you how the process actually works. At the end of this article, I’ll give you the two simple steps that will totally transform your life.

We live in a culture today where the media shouts at us, “Yes! You can change your life! In fact, I’ll show you how to transform your life in just 21 days! All for just three easy payments of $19.99!” What usually gets transformed is your wallet. The only thing that changes is that you become a victim of slick marketing. The exercise equipment you bought to get in shape ends up morphing into an expensive clothes rack, taking up space in the corner of a bedroom. Despite our best intentions and our best efforts, at the end of the day most of us find ourselves pretty much the same person we were when we started.

The problem is that we are trying to change ourselves through human effort. As I read the Scriptures, I haven’t found anyone who was transformed through human effort. Instead, lasting change is always the result of the work of the Holy Spirit.

So how do we change? Let me share an example from my own life.

Many years ago, I felt like God was saying to me, “Tim, you need to become a man of prayer.” At the time, my prayer life consisted of spending about 10 minutes a day praying through my list of people and things I was praying for. I had to admit that 10 minutes a day probably didn’t qualify me as a man of prayer. My first instinct was to discipline myself into becoming a man of prayer. Normally, my plan would look something like this: I would set a goal to pray five minutes more today than I did yesterday. Then tomorrow I would pray five minutes more than I prayed today. The day after that I would pray five minutes more than the day before, and so on. Over time I would become a man of prayer! Wohoo! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. When I do this, invariably I end up a few months later the same as I was when I started. Does this sound familiar?

What I did instead was to yield my life to the Holy Spirit in this area. I said, “I agree with you God, I need to become a man of prayer. Holy Spirit, today I pray that you would help me to become a man of prayer.” Then I got up the next day, and I said, “Holy Spirit, today I pray that you would help me to become a man of prayer.” Then I got up the next day, and I said, “Holy Spirit, today I pray that you would help me to become a man of prayer.” You get the idea. After praying this way for about three months, one day I suddenly realized that my prayer life had completely changed. My prayer life had become a conversation with God. I wanted to spend time talking with him about anything, even things that weren’t really that important. I wanted to spend time with him because of my relationship with him. It was the beginning of what I like to call, “having coffee with God,” something that is a cornerstone of my life today.

The point is, I didn’t change by my human effort; I changed because God changed me through the work of the Holy Spirit.

So how does this look in the area of personal transformation in the physical sense? The vast majority of resolutions this time of year have to do with some sort of transformation of our physical bodies. How does the work of the Holy Spirit apply to that?

Consider what Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Galatia. He said, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17, ESV).

The realm of the physical world collides with the realm of the spiritual world. Paul goes on to say, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21, ESV).

That’s a pretty scary list. It is scary because Paul says that the people who practice these things should not expect to inherit the kingdom of God. That’s serious. But there is hope! He continues by saying, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22, ESV).

If you are like me, the word “fruit” in this passage conjures up images of apples and oranges. But that is not what Paul is talking about. In the original language, the word that is used for fruit could be translated “result”, and I think it is a clearer translation. Paul is saying that the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life is a life that is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is the result of the Spirit, not my human effort! This is important stuff! But notice, tucked away at the end of that list is a key word in the area of our physical lives – self-control. Self-control in the physical realm is actually the result of a Spirit-controlled life. Self-control is the result of being Spirit-controlled.

When I try to change through my own effort, eventually I end up right back where I started. But, when I yield my life to the work of the Holy Spirit, then my life is changed for good.

I told you earlier I would give you two simple steps for total transformation. Well, here they are.

Step One: Yield your life to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Step Two: Repeat step one

If your resolution had something to do with your physical body, my suggestion for you is this: Start your day with a conversation with God. As you speak with him, say something like this, “Holy Spirit, today I pray that you would help me to have self-control.” Then get up tomorrow and pray the same thing. Then the day after that, do the same thing. Continue daily yielding your life to the work of the Holy Spirit. When you do, in time, God will transform your life.

This truth about being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit applies to every area of my life. It is far more than just a weight loss gimmick, it is the way God changes us into the image of Jesus Christ. As a result of the Spirit, all of these characteristics are fleshed out in my life. I become a man who is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. My life ends up looking more like Jesus every day.

Friend, I want you to see your life completely transformed by God. Your life will change when you yield your life to the work of the Holy Spirit on a day-to-day basis. When you do, then you will see the result you have longed for – a life that is completely transformed.

Yield your life to the work of the Spirit. Repeat. There, I just saved you three easy payments of $19.99.

This article was originally published in the February 2015 Newsletter.