Thursday, October 23, 2014

Extreme Transformation

Every year I try to go through some type of transformation. I'll either start working out to change my body. I'll go on a crazy shopping spree to change my fashion style; yet come away more "broke" than "runway." I go on detoxes to free my body of "toxins." In a cyclical manner, I'm always attempting to transform myself into a healthier and more fashionable version of myself. Extreme Makeover: without the help.

I'm not a total failure every time. I lose a few pounds, I buy a few nice pieces at Bloomingdales and Theory, and I drink a couple of glasses of water spiked with organic apple cider, lemon, and cayenne pepper to "re-balance my pH levels." But believe me when I say, I'm not getting Extreme Makeover results. No. Me, personally, I need Chris Powell. But, generally, all people need is a little help. Enter: life coaches, personal trainers, stylists, etc. 

I'll admit, though, even without the help, it's not impossible. There are people who can do amazing things on their own. Out of sheer will, discipline, and determination. People who can put down the sweets and pick up a dumbbell. Transforming from unhealthy to healthy, from trashy dresser to fashionista, and from ALL the toxins to totally "clean" can be done. Unaided. But what about transforming from darkness to light? How does that happen? By sheer will, discipline, and determination?

Interestingly, yesterday at work, I got "Happy Diwali" treats! I was pretty pumped. Free sweets? Yes, please! And though I'm not Hindu, I really like the meaning of Diwali: it spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness.

Light and darkness seem like new age religion. It seems sort of hippy dippy (at least, that's how I have perceived it). However, though not often brought to the forefront of Christian sermons, Christianity also deals in the light vs. darkness spiritual issue:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” - John 8:12

I like this scripture quite a bit, because it doesn't say that the person who follows Christ will walk in the light. But rather, they will have this light. They possess this light. They will BE this light.

You are the light of the world... - Matthew 5:14

...for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light
 - Ephesians 5:8
What a transformation. Not only did we walk in darkness, we were darkness. We were transformed. Which brings me to the next beatitude:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." - Matthew 5:9

I find this one to be so interesting, because to an extent, at this Beatitude you have "arrived." It's not even the last one. But, in my opinion, the previous Beatitudes were the "journey." This one is the "destination." The beatitude that follows is what you can expect at that destination.  

If we think about people who embody the opposite of the Beatitudes: people who are pridefully arrogant, carefree, stubborn, pleasure seekers, merciless, and kinda two-faced are not generally people who get referred to as "peacemaker." That's just not one of the hats they wear. In fact, such people are often the instigators of strife. But when God is systematically purifying your hearts from such behaviors and attitudes, He's preparing you to make peace.
The more I read the Beatitudes, the more its seems like a message of transformation into the image of Christ, and it's done through the transference of His Spirit. This is how He can say, "I am the Light of the world" one moment, and we're the light of the world the next!

The peacemaker is called to carry on the work of the Prince of Peace, with the reward being the title of "son of God." Who else gets called "Son of God"? It's not hard to figure out what the end-game is here:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name... - John 1:12


"...but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." - Acts 1:8

The Beatitudes are an Extreme Makover...soul edition. It's not possible based on sheer will, discipline, and determination. I can't wake up and say: "from now on...I'm meek!" Nah. You need that help (that power) for this transformation. On our own, we're the opposite of the Beatitudes. Human nature is the antithesis of the Beatitudes. So it is unlikely that the Beatitudes represent some 8-step self-improvement plan. They're not a rulebook. They are a roadmap to a peculiar destination. And the Holy Spirit is the vehicle by which you reach that destination: Transformation.

From light.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

If you were stranded on a deserted island...

"If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you take?" 

This was a question asked on Yahoo! Answers, the place where you can pretty much get an answer to any question from "where do monkeys come from?" to "should I keep my baby?" Ask the internet a question and Yahoo! Answers may have an entertaining (rarely wise) answer for you.

This question came with a link, because the poser of this silly question cataloged the responses in a YouTube video.What a find!

Reading the responses, you can sort of tell what individual people are concerned with:
  • Some responders mentioned "water." These people are concerned with their survival
  • Some responders mentioned food. Specific foods. Unlimited food even. They didn't want the tools with which to hunt, but just somehow an endless supply of chocolate, chicken, and other tasty morsels. These people are concerned with comfort.
  • Some responders mentioned dogs or other people (who thank you for stranding them). These people are concerned with companionship.
  • A small group of responders mentioned items (or persons) that could be used for entertainment, which was also clearly a concern. 
By what responders chose to bring, you could figure out what they really cared about. I have always hated this question for two reasons:
  1. If I'm stranded, isn't it too late for me to take something? 
  2. If I could somehow request items post-stranding, how do you choose just three?! 
What if it was just one? What would it be?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." - Matthew 5:9
This particular Beatitude is interesting to me, because it requires you to have "just one." Just one what? One want. One desire. ONE. 

"one is the loneliest number"
I've probably said "All I want is this one thing..." regarding dozens of things in my life. Wanting ONE thing is very unnatural. And even if we did want just one thing, after we had it, we might not want it anymore! That's human nature. We want quality and quantity. In other words: we want it all. But "purity" by definition can't include "it all." For something to be pure, it is not mixed with anything else. For something to be pure, it is comprised of one substance.  So Jesus is saying: I need there to be ONE thing in your heart. To which my response is: eek!

There's a scripture that is littered all over this blog. And it is probably used incorrectly as I didn't understand it until recently:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:19-21

I thought that God cared about my stuff. Or at least the quality of my stuff. In my mind it went like this:
  • Store up treasures in heaven, because that stuff lasts forever and no one can take it out of your hand! 
  • Don't store up treasure on earth, because that stuff is temporary, wears out, and can be taken!
SMH. God doesn't care about my stuff! He cares about the location of my heart! And He wants me to be aware of where it resides. Locate your treasure. Locate your heart.

So once I locate the many (not even close to one) things that my heart desires, I find out a sad truth:

The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
 - Jeremiah 17:9

This is what the Bible refers to as the natural state of my heart. It's bad. So, as in the other Beatitude problems, God has to step in with a supernatural remedy: goodness.

I go to a church where the pastor often says: "Jesus doesn't just make bad people good, he brings dead people to life." And I love that. But in Galatians 5:22, we come to know that God can make you "good." A bad heart can be transformed into a good heart (courtesy of the Holy Spirit). A pure heart. By the works of Christ (1 John 1:9, 1 John 3:2-3, Hebrews 1:3, etc.). 

So what does this mean? I can't want anything? I'm not exactly saying that. But if someone asked you: "If you could only have one thing in the whole wide world, what would it be?" How would you answer? 
One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord    and to seek him in his temple.
 - Psalm 27:4

Oh to answer like David, "a man after God's own heart"! 

The Lord is still working on me, but one day...I'll answer like that. Not with my mouth. But it'll be the first thing that pops into my head. It'll be the first words that forms in my heart. Why? Because it's a "good" answer. And God makes us good.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

No Mercy

I can hold a major grudge.

Women's small groups (bible studies) are full of many cyclical conversations, one of which is: when to cut people out of your life.* Sometimes you have to let people go. How have I determined this? Emotions. Is that right? Probs not. However, we have ways of making merciless behavior seem like "the right thing to do" and later (after we've hurt folks) we struggle with the question: "was that the right thing to do?" So, I recently asked myself a new question: Am I merciful?

In truth, mercy is not in my every day vocab.

Mercy - compassionate treatment, especially of those under one's power

...Well, since literally no one is under my power, I should be off the hook! Yay! But mercy is also simply a disposition to be kind and forgiving. That seems applicable. Boo! If I had the other Beatitudes down (which I don't), this is where I'd fall apart. I have a history of cutting people off. I've felt hurt, betrayed and tricked...and said "no more!" And I meant it. It stuck. It was done (regardless of apologies). Am I merciful?

Sometimes I walk past homeless people on the streets, when I'm supposed to self-identify as a beggar--hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Am I merciful?

I'm quick to judge the sins of others and "get all 'remove the evil one from among you'", when I should be mourning my own sins. Am I merciful?

Why does it matter? Do I even have to get an answer to this question?

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." - Matthew 5:7

I've been following the Bible in a Year plan, and when Matthew starts much has changed since the end of the Old Testament! Except one thing: Jews remain under the domination of a world power. It's been 400 years since the prophecy of Malachi:

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing” - Malachi 4:2-3
God wants to upgrade an iPhone

So, if you're're expecting a sermon about trodding down the wicked (i.e. the Romans). That expectation is only natural. Instead they get this mercy speech. What was Jesus getting at? Why these words? I think it's because God wants to supernaturally change every natural thing about you. Everything that is "only natural" needs to be upgraded.

Human beings are not naturally merciful. God is merciful. Naturally, we can all commit acts of kindness. And we can forgive people (depending on what they did). But Jesus is raising the bar above isolated incidents.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. - Ephesians 4:32

You know what the crazy thing is about God's kindness/mercy? It's self-propagating. David knew this, which is why he always said how it "endured forever"(Psalm 136).  Jeremiah knew it when he said God's mercies were new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).

Ephesians 4:32 commands us to forgive just like God does. How, in the world, do you do something just like God did it?! With the help of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It's impossible without God replacing the natural with the supernatural.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil
- Luke 6:35 

Naturally, showing mercy to the ungrateful and the evil seems "weak", but supernaturally I know that when I am weak...then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). Naturally, I'm not a fan of the ungrateful and try to steer pretty clear of the evil. But supernaturally, that person is at the top of my prayer list. Supernaturally, that's who I want to pour myself out for the most. Why? 
  • After recognizing our utter depravity
  • After crying out over our sin and separation from God
  • After being so hungry for His Holiness, which we can only receive by His mercy...

Mercy should be something we 1) recognize ourselves as being a recipient of, and 2) are eager to give out, because 3) we don't want the supply of mercy flowing to us to run out. 

Are you merciful?

*Maybe men's small groups have the same problem, but I wouldn't know.