TRANSFORMED | Transformed: Families | Matthew 5:3-12 | Week 9


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TRANSFORMED: Families    Guest Speaker Mark Scandrette    (1st Service)

{Guest Mark (Lisa) Scandrette from San Francisco.} Lisa and I work with an organization we co-founded twenty years ago called ReImagine.  It’s inspired by Jesus’s message of the kingdom.  Basically, we’re very passionate about helping people integrate the teachings of Christ into everyday life.  Our work started in San Francisco, but over the last few years it’s taken a global turn.  I spend time each year in the U.K., Australia, Bangladesh, and East Africa; I’ll be headed to Scandinavia tomorrow.  When I got here this weekend, I realized there’s a lot in common with South Fellowship’s language and some of my passions; I wrote a book called Practicing the Way of Jesus. Maybe this is what’s brewing right now, this longing among God’s people to say we want to not just believe in Jesus, but also walk in his way.  Some of what I’m going to be sharing this morning comes from a couple of books I wrote that are available here today.  

Yesterday we got to spend time with moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, and kids talking about family thriving and exploring that topic.  We had an amazing time sharing hearts and doing activities and looking at God’s vision on how we can be transformed in our family life.  What I’m going to be sharing this morning is a little taste of the depth we explored yesterday.  

Let me just say before we go on, when we think about transformed families, I want you to have in mind the various kinds of family relationships that you’ve experienced.  Think about the family of origin, the family you were born into or the people you grew up with.  You might think about the family you helped create or have been a part of.  You also may want to think about the broader picture of what family and community looks like, including your faith family relationships as well. 

I find, when you bring up the topic of family at a dinner party or in a conversation, it often stirs up a couple of almost contradictory emotions.  For some of us, when we think about our family and community and church, there’s these warm feelings of closeness, this reminiscence about cherished times in the past, and hopefully, even if that wasn’t your family experience, you can look back and find a few instances where you felt that goodness of being close with other human beings.  The other thing that often comes up is some more difficult emotions about family relationships being a bit more conflicted and complicated; also, church relationships that feel the same way, where wow! I’m connected to these people but they don’t always make me feel good, I don’t always feel close, so we feel the pain and disappointment in what we hoped for in family.  Maybe all of us, to some extent, have experienced trauma in our closest relationships, that in order to really thrive in our walk with God and our flourishing and connections with others, we need to work through and process.  

I also want to put a context out there and say that our culture tends to create idols around family.  For thousand of years, human beings have said, “Family first,” and put the people that they’re related to, by blood and marriage, over the needs of others.  MY tribe, MY family, MY people, and if you’re not one of us, you’re over there.  We can take your land, we can misuse you, it’s only us first.  One interesting cultural example of this is “Breaking Bad.”  One of the characters in this series is called Walter White, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, who finds out he has cancer.  He wants to take care of his family, but he gets a taste of some excitement and power and he ends up becoming a methamphetamine kingpin.  He keeps this from his wife and his children, but at a certain point, his wife becomes aware of something sinister going on and confronts him about it.  He, in their argument about this, says, “Whatever I did, I did for the family.”  It was sort of a mic-drop moment.  Like, if you say you’re doing it for your family, you can kill people, do illegal activities, ignore them, be emotionally absent, because you’re a provider.  I hope you’re hearing, along with me, that the gospel invites us into something more whole and good than these less-than versions of tribalism that can sometimes happen in our culture about family.  

The Bible has some interesting things to say about family.  Quick survey of what we see as examples of family life in Scripture.  Let’s start with the first family mentioned.  Adam and Eve whose first two children were Cain and Able.  One of their sons killed the other son.  So if no siblings in your family have killed each other, you are part of a healthier family than the first family on planet earth.  I hope that’s encouraging to you.  We go on to Abraham’s family.  As he’s traveling, his wife is very beautiful and he’s afraid the rulers of the places they visit might steal his wife from him, so he tells them all, “This is my sister.”  I’m pretty sure Abraham spent a lot of time sleeping on the couch after doing those things.  His sons learned the same habits.  We get to King David’s family; one of his sons rapes his sister.  Another one of his sons kills the brother who raped the sister.  Even Jesus had struggles in his family of origin.  What I get from this is that Scripture is realistic about the pain that we can experience in our closest relationships.  

I hope to convince you this morning that Scripture is also hopeful about the possibilities.  With the coming of the Messiah and Jesus’s announcement of the kingdom, it invites the possibility that there’s a whole new way of being a human being.  Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation, so we can expect that as we journey further into the way of Jesus we can see healing and wholeness come to our family and community relationships.  There’s even a prophecy about this in the book of Malachi, where it says when Elijah returns and Messiah comes, he will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. (Malachi 4:6) 

I want to focus on one portion of Scripture this morning that probably is what we know most about Jesus and his relationship with his family.  Jesus is doing his ministry with his disciples.  He’s healing and he’s teaching.  His mother and brothers show up and think Jesus has lost his mind; He’s not even stopping to eat because his life is so full. It says — When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)  So if you’ve ever been misunderstood by people in your family, you’re in good company with Jesus.  It’s not only that, but Jesus’s faith community also thought he’d gone crazy and even said he was demon possessed.  And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)  So when Jesus’ mother and brothers show up, someone comes to Jesus and whispers to him, “Your mother and brothers are here.”  Jesus stops and looks around and says—“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)  

So Jesus, in a sense, is redefining what family is.  It’s not just the people we are related to by blood or by marriage or ancestry.  He’s inviting us into the new family of the kingdom of God, and that’s why I love it.  Sometimes, in faith culture, when we greet someone we say, “Hey, brother, how’s it going today?”  “Hey, sister, good morning!”  That’s a reminder to us that we have become part of a new family together.  

At the same time Jesus was redefining family, he didn’t say, “Well, forget about it.  I don’t have to care about those people I’m related to by blood anymore.”  The picture we get of this comes from John 19:25-27, where Jesus is up on the cross and about to give his life out of love for all of us.  He looks down and as the oldest son it’s his responsibility, in this culture, to care for his aging mother.  Apparently that family had some trauma because after the time Jesus is twelve, Joseph isn’t mentioned again, so maybe he wasn’t part of the picture anymore.  Jesus looks down and thinks, “I’m not going to be able to care for my aging mother.”   So he looks to his friend John and essentially says, “John, take care of my mom.”  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  

One thing I like to say about all this is whatever your family and community experience has been, up to this point, it’s not the end of the story.  We have a lifetime to work out our relationships with those we’re related to and those we love, and seek God’s healing and wholeness in those relationships.  Over and over and again I like collecting stories of people who started out with pretty painful family experiences.  One of the people we wrote about in our book, Belonging & Becoming, is a friend of ours that we met when she was 11 years old.  She was part of a family that was low income and had a lot of struggle from generational abuse and poverty.  When she was thirteen, her father physically assaulted her.  As a result, she and her siblings were removed from the home.  That was her story about family.  In her mid-thirties, as she was raising two children of her own who were on the Autism Spectrum, her father got into recovery, reconnected in his relationship with God.  She said, “My father has become my primary spiritual and emotional support.  He’s becoming the father that I never had.”  I love that no matter what our experience has been we can hope for and work towards seeing newness come in our family and community relationships.

There’s a wonderful text from the Psalms about family (Ps. 68:6) that says — God sets the lonely in families.  I had a friend who said one time, “I really celebrate my framily.”  I said, “Wait, what are you talking about?”  She said, “I’m talking about friends who are like family.”  Maybe that’s another way of talking about the new community of the family of God that we’re all a part of.  Often when I travel and listen to people talking about their questions of relationship, I hear some interesting things.  From a community like this, I hear a single person, or a widowed person, or a divorced person say, “I feel on the outside of what’s happening in the community.”  It seems like everybody else has relationships and somebody to go have lunch with.  I think we can do a better job, in our faith communities, in recognizing the variety of life experiences that people have.  Each person in this community should have a place to go on holidays, for meals, and for community, to learn to create that new kind of family together.    I’ve had people who are older than me who have been like mothers and fathers to me and I’m very grateful for that.  They were able to care for me in ways my family of origin wasn’t able to care for me.  So if you’re an older person in this congregation, you might look around and see if there is someone who might benefit from a positive parental experience if they did not have one.  The irony is if you talk to family people—married people or people with children—in a faith community, they will say, “I also feel lonely.  I remember a time before children when I could get together with others for coffee or small groups.  I have no bandwidth for that anymore.”  Maybe we can have empathy to say that every person in this room has a longing for connection, so how can we reach out to each other?  Part of that is putting yourself out, instead of saying, “Why aren’t people being more friendly with me?”  That’s not a good posture to start from.  Proverbs tells us if you want a friend, be a friend.  Be open-hearted with other people in this community, express your need.  

Anybody ever gotten a picture like this?  {Child’s drawing of herself and dad with “I love yous” on it.} I get them from nieces and nephews and little boys who are my neighbors.  Kids are trying to figure out who they are connected to in life.  I want to give you a definition of what I think a thriving community and family might be—A thriving, transformed family or community is a place of belonging and becoming, where each person feels safe, cared for and loved, and supported to develop who they are for the good of the world.  What I want to note is the kind of inward-outward trajectory of this.  Each of us as human beings need spaces where we feel safe, cared for, and loved, and we can be that for one another.  But it doesn’t end there.  We long for that and as we experience it, it empowers us to not be selfish about it, to not be inward looking, but to say instead how can I seek the thriving of all families and people on earth, so it’s not just about me and mine.  This is the invitation of the gospel, that we’re being invited into the healing and restoring work that Jesus called the kingdom of God, to see the renewal of all things.  That’s an exciting thing for us to be a part of together.

I think Jesus has the way for us to experience that kind of transformed relationship that we long for.  I love how the Apostle Paul says it in Eugene Peterson’s The Message — Parents, don’t frustrate your kids, but take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.  Jesus has a way of life for us that I think the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount give us a picture of those life-giving ways that will transform us.  It’s a little known fact that somebody by the name of Mahatma Gandhi, who led a very important liberation movement in South Africa and his home country of India.  He didn’t identify as a Christian, but every morning he read the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.  A missionary to India (E. Stanley Jones), who was friends with Mahatma Gandhi, made this comment and said, “A little man in a loin cloth in India picks out from the Sermon on the Mount one of its central principles, applies it as a method for gaining human freedom, and the world, challenged and charmed, bends over to catch the significance of that sight.  It is a portent of what would happen if we would take the whole of the Sermon on the Mount and apply it to the whole of life.  It would renew our Christianity; it would renew our world.”  In other words, if a person who doesn’t even identify as a Christian would pay attention to what Jesus said, imagine what would happen if those of us who have said, “We want to follow your way,” would take Him as seriously, and what that would do to transform our families, our communities, and our world.

This morning, I want to point you towards three things from the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that might help us practice to follow the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  The first one is “blessed are the merciful.”  {Mark Scandrette takes a moment to explain that there will be some standing and interaction during this part and asks that the congregation takes a bit of a risk.  The interaction/engagement helps to remember the message and carry its teaching with us.}  Mercy is not our default position in our relationships.  We have this instinct when we look at other people to look with eyes of judging.  I want you to put your hand up like this {shows fingers measuring something}.  Is that a good person or a bad person?  Am I a good boy or a bad boy?  Who’s doing what’s right and who’s agreeing with what I think?   Our minds are fixed and some would say it’s how we develop a moral compass—making assessments and judgments about people.  I want you to take a minute and scan the room in this posture of judging.  Measuring other people.  It might be necessary to do this, but it becomes toxic, so I want you to slap down your hand.  Sermon on the Mount says, “Stop judging.  With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  So the heart transformation the gospel invites us into is instead of looking with eyes of judgment, we switch to eyes of compassion.  

I’m going to ask you to stand up and make the shape of a heart with your hands.  I want to remind you that when the Creator of the universe looks at you, He’s not measuring or judging you.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  Your Creator sees the truest thing about you.  The truest thing about you is not that you failed, not that you’re a sinner, but that you are beloved.  We often need help to remember this.  I want you to find someone, make the shape of a heart, and look them in the eyes and remember who you’re looking at.  I am looking at someone who is made in God’s image.  Formed fearfully and preciously in their mother’s womb.  The one who the Creator of the universe calls beloved.  Maybe think in your mind, “Child of God, may you be well.”  Pay attention to what it feels like in your heart, to look at that person with eyes of compassion.  Pay attention to what it feels like in your heart knowing that this person is looking at you thinking you’re beloved, acknowledging that.  Let that sink in.  You’re a beloved child of God.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  Okay, you can put your hands down, and if you need to hug it out.  

We got a taste of the heart of Jesus there and if we’re going to see transformation happen in our closest relationships, we need to look at one another with that heart.  Most of us have been hurt by people in our lives and it can be very difficult when we think of them or when we’re with them, to see them in that same way that we were trying to experience there.  It came as a surprise to me that the people who have hurt me most have identified as Christians, for one thing, and they’ve often been the people who I’ve been closest to, who I’ve trusted and thought would treat me better.  My first reaction when I feel that ‘why didn’t you love me?’ ‘why did you say that to me?’ ‘why did you treat me like that?’ the rage and resentment come up.  One of our great tasks in our growth and development is to develop compassion towards your parents, siblings, ex-spouse, children, people in your faith community who’ve misunderstood or hurt you, and move from that eye of judgment to a heart of compassion towards them.  

You may have heard this before—I find it really speaks the truth about things—resentment is like drinking poison and hoping somebody else gets sick and dies.  It exhausts our bodies.  It wears us out.  It steals our joy.  One of the ways of Jesus that will help us experience more satisfaction in our relationships is if we can work through that process of letting go.

Earlier this year, I was in aboriginal Australia, way up in a very arid, dry area.  I got to be with an aboriginal church family and we spent a Sunday reflecting on the way of compassion from the gospel.  At the end of the gathering, people in that community who were related by blood and had been in church together for many years, felt conviction, felt invited, and said, “I’ve got to make things right,” and they got up and walked across the room, with tears streaming down their cheeks and said, “I’ve been wrong all these years” or “I’ve been holding resentment towards you.  Will you forgive me?”  They reconciled with each other and saw some healing happen.  Maybe today there is someone you are the process of letting go of or maybe you’ve wronged somebody and it would be powerful for you to go to them and say, “I want to apologize for the ways I wasn’t helpful to you or I was hurtful in your life.”  It takes a lot of courage but you can be part of their healing by doing that.  I’ve done it with my children and my wife, because I could look back and say, “I didn’t love you in the way you deserve to be loved and I want to name that and I don’t want that to be between us anymore.”  Is this making sense?  So practicing letting go.  

Where are you in the process of understanding and forgiving parents, siblings, exes, and others for their mistakes and limitations?  I’m convinced that our parents did the best they could to love us, but they had limits and they had wounds that affected their ability to be present to us, so it’s powerful to let go.  Two things that have helped me with this—one is the kind of speech I practice.  I realize that at times I practice resentment by how I talk.  If I make a commitment to practice positive speech, it makes it easier to let go of resentment.  Second thing is I pray for the person I feel resentment towards.  If I’m struggling with that….if their name comes up in conversation, if I see a picture of them and I start to feel that tightening, then I tell myself to pray for them the next seven days.  I can’t pray for their good and be resentful at the same time.  

A second thing from the Beatitudes that helps us with being transformed in our relationships is where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness or justice.”  The reason I put up this slide is I think often when we look at the injustice in our world and the struggles in our own lives the default tendency is to go, “The world can’t be any different than it is.  It’s really broken and corrupt and I’m broken and corrupt and I can’t be any different than I am.”  We throw our hands up in the air and we conveniently pick Scriptures that justify this.  The world’s going to get worse.  I’m just a miserable sinner.   This is not an accurate telling of what Scripture says about you and I.  Psalm 8:5 says you were made a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory and honor.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said YOU are the light of the world.  We are powerful beings who shape the world by our choices.  We’re not helpless and we’re not hopeless and we’re not trying to do this alone.  The power of the resurrection is available to us and part of our journey is learning to live and access that power and cooperate with what God’s trying to do in us.

Years ago, there was a stranger that used to come to my apartment in San Francisco, walk right in the door without even knocking and start being mean to my family.  Pick up that backpack!  Why are these dishes here? What are you doing?  You’re suppose to be doing your homework right now!    My family, all of us, would be like, “Who is this stranger? Why do they think they can come into our house and wreck the vibe like this?”  It happened enough that my kids nicknamed the stranger “Crabby Dad.”  I’m Crabby Dad, I’m the stranger.  I would get like this…..just furious, raging.  Even in the moment I didn’t want to be like that.  I would shout, “Serenity now!”  God, I don’t want to be like this.  Help me to be a loving spouse and parent.  My prayer was never immediately or magically answered.  I was disappointed.  Around that time, I was spending a lot of time with somebody named Dallas Willard, who has written a lot on how does transformation happen.  What he suggested was that we sometimes get caught in an ‘all or nothing’ way of thinking about our transformation.  That it’s all God and we’re just sitting back going, “God, make me a loving parent and partner.  I can’t do it because I’m helpless and hopeless,” and just wait for it to come.  Scripture says in Philippians—Continue to work out your salvation because it’s God who works in you to will and to act according to God’s good purpose.  (Phil. 2:12-13)  

I was in a group where we were working on our struggles and the question was “Where do you feel stuck? What are you responsible for that’s causing pain in your relationships?”  For me, it’s Crabby Dad.  The group asked, “What could you do to surrender your mind and your body back to God,” according to Romans 12:1-2, which is the theme verse for this series, so that you can experience the wholeness and transformation that God desires for you?  I had to look back through my life to discover when Crabby Dad shows up.  I realized it’s not an accident.  Dallas Willard would say, “You’ve trained your whole life to become the kind of person you are.”  You’ve planned and practiced for the life that you have.  You’ve rehearsed thoughts—maybe false thoughts, maybe distorted thoughts—and you’ve developed habits in your body and your brain and the basal ganglia remembered those things.  I looked back and asked, “What are the choices I’m making in the two weeks before Crabby Dad shows up?”  On reflection I realized that it’s when Mark Scandrette works too many hours a day, too many days a week, doesn’t take a Sabbath.  He gets into this pattern out of that fatigue where at the end of the day he’s exhausted so he needs some salty snacks, he needs some sugar, he needs to veg out for a while so he stays up late binge watching something. He doesn’t get up on time to spend time with God or exercise.  He fuels on coffee and sugar all day.  Pretty soon, if Mark Scandrette does that long enough, he is going to go into rage and impatience.  Why is he working all the time?  What’s driving him?  A false belief and thinking that says, “You’re only significant because of what you can earn or achieve.”  I realized that if I didn’t want to be Crabby Dad anymore, if I wanted to cooperate with God’s work in me, that I would need to develop some new habits of thought and some new habits of body.  So I made a commitment to get up every day and go for a walk and remind myself, “I’m God’s child.  He loves me.  God is pleased with me so I don’t have to run around to prove myself to the world.”  Then I made a commitment to lower caffeine, lower sugar, and a commitment to exercise, and to take a Sabbath day.  Gradually, but dramatically, Crabby Dad stopped showing up in our house.  In fact, my kids were like, “We haven’t seen that guy in a long time.  We don’t miss him, but it’s cool that he’s not here anymore.”  I involved my family in that and this can be a powerful practice for the people you live with or love, where you are honest about your struggles.  You say you don’t want to keep doing that, but want to surrender yourself to the process of transformation of your mind and body and take on practices that will be life giving.  I’m not going to say Crabby Dad never ever shows up anymore, but he very rarely makes an appearance.  It marked a real shift in our family life, where our kids look back and say, “We remember a raging dad and we saw that our dad owned his struggle and took steps to experience transformation.

Last Beatitude — Blessed are the poor in spirit.  What does it mean to be poor?  Poverty is when you don’t have enough or you FEEL like you don’t have enough, something’s lacking.  I think we started this experience of feeling like we didn’t have enough right when we came out of our mother’s body into the world.  You come out and it’s cold!  You’re having to suck oxygen for the first time.  You feel distant from what’s comforting, so most babies clench their fists and they scream, “Aaahhhhh!” out of this sense of not enough, something’s missing.  We maybe needed to feel that so that we’d suck air in, and search for food, and long for the comfort of mother. But if we stay in this posture of clenched fists, it drives us away from community and wholeness.  I want you to clench your fists as tight as you can and hold it for a little while.  I call this the posture of scarcity.  Something is lacking and we grab desperately for what we hope will fill us up or satisfy us.  It’s the cause of great inequity in our world.  It’s the mentality of more, bigger, better that is driving our culture.  It exhausts us and it takes us away from the community we so desperately long for.  

I’m going to now invite you to relax your hands.  The shift into the kingdom of God is if we can learn to go from that posture of scarcity to a posture of trust; to receive what we need from our Creator with thanks; to ask, seek, and knock for what we lack; and to share with one another.  I’m convinced that if we don’t make conscious choices about how we relate to time and money, the forces of a consumeristic and materialistic culture will make most of our decisions for us.  

Yesterday in the workshop, I asked the question, “What are the challenges for family and community relationships in the Denver area?”  First thing that comes up is man, it’s expensive and there’s a drive towards more and bigger and better that’s pulling families apart, that’s making it hard to connect. People are too busy to be in a relationship.  We need to wrestle with finding a kingdom rhythm about our relationship with time and money and stuff.  How you spend your time is how you spend your life.  How you spend your life is shaped by economic choices.  The question for us as kingdom seekers seeking the way of Jesus is what’s a right-sized life?  Instead of thinking in our hearts more-bigger-better, instead we think, “I’m content, I’m satisfied, and I have time and resources to share with others.”  There  is a right-sized life that can take us out of the hurry and busyness and striving that’s epidemic in the culture we’re part of.  This Beatitude is inviting us into a posture—put your hands out, palms up—of contentment and trust in the abundance that the Creator provides.  It invites us to live and pray this prayer:  Lead us in the way of trust. This Beatitude is inviting us into a posture—put your hands out, palms up—of contentment and trust in the abundance that the Creator provides.  It invites us to live and pray this prayer:  Lead us in the way of trust.

In conclusion, family is the place where we get our first picture of what love is and who God is.  But that first picture of what love is was a bit distorted, and that first picture of who God is was distorted.  No matter how much love a parent or a community can give that love is never enough.  This is my precious daughter Hailey.  She came out of her mother’s body; I held her in my arms.  I didn’t even know that such a depth of love existed. It wasn’t more than a year or two before I could see her heart closing even when my heart was open.  It actually made me think back to my family and I thought, “Maybe the same thing happened to me.”  My parents sincerely wanted to love me, but because of my own brokenness I wasn’t always able to even receive the love that they had to give to me.  Our family and community experiences put us on the journey and search for a true parent and true home.  No matter how much we try to love each other in this community, in our families, we still have this hole, because no other human being can fill that hole of love and belonging that we so desperately need.  The trajectory is for us to finally move towards true parent and true home.  The only being who can satisfy that longing that we have for belonging is the Creator of the universe.  That’s what we’re designed for.  This is why in John 15 Jesus said, “Live in me.  Make your home in me.”  And why Moses, thinking about his parents and grandparents and ancestors and his own people said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in every generation.”

I’m going to invite you to stand with me.  If we go back to that thought that we come into the world with clenched hands, desperate for love and safety and security, and then remember the gospel invites us to move from that to opening our hands to receive the love that God has for us.  Open your hands, close your eyes and I want to remind you that this is a safe universe to live in.  Nothing can separate you from the eternal love of the Creator of the universe.  Not loss.  Not mental health issues.  Not even death can separate you from that love.  Your Creator is here with you now and will be with you through whatever comes.  Your true eternal parent.  Lord, teach us to live as your children in the fullness of your love as our true parent and our true home.  Amen. 

TRANSFORMED | Transformed: Families | Matthew 5:3-12 | Week 92024-06-12T15:27:38-06:00

Transformed | Transformed Vocation | Ephesians 2:8-10 | Week 8


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TRANSFORMED: Vocation  Ephesians 2:8-10   Pastor Larry Boatright   (2nd)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}   I want you all to know that in a few weeks it’s my birthday.  I wanted to give you time to get presents.  And it’s the big one — 42nd!  A couple years ago, I turned 40, and as most of us do when we hit a milestone, we spend time reflecting.  I started looking at what I had accomplished, how God had used me.  A question that most of us ask at certain milestones of our lives — Am I where I thought I’d be at this point in my life?   I wanted my forties to be an awesome decade, so I decided to attend a TED conference—TedX: Mile High.  I grabbed some friends and I was excited. The theme was “Wonder.”  My hope was to be inspired and to reflect and to dream about the next decade or two about my life and dream about the next season.

Wouldn’t we like to experience “Wonder” on a regular basis?  I liked that the program had speaker profiles.  Then I started looking at the speaker list:

  • Tamika Mallory – one of four organizers of the Woman’s March on DC and civil rights activist
  • Dick Durrance – famous photographer/journalist – pics of Vietnam – National Geographic
  • James Orsulak – owns an asteroid mining company and title is Space Entrepreneur
  • Doug Vakoch – Runs an organization “dedicated to transmitting intentional signals to nearby stars and fostering the sustainability of human civilization on multi-generational timescales, a project that could take centuries or millennia to succeed.”   What are you working on?? I had to ask myself, “Where were those things on the list of possible vocations when I was in high school?”  I never saw space entrepreneur or interstellar correspondent on the list or I would have been the first to sign up!

So, I went to TedX to be inspired, and in truth I was inspired, but I also saw this list of people doing incredible things, and it made me really look at my life and ask, “What have I accomplished?”  Have you ever looked at someone else and asked yourself that question?  Think about it, there’s an interstellar correspondent.  There is a space entrepreneur.  There’s a Women’s March Organizer.

And then there’s me — Larry Boatright – Religious Worker.   If I’m being honest, a lot of self-doubt crept in, and when I look at the work God has allowed me to do in my life, I can’t help but compare myself to other people, especially at an event like that.   And it left me wondering, “Does what I do even matter?

My guess is that I’m not alone in asking that question.   All of us, at some point, look at what we do, and what we’ve accomplished so far, and wonder, “What is my unique contribution to this world? Is who I am worth anything? Does what I do even matter?”  Think about the most common question we ask children: What do you want to be when you grow up?  As adults, when we meet someone new, one of the first questions we ask is, “What do you do?”  For me as a kid, I wanted to be a doctor, a brain surgeon.  Then I wanted to be a motocross racer, and I actually got to do that and it was a lot of fun.  Then I wanted to be a rock star, but that didn’t pan out.

Most of us, when we are little, dream pretty big; the world hasn’t told us we can’t do things yet.  We still believe we’re creative and we’re passionate about life and can do anything we really want to do.  But if we scrape below the surface, what we really want to do is make a difference.  We wanted to be somebody.  We wanted to be good at something, to be who God created us to be.  But all too often, as adults, we feel like we’re either spinning our wheels or completely missing the mark.

We’re in the next to last week of this “Transformed” series, and we’re talking about transforming our vocation.  Some of you got excited for a second because you thought I said “Vacation.”  The question we’ve been wrestling with in this series is, “What would happen if the gospel permeated and impacted every area of our lives?”  Today I want to explore what it would look like if the gospel had a radical impact and completely transformed your perspective on your vocation.

Maybe a good place to start is to ask, “What IS your vocation?”  For most of us, when we hear the word vocation, we think about the work that we do, don’t we?  We think about our J-O-B.  And that’s a challenge, because in 23 years of ministry, I can’t tell you how many people have complained to me about their job.  If you look at your Facebook feed on Monday morning, how many people do you see posting complaints about having to get up and go to work again?  Have you ever felt that way? Like your job stinks? Like it’s draining? Like you’d rather live in a van down by the river than do what you do? Guess what, you’re not alone.  Studies show that nearly half of American workers are dissatisfied with their jobs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics did a long-term study of baby boomers and found that, on average, people held 11.7 jobs between age 18 and 48. Twenty-seven percent of those baby boomers changed jobs more than fifteen times. I know lots of people who have most of their identity in what they do—what their career is, what kind of work they do.  I have to admit, but that’s probably me as well; I identify my vocation as the thing that I do and my identity is there.

In 2008, there was a recession and I was pastoring in Chicago and a ton of people in my church were hit really hard with the economic downturn.

  • Some were laid off
  • Some were forced to retire early and their job given to a young person fresh out of school
  • Some were in a company that downsized and they were forced to acquire even more work for the same pay to compensate for it.  One thing I noticed that was really interesting in that season in our country’s history, at least with the people I interacted with, is that so many people felt such a sense of loss of their identity because their job changed.  The media reported story after story of people who took their own life because they lost their jobs, and therefore, their identity.

I have to wonder if the reason why people hate their jobs, bounce from their jobs, and lose themselves in their jobs, is because they don’t really understand what their vocation is supposed to be all about.  For most of us, when we are asked the question, “What’s your vocation?” we pair it with our job and that’s understandable. But I need you to hear me today, your vocation is not your job. Your job is a part of, but not equal to, your vocation. I want to propose that who you are becoming is just as important as what you are doing.  I want to walk through the big idea and I’m going to say it over and over and drill it into our heads:  Vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.  Your vocation is becoming the person that God designed and created you to be and doing the work that God created you to do.  That means your vocation is so much more than your J-O-B, the work that you do.   I want to help us see that our vocation is more than a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table.  It should be us being completely on mission with God.

Fortunately, the Scriptures give us a lot of insight into what our vocations should be about.  We’re going to unpack Ephesians 2:8-10 together.   For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   Even though it’s only three verses, this actually is a significant piece of Scripture, with HUGE implications for how we see our God, ourselves, our work, and our vocation.

Before we get too far into trying to figure out what a transformed vocation is supposed to look like, I want to frame it up by looking at a foundational concept.  Verses 8 and 9 — 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.  It’s really interesting how Paul sets up this passage, isn’t it?    Instead of just diving into an explanation of how God created us and gave us things to do, he framed it with a reminder that it’s ALL God’s work.  In case we think that WE somehow can do something to earn God’s favor, Paul reminds us that salvation is God’s work, not ours.   He’s not saying works are bad, in fact, he’s actually saying they are good and that God laid out good works for us to do, but he’s contrasting works that earn favor with God and works that honor God and fall into God’s plan for the kingdom.  Listen, that’s really easy to get messed up.  So many people think they need to work to earn favor with God—that they must DO stuff to be okay with God.  Instead of seeing that their work (the things that they do) flows out of the God’s work in them and for them.

Maybe that’s you.

In Chicago, we had a Saturday night service.  We called it the “recovering Catholic service” because about 80% of the people in there were Catholics. I remember being thrown off when we moved from the Bible Belt to Chicago and someone asked, “What time does mass start?”  I was taken aback.  Many of those people had difficulty understanding this concept, because in their mind it was well, I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to attend this and I have to give this and do all these things, and IF I do all those things, maybe, just maybe, I can have favor with God.

It’s so important that we understand the difference between salvation—a free gift from God—and serving Jesus, which is a response to that free gift of God.  This is one of the key issues of the Reformation: stating that our standing before God has nothing to do with us doing a bunch of things and earning favor with God.  Our salvation is a free gift of grace.  Paul says, “Not of yourself” and “not by works, so no one can boast.”  You can’t go around saying, “I saved myself!”  So Paul is making sure we get the picture here, before we dive too much into what God’s done in us and through us and wants to do to use us, he wants to clearly distinguish the difference between that and salvation, that it is from grace alone that we receive salvation.

But I think we’ll also see that it’s God’s grace, God’s desire, God’s heart, to partner with us in his creation.  Look at verse 10:  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  I want to start at that very first part:  For we are God’s handiwork…  I want to camp out there for a second.  The NIV says we are God’s handiwork; the ESV says we are his workmanship.  The Greek word used here is the word poiema.  What word does that sound like?  Poem.  In fact, as I was trying to write my notes for preaching, my computer wanted to autocorrect that word to poem.  But it’s a similar idea.

I love poetry. When I was a kid studying poetry in literature, I thought it was so amazing that someone could sit down with a blank piece of paper and flow out poetry.  Poems are the works of a creative artist, and guess what, so are you! Poiema is sort of saying that an artist skillfully knit you together, just as you are.  The Psalmist makes this clear in Psalm 139:13—For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  That sounds like a craftsman to me.  How about you?  At night, when I’m bored and need something to watch, I inevitably go to the documentary category.  Some of my favorite documentaries to watch are people who create things.  There’s an amazing one called “The Birth of Sake,” about people who give half of their year to creating sake.  It’s so cinematic and beautiful.  “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” — I love that documentary. I love watching people take a raw piece of wood and just carve it and shape it and put it together and stain it and make something beautiful out of that.  I love when I get a latte and they do really cool latte art.  There’s a Japanese restaurant in Boulder I went to that’s very traditional.  You take your shoes off at the door and go sit at the bar and an artisan chef makes it right in front of you.  I’m not talking hibachi, I’m talking beautifully carved cucumbers and carrots and creates this one-of-a-kind, unique thing and sits it right in front of you.  I think of my friend Steve, who you’re going to meet in a few minutes, and how he uses his hands to craft bread.

I love the way The Voice translation renders this verse:  For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives.  That’s talking about us.  It’s not talking about this mysterious, other people.  It’s talking about you and I.  For many of us, it’s pretty hard to get our minds wrapped around the fact that God has uniquely made us, and that he uniquely created unique things for us to do.  So often we fail to see our own worth in Christ.  For many of us, we see ourselves as generic, vanilla, average, or ordinary.  Out of that place, we see our work, our impact potential, the way we interact in the world through the same lens. If you want to transform your vocation, I would propose that the first step is to think about who you are and who you are becoming.

At some point I’m going to get a long, family-style dining room table.  I can go to IKEA and get that.  It will look good for a while….unless I move it. Annette and I love to have people over and gather around the table with a meal.  Love to cook, love to host.  But if I buy this dining room table from IKEA, and you come sit at my table, I’m not going to be super jazzed about telling you the origin or the genesis of the table.  This is an IKEA piece and was made in a factory.  Millions of other people have this same table.  NO!  I’m not going to say that.  Now, I have a friend named Kieley, who was in my youth group at my very first church.  He’s now an adult and creates this unbelievable dining room furniture, with his hands.  I hope someday to have one of his tables in my home.  If I have a table that’s unique like that, handcrafted by an artisan, when you come have a meal with me at my house, we’re going to sit down at this table and I’m going to tell you about the origin of this table.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  That is you.  You are not IKEA!  There are billions of people in this planet, but you are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Master Craftsman.  That means you have a unique set of natural abilities, a unique voice and something to say, and unique things to do, and a unique personality, and a unique perspective on this earth.  You are unique!

Remember, your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do. This starts with understanding that God created you to be something unique. And that means that you inherently have worth.  And I know there are people in this room who need to hear this, because maybe, as a kid, you were told you weren’t good enough.  Maybe as an adult you’ve played the comparison game for the majority of your adulthood.  Maybe you’re a young adult and you’re living in a world with your friends and comparing yourself to them.  You start to wonder, “Am I a mistake?”  I want to tell you, you are a masterpiece, not a mistake.   If you could move out of your self-doubt, those voices that say you stink and you’re not good enough and all that, and start to embrace the fact that you are a masterpiece, not a mistake, you’re well on your way to partnering with God in your vocation.

The Scripture goes on to say:  Created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  So we are God’s masterpiece, a unique creation, and we’re told that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  I can remember being 13 or 14, and my dad made me go do some hard work on the farm.  I think my dad told me to help build a fence and I was having a hard time.  We were using a type of wood that was really hard, and I was trying to put barbed wire on the fence and it kept ricocheting off into the field.  I started to get progressively angry.  Finally, out of frustration, I exploded, and I cursed Adam and Eve for making me work.  You’re laughing because you’ve done this too.  If it weren’t for you guys, I wouldn’t have to be doing this!  Because we all know that if the Fall had never happened  we wouldn’t have to work, right?  Not exactly.  See, for some of us, we blame Adam and Eve for having to work, not realizing that the Scriptures are clear that work has always been a part of God’s design, and I believe it will continue to always be a part of God’s design.

If we start the gospel narrative in Genesis chapter 3, it’s easy to see how work is a curse.  But if we, correctly, start the gospel narrative in Genesis 1 and 2, we’ll see that God’s design has always been to partner with us through our work.  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:27-28)   Now, don’t tune out because you’re heard this passage a bazillion times.  Listen, God gave some very specific instructions:

  • Be fruitful and multiply (Most humans like this kind of work!)
  • Fill the earth
  • Subdue it – this means to bring it under control, to bring order to it.
  • Rule over it–RADAH–to rule over and to dominate.   That all sounds like work to me.

Genesis 2:15, 19-20 says:  The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it…..So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 

God easily could have given Adam and Eve a fully-baked creation, with an owner’s manual to help them manage it.  But instead, God created a bunch of things, including humankind, and tasked them with the work of continuing to shape it, to subdue it, to bring it into order.  God allowed Adam to name the animals, to tend to vegetation, to work. Remember, this is pre-fall before sin entered the equation.  Then we fast forward to the end of the book in Revelation and see that Jesus comes to the earth.  What does he do?  God comes among his people and they will be his people and they will be their God.  We will be continuing that work of shaping, and moving, and doing things with God for all of eternity.  So in the beginning of the story and the end of the story, we see the Scriptures saying we will partner with Him in ruling and reigning, and working.

So to transform your vocation, first you might want to consider that you are a masterpiece, that you are hand-crafted.  No one looks under an IKEA table to see who the manufacturer is, but if you say this is an artisan thing….typically an artist writes his name.  Guess what?  God has written his imprint on you.  The imago dei inside you.  You’re unique and fearfully and wonderfully made.

But secondly, we might want to embrace that God has created you to work, to partner with Him in the renewal of all things.  So your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, embracing that you’re a masterpiece, but also doing good works.  Why?  Because God has designed you to do good works.  Because of grace, because of the Reformation, some people don’t like using the language “good works,” but the Scriptures are filled with that.  God desires for us to do good works. No matter what situation you find yourself in, this is what vocation is all about.  Not just that little job we happen to occupy at this stage of our lives, or not just retirement, or not just being in between jobs, or whatever position we’re in, it’s by God’s work that we are created as a masterpiece and that we are gifted the best gift, which is our salvation, but we’re designed, as the overflow of that, to do good works.  So good works are a result of truly knowing and following Jesus.  If you know Jesus and you’ve accepted that He’s made you unique, the natural overflow of your heart is to do good things for Him.  So look at your life.  Would your life say that you know Jesus?  Or are you a cranky, mean person?   If you embraced this idea that you are a masterpiece, hand-crafted, that God cares about who you are becoming, and that He has called you to do good works for the sake of the Kingdom, it might re-frame what you see about at your job tomorrow, or in your interactions with others at home, or the grocery store, or whatever it might be.  If you truly see that God’s made you unique and wants to use you to partner with Him in the kingdom for the sake of others, your attitude toward working in a cube or whatever you do, might be just a little bit different.

Finally—Which God prepared in advance for us to do…  That’s kind of intimidating, because that means God has some kind of plan, and I like to know what the plan is, how about you?  For me, part of the Christian journey is learning to be present to what the Spirit is doing in the moment, just trying to listen.  I remember as a kid, my parents worked a half hour or so away in a factory, so they were gone from early in the morning until 6 at night or so.  They did what most parents do and gave me a list of stuff to do when they left, like feed the cows, chickens, and hogs.  Mow the grass.  Maybe I had to build or repair some fence.  And then the thing every kid loves to hear from their parents:  Clean your room.   And so, I did what most teenage boys do—I messed around all day doing whatever I wanted until about 4 pm.  Then I crammed in all the work they gave me to do and got it done just as they pulled into the driveway and sat back on the couch like I’d been sitting there for hours.

I’m convinced that God has laid out work for us to do.  But part of formation as a follower of Jesus is partnering with God to figure out what that is.  For most of us, it’s not “do exactly this or that,” so I want to give you two parts of vocation that I think will shape you and help you see what you’re suppose to be about in this life.  The first part is what I’m going to call foundational vocation.  The bottom line: To know Jesus and to make Him known.  What is our foundational vocation? The thing ALL of us have been created for? Our primary vocation is to know Jesus and to make Him known.

At the beginning of this series we looked at 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 and I want to read that again for us —  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; {That’s our job.}  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

It’s easy to make our work or our career an idol, isn’t it?   To make IT the thing that our identity is wrapped up in.  To think the work that I do, the profession that I’m in, the thing I went to school for is my idol, my highest calling.  But honestly, the Scriptures are clear that the foundational calling, of everyone who claims to follow Jesus, is to know Christ and to make Him known.  If you’re here today and you’re not following Jesus yet, that’s not your mandate, but God desires it for you.  But if you do follow Jesus, you need to know Him and make Him known, to be an ambassador for Christ, to live out the ministry of reconciliation. So whether you work in a cubicle or a nice cushy office, or you’re retired, or you’re between jobs, a significant part of your vocation is the same as the rest of us: to represent Jesus, to be an ambassador of Christ, to show people what living in His way with His heart looks like.  That’s your foundational vocation.  All of us.

Then I would ask:  Does God want to leverage who He’s uniquely made you to be?  If my job is to know Christ and to make Him known, what about the unique skills God has given me?  What about the unique abilities God has given me?  What about the uniqueness God has put inside of me?  The unique desires and passions?  Well, I’m going to call that our specific vocation.  Our specific vocation is gifting yourself to the Kingdom of God for the sake of others.  This is the one time it’s ok to regift something!  Who God made you to be.  It’s a gift FROM God that you are who you are, and a gift FOR God to give who you are to the Kingdom of God for the sake of others.  I love what David Benner, psychologist and author, has to say: “Our vocation is always a response to a Divine call to take our place in the Kingdom of God. {Not just the job that I have, it’s taking my place in the Kingdom of God.  This is why we talk about kingdom so much.  The gospel is kingdom.  Jesus said, “Repent the Kingdom is near.”  Kingdom. Kingdom. Kingdom.  So we have a role to play in this Kingdom.} Our vocation is a call to serve God and our fellow humans in the distinctive way that fits the shape of our being. In one way or another, Christian calling will always involve the care of God’s creation and people.”

You might be saying, “Gift myself to the Kingdom of God?”  That sounds a little bit pretentious, doesn’t it?  It’s not pretentious, it’s obedience.  All of us have a specific vocation.  I think God desires for us to know the person He’s created us to be and to leverage it for the sake of others.  All of us.  We don’t transform our vocation, or our relationships, or our resources, or our bodies, or our minds and hearts, into the wholeness of Christ so that we can feel good about ourselves.  No, no, no.  We allow the Spirit to transform to the wholeness of Christ for the sake of others.  So it’s good to know how you’re wired and what God has birthed in you.  What your natural strengths and abilities are.  It’s good to know what your life experiences are, even if they aren’t good ones.  God uses the not good experiences to shape us, just as much as the good ones.  Also, what your passions and desires are.  If you were to go, “What’s my specific vocation?” and you took the three areas of your natural abilities and life experiences, and you paired it with your passions and desires, and then added in the needs of others, you’d start getting a clue about what God’s specific vocation is for you.

I’ve learned that as you journey through assessments and things like this, it might be kind of painful, but there’s also a lot of joy, to start scraping the surface and go, “Oh, I see the diamond in the rough.”  This is one of the reasons why we’re committed to formation here at South.  It’s one of the reasons we have an Enneagram class, so you can sign up and journey with other people and take some assessments and have some honest conversation to find out a little bit more about how God has uniquely wired you.  You could also talk to people who know you well and have an “I see in you” conversation.  What do you see in me?  How am I wired?  What do you think I’m good at?  How have you seen God use me through my own natural giftings and abilities?  That’s a powerful conversation.

I want you to hear me: even if don’t have a J-O-B, or you’re retired, or you’re in between jobs, you still have a vocation.  God’s not done with you yet.  My friend Carolyn is 77 years old. She doesn’t necessarily have a J-O-B, but she certainly has a vocation.  When I first met her, I observed how she interacted with people.  One thing I saw is that Carolyn is ubiquitous, she is everywhere at all times.  She’s mentoring everyone all the time.  One day I told her I figured out what she was:  she’s our chaplain.  She’s the chaplain of this Body.

The truth is, knowing your foundational vocation and your specific vocation can have a huge impact on which job you choose to work, and how you approach that job. Even if you feel you’re in a dead-end job, understanding that God wants to use you, could shift how you see that job.  It should also shift how you view your role at home, in your neighborhood, in your job, your vocation, in this city, and the world.  Why?  Because your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.  And that’s not dependent exclusively on your job.

Now I get it, there are times where we don’t know our specific vocation.  I just want you to hear me, that’s okay.  And maybe you’re in a situation where you’re agitated because you do have some specific abilities, but you don’t feel like God or others are using them, and you feel underutilized.

What if this week, you chose to not focus so much on living out every single ability you have and focused on not getting frustrated about what you know to be true about yourself not being known by others?  What if you decided to just put your ear to the ground and allow the Spirit to lead you? To be a student of the Artisan?

I can tell you there are plenty of times I felt underutilized or even confused about how I made a difference, but looking back I can see that in those times Jesus was my teacher.  He was using that circumstance to teach me how He wanted to use me for his kingdom.   And I Jesus wants to be your teacher as well.  So I want to challenge you to bloom where you’re planted.  Make following Jesus your foundation. Be available and hungry to learn and grow, and to be used however the Spirit calls you to be used, and see how Jesus might shape you.

One last thing I want to say about what it is that God’s calling you to do as you get farther and farther into being used by Jesus.  A lot of people would say, “I’ve fallen in love with Jesus.  I’m following hard after Jesus, so I’m just waiting so I can go work at a church.”  I want to tell you that working at a church is NOT the highest calling.  If you could find any other career other than being a pastor or working at a church, please do that.  It’s not for everyone.  There’s nothing magical about being a professional Christian.  Erwin McManus once said that when you tell people you’re a pastor, it’s like telling them that you’re a cannibal and inviting them over for dinner.  I’m sometimes envious of people who aren’t in the church who are making an impact in their neighborhood, in their community, because you don’t have that stigma.  You have a better opportunity to show people, in your day-to-day life, how to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus than I do.   The goal is not to be a professional Christian, it’s to bloom where you’re planted and let God use you to become who God created you to be and do what He called you to do, whether that’s an accountant, a plumber, a doctor, a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom….   Whatever you find yourself in, be who God created you to be.  You can often have far more an impact outside of these church walls than I can.

I want you to meet my friend Steve.  He’s an amazing person and I admire him very much, and I think he really gets it when it comes to vocation. {Video}

We probably had little to no idea of what we were getting into, honestly.  There have been those fun moments, but Penny and I have both said we’ve never worked harder in our lives.  So I’m Steve Shroeder.  We’ve been at South two-and-a-half years now.  It was in high school when I sensed God was inviting me to consider being a youth pastor.  Penny and I got married after she graduated and started the journey of being in full-time ministry, as in paid ministry with the church.  I was a youth pastor five years, then we went and planted a church in Bellingham, Washington.  I got to experience church planting—all the challenges and opportunities that come with that.  After about thirteen years we had a call from a church in Kansas for me to come and be their lead pastor.  Thirty-four years of straight pastoral ministry.  Penny and I began to have a conversation about what would I do in retirement and would I always be a pastor.  When Penny and I had this conversation, I was probably 58 or 59 so I started thinking, “If I only had a few years left, what would I want to do?”  Immediately we thought of our kids and grandkids who were living here in Denver.  I remember where I was standing in our kitchen when Penny said, “Well, what would you do if you weren’t a pastor?”  This idea came into my head—and I kind of think it was Jesus, I don’t know, but the idea was I would buy a Great Harvest Bread company and I would run the store!  Where did that come from?  We looked into it and sure enough, there was a store for sale, in Denver, right at that very time.  I had been intentionally working on my own spiritual growth and reading a lot of stuff from Dallas Willard and James Bryan Smith.  Jesus comes to heal from our diseases, and I think we all have diseases.  I don’t think I recognized, very clearly, what some of mine were.  The disease that I kind of figured out that God was showing me I had was this disease of seeking approval of people and living for their approval.  To be honest, being a pastor feeds that disease.  You’re in the limelight every Sunday.  When you’re done preaching, there’s a lineup of people that want to talk to you.  I think He was saying a couple things: one, I care more about who you’re becoming than what you’re doing.  And he pulled me out of the limelight, kind of into obscurity.  I work in the back of the bakery a lot and I go shopping and I deliver food.  I’m also learning that the workplace is probably His primary classroom for discipleship.  Like, this is where He wants us to grow, to learn about who we’re becoming, to learn to love our enemy.  When I get to deal with customers that are grumpy, Jesus will say to me, “Well, Steve, you’re grumpy too sometimes and look how I treat you.”  So it’s an opportunity to learn that.  I’m trying to learn from Jesus that I’m a child of His, created in His image.  I’m an eternal being with an eternal destiny and I live in the unshakable kingdom of God.  I’m here because it’s my new classroom.  I’m allowing that to shape my character, to become more like Him in this environment.  We need godly teachers and business people and repair people.  We need Jesus-kind of people in every aspect of business in the world.  We need them.  The highest calling isn’t what I can do for Jesus, but it’s who I can become IN Jesus, in Christ, who I am.  What’s I begin to see clearly that that’s what He wants—it’s not first of all my service or my profession—He wants me.  No matter what vocation you’re in, it’s a calling from God.  Often it’s a way of partnering with God in answering somebody’s prayer.  So there’s people out there praying, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and I’m working with seventeen people at the bakery making sure they get their daily bread.  I can see why He’s not calling everyone into professional, paid ministry.  We can all see our occupation, or vocation, as a calling from Him as an opportunity to learn from Him, in that environment, and to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.  

So I want to end today by asking this question I ask a lot:  What about you? Maybe you’re a young adult trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.  Maybe you’re a middle-aged adult and you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.  Maybe you’re an older adult, and you’re convinced God’s not through with you yet.  Recently, I met with someone who’s in her 70’s and she heard one of these talks I gave in this series and she said, “What you just talked about, I want that.  I don’t know how much longer the Lord will give me on this earth, but I want it to count.”  And I thought, “Man, that is somebody Jesus is shaping and forming.”  Regardless of what age you are, Jesus is pulling you forward.  He wants to use you.  He wants to really get to know you, not the beaten down you with the lies you’ve believed all your life, but the real you.

I love how Steve said our vocation is often being the answer to some else’s prayer. What if you got up tomorrow, and whatever you set your intention to do, you framed it that perhaps Jesus wanted to use you to be the answer to someone else’s prayer?  Maybe it’s in that cube you’re working in, or maybe it’s in your home with your kids or your spouse, maybe it’s in the grocery line.  Maybe if we thought like this, God might actually use you to answer someone’s prayer.  What if instead of asking someone, “What do you do?” we looked at those God has put in our path and asked, “Who are you becoming?”  What if instead of measuring ourselves by what we do, that we are good because of our outputs, what if we asked the question, “Who am I becoming?”

Here at South, we don’t just want to have a sermon you hear, we want to give you practical things, practices and tools you can use to reflect and actually have movement in your life.  This is a part of your formation.  I want to give you three words to reflect on, to see where  you are, what movement might look like for you. The first word is ACCEPT.  For some of us, we haven’t accepted yet that we’re special.  We haven’t accepted that we’re a work of art, that we are God’s masterpiece.  For some of us here today, I know you need to hear that and I’m going to invite you to accept that.  Maybe some of you have not accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of your life.  I’d love for you to consider doing that today and I’d love to baptize you next week.  You need to accept that God made you unique and special and full of worth.

For all of us, we need to EMBRACE.  Embrace the season we’re in.  For some of us, that’s going to YOU University.  I’m going to learn about myself.  Or, I’m going to follow Jesus in the midst of my context.  For some of you, you need to embrace the fact that God wants to use you to be an answer to someone else’s prayer.  Even if you’re in a job you don’t especially care for.  Maybe for some of you, you need to embrace the fact that you KNOW who God’s made you to be and you KNOW what God’s calling you to do and you’re afraid to do it.  Have the courage to be the person God created you to be and do what God called you to do.

For all of us, I’d invite you to prayerfully ASK God’s spirit to begin to show you how you can be used to make a real difference in the Kingdom of God…at home, at your job, and beyond. Ask Jesus how you can make the most of your life, for His name and for His glory.  Remember, your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.

My prayer is that you’d accept the person God created you to be, you’d embrace the season you’re in, and you’d ask God’s spirit how He wants to use you for the sake of others.  And that tomorrow when you embrace your day, you wouldn’t live it out as a dead-end job or as simply a means to pay your bills and feed your family, but rather, as an opportunity to partner with God, to build His Kingdom, for the sake of others.

South Fellowship Church, hear me, imagine if we really were the kind of church committed to knowing Jesus and making Him known as our foundation.  Imagine if we were the kind of church filled with people committed to learning and practicing the way of Jesus in every season of life, even if it’s not perfect.  Imagine if we were the kind of church committed to helping people discover who God had created them to be, and then doing our very best to empower and equip them to do it.  Church, if we were like that kind of church, that’s a powerful church that turns communities upside down, that partners with God’s kingdom for the sake of others.  I’m convinced that’s the kind of church God is calling South Fellowship Church to be.

Would you bow your heads and we’ll go to the Lord in prayer?  Jesus, I am so grateful that you allow us to partner with you for your good work, for your Kingdom’s sake.  I pray that you would help us to become the people you created us to be and to do the things you’ve called us to do.  I pray that you would walk with us all the days of our lives, lead us into things that blow our minds, that we never could imagine.  Help us to sense the Father’s love today; for those in this room who are struggling to see that they are okay and that you love them as they are and that you’ve created them fearfully and wonderfully.  Lord, may we all sense your Spirit within us and become who you’ve created us to be and accept your great gift of salvation, forgiveness, and the person you’ve made us to be.  I ask all these things in the strong and powerful name of Jesus. Together this church said….Amen.

Transformed | Transformed Vocation | Ephesians 2:8-10 | Week 82020-08-20T18:27:45-06:00

TRANSFORMED | Transformed View of God | Ephesians 3:14-21 | Week 7


TRANSFORMED: View of God    Ephesians 3:14-20     Pastor Dan Elliot   (2nd Service)

The topic I’m looking at is a transformed view of God.  That’s a big topic to take.  My hope is that we’ll be able to come up with some kind of a working definition that may kind of stretch us a bit; we’ve got to be stretched when we’re talking about God.  I believe very strongly, as I’ve been working on this sermon, that this view that we have of God influences the way we view life.  I think it’s pretty important that we have a good view of God, if we’re going to be stepping into life and meeting the challenges we’ll face day by day.

We’re going to be looking at Ephesians 3:14-20.  For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Wow! That is a big passage, so I think it’s good for us to start at the feet of a big God.  Let’s bow our heads in prayer.  Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you so much, I thank you so much that you are here.  I ask you to speak to us, to speak through me, to challenge all of us.  We want to see you.  I pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

As I think about this topic, it’s probably important that I share a little bit with you about how I met Jesus, how I came to give my life to God, if I can use that terminology.  I see a little blond haired, seven-year-old kid.  It was in the summertime and I was at camp.  I was at Montrose Bible Conference Children’s Camp.  I remember this Wednesday night, the leader was teaching about the story of Daniel.  We learned the song Daniel was a man of prayer // Daily prayed he three times // Till one day they had him cast in a den of lions // Even then, in the den, fears could not alarm him // God just shut the lions mouths, so they would not harm him.  I don’t remember anything else about that night, except that there was an invitation given.  If you’re unfamiliar with this language, an invitation is where we kind of open it up and say, “Hey, if you’d like to give your life to Jesus—or if you’d like to accept Jesus into your heart…”  That’s what was given that night, so here I was, seven-year-old kid thinking, “Lots of kids are going to go forward,” so I stood up and I started down.  As I was a quarter of the way down the aisle, I realized nobody else was going down!  So I started looking for an empty chair, but all the kids were sitting, so I ended up going all the way down.  Our leader was a lady known as “Mrs. J.”  She was in charge of the whole children’s camp.  I had an “in” with her because she was my aunt.  We always called her “Meal.”  I have no idea why she had that name.  She was sitting on a stool and had given the whole Bible story on flannel graph, I must admit.  I still remember Aunt Meal taking me through the steps and I accepted Jesus as my savior.  I have to admit, I didn’t feel all that different.  Two days later, Friday, in children’s camp, there was a radio station from the town that came and put on a radio program which we all shared what when on while camping.  Guess who had to share his testimony, as a seven-year-old?!  What an experience that was!

Sixty years later, I look back and realize I didn’t have a clue what I was in for.  I also have to tell you, as a sixty-seven-year-old, I’m not sure I have a clue of what I’m in for.  But God has been walking with me and showing me step by step and I’ve got tons of learning to go.  As I try to unpack a definition of who God is, I hope you realize it’s in wet cement and always formulating.

There’s a name I remember from the Bible—Uzzah.  I don’t know if that rings a bell, but Uzzah had a father named Abinadab.  He was a farmer.  It just so happened that the Ark of the Covenant ended up on his farm.  King David wanted to move it to Jerusalem where all the people are.  Uzzah and his brother, and a whole host of people, began to move the Ark of the Covenant.  There was a point where the oxen began to stumble and the cart began to rock.  The Ark of the Covenant was rocking on the cart and Uzzah put out his hand to steady it and he was zapped!  I don’t want to get zapped in front of you today, so I think the best thing as we wrestle with the definition of who God is, is to see who God says he is from his word.  That’s why we’re looking at this passage today in Ephesians 3.

It’s a big passage.  In fact, if you look at it….in our English translation we have periods and sentences.  If you look at it in the original language, it’s one long run-on sentence.  It just keeps on going and going and going.  He wouldn’t have made it through my high school English class, writing like this!  There’s something that happens in this passage that kind of breaks it up, and that’s a little phrase that means “so that” or “in order that.”  I’ve inserted it in verses 16, 17 and 19.  For this reason I kneel before the Father, from who every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, in order that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, in order that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—in order that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  We’re going to look at those three phrases to build this definition of God.

First, I need to start with the “bookends” of this prayer.  The first bookend is For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  Here’s Paul, he’s praying to the Father…. from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.   Not just earth, in heaven.  Some of you may have a translation that says “every kindred in heaven and on earth.”  Some of you may have a translation that says “every father in heaven and on earth.”  That word can have all those different meanings.  It really seemed to say to me what’s going on here is I’m praying to Father God and every relationship here on earth is defined by who He is.  Every relationship up in the heavenlies is defined by who He is.  Every aspect of what a father is suppose to be is defined by our Heavenly Father.  Every aspect of what a mother is suppose to be is defined by our Heavenly Father.  Every aspect of what a brother or a sister or a friend….every relationship we know is defined by our Father in heaven.  There’s one thing I go away with:  Stop defining God by my experience with my own father.  I’ll always kind of fall short.  Start looking at God the Father and realize it’s THAT fatherhood that I should use to define my earthly father.  It’s THAT relationship I should use to define any relationship that I have here on earth.  It’s going to be in the heavenlies as well.  THAT is a big person that we’re praying to.

I said “bookends,” so I’ve got to go to the end of the prayer as well.  Verse 20 — Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…  Think about that.  I like to think I’ve got a pretty good imagination, but this is saying I can’t even begin to imagine God.  That’s BIG!

We had a staff retreat this past weekend up in Evergreen.  The last day, Aaron Bjorklund led us in a devotional.  He challenged us, “I want each of you to think of one of the goals you have for your departments. I want you to pray and multiply that goal by ten thousand.”  I could only do a thousand and that was even out of range.  I thought, “Wow! That’s a little bit big for me to grasp.”  But this is saying even more….even more than I can multiply by ten thousand.

Many of you know I have a habit of waking up in the middle of the night.  I wake up and my mind starts going.  I found I need to go outside on the deck and look up.  I need to get my star fix.  By that I mean just to see the awesome, immensity of the universe around me.  I know I only see a very small, small, small part of it, but it stretches my imagination.  There’s something about realizing that God knows every star, every planet, every galaxy; He’s got them all named.  He holds them in the palm of His hand and He’s right there with me in bed.  I found that helps me fall back to sleep.

God is immense.  So I want to start our definition with these two bookends.  First I was thinking, “Oh, God is awesome,” but then I thought it has some baggage to it.  So I want to say:  God is awe inspiring.  Our God is awe inspiring and it’s that awe that draws us into worshipping Him.

So it brings us to that first little phrase in verse 16.  He’s praying to his Father that is awe inspiring — In order that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  That first little part of our definition—God is awe inspiring—does blow my mind, it’s hard to think about.  But THIS concept is hard to rationalize.  He’s praying to the Father, and out of the glorious riches that the Father has, he’s saying, “May his Spirit strengthen you with power so that Christ may dwell within you.”  The Father’s glorious riches….the Spirit’s power….the Son’s presence.  Father.  Son. Holy Spirit.  Three in one.  We call it the Trinity or the Triunity and it’s tough for us to get our arms around this thing.

Let me go back to Genesis 1:26,27 — Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness……so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.   One time he’s saying let’s make them in OUR image, next time he’s saying, “So I’m going to make them in MY image.”  There’s another juxtaposition that doesn’t necessarily jump out at us in the English.  Then God said….  That word for God is plural.  That word ‘said’ is singular—he said.  Gods…..he said.  Talk about flunking English class.  That just doesn’t make sense to us.

If you go to Genesis 2, there’s a word used throughout that chapter—Lord God.  Lord is singular, God is plural and it puts them both together.  I try to wrestle with this whole thing of this triunity of this God that we follow.  I have to admit, over the sixty years since starting this journey with God, that’s been one of those sticky wickets that I’ve always wrestled with him.  About twenty-five years ago, I came to this conclusion that said, “Hey, you know, that’s a proof to me that Christianity is true.”  If there was anybody trying to come up with a religion and just write it, they would NEVER think of the Trinity.  They would stay as far away from something as irrational as that.  Three people in one.  This is God revealing himself to us.  Three people in one.

I take that definition—God is awe inspiring—God is an awe-inspiring community of One.  That may not strike us, but one of the things that comes out to me in that definition…..I go back to John 17:20-23, where Jesus the Son is praying.  He’s at the end of his ministry.  He knows he’ll be crucified the next day.  He knows the resurrection is going to be coming.  He knows he’s going to be leaving his disciples.  He has this amazing prayer in John 17 and this is what he prays near the end:  My prayer is not for them alone.  {In other words, my prayer is not just for these disciples you’ve given me.}  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {Guess what, that’s us! Jesus, two thousand years ago was praying for us.} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.    There’s an ‘in-ness,’ that’s the only way I can say it.  There’s some kind of an ‘in-ness’ of this community.  Jesus is IN the Father, the Father is IN Jesus.  The Spirit is IN the Father, the Father is IN the Spirit.  The whole process of the Trinity….they’re in each other.  They’re one.  I can’t paint it for you.  I know we say take an egg….you’ve got the shell, you’ve got the yellow, you’ve got the white….there’s the Trinity.  No, that’s not the Trinity, because they’re one!  It stretches, it boggles our imagination.  It takes me back to this prayer that says I can’t even imagine this God that we worship.  Guess what?  Even in this prayer that we have , we’re looking at the Father, we’re looking at the Spirit, we’re looking at the Son, so that Christ may dwell IN us, IN our hearts.  There’s that IN-ness, that one-ness.

I’m thankful that I’m not the only one that has to wrestle with this, because, good grief, we’d never come up with any kind of answers.  There’s a term—-perichoresis.  It’s what people have used to describe this Trinity and how they interact together.  How they indwell each other.  How they actually work together.  Perichoresis.  In fact, they say the best way we could describe this Trinity is using the word “dance.”  They dance together.  There’s a one-ness in their movements.  They dance.  That’s coming from a Baptist preacher’s kid, who was never allowed to dance.  Even as a third grader, I remember, very distinctly, going in with my little note to the phys ed teacher.  The note said: Please excuse Dan from the phys ed class today as you’re teaching square dancing.  I remember sitting in the bleachers watching all my classmates learn how to square dance.  I think I was injured for life—I have two left feet still to this day!

Perichoresis.  The Trinity.  God—the Three-in-One.  They’re a community who come and invite us into their community.  They want us to be part of them.  That’s big.

Let’s go to the next phrase—-In order that you may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  Again, a HUGE thought—how wide, how long, how high, how deep is this love that Christ brings into us, because he’s dwelling inside of us.  This prayer is that we would come to understand what that is.  I couldn’t come up with any good explanations of it until I was reading this book called Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell Johnson.  He put it this way, and I think it hit something right on the head.  His love is wide enough to embrace all seven-and-a-half billion people on our planet.  Every tribe, nation, people, tongue, country.  He doesn’t regard what those people have done, He loves them, and He so much wants them to embrace his love. But He’s embracing them.  Do you ever think that there’s some people that miss out, that aren’t loved by God?  Let me tell you, you’re wrong.  They might not realize they’re loved by God, but they are.  His love is wide enough.

His love is long enough to encompass all time.  And into eternity—from either ends of time!  Way back before time even started, way back before the universe was put together, God’s love was as consistent then as it is now.  Way far into the future, beyond our time span as we get into eternity, His love is going to continue and continue and continue.  It boggles my mind!  That’s the God that we’re asked to walk with.

His love is deep enough to leave the heavenly place wherever He is to come down here to walk in our shoes.  To put on our skin.  To know the murk and mire of this world.  His love is so deep that it allowed Him to go to the cross on our behalf.  His love is so deep that it allowed Him to conquer death once and for all. And His love is so high to lift us, to lift our sin from this muck and mire and bring us up into His community, into His relationship with Him.  That’s a big challenge.

We come to the third aspect of the definition. The others were God is an awe-inspiring Community of One who invites us into Their love.  This is the God we embrace.  This is the God I gave my life to when I was seven years old, who invites us into Their love.

Finally, we come to that last phrase—-In order that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Again, a mind-boggling concept!  We’re to be filled up to the brim!  That’s mean it’s possible that we can be filled up to the brim with the fullness of who God is.  When I say that, don’t lessen it.  Think of the character of God, inside you.  Think of all the attributes of God, inside you.  Think of all the presence of God, inside you.  His holiness, his relatability, inside you.  That we could be filled with the fullness of God.  Again, it’s hard to imagine this.  Paul told us that…..you’re going to have a hard time imagining this.  Okay!  I agree.

There’s a Hebrew word that means peace—-shalom.  We oftentimes think peace is the absence of war, the absence of problems.  The concept of shalom is a lot greater—it’s wholeness, it’s completeness, it’s having purpose, it’s having vision, it’s having fullness.  When I go back to that Garden and I see the shalom that Adam and Eve were invited into—to be able to walk and talk with this God, who’s way beyond my imagination, it makes me kind of wonder, what did they see?  I often pictured that when Lord God came to walk with Adam and Eve, it was kind of an old guy, might have had a cane.  But now I wonder if it was three of them.  I wonder if it was a community—here comes the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit saying, “Hey, you guys.  Let’s walk!  We want to show you our creation.”   But I think it was something that would just expand beyond our imagination.

So it brings me to the last aspect of our definition:  God is an awe-inspiring Community of One, who invites us into their love so we may live life in their Fullness. Since I haven’t been incinerated, I think we’re on the right track.  That’s a big, big God.  Huge concept.  God invites us into that.

I go back sixty years ago to that little blond-headed kid who’s walking forward to accept Jesus in his heart.  I want you all to know, in a moment of pure transparency, he did not know God like this.  Basically, I was going forward because I was scared of Hell, and I wanted my get-out-of-Hell-free card.  That’s what kept me going down that aisle.  Boy, for sixty years God’s been working with me to show me that how I look at Him affects how I look at you, how I look at me, how I look at our community, how I look at our world.  I want to read something to you.  It’s from a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus by Gary Moon.  He starts out with two stories that I’ve got to share, because it’s kind of my experience.

Let me tell you the two stories that have had the biggest impact on my life—and, perhaps, on the entire Christian church.  Each presents a very different vision of what is, from the human perspective, the most important concept in Christianity. 

The First Story   In the first story God creates two naked people without belly buttons and places them in a garden.  It’s not real clear why he does this, but there is good news—they are naked (I may have already mentioned that) and their primary job is to be fruitful and multiply.  

One day while taking a break from multiplying and naming the animals, the woman, influenced by a talking snake, tricks the man into taking a bit from an apple, and all hell breaks loose.  God is surprised and then becomes extremely angry.  He curses them, every dog, cat, rock, and leaf—the entire universe and each of the seven billion-plus and counting descendants who will follow.

Through many millennia God stews in his wrath.  He does write down a few instructions and occasionally sends a plague, prophet, or flood to keep folks in line.  But mostly he just sits around on a throne, looking a lot like Charlton Heston, and scowls down through the glass-bottom floor of heaven as he thinks up new ways to make humans behave.  Then finally, when he can take it no more, he sends his own Son to be tortured and then brutally murdered.

While there are a lot of theories about why God’s Son had to die, the bottom line is, it somehow caused God to feel a whole lot better about things and helped him to decide that anyone who hears about what Jesus did and says a magic phrase will once again get to live forever and enjoy paradise.  And for those who don’t say the incantation?  They will burn in flames for all eternity.  Don’t say the right words and your fate will be a more grotesque horror than what could be conjured up by a committee comprised of Nero, Hitler, and Ghengis Khan.  I never liked this story.

Story Number Two    In the second story God exists as a loving community of three whose relationship is so joyful, pulsating, and vibrant that it has been described as a dance.

God decides that this is all too wonderful to keep to himself.  So he creates an entire universe and tenderly places humanity at the center, like the offspring of proud parents brought home to a nursery.

Then God does something even more amazing.  He plants within the human heart a small but glorious piece of himself.  Under his watchful eye these two creatures are to grow into beings who will become as much like God as possible.  They are to join the dance, become partners with the Trinity.  

But the very first two make a fatal decision.  They decide that they can live unplugged from the Tree of Life—the presence and energy of God—and can, in fact, be God themselves.

God is not surprised—he saw this day coming even as he was knitting them together.  You can’t surprise someone who lives outside the boundaries of time.  And he is not angry.  He does, however, become very sad as separation and the reality of free will play out before his eyes.

He sets in motion a series of plans to woo us back home, refusing to give up on his original plan to be a nurturing parent to his precious children, showing them how to grow their character until it mirrors his own.

Through the passing millennia God becomes the prodigal Father, standing by his driveway, straining his neck waiting for his children to come home.  He sends cards and letters, patriarchs and prophets with the same message: “Your inheritance is waiting; the promises can still be cashed.  Come home, I want to be with you, I want to teach you to dance.”

But when it becomes clear that we will not come home for longer than a brief visit, God can wait no longer.  He empties himself of divine dignity, and wades into the murk and sits down in the mire alongside his prodigal children—becoming as much like us as possible for a while so that we can learn to be like him forever.

Jesus brings the good news that the doors to the kingdom are open wide and that the Trinity still wants us to join the dance, to become as one with them as they are with each other.

And he inhales death and separation into himself and shows through the gruesome image of crucifixion what it looks like to freely die to all that is separate from the will of God.  And then he demonstrates through his resurrection that he knows what he’s talking about. 

But that’s not all.  He sends the Holy Spirit with music and a dance chart so that we can learn how to waltz with the Trinity, even now, as we wait for the real party to begin.

I like that story.  I have to admit, as a seven-year-old, I kind of had been taught that first story.  I have to admit, throughout those sixty-seven years of my life, I oftentimes default back to that first story.  But I so much want to live in the second story.  When I go back to that first story, this is what happens to me—I become uncomfortable to be with God.  I mean, let’s face it, God is scary.  God is angry.  I don’t want to do something to rile him up.  There’s not really that impetus that wants to be with God, when I’m starting from that first story.  I become more and more behavior oriented.  By that I mean, I’m trying to come up with what are the right things I need to do so I can make sure that God will be pleased with me.  How do I control God?  Maybe another way to look at that is my religion becomes wrath-management.  I’m looking for those little loopholes.  Spiritual disciplines become dry and obligatory.  Having a quiet time in the morning is something I HAVE to do, it’s not something I want necessarily.  And the worst is obedience is motivated by shame and guilt, and I’d add…fear.

But when I find myself walking in that second story, my outlook totally changes.  Instead of finding myself uncomfortable to be with God, I grow in my desire to be with them.  I realize they love me.  I don’t have to be afraid of them.  They love me.  In fact, they loved me when I was born.  They loved me when I was doing all these stupid things before I became a follower of theirs.  They love me even when I do stupid things as a follower of theirs.  They love me; I want to be with them.

Instead of being so concerned with what I DO, I start to realize there’s nothing I CAN do to make God love me more or to make Him love me less.  His love is the same and it’s been eternity’s past and eternity’s future.  WOW!

Spiritual disciplines that seem dry and obligatory become tools to help me deepen my walk with God.  Boy, the opportunity to have a quiet time in the morning—just me and God—wow!  To picture the Three of them opening up this Word, or opening up my mind, or opening up my eyes to see the beauty of what they made around me. What a privilege to be able to talk to them in prayer, to be able to read their word, to be able to walk in nature and let them open my heart.  It becomes tools to deepen my walk with them.

Finally, the best of all for me, obedience becomes motivated by love.  By God’s all-encompassing love.  I don’t have to worry about making a mistake because God is there as a parent to help me, to get me back up on my feet, to walk with me.

That’s the story I want to embrace and live in.  I envision for us that story, because I can’t help but wonder what it would be like, as we think about this God who is so awe inspiring, and is so beyond our imagination of being three-in-one, but invites us in their amazing love of a community together and then empowers us to walk in their shalom into the world around us.  And to be used to spread that fullness that he wants to see everybody have.  What a great thing that would be.  Could you imagine what South would be like to be a church known for that?  To walk into this community with that God and that second story.  Let’s bow our heads in prayer.

Oh my dear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I’m amazed….I can’t even think fully or imagine all of who you are, but how wonderful that you invite me to be in you.  Oh God, I know you invite each and every one of us to be in you.  Thank you.  Father, lead us in worshipping you right now.

TRANSFORMED | Transformed View of God | Ephesians 3:14-21 | Week 72024-06-12T15:28:42-06:00

TRANSFORMED | Kingdom Refreshments | Romans 15:23-33 | Week 6


TRANSFORMED: Kingdom Refreshments  Romans 15:23-33Pastor Josh Suddath   (1st)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}   Toward the end of July I was approached by a gentleman in this church that I did not know well, who asked me how my family was doing.  I shared with him the excitement that my wife is pregnant with our fourth, and that Jesus definitely doesn’t love me because it is another boy and I wanted a little girl.  The man (whom I won’t mention by name because he’d get mad) piped in and very caringly asked, “How is your wife? I remember that you guys have had some issues with pregnancies in the past and how is this one going?”  Immediately my heart was warmed, this man had remembered something from over two years ago about our family’s journey.  I was glad to share with him that this pregnancy is going well so far in every regard, except that it was just so hot in July, and we don’t have AC in our home so that makes my wife uncomfortable.  The man nodded and we went about our days.

The next day, the same man called and arranged a meeting with me at the coffee shop.  I walked in and he handed me a gift card with a considerable amount of money on it and said, “Go get yourself a portable AC unit for your bedroom so you and your wife can sleep peacefully.”  Needless to say, this man’s gift was and has continued to be incredibly refreshing for us.  Incidentally, my wife and I also happen to be lacking a private jet to travel the world if anyone is feeling extra generous this morning.

Resources.  Transformed.  If you have a bible with you this morning, will you turn with me to the book of Romans 15:23-33.   I want to make a note what I mean when I say the word resources; it’s not going to be limited to a financial conversation, and I don’t think a conversation about resources ever should be.  I mean whatever God has put into you or given you that he could use to impact someone positively for his kingdom, that’s what I mean by resources.  We pick up with Paul concluding his letter to the church in Rome. He writes: But now that there is no longer any place for me to work in these regions and since I have been longing to see you for many years, I plan to do so on my way to Spain.  I hope to see you while passing through, and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for some time.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem, in the service of the saints there.  For Macedonia, and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.  So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and I will visit you on the way.  I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.  I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join with me in this struggle by praying to God for me.  Pray that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem might be favorably received to the saints there, so that by God’s will, I might come to you with joy, and together with you be refreshed.  The God of peace be with you all.  

Paul’s longed to see the church in Rome for many years now.  There’s got to be a reason why it’s taken him a long time to get there.  I think for us to understand why it’s taken Paul several years to finally get there, we have to rewind to Romans 1:13, where Paul says to the church in Rome:  I want you to know brothers, that I often planned to visit you, though for now have been prevented, that I might reap some harvest among you, as I have also had among the Gentiles.  For I have an obligation to the Greeks and the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise.  And that is why I long to preach the gospel to those of you who are in Rome.  

Paul’s telling the church in Rome that he wants to see them and he hopes God will work it out that he can get there, but he’s been busy.  He’s had an obligation and resources to use.  He’s had something God has put in to him that needs to be let out.  Paul’s gotten pretty clear about who God has made him to be and what God has asked him to do with what he’s given him.  It’s Paul’s job to get the gospel to the Gentiles.  I believe that a proper posture toward resources begins with a refreshed perspective toward providence. An understanding that God has made me to be me, not you or anyone else, with all my baggage, all of my story, all my pain, all of my talent, and all of my treasure, and I have something to offer the world.

Paul’s story was wrought out of a lot of really ugly and painful baggage that he brought into his relationship with God that proved to be the perfect crucible for God to wield a messenger to the Gentiles.  And you go, yeah but I’m not Paul.  Paul was for real.  Paul was “the man,” and I’m a little bit less than that.  Which is ironic because Paul felt he was a little bit less than you.  He put it this way:  I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:7-8) Paul goes, “I’m less than you.”   I don’t care who you are, whether you believe it or not, God has made you to be you and I want you to be reminded of that.  Not anybody else with all of your story, all your baggage, all your pain.  God’s put some stuff into you that needs to be let out.  He’s given you a “bag of resources,” as it were.

I love the game of basketball, and there’s a new line the commentators are using these days to describe the way a player will show off his repertoire of skills during a game.  They call it “reaching into your bag.”  He’s been in his bag lately.  And I wonder if you’ve been in your bag lately.   Are there some resources in your bag that you aren’t sure are in there, because it’s been a while since you’ve looked around?  Are there some resources in your bag that you’re a little bit afraid to pull out, because it would require a little bit of risk, or time, or effort on your part?  Or maybe you’re just a pretty humble Christian and you realize the Christian life is about letting others go first, and God should get the glory after all, and Josh, you don’t know my life right now, it’s a little bit messy and I want to be sure if I pull out my repertoire of skills, my motives are pure and I clean up this mess first.   I remember a moment of personal angst in my life, around this issue, and I said to a friend of mine, “I just don’t think I can preach anymore right now.  There’s some stuff going on inside of me…..I read the warnings in James: Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my dear brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)  Cognitively, I know when I preach that God’s suppose to get the glory, but it feels like most of the time I want it.”  My friend said to me, “Josh, when do you think that’s going to go away?”  It’ll probably be two or three years before I’m that mature.  I actually said, “Probably not for a long time.”  He said something profound to me, “So preach and trust that Jesus was judged more strictly on your behalf.”

I wonder, this morning, if you need to hear what I need to remind myself of that there’s a chance that it’s not your desire for humility that’s keeping you from reaching into your bag, it could be your pride.  It could be the fact that you bought the lie that it’s about you in the first place.  Maybe this morning you need to be reminded that if preaching’s your thing, there’s people out there that need to hear the message.  If service is your thing, there’s people out there who need genuine help.  If encouraging people is your thing, there’s people out there who need encouragement.  If contributing to the needs of others is your thing, there’s people out there with real needs.

Paul has been in his bag lately and by the end of this letter to the church in Rome, he’s looking around going,  “Yeah my work here is done. I’ve pretty well exhausted the resources I’ve been called to use for now. There is no longer any place for me to work in these regions. Hey Rome, I’m coming, and it’s going to be good.  It’s going to be refreshing.  But before I get to you, I’ve got this little task God has put in front of me.  I’m the middle man for this little bit of love that’s coming from here and going to there.  Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”   He specifically names the recipient of this contribution as the poor.  He goes on to say:  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.  He’s making a commentary on the nature of poverty.  He delineates between being spiritually poor and materially poor.   The Greeks were essentially spiritually poor and because of the gospel they have shared in the spiritual riches of the family of God, and in return they owe it to contribute to the equitability of the materially poor amongst them.

Now there is a key principle at work here. I went to school with a guy named Michael Rhodes, who has done a significant amount of work in the area of poverty alleviation in Memphis.  If you want to read a fantastic book on this concept, read “Practicing the King’s Economy.”  In it, he says, “Jesus invites his people everywhere to embody an equitable economy in which everyone has a place to stand and a portion to steward.”  It’s Acts 2:44, it’s the way the early church operated.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

It sounds really great, and you read a book like that–Practicing the King’s Economy–and you get really excited.  The only problem is it’s a struggle.  It turns out that practicing the king’s economy isn’t that easy.  It turns out that church gets real messy.  Resources get abused.  Givers get taken advantage of.

I remember a story from a church I attended in west Tennessee, where one of the more generous givers set up a meeting with the lead pastor when he received his annual giving statement at the end of the year.  They sat down and he shared with the pastor that the church had grossly underestimated the amount of money he had given during the year.  This man explained that each week he’d faithfully put a healthy wad of cash in a sealed envelope, written his name on it, and deposited it in the collection box at the back of the church.  The collection box which, by the church’s routine, sat securely locked in the back of the church Sunday afternoon and Sunday night.  It was rolled into the office by two trustworthy employees every Monday morning for counting.  A camera was set up, and it was discovered that the sound tech, a young man engaged to be married, was making regular visits to the empty church every Sunday afternoon. He had made a long thin grabbing tool which he used to grab loose cash and envelopes out of the slit in the top of the box.  He was stuffing empty envelopes behind some loose wall paneling while stuffing his pockets with cash.  The young man received an invitation to meet with the head elder and the pastor the following day.  When he entered the office, there was a TV set up, and the pastor simply pushed play.  He was caught, dead to rights.  The young man had stolen around $5,000.  The pastor looked at him and said, “I have two options here.  We can graciously arrange some sort of plan for you to repay all that you’ve taken here, or I can call the cops.”  The young man pleaded with the pastor, “Please, you can’t call the cops.  I’ll work it off, I’ll do anything!” “I most certainly can call the cops,” the pastor said. “What’s stopping me?”  The young man paused, “Sir, I’m marrying the sheriff’s daughter.”  True story.

And in light of the fallen world we live in and our own messiness, it’s really easy to throw up the white flag and just be done with it all.  I don’t trust the church anymore.  You know what, I’m closing up my bag for a while.  If you’ve been there, I can’t blame you.  People close up their bags for any number of reasons. Many of us, without knowing it, close up our bag every week.  We come in and give when the offering comes around, or we serve in an area each week, or maybe we set up our giving online and don’t even think about it on a Sunday, it’s done. That’s our contribution to the movement of resources in the kingdom and then we’re kind of done.   I’ve done that with preaching, with the students.  I get in my car, finally, after a Sunday and I just , “I don’t have to think about that for a week.”  I want to encourage you this morning—Don’t let the tithe behind you keep you from the task in front of you.  Resist the temptation to just check the box and check out, whether it’s in a season of life or on a weekly basis.

Maybe you’re in here this morning and you’re just old, and you’ve given faithfully to the church your whole life.  Or you’ve served in your place at work.  You’ve served your business and you’ve served the people around you, and you’ve even used the gifts God has given you in a powerful and impactful way.   Maybe you’re a young professional and you just feel like there isn’t much in your bag to give.  I mean you’re doing what you can.   I just want to encourage you; Paul had emptied himself. He had gotten the gospel to the Gentiles.  He had spent himself.  Just because Paul had emptied himself, on behalf of getting the gospel to the Gentiles, it didn’t mean he was done.  He had eyes to see the task God had put in front of him.  So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. 

The fact that Paul had emptied himself didn’t mean he was done.  It was actually the very thing that allowed him to say the next part of this verse:  I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. ….  Because all my life he’s been faithful.  I’ve just been around too long; I’ve seen the goodness of God.  When I come, this train is coming!  It’s not over for me.  I’m not tired.  I’m coming and it’s going to be refreshing.

Paul asks the church in Rome to pray with him that he’d be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea and that his service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints there.  Other versions say favorably received—that his service would be favorably received.  Have you ever tried to give a gift to someone who just wasn’t in a place to receive it?  I mean, what if Paul lands in Jerusalem with this bag of cash and the saints in Jerusalem are like nah, we’re good.  Or what if they just feel guilty, like they should accept this gift because they don’t deserve it.  Really we should just earn it on our own.  Or maybe they are just ignoring altogether their current state of poverty.  Whether you’re the giver or the receiver of a gift in God’s kingdom—The advancement and acceptance of provision necessitates getting acquainted your own personal poverty.

In Romans 1, Paul says to the church in Rome, hey, I’ve got a gift for you and it’s actually not a financial gift, it’s more of a spiritual gift.  He says it this way:  I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.  (Romans 1:11)  Mutually encouraged or mutually refreshed.  And then he spends the next fifteen chapters completely obliterating their sense of self righteousness, their sense of self sufficiency, their tendency toward “nah, we’re good.”

Nine years ago I memorized the book of Romans; it took me exactly a year.  I want to give you a funny little challenge this morning, leave here and spend the next twelve months memorizing the book of Romans!  Come back to me after twelve months and then tell me you’re not just a little bit more acquainted with your own sense of personal poverty.  That book will rip you in half and then it will show you the goodness of the gift of God.

During that season in my life I remember eating at a Denny’s with a friend of mine in Seattle at 4:30 in the morning on our way to an early flight out after a friend’s wedding.  It was a cold, rainy and wet Seattle morning.  As we finished our breakfast and walked to our car in the dark, we passed a young man soaking wet and shivering, looking like he’d been out all night.  My heart sank and I said to him, “Hey man, I hope you stay warm.” No sooner had the words come out of my mouth than my friend took off his coat and put in on the young man’s back.  We got in the car, and this old dead guy, James, started speaking in my ear — Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  (James 2:15-16)   And—Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  (1 John 3:18)    Appreciate that one, James, I’m feeling really good right now!  Do you know the difference between my friend, who was the son of a multi-millionaire who grew up on the south side of Boston, and myself at the time?  He was just a bit more acquainted with his own sense of personal poverty.

Interestingly enough, so was the church of Macedonia.  Upon first reading of Romans 15, it’s easy to assume that the Macedonian church was getting along quite well.  Clearly they were the rich helping the poor.  Then you read 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 — And now brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  Paul, whatever you do, let us just be a part of the movement of resources in the kingdom.  We don’t have a whole lot, but we’re here and we’re ready.

So Paul says to the church in Rome, “Rome, I’m going to give you a gift here.  I’m going to let you in on this and I want you to be a part of this.  I want you to pray with me—even though these resources aren’t yours, they’re not even mine, and they’re not even going to you—I want you to join in with me and pray that Jerusalem would receive well….so that by God’s will, I might come to you with joy—most likely telling the story of God’s faithfulness in this whole process—and together with you be refreshed.

Our participation in the movement of resources is not just a weekly rinse-and-repeat game of rote obedience.  It’s an invitation for us, as South Fellowship Church, to participate in the refreshing of the kingdom.  I’m going to give you four real practical ways you can participate in maybe taking a step in being a refresher of the kingdom this week.

1) Take 10 minutes and do a resources inventory.  Open up your bag a little bit and see what’s in there.  If it’s been a while, you may need to sit down with someone to talk through what you have spiritually and materially. Maybe set up a time to do that in the near future.

2) Give a gift outside of your regular routine this week.  Maybe you’re like our family and do your tithing online and it’s what you do and you don’t think about it.  Maybe there’s an opportunity this week to give something out of your normal routine—either financially or with your other resources.

3) When you give that gift, pair it with prayer.  This was a suggestion from Aaron.  Maybe you give this gift and as you’re giving it, even just to yourself, you pray the Lord’s Prayer—Lord, let your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, with this gift.

4) If you’re presented with an opportunity to receive a gift, open your hands.  Whatever’s going on, even if you feel you shouldn’t take it, just accept it and let yourself be refreshed in the kingdom.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we recognize that every good and perfect gift is from you, raining down from the Father of Heavenly Lights.  Father, I pray as we go about this next week in our lives, as individuals and as families and as a body here, we would see our resources not just as a box that we check off, but as an invitation from you to be a part of your commitment to the renewal of all things.  Lord, thank you for your goodness to us in the past and your promise of goodness to us in the future.  In Jesus’s name…..Amen.

TRANSFORMED | Kingdom Refreshments | Romans 15:23-33 | Week 62024-06-12T15:29:10-06:00

TRANSFORMED | Transformed: Body | Romans 12:1 | Week 5


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TRANSFORMED: Body    Romans 7 & 12:1   Pastor Yvonne Biel         (2nd Service)

Uuugghhh! For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  (Romans 7:18)  For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  (Romans 7:16-17)  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  (Romans 7:22-23)

Here we are in a series of transformation and I’ve got the wonderful topic of the body.  How many of us feel the same type of angst that the Apostle Paul felt in those verses?  Just like Larry gave us this wholeness wheel {Spirit–Mind–Body–Emotion–Relationships–Vocation–Resources} at the beginning , if I were to take a look at that and talk to God about how am I doing with my body in this journey of transformation, I feel some of that angst!  It’s interesting that over the last couple of weeks of preparing this message, I feel like God has turned up the volume on my hunger, and I’ve become real aware of that.  I have hunger!  I know that’s silly, but I think that sometimes I fall asleep to my body and I don’t even realize I have these kind of urges or cravings.  As God’s been showing me that I have this kind of hunger, you know where I go to fulfill it?  The donut shop!  Because fall is amazing….I go get a half dozen donuts and I polish them off throughout the day.  Great!  I’m doing awesome!  At night I get the munchies.  There’s a lot of stuff in my refrigerator, but I’m really in the mood for salt.  I’ll polish off half the bag of chips.  I love the fall and I need a boost of caffeine and get my brain awake, so I’m going to go to Starbucks and get my Pumpkin Spice Latte and I’m going to satisfy my craving.  God’s been showing me that I have these cravings, these yearnings, these urges, and it’s really easy to go and satisfy them myself.  It’s easy because it’s accessible.  I’ve got food in my cupboards and refrigerator.  I’ve got a car and can drive to the restaurant of my choosing or the store and fill whatever that craving is.  So I’m susceptible to following the cravings my body has and trying to satisfy them myself.

Another interesting thing that’s been happening is that God’s been irritating me a little bit in my body.  The very first day I get to plan this sermon, I go to the Seminary and open the door and this gust of wind hits my face.  I go to sit down and there’s a speck of dirt caught in my eye.  It’s not in the eye that I can wink, it’s in the eye that I can’t wink, which means both eyes close.  So I’m spending the day trying to prepare this message on the body, and my eye’s watering and I’m getting super-irritated.  The whole time I’m not even thinking, “Thanks, God, for the body illustration,”  I’m just thinking, “Get this thing out of my eye!”  The next week comes around and I’m maneuvering a metal sign to put away in the closet, and the base nicks the back of my heel.  Later on it starts to feel uncomfortable and when I look closer I saw metal shards/slivers were in my heel.  They were minuscule, but it took over two hours for my roommate and I to dig them out.  It was sending shooting pain up my leg and I was cringing in pain.  All I wanted was to get rid of the pain.  I wasn’t thinking at that moment, “Thanks for that illustration, God,” I was thinking, “I’m irritated and I really need help to get this out of here!”  Then my immune system crashes and I’ve got sinus stuff and a sore throat.  My body is not always doing what I want it to do; I was irritated, I was selfish and self-focused.  I wasn’t using this for my formation.

Who has taught me how to use my body for my formation?  I don’t know.  I think there’s a void of information and teaching on the body.  When there’s a void of information, we fill it.  We go to, perhaps, the latest website or magazines and we look to culture to give us the answer and fill that void.  What I think the culture is telling us is that the body must be perfect.  Right?  You see all these air-brushed images.  We want our bodies to look a certain way.  I’m certain many of you ladies came in with makeup on.  The problem is, if we listen to that message that our bodies are suppose to be perfect, we wind up looking in the mirror and feeling dissatisfied.  Oh, I woke up with a zit this morning! Great!   Oh, these wrinkles keep coming, the grey hair keeps coming.  My body keeps disintegrating!  I have pain!  It’s not the body that I want or the body that’s perfect.  Maybe something more serious happened to our body—maybe we were abused or used our body to abuse.  That’s not perfect anymore.  We wind up stuck in shame, if we think our bodies are suppose to be perfect.

Another message that our culture tells us to do to fill the void is that our bodies must perform.  Right?  How much money do people pay people to get their bodies in shape to get to the prime, perfect form and best achievement, so that they can go ahead and compete against other teams around the world to get honored and praised and get glory for their performance?  Again, the problem is that when we start telling ourselves that our body’s got to perform, we’ve got to do this, what happens when we’re born with a physical ailment or disability?  We can’t perform to the level of a beautiful athlete.  What if we’re experiencing chronic pain and we’re not able to get to that level?  Now we just feel like a failure.

Then if we want to fill the void and go to our friends who know Jesus, we want to show up at church, and we want to understand what to do with our body.  How am I suppose to think about the body in my transformation?  I don’t know about you, but it seemed like, when I was growing up, that the body was our problem.  You read those passages from the Apostle Paul in Romans 7 and it seems like the body is the thing that so easily entangles you.  The thing that you can’t get rid of.  The thing that leads you into sin and holds you captive to sin.  And yet, the church tells you your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  The conclusion is that we make a whole laundry list of do’s and don’ts with our body.  Don’t drink.  Don’t smoke.  Don’t have sex before marriage. Don’t go dirty dancing.  DO — eat healthy, exercise, take care of your body.  That’s how to treat it like the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that’s the end of the story.  But in the end, I feel like it’s still a problem.

Today, I want to propose to you that your body’s not designed to be perfect.  That’s false.  Your body was never made to perform at the top caliber of excellence.  Your body’s not even the problem.  But your body CAN be offered to God.  Look at what Paul says in Romans 12:1.  This is a couple chapters after his frustration with his body.  In this pivotal moment in chapter 12, he appeals to us, he urges us, he begs and pleads with us that we can look to what God has done for us and present our bodies living sacrifices to him.  I appeal to your 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.   Instead of thinking our bodies are meant to be perfect or meant to perform, that’s the problem.  They actually could accompany your soul and become your greatest asset on the journey of transformation.  {Slide reads:  Your body is designed to accompany your soul and become its greatest asset on the journey of transformation.}

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, he created the heavens to be a dwelling place, and he created the earth to be a dwelling place.  On that earth—we zoom in a little further—and he creates the sea and the land to be two more dwelling places.  And we zoom in even further and I picture God getting down on his hands and knees on his creation, and he starts to pull the sand and clay of the earth together.  He forms it with a head.  He adds some weird earlobes and a nose and a mouth and a body.  Maybe a belly button, I’m not totally sure.  He shapes this body.  Then it says he even comes closer to breathe into the nostrils the breath of life and man becomes a living being.  A living soul.  This is incredible!  Our souls, the breath of life that we’ve been given, has been created to be embodied.  Created to have a dwelling place.  C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”  I’ve been wrestling with this quote, because I know we’ve been given a body and a soul, because I know that one day our bodies will go to the grave—the consequence for sin is death—therefore our bodies will go back to the earth and are going to disintegrate.  Yet, our souls can live on.

So I know there’s a distinguishment between soul and body.  When I look around here, I don’t know where your body ends and your soul begins.  What I see here in the room is embodied souls.  If I was going to put a quote up here — When God first breathed life into dust, he gave one man’s soul an intimate partner.  It’s called “the body.”  Each and every one of you is an embodied soul.  Your body is actually a partner with you, in your whole life.  That’s why I think your body is designed to actually accompany your soul to be its expressive self. Imagine if we were to show up here and it was just our souls.  Got any imagination for that?  I don’t know how we would interact.  I don’t know what we would do.  I couldn’t give you a handshake.  I couldn’t smile.  My soul wouldn’t have the ability to express itself.  I think it’s a beautiful thing that we are embodied souls.  Your body is accompanying your soul.  I think that it’s its greatest asset on the journey of transformation.

Today we’re going to look at Romans 12:1, as our anchor text.  Here Paul urges us to present our bodies—physical bodies—as living sacrifices to God.  So as long as we have breath in our lungs, and we are living, as long as our heart is pumping and our brain is working, we are to offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices, as embodied souls.  The two words he uses to describe HOW we do that are holy and acceptable.  I want to first look at the fact that we are to present our bodies, when we are alive, as acceptable to God.  That means our bodies are an acceptable partner with us for learning the way of Jesus.  I don’t know if you’ve done this challenge of thinking of all the ways your body is super cool.  If I were to give you a piece of paper and an hour, I think you would run out of paper and you would run out of time, because our bodies are fabulous!  If you think of how many systems are running inside of us—we have a skeletal system, muscular system, a digestive system, a respiratory system.  All of these working together to help keep us alive and embodied.  I actually think it’s really pretty cool that we’re three dimensional.  There’s a place where Yvonne starts and where I stop, then I can start to interact with other things.  I can go to the mountains on a hike and look up at the grandeur of the mountains and I can see how small I am.  There’s relation because I’m three dimensional.

There’s also ways that my body is instinctual.  There are things that happen in my body that trigger things to make sure that I survive.  You remember that hunger I was talking about?  Right!  That keeps us alive.  Our bodies are so cool.  As long as we give our bodies what they need to live and we nourish them, they will succeed.  As long as we keep some things out, like the specks of dust out of our eyes, the metal shards out of our heels, then they can keep functioning.  As long we give our bodies time to rest and recover and to come back to full strength, like my immune system.  My immune system was working for me.  Man, I didn’t even realize how much I was taking my body for granted until He showed it to me.

I love how when we start thinking about the body that we spring out in worship.  The psalmist springs out in worship when he starts to think about how cool his body is—For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)   There are some amazing things that God has wired into our bodies that we can be thankful for.  And YOU have been given the body that God designed to give YOU.

Now, some of us don’t think our bodies are that cool.  Some of us have an attitude of disgratitude.  We’re not very thankful for the body that God has given us.  Maybe we’re irritated, maybe we’re frustrated, we feel stuck.  I’m drawn to this story about Nick Vujicic.  He plays a role in this short film called “The Butterfly Circus.”  At the beginning of the film, you find Nick at a freak show.  He believes that he is cursed by God.  He has been afflicted by not having arms or legs.  He feels his body is only good for being in the freak show and to be laughed at and mocked.  It’s not until another circus master comes in and finds Nick so fascinating.  He gets down close to Nick’s face and just looks at Nick and says, “You are magnificent.”  In that moment, Nick spits in Mr. Mendez’s face.  He doesn’t believe it.  He doesn’t believe that his body has been made magnificent.  This takes Nick on a journey of realizing that even though he doesn’t have any arms or legs, and his trial in his body feels so big and so large, he learns he actually has the ability to swim.  So he joins a new circus, the Butterfly Circus, and he’s able to show and demonstrate that he can swim, without arms and legs.  Mr. Mendez says that the greater the problem you think you have, the more glorious the triumph.  It demonstrates how beautiful it is when we use all the parts of us—the warts, the weird parts, the parts we’re frustrated with—and we accept them to be a gift from God and we use them for his glory.  Nick, in real life, continues to use the voice God has given him—and his own body—to give glory to God.  He shares in major conferences around the globe.  He continues to worship God and to triumph for His kingdom, because he’s accepted his body.  He’s accepted the things he is limited in, and the things he has to offer the world.

So you and your body are an acceptable partner for learning the way of Jesus.  You. Are. Magnificent.  Your body can be used no matter what color, what shape, what size, how much you can function or not function.  You can use your body for the glory of God.

The next word I’ve been meditating on in regard to the body is that Paul says that we can present our bodies as “holy.”  Holy?  My body’s not holy.  In and of itself, my body feels all that same kind of angst that the Apostle Paul felt.  Sometimes I feel captive to my body.  If I’m honest, my body is not perfect, sinless, pure, clean.  So how in the world can we present our bodies as holy?  Well, it’s not because of what we do.  What we do is laid out in the beginning of Paul’s argument.  In Romans 1, he talks about those that don’t know God.  He says if we don’t know God, we’re prone to do all the things that are abominable to God.  We’re going to satisfy every craving, every passion, with everything our bodies can access on this world.  God gives us up, as humans, to our sin.  He gives us up to the impurity, to the dishonoring of our bodies.  He’s like, if you want to exchange the truth of my goodness and my holiness for a lie, you can do that, and you can serve creation and you can serve the physical things.  (Romans 1:24-25)  In Romans 2, he also talks about the fact that there are some people that use their body—especially their mind and their heart—to actually condemn those people for doing all the impure, abominable things to God.  He says that those who know God are still guilty of the same kind of unholiness, because you’re using your mind to create slander, malice, envy, deceit, and on and on.  He says you’re guilty too.  We all stand guilty.  There’s no one of us that, in and of ourselves, our bodies are holy.  No, all have sinned.  We fall short of the glory, or holiness, of God.  So we can’t do this in and of ourselves.  We can’t just find transformation in and of ourselves.

The word holy in this verse reminds us we have a holy, perfect, sinless, and pure God, who decided he would come in a womb.  He would be birthed out into the world and he would enter physical flesh and blood.  He would go through his weird, awkward adolescence.  He would grow into his body and become more aware of his manliness.  He would enter a wilderness time in his life, where he would feel temptation upon temptation upon temptation to feed his hunger, his passion, and his pride.  Yet, he would pass through that with perfect righteousness.  He went on till he was mocked, beaten, and hurt.  Wounded.  Until he allows his body to be nailed, physically, to a tree.  His body would breathe its last breath.  His lungs stopped breathing….for you.  Then he allowed his body to go down into the grave and start decaying, to experience every bit of humanness, every bit of physical life on this earth.  He lived it in righteousness and holiness and in perfection.  Not just that he would live perfection, but that he would rise from the dead and that he would actually receive a new and glorified body.  He would make it an opportunity for us, that our spirits could come alive to him.  Even while we were sinners, in our unholiness, Christ physically died for us.  It says in 1 Peter 3:18 — For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, {He was righteous throughout his entire human life for our unrighteousness.}  to bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.   He put to death in the flesh unrighteousness, in order that he would come alive and invite us to come alive in the Spirit.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is good news!  We don’t have to be held captive to our bodies in our embodied life any more.  You see, our spirits have come alive and now our bodies can be told a different story.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is living in us if we believe and trust in Him as our Savior, as our Lord, as our guide and mentor on this journey toward transformation.  Which means that that kind of same power has allowed us to tell our bodies that they don’t have to be in the driver’s seat anymore.  They don’t have to have the last story.  Actually, they’ve been made holy.  You and your body have been made holy because of Jesus’s holiness, not because of yours.

Here we are presenting our bodies to God as acceptable.  We say, “God, you gave me this body, I can give it to you for your glory.”  God, you gave me holiness and I can give you my holiness.  He says, “This is spiritual worship.”  Ladies and gentlemen, because you have been given a body, you have been given maybe the best worship partner that you’ve ever asked for.  There’s this partnership between your soul and your body, and they’re worship partners in this life as you live out spiritual worship.  Sometimes the body is not a very good worship partner.  I think sometimes our bodies get out of tune, and as long as our bodies are leading worship, it’s going to be really, really hard to listen to.  It’s like nails on a chalkboard.  As long as our bodies are out of tune with God’s righteousness and holiness……we’re just living out our cravings and we’re doing the things out of our own solutions to our desires and passions.  Maybe we continue to get angry and frustrated and irritable, or we’re satisfying our cravings in ways that we know are unrighteous.

Sometimes it seems like our bodies are in the driver’s seat and they’re taking us on the bus to where they want to go, and they’re doing their thing, right?  What Jesus did for us was make our souls come alive and now we can say, “Excuse me, Body, you can get out of that driver’s seat.”  Or maybe a better illustration, “Excuse me, Body, I need you to be my Uber driver and you’re going to take me to where I want to go.”  The soul has the freedom now to tell the body what to do.  To say, “You don’t have to go that way anymore.  I actually want you to choose what’s right, what’s good, what’s honorable, what’s holy.”  Whatever actually helps your body and soul come alive.

In Romans 6:12-14, Paul says — Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness. {It’s possible that your body can run the show and run it in a way that’s very unpleasing and headed in the wrong direction.  Instead….} but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  Actually, our bodies don’t have to be a bad worship partner, they could be a really, really helpful worship partner. They can take us in a new direction.  It’s possible for us to train ourselves in godliness.  Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.  (1 Timothy 4:8)   Bodily training is of some value for only body health sake, but when we connect this to godliness, our bodies can help us train in the way of righteousness.

Our bodies are pretty cool in that they are pretty habitual.  Our bodies have muscle memory so they can actually remember the ways we want them to remember.  Sometimes getting to that point can be tricky and difficult.  Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike?  You have to learn balance and figure out where your arms go and how they move.  It can be real awkward.  After you start training in the way of riding a bike, you start to learn and it’s automatic.  You jump on and you’ve got the balance and you know where your arms and feet go.

That’s what happens when we connect our bodies with the way of righteousness.  Sometimes it’s awkward when we’re first learning to read the Bible; we don’t know where to go and what to read, but if we start training ourselves in connecting with God in that way, He can start to speak to us.  Maybe it’s learning how to pray and it’s awkward and it’s weird and we don’t know what to say, but we just start doing it.  Maybe we need to train our bodies in loving others, by coming into church and giving people hugs and physical affection.  Maybe training our bodies looks like practicing kneeling down in prayer, or connect our bodies when we try to worship.  I grew up in a church were everyone stood with their hands at their sides (or on the pew).  They were trying to have this spirit connection with God, but there was no connection with their body.  What if we started using our body in prayer?  What if we put our hands out to say, “God, there is something I need to receive from you.  I need your goodness, I need your holiness, I need your love, and I need what you say that I am.”  What if we put our hands down to put down the things we don’t want to be a part of our life; to rid and rebuke them?  What if I lift my hands and stretch and stand on my tippy toes and try to touch God?  You are so big and so strong!   Somewhere in our maturity we let go of our body and fall asleep to it.

But what if we start to awaken to our bodies in ways that are actually helpful to our life and transformation with God?  What if we start to take care of our bodies and it actually worked to take care of our soul?  We started listening to those twists in our stomach and said, “Oh, I need to deal with that.”  What if we paid attention to the pounding of our heart?  Or irritation and tightness in our chest?  Or the stress and tension we feel in our shoulders?  What if we started taking those things to God?  What if we started paying attention to the input—the things we’re putting into our bodies…what we’re listening to, what we’re looking at, what we’re eating, and we started giving our bodies the things that actually will help it train in godliness?  Then, what if we get away from the things that don’t help us?  That output piece means what’s coming out of your life?  What are you doing with your body?  Are you using it for creativity and for kingdom work?  Or is what is coming out anger, frustration, irritation?  Is it a whole bunch of thinking and overthinking?  What’s coming out?  Is that healthy?

Are you giving yourself time to rest?  The practice of Sabbath can be kind of awkward at first too, when we don’t know how to take some time off, or we don’t know how to get to a place of stillness.  We may need to train in this.  When you take care of your body it’s a partner with your soul, so that is soul care.  This is why we talk so much about practicing things here at South, it’s one of our values.  We want you to practice the way of Jesus because we believe that as you practice with your body, it starts to help your soul practice the things that make it come most alive.

I’ve got a few practices for you as you use your body to accompany your soul, allowing it to become your greatest asset on the journey of transformation.  Maybe you need to leave here today and spend time accepting the body that God’s given you.  Maybe you’ve had a lot of shame in your life and you can practice accepting it, receiving the body, and becoming grateful for the things you can do with your bodies.  Be grateful for the capabilities he’s placed inside you, even with your limitations.  Maybe for you, fasting could be one way that you could wake up the conversation between the soul and the body.  When you fast and not give your body something it needs, it starts to tell you that.  Then you can say, “Body, I’m in charge now.  Uber driver, you’re going to take me where I tell you to go.”  You’re going to choose righteousness because it’s possible.  Maybe you need to start exploring ways to pray with your body.  Maybe using your arms, using your chin, lifting your eyes.  Using and engaging your body as you communicate with God.

The last practice we’re going to do today together.  This is because this practice was given to us from Jesus himself.  This is the practice of communion or the Lord’s supper.  This emphasizes that Jesus was in a body, and what he did in his body was for our holiness.  Today I’ll have you come forward to take the body and the blood, representing the Incarnation, that Jesus was flesh and he was blood and that he offers his righteousness to you, in order that your spirit may come alive and make your body obedient to righteousness and to his way.  That’s how we transform in the way of Jesus and we use our body to do that.  It’s my hope and prayer that you can receive the body and blood, physically, and that that can connect to your soul, spiritually as well.

In addition, today we’re going to have some body worship.  I’ve invited three dancers to perform during communion.  Look at the different ways they’re able to use their bodies to worship God and the ways they’re connecting their bodies with their souls with Him.

TRANSFORMED | Transformed: Body | Romans 12:1 | Week 52020-08-20T18:31:08-06:00

TRANSFORMED | Transformational Community | Gen. 3:6-19, Matt. 12:46-50 | Week 4


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TRANSFORMED: Transformational Community     Elder Harvey Shepard  (1st Service)

{Scripture Gen. 3:6-19, Matt. 12:46-50)

Some of you may know that my wife Heidi and I used to live overseas for most of a decade.  The question we’re asked the most is “What do you miss about living overseas?”  It’s really easy to answer that because we miss the community.  Whenever you leave someplace you tend to idealize it, so I realize that could be part of it.  But we were, as a foreign community, several hundred in a city of several million, so you immediately had this island mentality—-we kind of have to take care of one another.  We had a shared purpose.  We were involved with different works, but almost all of us were there to encourage the local population in the name of Jesus; to help them in practical ways and do other works.  There was a sense of being known and needed.  As one of the docs in the community, I would often get phone calls….What do I do with these symptoms?  Where should I go? Do I need to leave?   Probably what I like the most more is that the communities were overlapping.  If I go to work, I don’t see the same people there that I see here on Sunday, and I certainly don’t see them in my neighborhood; they’re all very disjointed.  But there, I’d see a lot of the same people, whether I was at the clinic, or at International School, or at fellowship.  It was a sense of being known and being a part of things.

As I thought about that I realized that it wasn’t like that at the beginning.  I went overseas when I was in my early 40’s, so I had roles that I played, I had some titles .  Then all of a sudden I found myself living in a community where I couldn’t speak to most people around me, at the beginning, but even those people I could speak with didn’t know who I was.  It was very unsettling.  How about you?  Have you had a similar experience?  Maybe you’ve recently relocated, or maybe your life circumstances have changed in such a way that you suddenly feel like you’re not known.  That raises the question–Why do we get so much joy when we know we’re in good community?  Is community optional?  We’ve all got apps—NextDoor, South app; I have this great Peak Finder app to use while hiking.  Is community like an app that you can add on and it makes life better?  Or, is there something so important and fundamental to who we are that if we’re not in community, we miss out and the community we should be a part of misses out?

Scripture has some great things to teach us about community and as we continue in this series of “Transformed,” we’re going to look at three things:  Where transformational community was lost; where it was found; and what community for transformation looks like.  When I say that, I don’t just mean the community that’s out there changing the world, but besides that, a community within it that’s being transformed and it includes individuals going through the process of transformation.

Let’s first look at community lost.  If we’re going to ask when it was lost, we have to think when did it start?  It’s pretty old, because in the very first words of Scripture, we have community.  In the beginning was God….  Scott talked about this a couple of weeks ago.  But the Trinity, our three-in-one God, had perfect community from before time.  We don’t think on that very much, but can I encourage you to ponder for a minute what perfect community would be like.  Where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit know one another perfectly, therefore they’re known perfectly, they’re loved infinitely, they honor one another perfectly, they rejoice together.  And then they decide to create together….notice the plural—Let us make mankind in our image.  Creation was amazing as they did that.

There are some theologians and philosophers that have decided that this Trinity and the love that the Trinity has is really important.  I really wanted to use Larry’s brain here .  As a physician I was thinking, “This is really kind of funny.  There’s Larry up there, as a pastor, doing neuroscience, and I’m going to get up next week and talk philosophy and theology.”  But anyway….  One of our country’s earliest theologians and philosophers was Jonathan Edwards.  In fact, it was before we were a country in the colonial days.  I love reading biographies about these people.  Jonathan Edwards went to Yale when he was 13, having met the requirement of being functional in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.  Using Larry’s brain, we’ve got the amygdala, we’ve got the pre-frontal cortex, and then you have to get a whole other fist in there to get a Jonathan Edwards brain.  He was a really bright guy.  He said that the very essence of reality was the intratrinitarian love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  That was the anchor to reality.  The only possible reason for such a perfect being to create the universe was to share and extend that love to other imperfect beings.  So 300 years ago or so in a congregation in New England, he wrote this: “There in heaven this fountain of love, this eternal three in one, is set open without any obstacles to hinder access to it.  There this glorious God is manifested and shines forth in full glory, in beams of love; there the fountain overflows in streams and river of love and delight, enough for all to drink at, and to swim in, yea, so as to overflow the world as it were with a deluge of love.”  You can see the word that keeps repeating.  The reality in this universe is the Trinity and this amazing love.  At the beginning of creation, everything was perfect.  That love was extended to Adam and Eve and they enjoyed it.  And the last phrase in Genesis 2 is: The man and the woman were naked and not ashamed.  Everything was as it should be.

But then, of course, community was lost and relationship started to break, as we turn the page to Genesis 3. I want to drill down a little bit deeper on what Scott touched on.  Let’s read together the beginning of the Fall (Genesis 3:6-8) — When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.  Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

The first relationship that was broken in the Garden was the relationship that every other relationship depends on.  It’s our relationship with God.  When theologians look at this passage, they see that the Fall that occurred wasn’t just this relationship, but that there’s four relationships that are broken.  Those four relationships are what are required for there to be community that transformational.  We’re going to look at each of these one at a time.

First the relationship with God is broken, then—But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?”  (Gen. 3:9-11)   Something’s new in the story.  Something’s there that wasn’t there before.  Shame and fear.  Suddenly they realize something’s wrong, so they look around and start grabbing fig leaves to cover themselves.  That had to be a little odd; I’m sure they didn’t give that great of coverage.  The reality is that we do that as well, don’t we?  In everybody’s life we realize there’s something not right.  There’s a narrative we all have, that we somewhere picked up, that is the narrative we believe ought to be who we are.  So it’s a mask, it’s some fig leaves.  For some people are workaholics.  For some people it’s wealth.  For some people it’s pride.  Over-serving, people pleasing.  The question that might be worth answering is what are your fig leaves?  What is it?  What’s the false self that you feel you need to present to be okay?  How do you want others to perceive you?  This brokenness with ourselves has been captured in a lot of great quotes; one of my favorites is from Blaise Pascal.  A hundred years before Jonathan Edwards in France, this mathematician/child prodigy, who had a vivid Christian journey, said, “We would cheerfully be cowards if that would acquire us a reputation for bravery.”  Is that not condemning?  But that’s the broken relationship with self.

It continues with the broken relationship with others.  And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”   I find this verse fascinating.  Some people look at Scripture and say the Bible is so ethereal and it’s not true to real life.  But here, in the third chapter of Genesis, you’ve got Adam throwing Eve under the bus and blaming God for it, all at the same time.  This is so true to life, isn’t it?   It doesn’t say anything about what Eve was doing at this point, but I believe Eve was doing….what in our family is fondly called “the slusher look.”  The face narrows down and there are no words necessary, because it’s that look of “you may not be alive in the morning.”  It’s that look of “I don’t need to say anything, that was such a ridiculous thing to say.”  It’s important for me to point out that whenever my wife gives me the “slusher look,” it’s done in jest and always in love!  You don’t need to go any further than your experience in the last 48 hours to know that relationships with people are broken.

Last one—relationship with creation. (Genesis 3:17-19) To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit form the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”   This is all about the earth not being the way it’s suppose to be.  There’s disaster and diseases like viruses or other worst diseases like HIV, although with the current HIV tests prices is easy to get check for this condition.  There’s misuse and abuse of resources.  There’s poverty.  In the epistles, when Paul is unpacking what the Christian journey is about and helping the new churches understand it, he writes to the Romans (8) —- creation was subjected to frustration…and has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time….   Things simply are not the way they should be.  And so, perfect community was lost in the Garden when our relationships with God, self, others and creation were broken.

But of course, the good news is that the community was found.  Mary was there that day, Mary and her other children.  This passage is from the synoptic gospels; you see it in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  If you look at the Mark passage, you get this sense that at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, it was like this explosion of activity.  Something new was going on and people from all over were coming.  First, Jesus starts to cast out demons and show that he’s got power over the spiritual realm.  Then he’s healing people, he’s restoring hands.  Things are getting really crazy; the Pharisees in Jerusalem say he must be possessed by Beelzebub to pull this stuff off.  Even his family thought things were getting out of hand.  It says that vast numbers from all around were coming in and they came into a room so Jesus’s disciples didn’t even have time to eat.  It says (Mark 3) that Mary and his brothers and sisters thought he had lost his mind and they were going to go take charge of him.  So things are kind of wild, a lot of tension going on here, so they show up.

It’s legitimate that Mary and the siblings of Jesus would go and get him and pull him out of there, because family was a huge institution in that day.  We hear about it now in the news, right?  We’ll hear about the honor of family in the Middle East that led to something.  Back then it was almost everything.  Family indicated who you could marry, what your job would be, what your position was in culture, so it made sense that they’d march down there and kind of straighten Jesus out.  In Matthew 12:46-50, we read—While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.  Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”  He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  

We read that and go that’s a nice picture, but in THAT day, people would have been going, “WHAT?!? There’s no way!”  Would Mary have been maybe doing the slusher look?  What?? I come down here and you’re blowing me off?  I have the feeling she wasn’t.  There’s hints that Mary treasured things in her heart, that she understood things, and I think that Mary probably understood that Jesus was NOT saying that family wasn’t important, but there’s something new, more important.  It’s eternal and it’s redemptive that Jesus is doing.  Jesus was a teacher.  You can use dry, academic words like curriculum when you look at his work.  He had a curriculum and here he’s giving you an idea of what it looked like.  He’s saying, “I’m going to have an apprenticeship for people who follow me.”  People come and hang out with Jesus for two or three years and they do life together.  But He’s giving a picture for us so we know what it looks like.  That was really counter-cultural in Jesus’ day, where everything focused on their family.  It’s really counter-cultural for us these days as everything focuses on “me”—what do I want to do?  We’re called to be part of the family.

I would love for us to pay attention to that as Jesus is really busy establishing his kingdom work, he’s restoring all of the broken relationships from Genesis.  Think about it.  He’s healing the sick.  In Luke, he calms a storm right after this happens.  He addresses social injustice.  He’s renewing or restoring that broken relationship with creation.

How about the broken relationship with others?  I would love to have an inside look in the day in the life of the apostles.  He had just appointed them.  There was Andrew and Simon and James and John; they were fishermen.  I used to work in an ER in southern New Jersey.  It was on the shore and we had commercial fishing in that area.  They are a rough bunch.  If you look up “dangerous professions,” commercial fishing is way up there.  It is a crazy job.  I could often tell I had a fisherman in the ER, long before I laid eyes on him, right?  {Sniffs}  Jesus nicknames James and John the “Sons of Thunder.”  These are not gentle guys.  Then you’ve got Matthew, who wrote this.  Matthew had clean fingernails.  Matthew had nice clothes.  He had that because, as a tax collector, he would be joined by a couple of Roman soldiers and go to his fellow citizens and take tax money….and a little extra for himself if he wanted.  Yet somehow, these people who would never be together are together, in Jesus’s followers.

Paul again as he unpacks things for the early church, writes to the Colossians (3:11-14) — Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, {Think back to that Jonathan Edwards passage….what was the characteristic of the Trinity and what flowed out to people, but love.} clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.    Do you see the trend?  It’s coming from that greatest reality in the universe—the Trinity.  It’s love that comes into an individual and that is what allows them to get along with other people.

So Jesus is renewing and restoring the broken relationships with others, but he also addresses the broken relationships we have with ourselves.  This is one that I think the evangelical church often just plain misses. Remember that it was fear.  A Christian psychologist, contemporary, writes, “Jesus is the antidote to fear.  His love—not our believing certain things about him or trying to do as he commands {I think he wrote those two things because those are the things we are really good at.  If you think about the church—Well, I believe certain things about him and I do my best to do all I’m suppose to do.  Those are the two things that we’re really good at.} —is what holds the promise of releasing us from the bondage of our inner conflicts, guilt and terror.  Our gaze needs to go back and forth between divine love and our fears.  We gain courage to face our fears as we soak in love.”

Now, I suspect you’re like me, and we’ve got parts of us we simply do not like.  There’s things I think about and I cringe. There’s things we did that we shouldn’t have.  There’s things that were done to us that shouldn’t have happened.  There’s things we should have done that we didn’t do.  We wish there was a factory reset that you could just hit and then things go back to the factory install that never happened.  But that’s not how Jesus works.  Jesus takes those piece of us that are the worst, the ugliest, the most unpleasant, and instead of making them go away, He redeems them.  He makes them something that, in a sense, is beautiful.  That can encourage others and that can show His glory.  It’s not just about love, but it’s about who you really are.  Over 900 years ago or so, another great saint, Bernard of Clairvaux, wrote, “I need both: truth, so that I cannot hide from him, and grace, so that I do not wish to hide.”  I love that quote.

Lastly, and most importantly, Jesus invites us to reconnect with God himself.  If you recall the story of Adam and Eve, the first thing that happened when their eyes were opened, they realized, “Uh oh! Something’s wrong,” and they covered themselves with fig leaves, right?  It’s interesting that when that happened it’s almost as if God was standing there and like a fashion consultant went, “Hmmm, that’s not going to work.  That’s just not right.”  The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Gen. 3:21)   God was the actor in this and saw their attempt, but it was pathetic, it was not going to do the trick.  This must have been shocking; it was the first shedding of blood.  But it’s a picture for exactly what Jesus does.  Jesus sees our attempts and he goes, “Uh, that’s not going to work.”  He comes over and goes, “Here, put this on instead.  It’s my righteousness.  This is what you need.  In fact, give me that other stuff, I’m going to redeem that for you.”  Theologians call this the “Great Exchange,” that….God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Cor. 5:21)    It’s interesting that there is a sense that the Good News has bad news imbedded in it.  There’s no one better than Tim Keller at vocalizing this:  “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”  You need both, right?  If you just have one it falls a little flat, especially if you just have the first part!  But those two together are the gospel.

As Jesus restores the broken relationships of the Garden, He creates a new family.  Which brings us to the final point of what community for transformation looks like.  It depends on where you’re standing, okay?  If you’re standing within that community, it should look like a family.  I think it’s wonderful that Jesus gave us that picture, because even though there’s a lot of dysfunction in most every family, it’s something we all understand.  It’s something we all relate to.  As you think about your Christian family, I want you to think about how it matches up with what we know about families.  There are some things we learn about families—some of these things you see very clearly in Scripture, others we learned through time.  Families are multigenerational relationships of various intimacy.  We’ve got moms and dads that have cared for us for years, that have prayed for us, that love us, that kind of know how we’re put together.  But we’ve also got brothers and sisters, who we’ve been through thick and thin with; we have fights with, we have fun with.  We have grandparents who share their wisdom.  As they have need, we come along and help them with things that are hard to do.  We’ve got cousins, and aunts, and uncles.  Some of them are a little quirky, but they’re still in our family.  We can’t really get away from them.  They’re still at the funerals, they’re still at the weddings, and we belong to them; we’re connected with them.  We work with them.

Families also have proximity.  As I wrote this point down, I thought that in this age of internet, there’s a lot of people that have community that’s spiritual.  I know that there’s legitimacy to that, especially if you can see the person on video while you’re talking.  But when you have proximity that means you’re near one another, you can share things, you can drop in.  I grew up in rural New England.  I lived in this house.  Next door was the house my mom grew up in, where Grandma and Grandpa lived.  Then there was a field and there was a trailer and that’s were Grammy lived.  When it snowed, there were not three snow blowers that came out.  There was just one.  We shared things because we lived near one another and we worked together.  There’s some inconvenience to that too, right?  People can just drop in.  But, there’s a priority on hospitality.  I’ve heard it said that if you want to be generous with your money, write a check.  If you want to be generous with your life, you’re hospitable.  When Heidi grew up, there was always room at the table for one more chair.  Food wasn’t going to be fancy, but it was like, yeah, come on, join in!  She had a close friend and it was always, “We’ve got to have you over sometime,” but she almost never was invited over because…..before someone could come over everything had to be….PERFECT!  Of course, that never happens.  You can see how this is tied back to embracing our brokenness a bit—we need to let people in to see the mess a bit.

Families have traditions.  When we lived overseas, there was one family we always got together with on Thanksgiving, because he had a birthday, then we’d celebrate Thanksgiving.  On Christmas Eve, the doctors from the clinic and their families would all go to one apartment and celebrate together.  When our kids had birthdays, we had the surrogate aunts and uncles celebrate, because we were building these traditions, without realizing that’s what they are.  That’s what church does too.  We do things traditionally.

Again, how many of these do you have in your Christian family?  I bet you have this—difficulties!  Being in family is tough.  You’re close to people.  You’re dropping in on people.  You’re stepping on people’s toes.  Family is the place where there’s the death of ego.  One writer, Jean Vanier, wrote a book called “From Brokenness to Community.”  He writes:  “We will only stay in community if we have gone through the passage from choosing community to knowing that we have been chosen for community.”  It’s Jesus calling for us.  It’s the way we’re to live.  That’s why he said we don’t forgive seven times, we forgive seventy times seven.

What does community look like if you’re on the outside and you’re just observing it?  Hopefully, it looks like Jesus.  After all, isn’t the church referred to as the “Body of Christ?”  Didn’t he say — Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things.  (John 14:12)   There’s just this organic thing that happens.  I’ve got an interest in refugee work and you find other people that have an interest in refugee work and you come together.  We see that happening again and again here and it’s so encouraging.  But our default, culturally, is to think about…what am I doing?  Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.”  I think of when I was a kid and I would get on my bike and I’d be holding my fishing pole and my bag would be on my shoulder and I ride down the road and go to the stream.  I can remember fishing and even praying that a fish would bite my hook, but it’s ME, right?  But when Jesus said, “I will make all y’all fishers of men…”  When they fished, they fished as a group.  They had a big net.  It wasn’t this one guy by himself.  The more we do as people, it invites others to join.  So we’re doing that here — the Food Bank, Family Promise, Celebrate Recovery, and on and on.

The church should look like no other group, because there are people hanging out with other people that would never normally be together.  When people run into those individuals, they should be amazed because it seems like something that, maybe at one point, they were ashamed of or wasn’t right or wrong about them, suddenly blesses other people.  The way that we take care of one another…..just that caring for one another is a huge witness.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35) 

But it seems hard, doesn’t it?  As we close, I want us to think about how do we do this?  There’s some difficulty here.  There’s difficulty getting along with other people and there’s a lot of hard work to be done.  There’s difficulty, especially I think, in embracing our brokenness.

Let me bring you back to the beginning.  Let me bring you back to that perfect community.  Stretch your mind’s eye to think about what that would be like…..that perfect being known, and celebrating, and loving one another, rejoicing in one another, lifting up one another.  But there was one time that that fellowship was broken, wasn’t it?  And the words were cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?   That’s the key.  That was done so that we could enjoy that fellowship and have access to it.  That was done so that we could be healed.  He did that so that together we could, as a family, go outside of these walls and continue the work he did.  He does that for our joy.  He does that for our glory, so let’s thank him for that together.

Father, it’s amazing to think about the way you work in and through us, and the fact that there was something eternal and beautiful that you invite us into.  Father, you want that to heal us and you want it to heal us with one another.  You’ve said to us that we’re to be you’re family.  I pray that, even today, as we celebrate forty years as a church that we would be reminded that you’re doing great things.  We pray that the offerings we make in our service would be multiplied like the fish and the loaves and bring great joy to you and honor to you.  I pray this in Jesus’s name.  Amen.

TRANSFORMED | Transformational Community | Gen. 3:6-19, Matt. 12:46-50 | Week 42024-06-12T15:30:35-06:00

TRANSFORMED | The Mind and the Heart and Fits and Starts | Romans 12:2 | Week 3

Sept. 22nd, 2019 | Series: Transformed

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TRANSFORMED: The Mind & the Heart and Fits & Starts    Pastor Larry Boatright                     (1st Service)  {Manuscript—See video for full content}

We’re in a series called “Transformed” and the last few weeks have been journeying together toward biblical wholeness.   We’ve talked about how the Scriptures call us to be transformed, and that we are being transformed into the wholeness of Jesus.  I love what professor, pastor, and author Robert Mulholland says:  “The Christian journey, therefore, is an intentional and continual commitment to a lifelong process of growth toward wholeness in Christ.”  We put up this slide a couple of weeks ago to show you that our lives are very complex, there’s multiple parts to our lives.  Even though we’re complex and have a lot of different parts, the good news is that the Gospel has the power to impact far more than just our relationship with God or our standing with God.  The Gospel should impact all of our lives.  So in this series, we’re looking at different parts of our lives that should be transformed by the power of the Gospel.  Last week, Dr. Wenig shared with us about transformed relationships as an area God wants to heal.  Relationships are currency of life, aren’t they?  Almost everything you think of that you do involves relationship of some kind.

Today, I want you to turn into your Bibles to Romans 12:1-2, and we’re going to go back to the verse that’s kind of been a keystone verse for us and we’re going to talk a bit about transformation.   1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  

We talked about how conformed is to shape around something, to take the shape of something, to be patterned after something.  I want to be really clear, the Scripture is not saying don’t be conformed to anything.  We should be conformed into the likeness and image of Jesus.  As we begin to follow Jesus, we should experience some level of starting to bend around Jesus, to start to look like Jesus, but it tells us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world.  The Greek word for “be transformed” is metamorphoo.  We said the definition of transformation was “to change into another form or image.”  Really, we are being transformed from one state, one type of thing, into another.  Why?

If you look a little bit further into that passage, it’s so you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  We should be transformed so we can know what God’s will is, so we can know what He is inviting us into, so we can know how we can best partner with Jesus in His kingdom, for the renewal of all things. We talked about how our process of transformation wasn’t just for us, it was for the sake of others.  {By the way, if you haven’t listened to week one yet, you should definitely go back and check that out, so you know where we’re going in the series.}

So we know that transformation means being changed from one state to another.   We know that it involves being transformed into the image and likeness, or the wholeness, of Jesus.  And we know why….so we can  know God’s will and partner with Jesus.   Today, I want to talk about the HOW…..how are we transformed into whole human beings by the power of the Gospel?

The mind is a part of who we are, and, from this verse, it seems pretty clear that it is the MECHANISM of transformation—be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Clearly, it’s really important.  Somehow the mind has the ability to impact all the other areas of our life.  That should be the easy part, right?  I just have to transform my mind then I’m fine, right?  I’m renewing my mind and it’s easy.   Maybe you’ve been reading your bible like crazy; maybe you’ve been memorizing a lot of scriptures; maybe you’ve been listening to a ton of sermons; maybe you’ve been faithfully having a “quiet time”; maybe you’re working really hard to avoid letting certain kinds of things into your mind.  But, if you’re honest, even though we’re doing those things, it just doesn’t feel like the Gospel has permeated all areas of our lives.  And maybe it’s left you frustrated, or hurt, or confused, or exhausted. We work pretty hard to emulate Jesus.  Emulation is a part of, but not equal to, transformation.  It’s good to emulate Jesus; as a matter of fact, early on our journey of following Jesus, this might be one of the first things we learn to do—you do these types of things to look like Jesus.  But all too often, we spend our energy learning how to LOOK like Jesus, but I’m convinced Jesus is inviting us to something much deeper.  He’s inviting us to transform from broken, hurting people into whole human beings that spend time with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do as Jesus did, that is a picture of wholeness.  Paul tells us that the way we get there is by the renewing of our mind.

The word for “renewal” is the word anakainōsis (ἀνακαίνωσις).  This word isn’t found outside of Christian literature, but it literally means a renovation or to breathe new life into something.  I think that’s beautiful because it’s a great reminder for us that none of this happens apart from the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing through us.  I’m curious why we’re so exhausted from trying to do all these things apart from the Holy Spirit.  I think we’re not releasing control to the Spirit of God.  What I want to do today is press into this Scripture a little bit, and unpack together what that might mean, and see how, if we were able to experience transformation in our minds, it could transform all of us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s pray, and ask the Spirit to be our guide and to begin to work on renewing our minds, even right now, in this service, or wherever you might be as you listen.  Holy Spirit, you are the One who illuminates all things that are true of you. It’s not by our might or our power that we are transformed, it’s because of you. Help us to partner with you well this morning—open our eyes that we might see, and open our ears that we might hear, and that we might be transformed into the wholeness of Christ, for your glory and for the sake of the world.  In Jesus’ name….AMEN.

If we’re transformed by the renewing of the mind, we should probably talk a little bit about what the mind is. What exactly do we mean by the word “mind”?  In English translations of the Scriptures, the word “mind” is there between 100 and 120 times, and the farther we go into the New Testament, the more it’s used; the frequency increases greatly, especially in the writings of Paul.  In the Old Testament, it’s used sixty-seven times in the NIV.  It uses a variety of words to describe the mind—heart, the spirit, the soul, the thinking self, and more. The Old Testament uses the term “heart” quite often to describe what we mean by the mind.  They believed it was the seat of the emotions, it was the core of who we are.  The concept of the heart and the mind are fairly interchangeable.

In the New Testament, in the NIV, the word “mind” is used fifty-three times.  There’s about twenty words to describe what that is.  In Romans 12:2, it is the Greek word nous (νοῦς – “noose”), and it means “the intellect, that is, mind (divine or human; in thought, feeling, or will).”  It’s interesting as I was studying this, a lot of us have this conception that the mind is thoughts.  That’s true, but it’s just a part of it.  The dictionary definition of mind is: The element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc.  So both Scripture and the psychological understanding of the mind define the mind essentially as the part of our brain that both thinks and feels and has will.  Does that make sense?

It’s kind of cool that modern science affirms what the Scriptures have been saying all along. The field of neuroscience is becoming a hot topic these days.  And part of it is because technology has advanced to the point where scientists and doctors can scan the brain, in real time, and see much of what’s happening.  As a matter of fact, psychiatrists are scanning the brain, in real time, and having people talk about a traumatic event that happened in the past, and they’re able to see exactly what’s happening in their brain—what centers of the brain are being triggered.  They realize that when someone retells a story of trauma, their brain doesn’t know the difference between it happening in real time or if it was long ago.  Isn’t that interesting?  While there’s a lot we don’t know yet about the brain, scientific understanding has advanced to the point where we know a LOT about how our brains physically function, but how it affects our thoughts and feelings as well.

I want to give you a fairly simple way to understand how the parts of our brain works together to make up our mind.  I want you to take your hand and put your palm out flat.  I want you to wiggle your thumb.  This represents your amygdala.  This is the part of the brain that feels and is responsible for safety and survival.  It’s the older part of our brain.  Tuck your thumb in and curl your fingers over your thumb.  The fingers represent the pre-frontal cortex.  The pre-frontal cortex is the part of our brain that thinks, reasons, makes executive decisions, and gives us personality.  It’s the super-intelligent part of us.  The pre-frontal cortex and amygdala work together to reason, to feel, to perceive, and so on.

Here’s how they work together.  If you to the zoo and see a vicious lion, for example…..no, wait, that’s Mufasa. {Real lion on screen}  Your amygdala, apart from the pre-frontal cortex, might think, “DANGER!! There’s a LION!!” and then release a ton of cortisol and adrenaline (both hormones), and lead to a response of fight—you might want to try to attack that lion.  Or flight—you might want to take off running.  Or freeze—you might stand in place and hope it doesn’t see you.  Or appease—you might try to do something to make peace with this lion.  And those responses are hard-wired into our brains; but if you do those four things at the zoo, you will look like an idiot!  Fortunately, God gives us the pre-frontal cortex that partners with it.  The pre-frontal cortex works to look at your surroundings and reason that there is a fence or a pane of glass between you and you’re safe, so it doesn’t cause the hormones to go crazy.  They work together to allow you to think, feel, and act properly.

Over time, neural pathways form that reinforce the way we think and feel.  They’re sort of tubes that go between parts of the brain and how the different parts talk to one another.    Over time, those things become a well-worn path.  They become consistent.   Have you ever seen a trail worn into a pasture by cows? It’s not always in a perfect straight line, which drives me nuts, but that’s the well-worn path they’ve grown to take.  Our neural pathways are the same way. Over time, we train our brain to function in a specific way, and we become a bit rigid in our patterns of thinking, and our patterns of feeling.  Why am I telling you this?  I want you to grasp the fact that your mind is made up of various parts of the brain that were designed by God to give you a range of human experience, to understand God, the world, others, and yourselves.  And I want you to know that you need to understand that there is more to you than what and how you think, and I want to invite you to look beyond the surface to see what’s really going on inside.

Years ago, I was living in Texas.  It’s really hot in the summer.  One time, my wife and I noticed it was starting to smell like death in our garage. We tore our garage apart looking everywhere for the source of the smell.  It was a relatively new house so we were really confused by this.  We could not find the source of the stink.  I resolved myself to think some animal has climbed into the walls of the home and it died, so we were just going to have to live with it until it fully rots and all the stench goes away.  Fast forward a few weeks—unbearable smell, nasty—-my wife Annette calls me and said she discovered the source of the smell.  She said, “There’s a dead chicken in the garage.”  I thought, “Surely I would have seen this thing, but maybe somehow I missed it.”  She said, “There’s one more thing.  There’s a dead cow in the garage too.”  I couldn’t imagine missing a huge cow.  Then she tells me we forgot to check one place…..our deep freeze.  It was loaded with chicken legs, steaks and roasts.  The GFI plug had gotten tripped and the breaker was off.  Everything in the deep freeze rotted!  So I, being a male who’s an idiot, walk up and I go to investigate for myself.  I open the lid and I take a look and all of a sudden…    I have trauma in my nose hairs still to this day from this thing!!

Here’s the thing, if we try to ignore some of the parts of how God wired us, if we don’t get to the deeper level beyond just thinking, if we simply take in information and think about it, we’ll never be fully formed into the image and likeness of Christ, because there may be parts of us—-in our emotions and feelings—-that stinks.  We can’t figure out where it’s coming from.  Men, look at me, for whatever reason in our culture, there’s this difficulty often for men to be in tune with their emotions.  Females would love nothing more than for you to be in tune with your emotions.  What if you come from a stoic home and you’re taught not to show your emotions?  Why are you crying?  Are you weak?  Are you a wimp?  Are you a big baby?  For some of us, those words cut real deep, because we heard those words.  We were taught that we put on this strong exterior shell.  When we do that and adopt that way of thinking and we start shutting down our emotional selves, neural pathways form that cause us to be stuck and not in tune with this vibrant, vital part of who God created us to be.  If we want to truly experience transformation, if we want the Gospel to change us from the inside out, we have to partner fully with how God has wired us and pursue wholeness in every area.

We talked about how the Scriptures call us to transformation and that we should be transformed from fractured, broken human beings into the wholeness of Christ—whole human beings.  And we talked about how we’re transformed so we can know and partner with the will of God for the renewal of all things. We talked about what the mind was—thoughts, emotions, heart.  And how the renewing of the mind is the key to transforming all of the other areas of our lives.  Now I want to shift gears and talk a bit about how the mind actually plays a part in transformation.  How we move from information to transformation.

The first part is INPUTS.  We all have inputs.  Those are things we see on TV, or reading books or other things, or other people talking to you, or music you listen to, or an email you get.  Or maybe inputs from our family of origin, like don’t feel this, don’t think that, think this, vote this way.  All those things are inputs and those are normal parts of our existence.  We live in a world that has tons and tons of inputs.  I remember back in 2007 when the iPhone came out and I went, “Oh, this is the key to my productivity.  Once I get the iPhone I’ll be so much more productive.”   Twelve years later I’m…..What am I suppose to be doing?  What’s happening? Oh, Facebook!    I’m very distracted.  We all have inputs.

The second part is PROCESSING.  This is what we DO with those inputs.  This is the whole reason I’m getting into this; it’s such an important part of our journey.  This is what we do with what we’ve heard, from the way that we think about it, from the way it affects our emotions, the way we check it against our beliefs.  Our thinking and our emotions are inseparably linked.  We cannot split those out.

So we have inputs and we process those inputs.  Then we have BELIEFS.  I heard someone recently say beliefs were ideas we’ve decided were true.  It’s a set of assumptions that really are thoughts that solidified in our brains as RIGHT or TRUE.  So beliefs work in two ways—they are a database to reference during processing, and the underlying driver of behavior.  Out of your beliefs is what you do.

The next part of this is BEHAVIOR.  This is how we naturally act due to how we think, feel, and believe.  Those things are subconscious as well as intentional.  {Circular cycle:  Inputs —> Processing —> Beliefs —> Behavior —> Inputs —> Processing —> Beliefs —> Behavior….} This is a cycle.  If you think about it, you’re constantly getting inputs, and you’re constantly processing them, and you’re checking them against your beliefs and sometimes you’re shifting those beliefs, and out of those beliefs you’re doing behavior.  Sometimes you consciously choose to behave in a certain way.  I’m not judging this as negative or positive.  This is the mechanism of how transformation can happen.

A negative example—If your mother says you’re lazy.  That’s an input.  It comes into your mind and you start to process that through your thoughts….Huh, she says I’m lazy.  What is laziness?  I’ve made a calculation, I know what it is.  How do I feel that?  I don’t know if I’m lazy.   Then it moves to our beliefs….Well, I should trust mom and she said I’m lazy.  I believe this must be true, because I trust mom.  And then out of that I exhibit lazy behavior.  Now when I do that, other people see that lazy behavior and they become an input….Why are you being so lazy?   And it goes on and on and on like a vicious cycle.  Does that make sense?

The inverse is true.  Something positive—If I really believe that I’m loved by God….If I read the Scriptures and input comes in and I believe I’m loved by God and I process that in.  Then I believe it is true and start acting like someone who’s loved by God.  Make sense?

So, that’s how things that come into our eyes and ears and thoughts are engaged by the mind to create a transformation.  We’re being transformed from one thing to the next, now we have a choice in what exactly it is that we become transformed.  It’s not always a healthy transformation.  You can see how negative inputs, processing, and beliefs can lead to transformation that doesn’t line up with God’s truth.

I want to poke a little at ourselves.  Christianity has a tendency to focus on a carefully constructed system that often bypasses processing, where we talk so much about guarding our inputs.  Don’t listen to secular music.  Don’t watch secular TV.  Be militant about what you let in.  Rank the heart, it’s just trash, it’s flesh.  Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t chew, and don’t hang out with those who do.  In Christianity, we often train people to make it like Fort Knox around the inputs coming in.  Or adopting beliefs—-I’m told to believe a certain thing, so we skip processing and say, “Don’t do all these things, but do believe all these things.”  Then we emulate behavior—do these exact things.

Let me tell you what happens when we exclusively focus on those things, when we make that sort of our mission.  We get caught up in legalism.  We get enslaved.  We get conformed but not transformed.  We’re focusing on things that are oh, have the potential to be powerful, good things, but they’re not always the right things.  Sometimes they put us in bondage for years and years and years.  We read the Bible like crazy and we say we believe all these things and we act just like Jesus, but nothing is changed inside.  We’re very good at compartmentalizing.  We have to look at the whole picture.

So I want to unpack how we do healthy transformation.  How we can look at this cycle and make it whole, complete and transform us from one state to another.  The first part is managing our inputs.  We actually have a lot of control over the inputs into our minds, don’t we? It’s kind of like the choice we have around eating.   This is similar to getting physically healthy.   We can choose to avoid unhealthy things and NOT to allow some kinds of things in.  We really should think about what we’re putting in front of our eyes and ears that could make our mind and heart sick.  I love that in Job 31 it says that Job made a covenant with his eyes.  He was intentional about what he was putting in front of his eyes and what he allowed himself to do with what came in front of his eyes.    Proverbs 4:23 tells us to watch out for things that can hurt you:  Above all else, watch over your heart; diligently guard it because from a sincere and pure heart come the good and noble things of life. If you put healthy, positive things in, you process them in a healthy way, and they go deep into your heart as beliefs, out of that comes behavior for a good and healthy life.

So we might need to limit some things from our inputs, and that might be different from one person to the next.  You need to rely on the Holy Spirit to show you what you should or shouldn’t allow, and don’t be the Holy Spirit for another person.   We also can make sure we’re putting plenty of healthy things into our minds, as well.  Philippians 4:8 is a great example of what we should be putting in:  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.   You might do an inventory and ask yourself, “Self, what am I putting in my brain to think about? What kind of diet am I putting my brain on?”  And if you’re honest, you might have to shift from focusing on some things that aren’t healthy for you, to increasing your diet to more things from God’s truth.  Does that make sense?

But before we move on, I want to make sure we don’t get trapped in the false dichotomy of only allowing “SACRED” things vs. “SECULAR” things into our inputs and our processing.  We can work so hard to keep secular stuff out that we miss an opportunity to think the way Jesus would have us to think. Years ago, we were doing a series and showed a clip from “Lord of the Rings” to make a point. A man was so angry because he had worked to shelter his kids from any kind of secular influence, and he said “In 30 seconds, you undermined it all!” I’m not knocking his desire to raise his kids in a godly way, and I’m not saying you should just be able to do whatever you want with no consequences, either.  But what I am saying is that spending so much energy trying to keep every influence that isn’t labeled “Christian” away from us can rob us of learning how to think well and grow in the world around us.  Imagine if Jesus had done that, avoided all of the things that were messy.  Then we wouldn’t see stories of Him spending time with all kinds of people others might think are shady, like prostitutes, and fisherman, and tax collectors, and US!  I love James Montgomery Boice:  “To think Christianity itself is not a matter of thinking about Christian subjects as opposed to thinking about secular subjects, as we suppose, but rather to think in a Christian way about everything. It means to have a Christian mind.”  If we could internalize this, think of the implication to our formation, friends.  The goal isn’t to avoid everything that isn’t labeled Christian, it’s to learn to think Christianly about everything.

So managing our inputs means to avoid unhealthy things, put in healthy things, and to think Christianly about things.  And that moves us right on into this idea of processing well. Our brain is a very powerful thing, and our thinking and our emotions are powerful parts of us that are designed to work together well.  You might think you lean one way or another—maybe you’re more in tune with your thoughts than your emotions, or maybe it’s the other way around—but the patterns in our brains of how we think and feel have been forming for a long time. You might not process in the healthiest of ways.  Have you ever thought about that fact?  You think in a way that you’re programmed, that you’ve taught yourself to think.  But just because it’s how you think and how you feel, doesn’t mean it’s true.  It doesn’t mean that it’s right.

One way to process in a healthy way is to follow the command of the Scripture to take every thought captive. We have the remarkable ability to examine our thoughts as they come.  2 Corinthians 10:5 says—We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  If we seriously want to follow Jesus and allow Him to be the Lord of our lives, we should take everything and make it obedient to Him.  We should ask ourselves, “Is this pleasing to Him? Is this the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus?  Should this thing coming in be internalized or not?” You need to make it obedient to who Jesus is and what Jesus says.  This is one reason people meditate on Scripture….to learn to slow down and focus their thoughts and observe them as they come.  Does it line up with who Jesus is?  Does it line up with His nature? We think “Christianly” by taking our thoughts captive and not letting them own us and by not dwelling on things that aren’t healthy for us to dwell on, and making them obedient to Christ.

Another thing we might do to process well is to pursue emotional health.  This might be hard for some of us, especially if we haven’t seen it modeled well for us.  Our emotions are very complex. One popular model of emotions says there are eight core emotions:  Fear – Anger – Disgust – Shame – Sadness – Surprise – Joy/Excitement – Love/Trust.   Some of them are SURVIVAL-oriented emotions—Fear, Anger, Disgust, Shame, and Sadness.   Some of them are ATTACHMENT-oriented emotions—Joy, Love.  And Surprise can be either one, depending on what it is.  SURPRISE!! Here’s a new car!  That feels good!  SURPRISE!! The basement is flooded and a bunch of stuff is ruined.  That doesn’t feel so good.

The thing is, the SURVIVAL emotions trigger an onslaught of a chemical hormone called “cortisol.”  It’s a stress hormone that triggers the FIGHT-FLIGHT-FREEZE-APPEASE response.  It’s a powerful hormone. It has an 18-hour half-life, which basically means if you get triggered, hormones are pumping into your system and they’re there for a long, long time!  But the ATTACHMENT emotions release “oxytocin” and “dopamine” and make us feel really good.

Here’s the thing, I spent the first 30 years or so of my life not really being aware of exactly what my emotions were, or how they were influencing my thinking.  Maybe you can relate.  But that sabotaged my ability to move towards wholeness.  If we want to learn to be healthy, if we want to renew our mind, we have to learn the language of our emotions.  We need to understand that each of those eight primary emotions have varying degrees within each emotion.  It’s not just fear, it’s varying shades of fear.  Then, the one-two punch is that some of those emotions happen at the same time and create much deeper, powerful emotions.  See, I told you we were complex!   So many of us have emotional baggage in our lives, and we either don’t recognize it at all, or we choose to ignore or suppress it.  But, not learning how healthy or unhealthy emotions interact our thinking, will impact how we process things, and we’re in danger of hijacking our ability to think well.

Let’s go back to the hand model .  {Put your thumb in and fingers over.}  When people say, “I flipped my lid,” they were triggered by something and then began to be led by their amygdala.  The amygdala is a little bit faster than the pre-frontal cortex, but it’s also kind of dumb.  If you’re just led by the amygdala, you’re only allowing yourself to process halfway using your abilities, and its not healthy.  Pete Scazerro, author of “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” says, ” It’s impossible to be spiritually mature, while remaining emotionally immature.”  It’s impossible, and I think it’s true.  It’s so important to learn an emotional depth and to learn what things trigger an imbalanced emotional response that hijacks our ability to think clearly and to allow the amygdala and prefrontal cortex to work together.

So, we take our thoughts captive, and we learn about how we are wired emotionally, good and bad, and what might disrupt our thinking and feeling; it’s all a critical part of processing well.   And the last part of processing well is to change your thinking.  I was talking to someone recently, and they said, “It’s not possible to change how I think.”  That’s just not scientifically correct.  I mentioned that we form neural pathways, the way that our brain talks to other parts of our brain as we think.  It creates well-worn paths.   When you say, “That’s just how I think,” that’s 100% true.  It is just how you think.   Somewhere along the way, you adopted a mental model of some kind, and it’s incredibly hard to change the way you think about something.   But is it impossible?  No! There is something called neuroplasticity that basically means we can change our patterns of thinking.  I think Jesus and the authors of Scripture were onto this way before this.  We can meditate on a Scripture and over time it begins to rewire how we think about something.  Some studies show we can rewire our thinking in as little as seven days.  Interesting.  That’s why we do practices and habits, to let the Gospel transform all of us. We have to learn to process in a healthy way, to think in a healthy way, to grow in our emotional intelligence, and to change our thinking as Jesus leads.

So we manage our inputs, we process well, and then just two quick other things.  We have to constantly evaluate our beliefs.  As I said earlier, beliefs are thoughts we’ve decided were true.  And when we’re processing through the filter of our thoughts and emotions, we check against our beliefs to see if what we’re thinking and feeling is buried deeper down as a belief. There are good beliefs and there are unhealthy beliefs. The challenge is, if we have unhealthy beliefs—I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve xyz—we will behave out of those beliefs, or we won’t allow ourselves to think differently.  Don’t be afraid to evaluate your beliefs.  So many Christians are afraid to look at the Scriptures with fresh eyes, to ask the Lord to show them who they are, what truths they have that don’t align with God’s truths.  If you hold too firmly to some beliefs that aren’t God’s truth, they could greatly limit your ability to grow and become you Jesus created you to be.  It’s natural, when we hear information that contradicts a belief we have, whether its right or wrong, to feel defensive, to feel stressed.  It’s actually a survival mechanism.  It’s so important that we constantly evaluate our beliefs against the truth of God to make sure there aren’t beliefs that we’re operating out of that align with God’s truth and take root in there and keep us from being healthy.  For most of us, there are even beliefs we have about God that maybe served us for a time, but they don’t reflect who God really is.

So, we manage our inputs, we learn to process in a healthy way, we evaluate our beliefs and allow Jesus to speak into them, and then, finally, take control of your behavior.   Our behavior has two parts to it: Involuntary and voluntary.  Our involuntary behavior is driven by our beliefs.  They are things we just do naturally because we believe something to be true or we hold a deeply held value we’ve internalized over time. If we believe we are lazy, because we were told we were, we are more likely to act in a lazy manner. If we believe God loves us unconditionally, we are more likely to act like someone who is loved. This is why psychologists and counselors don’t just tell you to change your behavior.  They also look at your beliefs and the pattern of thinking that drives that behavior.  Does that make sense?  That’s our behavior coming out of our beliefs, it’s involuntary.  If you don’t like your behavior, you should go back to your beliefs to see what you believe to be true and how that influences what you do.

Voluntary behavior is behavior you choose to do consciously.  This is why we talk so much at South about practices.  Practices are behavior we choose to do in order to shape our lives and our thinking.  For example, you might have a hurried life, and are always in a rush, or might be a bit ADD like me,  but practicing solitude— forcing yourself to slow down and be alone with God—might be hard for some of us and feel so strange at first.  There’s a physiological reason for that—it goes against the well-worn path in our brains.   But, over time, when we practice solitude—getting quiet, going before the Lord and listening—it begins to rewire our brain and becomes a part of who you are.  See, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  Friends, don’t be afraid to evaluate your behavior and to put practices and ways of behaving in place to form you and shape you into the image of the whole human being that Jesus created you to be.

I want to put that cycle up one more time.  Input –> Processing –> Beliefs –> Behavior –>     You DO have the power to control what comes into your mind and heart.  You DO have the power to process well with healthy thinking and feeling.  You DO have the power to evaluate your beliefs and make sure they’re healthy and line up with God’s truth.  You DO have the power to take control of your behavior.  If you do those things, led and fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit, you’ll be on your way to being transformed in all areas of your lives by the renewing of your mind.  If you do this, the Spirit can come into all those areas of your life and shape from the inside out.

I’m going to end with a practice and a prayer.   What is one practice you could put in place to take a step towards renewing your mind?

MEDITATE – Maybe choosing one of God’s truth’s to meditate on over and over this week.  Philippians 4:8 is a great passage to get into your brain to know what to think about.

MEMORIZE – Maybe memorizing 2 Corinthians 10:5—that you take every thought captive.  Memorize that Scripture and work out of that.

MENTOR – Maybe it’s pursuing a mentor to process with, or finding a therapist to work with.   So those things that have been there a long time that are hijacking your formation can be worked through and you learn to think and feel in a healthy way as you manage those inputs, as you process well, as you maintain healthy God-honoring beliefs, and as you behave in a way that looks more and more like Jesus.

We’re going to close with a prayer that we’re going to pray together.  I gave you some practices and I’m going to give you a prayer; chew on it this week.  Let’s read this together, from our hearts, to the Lord:  Gracious and loving God, you know the deep inner patterns of my life that keep me from being totally yours. You know the misformed structures of my being that hold me in bondage to something less than your high purpose for my life. You also know my reluctance to let you have your way with me in these areas. Hear the deeper cry of my heart for wholeness and by your grace enable me to be open to your transforming presence in this reading.  Lord, have mercy.

TRANSFORMED | The Mind and the Heart and Fits and Starts | Romans 12:2 | Week 32024-06-12T15:30:51-06:00

TRANSFORMED | Transformed Relationships | Philippians 2:5-11 | Week 2


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TRANSFORMED: Transformed Relationships    Philippians 2:5-11                       Dr. Scott Wenig     (2nd Service)    {Manuscript–View video for complete content}

As Pastor Larry said we’re going to continue our series on “Transformed,” and we’re going to look at an issue that’s hugely important in my life and your life….and that’s relationships.  I’m going to ask you to join me in prayer and then we’re going to unpack a variety of Scripture to see what the Lord would show us today on this crucial part of our lives.  So let’s bow together in prayer:  Father, we thank you so much for your compassion and mercy, the grace you’ve poured out on us in Jesus.  Lord, wherever we’re at today, whatever situation we’ve entered this auditorium today—emotionally, or spiritually, or physically, financially, relationally—Lord, I pray that you would come and meet with us in an individual way today.  Lord, we need your grace, we need your guidance, and so as we look in your Word today, from a variety of angles, Lord, I pray that by your Spirit, by your power, you would instruct us, you would guide us, you’d teach us and encourage us.  Lord, we want to be whole people, we know that’s your call, so we ask for your help in that process.  We ask for this time now, that you would be glorified and we’d be blessed.  We pray this in the great name of our Savior, Jesus.  Amen.

This is Taylor Swift.  She’s one of the most prominent musical artists of the current generation. She started writing songs when she was 11, recording when she was 16, and was a pop icon by the age of 20. She has millions of fans world-wide and exerts tremendous cultural influence in American society; if you don’t believe me, just ask the parents of any 13-year-old girl.  The main reason why Taylor Swift is so popular is because she speaks directly to the huge role relationships play in our lives.

A few years back, right after the release of a new album, she did an interview with Melissa Block of National Public Radio.  Here’s part of what she said:  “In the past, I’ve written mostly about heartbreak or pain that was caused by someone else and felt by me. On this album, I’m writing about more complex relationships, where the blame is kind of split 50-50. I think there’s actually a realism to my new approach to relationships, which is a little more fatalistic than anything I used to think about them. I used to think that, you know, you find “the one” and it’s happily ever after and never a struggle after that.  But you have a few experiences with love and relationships and you learn that that’s not the case at all. Relationships are complicated and even if you find the right situation, it’s always going to be a daily struggle to make it work. So those are different themes that I don’t think people have really seen in my lyrics before.”

Just as she did in that interview, Taylor Swift’s music gives voice to two key aspects of our lives:  Relationships are incredibly important and they’re also very complicated.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re single or married, male or female, what the color of our skin is, whether we come to church regularly or not, or if we’re 15, 45, or 75 years old, we all know that relationships are incredibly important to us and they’re also very complicated. And, as it always does, Scripture explains why that’s true.

Right out of the gate in Genesis 1 and 2, one of the very first things the author of those texts tells us is that relationships are important because we’re made in God’s image, and He’s both personal and relational at the core of His being.  The God of the universe, who has revealed Himself to us in Scripture, is Triune in nature. He’s one being who exists eternally in three persons: the Father, Son and Spirit, and the three persons of the Godhead always work in perfect intimacy and relational harmony with each other.  And because we’re all made in His likeness, we’re all personal and relational creatures.  But the problem is that our relationships with each other are complicated, imperfect and often painful.  And we’re told the reason why in Genesis 3.  In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve were these beautiful creatures made in God’s image who lived in the paradise of Eden and who had perfect fellowship with God and love and intimacy with each other. But they gave into the serpent’s temptation to become like God, fell from their state of grace and were kicked out of paradise.  One of the main consequences of their sinful disobedience was that from then on all human relationships became broken, tangled and painful.

To make that point, the author of Genesis shows the relational damage that sin causes by describing the behavior of the descendants of Adam and Eve.  Cain and Abel are their children and Cain murders Abel. Lamech introduces polygamy to the world.  Lot’s daughters get him drunk and then commit incest. Abraham plays huge favorites between his sons Isaac and Ishmael.  Isaac and his wife Rebecca each play favorites with their sons Jacob and Esau.  Jacob has to flee because of that, eventually winds up with two wives and two concubines, all of whom are constantly competing for his attention and affection and he has a bunch of kids between them. Jacob favors one of those sons, Joseph, over the rest and they conspire to kill him but sell him into slavery instead.  Friends, these are not the Waltons or even the Goldbergs; they’re messed up and need Dr. Phil, Dr. Spock, or at least Dr. Seuss.  The writer of Genesis wants us to know that all of humanity—including you and me—have the poisoned blood of Adam and Eve flowing thru our veins and that negatively impacts our relationships.

One of my favorite authors and preachers is Fleming Rutledge.  A few years ago she came out with this fantastic book called “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.”   It took her sixteen years to write this book, but essentially the question she’s asking is, “Why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion?”  Crucifixion was the very worst, the most painful, the most degrading, horrible way to die.  Why did God have his son die by crucifixion?  She looks at all these different theories of the atonement and essentially she boils it down to this:  Jesus had to die by crucifixion for you and me because we are all a lot worse off than we think we are.

Friends, that’s the bad news, but Scripture comes to us time and time again—all the way from Genesis through Revelation—and shows us that the Lord has a huge heart for each and every one of us.  And He loves us so much it’s really, truly beyond reason.  And He wants to see our lives transformed, especially our relationships, so they can be healthy, happy and functional.  To make that happen, to start that process on the right foundation, He gives us His grace in Jesus.  Look at Titus 2:3-8.  The Apostle Paul is writing to his friend Titus, who was a pastor/bishop on the island of Crete to some churches they planted there.  Here’s what he said in a section of this letter:   3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Paul observes that in our natural, sinful state we’re relationally tangled even to the point of hatred. But then, as he always does, he gives us the hope of transformation that comes in the Gospel.  And the Gospel tells us that despite our tangles, despite our brokenness, despite our sin, God has a HUGE heart of love for us.  He has demonstrated His loving heart by pouring out His mercy and grace on us in Jesus our Savior.  Then He has given us the miracle of a new nature through spiritual rebirth by His Holy Spirit.  Friends, God’s grace is the foundation for all of life, and it’s what makes it possible for us to get untangled from sin and begin to move towards relational transformation.

Not too long ago, I had a meeting with a young guy that was in a class I was helping to teach this summer.  It was an online class so we had never met in person and he wanted to get together to get to know me and I wanted to get to know him.  We met for lunch.  I asked him to tell me his story.   I grew up in a pretty broken, tangled environment.  When I was three years old, my mom died and my step-brothers went to live with their real father, so my father raised me.  He was a broken, wounded person and didn’t know how to parent me very well.  He was pretty neglectful and pretty abusive.  By the time I was twelve years old, I had totally sworn off God.  I wanted nothing to do with God, so I got real involved in the world.  I got involved in all the things the world does, and my life was spiraling downhill.  I barely managed to graduate from high school and went to college and flunked out my first semester.  I was working these retail jobs.  I started to do drugs and I got addicted to oxycodone.  Then, in the middle of my drug addiction, I meet this girl who I really liked.  We weren’t believers and we slept together and she got pregnant.  I decided I wanted to marry her and tried to convince her that I cleaned myself up.  She believed me.  A week before the wedding she found out I wasn’t cleaned up, I was still really addicted.  She called the wedding off and it sent me into a tailspin.  I moved from oxycodone to heroin.  I started getting high on heroin every day, after the third or fourth day, I overdosed.  They rushed me into the ER, they cleaned me up and after 24 hours they released me.  I went back home, got the remaining heroin, overdosed again.  I got in my car and was driving down the road and I collapsed behind the wheel of my car, off to the side of the road.  I was unconscious and was going to die, and a good Samaritan pulled me out of the car, called 9-1-1, and they took me to a Christian rehab center.  They cleaned me up and a guy came in and said, “You’ve got one choice.  If you don’t give your life to Jesus of Nazareth, you are going to die.  I want you to give your life to him today.”  I did and over the next few days and weeks I started making a little bit of progress.  I started to get cleaned up and was trying to trust the Lord.  His girlfriend gave birth to their baby and my goal was to simply have a relationship with my daughter where I could contact her every other week.  Over the next few months, God just began to do more and more things in my life and in her life.  She came and got me from the  rehab center and we went to the courthouse and got married.  She dropped me back off at the rehab center and went home and told her parents.  I asked, “How’d that conversation go?”  He said, “There was a lot of yelling and cussing, but we eventually got back together and by the grace of God, we’re going to take it one day at a time.”  Eventually the Lord called me into ministry and now I’m out here and I’m a pastor.  My dad just came to Christ about a month and a half ago.  He’s flying out next month and I’m going to baptize him.

Friends, God’s grace is always, always, always the foundation for the transformation that takes place in our lives, especially when it comes to relationships.  This is so important that I want to piggy-back off of something Pastor Larry mentioned in his sermon last week.  From the perspective of the New Testament, the whole idea of transformation is rooted in one of its richest words, morphoo, from which we get our word morph, meaning to change or transform into something else.  The word morphoo was originally used to describe the formation and growth of an embryo in its mother’s womb.  The Apostle Paul borrows this word and then nuances it to describe how God’s grace operates in our lives.  He says if we know Jesus, by His grace He is being formed (morphoo) in us.  (Galatians 5:19)  If we know Jesus, by His grace we are being conformed (summorphizo) into His likeness.  (Romans 8:29)  If we know Jesus, by His grace we are being transformed (metamorphizo) by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:1-2)

As a pastor and professor I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve talked with folks who got really discouraged because they stumbled in their walk with the Lord or had a relational breakdown of some kind and they began to think things will never change.  If by some chance, that’s where you’re at today—and I’ve been there too so, believe me, I know how that feels—I have a good word for all of us.  The Gospel proclaims that God showed His everlasting love for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and nothing in the universe can separate us from His love.

He has a HUGE heart of love towards us, but we need to remember that transformation, especially in the realm of relationships, is a long term process that requires our effort and His power.  That’s His calling on our lives as Christians.  Let me show you what I mean from this wonderful text out of Philippians 2:12-13.  Paul planted and loved this church in Philippi and now he’s writing them this letter.  This is in the context of relationships —- 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—{Listen, listen, listen, this is really important.}  continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.   One of the finest NT scholars of the past generation, Gordon Fee, wrote an award-winning commentary on Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  He says that verse 12 could be very accurately translated as ‘In your relationships with one another, work out the salvation Christ has brought you.’  Paul’s telling us that a big part of our calling as Christians is to have a heart that is willing to work hard on relational transformation recognizing that God is at work in us to make that happen.  The word in verse 13 that’s used for God working is the Greek word energeo, from which we get our word energy. Friends, God will always give us the energy, grace and power to move towards relational health.

One of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years, a book I would highly recommend to all of you, is by J.D. Vance called “Hillbilly Elegy.”  It’s a wonderful, moving book.  Any book that can get me to laugh and cry within two pages is a transformative book for me.  He tells his story of growing up in the Ohio River valley in Appalachia.  He grew up in a very broken environment.  Tons of unemployment.  Enormous amounts of drug use.  Family dysfunction that’s almost hard for me to conceive.  He grew up in a family where his mom had fifteen different boyfriends/husbands over the course of his first thirteen years.  Tremendously dysfunctional; very abusive.  He said his life was saved by his grandmother and grandfather.  He eventually came out of that environment and joined the Marines, and they transformed him in some ways.  But along the way, he became a disciple of Jesus.  Eventually he went to Yale Law school.  He writes this book to talk about his background and the environment in that part of the country, but he also goes on to say that Jesus can make a difference in your life.  He talks about his own relationship with his wife.  Coming out of this background, he said, “I was not good husband material.”  But he said that between the grace of my wife and the training of my aunt—who’s a believer—and the training of my sister—who’s a believer, he said, “I’ve learned to move, by the grace of God, towards relational health.”  They taught me, J.D., every disagreement does not have to become a public spectacle. Every disagreement does not have to end in this huge, raucous argument.

Friends, relational transformation is possible for you, it is possible for me, because God is at work in us, but it’s always founded on His grace and then it is worked out over time through our intense efforts and His incredible energy.  God’s going to do his part, but on our end of the spectrum, the very first thing we want to do in this area is move to, what I’m calling, some honest self-assessment. Listen to what Paul tells the Roman Christians in Romans 12:3  — For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  The larger context of this verse is Paul’s desire that the members of the church at Rome work together, serve together and minister together among themselves and also in the larger culture of Roman civilization.  He wants them to be relationally healthy, relationally functional, because he wants them to represent Jesus.  Paul says that can only happen if they get along with each other and for that to happen they each have to do some honest self-assessment.  Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought, but the implication is ‘don’t think more lowly of yourself than you ought.’  Some of you in this church think of yourselves more lowly than you ought.  Instead we should all think of ourselves with sober judgment.  In other words, let’s try to be objective about who we are so that we can learn to relate to those around us in a Christ-like way.   One of the greatest philosophers of ancient Greece was Socrates, and he postulated one of the main, foundational theorems of ancient Greek philosophy—Know Thyself.  If we’re going to move towards relational transformation, friends, on our end of the spectrum—remember, God’s going to do His part—we need to know ourselves.  We need to think of ourselves with sober judgment.

Let’s do a little bit of honest self-assessment.  Let me give us some questions we might want to ask ourselves and meditate on.  What was my family of origin like?  What’s my personality like (Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis, Myers-Briggs, DISC, Enneagram)?  This will show you how you’re wired, how God made you, your natural way of functioning and relating.  What are the areas of my life where I’ve been really, really wounded—what counselors call your wound pool?  I have a wound pool and so do you, and if you step into my wound pool, I will react because I’ve been hurt there before and I feel that pain.  What are my blind spots?  These are areas that when I function, people who like me say, “Oh, that’s just who he is.” Other people who don’t know me and don’t like me say, “Oh boy, that’s not very healthy.” In all honesty, what’s my level of emotional intelligence? This is the place where our spouses, our friends, maybe our colleagues, can be a great aid to us, IF we let them speak into our lives.  This is also the area, on a self-assessment, where getting into counseling with a good, gifted, insightful counselor that we have good chemistry with, can really help us.

A number of years ago, my mom died after a long battle with cancer.  She had been a huge support to me through my whole life, especially the prior four years before she died, when she finally went to be with the Lord, I was pretty devastated.  For the first and only time in my life, I was clinically depressed.  I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and felt like I was walking in cement.  Finally, a friend said to me, “Scott, you just suffered a huge loss and I think you should get some counseling.  Here’s the person you should go see.”  I went in and made an appointment with her.  Here’s the deal—I wanted her to cure me of my clinical depression.  She wanted me to become more emotionally and spiritually transformed.  She started to press in on me.  First, she said, “I want to talk about why you’re so controlling.”  “Well, it’s because I’m God.”   “No! Let’s talk about your family of origin.” I told her about my mom and dad—They were always trying to control me, they were always trying to control my sister, so I guess I learned it from them.  She said, “Well, okay, but let’s look at why they were controlling.”  They grew up during the depression, where they had nothing.  They went through World War II, where my mom said, “I’m just so glad your dad got home alive and we could have life.”  She (counselor) said, “Scott, they had so many losses growing up that they wanted to protect you and Becky from having any losses. They meant well.  They intended to protect you.  Let’s unpack why you’re operating that way, because, Scott, you can’t control life.”

Friends, relational transformation is not easy.  It takes a lot of time.  It might be costly.  But here’s what I want us to understand and remember—God has this huge heart of grace for you and me and He’s revealed that in Jesus.  Because he has this huge heart of grace, He’s willing to give us His supernatural energy.  He’s saying, “I want you to work out your relationships.  I want you to put some time, some energy, some effort into that.  Make that a priority.  I want you to become healthy and happy and functional in your relationships, and I will give you the power to do that.”

Given the reality of God’s grace, given the reality of God’s power that’s available to you and me, what I want to suggest are some ‘building blocks’ that we can use to build on what he’s given us to move us towards greater relational health.   Building block number one—A Heart of Respect, not a Heart of Resentment.  Once again we’re back in the book of Romans.  Paul’s very concerned about how the Roman church is relating, but now he’s even moved it out into the culture at large.  Remember, the Roman church at that time was small and a minority and they were surrounded by this huge oppressive civilization.  Here’s what he tells them (Romans 13:7-8) —  7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.   There’s a lot of content in these two short verses, but I’d like to suggest that the core of this command is having a heart of respect towards others, because it’s really hard to have healthy relationships if we don’t respect and honor other people

One of my intellectual and spiritual mentors over the years has been C.S. Lewis, the great English writer.  He’s known for many, many great books, but perhaps his most prominent one was “Mere Christianity.”   If you’ve never read it, let me encourage you to get it and read it; if you have read it, let me encourage you to reread it.  It’s good for us.  He has a great chapter in here on social morality—how you and I should relate out in culture.  He says that he New Testament doesn’t really give us a detailed description of what a Christian society would look like, but nonetheless it has some hints.  First of all, it tells us there should be no passengers or parasites.  If a person does not work, they ought not to eat.  Everyone’s to work with their own hands, and what’s more, everyone’s work is to produce something good.  There will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and similar advertisements to persuade us to buy them.  There’s to be no swank or side.  No putting on of airs where people think they’re better than others.  Secondly, the New Testament is always insisting on obedience.  Obedience and outward marks of respect from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and from wives to husbands.  Third, it’s to be a cheerful society, full of singing and rejoicing and regarding worry and anxiety is wrong.  Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues, and the New Testament hates, what it calls, busybodies.

Friends, we know that we live in a culture where all those qualities Lewis described—especially the issue of respect for others—are in short supply or in shorter supply than is good for everyone. So, here’s our chance to see our own relationships transformed by showing people respect whether it’s our spouse or kids, whether it’s senior citizens or youth, whether it’s employees, employers, neighbors, friends or colleagues.  If we’re going to, by God’s grace with his power, move towards transformed relationships, we need to have hearts of respect.

Secondly, I want to suggest we have…..A Heart of Service, not Selfishness (John 13:1-17).  This is in the context of the Upper Room Discourse, and this is what John said is going on.   3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 

As I just said, this is the beginning of what biblical scholars call the Upper Room Discourse. It’s Passover and the Last Supper that Jesus will eat with His disciples.  We normally perceive the Last Supper from Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of all of them sitting at a table with Jesus in the center. That’s not accurate.  They lived in an Oriental culture and they would have been laying on couches in traditional Oriental, Jewish style.   You’re laying in a circle so your feet are close to somebody’s face.  Remember they all wore sandals and they just came in from the street and normally, there would have been a servant who washed their feet, but on this occasion, it doesn’t look like that’s the case and there’s no servant around.  And we can imagine the disciples arguing with each other about whose job it is to do the foot washing:  Peter tells Andrew to do it and he says, “No, that’s Thaddeus’ job.”  And Thaddeus says, “Let’s make James and John do it. They always think they’re the better than everyone else.”  And they say, “No, Thomas should do it because he never has to do anything.”   While they’re arguing, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer garment, and goes around to each disciple, washing those twenty-four filthy feet as their servant.  It’s important to keep in mind that Judas is there and Jesus knows that within the next few hours Judas is going to betray Him and yet He stills washes Judas’ feet.  As one commentator said:  “Jesus at the foot of a traitor: What lessons for us!” I would agree. What lessons for us.

Some of you here are working for a boss who is really difficult. This week, can you, by the grace of God, find some way to serve him or serve her in a helpful manner?  Some of you here are dealing with some relatives who are relationally challenged.  Jesus may not be calling you to be intimate with them, but can you serve them in a way that makes them feel valued?   Some of you here are dealing with a difficult employee or a difficult classmate or a difficult neighbor. Can you find a way to serve them in a way that honors God and maybe even blesses them?

Our first building block is a heart of respect.  Our second building block is a heart of service.  Our third building block—A Heart of Humility, Not Hubris (Philippians 2:5-11). One of the big ideas of the Bible is that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble; that’s taught in a number of places such as Daniel 4, Luke 18, James 4, and I Peter 5.  But the classic expression of humility is given in Philippians 2:5-8.   5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Once again, Paul is all about encouraging transformed relationships in the lives of his converts.  And as he says here—if we want our relationships to be healthy, happy and functional—we must be emulate Jesus and become humble people.  That begs the question, what’s humility look like? I’d like to suggest that humble people are not door mats who have no opinions or convictions; they’re just people who have opinions and convictions, but don’t always need to win arguments or prove they’re right.  Humble people are not wall flowers or people who always blend in with the crowd; they’re just people who enjoy life and are interested in others and concerned for them.  Humble people don’t think of themselves as more righteous or godly or spiritual than others; they’re just people who know the huge heart of grace that God has for them and so they try to show that to others.

A number of years ago, a teenage boy living in Southern California, named Felix Garza, fell in love with a girl at school named Donna Ashlock. The only problem was that Donna had a weakened heart and wasn’t expected to live past the age of 19.  A few months after they started dating, Donna’s condition worsened and she was put on bed rest in the hospital.  Shortly after that happened Felix, in a way that teenage boys who are in love sometimes do, made a strange claim.  He said that he was going to die and that his heart would be donated to Donna so she could live.  Now, Felix was 17 years old and by all counts in perfect health. But a few weeks after he made that prediction he was struck with a series of severe headaches and then passed out.  He was rushed to the ER where the doctors discovered he had suffered from a brain aneurism and was pronounced dead.  Felix’s family agreed that his healthy organs should be donated to those in need so they rushed Donna into surgery and the next day when she woke up, her dad was sitting by her bed.  He told her that Felix had died and given his eyes to someone who was blind, his kidneys to someone in need, and then Donna said, “And I have his heart, don’t I?”

Friends, Jesus has this huge, enormous, incomprehensible heart of grace for every single one of us here.  He wants to give his heart of grace to you and to me.  Once we get his heart of grace, He wants us to work out our relational salvation.  In other words, we have to work really, really hard at that, but we need to remember that He always will give us the energy, the power, to do that.  As we work at our relationships, if we have hearts of respect, hearts of service, and hearts of humility, we’ve got to trust that God will be working at us, in us, and through us to help us move ahead, as best as we can, towards relational health, so that our relationships are healthy, and happy, and functional.

I’m going to ask you to stand and take the hand of someone next to you, because we are a church committed to good relationships, and I’m going to give us a benediction.  Oh Lord, we need your grace, we need your help, we need your strength.  Lord, we need your heart.  Thanks so much for your love for us.  Watch over us today, Lord.  Watch over our families and our friends.  Give us a great week serving you.  Make your face shine upon us and lead and guide us.  We pray all of this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TRANSFORMED | Transformed Relationships | Philippians 2:5-11 | Week 22024-06-12T15:31:08-06:00

TRANSFORMED | An Invitation to Transformation | Romans 12 | Week 1


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TRANSFORMED: An Invitation to Transformation   Romans 12     Pastor Larry Boatright              (1st Service)   {Manuscript–See Video for complete content}

I went to Florida last week.  I used to live in Florida and one of my favorite beaches is called Clearwater Beach. It’s consistently rated in the top beaches in the country.  I parked my car and immediately went to the beach, dropped my towel, and got into the water.  It felt so amazing!  I bobbed and floated a bit, and then I saw these two guys on a sandbar.  A sandbar is sand you can stand on out in the water; it’s almost like walking on water. It was about 100 yards out there and I’ve swum that a bazillion times.  I’m a pretty good swimmer so I took off.  I’m working and working to get out to the sandbar.  Normally it takes three or four minutes to get out there, but I don’t think I noticed how hard the waves were coming in that day.  The waves were relentless and pounding on me as I was going out.  I didn’t notice how hard I was working until I started feeling pretty tired; like my whole body tired, like my arms tired, and I’ve never really felt that way before.  It’s a little bit scary to be out in the ocean and feel that.  It had been about fifteen minutes.  The guys had swum off the sandbar, so I had lost my frame of reference of where I was going.  I was so tired but I thought I’d better check and see how close I was to the sandbar.  I popped my head above the waves and it was still a little ways out; I was discouraged because I wasn’t really getting anywhere.  I got nervous because my arms were tired and my heart was really pounding.  I was gasping for air and I was breathing in salt water.  My lungs were burning.  So I had to make a decision, do I continue working and trying to get to the sandbar or do I turn around and head for the shore?  I decided that I was trying so hard to get to the sandbar, but I just wasn’t making it, so I decided to go back.  I turned around and the shore was SO FAR AWAY.  My lungs were burning, my heart was pounding, my arms were exhausted.  I started to get a little bit scared because I realized I’m just a few moments away from running out of gas and I don’t know what to do.  The thought occurred to me, “It’s very possible I’m going to drown, because I don’t think I have what it takes to get back to shore.”  There’s no lifeguard; there’s nobody close to me.  I had to fight for every breath.  I kept swimming but I was slowing down rapidly.  Just when I thought I couldn’t go any farther,  I decided to check and see if I could touch the bottom. And thank God, I could stand on my tiptoes, so I used my last bit of energy to get out of the water, and I was completely and totally exhausted.  The funny thing is, at the same time I thought I might drown, I thought to myself, “If I don’t die from this, I could use this as a sermon illustration.”  I swear I thought that!  So here it is.

I’ve been chewing on 2 Corinthians 5:17 — Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  That’s really good news, right?  I follow Jesus.  It’s clear from this passage that it’s talking about anyone that joins the family of faith—in Christ—that we should experience a NEW creation. But, how many of us heard a gospel message, and we responded in some way? Maybe we responded to a sermon, or a youth camp with a speaker that was compelling, or whatever it might be, and we pray a prayer of surrender to Jesus, and we expect to be changed. And maybe after that we listened to sermon after sermon, and came to church every single time the doors were open, and read our bibles and pray, every single day, and yet, in spite of all of that, for most of us, if we’re honest, we look at some parts of our lives and they seem completely unchanged by the Gospel.  There’s a lot of OLD in there still and we’re still waiting on the NEW.  And if we’re really honest, there are parts of our lives that we’re not ready for Jesus to touch yet.  Like our money, or our stuff, or our relationships, or a pattern of thinking we’ve become addicted to.  I’ve been following Jesus since I was ten years old, which is almost thirty-two years ago, and yet I look at parts of my life that I think should be changed by the transformative power of the Gospel and realize that they just aren’t.  How about you?

Today I’m so excited because we’re starting a brand new series for the fall called “Transformed: A Journey Toward Biblical Wholeness.”  Several weeks ago, a few people on our team went away to pray and dream and to seek God’s heart for our church community.  We wanted to see what God might have us teach on through the end of the year.  One of the questions we asked ourselves was, “What do we hope people experience as a result of meeting Jesus consistently at South Fellowship?”  Yes, we do want us to experience great worship, and great teaching, and great kids and student environments, and being welcomed warmly and have our questions answered, and all of that, but what if we did all kinds of those things, had all kinds of programming, and more, but at the end of the day, all we could point to was we did stuff and we said stuff.  Our mission is to help people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  That means that the mission isn’t great programming.  It isn’t great worship or even great teaching; it is inviting people into a process of TRANSFORMATION.  We firmly believe that an encounter with Jesus is an invitation to a journey of transformation, and that the Gospel—the Good News—should have an impact on ALL the parts of our lives, not just our standing before God.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why so many of us follow Jesus, and maybe even do some of the right things, and work really hard, but we don’t really experience freedom, and we don’t see transformation as a regular part of our journey.  I wonder if its partially because we don’t fully understand exactly what it is that Jesus wants to do in us.  For some of us, we’re stuck thinking the primary reason Jesus came to die on the cross was about a transaction; His death simply means I now can be right with God.  Well, you certainly now can be right with God, if you are in Christ, but it’s a huge mistake to think of the message of the Gospel as merely a transaction instead of transformation. If we merely focus on a transaction, we miss out on all that Jesus invites us to in this life.  Dallas Willard says, “It is the failure to understand Jesus and his words as reality and vital information about life that explains why, today, we do not routinely teach those who profess allegiance to him how to do what he said was best. We lead them to profess allegiance to him, or we expect them to, and leave them there, devoting our remaining efforts to ‘attracting’ them to this or that.”  But listen, church, I can tell you that the leadership of this church is NOT content just to tell you about Jesus so you can pray a prayer and spend eternity with Him.  It’s to do our part to help you live in His way, with His heart, right now.  And our prayer is that every single facet of your life would be impacted by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I want to jump right into the Scriptures to begin to frame up what we’re going to be doing together for the next eight weeks or so, but before do that, I want to ask you to pause your heart and your mind for a moment, and let’s ask God’s Spirit to begin to move and shape us, even in this very moment, as we begin this series.  Jesus,  thank you for meeting us where we are. Thank you for modeling for us what it is to be fully human, and for inviting us into a process of formation to wholeness in the image of Christ. Our desire as a community is to be filled with people who are transformed from the inside out, that the Good News would touch every part of our lives.  And so, Jesus, my prayer right now is that you’d soften our hearts, you’d open our eyes to see and ears to hear Your voice calling us from brokenness to wholeness, for the sake of Your kingdom and Your glory.  In the strong and powerful name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

We’re going to be journeying a good bit through Romans chapter 12, so go ahead and turn there.  (You can also go to our APP and click on the SERMONS tab and click SERMON NOTES and take notes right in there if you’d like.)  Just a little bit of background on Romans—Paul, the author of this letter to the church in Rome, often followed a pattern of a greeting, then a lesson in theology, and then a transition to the practical—“here’s what you do” so we can apply the theology we learned. In Romans, he shows how essentially everyone is in need of a savior, that sin entangles all of us and robs us of fully living into who God designed us to be.

When you were a kid, maybe you heard people talk about “The Roman Road to Salvation.”  It always started with Romans 3:23 – All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Glory is His essence, meaning although we were made in His image, sin marred that image and we don’t look like just Jesus. He also said in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death.  Sin leads to death.  But he also said—But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Paul, a man who was trained in the law, grew up in the law, talked a lot about the law and how we couldn’t measure up to it, showed us just how we couldn’t measure up or fully look like the image of God in us because of sin, makes a compelling case that we should receive the mercy and grace of God offered through Jesus, as our deliverer, as one who loves us and gave himself for us.  So in Romans 12:1 —Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  

Anytime we see the word ‘therefore,’ we should ask, “What is this there for?”  Here, Paul is shifting from theology to practice, and he’s essentially saying, “In light of everything I just told you….that you are dead in your sin, that you can’t measure up, but that God freely offers eternal life to you…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  I think about my life, and my ankle, and my concussion, my hospitalizations, and I think, “I’m not sure he wants my body as a living sacrifice.”  Do you realize your body is the container that holds all of you?  Your body contains your soul, your spirit, your heart, your mind. It’s the vehicle that provides a housing for all of the parts of us.  One of the early church heresies insisted that the body was irrelevant, but Paul here is NOT saying that the body is irrelevant, is he? He’s saying to offer ALL of you—your body, this container, and all of its parts—as a living sacrifice.  He’s saying, “In light of all that God has done, give your WHOLE SELF for His good use.”

Then he continues in verse 2:  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul sort of tells us what not to do, what to do, and how to do it.  What not to do—Don’t be CONFORMED to the pattern of this world.  What to do—Be transformed by the how?….renewing of your mind.  Conformed essentially means to bend around, mold into the shape around something else.  We take aluminum foil and we put it over a beautiful cake and it’s in the shape of the cake, but at the end of the day it’s still aluminum foil.  He’s saying, “Don’t try to look like the pattern of this world.  Don’t give over to the unhealthiness, the brokenness, the breaking of shalom that the pattern of this world offers.”  Don’t do that thing!

Then he tells us to be transformed. The Greek word for transformed here is the word metamorphao.  What does that sound like? Metamorphosis. That’s a pretty common word. We use it to mean that something has drastically changed.  If you know someone who is struggling from some kind of addiction, and their lives, their relationships, their bodies are a wreck, and then you see them after a while and they’ve broken the strongholds of addiction and they’re partnering in community and God’s beginning to transform them from the inside out and they seem completely different, you might say, “Wow! What a metamorphosis!”

So what does transformation mean?  Transformation is to change into another form or image. It essentially means changing something from one state to another, from one substance or form or whatever it might be.  This isn’t just a spiritual or New Testament concept, we see this in our world, don’t we?  Probably the easiest example of this is a caterpillar to a butterfly.  That blows my mind!  Think about water—water exists in three states—solid, liquid and gas.  Think about food—if you take grain and under the right circumstances you heat it and you put yeast in it, you can turn it into beer or whiskey, amen!  Grapes can be paired with water and yeast to make wine, amen!  Trail mix—You have all these little elements of trail mix, but at the end of the day you can separate out these elements, can’t you?  I know this because I buy my kids these buckets of trail mix and they just pull out the things they like and leave all the other stuff behind, so when I go to eat it there’s only one kind of thing in there!  Those elements haven’t been transformed, they’ve just been mixed together.  But if you add lemonade powder to water, you get a brand new, delicious thing! It has moved from one form to another. You can’t just separate the power back out and have a pile of powder and a bucket of water, can you?   Are you getting the point?

What is being transformed?  Jesus tells us to be transformed.  Is it our spirit? Is it our mind? What? What was the message of Jesus? What did He say was best?  What did He preach about?  Did he preach well, turn or burn?  Listen, follow me and you’ll get out of hell?  That’s not what he preached.  He preached consistently that the kingdom of God was near. The kingdom, the kingdom, the kingdom…   He gave the rules of engagement for the kingdom, how we should live as subjects and participants of the Kingdom.  Think of the beatitudes and the sermon on the mount; this is how to operate as citizens of this new, amazing kingdom, right?  Jesus met people where they were, and He healed them and forgave them, and called them out of their brokenness.  And then He invited people to follow Him.  So His ministry was far more than a “get of hell card.”  He called people from their broken state into a transformed state.  He moved them towards WHOLENESS.  As a matter of fact, Jesus showed us the perfect example of what a whole human being looks like.

Robert Mulholland, the brilliant pastor and seminary professor, wrote:  “The Christian journey, therefore, is an intentional and continual commitment to a lifelong process of growth toward wholeness in Christ.”   Think about that—growth toward WHOLENESS in Christ.  That means that Jesus is interested in MORE than just a transaction that makes us right with God.  It means that being formed into the image and likeness of Jesus isn’t just spiritual.   Remember the words of John 1: The Word became Flesh and dwelled among us.  He was 100% God, but he was also 100% human.  And that means that to be formed into the image of Christ is to be fully formed into being a whole human being, because Jesus was a whole human being.  You with me?

So, formation in the life of the follower of Jesus is Jesus transforming our lives from a state of brokenness to a state of wholeness, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus invites us to move out of our brokenness into something new.   Now, you might be asking yourself, “But what is wholeness?”  I’m so glad you asked that question.  I’m going to walk you through seven areas of our lives that give us an idea of what wholeness looks like.  We have a SPIRIT self.  We have a part of us that is our MIND.  We have a BODY.  We have EMOTION.  We have RELATIONSHIPS.  We have VOCATION; that’s God’s purpose through us for the sake of others.  We have RESOURCES.  Take a look at those areas.  Do any of them jump out to you as areas it sure seems like haven’t been transformed by the power of the Gospel?  Anyone brave enough to say, “Yeah, I’m still waiting on this?”  Me too!

Who we are is so much more than our spirit, isn’t it?  The Gospel can transform not just our standing before God, but every part of our lives.  We’re all being formed. This doesn’t apply to just Christians, by the way.  Here’s the thing, everyone is in the process of spiritual formation, whether you follow Jesus or not.  Listen to these powerful words from Robert Mulholland:  “We are being shaped into either the wholeness of the image of Christ or a horribly destructive caricature of that image—destructive not only to ourselves but also to others, for we inflict our brokenness upon them.”  We’re being shaped into something.  God is shaping us, he’s moving us, but we’re allowing ourselves, too, to be shaped in this process.  We can either be shaped into the image of Christ or into brokenness.  Brokenness parades around and hurts other people.

I know we live in a world that desperately needs transformation, don’t we?  We live in a world where people NEED to be moved toward wholeness in Christ.  We did a church survey recently and asked, “What was your status prior to coming to South?”   About 97% of our church community followed Jesus before attending South. The second question we asked was, “How long have you been following Jesus?”  An overwhelming majority answered, “A really long time.”  What does that tell you?  That the majority of this church is filled with people who have known Jesus for a long time.  Obviously then a minority (3%) of people didn’t know Jesus prior to coming to South.   That means that we don’t have that many people coming who don’t know Jesus, who haven’t experienced the power of the Gospel in their lives.  And yet I think South Fellowship is such a warm, loving, caring community, who does believe in the power of the Gospel, would you agree? And I believe God is calling us not to be content in settling for less than transformed lives.   And so we’re asking Jesus to send us LOTS of people who don’t know Him.  We’re asking Him to transform their lives from the inside out, that they would experience freedom and transformation they didn’t even know was possible, and that their lives would be formed into the wholeness of Jesus.  And we’re praying that the next time we do a survey, the amount of people who didn’t know Jesus prior to coming here, but met Him and had their lives turned upside down by the Gospel, would increase dramatically.  That happens from you and I inviting people to come be a part of this.

But we’re also not assuming that just because so many of us knew Jesus before coming to South, that we don’t need to experience transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives either.   And so we’re going to journey together for the next 8 weeks or so and chew on what transformation really means; and more specifically, what being formed fully in the image of Christ means, and look at some practical areas of our lives we believe Jesus wants to transform.

Now, imagine if Jesus did a transformative work in you.  Think about where you are and the chart that we looked at.  Think honestly.  Imagine if Jesus began to really move and change things in you.  What if you began connecting with God on a regular basis?  Imagine if your thinking were different, if those old patterns of thinking let go and new life came to your thoughts.  What if your body, even if it was broken in some way, became a partner to you in your formation?  What if you had a grasp on your emotions and they were healthy?  What if those broken relationships were made new?  What if your understanding of vocation became healthy and you partnered fully with Jesus in bringing His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?  Imagine if your relationship to your money, your time, your talents, and other resources God has blessed you with was healthy and you were living fully on mission with God.  Wouldn’t that be great?  That’s exactly what we’re dreaming of in this series.

Paul gives us the mechanism to get there—Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  We’re going to unpack that through this series.  And I want to say, this series is going to be a great one for all of us to invite our friends and family and neighbors who need to experience the transforming power of the Gospel.  My prayer is that both those who don’t know Jesus, and those who’ve known Jesus for a long time, will experience freedom like they’ve never experienced, and transformation they didn’t even know was possible.

Now, to frame up transformation as we prepare to get into this series, I want to quickly give you four observations about transformation, and then I want us to close with a few moments of chewing on what we’ve learned through prayer and practice.

First thing, transformation is a promise.  Transformation isn’t just possible, it’s a promise.  It’s not something we have to beg God to want to do.  It’s something Jesus desires for all of us.  If you go all the way back to Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham he would build a great nation from his descendants.  But it wasn’t about real estate and massive numbers of people.  It was a promise that down the line, Jesus would enter the picture and that the brokenness that was in all creation and in all of humanity would be transformed and pulled back into shalom.

I want to look at 2 Corinthians 3:17-18—Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.   It doesn’t say if you pray hard enough or do all the right things, you’ll be transformed.  It says we ARE being transformed into His image. The Scriptures are clear that if we are IN Christ, if we know Jesus, we WILL be transformed.  It’s a promise that has its roots in all eternity.

The second thing about transformation we need to keep in mind is that transformation is a process.  We don’t live in a culture that really likes process. We live in a culture where we want to order a Big Mac and have it delivered to our door!  That’s where we’re at as a society.   The reason I went to Florida was to work with a psychologist who specializes in working with Christian leaders.  There was no crisis or emergency (until I almost drowned); I simply went to get a tune up and to make sure I’m the healthiest leader I can be in this season.  I went with some things in my life that I was realizing were triggering me, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. While that was happening, I made a fleeting comment about something that happened in my childhood.  It was some stuff I thought I had already dealt with.  My therapist said, “Let’s go back to that and talk through it.”  Of course, I was like, “No thanks!”   But we did, and I’m so thankful.  But I also was a little bit surprised to realize that this thing had a hold of me and I didn’t know it.  I had some woundedness, some patterns of thinking, I had held on to for 30+ years, and they were holding me back.  I went back to my hotel to process, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t made more progress in this area than I had.  But I also realized that it was a process, that you don’t typically just wave a magic wand and everything is all better.  I have been nursing a sore Achilles for months.  Believe me, I wish there was a pill I could take and it heal instantly.  I know God could heal it instantly, but He didn’t choose that path for some reason.  And for most of us, that’s how the process of formation looks.

One thing we’ve been talking about at South is that as followers of Jesus we’re seeking to live in His way with His heart.  That means we’re growing in being with Jesus, that we’re spending more time being with Jesus.  That we’re becoming like Jesus, that is wholeness.  Becoming whole human beings fully formed in the wholeness of Christ.  And that we’re doing as Jesus did, meaning that we are living out the Gospel, we’re doing his action, we’re bringing renewal to all the parts of the earth.  The thing is, have you ever thought of this, the disciples of Christ had proximity.  They literally could touch him, talk to him, they were with him, they were close.  Even they struggled in the process of formation.  Peter chopped a guy’s ear off!  I’d say he still had some work to do.

Earlier I talked about water.  It’s a great example of the process of transformation.  Water freezes at 0°C and it becomes a solid at that point.  I didn’t know this, but there are thirteen different kinds of solid for water!  The most common is ice.  Here’s what’s crazy though, to go from just shy of freezing (liquid, not quite frozen) to one degree shy of boiling takes something like 418 joules.  But to go that last ONE degree, to change matter from one substance to another, takes five times as much energy!!  Why?  Because it’s not just being conformed in to a new bucket, but because it’s changing state.  It’s going from one type of thing to another type of thing.   So no wonder it often feels like transformation is taking forever.  We can make some little shifts here and there, but to truly go from one state to another in some part of our lives takes a LOT of energy.

You’ll look up some days and go, “Oh man, I’m not doing very well at being with Jesus,” or “I don’t look very much like Jesus,” or “I’m not doing as Jesus did and partnering with him.”   I wish I could just wave the magic wand and instantly do great at being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing as Jesus did, but God takes us through a process, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and that’s okay.

The third thing about transformation is that transformation takes practice.  If we’re becoming more like Jesus, does it just happen without us doing anything?  No!  We want people to move towards wholeness, to be with Jesus, like Jesus, and to do as Jesus did, but not only is it a process, it takes practice—one foot in front of the other.  You don’t wake up and go run a marathon without practice.  Well, you can try, but you won’t succeed!  Why?  Because it takes practice and you have to build up your muscles.  One thing we’re very committed to as we pursue spiritual formation at South is to pair the target—being with, becoming like, and doing as, in the wholeness of Jesus—with practices that help us move there.  That’s why they’re called “practices.”  When we give you a list of practices, it’s not just to sound spiritual, it literally is to help you practice your faith, to grow toward wholeness in Christ.  We’re looking at some practices that help us move into the presence of Jesus, some practices that move us towards wholeness, and some practices that move us into renewal, as we do as Jesus did.   I love the Message paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 9:24 — You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.  All good athletes train hard, so we have to engage in practices that train us in the way of righteousness.  Sometimes that feels like a slog, but it leads to being transformed into the image of Jesus.

The last thing about transformation is that transformation requires partnership.  Before you think this all happens in some kind of a vacuum, transformation doesn’t happen solo.  It requires a partnership of some kind to make it happen.  In our case, it’s first a partnership with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the one doing the heavy lifting here. Sure, we can engage in practices that grow us, but the spark, the fuel, the power is the transformative power of the Spirit of God, which is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  All too often, we can thwart the work of the Holy Spirit and not allow the Spirit to transform us from the inside out.  So we HAVE to partner with the spirit, we HAVE to invite Jesus to do this work, and we HAVE to trust that the power comes from Him.

Finally, growth happens best in community. We have to partner with one another.  We have to wrestle with the Scriptures, with how we’re wired, with our baggage, all in community.  I have to process the stuff I talk about with my therapist and I can just keep talking to her, but I need to do it in community.  You guys see me, you know me, you see things I can’t possibly see about myself, so by immersing myself, willingly, into community, God uses that to form and shape me into the image and the likeness of Jesus.  And He does that for you too.  You need to be deeply rooted into community.  You can do it individually, but you can also do it one-on-one with spiritual directors and mentors, in small groups with others, in mid-size gatherings, and in our weekend gatherings.  We’re working to find ways to help us all stay rooted in community.  The truth is you need to take a step into community, if you’re not.   So lean in to your partnership with the Holy Spirit, and lean in to the natural partnership God gives you by embracing community.  You’ll never become the person God created you to be, if you don’t lean into the community He designed you to be in, for the sake of being formed into the image and likeness of Jesus.

So, in this series we’re talking about not being conformed, but being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus, that means every part of our life.  I’m excited to see how God will use the Scriptures combined with the power of the Holy Spirit to touch our lives and transform us from the inside out during this series.  I’ll leave you one final Mulholland quote:  “Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”  The last thing I want to leave you with is….for the sake of others.  It’s not just so we look good.  It’s not that we look a lot like Jesus and we’re having our little fellowship with Jesus.  It’s for the sake of others and that’s what Jesus came for—I did not come to be served but to serve.  That is the posture of Jesus.  The reason it’s important you get to know how you’re wired, you work through your baggage, you look at all the areas of your life, and you invite the Holy Spirit to transform you, is not just so you look good, it’s so you can look outward and impact other people for the sake of the Gospel.  The kingdom of God is here and we get to be participants in that.  We have to take steps to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out.   So that’s what we’re going to be unpacking.  Every week we’re going to be talking about a different area of our lives.  I want to ask you to invite your friends, your family.

I want to end today a little bit different—with a prayer and a practice.  I want you to focus now on what we’ve talked about.  I want to end with a time of just looking at ourselves honestly.  This takes vulnerability, by the way, to say, “I am going to bare my soul to the Spirit of Christ and let Him be honest with me.”   There is a great opportunity, if we do that, for the Spirit of God to move and shape us.

The first thing I want to give you is a prayer and ask you to read this with me together.  This is from Psalm 139:23-24.  It’s in your service guide so you can take it home and pray this prayer and use this as a time to ask the Lord, “Wash over me.  Speak to me.”   Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life.  Take a moment and think of the words to that prayer, just between you and the Spirit of Jesus.  I encourage you to pray this prayer over and over this week, and allow the Spirit to show you the parts of your life that maybe you’re holding fiercely onto, not letting the Holy Spirit transform.  What happens when we meet the Spirit?  Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom….   That’s what we’re hoping for everyone in our community.

The practice for this week is on the back of your service guide.  There’s a wholeness wheel.  I’d encourage you to take this and read these areas and maybe just say, “Hey, Spirit, I’m really connecting with Jesus so I’m going to shade this one all the way in.  But my mind, maybe I’m struggling and it won’t be as filled in.”  Be honest.  This is not a time to lie to yourself or look better than you are, but it’s a time to be honest at where you’re at.  Take that and fill it out and ask:  What areas of my life still need to be transformed?  Fill out this tool and you’ll see that there may be some areas that need work.  If you do it and all areas are a perfect ten, I’d encourage you to take it to your spouse and they’ll help you whittle it down more accurately.  Or show it to a friend and they’ll be honest and help you whittle it down. I’m not going to give you a formula and a little pill and it’ll all be transformed; I’m going to make you live in that tension for the next several weeks, but we’re going to start talking about those areas and letting the Holy Spirit work in us.  Next week Dr. Wenig is going to share on Transformed Relationships, which is one of the most significant parts of our lives.

But I don’t want to leave us with the misery of going, “Oh man, I need a lot of work in this area, in this area, in this area,” so I also want you to pair it with gratitude by asking this question:   Where have I experienced transformation in my life?  You’ll see some things on that wheel that look like you may have a long way to go, but hopefully you’ll see areas of that wheel that the Spirit of Christ has redeemed, has moved, has transformed, has changed in you.  Be honest with God and say, “I’m so grateful that in at least this area you’ve done some significant.”

The last thing I’ll say and then I’ll pray is if you’ve never decided to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, I just want to encourage you to do that.  It doesn’t have to be a big process, it can be simply submitting and saying, “Jesus, I want to live in your way with your heart.  I want to be transformed from the inside out.”  There are a lot of people who go to church their whole life and they don’t actually commit to following Jesus.  I’m going to ask you to consider doing that.  If you do that, I’d love for you to come talk to me or one of our elders after this gathering.  We’re trusting that God’s going to transform hearts and lives in such significant ways.  On the very last day of this series, we’re going to do baptisms together and we’re going to celebrate the transformation God has done in people.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the opportunity to serve you.  Thank you that your Spirit is at work, that you, Jesus, invite us into transformation, into biblical wholeness, making us into the person you created us to be.  Thank you for your work on the cross.  Thank you for the journey you’re inviting us into.  We pray for your blessing, your mercy, and your favor to be upon us.  Together this church said, in the strong and powerful name of Jesus…..Amen.

TRANSFORMED | An Invitation to Transformation | Romans 12 | Week 12020-08-20T18:34:55-06:00
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