Tag Archives: sanctification

Inside-Out


My youngest son often puts his shirts on inside-out. Not a big deal. I’ve done it when I was in a rush to get somewhere. But even when I tell him he is inside-out, he doesn’t care. He’s content to go around all day with his shirt tag announcing that he can’t dress himself.

I was thinking about my son as I read Matthew 23 this morning, because Jesus also liked to turn things inside-out. In the passage, He is dealing out the “seven woes” to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, and He criticizes them for “cleaning the outside of the cup or dish” while the inside is full of nastiness. To drive home His point, He compares them to freshly painted tombs filled with dead men’s bones. They look good on the outside, but they reek of death inside.

He challenges them to clean up their insides first, because when the inside is clean, the outside will become clean, too. Jesus is saying that if they will change their character, their behavior will follow. If they change their WHO, their DO will soon match.

I’m guilty of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees sometimes. I clean up my behaviors, because I want to be seen as a godly Christian. I want people to think highly of me for the way I follow God. But the problem is that it’s difficult to keep the act going when I’m not on stage. Behind the curtains with my family and even more in private moments or times of stress, I step out of character, and I find myself leading two lives. A “hypocrite” (the Greek word for “actor” that Jesus used to label false spiritual leaders) like the Pharisees.

I’ve tried outside-in for years, and it doesn’t work. Who I am has to change first, and this means changing my heart. It’s got to happen from the inside-out.

I find this clean-up project to be exhausting, but the great news is that I don’t have to do it alone. Jesus is ready to roll-up His sleeves if I invite Him to join me. And honestly, I can’t do it without Him. Jesus is the Project Manager. He plans the work and works the plan. I’m just the assistant, and I have two main roles: invite Him onto the worksite each day and follow His directions.

Inside-out work is exceedingly slow and exceedingly difficult. It never goes as fast as I want it to, and it always requires lots of challenging situations that Jesus uses as a tool to shape my character and a test to reveal the quality of my heart. It’s a project that won’t be done until I join the Project Manager in heaven, but I’m encouraged by this Scripture:

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Maybe my son is the one who has got it right. Pay less attention to how you look on the outside and more attention to being the right person on the inside. Wear your shirt inside-out every once in awhile, and you will find that life is a lot more fun when you don’t pretend to be someone you are not.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Attitude, Authenticity, Change, character, Christ, christianity, comfort zone, comparison, deception, discipleship, discipline, growth, heart, Jesus, modeling, obedience, performance, Religion, righteousness, rules, sanctification, spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Growth

Restoration


A man walked into a pawnshop and went straight to a worn down piece of furniture hidden in the back of the store.  He moved several other items that had been stacked against it and stepped back to take a look.

The piece of furniture was once a beautiful writing desk made with fine craftsmanship, but the former beauty had been worn away through years of use as it served first one family and then another.  These years were followed by even more years of disuse after it had been left out on the curb and salvaged by the pawnshop owner.

It was no longer beautiful.  Its drawers were broken, its roll-top in splinters, its feet uneven and wobbly, its stain faded and surface scratched and dented.  Looking at it, it was hard to imagine what the piece had looked originally.  You certainly wouldn’t want it in your home.  It was a real eyesore.

Even so, the man pulled out the desk and told the shop owner that he wanted to buy it.  The shop owner named a price – a surprisingly high price considering the condition of the desk – but the man was willing to pay it, and the transaction was made.

The man loaded the desk in his truck and took it home, where he placed it in his garage.  He turned on the overhead light and gave the desk a thorough inspection.  He took note of the broken drawers, the splintered roll-top, the wobbly feet and the scarred surface.  Nothing escaped his trained eye.

Having completed his assessment, he mentally planned what repairs and improvements would need to be done.  Then, he turned off the light and headed to bed.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin the work.

The next day, the man arrived late in the afternoon with new lumber and a collection of well-worn tools.  He was a carpenter, and these were the tools of his trade.  He had begun and finished many projects before this one, and he would begin and finish many more.  The work thrilled him.  It was a labor of love, and he thoroughly enjoyed taking something discarded and bringing out its true value.

With a smile of anticipation and a clear vision of the finished product, the man turned the desk on its side and sawed a heart-shaped piece from the bottom panel.  He then replaced it with a custom-made heart piece – golden in color with intricate etchings and made from a fine wood.  It was on the bottom panel, where it was unlikely that anyone would see it but him, but it was his trademark and showed the love and care he put into refurbishing the piece.  Those familiar with his work knew where to look for his signature.

He turned the desk back up and began with structural repairs.  He replaced one of the feet, repaired the broken drawers and built a new roll-top.   Before long, evening arrived.  The man put away his tools and retired for the night.

The next day, he returned to his work.  Using a sanding block, he began working on the inner parts of the desk that no one typically saw.  This might have seemed like a waste to most, but again, this was his trademark.  He always began from the inside and worked his way out.

After a week, an observer might not have seen much difference, but the man knew how smooth the inner boards had become, how silently the drawers slid in and out, how strong the joints and the frame had become.  It was a work of quality he was engaged in – not a work of speed.  He was not concerned about turning a quick profit; he wanted the finished product to be a blessing to some family who needed it.  He wanted it to bring them joy for years and years to come.  He thought about the children and the grandchildren who would live life around this desk, and he wanted the changes he made to bless generations.

And so, he worked, slowly but deliberately – never leaving off a task until it was done to his exacting standards.  Then, he moved on to the next area that needed repair, and then the next…

When he was done with the inner parts, he began work on the outer, and the piece began to really transform.  Each board was smoothed to take away the abuses of the past.  But he didn’t remove every dent or every scar.  Some, he knew, added value to the piece and gave it character.  Still, even these blemishes received his painstaking attention.  In fact, he spent more time on them than he did on the smoother parts, and when he was done, they became the most interesting parts of the whole piece.  What was ugly became beautiful and interesting, and those who saw them would want to know more.

When everything was prepared and the dust and grit and stains of past years had been removed, the man applied a covering.  It was a deep, reddish stain that soaked into the wood and provided a protective finish.  It was such a unique color that those who knew recognized it as the work of the man whenever they saw it.

The man then sealed the piece with a clear, protective coat, installed new hardware to the drawers and roll-top and finally stood back to admire his work.  The piece was impressive and made you want to come closer to look.  Its wood was so smooth that the man could literally see his reflection in it.  He smiled and said a quick, “well done!” to himself.  It was good.

In fact, it looked even better now than the day he originally created it.  You see, the pawnshop owner thought he was taking advantage of the man when he sold the desk at such a high price, but the man always knew the quality of the workmanship, because he had made it himself many years before.  Years of abuse and neglect had all but ruined the desk, but the man trusted in his own unique ability to restore the piece – even to make it better than before.  So he paid the high price, and he had no regrets.

Looking at the restored work, he knew exactly who he was going to give it to – a gift for a family that he dearly loved.

2 Comments

Filed under Christ, christianity, Covering, grace, Jesus, mercy, Protection, sacrifice, Salvation, sanctification, Savior, self-image, self-worth, unconditional love

Michael, who is like God


During my first year as a Christian, I found my name in a book that gave the meaning of common names.  “Michael” means “who is like God.”  For several years, I thought it meant, “Michael, (comma) who is like God.”  In other words, “Michael, the person who is like God more than anyone else because he was obviously named for his uncanny resemblance to the Almighty.”

Then one day, in a blinding flash of the obvious, I realized I had my punctuation all wrong.  I should have understood my name to mean “WHO is like God? (question mark)”  (The answer being, of course, no one.)

I often laugh at myself for my mistake, but it’s actually a good representation of the changes God has been working in my heart.  During my first years as a Christian, it was still all about me.  I wanted recognition and praise for the changes toward godliness that I was making in my life.  By selectively comparing myself to those around me (at least those against whom I compared well), I thought I was setting new records for spiritual growth.

More recently, however, I’ve become more and more conscious of how little I can actually accomplish in my struggle for sanctification when I try to do it in my own power.  And while I have made significant changes over the years (with His help), I know better today that no one even approaches God in the magnitude of His greatness, His goodness, His mercy, His justice, His patience… or any other category.

So, I’m content for my name to have nothing to do with me at all – to be more a testimony to the incomparable God.  But maybe it can also mean, “Michael, who is a little more like God every day by His grace.”

“He must become greater; I must become less.”  (John 3:30)

1 Comment

Filed under christianity, funny, humor, Identity, righteousness, sanctification, self-image, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

Earn vs. Return – Part 2


In a previous post, I shared that we shouldn’t do good works to earn God’s love (we already have it!); we should do good works to return His love (out of gratitude).

This is key, because so many of us are trying to earn something that we already have.  God takes pleasure in us because of WHO we are even when what we DO is disobedient, sinful and evil.  When we try to earn His love, our heart is in the wrong place.  We are starting with the wrong motive.
Take a look at this model. When our heart starts from the wrong motive (i.e., trying to EARN God’s love), there is never a good outcome. If we succeed in our good works, we tend to get prideful and self-righteous. If we fail to accomplish our good works, we are filled with guilt and self-condemnation. (This is the “bad guilt” that keeps condemning us even after we have repented of our sins, and it is often the motivation for our works when we are doing them for the wrong reasons.)

However, if we start from the right motive in our hearts (i.e., trying to RETURN God’s love), both our successes and our failures are pleasing in God’s sight. If we succeed, we are grateful to God for allowing us to do the good works. We rightly understand that we could not have accomplished them without God’s provision and grace, and we commit to serving the Lord in even greater ways.

If we fail in our best intentions, though, it leads us to humility and repentance. These are pleasing to God, and He uses them as a tool to shape us more in His likeness. No Christian should expect to succeed in his good intentions all the time. Failure is an important part of the shaping process. There is an aspect of guilt here, but it is “good guilt” – the kind that leads us to recognize our sin and repent of it. “Good guilt” never continues after repentance.

When our good works are motivated by love, the outcome will always be that we draw closer to God. When they are motivated by guilt and a desire to earn His favor, they will always draw us away from Him – even when we think we must be getting closer. (Consider how far from God the Pharisees were despite their meticulous tithing and obedience to the letter of the Law.)

There is nothing left to earn. Christ paid that debt fully on the cross. We have His holiness and His righteousness. It’s 100% done! All we can do with our own efforts is show our appreciation.

Leave a comment

Filed under agape love, christianity, God's Will, grace, guilt, heart, Identity, love, Religion, righteousness, sin, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, unconditional love

Comp-HEART-ments


Teaching kids about their spiritual “heart” is tricky business. Kids are usually quite literal until their teenage years, so it’s easy for them to misunderstand a statement like “ask Jesus into your heart.” I’ve struggled with this for a long time in children’s ministry, but I think I’ve found a way of talking about the heart that they understand.

Your spiritual heart is different from your physical heart. Your physical heart pumps blood throughout your body and keeps you alive. It’s very important. But believe it or not, it’s not quite as important as your spiritual heart.

You can’t actually find your spiritual heart in your body. It’s part of your mind, but no one is really sure what part. Most likely, it’s a combination of parts that work together. In your spiritual heart, you store the things that are most important to you. These can be people, places and things, and each one gets its own special room.

Everyone has a door on the outside of their heart. Sometimes people decide what important things they let into their hearts through this door, but sometimes things force their way in. Anything that is very emotional for us has a way to get past the door to our heart and take over a room on the inside.

More than anything, Jesus wants to come into our hearts, but He will never force his way in. He stands outside and knocks on our door, and even though He is powerful enough to come in without our permission, He always waits to be invited. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in… (Revelation 3:20)

If we open the door to Him, He comes into the first rooms in our heart, which are the places God reserved for Eternity when He created us.

Every human being was created with these rooms in his or her heart, because God didn’t want us to be satisfied living without Him. Unfortunately, many people don’t ever answer the door when Jesus knocks. Instead, they try to fill these rooms with other things (like money, relationships and things) so that they won’t feel so empty.

But if we do allow Jesus to come into these rooms, the first thing He does is turn on the lights. This gives us hope and excitement for the things Jesus is ready and willing to do in our lives. Often, this leads us to invite Jesus into other rooms, like the one that determines who (or what) we worship.

Once Jesus enters that room, He starts to show us what we’ve been worshipping instead of Him. He starts to “rearrange the furniture” in our rooms. In other words, He evaluates what’s in there and either asks us to get rid of it (if it’s junk) or to put it in the right place (if it’s worth keeping but getting more attention than it deserves).

When those rooms are in pretty good shape, Jesus will knock on doors to other rooms. He never barges in. We have to open the door for Him.

Sometimes opening the doors is very scary for us. We worry about what Jesus will think of us when He sees what we’ve put in the rooms, and we worry that He will make us get rid of some of the things we really, really like. As a result of our fears, we don’t always let Jesus into all our rooms.

We may only let Him into a few rooms at a time, and He might have to do a lot of knocking to get into them. While He stands on the other side of the door, we sometimes have a conversation with Him that goes something like this:

JESUS: “I would like to meet your friends. Will you let me into that room?”

US: “Oh, uh, my friends? Well, some of them aren’t the kind of people you would like very much.”

JESUS: “Really? Why would you think that?”

US: “Well, they use bad language and do things they shouldn’t do sometimes.”

JESUS: “So did you before you let Me into your heart.”

US: “Hmmm… well, that makes sense. Okay, I’ll try to find a good time to introduce You.”

JESUS: “Thanks for introducing me to them. I’ve been knocking on the doors to their hearts for years, but I think they are just now starting to hear Me.”

US: “Yeah, that wasn’t so tough. I’m going to start praying for them every day.”

JESUS: “Say, what about the friends in that other room?”

US: “Oh, I can’t introduce You to them. They hate it when anyone talks about You. They make fun of Christians, and they definitely will make fun of me if they find out I’m one.”

JESUS: “Still, I would really like to meet them, and I wish you weren’t ashamed of Me around them. If they don’t like you because of Me, maybe you should find some other friends. Why don’t you introduce Me, and we’ll see how it turns out?”

US: “Okay, but that scares me to death. Please give me courage.”

US: “That wasn’t easy, but I can see now how those friends were hurting my spiritual growth. I’m glad I let You in that room.”

JESUS: “Keep praying for them. I’ve got plans for their lives, too. You’ve taken a really big step by opening that room to Me. Now let’s talk about all these other places you could open up.”

And the conversation continues, Jesus knocking, us choosing whether or not to respond to His knock. Sometimes we have a major spiritual breakthrough and start throwing many doors open to Jesus. We let Him into our family relationships, our crushes and dating relationships, how we spend our free time, how we spend our money, our habits, the things we desire for ourselves and others…

Jesus sanctifies each room (that’s a big word that means setting something aside for God). He claims each room for His purposes and begins to show us His will for those things that are so important to us. Sometimes He completely empties a room and replaces what was in it with something better, like when He introduces us to new people and helps us care for them or like when He shows us the ministry where He wants us to use our time, talents and treasure.

Room-by-room, Jesus brings light to our heart. He will go anywhere we invite Him, but He knows that some rooms will take more time for us to open. The rooms that hold our Fears, Disappointments, Hates and Hurts are particularly difficult. We didn’t invite these things; they forced their way in and claimed rooms in the deepest, darkest corners of our heart. Over the years, they have become strongholds for Satan. He uses them as his bases of operation as he leads us into sin and prevents us from becoming all that God wants us to be.

It takes incredible courage to open the doors of these rooms to Jesus. Each one is filled with so much fear and pain that the doors can only open a fraction at first. If our courage fails us, we slam them shut again, but if we release these rooms to Jesus, He enters boldly, throws the light switch and evicts the Enemy!

In the light, Jesus shows us the lies that Satan has been telling us about these rooms while we were too afraid to open them and inspect them carefully. Under His loving care, we begin to see how we can turn these Fears, Disappointments, Hates and Hurts into New Hope, New Acceptance, New Love and New Strength.

Jesus is patient, but He isn’t satisfied with only part of our heart.  He’ll keep knocking until we open every door to every room.  He’s persistent with a purpose.  Jesus wants us to know that those things we don’t release to Him end up owning us.  They lead to unhappiness and failure, and they give Satan a hold on our hearts.  It’s only the heart completely open to God that can fully shine His light.

3 Comments

Filed under christianity, eternity, heart, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Uncategorized