You can teach an old dog new tricks.
You are never too old to grow and change.
I’m so glad those sayings are indeed true! The question
before us today is are we growing and
changing more and more into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ? If
you examine the Scriptures, you see quickly that there were those who were
committed to staying exactly the way they were and those who were seeking to be
conformed more and more to what God had called them to be in Christ. Some examples
of the first group would be the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. . . the
Sadducees and the Pharisees. They knew it all, or at least they thought they
did, and were rock solidly cemented and committed to not changing.
Unfortunately, though, they were committed zealously to a wrong understanding
of the Scriptures.
But God has called us, as His sons and daughters to become
more and more like His Son Jesus. We are to be conformed to His image. To walk
in His ways. . . His heart. . . His thoughts and desires as opposed to ours.
In effect, Jesus has called us to a lifestyle of surrender. Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24, “Whoever
wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and
follow me. For whoever
wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will
save it”. For the Christian, this is
called the process of progressive sanctification and it is hard work. The words process and progressive imply that
this new life is ongoing. There should
be growth, development and change. It is a process and it is progressive. Just
as a seed grows from underneath the ground and begins to break through the soil
a change takes place. There is a seed, then a sprig, then a sprout, and on and
on until we have a fully developed plant producing a flower or a fruit.
all heard about the process a butterfly goes through. It must work at and labor
to get out of the cocoon. The work of
struggling to get out of the cocoon is actually what finishes the growth process
for a butterfly. I recently heard a
story of a man who saw a butterfly struggling to get out of a cocoon and “helped”
it get free. The problem was, the
butterfly couldn’t fly because his process was intercepted by the “help” being
offered. His wings were not fully
developed and eventually died. Sometimes
the pain and agony of walking with Christ is what helps us grow and develop our
spiritual muscles. Our culture today,
and I include in that our church culture at large, doesn’t think that way, but
too often thinks of the fast food model.
I want it now. Instant
spirituality. Instant growth. That’s not
the way of Jesus or the Bible.
In contrast, Paul
uses language like. . . “pressing on” . . . “straining
forward” (Philippians 3:12-14) or “run” . . . “strict training” . . . “beat my body and make it my slave” . . . (I Corinthians 9:24-27).
And God is able to make all grace
abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you
may abound in every good work.
God gives grace in abundance for
the living of the Christian life. Even
though we are to put forth effort in the process of sanctification, it is never
to be done so in an attitude of independence, as if we can accomplish anything
on our own. It is only as we act and
move in dependence on the Holy Spirit, that we can ever grow personally or be
effective in ministering to others.
So, in complete dependence on the
Holy Spirit, strive to grow and walk with the Lord in faithfulness and
obedience. His grace is sufficient for such a task! If you are wondering, “Ok,
JE, that all sounds great, but just exactly how do I grow and change?”. If that’s you,
give me a call! I’d love to get with you and talk about that more in depth.
Jon Eric Woodward
Pastor for Congregational Care
& Worship Arts
appalling and unsettling story of Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 was the
subject matter of Aaron’s recent messages on sexual sin and past trauma. The passage
paints a grim picture: In Amnon’s broken desire for his half-sister, he “made himself ill.” After he had violated
her, Scripture describes Amnon’s twisted emotional response: “… for the hatred with which he hated
her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.” In the
tragic aftermath of Amnon’s sin, he sends Tamar away in turmoil and shame.
was recently praying about a challenging relationship when I sensed the still,
small voice of the Holy Spirit speak to my heart: “Susan, you’re loving like Amnon.” I was jolted into
attention. I continued to pray and recognized that this was a correct assessment
of my heart. Amnon’s so-called love came with an agenda, was self-serving, and
evaporated when his planning didn’t produce the desired result. I couldn’t
claim that my love was much better in the relational challenge I was currently
Amnon-love is hereditary. The sin of Adam and Eve found its origin in a
self-serving agenda. They saw that the forbidden fruit was “good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one
wise,” and they wanted it more than they wanted to obey God. So they
ate it. In their futile attempt to hide from God and each other, “… they sewed fig leaves together
and made themselves loincloths.”
act of self-protection was something new. Prior to their sin, they had no
thought of self-preservation or self-justification. Sin brought with it a
devastating and sinful self-orientation that has infected every person who has
ever been born. Not one of us is exempt. We are prone to love like Amnon.
inescapable truth is that we want our own way. We’re those wayward sheep in
Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have
gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way.” And when wayward self-interested sheep bump
into each other, the bleating begins.
of the most beautiful passages in Scripture is found in Philippians 2. It
doesn’t use the word “love”, but it is a perfect description of the
love that God makes possible through the Holy Spirit who indwells us:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind
let each of you regard
one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for
your own personal
interests, but also for the interests of others (verses 3-4).
David Tripp describes what happens in our hearts when we love with an agenda.
He describes Amnon-love: “If sin
turns me in on myself so that all I live for is me, then sin in its essence is
antisocial. Living for myself and the satisfaction of my selfish desires
dehumanizes the people in my life. No longer are they people to me. No longer
are they objects of my affection and service. No, my loved ones and friends are
reduced either to vehicles to help
me get what I want or to obstacles in the way of what I want. When they deliver what I want, I speak kindly to them,
not actually because I love them, but because I love myself and the fact that
they have satisfied my desires. When they get in the way of what I want, I
speak unkindly to them because I love myself, and they have made the mistake of
getting in the way of what I crave.”
In Relationships: A Mess Worth Making,
authors Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp get specific about what it looks like when
our loving looks like Amnon’s:
- Refusing to let go of a moment of hurt
- Getting angry when our children complicate/inconvenience our lives
- Becoming defensive when challenged
- Avoiding conflict out of fear
- Being resigned to a broken relationship that could be healed
- Gossiping about people
- Pursuing comfortable relationships and avoiding difficult ones
- Envying other people’s friendships
- Controlling relationships out of a desire for security
- Blowing up at people when our agendas are trampled
- Living in bitter isolation in the face of disappointment
of God’s purposes for the church is to teach us to love. We’re surrounded by
bleating sheep – and they get in our space and they eat our grass. God calls us
to a sacrificial love that is defined by the cross of Christ. All of our love
for others must find its source in that Love that provided for us a new power
and a new desire to say “no” to the self-protection and
self-orientation that is our natural Adam-and-Eve inherited inclination.
we think of Amnon and his sin against Tamar, we can readily comfort ourselves
and dismiss any personal conviction, because we have never been violently or aggressively
abusive. But when we dig a little deeper, we realize our love is often Amnon-love
in seed form, bearing no resemblance to the patience, kindness, and goodness
that the Spirit desires to produce in the hearts of those who belong to Jesus.
love of Christ that God makes available to us and through us is costly: It
requires two deaths. The first of those deaths occurred almost 2000 years ago.
Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, so that we might be
forgiven and receive new lives and new hearts. Jesus’s death paved the way for
a second necessary death: our death to self. It’s a daily choice made possible by the power of God’s Spirit who lives in us,
and by God’s grace which He offers freely to all of His children: my life lived
for the benefit of others, or my life lived to benefit me.
like Amnon doesn’t take work. It comes naturally. But something supernatural happens in the hearts of those
who belong to Jesus when we surrender our desires to Him and find our
satisfaction in Him. Our capacity for true love increases. Tara Barthel says, “As we trust in the Lord and persevere
in love, He carves out a vast space that holds His grace in our hearts, for
only He can enable us to obey the command, ‘A new command I give you: Love one
another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men
will know you are My disciples, if you love one another'” (John 13:34-35).
can think of no better way to celebrate Easter this year than by loving like
Jesus – by the power of His blood-bought grace and for the magnifying of His
is risen! He is risen indeed!
While every action and every
thought is a platform for worshiping God, there is just something about
worshiping God through music and singing that really helps us to redirect our
minds and hearts away from whatever they might be latched onto, and place it
back onto God. Worshiping God through music is a way of tuning our hearts back
to the Spirit of God.
An anonymous author once wrote, “Worship will get you through the roughest times of your life, because it
shifts your focus from the problem to the problem solver.”
With that, there are many
different ways for us redirect our minds attention and the affection of our
heart back onto the Lord Jesus as we worship Him in song.
In this blog, I want to share a
few with you.
When we celebrate someone, we are
making much of them and we are honoring them for who they are and often times
for something that they have done or completed.
When we celebrate Jesus, we are
making much of Him and recognizing that He is our Creator, our Lord, and our
Colossians 1 tells us that,
“he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into [His
kingdom], [in Him] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Because of what Jesus did in
possessing equality with God yet coming to earth in the likeness of man and
ultimately becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2), we have been rescued, redeemed and forgiven. That
means that regardless of how hard your week, month, or year has been, your life
is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3) and you have an inheritance in Christ
that never spoils or fades (1 Pet. 1).
Because of that, in Christ you have hope, purpose and provision –
That means that even on your
worst day, you always have reason to celebrate! Think on this reality the next
time you worship the Lord through music.
You may have heard it said before
that past provision is evidence of future faithfulness.
I think its easy when we are in
the middle of difficulty to place all of our attention and all of our thoughts
onto the present circumstance and easily start feeling afraid and overwhelmed. And
I totally get that.
But the reality is that when we
do that, when we try on our own to pull ourselves out of a difficult situation,
we fail to remember God’s faithfulness of the past and we fail to pause and let
Him take control and be faithful again.
Malachi 3:6 tells us “I am
the Lord, I change not!”
That means that God doesn’t
change – He stays the same when everything around you changes and when
relationships and circumstances change, God’s love and God’s care for us Does.
Let me ask you this, has God
provided for you in the past?
If that answer is yes, if God has
proven to be faithful and has proven that He is not going to leave you and
forsake you (Deut. 31), then we can rest in the fact that He is not going to do
that in the future either. That doesn’t mean that life is always going to be
easy or that things are going to work out how we think they should, but it DOES
mean that God is going to provide for us, He is going to care for us and give
us what we need.
As you lift up the name of Jesus
during musical worship, I want to encourage you to remember and think back on
the faithfulness of God in the past. How has He proven His love for you? How
has he redeemed you and provided for you? How has He delivered you and shown
His love to you?
Keith Getty writes, “our
churches themselves bear witness to the gospel…the sight and sound of a
congregation singing praise to God together is a radical witness in a culture
that rejects God and embraces individualism. Our songs are the public manifesto
of what we believe.”
As followers of Christ, we are
called and commanded to make disciples of all nations. That means we do that
through our words and through our actions as we live as a light in a dark
world, but that also means we make disciples and we display the gospel through
our worship as well.
Tim Keller says, “there is
nothing more evangelistic, nothing that will win the world more than glorious
Acts chapter 2, after the Holy
Spirit came down at Pentecost, verse 42-47 describes the kingdom life lived out
by the early church. It says (amongst other things) that they were attending
temple daily, receiving their food with glad and generous hearts, praising
God and having favor with all the people. “And the Lord added to their
number day by day those who were being saved.”
When God’s people come together
and worship Him with glad and generous hearts through lifting up His name in
song, people watch. People become interested. Lives changed. It just happens.
So as we worship together through
music and singing let us announce to each other and to those around us watching
in our community that Jesus is Lord and that there is hope in the gospel!
Celebrate. Remember. Announce.
Do you remember the Charlie Brown
character Pig-Pen from the famous Peanuts cartoon strip? He was Charlie Brown’s friend, who always seemed to have a cloud
of dust following him where ever he went.
He could never get clean. There
was one time he was able to get clean, but as soon as he went outside, he
instantly became dirty, declaring himself “A dust magnet.”
Most days as a father to 4
children, I think that we might have given birth to 4 Pig-Pens. Often it is not dust that seems to be
radiating and originating from my children, although that will change as Summer
gets closer. No, my children seem to be swirled in a dust cloud of their own
things. Crayons and Legos, empty juice
boxes and used sucker sticks, goldfish crackers and socks.
You might suspect that my wife and
I have never taught our children what and where trash bins are in our house. Or
you might think that we prefer dirty clothes to sit for days in the first spot
they land, not in the dirty hamper. Or
you might suspect that we prefer our children to take off their shoes and to
make getting anywhere on time more fun by playing that stress-free game of
“Where did my other shoe end up?” You would be wrong. We really try to teach our kids about trash
bins, clothes hampers, and how to put their shoes away. Alas, somedays it feels like our kids our Pig-Pen. They are just “dust, Lego, crayon, empty
juice box, goldfish crackers in the couch cushion” magnets.
A few weeks I came home to some creation
sitting on our side table. It was a
penny and peppermint glued inside a small coin box that I got my children on my
last trip to Costa Rica. The box was
held up by a Lego man. When I asked my
kids what in the world this thing was, my youngest told me, as if I was crazy
for not recognizing it at first sight, that it was clearly, a “Leprechaun
Trap”. Of course, a Leprechaun trap! How could I not have known?
Or this last week, as the weather
was getting warmer, I came home to my kids outside with craft supplies making
something. All I could think about at
the time was how much of that stuff will I have to pick up. Who is going to leave the glue out? How
many-colored pencils will be left out and how many will be put back in the box?
Why do they have tape, and will they not ever make a mess?
It was later that night however
that I went into our master bathroom and there on the mirror was taped a piece
of paper from one of my kids. It read:
Mom and Dad, I love you guys.
(I+ drawn heart+ drawn stick figures to represent my wife and I)
Here (Heres) some flowers for good luck.
And taped to the paper where two flowers (probably weeds)
That paper is still up in our
bathroom today. And it reminded me of an
interesting verse in Proverbs.
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”Proverbs 14:4
This may seem like an interesting
verse to think about, but I think it has a lot to do with family life and
ministry to the family.
Oxen are dirty, they are expensive,
and they are time consuming. But if you
want a harvest you must have them. There
was no getting around this for the ancient Israelites. You can have a clean feeding trough (manger)
or you can have abundant crops. But you
really can’t have both.
We live in a world that continually
tries to tell families that they can have it all. That you can have the perfect house, the perfect
kids, the perfect vacation, the perfect on and on and on. And we are constantly bombarded by these
images through entertainment, commercials, and social media. It even has a name online, it’s called the
“curated life”. Curated means selected, organized,
and presented using professional or expert knowledge. People have even started posting about their
curated messy-life, which is just a form of emotional showmanship that
masquerades itself as vulnerability. God’s wisdom tells us this. Life is messy. You can’t avoid it. But there is a harvest that can come with the
The glorious thing is that God cares
so much for us. He cares about the small
things in life and he cares about the big things. He knew ancient farmers would worry about
barns and troughs that never could get cleaned.
He cares about moms and dads, at work and at home, caring for their
families in 1,000 different ways.
Life is messy and Life is beautiful,
and life is somehow beautiful because it is messy. And that sentence wouldn’t make any sense if
it weren’t for the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Who makes something
beautiful out our of mess.
Because every so often, out of the mess, you might get something like this: