Dead Flies Aren’t Especially Tasty

So there I was, eating lunch in the dining facility on base. I had decided that I was going to eat healthy over the course of Officer Development School, so I regularly ate salads, fruit, yogurt, etc. You know, the kind of stuff my wife would be pleased to know I was eating even though she wasn’t around 😉 Fly on a Stretcher

After eating four or five bites of my salad I saw it.

I was a dead fly on the side of the bowl, hiding out on a spinach leaf.

That did it for me – I lost my appetite. I couldn’t eat one more bite of salad, not even from the “clean” side of the salad.

And, true story, I was instantly reminded of the passages in the Bible that talk about a little bit of yeast leavening the whole batch of dough. Dough

Paul twice talks about it:

Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough…. (1 Corinthians 5:6)

and

You were running well; who hindered you from following the truth? That enticement does not come from the one who called you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. (Galatians 5:7-9)

In both passages Paul is talking about how allowing a little bit of something to exist within the community can negatively impact the entire group. The first passage is dealing with personal sin in the group. The second passage is dealing with spiritual leaders who preach a false gospel and corrupt the group.

The principle can be extended into our personal lives as well. When we allow the wrongs things to continue to exist in our lives then our entire lives can be negatively affected. Rather than trying to tough it out and eat around the dead flies, we’re better off chucking the whole salad and starting fresh.

What is the dead fly in your salad?

What exists that can negatively impact your entire spirituality? Perhaps it’s a person. Maybe it’s a behavior. Whatever it is, do you understand that leaving it unchecked can eventually wreak havoc in your life?

Get it out. Start fresh.

Don’t eat that fly.

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Burn the Ships!

Burn the Ships

New Year’s Day is tomorrow! How many of you have made New Year’s Resolutions? The REAL question is:

How many of you have already blown New Year’s resolutions?

I have read that in America 25% of us blow or discard our resolutions by the end of the first day. Change can be so difficult that even people who want to change will most likely fall back into old patterns and not make change permanent.

One reason permanent change is so hard is because we continue to hang around people who knew us before the change – we maintain old relationships and patterns of life that don’t want to allow or recognize change in us! It’s often easier to change who you are when you make a clean break and get a fresh start. No one knows your old mistakes or the way you used to be. You get a chance to make brand new mistakes!

In the Bible Paul writes:

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. (Philippians 3:7-21)

Paul had everything going for him from a human point of view – he was THE guy and had it all. But nothing he could DO could make him right in God’s eyes. Paul had to change his perspective – to reframe the things he thought were important. He goes on to say:

My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)

Christians are given a new goal – to know Christ and to be conformed to him. And, just as Paul had to change his orientation, we need to change ours. Fixating on the past prevents us from focusing on the now or moving forward into tomorrow. Turn around – refuse to go back. It means we know where we’ve come from but focus instead on where we are headed (it’s like Lot’s wife yearning for the old life when God was trying to move them forward).

There’s an old legend about the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortés. While many history books gloss over the dark elements, the nitty-gritty was something like this. While on a mission in the New World, some of his men were loyal to the Governor of Cuba and conspired to seize a ship and escape to Cuba. Cortés moved swiftly to squash their plans. Two ringleaders were condemned to be hanged; two were lashed, and one had his foot mutilated. To make sure such a mutiny did not happen again, he decided to scuttle his ships, on the pretext that they were no longer seaworthy. There is a popular misconception that the ships were burned rather than sunk. With all of his ships scuttled, except for one small ship with which to send his representatives and booty to the King of Spain, Cortés effectively stranded the expedition in Mexico.

Dark, yes. But it’s the kind of mentality we need to have when we think about moving on in our own lives. We’ve come to a new point with God. Why would we even consider going back?! Deliberate living requires that we model the behavior of the Apostles and take steps to live out a godly life. We can shake free from last year’s crud.

One of my favorite songs is the worship anthem “I Am Free.” It proclaims the idea that, in Christ, we are free from everything that use to have a hold on us.

2018 is here. Admit that it’s time for a change. Go ahead and make resolutions that take you from where you are to where you should be going. Be intentional about making steps towards the coming future. No matter what, refuse to let anything pull you back. Walk in the freedom and newness that comes from a life following Jesus. Burn those ships.

Happy New Year!

What’s Holding You Back?

What's Holding You Back?
What’s Holding You Back?

Creating significant change is tough. In America 25% of us blow or discard our New Year’s resolutions in the first day. Change can be so difficult that even people who want to change will most likely fall back into old patterns and not make change permanent. One reason permanent change is so hard is because we continue to hang around people who knew us before the change – we maintain old relationships and patterns of life that don’t want to allow or recognize change in us!  The Apostle Paul wasn’t always a stand-up guy. Before he became a Christian he used to arrest and terrorize Christians. Then God got a hold of him and turned his life around. But even after God changed him, the Bible tells us in Acts 9:26:

“he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.”

It’s often easier to change who you are when you make a clean break and get a fresh start. No one knows your old mistakes or the way you used to be. You get a chance to make brand new mistakes…

I remember my first week on the job as an associate pastor some years back. On Monday morning, the senior pastor was taking me around to introduce me to people in the office. In one room the maintenance guy was laying down some tiling. The pastor introduced us and I stepped forward to give the guy a warm handshake. I didn’t realize it but I stepped right into some tiling mud that he was using to tile the room. The pastor looks down and says, “Watch it – you’re steppin’ in some mud.” And I say, “Oops” and step back.

Then the pastor took me over to introduce me to an office admin lady. After about 30 seconds of talking, he looked down at the carpet and said, “What?!? What did you do?” There were gray footprints from the door way right over to where I was standing! I quickly stepped out of the room to wipe off my feet and, being the good Christian man he was, the pastor whipped out his cell phone and began taking pictures! What a great start, huh?

Saul did not get to start a new job and make fresh impressions. He had to change even when people did not believe he could. Similarly, when we decide to follow Jesus, we need to make permanent changes as we leave behind the old “us” and walk a new path.  Romans 12:1-2 says:

I appeal to you 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. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul’s words are just as appropriate today as they were thousands of years ago. We need fresh starts. There are three things I want you to understand from what Paul is saying here, and then four things to do about it.

I. Our change is motivated by God’s mercy

1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God…

God cares about you – the Bible says, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” The Bible says that we know Jesus loves us because when we were still sinners he died for us. We didn’t have to get right before he gave his life for us. This is what Paul is trying to say here in Romans. “By the mercies of God….” Because of God’s compassion, he acts on your behalf. All of God’s interaction with humanity is summed up with one pattern: action; reaction. God acts and we respond. The mercy of God compels a response of continual sacrifice – a life of worship. The result of encountering God is that we are forever changed, completely transformed.

There’s a story I once heard about a mother who approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” He spared the woman’s son.

We do not live out our Christian lives because of a massive guilt trip or fear but as a loving response to what God has already done for us. Because he has mercy and compassion and acts on our behalf, our response should be to offer Him our very best-our everything. We accomplish this by turning from the world and living out a different kind of life.

II. Surrender your entire being to God

…to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice

The sacrifice is pleasing to God. What Paul is talking about is our attitudes and the contrast in who we please before we meet Jesus and after we meet Jesus. In our old lives, we lived to bring pleasure to ourselves. Now we should live to bring pleasure to God. It’s easy to picture when you think about children.

A child has only one focus in life – find pleasure. My wife and I hung a humorous little plaque in our daughter’s room that says: Toddler’s Rules: If I want it – it’s mine. If I see it – it’s mine. If it’s mine – it’s mine. Nevertheless, as children mature into adults they realize that the world is not all about them (at least they’re supposed to – I think we all know adults who have yet to mature to this point!). But that’s exactly what I’m talking about! When we make the decision to follow Jesus, our focus needs to be not on us but on Him. In this regard, I think we all have room for improvement. Have you surrendered 100% to Him?

In Romans, Paul sees the Christian life as a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, sacrifice meant killing an animal. Paul does not do away with sacrifice. He only changes what it looks like. Instead of the dead body of an animal, the sacrifice is now the living body of the believer in surrender to Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for all! Worship now moves out of the temple and into everyday life. Worship is not just what we do – it is now who we are.

III. Life now needs to be different than it used to be

2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind

It is no longer acceptable to be the way we were.. Paul writes that a transformation is needed. The Bible is serious about our need to change! In Ephesians Paul writes:

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Later he says, “…put off your old self…to be made new in the attitudes of your mind.”

The Apostle Peter writes:

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do…”

He calls us to be changed. Do you admit that you need a change in your life? In your marriage? In your habits? In your attitudes? In your relationships? In your thinking?

It’s time to change. But how do you make change last? It’s like working out. I want to change. I want to get fit.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I know how to use gym equipment. I know things that can help me get in shape. So what’s the problem? I will never get in shape if I never do the exercise. How do we make change permanent?

1. Pray that God will help you change ~If you’re not praying about it, you must not want it that badly! God can do what we could never do. If you really desire to change, start talking to Jesus about it.

2. Become vulnerable and accountable to someone else to help you change ~ It is hard to change without help. When God turned Saul’s life around, God sent good godly men into Saul’s life to help him as he matured as a Christian. We need good godly people in our lives who can be real and honest with us an help us become the people we are supposed to be.

3. Refuse to let people, circumstances, or sin hold you back ~ The disciples did not accept that Saul had truly changed and become a disciple. But Saul continued to pursue God and live a changed life. Sometimes old friends will want to drag us back into old habits and patterns of behavior. Don’t let them. If you have to, make new friends.

4. Take it one day at a time ~ Saul did not become the Apostle Paul overnight. He spent a lot of time growing and maturing with other Christians before he became the man who wrote ½ of the New Testament. Likewise, we can get overwhelmed when we try to live for the big picture change. Focus on one day at a time, and before you know it you will actually be that person that God desires you to be!

God calls us all to be changed. Is it time for change in your life? How is God calling you to change? What are you gonna do about it?

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~ Sustaining Change in Your Life