Spiritual Transformation

Words on pages are not enough to transform you.

Inspirational and motivational words are energizing, but they are not enough to sustain your fleeting emotions and not powerful enough to completely change you at the core of your being. Sure they may lift you up and get you excited for a bit, but those feelings will soon fade and you will remain untransformed in your life.

We, as Christians, too many times have this belief that our lives will necessarily begin changing when “we say the right words” or “take on a new label” or “hang with a different group” or “read the Bible more.”

Transformation is not that simple. It is not a flipping of the light switch or “getting dunked” and then becoming magically new.

In fact, there are those who have verbally professed to give Christ their lives…but yet remain untransformed, and likely even painfully empty, in their lives- day by day, week by week, or year by year.

Spiritual transformation… being made new… is a process. It is a daily walk of letting go and receiving, of dying and coming to life, of the edges being knocked off and refined into something new… something glorious. It is not for those seeking quick fixes, instant gratification, or a new life without sacrifice.

It is only in a life centered on Jesus Christ and the moment by moment sacrifice of your will and your way to the Spirit of God that you begin to change inwardly. When this happens, the Kingdom begins to break out through your life in power. It is only through your continual and perpetual worship that the Kingdom begins to reign inwardly then outwardly in your life.

The Kingdom seed is planted. It takes root. It grows wildly. It bears fruit.

We must understand from the beginning that it is not about what you can do in your own power, but rather what the power of God can do to transform you. It is not about what you can do outwardly to be a better Christian; rather it is coming face to face with Jesus Christ and His in-breaking Kingdom that begins to change you inwardly. It is allowing Christ to come so close that your heart, your mind, your desires, and your feelings begin to change. It is the easiest (and hardest thing) you will ever do, but it is essential to understand that you do not have the capacity to live a righteous and holy life in your own power, rather it is only when you are reborn from the inside that God’s ways become your own.

You must pray for the Spirit to come into your heart and your life, for that is the only place where transformation can begin and the only place where the Kingdom can take root and reign. It is a spiritual problem that needs a spiritual solution and it can only be cured by the Spirit of God. When the Spirit comes close and begins to work intimately in your life, you begin changing. You are able to see the world as God sees the world. You hunger for those things which God hungers. You pursue those things which God pursues. You desire those things which God desires. You cannot get enough of Jesus and His way and His Kingdom. You change so radically from the inside that the power of the Spirit cannot help but work its way out into your life in everything you do. But sacrifice and surrender to God the Holy Spirit is essential.

The way of Jesus always means sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in which you become so hidden in the fullness of Christ that it is no longer you, only Him. It is never what you can do; it is only what can be done through you when you get out of the way. It is essential for each of us to pray and plead to God for a transformation from the inside and for a deep hunger for His Kingdom to come into our lives and work through each of us.

Seven years ago I did not know much about the Bible. I did not have any passion or excitement to read it. My guess is that I was a lot like many Christians today; the thought of reading my Bible seemed more like a chore than anything life-giving. One day I began to pray that God would change my heart and that I would have a passion and a hunger for Him and His Word. In ways that I can only explain as miraculous, my heart and my life began to change. I began to have a hunger for anything and everything of God.

I wanted to pray without ceasing. I wanted to give up my own pursuits and desires. I wanted to read and understand more about God. I wanted to know what God was doing in and through my life for others. The changes in my life didn’t come from guilting myself to death. It didn’t come from arm-twisting or beating myself into submission. My inner passion, desire, and hunger came from God emptying me of me and filling me with His Spirit. That is when I began to find Life and began to understand the words of Jesus, “I came that [you] might have Life and have it abundantly.” I wholly believe that for any one of us to change, it has to begin in humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice of our own ways coupled with an insatiable hunger and desire for God to come close and change our hearts and minds. It is then that the Spirit is invited to begin the transformative work of raising you to new Life.

But how deeply inside our lives do we allow the Spirit to work? How much of ourselves do we really fully sacrifice? Are there certain places within you that are off limits? Are there certain areas that have been purposefully blocked off? Are there areas of darkness that you keep hidden because it is just too difficult or too embarrassing to go there? You have to admit, we rarely ask questions like these in our churches. It is as if we are all completely cool with a superficial scrub of the house, but we are reluctant to open up all of the windows and doors to the house and even more reluctant to open the closets inside. The truth is that the entire house needs cleaning, but we have to be willing to open all the windows and doors and every single closet for the work to begin.

For me, words like humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice had always been these abstract words that really didn’t mean anything for my life. I knew that a Christian ought to exhibit those qualities, but it was just a mental thing, not a real way of living. In essence, I was comfortable opening a couple of windows and doors for the Spirit to come into, but I kept the shades drawn and other doors securely locked deep inside. Not only was there no possibility of cleaning the restricted areas, I would not even allow the Light to break in.

One evening I gathered with a handful of my Christian brothers from my church. I told them how important it is that we come together as sinners at the foot of the cross to confess our sins to God and to each other in repentance. The truth is that it was my way of finally opening up every window, door, and closet that had remained closed and off limits. It was my way of finally exposing every bit of darkness within me to the Light of Christ.

In the presence of God and my Christian brothers, I began to verbally confess every sin I could remember in my life. All of the windows were opening and every door to the house invited in my dear Friend. Humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice became a real part of my life as I began carrying the cross of Christ. I went through every room, kicked down every closet door, and asked my Friend to do the work I was completely incapable of doing. The pockets of darkness that had been hidden deep in my life and that kept the Light of Christ from penetrating my heart had now been opened up. The cleaning of the entire house could now begin. There was no longer a place for the darkness to hide. The Light of Christ broke into my heart and began to transform me into a new man.

The man who had been the cheater, the liar, the adulterer, the perverse, the foul-mouthed, the self-centered, and the verbal abuser had been exposed, put to death, and forgiven by Christ and my brothers. It was evident that there was absolutely nothing spectacular about me, only Christ in me. I had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for Christ and His love for me. I also had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for the Spirit that began to do the work in my life that I could never do and to teach me new and higher ways. Life completely changed for me that night.

Are you willing to open not just the windows and doors, but also the closets that you have kept hidden deep within your life? Are you willing to let the Light break into those hidden places so that the Light of Christ will begin to shine through you? Are you willing to let the “old man” be exposed so that the new man might come to life? Are you willing to lead by example the way of humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice by being confessional with your other brothers and sisters in Christ so that they may see you not as someone who is perfect, but as a sinner who is forgiven and who is being made new? For the Spirit to begin the deepest cleaning, you must be willing to walk the sacrificial pathway of Christ for transformation to begin. It is only on this pathway where Christ and His Kingdom together are glorified in and through your entire life.

peace…

brandon

thanksgiving…

Thanksgiving has certainly been transformed over the years by popular culture into more of an event than a way of being. Many of us have a heightened awareness of giving thanks at least one time during the year (and possibly in the days preceding the event)…but I am not sure that we have ever given much of thought to embodying a real, authentic moment-by-moment life of thanksgiving.

In fact, I would make the case that the majority of us view thanksgiving as a momentary, sporadic expression of gratitude that happens when something goes in our favor. To that extent, our thanksgiving is quite conditional.

What we find in the biblical scriptures is something very different than what we have been cultured to believe.

We find that thanksgiving is never viewed as an event, or as something that should only occur sporadically or momentarily, or as an expression of gratitude only when something goes in our favor. Rather, we find that thanksgiving is a moment by moment expression of gratitude in everything that is done, in every moment of the day, with every breath that is taken, and never dependent upon the situation or circumstance.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2: 6-7

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3: 15

Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Real thanksgiving is our continual expression of gratitude to God regardless of our life situation or condition.

Real thanksgiving is a continual expression of gratitude for God’s grace, God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s provision, and God’s marvelous creation.

Real thanksgiving is saying right now and right now and right now, “this is the very best life can offer and I am not worthy of it.”

Real thanksgiving responds in the midst of chaos, confusion, and calamity, “thank you God for your grace, mercy, love, and beauty that outshines and makes everything else fade.”

Many times, as a Christian, I have neglected the very essence of who I have been created to be by not being thankful.

The Christian is a present participant in the promise of Jesus Christ in making all things new. New creation has been initiated in our lives. The spiritual effects of the Resurrection are being realized in power in our lives through God’s Holy Spirit. And we have been given new eyes to see clearly the beauty, majesty, and wonder of God right now!

The Spirit cries out to me: See the wonder! See the glory! See the beauty! And move forward in awe!

Listen.

Smell.

Feel.

Take it all in and delight. Let the wind blow at your back and let the sun shine down on your face.

Listen to the conversations.
Joy in the laughter of your children.
Celebrate that you can give your baby a bath.
Delight in the songs of the birds and the rustling of the leaves.
Be enveloped by everything and everyone around you.
Count your blessings.

Smell the autumn fragrance.
Let the preparation of your meal be a prayer and a blessing.
Savor every bite as if it is your very first.
Feel the textures.
Let the work of your hands be praise.
Count your blessings.

Sit in the woods and notice every detail of creation.
Close your eyes and absorb every note and harmony.
Glory in every drop of your morning coffee.
Embrace the touch of another.
Join in the chorus of all creation in praise.
Count your blessings.

Can any one of us even utter a grumble…in the midst of creation’s immeasurable wonder?

It is good.
It is good.
It is good.

From the depths of my soul and with every breath…thank you God. I am an unworthy man.

Peace…

Brandon

vulnerability…

I want to speak from a very vulnerable place. It is a place of my failure. It is a place of my shame. It is the place of my fear. I am not sure if many who are looked at as spiritual leaders would open themselves up enough to share the times when they have really fallen short, especially when the circumstances may cause others to doubt their spiritual capacity. But I believe (and hope) that despite my misgivings that we as Christians might learn from my shortcomings.

I have believed for a long time, and have previously spoken and written, that since many people in our cities, towns, and communities have written off and quit coming into our church buildings…we must be the people to go to them. I have encouraged people at my church to walk the streets, talk to people, and pray with them. The hurt, pain, and heartache in people’s lives is real and if we are not going to them…they very well may stay in those places.

We have to be the people who no longer hide within the confines of our safe church buildings. We have to be the people who no longer stay only within our safe group of “Christian friends.” We must begin moving outward and onward into the neighborhoods, onto the porches, within the homes, and into the lives of people who have no interest in “church,” but who have great spiritual and physical needs.

While it is true that I have moved light-years from the Christian isolation that I used to live in, I realized this week that I am still light-years away from being the man that God wants me to be. I have taken steps over the last five years of walking into the muck and mire of people’s lives…but it has mostly been on my terms and in predictable situations. And while I might be very good at painting a picture of the necessity of Christian mission…I had somehow convinced myself that my responsibility is to teach and call others into it without really having to go all the way in it myself. Pretty pathetic.

This reality hit me right between the eyes as I walked by myself through the downtown streets of Columbus talking to people who were walking outside and hanging out on their porches about the 72 hour prayer event for drug addicts that we were hosting. I talked to a ton of people, heard a ton of stories, and shared with them what we were doing. But man…when it came to asking people if they had anything I could pray with them about… I was afraid to ask. I WAS AFRAID!

Was I afraid they might laugh? Was I afraid they might think less of me? Was I afraid I might get beat up? What in the world was I afraid of? The truth is that I was afraid that they might perceive me as a salesman or as having some sort of an agenda…even though neither of those are true of me. Many times I would ask them if they had anything I could pray for and before they even had a chance to respond…I was back-pedaling.

As I continued to walk the neighborhoods my friend joined me. I caught him up on what I had been doing. It wasn’t long until we came upon two young adults hanging out on their porch. I explained to them that we would be hosting a prayer event for addicts and they both took the information. My friend asked them if they needed prayer for anything and I began to get nervous. I felt like such a fool when the young lady started to tear up and tell us about how she lost her parents and how she has had a rough few months. My friend began to pray with her and I felt the peace of God all around us. I knew this was exactly right…this is the place I needed to be.

I learned a great lesson that day and I learned a lot about myself and the person I am becoming. It is true that there are people all around us who are hungry and desperate for life, wholeness, meaning, and purpose…and for someone to just listen to them and pray with them, but I (we) have to have the courage to take steps out of our places of comfort so that God can work through us to meet the people of this world in their places of pain. It is easy to pray for people in our safe “Christian” places…but we have to go and pray for people in not so “Christian” places.

asking for forgiveness…

brandon