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

Heaven: Let’s Talk Turkey

I want to take a step back in this post to get on solid ground.

Over my last four posts I have opened your mouths wide and jammed a 20-pound heavenly turkey down your throats, if you will. I certainly didn’t carve it and then allow you to savor and appreciate the tastes, textures, and aromas. To that end, I know the digestion process was a bit difficult. Some of you may have chewed on it quite a bit, while others may have let it pass as violently as it was received. Either way, you have had time to digest, so let me offer up the second course and give you time to close your eyes and enjoy how good it is.

The primary dilemma in front of many Christians, maybe you, is- I have always been taught and then believed that when a person dies he/she goes to heaven. Now you are telling me that a disembodied, spiritual heaven is not the end. I am not sure that is something I can believe.

I can assure you that there was a day many years ago when I said the same thing. It doesn’t make you a bad person for vocalizing your internal conflict; in fact, it is quite normal and healthy. It means that you are, at a minimum, wrestling with it rather than putting up your dukes, acting like you already know everything there is to know about our future hope, and then resisting to listen and potentially giving up the opportunity to learn something new.

Listening and dialogue is so important. It is obviously the place where we may learn something new, but it is also the place where we walk alongside each other in love and grace while uncovering more truth.

My perspective on heaven is not some new idea that I just decided to throw out there. I have wrestled and prayed over it the last six years. I have studied, researched, prayed, and left no stone unturned in the process.

When I wrote my book Unearthedin 2010, I so badly wanted to include all of this information on heaven in it to synthesize and solidify my position on the Kingdom of God, but realized even at that time that I was not ready to write about it or discuss it.

About three months ago I was contemplating whether or not I ought to keep writing. To be honest, the weight and implications of the topics I write about at times is almost too much for me to handle. Many people get mad, frustrated, and sideways with me about the way I write about and present Jesus (because it contradicts what they want to believe about Him and His mission). I don’t prefer to be the guy that people get angry with. Down deep in my heart I would rather be the guy that everyone loves.

But God finally got my attention and made me realize that not all of the fish he created were meant to swim with the current. Some must swim against the current no matter how much the river rages.

It was at that same time that I felt something opening up about the topic of heaven and the renewal of all things. For every way my writing felt blocked or forced a couple of years ago on the topic, it was now coming to me at lightning speed. It was time for people to hear a different perspective. It was time to introduce people to a more complete understanding of the hope Christians have. It was time to challenge the culturally-developed idea of heaven the Church has adopted. It was time to reconnect with the belief and understanding that Judaism, Jesus, and the Early Church had concerning God’s redemptive plan for all of His good creation.

Let me be clear here- my first four posts were not discussing what happens to a person as soon as he/she dies or where that person goes. I have focused only on the culmination of the Age and the return of Christ. So while it is certainly worth discussing what happens immediately after a person dies, that is not my interest within this series. There are other books, blogs, and writings that discuss that topic.

Instead I want to direct us beyond that to begin a dialogue about what God’s plan of redemption and our future hope look like when Christ returns. Just because there may be a waiting place for those who have died, it doesn’t mean that it where it all ends. My point has been that Scripture offers a surprising twist that is different than what many of us have been taught. And, I believe the beginning of that surprise begins simply and straightforwardly with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, what was the point of the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

The simple answer- for God to demonstrate decisively that sin and death does not have the final victory over that which God created as good at the very beginning. In fact, the resurrection declares that God wins…and through Jesus…there is more where that came from! Death will no longer have a sting! What was evidenced in Jesus, the resurrection, is promised to those who put their hope in Him.

So the logical question at this point is- what does sin and death have an affect on?

That’s right…physical things.

Think about it… if death’s sting has been enacted upon a physical body, does not the defeat of death through resurrection mean that this body shall live?

Again, what would be the point of a physical resurrection evidenced in Christ if our own future is spirit or ghost-like?

Even more, since a bodily resurrection demonstrates God’s victory over sin and death, and the promise that death will no longer have a sting on God’s people, it can only mean that death will no longer have a stranglehold on that which God created as good from the very beginning.

The resurrection screams, “IT IS WORTH SAVING!”

It simply would not make any logical sense for God to create something as “good” only to discard it when the oppositional forces of evil disrupt or mar it. For the sake of logic alone, not even considering Church history or Scripture, I can deductively conclude that the redemptive plan of God has never been to destroy the creation and whisk people off to a disembodied, spiritual heaven for eternity.

So where do we go from here? Chew on this stuff. Pray over it. Don’t just discard it. Then, in my next post, I will begin to paint a picture, based upon Scripture, that will give us a clearer idea of what the new heaven and new earth will be like.

I look forward to the conversation.

Here is the next post in the series.

peace…

brandon