Selling, Selling…

It seems everyone is selling something. I’m so tired of advertisements in every form I almost always tune them out. One of the best inventions ever was the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) for television, which means I can fast forward the commercials. When I watch a show, I don’t like to be bothered by ads for things I don’t want and don’t need and furthermore, insult me with sometimes-asinine jingles and verbiage.

Unfortunately, even churches are in the business of selling. Some sell their programs, books, videos and some seem to have even turned Christianity itself into a product.

One of the things I find refreshing about Jesus is he’s not trying to sell us anything. His whole motivation is love and what he offers to all of humanity is free, with no strings attached, no fine print, no bait and switch tactics, no expiration date, no exceptions and no exclusions. Psalm 19:7 (MSG) tells us “God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee.” Because of this, unlike when we buy something the world is selling, we know what we’re getting when we accept Jesus is and always will be unimaginably better than “advertised.”

Does It Really Mean That?

One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. When my kids were little, they watched the VHS tape so many times it broke so we bought a DVD to replace it. The movie has many great lines, and my now-adult children and I can quote a lot of them. One I use often is: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” I thought of it this past week when I read a note for Matthew 13:44 in The Passion Translation. The notes are available on the YouVersion app, which is a Bible app with devotionals and many translations.

“Heaven’s kingdom realm can be illustrated like this: ‘A person discovered that there was hidden treasure in a field. Upon finding it, he hid it again. Because of uncovering such treasure, he was overjoyed and sold all that he possessed to buy the entire field just so he could have the treasure.’” The note is rather long but I think you will benefit from it. “See also Proverbs 2:4. The most accepted interpretation of this parable is that Jesus is the treasure, but Jesus taught that the field is the world (v. 38). The allegory breaks down, for a believer doesn’t sell all he has (works) and then buy the world to find Jesus (the treasure). It is more plausible to view the hidden treasure as a symbol of you and me. Jesus is the man who sold all that he owned, leaving his exalted place of glory to come and pay for the sin of the whole world with his own blood just so he could have you, his treasure. Heaven’s kingdom realm is experienced when we realize what a great price Jesus places on our souls, for he gave his sacred blood for us. The re-hiding of the treasure is a hint of our new life, hidden in God. See Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 3:1-5.”

I had never thought of Matthew 13:44 in this way and perhaps you hadn’t either. I just accepted the traditional teaching mentioned at the beginning of the note. But it seems to not mean what I always thought it meant. This explanation makes much more sense. Hmm, I wonder how many other verses we think we understand, but they might not mean what we think they mean (read with Inigo Montoya’s accent).

If you’re interested, a few years ago I wrote a post every day, featuring verses about who God is and how they might not mean what we’ve always thought. Here’s the link to January 1, 2012. (Maybe I should get those posts put in book form. I started to, but alas, it remains unfinished.)

Attitude Adjustment

Have you ever been told you need an attitude adjustment? I have. In the old days, it often took the form of a paddle to the rear end. One of the definitions of attitude on is tendency or orientation, especially of the mind. We all have an attitude and some even have attitude. Not all attitudes are good even though a lot of people think anything goes. But every now and then we can all use an adjustment.

Here is the Bible definition: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5, NLT). Many verses, especially in Paul’s letters, expand on his attitude and how he thought of himself and treated people. He no doubt never needed an attitude adjustment, but we sure do, and not just once, but many times over the course of our lives. “Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean we will never need to repent, clean up our attitudes or address the brokenness within. We may be covered by the redemptive work of Christ, but God’s work is an ongoing deep work” (emphasis mine; from a YouVersion devotional plan called Make Room).

God is invested in the inner transformation of each of his children and has given us his Holy Spirit to affect our change in heart to help us grow in grace. We have the responsibility to participate in the transformation through the spiritual disciplines. We also need to pay attention to those times we let outside influences and our own desires pull us away from the same orientation as Jesus – not thinking too highly of ourselves and living in humble obedience to the cross, the crucified life.

The Greatness of God

A couple of weeks ago, I shared one of my favorite passages from the Psalms and how I am working on memorizing it. Another one I like and have committed to memory is Psalm 36:5-9 from the New Living Translation. It often comes to mind in the middle of the night when sleep is elusive. It’s comforting to remind myself through these verses of the greatness of God and his unfailing love.

For us humans, it’s all too easy to anthropomorphize God. (I love that word – not many fifteen letter words can be used in everyday conversations!) Having verses like these in the front of our minds bring us back to the magnificence of God and how much greater he is than us – truly “other” as some like to describe him.

We tend to think of his love as comparable to human love when verse five tells us it’s as vast as the heavens. His faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds, as opposed to ours, which changes with the wind. We don’t understand his righteousness, probably because we have none of our own, but his is like the mighty mountains. Perhaps his justice is even more difficult to comprehend, but we see here that it’s like the ocean depths: deep, mysterious and unfathomable to our petty minds.

Even if you aren’t a fan of poetry, after thousands of years, the psalmist’s poetic descriptions of the greatness of God are truly moving, revealing and awe-inspiring.

Setting Our Hearts on God

When I first started reading books by Dallas Willard, I came across his statement that he believed memorizing scripture is more important than quiet time. I remember being a bit surprised, as I had been led to believe (through my reading and attending conferences/retreats) quiet time is the most important part of nurturing a relationship with God. I was also resistant to do this, as I wasn’t sure it could be done, especially as he suggested memorizing not just single verses, but whole passages, such as Romans 5:1-8 and 8:1-15, 1 Corinthians 13 and Colossians 3:1-17. But he said our minds are made for it, God wants us to do it and he will help us. I guess that removes the “I’m too old (or too whatever) to do that” excuse.

I must admit I haven’t put as much effort into memorizing scripture as I would like, but I have given it a shot. I started with Colossians 3:1-17 and have found it encouraging and edifying. It also helps me focus on my word for the year (crucified). The passage begins by telling us to set our hearts on things above, where Christ is. Then we are told to set our minds on things above as well.

In our world where so many things vie for our attention and affection, reminding ourselves through this passage of Colossians to set our hearts and minds on God seems to be the best way to hold our treasure in the right place. Through memorization, our minds will always be brought back to the right focus, which will enable our hearts to follow.

Need to Get Away?

I’ve been rediscovering the Psalms in The Passion Translation. It’s interesting how reading familiar parts of the Bible in different translations can make it seem so different – even new and exciting. The psalm I’ve been kind of fixated on lately is Psalm 18:1-3. I won’t cite it here but will let you read it* for yourself. I’m in the process of memorizing it for those times I either want to praise God or need to find my “mountain of hiding” and my “pathway of escape.”

David wrote this after being delivered from his enemies, including Saul, who wanted to kill him. I’m sure most of us aren’t being chased by people with swords, but we do have enemies and we sometimes need deliverance and a way out of our troubles. But the escape we make into the arms of God is not the same as most people today think of escaping. We are all familiar with those ways – things we turn to, hoping to dull the pain. All of these are temporary escapes and do nothing but give momentary relief and then plunge the person right back into reality, possibly even making it worse.

When God gives us his version of escape, we are often still in the midst of our troubles. The problem doesn’t go away. The pain doesn’t stop. The worry and anxiety are often still there. But God is also there. He is in the midst of it with us. He promises he will never let us go and will never let us go through our trials alone. As David said in verse three: “All I need to do is call to you, singing to you, the praiseworthy God. When I do, I’m safe and sound in you.” Even in the most difficult times of our lives, we can trust him to reach down into our darkness to rescue us, take us from the depths of despair (v. 16), hold on to us (v. 18) and bring us into a beautiful broad place (v. 19). He truly is the champion of our cause (v. 2).

*This is a slightly different version from the one in The Psalms, Poetry on Fire, 2014.

Putting On the New Self

As beings with a human nature, we are all intimately acquainted with our old selves. If anyone needs a reminder, all they have to do is read Colossians 3, which paints a pretty good picture. Paul goes on to describe the new self in Christ, which is the direct opposite of the old self. He uses words like compassion, kindness, humility, patience and gentleness. I think we all know from experience it’s easier said than done to have these qualities.

From verses 12 through 17, we see what it’s supposed to look like, but how to accomplish putting on and then living out this new self? We need to go back to the beginning of Colossians 3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Jesus said where your heart is your treasure will also be (Matthew 6:21). Paul seemed to be expanding this way beyond money and possessions to our whole attitude and focus in life. As we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is, our old selves with their low and base desires will continually fade into oblivion. As the old song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” goes, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus and set our hearts on things above, for we died and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. He is our resurrection and because he lives, we live in newness of life – as new creatures with a new self. Happy Easter!  

Taking Off the Old Self

How many choices do we make in a day? Hundreds, thousands? From getting out of bed, to what we eat for breakfast, to picking up our phones or our Bibles, everything in our entire day requires choices. Some of them are easy and need no thought, while some are more involved. Other choices happen by making no choice – we just put them off until it’s no longer necessary or we have a fire to put out.

The same is true of our thoughts. We can choose where our minds go, what we think about and dwell on. Making decisions regarding what to think about can be much more difficult than deciding what to eat or wear. Sometimes my mind goes where I don’t want it to, seemingly all by itself. And then I have a hard time reining in those thoughts and making my mind go in a different direction. I suppose we all suffer from lack of mental discipline in our instant-gratification, 24-hour information overload. We’ve been slowly acclimatized to shorter attention spans to the point we can’t read something if it’s more than a paragraph or even forty characters.

The crucified life is about the daily, hour by hour and even moment by moment choice to put off the old self with its practices, and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:6-7, NIV). Putting off the old self (we all have one) takes work. It’s a real battle and it goes on 24/7. How do we accomplish this? By choosing to redirect our thoughts toward Jesus. As I just read in a devotional, if it were easy, we wouldn’t need him. It might be the hardest thing we ever do, but if we don’t put in the effort, trusting and relying on the help and power of God, through the Holy Spirit, it won’t happen.   

We have already been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) but like Paul, we die daily so we may live the resurrected life with Christ (Colossians 3:1; Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:6).

Not One and Done

When it comes to making choices in life, very few can be labeled as one and done. Life is full of change. I often tell myself not to get too comfortable with the way things are, as nothing ever stays the same. This has proved true since I can remember – moving, switching schools, going to college, moving again because the college closed, getting married, moving again and on and on. You probably have a similar story. When I was in college, a fellow student and good friend told me she had lived in the same house her whole life – the same house her parents and grandparents had lived in their whole lives. I had no idea anyone ever grew up like that.

It should come as no surprise then that the Christian life is also full of change. We’ve probably all heard God accepts us as we are but doesn’t want to leave us in that condition. Transformation is an important part of being connected to Christ. As we spend time with him and surrender to his love and care, we (hopefully) become more like him. Transformation is definitely not one and done. It’s not some grand gesture or defining moment, but a series of choices, involving awareness and discipline.

Each and every day, we must choose to stay connected to Jesus our Vine. It’s a choice to lay down our lives for him, to surrender our hearts and thoughts to his wisdom and love and to sit at his feet as his disciples and followers. I’m finding this involves even more than daily choices – many of the choices I need to make to stay close to Jesus are hour by hour and even moment by moment. This is especially true when it comes to controlling my tongue.

The transformed, crucified life is about change, choices and more change – all in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.

Like a Mind Meld

I’m a big fan of Star Trek in all its iterations, which you know if you’ve been reading my articles and posts for any length of time. I guess I’m fascinated by space, the characters and the different life forms they encounter – all of it really. The parallels to God’s world are numerous and I believe can help us understand the things of God.

As I was pondering last week’s post on entwining our hearts with Jesus’ heart, the similarity of this and the Vulcan Mind Meld hit me. Entwining (to wind or twist together; interweave) our hearts with his seems a bit ethereal and hard to define, but comparing it to a mind meld, well I can get my mind around that!

A mind meld, according to the official Star Trek website, is “A touch technique that allows a Vulcan to merge his or her mind with the essence of another’s mind purely by using specialized contact via fingertip-points  ̶  on a humanoid, usually around the targeted partner’s skull temples. Hypnosis-like relaxation and a rhythmic verbal device, such as ‘My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts’ are often useful.”

Obviously communicating with God, learning his mind and becoming like him is vastly different from a mind meld, but sharing our thoughts and having the same mind (Philippians 2:5) is something we can do through the Holy Spirit. As we keep our eyes on Jesus, turn our thoughts to him constantly throughout the day, even moment by moment, and trust him with our deepest, inner selves, our minds will be merged with the essence of his mind – a Jesus Mind Meld if you will. Live long and prosper.