Tag Archives: Transformation

Out With the Old; Embracing the New

See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
Isaiah 65:17 (NIV)

This past weekend Wendy and I began a large clean-up campaign in our basement storage room. It’s time go through all of our stuff, and I mean really go through it. So it was that I found a number of large boxes of financial records, taxes, mortgage documents, and receipts. Many of these were much older than the recommended seven years you’re supposed to hang on to things in case of an IRS issue. It felt so good to be rid of them.

I have found on my spiritual journey that there is a continual process of recreation. In yesterday’s chapter we unpacked the word picture of God as a master Potter, constantly molding us, shaping us, fashioning us. If you’ve ever watched a potter at work you find that when one thing doesn’t work out the Potter goes back to the lump and begins again. But what is fashioned out of the same lump may look very different the next time the Potter goes to work on it.

God is an artist, and artists are always creating. You can’t stop the flow of ideas. It is quite common for artists to take a canvas with one image and cover it with an altogether new illustration. A media piece that was meant for one creative urge will be suddenly be used on another. Those who dare tap into the flow of creation know that it is a river that never stops running and those who dip into it are constantly being swept away in new directions.

If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. Old things pass away; Behold, new things come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

In today’s chapter, Isaiah has a vision of Creator re-creating things on a grand scale. It’s the same vision that John is given at the end of his Revelation. Things are made new. The Creator is at work recreating. Old ways are gone. New ways have come.

This morning I am so grateful for the places following Jesus has led me. As I disposed of all those old receipts I felt such gratitude for the ways God has continually molded and shaped my life, constantly creating new in me. I literally felt old things passing away. As a student of history I appreciate the past and what it can teach me about my present, but appreciating the past and being mired in personal, spiritual stagnation are two completely different things.

Drop me in the deep waters of the Creator’s artistic flow. I can’t wait to see where it leads me, and what continually recreated life looks like downstream.

What’s in a Name?

you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
Isaiah 62:2b (NIV)

A friend recently shared with Wendy and me that their child had reached the age when they wanted to be called by the more formal version of their first name. This is not unusual. I remember hitting the age when I wanted people to drop what I considered the childish sounding “Tommy” and call me just “Tom.” That lasted until college when friends just stated calling me “Tommy” or “Tommy V” and I just sort of rolled with it. Our Madison went through a similar journey with her moniker. She asked that we drop the “Maddy” and call her “Madison.” Somewhere in her young adult years she came to accept “Maddy Kate” as the endearment with which it is used.

For millennia names were attached to specific meanings. The name given to a person was, itself, a metaphor that attached meaning to that person’s life. In fact, the study of names and their meaning is an interesting thread of study across all of God’s Message. Not only are name fascinating, but God quite regularly changes or gives people new names in the midst of their earthly journeys. Here are a few examples:

Abram becomes Abraham
Sarai becomes Sarah
Jacob becomes Israel
Hoshea becomes Joshua
Solomon also named Jedidiah
Simon becomes Peter
Saul becomes Paul

In some cases, the name changes were cultural, shifting from one language to another. Daniel was given the name Belteshazzar when he was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Sometimes name changes were bestowed by others, almost like a nickname,  in response to an episode or event in that person’s life. Other times, however, it was God who did the changing and there was spiritual context to the change. Jesus told Simon that He was going to call Him Peter (which was also a language change, Petras was Greek for “Rock”) and added “on this rock I will build my church.”

In today’s chapter, the prophet Isaiah is promising the people of Judah that their momentary circumstances of devastation, defeat, destruction, and depression will give way to better times. The times, they will be a changin’.  And with the change comes a new name.

As I meditate this morning it strikes me that in some corners of our culture names have ceased to have any attachment to meaning at all. When I go on-site with clients and meet with teams I will regularly run across people with names with spellings and pronunciations simply made up by a parent. I even had one woman tell me this past month that her name was “meaningless,” and the subtext of the statement was that she felt a lack of meaning in her life. I found it fascinating that a name without common metaphorical meaning became, itself, metaphorical to her.

So, what do I call you?

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Featured image is a name cloud of popular baby names in 2010 from behindthename.com

The Recurring Theme of “Old and New”

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On this last weekday of 2016 it seems to me a bit of divine synchronicity that I should read these words from the ancient prophet, Isaiah:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!”
Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

Old gives way to new. Growth. Metamorphosis. Transformation. As I have journeyed through God’s Message these many years I find this to be one of the basic, recurring themes in all of God’s Message to us. In fact, it’s a recurring theme in all that God has created. God is all about transformation:

“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
– Jesus (Matthew 9:17)

 “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
– Jesus (Matthew 13:52)

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.”
– Jesus (Mark 2:21)

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Romans 7:6

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:1,4

Another year draws to a close. Once again I am prompted to reflect on where I’ve been, recognize where I am, and set course for where I’m going. I can’t do anything about yesterday. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. But I can choose what I think, say, and do today. I will set my trajectory. I can make a course correction. I can let go of that which has brought death. I can reach out and choose Life.

This morning, I find my spirit whispering (once again):

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

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A Change Is Gonna Come

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Isaiah 40:3 (NIV)

Scholars have long debated whether Isaiah was written by two different authors. The first 39 chapters we’ve been journeying through since late September are a whole lot of doom and gloom. Judgement against the nations surrounding Judah. Warnings of coming wrath. Assyrian siege. It’s not exactly the stuff of Pinterest-worthy inspiration.

Suddenly, you hit chapter 40 and it’s like a refreshing breeze blowing the storm clouds away. The mood changes. The message changes. Judgement gives way to comfort. Apocalypse moves aside and encouragement rushes in. The prophetic call of doom changes to a prophetic call of Messiah’s deliverance.

No wonder there’s so much debate about two Isaiahs. It feels like different messages from different writers.

Personally, I fall on the side of just one Isaiah who, somewhere along his journey, experienced change. I mean, that’s the whole point of the journey, isn’t it? Where did Jesus begin with His closest followers? “Leave your nets. Follow me. I’m shifting your paradigm. On this journey I’m going to teach you a whole new way to fish for a different kind of catch.”

Just yesterday at lunch I listened as a young friend shared with me the changes he’d experienced in the past year. “I once was that, but now I’m this.” The journey is about letting go, leaving things behind, learning, growing, transforming, moving forward, climbing further up and further in.

I consider it a bit of synchronicity that we shift on this chapter-a-day journey from the old Isaiah to the new on this last weekday before Christmas. In the quiet of my home office I can feel Holy Spirit smiling. Isaiah’s prophetic change is all about Christmas. It’s about a massive change that’s coming when God is going to send His Son to be one of us; To be one with us. Parallel dimensions overlapping. Spirit becoming flesh. God becoming human. Tectonic plates of the cosmos universally shifting.

Get ready,” Isaiah says.

Indeed.

Merry Christmas.

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“Welcome to the Journey, Padawan”

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.
1 Corinthians 11:31 (NIV)

Discern /dəˈsərn/ verb [from Latin: discernere]
  1. Perceive or recognize (something).
  2. Distinguish (someone or something) with difficulty by sight or with the other senses.
One of the more intriguing themes I’ve enjoyed in the Star Wars epic is the spiritual journey and formation of the Jedi. In the world of Star Wars, those who are strong in the force begin their training as “younglings.” Eventually, developing Jedi become a “padawan learner” who is coupled with a mentor. The process of development never ends, as Obi Wan says to his rebellious padawan (Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader) in their final battle: “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Great stories resonate with us because they echo our own human experiences and our deepest human longings. Much like a Jedi, I have found that my spiritual journey on this earth has been a journey of ever and increasing self-discovery. When I was a young man (youngling, if you will) I did many things out a sense of compulsion or ignorance. I had no idea why I felt compelled in certain ways. I did not understand why I said and did certain things. I acted out of my broken human nature without giving it a second thought.
When I became a follower (a padawan, if you will) of Jesus I experienced an acute desire to be more like Jesus and the person Jesus described in His teachings. This resulted in the awareness that many of my behaviors did not match up to Jesus’ teaching and example. A process of behavior modification began spurred by God’s prompting/power along with my willingness to change and be transformed.
Some behaviors were snap to change. Others required a wee bit of humility, patience, and determination. I was making progress and feeling good, but as time went on I recognized that there were the pesky, ugly things of my character and behavior that were of the Dark Side. They seemed hard wired and immovable. Discouragement, doubt, and frustration set in.
As much as I desired for God’s power to simply, and miraculously remove such things from my character, I came to realize that this was part of my spiritual journey. God’s power and grace (and patience) would be key ingredients, but much would be required of this padawan learner along this marathon journey of spiritual self-discovery:
  • Self study: A willingness to take the time to dig beneath my words and behaviors to excavate my past, my thoughts, my relationships, my emotions, my personality, and the desires of my heart and soul.
  • Meditation: A willingness to think honestly and transparently about the things I learned about myself, to fix the eyes of my heart steadily on Jesus, and to ingest God’s Word in my very soul.
  • Conversation: A willingness to have an on-going dialogue, not only with God, but with a select group of trusted companions who are on the journey with me. An openness to listen to and honestly embrace what they see, hear and perceive in me.
  • Professional Assistance: The assistance of professionals (in person or through their writings) who understand both spiritual truth and human psychology.
  • Perseverance: Accepting that the process of self-discovery and the spiritual transformation of becoming more like Jesus (a process theologians call sanctification) continues uninterrupted through this earthly journey’s end.
In today’s chapter Paul is writing to a young community of Jesus’ followers. They are spiritual younglings and a long way from becoming spiritual Jedi. Their behavior and conflicts, as described in Paul’s correspondence, reflect the blunt, early stages of spiritual transformation. And to this Paul says that they need discernment. They need to perceive the spiritual, emotional, social, relational drivers of their behavior and conflicts.
Welcome to the journey, my young padawan. Lace ’em up tight. It’s a long trek…. and an absolutely worthwhile journey!

(Not) Missing the Point

“…[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit….”
Titus 3:5 (NIV)

There is a fascinating and utterly critical matter lying beneath the structure of Paul’s letter to Titus in today’s chapter. It is essential to understanding God’s Message.

Our chapter begins with Paul instructing Titus to remind the followers of Jesus to be obedient and to do good:

  • Be subject to rulers
  • Be subject to authority
  • Be ready to do whatever is good
  • Slander no one
  • Be peaceable
  • Be considerate
  • Always be gentle

Here is a do-gooders laundry list. “Surely this is what God expects,” I can hear a heart whisper, “There’s no way. I’ve done too many awful things. I’m such a wretch. There’s no use trying. I could never be what God wants me to be.”

But we can’t stop with the list. The very next thing Paul does is remind Titus of what both of them were, in the past tense:

  • Foolish
  • Disobedient
  • Deceived
  • Enslaved to passions
  • Enslave to pleasures
  • Malicious
  • Envious
  • Hated by others
  • Hating others back

What a contrasting list. Here is a description most of us can identify with. We know the struggle against our own selves, our selfishness, foolishness, and out of control appetites. We know the shame of our own failures.

So, how do we get to the former list when our lives are described by the latter? Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s next words to Titus this way:

But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life!

Here is the crux of Jesus’ teaching, and what I believe is the most amazing piece of it. Gods acceptance isn’t the result of being a do-gooder and earning some kind of spiritual merit badge. We are accepted by God amidst of our ever present laundry list of failures simply by His mercy. We don’t become do gooders to earn God’s mercy. God’s mercy is poured out over us, because of what Jesus did on the cross and because of the empty tomb, so that our lives might be transformed. The transformation is not our doing; It’s God’s work in  and through us after simply accepting this amazing, gracious gift.

Today, I’m reminded that goodness is not a prerequisite of God saving me, but the result of God saving me. If I miss this truth, than I miss the entirety of Jesus’ teaching.

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Things Change

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Acts 9:19b-21 (NRSV)

There has been a small yet intense debate among local historians and traditionalists in our little town over recent months. The debate concerns the wife of our town’s founder or, more specifically, the spelling of her name. The town has always held that her name was spelled “Mareah,” but archival evidence suggest that her name was always spelled “Maria” on legal documents and the spelling change seems to have occurred in her adult years. It is now believed that the change occurred around the time of a major shift in her life: the death of her husband and her subsequent marriage to a younger man who was the age of her son. And so, the debate quietly continues regarding how we should spell her name today.

The rather meaningless debate has been a quiet reminder to me that things change. We all go through dramatic changes in life. Life’s journey can take abrupt and unexpected turns, especially when you’re on a faith journey.

Today’s chapter chronicles one of the most dramatic and unexpected turns in history. Saul of Tarsus was a radical and conservative Jewish leader intent on persecuting, imprisoning, and/or killing any man or woman who claimed to be a follower of Jesus. Then, on his way to round up some Jesus followers in the town of Damascus, Jesus reveals Himself to the zealous persecutor. In one dramatic moment, Saul’s life takes an abrupt u-turn.

Things change. Saul would become Paul. His life would never be the same. The persecutor of Jesus followers would unexpectedly become their greatest champion. For the rest of his life he would push himself to incredible physical and spiritual limits, ceaselessly suffer the persecution he’d once afflicted on others, and constantly proclaim that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. Paul would change the course of human history.

Things change. People change. It was at the core of everything that Jesus taught. Fishermen became fishers of men. Enemies become friends. Hatred is transformed into love. Anger and bitterness yield to grace and kindness. Sin is washed away by forgiveness. Darkness is pierced by Light. Death is swallowed up by Life. Saul the executioner becomes Paul the evangelist.

You and I, we can change, too.