Transformed

Ephesians 4 24
My guilty pleasure shows, the ones I watch on those rare occasions when I am home by myself and have nothing to do (or at least would like to put off what I am suppose to do), are restaurant makeover shows.  It doesn’t matter the title, the host, or the characters.  I am sucked into the identical plot over and over again. A failing entrepreneur invites a celebrity chef into their restaurant to help them become more successful.  Initially, they admit that minor changes are in order, but don’t see any major cause for concern.  The business owner’s management is flawless. The food is great.  The decor could be updated. Just a tweak here and there and efforts will move from futile to flourishing.  And then celebrity chef gives the reality check (in a varyingly dramatic way).  He/she tells them the decor is dismal, the food is frightful, and by far the most monstrous piece that brings each element together is the mismanagement.  Yet the owners who willingly invited the chef into their restaurant, who have seen this play out on different channels, seasons, and time slots, express shock.  They shake their heads and fingers.  “Not us!” they say. “We are different!” they say. “We only invited you here because we thought we only needed small changes!” they say.

It is hard to accept the jarring reality that we’re terrible. That the entirety of everything we have accomplished for ourselves is considered a heap of filthy rags (Isa 64:6).  Our corrupted (Eph 4:22) business-as-usual model is rubbish, garbage, doo doo.  You don’t need to drop a couple items off the menu; you need a new menu.  You don’t need to gloss over the interior with a new color; you need some serious demolition work.  Most of all, you are not one or two adjustments away from being an excellent entrepreneur; you need a new manager. A major overhaul is in order, not a minor adjustment.  In order to do this Christian life, you must face there is a thread that tethers most of your issues:  you making the decisions.  Conversely, there is a simple solution to overcome challenges and have meaningful and lasting change: follow the model of Christ.  Less us, more Christ until we are gone, and there is only Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” – Galatians 2:20

The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18). Man, oh man – it is so hard to read his story because it hits so close to home. He invited Christ into his life to look at what He had accomplished because he had a pretty good thing going.  He thought he only needed a quick makeover. Then Jesus delivered some nauseating news to this guy: “You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”  “Not me!” he thought. “I am different!” he thought. “I only invited you here because we thought we only needed small changes!” he sadly thought and walked away from Christ.  Had he not heard this requirement from Jesus already?  Matt 6:19-24 Luke 12:23; Or read about them in the law he kept? Deuteronomy 8:8-10; Psalm 62:10; Proverbs 11:28

Christ doesn’t call us to a simple makeover or even a renovation.  Our response cannot be accomplished by purchasing a new Bible, hitting up church camp, signing up for a mission trip, going to a Bible college, following commandments, or doing good works.  All of those things are beneficial, but they will not lead to lasting, permanent change – said by someone who has done ALL of those things.  TRANSFORMATION is literally changing (trans-) our very form (uh, form).  Tearing down the structure, ripping the very foundation from the earth, and then replacing it with a new foundation – our Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. THEN we seek our Chef, Architect, and Father for the new plan for our life.  For some of us, God may have used His infinite plan to provide us with the tools to build with for His glory or repurpose some pieces from the rubble, but more likely than not, we may be called to do something completely new, difficult, and can only be accomplished with a new creation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 1 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 12:2

TRANSFORMATION is not ours in a single day.  It begins with the decision to demo, but is a lifelong, day-by-day challenge to change not only the way we act, but our very mindset that allows us to test and approve what God’s will is for our lives. When we transform our thinking, health, sickness, wealth, poverty, where we live, what college we attend, our occupation, our family, persecution, what we eat or drink, and even death are not our simple circumstance but tools at the disposal of our God.  Every moment, every action becomes an opportunity to spread His good news of a coming Kingdom to begin the radical change in the hearts of others.  Ultimately, we have a great hope in the struggle of living a transformed life now.  Our lives will be transformed once-and-for-all, not over the course of a lifetime, but in a single instance – In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor 15:52,53).  It all begins today with listening and looking to the one who has already accomplished it.

-Aaron Winner

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Alien

John 15 19 (1)

As a bearded, green-eyed, 6’ 2” white male, it was hard to lose me in a crowd when I was doing mission work in Peru.  I dare say it was apparent to everyone that I was not a local.  Now we could spend a lot of time being politically correct, especially with the hotbed of controversy that currently exists around race, ethnicity, and nationality –  I PROMISE I understand more than most how tall you are, what color your hair, eyes, or skin are, or even how bearded you are doesn’t necessarily make you a foreigner. You’re right. I very well could have grown up in the streets of Huanchaco, in fact, my Memaw (that’s a grandma in the South) who looks a lot like me, spent the majority of her childhood in Peru’s capital, Lima – HOWEVER, shocking as it may be, I didn’t run across anyone that remotely looked like me.  This left most people with the right conclusion –  I was obviously a foreigner.  In fact, Mackenzie, another girl on the mission team who happens to be pretty tall too, and I posed for more than one set of pictures with complete strangers while we were out and about because we were in fact so strange ourselves (if only they really knew).  I can only imagine the conversations that took place later – “You will never believe what we saw today” – as a phone is being pulled out to show the photo – “They were so TALL.  And WHITE.  And HAIRY.” Well maybe more true of me, but Mackenzie does have pretty long hair.  What is true of me in Peru is true for me in Michigan, and Ireland, and even North Carolina (which is the state above my own that defiles their barbecue with vinegar) – as much as I try to conform to the people and surroundings, there is still a part of home that shows.

As Christians, we rightfully spend a great deal of time being inclusive. According to Paul, in one of my favorite passages, any identity we bring to the table – nationality, status, or gender – is superseded by belonging to Christ (Gal 3:28). This is consistent with the message of Jesus – “Who is my neighbor?” – anyone. Jesus drives home the point that love crosses cultures as he tells the familiar parable of “The Good Samaritan.”  Make a note: this story is NOT simply called “The Good Child of God.”  This is not a politically or socially correct tale.  However, the moral of this tale from Jesus is not “See – Samaritans can be nice too,” but lies in the emphatic removing of the barriers of race, class, and status to place the sole importance of your identity coming from following the will of God alone – all that other crap: doesn’t matter.

This means that the lines we draw are simple.  We don’t have to use family trees, tax brackets, brown bags, diets, or circumcision to prove that we are followers of Christ.  Our status comes from following the example of Christ as we live out our faith. In so doing this, you are part of the promises of God, or you’re not.  You’re in his will or you’re not.  You’re a sheep, or you’re a goat (Matt 25:31-45).  This is divisive.  Some would have you believe there are many paths to salvation.  No, there is only one (John 14:6).  Some would have you believe that other religions worship the same God.  No, they don’t (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Some would have you believe that since God is love, everyone will be in His kingdom.  No, see the aforementioned sheep and goats.  At this point, you might be shaking your head. Is it moving left to right? Or it is moving up and down?  I get it.  I can feel the reflexive wince kick in from the “you do you” age we live in, but if you submit to today’s wisdom and not the teachings of Jesus, your home is here and now.

We are called to be aliens of this world which means we must, we HAVE TO! be different.  When so many are clamoring that truth and identity are relative, Christians must stand-out like a 6’ 2”, greened-eyed, bearded white man in small-town Peru or more so like a 33 year-old radical priest flipping over tables in the tabernacle, and say, “This isn’t so! Children of God, don’t give up your inheritance!”  We have to say IT IS NOT OKAY to sling mud or resort to physical violence just because someone has wronged you.  IT IS NOT OKAY to steal from someone even if you think you are deserving of what they have. IT IS NOT OKAY to live with someone before you’re married or divorce them simply because you decided not to be with them.  IT IS NOT OKAY to fail to actively teach your children the Word of God.  IT IS NOT OKAY that multiple sexuality and gender fluidity are glorified and thought of as superior to God’s design.  AND MOST OF ALL, IT IS NOT OKAY TO WITHHOLD THE LOVE OF CHRIST FROM ANYONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH ANY OF THESE THINGS OR MORE, NO MATTER WHAT TITLE IS PLACED UPON THEM OR THEY PLACE UPON THEMSELVES.  The Good Samaritan is the The Excellent Jihadist is The Great Transexual is the The Awesome Deadbeat Dad.  “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11)”’ This is the transition that is the definition of our hope.

The time of exclusion on this earth is temporary because our awaited time is soon coming; I don’t say this with triumph as much as I do with a sense of urgency.  It is worth the persecution, the name-calling, or moments of being looked upon as a fool or insensitive in order to lead someone to the true knowledge and the fullness of knowing their identity as a stranger of this world but more importantly, a child of God.  He has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us, not even withholding His own Son for us all.  It is time to make some waves because of your faith.  Maybe become the object of ridicule because you speak and act so differently.  But most importantly, it is time to stand as an example of how God changes the hearts of His children in this world, and moves them into the precious citizenship of His Kingdom.

“They are so JOYFUL. And LOVING. And GIVING.”…”Why?”

Aaron Winner

Apart

Luke 5 16

I was almost two weeks into vacation with my wife, my  in-laws, and my friends in a foreign country. We had shared hotel rooms, meals, car rides, tours, every story we knew, and so much more.  We collectively saw more of each other in those two weeks than we saw of each other the year before. We had spent a lot of enjoyable time together, but I could sense my idiosyncrasies were wearing on them just as much as theirs began to wear on me. So what did I do? Just a little past lunch I told my family and friends that I would see them later that evening; I had decided it was time for me to  literally “take a hike.” The area we were in, Cinque Terre, Italy, is a group of small coastal mountain towns connected by some tame (and some treacherous) walking paths. With no cell phone service or any other way to stay connected, I turned and started walking in the other direction. As much as I loved them all, I needed time apart. At first, it felt a bit selfish, abandoning everyone I loved to do my own thing for a bit, but it was absolutely important to take a breather, to come back refreshed (although terribly sweaty and tired), so I would be ready to enjoy the rest of the vacation and our once-in-a-lifetime experience time together.

 

Often times, ministry plays out the same way.  Imagine you are with the same group for a long period of time, say the same twelve dudes for three years, or you’ve been in the same church for most of your life, or you work alongside the same people at the same event from year to year.  You’re going to fight (Matt 16:23; Matt 20:21) People are going to say some stupid stuff (John 14:9; Matt 15:16). But until Jesus comes back to restore this earth, there is nothing better we can do together with our time than to share and live out the Kingdom of God with other people.  Yes, we will have to share space, deal with failures, live with the smells, and even call each other out. This is the toll of doing ministry with imperfect people. This means every so often, when our spiritual and emotional bank is depleted, we need to take a hike.

 

In the scriptures, I see several reasons why God momentarily pulls away men and women from ministry. This isn’t necessarily an all-inclusive list, but these are five places or reasons God has called me to withdraw, take a hike, and spend some alone time with Him:

 

1. To refresh – God doesn’t suggest that you rest; he demands it “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me by still waters” (Ps 23:2) implies that you don’t get a choice.  Additionally Jesus doesn’t say, “I can give you rest”, but he “will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) Ministry is exhausting. Speaking out against injustice, finding provisions for those without them, or caring for someone on his/her deathbed are some taxing circumstances.  Momentarily withdraw and let the Comforter come in and refresh you, so God who called you once, can rely upon you to do His will again.

 

2. To repair –  Sometimes we’re just doing it wrong or have the wrong perspective.  We’re cynical; we’re cranky; we’re at a loss, and soon enough we’re like the Church of Ephesus (Rev 2) abandoning our “first love.”  During these times, God pulls us away to repair our perspective, sometimes harshly. Jonah was supposed to go to Nineveh (Jon 1). He didn’t go.  The rest is a whale of a tale. Sorry. BUT absence really does make the heart grow fonder. With the right heading and the correct motivation, God uses this time to rekindle what has been lost through disappointment or sin.

 

3. To protect –  Have you ever broken up a fight?  I have. The easiest way to get two people to stop fighting is to pull them away from each other.  You can’t hit someone who is not in reach. Adrenaline dies down. Breathing becomes slower. We become a bit more level-headed and rational.  Jacob and Esau (Gen 25), Peter and Paul (Gal 2), Jew and Gentile Christians (Acts 15) didn’t always get along. Sometimes God puts breathing room between us and our fellow believers.  Ultimately, we all want to do what is best for the Lord. Once we go to our corners and seek Him, we may find ourselves more agreeable, and maintain the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

 

4. To speak –  Sometimes we are lost.  Sometimes we feel abandoned.  Sometimes we are afraid and tuck tail and run into a cave (well, at least Elijah [1 Kings 19]).  In these literal, or most likely metaphorical cave moments, God is speaking to us. He is not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, or any other noise. He is in the stillness, speaking His promises.  Sometimes the change of scenery gives us the reminder of what He has already done and of the many blessings he has already placed in our lives, removing fear and restoring faith.

 

5.  To prepare – Jesus spends time alone in the desert praying and fasting before His ministry begins (Matt 4).  He also prays alone in Gethsemane before His arrest and crucifixion (Luke 22). These are possibly the two most crucial points in the life of Jesus, and He spends them alone speaking with God.  There has to be something to this, right? When God is preparing us to do the big things, we have to eliminate distraction and must turn our attention to fully seeking Him. Our relationships and ministry take a backseat. By doing this, we will not do what we think is best for the ministry to thrive.  We will not do what we think is best for us. We will be prepared to do or speak His will in a mighty way.

 

So this begs the question…is it time for you to take a hike?  Does God want some one-on-one time to assure you continue to minister to others? Sometimes it’s okay to be apart from ministry for a while if you are present with God and letting Him minister to you.  Let him provide what you need so you can come back to continue in the joy of ministry in this once-in-a-lifetime experience with those you love.

Aaron Winner

Different

2 Peter 2 9

Hello GROW devotion readers!  We are changing directions with our daily devotions this week, writing directly to the daily theme of FUEL which begins at Manchester University today.  If you are a faithful follower of this blog, you might already know that is was three years ago this blog began as a means of connecting “FUELers” to daily discipleship. While I won’t be attending FUEL this year,  I am excited to be participating once again in spirit by having the privilege to share my take on the important topics being discussed daily. No matter the journey ahead for us, whether it be FUEL, work, school, or ministry, there is still plenty for us all to examine together.

 

Little known fact about me: I failed biology my senior year in high school. My captivation with knowledge of the natural world that existed with The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye: The Science Guy regrettably never reared its head in Mr. Amato’s AP Biology classroom. I didn’t need the course to graduate; I enjoyed doodling a whole lot more than taking notes; and I stayed up in the wee hours of the night on messenger (AOL, not FB) keeping in touch with friends. I was truly indifferent to my studies. Consequently, I walked away from this class unchanged and with some rather large gaps in my knowledge concerning the constructs of life and the environment.

 

17 years later, I’m a teacher <plot twist> with the luxury of a summer off.  This is when I do the vast majority of my reading for the entire year – like a bear gorging prior to hibernation.  The past week or so I have spent a chunk of the day reading about the human body. My fascination for this topic may lie in a newly-acquired Jeopardy addiction, or the intrigue of watching a set of twins grow inside my wife’s belly (uterus that is – see, I read stuff), but I believe the main source of my interest comes through worship revering and connecting with God I love and serve. The information that once wasn’t worthy of my head being lifted from my latest sketch is now the information that makes for awesome contemplation in my free time.  Needless to say, a half-of-a-lifetime away from high school, I’m different.

 

Genetics and DNA are by far the most fascinating to me.  Even at the smallest of levels, only microns long, God is doing tremendous work.  While I’m sure David spoke figuratively when he states God “knits us together in our mother’s womb”, (Psalm 139) He, in fact, literally stitches together genetic material from our parents, and even previous generations, for our physical makeup, making us who we are.  According to one of the sources from which I’m reading there are over 70 quadrillion (yes, that’s a real number), current combinations of the human genome. To put that number into some type of digestible format – If the world remained at its current population for the next 200,000 years and there were no mutations, it would be statistically possible there would be no two humans who were identical during this time frame – and yes, this includes identical twins, who share DNA, but have some dissimilarity in gene expressions.  We ALL are truly different from one another, having been physically set apart from every other person who has existed on this planet. Fear, marvel, and wonder all strike at once; I’m a part of something great, and I don’t want to miss it. And this is God working in the space that is a thousandth of the thickness of your hair. For a greater example see: Universe. Wow. So Amazing.

 

As much as God has given incomprehensible diversity to the beginnings of life, this should be only outweighed  by the contrast of our lives when compared to those who don’t yet know God’s wonderful promises. Peter says that the people who carry this hope should be identifiable. Our good deeds not only protect us from accusations of wrongdoing, but tell of our Heavenly Father and glorify Him (1 Pet 2).  This means rather than being known by the manner of our genetic makeup, such as the balding bearded burly brunette, I would much rather be known as the one who feeds the hungry, the man who looks after orphans, and the singer of praises to God. Our works, not our lip service, declare our outlook. Yet it is not a single or a handful of aspects God wants to be glorified in, but the entirety of our expressions.  We should talk differently, love differently, use our money differently, dress differently, forgive differently, pursue relationships differently, and even do tragedy differently. Every moment is meant to glorify the Father so that he might show His grace and mercy, calling each one who sees us (and including us) out of darkness into the marvelous light of knowing Him.  Yes, we were made unique, but even more so, our faith, if we let it, ignites the very purpose for which we are uniquely made. Let us stick out. Let us shine. Let us live as people who are different.

-Aaron Winner

Saved to do Good Works

Titus 3_14

Titus 3

Today we are going to dive deeper into the discussion of good works and how we should apply it to our own lives.

Among some of Paul’s reminders to Titus, in chapter 3, verse 1, he mentions being ¨ready to do whatever is good¨. (Titus 3:1) Continue to ask God to show you what good works you can do. Ask Him to open your eyes to see what service needs to be done. Since God showed His love to us it is now our job to show that love to others. 

¨This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.¨ (Titus 3:8)

As we wait for the coming Kingdom we have a job to do. An opportunity to make a difference. Not only that, but it leads to a joyful and fulfilling life focused on God.

¨Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.¨ (Titus 3:14)

Throughout Titus I see a recurring theme of the importance of good works. This makes me believe that this was something Paul didn’t want Titus and the church in Crete to forget. So maybe we should devote ourselves to doing good as well. Find a way to serve and then do it. 

¨Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody¨       -Brad Montague

Grace (& good works) be with you all,

– Makayla Railton

You’re Being Watched

Titus 2

Titus 2 7a

Yesterday we got a glimpse of some of Paul’s “good works”. Today we are going to focus more on our own good works.

 

Verse 7 says – ¨In everything set them an example by doing what is good.¨

This is a good reminder that people are always watching, and looking to you as their role model. By always doing good you will be encouraging others to do good as well.

 

Moving further into the chapter in verses 11 & 12 we learn that the grace from God helps teach us to live godly lives. My Bible’s footnotes for these verses says, ¨This same grace instructs us that our salvation should produce good works.¨ (Zondervan, NIV Study Bible) 

 

Verse 14 brings up another good point – we should be, ¨eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14).  Because of the grace that God has given us we should want in our hearts to do good works as a way of thanking Him. God’s grace gives us a chance to start over and live a life that pleases Him. Which, as you might have guessed, includes good works. 

 

Take a minute and meditate on the chorus of the song Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath.   Ask God to open your eyes and show you some good works that need to be done. 

 

Give me your eyes for just one second

Give me your eyes so I can see,

Everything that I keep missing,

Give your love for humanity.

Give me your arms for the broken-hearted

The ones that are far beyond my reach.

Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.

Give me Your eyes so I can see

 

Ephesians 2:10 – ¨For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.¨

 

-Makayla Railton

 

We need to open our hearts to figure out what God wants us to do for him. 

 

Paul, the Servant

Titus 1

Titus 1 1

Similar to some of Paul’s other letters, he begins the book with an introduction of himself. To start off, Paul calls himself,  ̈a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.¨ (Titus 1:1) Paul’s willingness to serve allowed him to reach many churches and impact a whole lot more people. He clearly states that he is a servant of God to help the faith of God’s chosen. 

 

Throughout Paul’s letters we can find how he did this – by mentoring people in godliness. This includes Timothy, Titus, Philemon and entire churches in Colosse, Ephesus, Galatia, Corinth, Achaia, & Thessalonica. He consistently encouraged, prayed, and thanked God for them all. Since Paul understood that faithful churches needed Godly leaders he worked to mentor others to be those faithful leaders in the church for when Paul couldn’t be there. In verse 5 we can see Paul left Titus in charge of appointing elders for the churches on the island of Crete. He gave Titus careful instructions as well as warnings. He told Titus and the church to beware of, ̈rebellious people, mere talkers, and deceivers” who were ¨teaching things they ought not to teach ̈ (Titus 1:10,11)

 

Paul’s willingness to serve is shown through all of the mentoring he was able to do so that God’s word could continue to spread. This is something we should all learn from. We should encourage younger Christians as well as seek guidance from others more spiritually mature than us. 

 

And as Paul would say,

Grace be with you

 

-Makayla Railton