Friday, October 21, 2011

Not Just Saved -- Transformed

A whole world of potential is deposited within us when we’re born again. We know it. We believe it. We can taste it. But perhaps, in all honesty, it isn't springing forth very abundantly. Could it be that our transformation into effective Christ-followers has been delayed because we still think like the world?

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Rom. 12:2NLT).

So what do you think? If we think and act like our fellow Christians, are we safe from the "behavior and customs of this world"? Well . . . 

. . . how about the large group of Christians who feel that it is virtuous to heap sarcasm on right-wing politicians who do not always uphold traditional Christian values? In reacting this way toward opposition, are they being distinctively Christian? Let's check it out:

For the Lord’s sake, respect all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. . . . It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king (1 Peter 2:13, 15-17).

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. . . . Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone (Rom. 12:14, 17-18).

The early Christians really lived like this. And they rocked the world.  

We will be world-transformers also, as we let God--by his Word and by his Spirit--radically change the way we think.

P.S.  A God-changed mind releases God's "good and pleasing and perfect" will in every area of our lives.   J The political arena is just one example.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Voice Activated Doors

The first time I ever heard of voice activated doors was when I was a child, listening to the reading of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” In this story, Ali Baba, a poor woodcutter plying his trade in the woods, watched unnoticed as a mob of thieves rode up to the door of a cave and called out “Open sesame.” The magical door swung open and the thieves entered to deposit their loot.

Of course, I did not think of this fictional cave as having a “voice activated door.” If there was such technology then (I am confident there was not), I had certainly not heard of it. At that early stage in my life, I was dumbfounded when my father announced that the United States was going to release into space a satellite that would—get this—stay up there. Come on now! I thought. What about gravity? That was the 1950’s and I was a preteen. Guess my science education had not extended yet to centrifugal and centripetal forces.

All of these thoughts about Ali Baba’s “open sesame” and modern technology’s voice activated doors give me a great new perspective on Luke 11:9:

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

These are among the words Jesus spoke when his disciples asked him how to pray. How to pray . . . hmmmm. How do all three of these verbs relate to praying?

Asking . . . sure, that’s something that we do when we pray.

Seeking . . . does that mean listening to the Holy Spirit and searching the Scriptures to find God’s will in the matter so we can pray according to his will? Probably so. Cool.

But now, knocking . . . there’s no physical door that will swing open to give us access to God’s provision. And if there is a door of some kind, we can’t actually knock on it.

For a clue about “knocking” in prayer, consider these quotes:

Psalm 18:6-7, 16-17
In my distress I called to the LORD;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because he was angry.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me (emphasis added).

Acts 4:23-24, 29-31
On their release [from jail], Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.

 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (emphasis added).

These are both examples of a distinctive sort of praying. In the psalmist’s case, he was crying out to God. Peter and John’s Christian friends raised their voices—together. (How loud that must’ve been!) Neither the psalmist or the Christians were silently directing their thoughts to God. They were knocking—with their voices—on heaven’s door. And the door swung wide open. Wow!

Do you need answers from God? Ask. Don’t give up. Knock, even. He invited us to. He’s waiting for the sound of our voices.

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! (Isa. 30:18).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Overcoming with Christ

Overcoming with Christ—this is the name of a book my father, F. Burleigh Willard Sr., wrote a number of years ago and published in 2008, while he was living with me. I’m thinking about it today because my brother, Frank (FBW Jr.), called me this morning to order six copies for members of his church.

Here’s how that came about: Frank and Jeanne have been attending a bible study on the book of Revelation. Frank mentioned to their teacher that his dad had written a book on the message of Revelation. In fact, he loaned his copy to the teacher, and this instructor had used material from it. When the teacher mentioned the book to the class, six people wanted copies. Happily, I found that many copies in the "signed books" box in my garage.

. . . Such a sad fact that I did not think to have Dad sign all of the stockpiled books while he was able! Last Christmas, he signed about seventy cards (“Grandpa Willard,” “Uncle Burleigh,” etc.). It took him a couple sessions. It was not long afterwards that he was unable to even endorse a check. Now that Dad has graduated to heaven, a signed book is a precious commodity.

But let me tell you more about his book (one of five we prepared for publication while he lived with me). It is a unique study of the book of Revelation. A long-time friend of Dad’s, Bishop Emeritus Robert F. Andrews, of the Free Methodist Church of North America, describes it this way:

As I read Overcoming with Christ, all in one sitting, I seemed to hear a great choir in the background. Like the King of England listening to Handel’s Messiah, I want to stand!

While other scholars have approached the last book of the Bible with slide-rule and calculator, hoping to decipher a “playbook” for the “End Days,” Willard inductively uncovers a “Divine Oratorio” that not only enabled early Christians to sing victoriously while being thrown to the lions in the Roman Coliseum, but also assures overcoming victory to the followers of Jesus who face the evil forces of Satan in our lives today.

And that’s truly what the book is like—inspiring, encouraging. It is a helpful read for individuals . . . and a valuable resource for a group bible study. Incidentally, when my sister, Emily, used it for a bible study, she designed study sheets to use with it. Dad also handed out a couple worksheets to members of a class he taught in my church. These study materials are available for individuals or groups.

It makes my day to know that Dad’s books are still going out to spread the word about the Revelation message he loved so well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wisdom from Ivan Tait

For weeks, our pastor had announced that Ivan Tait would be preaching at our church on a Sunday morning in July. People who had heard him “last year” in Springfield made it seem as if this would be quite an event.

I saw what they meant. . . .

Half-Mexican and half-Scottish, Ivan conveyed an unusual depth of godliness and love for the physically and spiritually needy. His message to our church was so rich in one-line zingers, I was hard-pressed to jot them all down. Here is one I captured: 

Image from
“Our experience becomes our bible.
We need for the Bible to reinvent our experience.” 

As I ponder his statement again, Isa. 55:9 comes to mind: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my [God’s] ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” That concept seems pretty obvious to me. So why do I look at God’s principles and commandments in the Bible and say, “Oh, that wouldn’t work in my situation”? 

I must think I know more than God. What if I respected and trusted him enough to do things his way? Ivan seems to have found out that a whole new world of experiences awaits me when I do.       

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Punching Bag or Ambassador?

When you are at work, do you feel like a punching bag? Are you an employee your supervisor loves to hate?  

Have you asked God how he feels about this? Here’s the answer King David discovered: 

In my distress I called to the LORD;
   I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
   my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
   and the foundations of the mountains shook;
   they trembled because he was angry (Psa. 18: 6-7).
I don’t know about you, but I was surprised when I read this psalm and realized that the Lord cares that passionately about his children. 

So what are you asking the Lord to do for you? Immediately remove you from that situation? Miraculously change your employer’s attitude toward you? Take your boss out with a heart attack and bring in one who appreciates you?  

How about asking for . . . comfort? Before you say, “I need a whole lot more than that!” let me explain that comfort includes a whole lot more than we normally think.  

God’s comfort not only heals hurt feelings and damaged self-esteem, it strengthens. In fact, the second part of the word “comfort” comes from the Latin word “fortis,” which means strong. If you receive comfort from the Lord each time someone mistreats you, you will eventually become so strong on the inside that you will no longer feel humiliated when people harass you.  

If all you ask the Lord is to help you escape each difficult situation . . . well, there will always be another one. With the inner strength that Christ gives, you can be an overcomer in any situation. 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom. 8:35, 36). 

And here’s another reason to let the Holy Spirit (the “Comforter”) make you strong—and it’s a very important reason. The Lord has called us to be his ambassadors to hurting, ugly people.  

. . . God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:19-20).

How are we going serve as ambassadors without going where messed-up people are, rubbing shoulders with them, and showing them God’s love? And here is how we show his love:  

Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:44-45). 

The apostle Paul said, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:13-15). 

The apostle Peter said, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9).  

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Pet. 2:12). 

It’s a strategy that will take your “enemies” by surprise. It will open their hearts to learning about the God whose love—and strength—they see in you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Way Out

Are you a fan of A. A. Milne's books about Christopher Robin and his stuffed animal friends? If so, you will enjoy the new Winnie the Pooh movie. A subplot of the story (I won't give away the main plot) has Winnie the Pooh helping to dig a pit to trap a fearsome (imaginary) animal. As one might expect, Pooh and all his friends fall into it themselves.  However--as one might also expect--by the end of the story, they escape from the pit, their other problems are beautifully solved, and they seem poised to live happily ever after.

Can you and I escape as easily from the deep pits we might be in? Probably not. But Pooh and his companions did something that anyone in a pit should do. They looked up a lot . . . not down. The one thing we can't afford to do is focus on our problems and our feelings. Of course, we need to consider the situation carefully and make a plan for fixing it. However, once we've made that plan, we'd better get on with life, as much as possible. 

Dwelling continually on fixing your problems or healing your heart will not make it happen any faster. In fact, the more you focus on them, the more miserable and hopeless you’ll become. Focus on where you want to go, not the place you want to leave. Focus on the things you were created to focus on—God and others. As you put your trust in God and follow him, you will find your pit getting shallower and shallower.

 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight (Prov. 3:5-6).

 18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
shining ever brighter till the full light of day (Prov. 4:18).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Helpful Truth

A thought that just gelled for me a few days ago:

The truth, not spoken in love, comes across like a battering ram. Love is the bridge between me and others, which allows the truth I speak to walk across, looking like a friend.

How to make the love felt? I will need to preface my statements with “I don’t want to offend you,” or “May I say something as a friend?” or “May I make a suggestion?”--spoken with friendly ease. 

. . . that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph. 4:14-16).

Notice that the apostle Paul refers to growth twice in this passage--and that both times he links it with love. So, it's not just speaking truth to others that causes them to flourish--it must be mixed with love.