Baptism, A Welcome Death

Baptism is a death. We don’t often look at it this way, because we like to focus on the “new life” aspect of baptism. Rightfully so!

But we shouldn’t miss what Paul tells us here in Romans chapter 6. Paul states that we were buried with Christ through baptism. And he tells us this in answering a question about grace.

People were wondering, “If, as Paul teaches, the more we sin, the more grace increases, then what’s the downside to sin? Why not just keep on sinning? That way, we really put the grace of God on a pedestal!”

Paul responds to this line of thinking by simply saying, “That’s the logic of the old of way of life. We don’t think that way anymore and we don’t live that way any more, because we’ve died to all that.”

He goes on to reassure us that we have also been given a new life. Our old sinful self has been crucified with Christ. Our bodies are no longer ruled by sin. We are no longer slaves to sin. We’ve been set free.

What does this look like in daily life? Paul is not suggesting that we will live a sinless life from baptism on. You can check Romans chapter 7 for more detail on that.

But he is saying that — for those who follow Christ — a life of being a slave to sin is over. A life invested in the single-minded, ruthless and unscrupulous pursuit of sin no longer has any meaning or purpose for us. A life spent in chasing the pleasures of lust, greed, power and wealth just doesn’t have the power over our hearts that it once did.

Our whole way of thinking, our entire purpose in life, has changed. We follow Christ.

We’ve been baptized!

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:4-7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, July 20 is Hosea 1:1 – 2:23, Romans 6:1-14 and Psalm 87:1-7.

Lord, thank you for my baptism. I want to live in it ever day. Help me to enjoy my freedom. I am no longer a slave of sin. And while sin will always be present in my life, it can no longer control my life. That’s because you, Jesus, now control my life. You are the master and ruler of my heart. And what a fantastic new life that brings me!

Changed Hearts = Changed Habits

Human change is often worked from the outside in. We set up rules and guidelines. It’s all about clarity of what the boss desires.

In contrast, Godly change works from the inside out. The good news of our salvation and forgiveness in Christ changes our hearts. This kind of change is all about clarity of how big God’s grace is, how much he loves us. And all that despite our sins.

Roman society was very prone to promote outside in change. They had accomplished a lot by using military force to impose the emperor’s will. The Jews, in particular the Pharisees, had taken the same approach to changing people, and had been somewhat successful with it. So when Paul writes to the Romans, he wants to emphasize that God’s change will come about in a different way.

After he became a Christian Paul realized that when God changes hearts, he also ultimately changes habits. In this way we become people of integrity. What we think and feel on the inside will be reflected by our words and actions on the outside. When we fail to act with integrity, we go to Jesus for forgiveness. When we want more power or authority to live with integrity, we go to Jesus and ask him to send his Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus is the root of all true integrity.

“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, July 15, is Amos 1:1 – 2:16, Romans 2:17 – 3:8 and Proverbs 17:5-14.

Lord, change my heart, so that my habits will also change. Give me integrity and a willing heart to obey you. When I fail and fall short, forgive me through Jesus’ shedding of blood. Allow me to seek praise from you, rather than from people.

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Hope and Change

The resurrection of Christ is the central teaching of Christianity. The empty tomb is the place where hope is given birth.

And hope is vitally important. Without hope, our hearts go cold. Our happiness soon dries up. Our love of others — and God most of all — evaporates.

Guilt and shame take over. Frustration and fear take hold. Greed and selfishness take control.

Certainly, none of these provide a fertile environment for life-change.

The apostle Paul, standing before Felix (the Roman governor) and his wife Drusilla, is there to defend his faith in Jesus. He is a follower of the Way. This was the early name given to Christians by others. And truly he was a follower of the Way. Jesus had called himself “the way, the truth and the life.”

There with his faith on trial, surrounded by many who were pretty unlikely to ever change their minds about Jesus, it’s interesting to note what Paul says is the natural outcome of his hope in Christ. His hope has resulted in him becoming passionate about keeping his conscience clear. And not just before God. Before men too.

Still today, there is no better motivation for living according to the will of God. We call it “gospel motivation”: the good news of Jesus Christ, and the hope we derive from that good news, is the most pure and powerful energizer for personal life-change that exists.

The empty tomb is the place where hope is given birth. And the empty tomb is the place where powerful change is given birth as well.

“However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:14-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, July 5, is 2 Kings 10:1 – 11:21, Acts 24:1-27 and Psalm 80:8-19.

Lord, thank you for the hope of the resurrection. By your Spirit’s power, help me to use that hope to fuel my own striving to keep my conscience clear before you and before people.

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Inside Out

Have you ever discovered that you’ve put your t-shirt on inside-out? It’s not usually the most elegant fashion statement.

But, as an elegant solution for change? The inside-out approach is absolutely the best! The Bible talks frequently about “inside-out” change, as opposed to “outside-in” change. And there are some very good reasons for that.

Jesus points out that one of those reasons is that the outside-in approach leads to hypocrisy. That was the case with the Pharisees. Everything seemed fine on the outside, but the inside was still very unclean and corrupt. Greed and self-indulgence ruled their hearts. And so Jesus called them on their spiritual blindness and told them to get their priorities straight.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26, NIV).

Jesus teaches us that when we start with the inside (the mind, the heart), the outside (the hands, the feet, the tongue, the ears and the eyes) will follow suit.

So, how do I clean the inside? How do I bring about change in my mind and heart?

The answer is, “I don’t!”

But Jesus does. When his love, grace, and mercy are poured into our hearts, Jesus cleans the “inside” for us. His blood-bought forgiveness is the only “cleansing agent” that truly works to radically alter our minds and hearts.

When Jesus’ grace lives in your heart, Jesus’ strength resides in your hands.

Lord, thank you for changing and re-making me into a new person. With your grace and forgiveness, you purified my mind and heart. Now give me your Spirit that I may be made new all the way to tips of my hands and feet.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, February 4, is Job 33:1 – 34:37, Matthew 23:1-39 and Psalm 18:25-36.

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Where Change Begins

January is the month when we try to make changes in our lives. New Year’s resolutions!

We’re going to work out more. We’re going to lose weight. We’re going to finally read that book. We’re going to fix that relationship.

Character qualities rise to the fore. I’m going to be a more hard-working person in 2015. And more honest. I’ll amp up the compassion. Get rid of the swear words. Stop the gossiping.

So we set up a “fine jar.” A dollar for every cuss word. Five dollars for every time I catch myself gossiping.

We write out our list of goals. We share it with our best friend, and ask him to keep us accountable.

None of those are bad things. In fact, they can be very, very good things. But they are not the place to start.

Jesus shows us that place. The starting line for life-change is not our neighbor or the list on our smartphone.

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19, NIV).

This is so important. Jesus tells us why our habits are broken. It’s because our hearts are broken.

The place to start is with healing the heart. And the place where healing the heart begins is the cross. The person who can change my habits permanently is not me. The person is Jesus.

That’s because change begins with hope, with strength, with love. Not with condemnation, with feeble attempts, with selfishness and shame.

And who is Jesus? He is hope. He is strength. He is love.

Ask him to heal your heart. And change your life.

Jesus, heal my heart through the good news of your forgiveness won for me at the cross. I want to change. Give me your hope, your strength, and your love.

Our reading for Thursday, January 22, is Genesis 43:1 -44:34, Matthew 15:10-39, and Psalm 13:1-6.

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Rock Solid

I don’t know about you, but I wish I could stop being so shaky. I don’t always make good decisions. I sometimes choose my next steps based on fear and avoidance of pain, rather than faith and fulfillment of my life’s purpose. And when it comes to my faith, I find it far more convenient to rely on myself than depend on Jesus. It’s just easier that way. Or so my sinful mind tells me. I wish I could be rock solid. I want to feel confident in my mind, my heart and my actions. I want to be a man of faith and courage. I want to be fully dependent on my all-powerful and always-loving God for every good thing. And Jesus shows me the way to grow and mature into that man. It starts with listening to his word. Reading and meditating on my Bible. Attending church. Participating in a growth group. Subscribing to my church’s podcast. But it certainly doesn’t end there. Did you realize that there is only one difference between the wise and foolish builders in Jesus’ parable at the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount? Both builders listened to the words of Jesus, but only the wise builder actually put Jesus’ words into practice. Maturity as a man or woman of God comes when we listen to Jesus’ words and then actually live the way he instructs us to. But to build our house on the rock, we must begin by building our house on the Rock. We will build, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, when we eat and drink from the spiritual rock that accompanies us, and that Rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4, NIV). When we build our faith on this Rock, we discover that there is massive good news for us. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has given us a new identity, a new destiny, a new purpose, a new community, and new possibilities. And therein lies the motivation to change our lives. In this good news is the “Why?” for listening to Jesus, and for putting his words into practice in our lives, so that we too become rock solid. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, NIV). Lord Jesus, my Savior, thank you for living and dying for me to give me so many rich spiritual blessings. Help me by your Spirit’s power to become rock solid, by depending fully on you, listening to your words, and putting them into practice in my life. Our reading for Friday, January 9, is Genesis 19:1 – 20:18, Matthew 7:24 – 8:22 and Psalm 7:1-9.

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Broadcasting Repentance

Once Jesus settled into a base of operations in Capernaum, he began to do what he came to do: broadcast the news. And the news that he came to broadcast was not the evening news. (Thank goodness. Have you ever noticed how relentlessly bad the evening news can be?)

The news Jesus came to announce was very good news. The news was that he is the Light of the world and Life to those living under the shadow of death (Matthew 4:16).

As the light and life of the world, Jesus had wisdom that needed to be heard. But to be received this wisdom would require a change of mind on the part of people.

By nature, people’s minds are not on a receptive track, as Moses clearly indicates in the book of Genesis: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5, NIV).  

Jesus wants to get people back on track, receptive to God and to God’s loving plans for them. And he knows that getting on track begins with the fear of the Lord: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7, NIV).

So what’s the best characterization of Jesus’ teaching? Matthew tells us what it is: Changed minds. Changed hearts. Changed lives.

Repentance, in other words. Receptiveness. Because when Jesus comes near, his kingdom comes near, too. That’s why wise people tune in when Jesus is broadcasting.

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near'” (Matthew 4:17, NIV). 

Lord, change my mind and heart. Make me receptive to you and your wisdom. Get me back on track by shining the great light of your salvation into every corner of my mind and heart. May listening to you give me a repentant mind and heart. You are my Savior. You are my Lord. You are my light and my life.

Our reading for Sunday, January 4, is Genesis 7:1 – 9:17, Matthew 4:1-22 and Proverbs 1:1-7.

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