A few years ago, my plans changed at the last minute, preventing me from accompanying my husband to Yosemite National Park for the annual Spring Forum. My ticket was prepaid, and I had registered for some interesting seminars. So rather than let all that go to waste, Andy decided to invite his friend Ron to accompany him for the long day-trip. Upon arrival, Ron claimed my nametag, but whited out the tail on the Y to make the nametag say “Marv Naegeli.” For the day, “Marv” lived in my name. I told him before they left, “Make me proud. Don’t embarrass me.”

This idea of doing something in another person’s name is legalized with a “Durable Power of Attorney.” When one has DPA for another, one feels very responsible to carry out the wishes (if known) of the person who signed the document.

So does it surprise you to know that God has given each one of us his “durable power of attorney” to act in a manner and with the same authority that he himself possesses? This DPA was first issued back in the Garden, when God told Adam and Eve to steward and tend the earth. Creation has always belonged to God, but he commissioned human beings to take responsibility for its care and feeding.

All along, our task has been to ask, “What would God do in this situation if he were in my shoes?” This focus is embedded in the Judeo-Christian psyche, to act on God’s behalf according to God’s purposes, for the glory of the One who made us and for the good of the creation we are stewarding.

The Apostle Paul concludes this first round of positive exhortations in Colossians 3 with a reference to this stewardship mindset:

17And whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What a blanket statement! Paul is saying, whatever activity you are engaged in or whatever you are saying, conduct it “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This instruction can be understood two ways, firstly, “representing Jesus,” and secondly, “with the power and authority of Jesus.”

As an ambassador for Christ, Paul was well aware that he was representing Jesus Christ to those who were just being introduced to the Savior as well as to established believers (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20). It didn’t matter what the particular activity was, but Paul aspired to do it representing the goodness, life, power, love and message of the One who had transformed his own life. He is telling us in this verse that we are to do the same.

Further, whatever we do, we can (and should) do it in the power of Jesus Christ. We can expect Christ’s power only for those activities and words that are in the Lord’s service, consistent with his values, demonstrative of his nature, and aligned with his purposes. When we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, we are inviting the helpful scrutiny of the Holy Spirit to stay on the straight and narrow. Rather than feel threatened by God’s interest in what we are doing, we are reminded to give thanks to God, our heavenly Father, who loves us so much as to entrust us with important decisions. The least we can do is honor him and act in a way that would help others recognize God at work through us.

There is another “whatever you do” passage coming up, so I will save the rest for later. In the meantime, though, Paul is elevating all normal activity to the possibility of divine ambassadorship. Food for thought, don’t you think?

 

I have been reading Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila this week, and am taken in by the character development of the girl without a home. Not wanting to spoil the book for anyone who has not read it (and I’m not even finished with it myself), let us just note a habit Lila started when she landed in Gilead. She pinched a pew Bible in order to gain some insight into what the preacher was talking about. To achieve her other goal—increased literacy—she opened the book at the beginning (Genesis 1) and started writing out verses one at a time, ten times each. It helped her ponder the texts and enter them into her memory for referral later.

On my piano rack stand several pieces of vocal music that must be memorized for a choral concert tour we will be making this summer. My struggle has included listening to the pieces many times, plunking them out on the piano, singing my part frequently, but they are still not memorized. My next step is the Lila method: write out the words, find the patterns, note the changes from verse to verse, and otherwise parse the lyrics in order to get them into my brain. Next will be loading the pieces onto my iPhone so I can practice holding my own with the rest of the choral parts.

Early in my walk with Christ, I memorized one hundred Bible verses and their Scripture references. Memorizing was so much easier then! But it always included writing them out (by hand) a few times, just like Lila did, then saying them out loud. Exposure to them through reading, writing, and speaking them finally enabled me to “hear” them. By this rather pedantic method, I succeeded in storing those verses into my mind and heart, where they reside and are available anytime they are needed, even today.

Of course, in the meantime, lots of homework has supported this early effort. I have read the entire Bible (more than once), studied theological concepts, outlined entire books of the Bible, and explored implications for everyday life. In other words, Scripture has taken root in me over the decades I have been known by Christ.

The Apostle Paul’s lengthy exhortation to the Colossians continues with the urging:

16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;
teach and admonish one another in all wisdom;
and with gratitude in your hearts
sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

Paul knows the importance of keeping a firm grip on the Word of God. Something happens internally when we set something to memory. It becomes ours. It speaks to us when we are not expecting to hear from it again. We find ourselves making connections between something happening and what we have remembered. This has been my experience of internalizing the Scriptures. Paul calls it “letting the word dwell in you richly.” Namely, allowing the Word of God to abide in both mind and heart so that and until it bears fruit within. But he goes on to say that this Word is something that we, together as the Body of Christ, share with one another through teaching and correction. When the Word dwells in us, and particularly in our Christian community, in our worship and study together, we become a people of the Word. It isn’t only an individualistic thing, to know the Word of God, it is also a corporate thing to know, experience, taste, and handle the Word of truth among fellow believers.

And a joyous, comforting thing it is. Last week I had the privilege of spending an evening with several of Steve Hayner’s friends, who shared poignantly of walking alongside him on the journey toward heaven. Scriptures just “popped” for them. Old, familiar verses that had brought so much solace in life were now reapplied and richly expanded at the moment of death. I will never read Psalm 116 the same again.

Years ago, the wife of a dying man in his 90s called me for a visit. He was a retired pastor who had been in perfect health until just a few months before his death. My husband and I called on him in the hospital at a time when he was feeling discouraged and down, desiring more than anything for the Lord to take him home. He had been unable to read for several weeks, which further depressed him. As he shared this, his wife gently chided him, saying, “But honey, you have so much Scripture memorized, you hardly need to read now.” And then she prompted him with the opening verses of Isaiah 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne . . .

He immediately joined in, and before our very eyes he enthusiastically delivered the entire chapter and Isaiah’s call to the prophetic ministry. It was just amazing. He was a different person when he concluded his recitation: encouraged, seeing heaven, awestruck.

There is a man in whom the Word dwelt richly. Is this not an encouragement to all of us to grab hold of portions of Scripture, memorize them and carry them with us? There will come a day for us, too, when we will be unable to read. But with the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised would help us remember everything he taught us (John 14:25ff), we can “eat this book” (Revelation 10:9, The Message). Lent is a perfect time to get going on this, don’t you think?

 

::Sigh:: It has been one of those days. Technical difficulties are keeping me from Bible study today. I guess that is not entirely accurate. Technical difficulties with my Bible software program have slowed me down. I tried to install an upgrade, and failed. The program now lies in a crashed heap, and I am awaiting tech support.

My sigh is followed by laughter, however, as I realize my big ol’ Bible is sitting right here on my desk. And today’s text is simple and probably tailor-made for just such an occasion!

15 And be thankful.

Up to this point, the Apostle Paul’s positive instruction in Colossians 3 has covered the following exhortations:

• Be virtuous as an expression of true love.

• Bear with one another.

• Forgive each other.

• Let peace reign in your heart.

• Let peace reign at church.

And then Paul just sneaks this brief exhortation into his list without elaboration:

• Be thankful.

It isn’t even specific, like “Be thankful for _______!” Nope, just “be thankful.” Now this takes me back to what Dallas Willard wrote about love: the goal is not so much “Help me to love this cantankerous person” as it is “Help me to become a loving person.” 

With “Be thankful,” I don’t think Paul intends to be specific at all. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, he instructed them to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:18). His life modeled the attitude that regardless of what is going on, one can remain thankful to God. He does not say “be thankful for” but “give thanks in all circumstances.” Thankful people just carry gratitude around with them wherever they go. It’s a beautiful thing when one runs across such a person. What Paul is saying is that it is part of keeping our sights on “things above” (Colossians 3:1)  to walk in a general state of gratitude to God. Then when it is time to say “Thanks” for something specific, the words naturally come out of the heart.

So with that short, pithy encouragement, I shall sign off with a grateful heart. Thanks be to God, who has created this day, who has loved me even in my frustration, who has given me the energy to tackle today’s problems.  “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

In Memoriam: Steve Hayner

February 23, 2015

A service celebrating the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Steve Hayner takes place today in Atlanta, Georgia. Steve was president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, and former president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He was also a friend and encourager to me, in the context of our national covenant group which met two weeks ago shortly after his death.

Join me today in attending Steve’s memorial service at Peachtree Presbyterian Church through live-streaming.

The service begins at 2 p.m. EST, and the worship bulletin is available as a PDF download here.

As I participate in this service shortly, I will be contemplating also the next line in Colossials 3, “And be thankful.” I am thankful for Steve, his influence in the wider church, his humble and gracious and reconciling spirit, and the joy with which he walked the journey from this life to the next.

Spring training has started! The Giants are warming up their pitchers and catchers in Scottsdale, AZ, this week. Assessments are being made, recovery from injuries celebrated, starting lineups tried on for size. Next week the full team checks in. As of today, Major League Baseball has exactly forty-five days until opening day, April 6.

What we do not hear much about, however, are the umpires. The roster of 68 umpires qualified for “the Majors” is a traveling band of baseball experts. Their calls are sacred—even with official reviews, also made by umpires—and they bear an authority that elicits respect from little kids all the way up to grannies watching the game on TV. [Last June, a fascinating article told the story of a Christian ministry to umpires. The human side of their role—schedules, travel, and stresses of the game—awakens the compassion of a pastor called to minister to them.]

I bring up umpires, because there is a word in today’s Colossians 3 passage that hints of umpiring.

15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in the one body.

The word is “rule,” and it connotes the overarching judgment and voice of authority, such as an umpire would administer through a game. What is it that is to rule, or umpire, your hearts? The Peace of Christ! So let’s explore this a bit.

When we hear “the peace of Christ,” we are probably more inclined to think of it in terms of personal, inner reassurance and contentment. This is the focus of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians (4:4–7). There, he talks about trading in worry for prayerful petition and thanksgiving, the result being peace in one’s heart. So this individual, inner peace is certainly legitimate and necessary in the Christian life.

However, in Colossians, Paul takes a different spin by indicating that this peace is a quality to which we “were called in one body.” This points to a corporate condition of peace, relational peace, that is to guide and adjudicate our dealings with each other. Keeping the peace is a virtue in Paul’s playbook.

Thinking about my fellow Presbyterians for a moment, the peace in our ranks has been shaken greatly in the last twenty-five years or so. Discontent and dysfunction have disturbed the peace, unity, and purity of our denomination for almost as long as I have been a member. My desire is not to replay any of those fights, but only to illustrate that peace is truly a precious commodity in short supply. And yet, we are called to it. So how do we manage it?

The conditions in which the peace of Christ can flourish include the following:

  1. single minded and pure hearted recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ

  2. an agreement (yes, “being of one mind”) about the essentials of the Christian faith

  3. the exercise of the fruit of the Spirit in community with fellow believers, with love as the tie that binds all others together

  4. in the reality of conflict, discernment of those matters that fall under #1 or #2 above and dealing with them clearly and thoroughly in a timely fashion.

Speaking only for the conflicts of which I have been a part, we have failed to realize the peace of Christ, even yet, because

  1. there is still plenty of human competition for the role of “Lord” in the church

  2. we cannot state and therefore cannot agree on what is essential for Presbyterians to believe in order to remain within the fellowship

  3. we have betrayed one another’s trust and given confusing messages about loving one another

  4. our dealings with the issues at hand have dragged on now for decades, have been ecclesiastically clumsy, and have created mixed messages for the church and the world. The solution currently under scrutiny by the presbyteries will only confuse matters more, for what its new statement about marriage does not say, as much as what it does say.

So I do not hold out much hope that “the peace of Christ” will reign in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) anytime soon. It makes me very sad to say so.

It reminds me of the prophet Ezekiel’s indictment against Israel, which included, “They have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace” (cf. Ezek. 13:8-16). Lest we join the prophets who are making statements simply out of their own imagination, leading to dead-ends, let us submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, hold fast to the faith, and bear with one another out of love for Christ.

For those done with church, this passage probably comes across as a lament. If only the church had let peace rule, we say . . . so now what do we do to promote the peace of Christ, to live in it in community? We are going to have to listen more, talk less, pray more, walk alongside, anguish in the Spirit and long for purity that is wrought by God’s thorough work in our souls and in our fellowships. A tough call, and we may not be up to it yet. But still, we must affirm that Paul’s admonition is on target: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.”

And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:14

Paul continues his theme with the “layered look” of spiritual dressing. Imagine yourself putting on a patience undershirt, and then a kindness button-down oxford. Pull up those meekness jeans, and compassion socks. Bring it all together with a humble sweater. But now, Paul says, the entire ensemble is tied together with an overcoat of love. It is intriguing imagery, particularly contemporary. What Paul is saying here is that love (and he uses the term agape, unconditional love) is the all-encompassing virtue. Love is the general “rule” and the fruit of the Spirit (for instance) are ways that it is embodied in actual attitudes and behaviors. Love is expressed through patience, humility, and kindness.

As Dallas Willard remarked, “Love, as Paul and the NT presents it, is not action—not even action with a special intention—but a source of action. It is a condition out of which actions of a certain type emerge.” [1]

We live in an age and environment that is a bit mixed up about what love is. We confuse love with desire. We say we fall into it. Or it is strictly a feeling we cannot control. And yet, Paul in this passage (and others, such as Romans 13:19 and 1 Corinthians 13) writes about love from a completely different angle. We are to put it on over everything else good and virtuous, because love brings it all together as one piece.

But what is it, this agape love? Dallas Willard offers a definition he thinks covers the ground:

Love is an overall condition
of the embodied, social self
poised to promote the goods of human life
that are within its range of influence.
Willard—“Getting Love Right”

Love is a disposition or character that makes one ready to act towards and for another in a way consistent with the gospel (God’s love for us). Willard often said it is misplaced effort to try to love a person. Rather, our prayer should be that we become the kind of person who would love that person. “The kind of person” who can do this is “possessed by love as an overall character of life,” regardless of what is going on. So, “I do not come to my enemies and then try to love them; I come to them as a loving person.” This is why John said, “God is love.” This is God’s identity, “a loving person.” It explains why he can and does love me, even when he is not pleased with what I am doing. Love is God’s general condition, out of which comes his promotion of what is good and right and life-giving for me.

So when Paul says to “put on love,” he is asking us to enter into the state of being possessed by love. “We love, because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Knowing we are loved by God, allowing that “we are not our own; we were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19f), we are possessed by love. As we surrender our wills to God and remain open to his transforming power, he will make us loving persons from the inside out. This is a work of the Spirit, requiring our willingness and availability, and the sort of practice that demonstrates we really do want to change clothes from “unloving” to “loving.”

The question for your consideration is not, Whom should you be loving? but What are the obstacles in your heart to becoming a loving person: selfishness? pride? anger? competitiveness? indifference? impatience? hurry?

[1] What follows are some thoughts heavily relying on Dallas Willard on the subject of love, as presented in his Fuller lectures (when I took a two-week intensive with him in June 2007) and a presentation he made in September 2007 called “Getting Love Right.” I am quoting him freely.

 

A Facebook friend was fretting a bit that she had not yet decided what to give up for Lent. She brings up an interesting question. As a born and raised Catholic, my family of origin refrained from eating meat on Fridays. Nowadays, such a discipline is a daily and year-round practice among vegetarians, robbing the deprivation of its spiritual meaning. But being the consumer society we are, chances are pretty good that we are all eating, drinking, injecting, or inhaling something that threatens to get the upper hand in our lives. Something in this category would be a sharper focus of discipline during Lent.

On the other hand, rather than eliminating something, would it not also be Lent-worthy to adopt a new habit or practice instead? Yesterday’s verse, Colossians 3:12, suggested arenas for our thoughtful application: patience, kindness, compassion, meekness, and humility. What is something you could do that would exercise one of these virtue-muscles for spiritual strengthening?

Today’s verse is even more pointed, as Paul urges us to express that patience, kindness, compassion, meekness, and humility in the act of “bearing with one another.”

“Bear with each other and forgive
whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

I can think of at least two ways “bearing with” happens:

  1. We help our [friend, family member, co-worker] to bear a particular burden, by our ministries of intercession, presence, and merciful action; or

  2. We “grin and bear it” when our [friend, family member, co-worker] errs, sins, or offends us, and follow up that tolerance with forgiveness in the same manner Christ has forgiven us.

Both interpretations offer possibilities for Lenten discipline.

This past week, one of our covenant group members experienced a confusing medical problem and had to be taken to the hospital ER. Three different brothers in Christ took turns staying with Tom and his wife Betty while the situation was sorted out over a matter of days. Just being there to share the burden and to help them know they were not alone away from home was “bearing with them.” In your life, is someone suffering a prolonged illness, requiring isolation from his or her community and yet needing it more? Can you take a meal? Drop off a little stuffed animal? Do a load of laundry or garden maintenance? Send a meaningful card with a verse worth re-reading and remembering? Your imagination is far more creative than mine is. What is important is that you show up in some way, as a sign that the burden is shared by the Christian community.

But then we come to the other meaning of “bearing with,” which is another way of saying Christian forbearance toward others while they work out the sin thing in their own life. Perhaps Lent is the time to stop nagging or being critical of someone close to you. The Christian discipline would be one of fervent intercession (pray for them!), openness to their humanity (listen to them!), active choosing not to be bothered by irksome behavior (forgive them!), and tending to their wounds with the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Just today, a Christian friend was sharing frustration over a work relationship that seems to be going south. The Christian friend thinks the solution is to quit the job because he feels he is being discriminated against as a Jesus-follower. I do not know the details, only that he feels this way about the situation. But maybe for Lent, he (and I in similar situations) could choose to take the barbs and put-downs without losing sleep over them, and walk in Jesus’ footsteps toward the Cross. After all, isn’t that a point of reflection during Lent? We ponder how it is that Jesus took our sins upon himself and absorbed them. He did not return evil for evil, he did not displace any anger or frustration on others around him. No, he bore the sins of all people and carried them to the grave where they could do no more harm. He bore with us, and he forgave us.

There is escalating tension and terror on earth today. Perhaps giving up retaliation might just be the Lenten discipline that could change the world.

Finally I come ‘round again to the letter of Paul to the Colossians. I left off ten days ago with a general reflection on the idea that we are to clothe ourselves in Christ and his character. This week, I would like to use Paul’s list of admonitions as a springboard for discussion of the sorts of changes you anticipate Jesus might accomplish in you in today’s world. We’ll take this verse by verse through Colossians 3:17.

Though it may seem like a thought coming from left field, I start by expressing my outrage at the anti-Semitism that is rising in Europe. Prejudice is defined as preconceived bias against someone or a group, based on misunderstanding, misconception, or incomplete knowledge. For whatever reason—and I admit utter bafflement—France, for example, is becoming inhospitable to Jews. But please hear me: there is nothing in Christianity to justify hostility towards the Jewish people. If one points a suspicious or accusatory finger towards a Jew, one must point that same finger towards oneself, for we have all sinned—Israeli, Palestinian, Parisian, Jew, Gentile— and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We all like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). We have all been alienated from our Creator, and our sin resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus died at the hands of Romans (pagan Gentiles) and Jews who provoked them —no denying this fact of history. But we all bear a common burden of sin guilt. Reception of Christ’s grace and forgiveness does not make a person superior or in any way justify contempt for those who have not received this gift. We are called to treat one other as kin (in the sense that our faith and humanity is grounded in the same Old Testament roots), even as we await the coming return of Jesus Christ to make clear his identity as the Messiah and invite everyone to believe and receive him.

Do hear how Paul begins his admonition:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

So when Paul calls us “chosen ones,” we stand in spiritual solidarity with the people that were the first to live in covenant with Almighty God. Identifying believers as chosen ones, holy and beloved, puts Gentile Christians like the Colossians squarely in the circle of the covenant between God and the Chosen People. In our generation, it is a great honor to be numbered in the family of faith that started with Abraham. This honor is humbling and dangerous in certain parts of the world (and our country and neighborhoods) where Christians stand up against prejudice. We Christians, like Abraham, were called out of a worldly life into fellowship with the living God (hence, we are holy). We were embraced in mercy by our heavenly Father (hence, we are beloved). We were grafted into the covenant by Jesus’ death on the cross, allowing us to receive the same covenant blessing (hence, we are chosen). You can read more about that in Ephesians 2:11–22.

And since we are chosen, we are to clothe ourselves with virtues that should lead to gracious tolerance of others (more on that as Colossians 3 unfolds). Those virtues would include patience with others’ foibles or cultural practices, humility before God and one another, and costly kindness extended to those who need it.

Questions for your reflection:

  1. Watch this brief video. How would you feel about being this chap’s bodyguard?

  2. Can you cite any instance of anti-Semitism in your neighborhood or city? What can you do to call this out or model Christ’s way?

  3. If you were “clothed with compassion, humility, etc…” how would your behavior change in response to local or common vexations?

  4. Sojourners done with church: is there any element of prejudice embedded in your reaction against the church? How can you show kindness, patience, humility, or compassion to those who have disappointed, disillusioned, or injured you?

 

Hello friends, just a quick check-in today . . . in the last ten days I have seen a theatrical presentation of C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce; traveled to Decatur, GA, where our covenant group memorialized Steve Hayner; underwent medical testing to investigate my vocal trouble; camped near the ocean in glorious weather;  and otherwise got a lot of mental and spiritual space. My head and heart are so full of these events and their lessons, I need an extra day to sort it. I will say this much: God continues to clarify my call and give me a view into my soul. My spirit is finding peace in a new way, with a breakthrough or two specifically setting me free in Christ. Colossians 3 talks about a radical transformation and the choices we are called to make in cooperation with God’s renovation of our hearts. This dynamic between the old self (dead to me) and the new self (alive in Christ) is very real and present. So in the days to come, I’m sure some of this will come out as I continue my comments on Colossians and those admonitions of chapter 3.

Until tomorrow, some questions for your consideration:

1. Reread Colossians 3:1-3.

2. In the last ten days, when have you “set your mind on things above”? What was the result of doing that?

3. In the last ten days, how have you been stuck on “things that are on earth” (some described in Colossians 3:5-9)?

          A prayer of confession might be appropriate here . . .

4. How is it possible to “set your mind on” things above when earthly things require or demand your attention? Is it possible to do both at once?

5. In the struggle to put your attention on things above, how has God helped? What might be an encouragement to you, or to a friend struggling with the same dilemma?

In the forty-five years since I gave my life to Christ, there have been many opportunities to recognize the complete transformation in my personality, priorities, and practices. Even by age 17, my life was on a trajectory of crippling anxiety, perfectionism, and isolation. If God had not pursued me and got hold of my heart, there is no telling how I might have turned out permanently. But catching me when he did, God began to remake me and reorient me towards him and towards my neighbor.

The fact that this transformation started so long ago in no way diminishes my gratitude for Jesus’ patient work in me, which continues to this day. Not as often now, but invasive nonetheless, the “old tapes” from my before-Christ days try to take over my thoughts or perspective. So one of the things dead to me now is the self that was afraid, autonomous, and anxious. After forty-five years of laying that old self aside, and putting on the new self made whole, confident and joyful in the Savior, I can say that I have made progress toward Christ-likeness. Of course, my transformation is not complete, but it will be someday (Philippians 1:6).

My story is not unique. People around the globe over the last 2,000 years have been undergoing the same kind of renovation of the heart, as Dallas Willard called it. No matter our country of origin, our cultural perspective, our socio-economic status, we who are in Christ all look to the same Savior for the same thing: salvation and life-transforming power to change the way we live.

The Apostle Paul used the analogy of clothing to depict what is happening to us spiritually:

9 . . .seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices
10and have clothed yourselves with the new self,
which is being renewed in knowledge
according to the image of its creator.
11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew,
circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free;
but Christ is all and in all!
12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
13Bear with one another and,
if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;

just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

My quiet life at home as a writer these days does not require me to dress up or have a large, fancy wardrobe. Nevertheless, I change clothes at least three times a day, from bedclothes to exercise clothes to working-at-home clothes. If I go out to meet someone for coffee, I put on a nice-looking sweater out of respect for my friend. Each of these changes of clothing is a reminder of the choice we are called to make to take off the old self “with its practices” and clothe ourselves with “the new self.” This new personality is always being updated (unlike my personal wardrobe!) in knowledge according to God’s image.

There’s that word “knowledge” again. There’s something about keeping current what we know about God and how we think about him as part of our daily worship and service. Regular exposure to God’s word and time in prayer keep the conversation going and allow us to stay in touch with our Lord.

Spiritual renewal—common to all who know Christ regardless of background—is evidenced by new attitudes towards others: compassion, hopeful patience, and forgiveness. Our ability to make this transformation comes from the new reality that we are God’s chosen ones, now part of the family that began with the Chosen Ones the Jews and extended by God’s grace to all others also even to our generation. As another disciple of Jesus said, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

We are not talking merely about a new identity, but a new self that lives a new way with new attitudes and actions that are visibly different from before. All this is possible and real because Jesus Christ is Lord and he has sent his Spirit to work in our hearts to make change.

In my next post, “what sort of change” will be defined further as we continue in Chapter 3. That post will not appear until Tuesday, February 17, allowing me some freedom while traveling to see my covenant group friends this coming week. We are meeting at Sharol Hayner’s home to celebrate Steve Hayner’s life. I must be fully present for this meeting and put my writing assignments aside for the duration. Thank you for your patience!