Stand firm!

Today’s devotional thought:

Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Before walking out of jail a free man in February, Albert Woodfox spent 43 years almost without pause in an isolation cell, becoming the longest standing solitary confinement prisoner in America. He had no view of the sky from inside his 6 foot by 9 foot concrete box, no human contact, and taking a walk meant pacing from one end of the cell to the other and back again.

Then in April 2016 he found himself on a beach in Galveston, Texas, in the company of a friend. He stood marveling at all the beachgoers under a cloudless sky, and stared out over the Gulf of Mexico as it stretched far out to the horizon. "You could hear the tide and the water coming in," he says. "It was so strange, walking on the beach and all these people and kids running around."

Of all the terrifying details of Woodfox's four decades of solitary incarceration … perhaps the most chilling aspect of all is what he says now. Two months after the state of Louisiana set him free on his 69th birthday, he says he sometimes wishes he was back in that cell.

"Oh yeah! Yeah!" he says passionately when asked whether he sometimes misses his life in lockdown. "You know, human beings … feel more comfortable in areas they are secure. In a cell you have a routine, you pretty much know what is going to happen, when it's going to happen, but in society it's difficult, it's looser. So there are moments when, yeah, I wish I was back in the security of a cell." He pauses, then adds: "I mean, it does that to you." [Ed Pilkington, "43 years in solitary: There are moments I wish I was back there," The Guardian (4-29-16)]

They don’t tell you that when you come to Christ, when you die to self and are raised to walk in newness of life, the dead you reaches back from the grave. That self, the old you, is like a jail cell. You were a slave to sin. It had mastery over you--confining you, hemming you in, directing your choices and path--but when you became a follower of Jesus he says, “You are free!” And it can be like standing before a vast vista and marveling at the vision before you. Where once you were blind now you see. Not only is the view majestic, sweeping and surreal, it is also a bit frightening. Freedom can be disorienting, perhaps a little scary. And the familiarity and comfort of the cell will call your name. This is has been the reality since Peter preached at Pentecost and started the church of Jesus.

Did you think you were the only one who struggled overcoming some secret sin? That those Christians that seem to have it all together are some how above you, better than you and you could never achieve their level of spiritual success? The truth of sin is that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. We all must stand there as sinners. Therefore, we all will hear a call to return to the cell of our old selves. Paul’s advice? “Hang in there. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. Stand firm.” You will never be sinless but you will sin less. Christianity is a journey and any journey can only be judged after some ground has been covered. One day you will look back and marvel. One day you will look at yourself and the person you were before Christ will be the stranger. Stand firm!

Prayer: Our Holy Father, help us to stand firm, help us to remember the horrors of our sin. You are holy. Help us to be more like You today than we were yesterday. Help us to give you glory by the choices we make, the words we use and the lives we live. May You receive all the glory You are due. In Jesus name, amen.

A Long Time To Create Something Worth While...

Devotional thought: A Long Time To Create Something Worth While...

Philippians 1:6, "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

When Peter Jackson released the first movie in the trilogy, The Lord Of The Rings, in 2001, millions became enchanted in a world of fantastical creatures and magic. The movies were an instant hit due in some part to the genius of Jackson but mostly due to the immersive world that J.R.R Tolkien created in his fantasy series. The world that Tolkien created feels so complete in detail and so effortless in its creativity, so perfect, that most do not realize the expansive amount of time it took to create.

Tolkien did not initially set out to write fantasy novels and create an entire world that he called "Middle Earth." He first ventured into his brilliant writing career when he read the phrase "Middle Earth," in an Old English manuscript and it inspired a poem. That was in 1914 and he was only 22. Three years later in 1917, he wrote "The Fall of Gondolin," which was the first story of his fantasy works.

Then, 13 years later (1930), he began telling his children a bedtime story about a strange and funny creature called a hobbit. Seven years later his book titled The Hobbit was published. The publisher immediately asked Tolkien for a sequel, and 12 years later in 1949 he completed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The trilogy was published five years later (1954). In other words, from the time he first saw the phrase "Middle Earth," to the time his masterpiece about Middle Earth was published, it took Tolkien 40 years of creative effort. It can take a long time to create something worth while.

Shouldn't the same be true of us? The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. Though when we are born again we receive the benefits of Jesus Christ's perfect, sinless life upon us that is only the beginning of a process by which God is creating us into the image of His Son Jesus. God is working in you to change you and this process takes time. 

I once visited a saintly elderly woman's house who had the familiar sign on her wall, "Please be patient with me. God isn't finished with me yet!" This isn't an excuse for living a sinful lifestyle but a reality that calls us to press on towards the upward call in Christ Jesus. Paul explains this later in Philippians 3 where he says, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-14).

You are a work of God and He is not finished with you yet. It is a work of a lifetime. It can take a long time to create something worth while. So, be patient with yourself and press on, never giving up. For I am certain of this, "...that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Prayer: Holy Father, we are grateful today that you are working in us and that You will be faithful to finish what you've begun. Help us to never give up but to press on knowing You will not give up on us but will see us to completion in Jesus Christ. In His name, amen.

Not a do-it-yourself project...

Today’s thought:

Philippians 1:4-6, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

For nearly a hundred years a beautiful mural of Jesus had held pride of place in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Borja, Spain. The "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man) painting, was completed by Elias Garcia Martinez in the 1930s. A well known master painter. A priceless work of art.

But in August of 2012, an 80-year-old church member named Cecilia Gimenez took it upon herself to touch up the painting. She was right about one thing: the painting needed some work. After decades of moisture buildup, the painting had started to deteriorate, and the colors had started to fade. So Cecilia initiated her do-it-yourself restoration project.

Despite her good intentions, it didn't turn out well. The New York Times said that it was "probably the worst art restoration project of all time." A Spanish blog called it "the restoration that turned into destruction." And a BBC article said, "The delicate brushstrokes by Elias Garcia Martinez have been buried under a haphazard splattering of paint. The once-dignified portrait [of Jesus] now resembles a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic."

But Cecilia was quoted as saying, "We've always fixed everything ourselves in this church." Not wise. Art restoration is possibly one of the most delicate and demanding tasks a person could attempt. Only a master can fix a masterpiece. Some projects in life are just beyond a do-it-yourself approach. 

We are all restoration projects. Ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden we have been part of the most massive and delicate restoration process imaginable--the restoration of us to God. When Jesus came to bring that restoration process to a historical climax he came as an example of the the Master’s perfect picture of man. From then on we all are to be restored to his image, or as Romans 8:29 tells us, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Jesus is the ideal to which we all must be conformed. To be restored to his image is an art restoration project of the highest order. It is the project of a lifetime and not even Paul had thought he had achieved it. He said, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). If Paul has not achieved perfect Christ-likeness neither have we. But we are promised the project will be completed when in 1 John 3:2 it says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And God will be faithful to complete this project in us.

The key, then, is in realizing that this is not a do-it-yourself project. Only a Master can restore a masterpiece. The Pharisees thought they had done a good job. From the outside they did look good. Yet, Jesus said to them, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27b). This project is an internal restoration. Once the inside is restored then the outside will naturally appear clean. I do not believe we can change ourselves from the inside out. That is why we have the Holy Spirit. His job is to work from the inside out to restore us to the Master’s image of Jesus Christ. Submit to the work. Undergo and endure the sometimes painful, sometimes delicate, sometimes subtle, but always transforming touch of God. Trust Him. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Prayer: Father, we long to be like our big brother Jesus. We want to walk so close behind him that it will be hard to tell where he ends and we begin. Transform us, restore us, into his image. We trust that You are working and are faithful. You will complete what You have begun and we long for that day. Lord Jesus, come quickly. In Jesus name, amen.