Transformed 5

Romans 12:1-2

Whenever the term “peer pressure” is mentioned one of the most frequent thoughts is that of teen cultures. Young people are usually thought of as the people who must fight against the pressures of being like all the others, of fitting in. Do you have the right clothes and the right shoes? Do you like the right music?

But even Christians can face the struggles of peer pressure. It seems that there are more and more variations on Christian thought, more and more watered down beliefs. There seems to be an increase in attitudes of good behavior being “good enough” to be acceptable, and even earn us a spot in heaven.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul is addressing people who are attempting to live out a new faith, a new way of believing and worshipping. They were also a people being persecuted by their society. The pressure to conform, to become like everyone else and take part in acceptable societal practices must have been great.

What does Paul urge? What are we NOT to do? What are we to do? What benefit is there in that?

The life of a true, believing Christian is not always easy. It is tempting to fall in with society and go along with what is popular, what is current and acceptable. In a dog-eat-dog world it is tempting to try to be one of the dogs and not a lamb of God. Setting yourself apart and standing up for your convictions can make you a target for much criticism.

But, as Christians, we need to not conform to the world – that is, go along with what is comfortable and acceptable. Instead we are to be transformed – that is, we should allow our faith to change us. The deeper we go in our faith, the stronger we become. And the deeper we go in faith, the easier it will become to understand (“test and approve”) God’s will for us and the world.

The concept of sacrifice often conjures up an image of a single act, but we are called to be living sacrifices. We are to live each day as devoted Christians, faithful believers trying to live out the teaching of Christ. This is our spiritual act of worshipping God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you work to be transformed?

Transformed 4

2 Corinthians 3:17-18

More and more people who call our house are not certain if it is me answering the phone or one of our two sons. As they grow older their voices are sounding more and more like mine. As they grow older I see myself in their faces more and more, as well.

In today’s reading Paul talks about the growth and change that believers may experience. What is the Lord? What exists where the Spirit is? What do we reflect? What should be happening to us?

Just prior to this passage Paul is making reference to Moses (see 2 Corinthians 3:13). He is specifically talking about the times Moses stood in the presence of God. When he did that his face would begin to shine, so Moses would wear a veil to hide his gleaming face (see Exodus 34:29-35).

This was a physical veil to conceal his face, but Paul is talking about spiritual veils. When we are with the Lord, or the Spirit, when we live a life dedicated to God then we have freedom. We are free from sin and free from the fears and worries of life. God is with us. Why should we fear or worry?

And the joy and peace and love that comes from living with God in our hearts should be evident in who we are. But do we reflect this joy and peace to others? Or do we veil ourselves? Is our faith and is our new life in Christ something we share or something we keep to ourselves?

We are called to reflect the love of God. People should be able to see who Christ was by looking at the way we live. And the more we live out our Christian faith and the more we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, the more we become Christ-like.

We are being transformed into more perfect people. We are growing in our faith, deepening in our faith. We do that by living our faith and living it openly for others to see.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you reflect the Lord’s glory today?

Transformed 3

Luke 19:7-9

It is difficult to overcome our pasts. Even when we change, when we are transformed into better people, there are those who remember all the mistakes and errors of our ways. In Matthew 6:4 Jesus says, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

Zacchaeus was not a prophet, but he was among people who knew him and were perhaps hesitant to accept the change that came over him. What do the people say about Jesus? How does Zacchaeus respond? What is Jesus’ declaration? Why was Jesus there?

Zacchaeus has gone to get a look at the famous teacher, Jesus, and discovered that Jesus wanted to spend some time with him. But this coming together draws some criticism from those who know Zacchaeus. He is labeled a sinner. We know he is a tax collector and these people have a reputation of being corrupt.

But Zacchaeus responds with indignation. He immediately declares that he will give generously to the poor – half his possessions! Then he claims that if he has cheated anyone he will pay back four times the amount.

Zacchaeus is traditionally portrayed as a bad man, a corrupt cheat. But I am struck by his response to what people are saying about him. He acts generously and then says “if I have cheated anybody.” The key word is “if.”

Maybe Zacchaeus is not really a corrupt official. Maybe everyone has the wrong impression of him. Jesus’ words in verse 9, however, seem to support the idea that he was indeed a sinner.

Regardless of who and what Zacchaeus really was, we have two lessons from this passage. The first and primary is that an encounter with Jesus will transform a person. When we come to the table of God and spend time in the presence of the Christ, we are transformed – changed from sinner to saved, from only human to truly holy. No matter what Zacchaeus was before his time with Jesus, he is a compassionate, giving man afterward.

The second lesson is that we have no right to judge the hearts of others. Those who knew Zacchaeus considered him a sinner, and probably continued to do so even after his generous behavior. If he was a sinner before Jesus, he wasn’t after. Would the onlookers accept his transformation?

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you forgive and forget the past of those you consider “sinners?”

Transformed 2

Luke 19:1-6

Many people are quite enamored by celebrities. They fawn all over them and want to be there when they walk by. They try to snap a quick picture of them or get an autograph. Apparently it was no different in the First Century.

Jesus has garnered a following and some amount of fame and popularity. He is so well known that even wealthy people want to get a look at him.

How is Zacchaeus described? What did he want? How did he achieve this? What did Jesus do? How did Zacchaeus react?

I find the characters of this story interesting. We have Jesus, a teacher and prophet. He is the Son of God, but he is also a local celebrity. The crowds around him have grown as his popularity and fame increases.

Then we have Zacchaeus. He has a bit of fame himself. He is a tax collector, but not just any tax collector, some clerk of the government. He is the chief tax collector. He is wealthy.

This tax collector, a man well known in the area, wants to get a glimpse of a passing celebrity. His desire to see Jesus is so great that he is willing to climb a tree to see the man as he walks past.

But something surprising happens. The famous teacher stops at the tree and looks up. This celebrity, Jesus, wants to have dinner with this tax collector. Zacchaeus has gone to see Jesus, and Jesus – it seems – has come to find Zacchaeus.
And how does Zacchaeus react? He is delighted.

This simple story is one I learned as a child. And I have always felt that the story that was taught implied that Zacchaeus was a bad man. We know he collected taxes and we learn later that others considered him a sinner.

But he climbed a tree to see Jesus. He wanted to get a look at him. He didn’t climb the tree to jeer at Christ, or to spit on him, or to throw things. No, this man was looking for Jesus. And he quickly discovered Jesus was looking for him.

Do we look for Jesus? Are we seeking out the Christ? Do we want an encounter with the Lord, or would we rather hide in the crowd and remain anonymous?

Zacchaeus sought and found the Lord, and then discovered that Jesus was ready to encounter him. If we look for Jesus – if we try to understand the teachings of Christ found in the Bible, if we try to live the way we believe Jesus wants – we may find that Jesus is seeking an encounter with us too. Will we welcome that encounter gladly, as Zacchaeus did?

DAILY CHALLENGE: What trees do you need to climb to find Jesus?

Transformed 1

2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Preparing to sell my mother’s condo, my sister has been sorting through stacks of old photographs. She makes a pile for each family member and then we are invited to take home all the pictures in which we appear. Looking at all the old pictures stirs up many memories – most good, some not so good.

With family and friends, and with old photographs, we are stuck with our past. We must carry with us what we have done all the days of our lives. But it is not so with God.

What happens with the one who is “in Christ?” What has God given us? What does God NOT count against us? What message should we have?

Paul is able to sum up the work and ministry of Christians in just a few sentences. We are to be about and involved in a ministry of reconciliation. Reconciling who to whom? We are to work at restoring or reconciling human beings with God.

Born as mortals into a fallen world we are a people of sin. Our relationship with the Almighty is fractured and broken. To be with God we must have that relationship mended, and we do that by taking on Jesus Christ as our Savior. We must be “in” Christ – that is, we must believe Jesus is the Son of God, that he died to take our sins away, and that we are to act like Jesus did.

In our human relationships we may have a past that we drag along behind us for years (“Remember when you wet the bed?” “Remember when you stuck peas up your nose?”). But with God all the bad things in our past are taken away, forgotten, shed like old skin.

When we accept Jesus as Savior and attempt to live as he did, then we are a new creation. The old is gone and God no longer holds our sins against us. We are transformed, in short. We are new and must live as people who have been given a new life – not taking this gift for granted, but living with deep appreciation for the mercy and forgiveness God gives.

And then, with this new attitude and appreciation, we become part of the ministry to reconcile others to God, to bring other people into a new relationship with their loving Father.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you that you are a new creation in the eyes of God?