Category Archives: Transformation

The Continuing Adventure of Being Born Again

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:1-3)

This was a bold move for Nicodemus.  He was a respected Jewish leader, and yet he took the risk of coming to Jesus and expressing faith in him, knowing that the other religious leaders were highly critical of this new teacher.

Jesus’s response, which is our red letter statement for today, was equally bold.  He told Nicodemus that more than belief would be required.  The Pharisee would need to be born again.

What does it mean to be born again?  We’ve heard this phrase so much that it can lose its impact.

Last week, I got the totally encouraging news that a long time friend of mine got baptized.  I met her back in 2011 when she was a master’s student at Auburn University.  We studied the Bible, and had many spiritual discussions over the years, but she wasn’t able to make a commitment of faith at that time.  She continued her spiritual journey over many years, and it was so thrilling to me when I heard that she had finally come to the point where she completely gave her life to God.

She texted me, “Now I want to please God.  Before I wasn’t interested in that.  I just wanted to please others.”  She went through a complete transformation.  She was a different person after her baptism.  She wasn’t just immersed in water.  She didn’t just profess faith.  She genuinely was born again.

For those of us who have been born again, I think it’s a good reminder that we also have been completely transformed.  That means that we now have a different identity.  I recently had coffee with a new friend who told me about her church.  “I don’t understand why some of the members act like they’ve just kind of added God to their life, while others are completely committed,” she said.  I thought she was pretty observant to notice this.  She could see that some people make Christianity one of the things they do, while others make Christianity who they are.  Being born again involves making Christianity who we are.

Is Christianity still who we are?  We’ve been adopted as God’s children.  Do we see ourselves as part of his family?  I’ve been watching this reality series, “Relative Race,” in which the contestants  travel around the country to see who can be the fastest to find blood relations they’ve never met.  It’s super poignant, because some of the contestants were adopted, and never knew their birth family.  To see them embrace their father, brother or sister for the first time is amazing.  You can’t help but be tremendously moved.

Do we appreciate that we’ve found a whole new wonderful family — a spiritual family?  What’s our identity as part of this family?  My grandchildren are visiting us right now, and it’s very natural to pass on to them what it means to be a part of our family.  They see our devotion to God as we go to church, pray together and talk about him.  They see how we love and respect others.  We teach them our values.  We talk about how to behave.  I sing them the songs I learned from my parents.

Family identity can be powerful.  I remember my mother telling me about her father, who died before I was born.  She told me how he was a cowboy, but he never used profanity.  He said that cussing was for those who weren’t smart enough to think of other words.  That story really made an impression on me.    I decided to never use coarse language, because I wanted to follow my grandfather’s example. To this day, I’ve stuck with that.

The example of Jesus is even more powerful.  It strongly inspires us to not only take on his behavior, but also his character.  This is what we signed up for!

But sometimes, over time, we grow comfortable with where we are.  We start to be more like Nicodemus, coming to Jesus and telling him how awesome he is, and missing the rebirth.  We forget that complete transformation isn’t a one time thing.  It’s ongoing.

It’s actually an adventure to work on being transformed!  We can step out and do something with crazy faith.  We can love someone, even when it doesn’t make sense.  We can decide to live in total surrender.   We can pour out ourselves in generosity.  We can make a radical decision about our sin.  We can thank God, no matter what.  We can be joyful in tough circumstances.

Nicodemus thought he was making a bold move.  Jesus was like, “You can have a bold new life!  One that’s completely different than the one you had before.  One that’s completely different from the people around you.  One that’s vibrant and inspiring.”

You know, it’s interesting.  My slogan in my life coaching business, Broad Tree Coaching, is “Support for Becoming All That You Are.”  When I coach clients, I support them as they learn what their values, needs, talents and purposes are, and how to align their lives more closely with these.  I support them in becoming authentic.  I support them in building integrity, and being true to what is important to them.

Now it strikes me that what God does is support us as we learn to align our lives more closely with our spiritual values and purposes.  He supports us in becoming authentic in our new identity.

Every day, we can choose to grow and live up to who we are.  Every day, we can be born again.

“Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”  Eph 4:24

“That way you won’t be guided by sinful human desires as you live the rest of your lives on earth. Instead, you will be guided by what God wants you to do.”  I Peter 4:2

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . . Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices. . . Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (From Colossians 3)

“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”  II Cor 5:16-17

“Do not conform to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2

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Filed under John, Red Letter, Transformation

Needing a Mountaintop

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus . . . Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  Mark 9:2-4,7

Do you suffer from year-end fatigue?  I know I do.  And it doesn’t help that the pace of life picks up between September and December like a roller coaster racing downhill.

roller coaster3

I start to expend more than I take in. I begin to feel like there are parched neglected places inside of me.

Whew!  What to do?  Well, there’s all this wonderful holiday stuff, guaranteed to lift my spirits!  So I immerse myself in shopping,  decorating, baking, feasting, and special activities.  And I start to experience this sort of a strange mix of euphoria and depletion — like eating a diet of sweets.

christmas cookies

After awhile I realize I need something more.

dog who ate cookies

That’s why I think Jesus went up on the mountaintop.  He needed something more.

And in doing so, he was showing us that we all really need mountaintop experiences.  We need times of extra connection with God, and extra assurance that he is with us.

I don’t think it was just random timing that Jesus went through the transfiguration six days after he told his disciples that he would have to die.  He deliberately went up on a mountain, as he had on other occasions, to be strengthened by God for his coming ordeal.

And he was strengthened in a huge way.  First of all, he was strengthened as he prayed.  According to the parallel account in the book of Luke, as Jesus began to pray, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

Jesus was also strengthened because God gave him two of the biggest spiritual powerhouses, Moses and Elijah, to talk with and encourage him.  Luke lets us know what the conversation was about, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31)  Jesus had some hard times coming, but he got to benefit from the experience of two men who faced challenges with faith and humility.

Finally, Jesus was strengthened because God spoke from heaven and gave him a massive verbal affirmation.

But Jesus wasn’t the only one who was strengthened by this time.  It made a huge impact on Peter, John and James.  We know this because Peter mentioned it in his second letter.  “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ And we ourselves heard this voice from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain”  (II Peter 1:16-17)  

What’s really cool about this is that Peter came to have the same mindset as Jesus had, in looking towards his death. “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.  And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”  

Peter knew that life on earth was in preparation for the next life.  This is true for us too, and that makes it especially important that we have times of strengthening so we can carry out our mission and make it to the finish line.

So let’s plan a mountaintop experience!  Any time of getting away to spend time with God is good.  A day of fasting is good.

But there’s just something about praying in the midst of God’s creation.  I’ve found that it’s especially powerful on a mountaintop.  When I lived in Atlanta, there were times when I felt like I was at the absolute end of the rope.  Then I would drive to Stone Mountain, holding back tears the whole way, and hike up the mountain.  There, at the top, I would find a solitary place where I could see the whole city.  I would open my Bible, read scriptures and pour out my heart to God.  I always felt the weight lifting, and my mind clearing as I did so.  The Spirit would lead me to just the verses and truths I needed.  I would be completely refreshed and invigorated.

We may not realize it, but we’re thirsting for that!   It’s wild.  I find myself surfing different sites on the web, and I realize that I’m reaching out.  I’m hungry for a connection with something. Ha! Why do I think  that I’m going to get this need met electronically?

God is standing ready to meet our needs for more.  And here is one more encouraging thing about that.  We think it was supernatural that Jesus became radiant when he prayed on the mountain.  But II Corinthians 3 promises us that we can become radiant.  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”   (II Cor 3:18)

We are going through a transfiguration as well!  Ours is just taking more time.  But think about it.  We live in a time when we can come into God’s very presence, the Most Holy Place, that only the high priest could enter.  “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” Heb 10:19

Every day, we have an astounding opportunity to be transformed by the very presence of God.  We just need to draw near to him.

This past weekend we put on a little Christmas show for church, and I performed a piece on Naomi.  Naomi came to a place in her life where she felt completely empty.  But as she got on the road to return to the land of her God, the Lord remembered her and began to bless her abundantly.  She was redeemed.

Me in play

God is the one who redeems us from hopeless places!  He takes us from emptiness to fullness, from depletion to invigoration, from the valley to the mountaintop.

Let’s deliberately go to him, as Jesus did.  God will strengthen us in a huge way.

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Filed under Mark, Strength in God, Transformation