The Changes New Life in Christ Will Bring

When we come to Christ in faith, confessing our sins and declaring ourselves his followers, we begin a new life. As the Apostle Paul exhorts: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Let us consider several ways in which this newness in Christ expresses itself for every Christian — though not always in the same way, and not always at the same rate of development. I hope this will help you or that you will pass it on to new Christians.

1. We have a new Lord. Before the change we were largely our own lord, seeking our own pleasures, captive to our own sometimes empty interests. Now, we bow before the lordship of the one who gave up his life for our salvation. His lordship brings us to a surprisingly enlightened state of mind! Understanding deepens! We are able to say with Paul: … no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God … can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

2. The Holy Spirit becomes our new spiritual guide: He guides us, leading us in a righteous life. As Jesus said to Nicodemus: Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Spirit here refers to the third person of the Trinity. He is a personal, spiritual presence. How personal? The Apostle Paul exhorted reverently: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).

3. We have a new Guide Book. When we were dead in our sins and alienated from God we had little thought of the Bible, unless it was to speak of it casually or with disdain. But the new life in Christ awakens in us commitment to the Bible as the primary source of saving truth and also the guide for righteous living.

The Christian Scriptures are inspired by God as the source of his truth. It’s the book describing God’s redemptive purpose for our lives. The Apostle Paul had this practical goal in mind when he wrote:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

New Christians not yet well instructed in Bible truth may begin acquainting themselves with the Bible by first reading through one or more of the four gospels, preferably beginning with Mark, the shortest of the four.

4. As we live the new life some old relationships may fade and new ones take their place. When we experience Christ in a saving way friends will either show keen interest in our story, asking sincere questions, or they will appear skeptical, disinterested, or even hostile. Friendship may become difficult. The prophet Amos asks: How can two walk together unless they be agreed? (Amos 3:3) In such situations, the Holy Spirit will lead and comfort.

5. With the blooming of the new life, we find ourselves drawn toward a new community. Call it the local church. Most often, when we read the word church in the New Testament it is a translation of the Greek word for called out. That is, it is an assembly of believers who are called to gather regularly to understand and deepen their faith in Christ. We may also find new friends in such an assembly of Christians.

In looking for a good church in which to worship and to serve the Lord, look for one where pastors and other leaders carry on ministries rooted in Scripture and who themselves are alive to Jesus Christ; where church life is well ordered, love among members is evident, and Bible teaching makes clear what we are to believe and how we are to live. It should also be a gathering where fellowship looks inward to nurture the Christ-centered life, and outward to find opportunities to serve others.

As you ponder these suggestions keep in mind that the life God calls us to follow is a life that includes warfare, not against people but against the evil one who is the archenemy of God. Consider the Apostle Paul’s word about conflict and temptation to the church in Corinth:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

6. The end result of these life changes will be the natural development of Christian character. It’s what Paul had in mind when he set before the Galatian Christians the wonder of Christian growth, comparing it to a beautiful collection of developing fruit thus: … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It was in our Lord’s thoughts when he prayed for his disciples when he was soon to leave them: Sanctify them [make them holy] by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).

If you are challenged and encouraged in your faith by these six points of change prompted by the new life in Christ, I wish you God’s rich blessings as you ponder and receive ongoing Christian guidance from them.

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Photo credit: wsilver (via flickr.com)

A Day in the Life of a Retired Bishop

Can I interest you in a glimpse at what a day in the life of a retired bishop looks like? To be exact, December 15 2009?

I usually get up at about 5 A.M., wash up, shave and get out to my study as soon as possible. Here in Florida the study is a room on the side of our place which I call my shack, a rustic but comfortable space with glass on two sides and the basics for pleasurable work – a computer, printer, a few reference books and a work table where I spend satisfying hours almost every day.

Out here at 5:30 A.M. I look out on an environment that is still dark and quiet, and I have time alone for the Scriptures and prayer. How refreshing! I meditate on the Lord Jesus who gave his life for me, and who is in me. I acknowledge how much I need his grace moment-by-moment, and reflect on what I believe he has placed me in the world to do. I also offer petitions for a string of needs in family and among friends, and for the church in the world – always revisiting unanswered prayers I repeat in faith daily.

Kathleen calls me in at 6:30 A.M. and together we do 30 minutes of exercise to a Leslie Sansone DVD. It’s called Walk and Firm For Older Adults. We know this is really good for us – both in body and soul. Then we eat breakfast together and spend some time reading from (at present) Jeremiah, and praying together. By 8 A.M. we have set our goals for the day.

Yesterday, back in my shack, I completed work on a piece I’ve called, Questions I Would Like To Ask the Virgin Mary. This is Advent – the four weeks prior to Christmas — and I’ve been teaching a Sunday night congregation on the opening passages of St. Luke’s Gospel. For believers especially, the coming of our Our Lord in human flesh is a stunning truth. Yesterday’s effort was to capture in writing some of the things I myself have been pondering during Advent. I’ve put the piece on my blog and also submitted it to an editor for possible publication.

At 12 noon I went in for a good, tasty spread. Our custom is to have our main meal at noon. It’s more healthful, we believe, than a main meal in the evening, and t gives us time to connect. Then, after a short nap I am usually back in my shack for further study by 2 P.M. And most of the time there there are no urgent telephone calls, consultations, committee meetings, and short trips away — all necessary and valuable — as in the busy past.

My other major assignment yesterday was to read through the 12 chapters of Daniel and start creating a chart of the book. In the New Year the Sunday night lessons will be from passages in Daniel. I don’t know this book as well as I should so on the days between now and New Years I will spend time reading and studying it.

At 12 noon I went indoors for the noon meal, our main meal of the day. After a leisurely repast during which we shared our interests we took time for a quick nap and by 2 P.M. I was back in my shack, my favorite place to be.

As one of yesterday’s incidentals, its pleasant distractions, I talked by long distance with our daughter, Carolyn. She told me of a conversation she had with a new acquaintance in her school, a young teacher who is thinking a lot about marriage and family. This friend shared with Carolyn the following idea: when girls are growing up their fathers should take them on a date occasionally – something interactive like bowling, or roller blading, or even a lunch or picnic. Then later when she begins to date, this teacher believes, such treatment would be in her mind as a model of what a girl should expect from the treatment of a man. The idea’s worth pondering!

It reminded me of a time when I took a 10-year-old granddaughter to lunch. We went to a buffet. Among the other tasty foods, I took a helping of shrimp. But she had never tasted shrimp so she didn’t take any. While we were eating I offered her one of mine. She liked it and, after that — one shrimp at a time — she cleaned the rest off my plate. I chuckled inside and was glad she felt so comfortable with me!

Late yesterday afternoon I went indoors. My wife, Kathleen, was reading Sarah Palin’s new book, Going Rogue. Later, during our evening sandwich-apple-and-hot-drink together, she told me about it. She is really impressed with this woman. She finds her down-to-earth, smart, real, and apparently very open about her Christian faith.

So, what did we do last evening? Kathleen’s preference was a game of Scrabble. We don’t follow all the rules or use the timer so this is pretty much our game. I’m not as much taken with Scrabble as she is, but we play and more often than not she beats me. Whoever wins, it’s a good way to exercise the brain. Come to think of it, can the brain be exercised?

Oh, yes, and we finished in time to watch Bill O’Reilly. He’s a controversial but engaging figure, and often criticized because he is sometimes too sharp with his guests. Here’s how I have him figured: He was raised and educated in a Catholic environment and this has given him a definite moral framework for life. That is, he believes there are such things as right and wrong. This I like. He is of Celtic stock (Irish) and I assume this explains his fiery temperament and quick wit. He has a disciplined mind and this makes him a formidable debater. And because he believes strongly that there is such a thing as truth he dares to call his hour “the no spin zone.” Reaching for truth sometimes leads to strong clashes. My impression is that he makes an effort to be fair when discussing public personalities that others sometimes love or hate too passionately.

All in all, yesterday, like all days, whizzed by. It went fast but seemed to have something worthwhile to occupy every hour. Our pace has slowed from the pace of former days. It is not swift as it once was, but we try to occupy our time well. We both desire to be meaningfully employed to the glory of God.

When we retired at 10 P.M. we had a deep satisfaction that our day had been spent well. We closed by giving thanks to God for the gift of another day.

Do you agree that every day is a gift from him?

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The Joy of Tithing (an article of mine published in Light and Life)

We were 21, newly married, and snugly settled into our one-room apartment above a garage. I was a part-time student, so support for this marriage venture came from part-time work. Pickings were slim.

Kathleen and I brought into our life together a shared conviction that we should tithe whatever money passed through our hands — setting aside one-tenth for the Lord’s work. We had been taught that salvation is a gift but it calls for a lifestyle that is honoring to our Lord. Tithing seemed to be part of that lifestyle.

It wasn’t easy. I was in school for eight years after we were married. One of those years proved financially treacherous. Carrying a full academic load while struggling to meet the needs of a wife and two little dependents taxed us to the limit. By the grace of God, we survived.

W2093185804_5140d8efba_me see now, from the perspective of 60 years, that we started tithing as a discipline but it soon became a joy. Across six decades, insights about tithing have accumulated.

1. We were taught to tithe by godly parents.
My wife’s mother raised seven children on a widow’s pension of $60 a month. The older children remember that she set aside six dollars of that meager amount for her church. In my case, my mother confided to me when I was a boy that when you have a dime, you set aside one penny for the Lord’s work. Converted at age 16, I began the practice — falteringly at first, but eventually with some consistency. Kathleen’s conversion at 16 prompted the same response.

2. Tithing is a systematic way of expressing gratitude to God.
We know that Christ’s death for our salvation was an unprecedented act of love. And we know that God showers us with temporal blessings — shelter, food, clothing and relationships. What better way to demonstrate our gratitude than by setting aside a tithe for sharing our blessings with others?

3. Tithing enhances our sense of accountability to God.
We recall the example of a Christian railroad engineer, back in the days of steam locomotives, who left the pay car each month and took a tithe of his earnings directly to his pastor. Asked why, he responded, “My job has its dangers; I don’t want to die with the Lord’s money in my pocket.”

4. Tithing enriches the deep togetherness of marriage.
Jesus taught that marriage is a “one flesh” relationship (Matthew 19:4-6). How could we be “together” in the fullest sense if we did not act on common convictions about the spiritual meaning of money entrusted to us? We see money as an exchange for time spent. When you work, you give up a week of time and in exchange receive a monetary reward. Money is thus a residue of time, so tithing makes a statement about the spiritual nature of life itself.

5. Systematic tithing supports the local church’s good ministries.
During my 19 years as a church overseer, we were often absent from our home church. But the church employed a staff who served the congregation on our behalf. They conducted public worship and instructed children in the faith. Without charge, they ministered to the sick, the troubled, the grieving. A home church was our first responsibility.

6. Tithing seems to make the remaining 90 percent go further.
How? First, we found that tithing made us more careful with what was left because that too was the Lord’s money. Moreover, tithing on a minister’s salary taught us to mend any “holes” in our pockets so that, however sparse our income, giving could be a regular part of our shared life.

Second, we believe the Lord rewards in His own way those who make His work their first priority (Matthew 6:33). Just like everybody else, tithers can be laid off or faced with unexpected car repairs, but their special care with money and the Lord’s added surprises make things come out better in the long run. As one farmer said, “When we shovel out, the Lord shovels in — and He always uses a bigger shovel.”

7. Tithing seems like a mature Christian practice.
During my late teen years I found it easy to stand on the roadside with a suitcase and catch a ride. When I was picked up, someone else owned the car, paid the insurance, bought the gas and underwrote the repairs. I rode for free. Today, Kathleen and I would feel like adolescent hitchhikers if we accepted the blessings of the church while leaving others to underwrite its ministries.

8. Tithing stimulates generosity.
As our Christian lives have developed we’ve become increasingly aware of God’s great generosity: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Tithing is no match for that level of giving. At the same time, we believe tithing can be a training exercise for generosity. Earmarking at least 10 percent for the Lord’s work prepares us to respond generously to needs that arise beyond the claims of our tithes. In a sense, the commitment to tithe is like the ratchet on a hoist. It doesn’t set upper limits, but it keeps us from slipping backward when pressures come.

9. Tithing helps us remember that for Christians, all of life is for giving.
Jesus did not command tithing, but He did commend it (Matthew 23:23). And the New Testament goes well beyond. Chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians exhort us to bountiful giving, describing believers whose “extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” and who gave “even beyond their ability.” After 60 years, our belief is that 10 percent of gross income is the best starting point for a life of giving.

Looking back, we know that we are the richer for having started the practice of tithing at the outset of a married life launched on meager resources. The Apostle Paul made a telling point when he wrote, “You will always be rich enough to be generous” (2 Corinthians 9:11 NEB).

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