Everything we do and say begins in our mind, and our mind is what generates our thoughts and ideas. These ideas become emotions, beliefs, and actions. How you perceive the world around you has tremendous influence on what your mind generates. You hear things every day that attempt to influence the way you see yourself and your life.
Corporate advertising tells you that you are constantly in need of something bigger and better to be happy. People influence you by telling you who you are and what you should do based only on their ideas. In a spiritual sense, you also have a very real enemy who hates you. This enemy is working to convince you that you aren’t worthy of love, you’re good at anything, and you’ll never amount to much.
Here is what I hold true: because of God’s incredible love for you, He has provided a means of relationship with Him, provided you with Holy Spirit, and provided His word. He’s also given you the ability to renew your mind on a daily basis and to ponder on the truth of how He sees you and feels about you. It is this truth that defines who you really are. You have the chance every day to experience the renewal of your emotions, perspectives, and beliefs. God desires to speak to you every day and share His truth about your identity through his word and Spirit.
His command for us is printed clear as day. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2. The truth is, if we are not able to transform our mind then God would tell us to do it. You have the ability! You are worshiping God when we renew your mind with His ideas. You worship God when you choose to believe His word over world’s ideas. By trusting God, you show your love for Him instead of your feelings and limited perspective. When you renew your mind, you no longer conforming to the world, with its destruction and lies, but conforming to God’s truth about you.
How do you transform your mind? Here are four simple steps: First, you must see yourself through the lens of God’s word. Perspective is the key. You have the ability to believe God or not. His word says amazing things about you and your identity in Christ: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21. God proclaimed that you are God’s child, that you are worth the death of His Son, and that you are free from of the shackles of sin and the world. Those promises are extremely powerful. In order for you to experience the fullness of what His word says, you must renew your thought process to be like God’s. The Apostle Paul said that “we have the “mind of Christ” as people born of the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:16.
How do you set your mind in a Christ-like manner? Step number two is you have to make time for God every day. Open your mind and heart to God’s word every day. Before your day gets too hectic and out of control, experience renewal in your mind is when you first wake up. By carving out time every morning, you set the foundation for what you will believe and how you will think for the rest of the day.Your entire outlook on life will begin to change. You will find yourself in a place of contentment, experiencing joy, having purpose, and living in abundance.
The third aspect of daily transformation revolves around Holy Spirit. When you came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit set up residence in your heart. When you are alone and reading God’s word, read it while listening to Holy Spirit. Scripture will come alive when you spend time reading it with the guidance and teaching of the Spirit. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17. Allow your Helper, the Spirit of truth, to show you the ways he desires God’s word to shape your life and transform your mind. As you read, Holy Spirit will be your Teacher if you ask him.
The final step to daily transformation is obedience. Just like any diet or workout plan, obedience and discipline are key. You have to live in obedience to God’s word. His word is not merely historical but is actually full of practical and applicable truth that has the ability to transform your life. When you open your heart to God’s word and choose to believe it, you will experience transformation. When you choose to obedient obey God’s commands, you will bear incredible fruit in your life. God’s word is meant to direct you to the rich life he has planned for you. Have faith in the words of Scripture. Choose to believe God’s promises.
So, are you ready to transform your mind and move into a place where God will use you as the conduit to achieve His purposes? If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then your instructions have been clearly laid out. If you are not a believer, then you can make that change today. In a simple prayer, admit you are a sinner to God, and you need a Savior. Believe Jesus Christ is that Savior and was crucified for your sin on the cross, and that he rose again. Confess Jesus Christ as your Savior and ask Holy Spirit to take up residence in you. If you can utter that simple prayer, and follow the instruction for transformation, then you can experience what God has in store for you.
Part of my daily routine is to read a scripture-based devotional as a means of staying grounded in my faith. I wish I could say I am 100% faithful, but the effort is there none the less. Recently, I finished a devotion authored by Dan Britton and Jimmy Page titled, Called to Greatness: A Devotion to Ignite the Faith of Fathers and Sons. One of the daily devotions discussed people in our lives that can be classified as “Drainers” or “Refreshers.” Drainers “exhibit repetitive negative, pessimistic, complaining, and “life sucking” behaviors. They criticize, complain, whine, make excuses and find faults. Their words are laced with destruction, and they spew their poison on anyone who dares to listen.” Refreshers on the other hand are, “faith-filled, positive, right-living, energized” people who speak words of life. They help fill you emotionally, relationally, and spiritually by breathing encouragement, blessing, and hope into your life. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a Refresher to all those I interact with. I want to take a moment and talk about encouragement and how we can encourage those around us.
In talking about encouragement, what are we saying? First, look at the root word – courage. Dictionary.com defines “courage” as noun and is a personal characteristic exhibited by, “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Likewise, to encourage is to take the noun, courage, and turn into action by “inspiring with courage, spirit, or hope.” Second, consider the biblical breakdown of encouragement. Strong’s states the Greek word for encouragement is “parakaleō” and is the combination of two words; “para” and “kaleō.” Para means “to walk along side” and Kaleō means, “to admonish, exhort, strengthen.” So, an encourager, a Refresher, is someone who walks beside someone else speaking inspiration and hope into the life of someone who may need help persevering the moment.
Being an encourager sounds like a difficult task doesn’t it? Why would someone want to step into that role? Outside of the fact we live in a tough world and need encouragement; for the Christian, it is a command. The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Timothy 5:11). Likewise, the writer of Hebrews instructs the Jesus follower, “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) Interestingly, the biblical term “edification” is very similar to encourage. To edify someone is to build them up. It is a construction term giving the picture of laying bricks on top of each other. The words we speak can build people up and act as bricks of encouragement. Being an encouragement to others is something we should all strive to do; not as a command, but as a desire.
Unfortunately, a person’s perspective may hinder them from being an encouragement. How do you see yourself when you look in the mirror? In the book,Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters, John Maxwell shares that 80% of people “focus on what they have failed at instead of what they have failed to do.” The focus is on their failure rather than their future. Either by design or by default, you either see the world as half full or half empty. It is impossible to encourage someone else unless you are able to encourage yourself first! How can you speak life, hope, and inspiration into someone else unless you first speak it into yours? The truth is, the same God that created the universe is the same God that created you and I, and we are created in His image. He loves you and he calls you His friend. When you see your reflection, see yourself through the eyes of your Creator and be encouraged.
How you see others is as vitally important as you see yourself. When you see others, how do you see them? Do you see them through the eyes of God as well? Do you understand God loves them as much as He loves you? The Bible say in Romans 2:11, “There is no partiality with God,” and Galatians 2:6, “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” God sees the sinner and the saint and loves them both. To be an encourager to others we need to possess the same vision. This is a tough nut for me to crack; especially when I interact with people that I don’t care for, but I’m trying. At least I have the right perspective.
Now that we know what encouragement is and why we should do it, how do we do it? Encouragement can be broken down into words and actions. We all know the nursery rhyme, Sticks and Stones. The nursery rhyme is a lie because words certainly can hurt you. You may not think so, but there is true power in the spoken word. The writer of Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” James, the brother of Jesus, describes the tongue as “a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” (James 3: 5-6). Our words can tear people down just as easily as they can build them up. Choose your words wisely – be a people builder.
Just like words, our deeds or actions can encourage others. Again, coming at it from biblical point of view, Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The good works are the actions we are destined to perform for the benefit of others. When we physically make an effort to encourage others and meet their needs, we “…do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17. You know it to be true; when someone physically steps into your life and gives you the boost you need for the day, for the season, it makes a world of difference. Words without action are just that – words.
Hopefully I have encouraged you to be a Refresher. When you wake up in the morning, before you put your feet on the floor, make up your mind to be encouraged. For no other reason than you have breath and get to live another day. Use that truth and allow it to spill into the lives of others. You can be an encourager for someone today, tomorrow…Be a Refresher and not a Drainer. Be blessed!
As I begin this message, it is just before 4:00 pm on Resurrection Sunday, April 1, 2018. I am purposefully writing at this time because it coincides with the narrative of the Emmaus journey found in Luke, chapter 24. Our characters of this narrative, Cleopas and another disciple of Jesus, have left Jerusalem and are heading to their home in Emmaus; about a seven-mile journey. Their conversation at the start of this trek is rather animated. After all, their hopes of deliverance from the Roman empire have been dashed with the crucifixion of their Messiah. Now, with his body missing from the tomb, it is time to leave the dangerous environment of Jerusalem.
Not long into the journey, Cleopas and his partner are joined by another traveler. The traveler is none other than the resurrected Jesus, yet the Bible states, “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (v. 16). Jesus asked the what they are discussing in such an animated fashion. I can almost see the expression on Cleopas’ face as he answers something like, “Dude! Where have you been? Are you the only guy in Jerusalem that doesn’t know what happened?” Jesus plays along with them and has Cleopas explain things as they resume their walk.
After Cleopas finished his dissertation on things gone wrong, Jesus gifted these two distraught disciples with a firsthand Bible study in prophecy. Starting with Genesis 3:15, the first messianic prophecy found in scripture, Jesus taught them for the continuation of the journey. All the while, Cleopas and his partner never came to grips that it’s Jesus doing the teaching. As the travelers approached Emmaus, the sun was setting, and Jesus was invited to have dinner with them. He agreed and reclined at the table with them. In this setting, Jesus assumed the role of the host; took the bread, blessed it, and began to serve his traveling companions. It is at this time the disciples eyes are opened and they recognized it is Jesus who has served them. Before they can utter a word, “Jesus vanished from their sight” (v. 31).
After the disappearance of Jesus, Cleopas and his partner recapped all that had taken place. They remember how their “hearts burned” during the journey while Jesus taught them. Their despair shifted. There was a renewed hope in their spirit. The two elected to travel back to Jerusalem and tell the other disciples what they had encountered. They found Peter and the others gathered in the upper room, and as they began to tell the story, Jesus appeared to all present. “Peace be with you” was the salutation Jesus spoke as he came into their presence.
So, what does this narrative have to do with you and me? For me, it is a message resurrection, of restoration. It is a story of how a person can have such high expectations of what being a Christian is, only to have those expectations squelched by the world. Over time our aspirations may become misguided and the next thing you know our “walk” has become somewhat crooked. Or maybe tragedy has struck your family. There has been a loss of a loved one, or a relationship severed. Perhaps there has been a job loss and the world is crushing you and all you can see is the struggle to put one foot in front of another; just to make it through another day.
Please allow me some creative liberty if you will. You ever wonder why Cleopas’ traveling companion is not named in this narrative? Sure, we can do some biblical investigation and come up with some good guesses. I believe it his wife, Mary, one of the three Mary’s found at the cross of Jesus, but that is neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is the companion is not named. May I suggest you and I are the other disciple traveling with Cleopas. Insert your name into the narrative. Think about the time when you came to know Jesus as your Savior. You where excited and had visions of how life with the Messiah would be different. However, over time, the world has crept in and has left your faith and vision cloudy. You might even be in the same state of despair as our travelers.
The truth of the matter is Jesus is still walking beside you. He is still walking beside me. We have to listen to his teaching. We have to recline at his table. We have to partake of what he wants to feed us. It is only then our vision will become clear and our despair return to delight. The length of this journey is totally up to you. Sure, it might not be a two-hour, seven-mile walk, but it could be. Just don’t let it be a life-long adventure. In a note of transparency, I’m not in a state of despair but I know people who are. I’ve gone through seasons of staleness that only become refreshed when I listen, recline, and partake. How about you?
When we talk about faithfulness we are saying, “Dependable in light of our current circumstances.” When you tell someone, “You can count on me,” that means, if you are faithful the person, they can count of you regardless of what comes about. I believe we all want to be faithful. As a husband or wife, we want to be faithful to our spouse. As a parent, we want to be faithful in providing for our children. The truth of the matter is, if we are going to be faithful it is usually going to cost us something. Provision requires work and effort; things come at a cost. The same is true for the Christian as we live out our life in a fallen world.
Christianity is the only world religion where salvation is a free gift. Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) … For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Every other world religion requires its followers to “do” something in order to receive salvation. Although the Christian does not “pay” for “do” anything to receive salvation, to live the life Jesus wants us to live does come at a price. The price is tribulation. The Bibles describes in several verses how the believer will face struggle and hatred solely for claiming the name of Jesus. The funny thing is we are supposed to pray for and bless those who persecute us. This is the type of follower Jesus is looking for and he describes this in our text: Revelation 2:8-11
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’”
The Apostle John addresses the church of Smyrna by saying “God, meaning Jesus, has something to say to you.” The phrase “first and the last” found in verse 8, is seen multiple times in the book of Isaiah and describes God. Add this to, “was dead and has come to life,” depicts it’s Jesus doing the talking. In his deity, Jesus came to earth; and in his human flesh, was put to death. Yet, he displayed his power by rising from the grave and is alive today. Amen! The first thing Jesus says to the believers in Smyrna is “I know your tribulation and your poverty.” Jesus knows everything! If you feel you are going through a struggle, having a difficult time, rest assured, Jesus knows. Nothing takes him by surprise. As a matter of fact, Satan cannot do anything to harm you unless he first gets permission from God himself. So, why was the church in Smyrna facing tribulation and poverty?
Smyrna was located in present day Turkey so it was a seaport controlled by the Roman empire. There was vibrant trade and commerce in Smyrna and it was not difficult to earn a good wage and live a comfortable life. That is unless you were a Christian. The Roman empire was ruled by a Caesar. A Caesar is a title, much like a king, emperor, or president. The Roman practice was to worship Caesar like God. This was no problem for the people in Smyrna until they became a Christian. When you are a Christian you are to “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOURMIND’” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). You see, the Smyrna believers could not worship Caesar as god because they worshiped Jesus. In light of their decision, the Roman government seized their property and made it difficult for them to earn a living. You might be facing some of similar struggles in your life as a Christian today. We know there are followers of Jesus Christ all around the world who face every struggle known to man just because of their faith. However, Jesus knows the struggle. He knows the pain. So, why does Jesus allow struggle and pain in our lives?
There are several reasons the Christian may face struggles in this life, and we see it in the Bible. One way God allows trials is to keep us humble. Look at the life of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. In this passages Paul describes “a thorn in his flesh” and how he asked God three times to remove it. God did not remove it, but he answered him back, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” In order to keep the greatest missionary to ever live and writer of 2/3 of the New Testament humble, God kept Paul under a constant trial. Yet, Paul remained faithful. Sometimes we must endure struggles because God wants us to be able to help others through our experience. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 explains how when we find comfort in our affliction, can comfort those who are experiencing the same thing. Sometimes people do not understand another person’s struggle and have a hard time ministering to them. But when you have “walked in another person’s shoes” you can understand what they are feeling and comfort them accordingly. Jesus’ brother, James, teaches us the various trials we face produces endurance and when endurance has its way we are made complete (James 1:2-3). So, sometimes God uses struggles in life to grow us. The trick is to find the purpose in the pain. I think we all will agree, when we face times of struggle we tend to get closer to Jesus. Philippians 3:10 teaches us we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” Suffering leads us to pray more, read scripture more, be more devoted to Jesus.
As if facing trials in life isn’t bad enough, sometimes you must deal with fake people in the church. Apparently, the church was full of people who weren’t what they said they were. Jesus calls them the “synagogue of Satan” in verse 9. Just because someone goes to church doesn’t mean they are a Christian. Just because someone prays or reads the Bible, does not make them a Christian. You can even believe in Jesus just like the demons do (James 2:9) and not be a Christian. Sadly, some estimates say 8 out of 10 people in the United States who claim to be a Christian have no clue what it takes and are living a lie. So, before we end this message, let’s be clear on what the Bible says it takes to be a Christian. First, you have to admit and confess with your mouth you are a sinner and are in need of a savior. The Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23). Then you must believe Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Then you must choose Jesus and make him Lord of your life (Romans 10:13, John 3:18). If this describes you, Great!
It is good to have comfort in Jesus because there will come a day when things are going to worse than what they are right now. Jesus tells the believers in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (v. 10). Wait a minute, wasn’t the church in Smyrna already suffering? Yes, but it was about to get worse. History teaches the Christians in the Roman empire faced great persecution. Starting with Nero in 64 AD, the Roman government treated Christians harshly. This continued for many years in which the all the apostles, except for John, would be put to death. John was exiled to the island of Patmos and wrote the book of Revelation around 94 AD. Historians describe the persecution of the Christian church lasted till 313 AD, when Constantine became Emperor. We do not know what the Christians in Smyrna faced, but it must have been bad because Jesus challenged them to be faithful unto death. If they remained faithful they would receive “the crown of life” (v. 10). The crown of life is not salvation, but a reward for standing true. Think about the Olympic Games and how when someone finishes first they are given a gold medal. The crown of life is like that. The Bible teaches when the Christian goes to Heaven they will lay their crown down at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:10-11). However, only the faithful will receive a crown. What will you have to lay at the feet of Jesus?