Are we seeing transformed lives in our churches today?

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

In the 12th chapter of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he exhorted believers to offer themselves wholly to God, so that they would no longer be “conformed to this world,” but “transformed” by the renewing of their minds. The word “conformed” has the idea of abiding by an outward system or way of life, so that the individual looks and behaves in a way identical to that system. In this case, the system that Paul warned about was the fallen and sinful system or culture of this world. The believer in Jesus is not to look nor think like the world’s culture. Instead, they are to live transformed lives!

In the Greek, the word translated “transform,” is μεταμορφόω (metamorphoō). It is the origin of the word “metamorphosis.” Like a butterfly from a caterpillar, it means to change completely into something new. Believing in Jesus and offering oneself to Him wholly, results in life transformation. As Paul wrote the Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (1 Cor. 5:17).

But are we seeing transformed lives in our churches today? Lives that are markedly different than they were before? Sadly, the answer is often not. Many who claim to be Christ-followers in America today, are almost indistinguishable in their beliefs and behaviors from those of the world. They claim Christ, but they continue to conform.

As a result, several disturbing national trends are being observed:

  • Church attendance averages have declined drastically. Some of this is due to COVID concerns, but the national average has been declining for the last seven years even before the pandemic.
  • Believers are displaying disunity with one another over politics, social issues, and other worldly concerns, rather than showing the unity of Christ.
  • According to a recent Probe Ministries poll, “nearly 70% of ‘Born-again’ Christians say other religions can lead to heaven.” This reveals the influence of pluralism on the thinking of believers today.
  • According to a Lifeway poll, although 80% of church goers believe it’s important to share their faith, 61% have not done so in the last 6 months.

Perhaps the above trends might be attributed to even more disturbing ones. For among those who regularly attend church, many believers report that:

  • They don’t know how to pray and read the Bible to hear from God for themselves.
  • They don’t know how to share their own grace story of how Christ saved them and transformed their life.
  • They don’t know how to be a disciple and make a disciple of Jesus.

Could it be that the church itself is at fault? Are we failing to make disciples as Christ commanded us? Of course, the church is us. The church is not the steeple, it’s the people. So to what part of these national trends do we have to own up? And what can we do to turn the tide?

Ask yourself. Are you living a transformed life today? Take a look at those last three bullet points. Do you know how to do those three Christian disciplines? Are you actively doing them? If not, perhaps that’s where we need to focus…

Why we need the gospel every day

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (ESV)

What does the word “gospel” mean? It means “good news.” It’s the good news that God so loved us that He gave His Son Jesus to die for our sins that we might believe on Him and receive forgiveness and eternal life. So it is the starting point of our new life in Christ.

Yet, the gospel isn’t merely the starting point of our faith; the gospel is the daily sustenance of our faith. As Christians, we need to remind ourselves of it everyday!

Author and former Navigators staffer, Jerry Bridges, called this “preaching the gospel to yourself every day.”

“This, then, is the gospel with which we need to become thoroughly familiar and that we need to preach to ourselves every day. Jesus, by His death and shed blood, completely satisfied the justice of God and the claims of His broken law. By His perfect obedience, He positively fulfilled the requirements of the law. Thus in both its precepts and penalty, the law of God in its most exacting requirements was fulfilled by Jesus. And He did this in our place as our representative and our substitute. To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.” – Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, p. 49

The apostle Paul certainly saw the importance of being regularly reminded of the gospel. He wrote to the believers in Corinth to remind them of the gospel and to encourage them to always “stand” in it and to “hold fast” to it.

We can stand in the gospel by seeing it both as the foundation on which we stand, as well as the empowering grace that keeps us standing. As humans we have a performance default. In other words, we try to earn approval through our performance. Even when we admit that we can’t save ourselves and receive the gospel as a gift from God, we then have to overcome the tendency to think that now we have to perform perfectly to keep ourselves saved or to please God. We recognize our need for God’s grace to save us, but not to continually keep us. And as a result, we struggle with guilt and shame whenever we fail or sin again. We haven’t learned to continually apply the grace of the gospel to ourselves.

Notice Paul’s words again. He said that the gospel is that “by which you stand, and by which you are being saved.” The verb Paul used for “saved” is in the Greek perfect. We don’t have an English equivalent, but it has the idea of punctiliar action with continuous result. Or to describe it in mathematical terms, it is like a ray with a point, a line and an arrow on the end. It describes something that took place at a certain point in the past, continues in the present and on into the future forever. The chart below illustrates this:

Reminding ourselves of the gospel helps us deal with condemnation and guilt. Placing our faith in Christ’s work of salvation, we have been justified, made right with God. As Paul told the Roman believers, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Yet, when we sin, our conscience still convicts us. We feel self-condemnation. However, applying the gospel afresh, we bring our conscience into alignment with God’s view of us. He says we are justified. By faith, we agree with God’s Word and our conscience is made clear.

Preaching the gospel to ourselves helps in our sanctification. Applying God’s gospel of grace, we are able to be totally honest with ourselves, not making excuses nor becoming defensive when we sin. We can admit it to God when we sin and remind ourselves that He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We can ask God to “cleanse us” from those sins that beset us. We don’t have to be afraid to expose our hearts fully to God and ask Him to reveal any area where He wants to help us get clean. The grace of the gospel helps us look in the mirror of God’s Word and not look away, but yielding to the work of the Spirit as He applies it to our situation.

Applying the gospel everyday helps us face the future without fear and anxiety. For the gospel promises us that we have eternal life in and through and with Christ Jesus. One day, we will receive a new glorified body like Jesus, designed for eternity. “Holding fast” to the gospel, we have a new focus. We are able to lift our eyes from the temporal things of this world, to the eternal things of God. As Paul instructed the believers at Colossae, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).

Preaching the gospel to ourselves everyday, 365 days a year, we are able to look to the past without guilt or shame, live in the present empowered by God’s grace, and face the future without fear or anxiety. The gospel isn’t only the foundation of our faith, it is our sustaining grace and future hope. We need to the gospel every day.

Mealtime is better together!

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:30 (ESV).

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Acts 2:42 (ESV).

I’ve always heard it said that the “family that prays together, stays together.” I think we should add breaking bread together to that prescription. I’m convinced that the family that eats meals together experiences greater personal and family health.

I’m apparently not the only one who sees the value of having family meals together. According to author Miriam Weinstein:

“Eating ordinary, average everyday supper with your family is strongly linked to lower incidence of bad outcomes such as teenage drug and alcohol use, and to good qualities like emotional stability. It correlates with kindergarteners being better prepared to learn to read… Regular family supper helps keep asthmatic kids out of hospitals. It discourages both obesity and eating disorders. It supports your staying more connected to your extended family, your ethnic heritage, your community of faith. It will help children and families to be more resilient, reacting positively to those curves and arrows that life throws our way. It will certainly keep you better nourished. The things we are likely to discuss at the supper table anchor our children more firmly in the world. Of course eating together teaches manners both trivial and momentous, putting you in touch with the deeper springs of human relations.” – Miriam Weinstein, The Surprising Power of Family Meals – How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier and Happier

There is even a national movement to encourage families to eat supper together. Columbia University has started a group called CASA – The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. They are the sponsors of National Family Meal Day, on the 4th Monday of September every year. Their website says:

“Whether you’re cooking a gourmet meal, ordering food from your favorite take-out place or eating on the go, rest assured that what your kids really want during dinnertime is YOU! Family meals are the perfect time to talk to your kids and to listen to what’s on their mind.  The more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.” 

My wife and I have always led our family to have meals together at the table, especially at dinner time. No TV. No phones. Just family. We hold hands and say the blessing over the meal. We sit knee to knee and face to face, eating our food and discussing our day. We did this when our kids were small and when they were teens. Now, as grandparents we continue this important practice of eating together with our children and grandchildren whenever they visit (Which is pretty often). It’s been a huge blessing to our family!

As a pastor, I also see the value in our church family eating meals together too. We see this habit in the first-century church as recorded in the book of Acts. It says they were “devoted” to “the breaking of bread.” It also says they had a daily practice of “breaking bread in their homes” together (Acts 2:46).

The early Christians understood that the church is not a building, it is a family. It is the family of God. And healthy families understand that they need to pray together and eat together regularly.

Jesus Himself promises to come in and “eat” with whoever answers His knock at the door. I like that. Jesus doesn’t just offer to come and sit in the living room. No, He offers to come and sit at our supper table and eat with us.

Are you gathering together around the table for family meals? Life is better together!

Parenthood–the scariest “hood”

Me and my firstborn

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” – Psalm 127:3

Every Summer we try to offer a three or four week sermon series on a topic for the family. This year we’re looking at what the Bible has to say about parenting. We’ve titled the series, “Parenthood.” In our preparation for the series, we found this anonymous quote: “Parenthood. The scariest ‘hood’ you’ll ever go through.” Pretty hilarious huh? Yet, the truth is, parenting can be a very scary endeavor.

Let’s admit it. If being a parent doesn’t scare us a little, we’re probably not being truthful with ourselves. I still remember that panicky feeling when we left the hospital with our firstborn. My wife and I looked at each other with faces filled with love, joy and fear! We were entering the “hood” of parenthood for the first time. Then our little bundle of joy started crying…

“What’s wrong? Is it a dirty diaper? Is he hungry? Is he sick? Yikes! We checked all those three times each and he’s still crying! What do we do?”

We were so thankful that my mom spent the first week or so with us. Thank God for experienced grandmothers.

Many parents, have felt that scary “hood” of parenthood with even more intensity over the last year because of the pandemic. Some had to become homeschool teachers overnight as schools moved from in-person to online only. We probably spent more time with our kids last year than any time before. And that likely revealed both the joys and the pains of parenting. The fact is that parents not only feel afraid, but they feel overwhelmed and under-qualified.

I often hear parents say, “I wish my kid had come with an owner’s manual!” Well, actually they kinda do. For we have some great instructions on parenting in the Bible. God’s Word has a lot to say about children and parenting.

Perhaps the most important insight we can gain from the Bible concerning parenting is to understand our calling as parents. We’ve tried to summarize this calling with what we call the three “R”s of parenthood from God’s Word.

The first “R” is “Receive.” We are called to receive our children as a gift from God. As the psalmist wrote, they are to be received as a “heritage” and a “reward” from God. Children are to be highly valued. Parents have been given the gift of shepherding eternal beings with infinite value and potential.

The second “R” is “Raise-up.” We are called to raise-up our children for God. Parents have been called not to own their children, but to steward them as God’s children. They are on loan to us. And we are called to raise them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Yet, we don’t have to feel afraid or overwhelmed by this great task. For God has not only given us His Word to guide us, but He has given us His Spirit to empower us. We can call on the Lord to help us.

The third “R” is “Release.” We are called to release our children to God. There are many important needs that we are called to meet as parents on behalf of our children: food, shelter, clothing, education, etc. Yet, the most important of all is that we are to make sure that our children have been given the gospel, so that they may follow Jesus and know God as Father. Our children are “like arrows” (Psa. 127:4) that parents are to aim at knowing and following the Lord.

Parenting can be a humbling and scary thing. But we don’t have to attempt it alone. We have God’s Word and God’s Spirit available to help us. Join us for the next three Sundays as we discuss how to follow the three “R”s of parenthood.


My grandmother, Ettie Dillon (seated), and my mother, Wilda Dillon Combs

“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV).

The church of my youth had annual revival services. We would often have an evangelist come and share how God had miraculously saved him from a life of sin. He would preach with fiery enthusiasm and through tears about how God had taken a former drunkard, (or addict, thief, criminal, etc.) and saved him.

These “Damascus Road” testimonies were amazing to me. I was envious of their certainty and passion. As a boy, I often doubted my salvation because I hadn’t had such an awesome conversion. I had no flash of light, no voice of God. Finally at age eight, I decided to give my life to Jesus the way my mother and grandmother had taught me, with sincerity and trust.

As I grew in my faith, I no longer doubted my salvation, but I still sometimes wished that my testimony was more exciting. Why couldn’t I have a testimony more like the apostle Paul’s?

Maybe that’s what Timothy was feeling when Paul wrote him that second letter. Paul was so fearless and certain when he testified of his faith, but Timothy was a little timid. When he compared himself to his mentor he just didn’t feel like he measured up.

Paul would have none of that. He reminded Timothy of the spiritual legacy that his mother and grandmother had given him. Timothy had been spared the suffering and sorrow of Paul’s many mistakes before coming to Christ. Paul reminded Timothy that the “sincere faith” which had “lived” in his mother and grandmother, now “lived” in him.

As a grown man, I’m glad that I have a “Timothy testimony.” The two most influential people in my spiritual development were women. They were my grandmother Ettie and my mother Wilda. They didn’t have the same names as “Eunice and Lois”, but they did have the same “sincere faith” living in them.

Sincere faith. The kind that is more than religion, more than rules and ritual. These women loved and lived for their Lord in such a sincere way that what they passed on to me was more caught than taught.

My mother and her mother are with Jesus now, but their sincere faith still lives here in me.

Happy Mother’s Day.