Chris Baker is a tattoo artist who transforms symbols of pain and enslavement into works of art. Many of his clients are former gang members and victims of human trafficking who have been marked with identifying names, symbols, or codes. Chris transforms these into beautiful art by tattooing over them with new images.
Jesus does for the soul what Chris Baker does for the skin—He takes us as we are and transforms us. The Bible says, “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor. 5:17 nlt). Before knowing Christ, we follow our desires wherever they lead us, and our lifestyles reflect this. When we repent and begin to walk with Christ, the passions and pitfalls that once dominated our lives is the “old life” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) that fades away as we are transformed. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18).
Still, life as a “new person” isn’t always easy. It can take time to disconnect from old habits. We may struggle with ideas that were foundational to our old way of life. Yet over time, God’s Holy Spirit works in us, giving us inner strength and an understanding of Christ’s love. As God’s beautiful new creations, we’re free to leave the past behind.
Walking in my North London neighborhood, I can hear snatches of conversation in many languages—Polish, Japanese, Hindi, Croatian, and Italian, to name a few. This diversity feels like a taste of heaven, yet I can’t understand what they’re saying. As I step into the Russian café or the Polish market and hear the different accents and sounds, I sometimes reflect on how wonderful it must have been on the day of Pentecost when people of many nations could understand what the disciples were saying.
On that day, pilgrims gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of the harvest. The Holy Spirit rested on the believers so that when they spoke, the hearers (who had come from all over the known world) could understand them in their own languages (Acts 2:5-6). What a miracle that these strangers from different lands could understand the praises to God in their own tongues! Many were spurred on to find out more about Jesus.
We may not speak or understand many languages, but we know that the Holy Spirit equips us to connect with people in other ways. Amazingly, we are God’s hands and feet—and mouth—to further His mission. Today, how might we—with the Spirit’s help—reach out to someone unlike us?
Recently I came across an article describing what constitutes great literature. The author suggested that great literature “changes you. When you are done reading, you’re a different person.”
In that light, the Word of God will always be classified as great literature. Reading the Bible challenges us to be better. Stories of biblical heroes inspire us to be courageous and persevering. The wisdom and prophetic books warn of the danger of living by our fallen instincts. God spoke through various writers to pen life-changing psalms for our benefit. The teachings of Jesus shape our character to become more like Him. The writings of Paul orient our minds and lives to holy living. As the Holy Spirit brings these Scriptures to our minds, they become powerful agents for change in our lives.
The writer of Psalm 119 loved God’s Word for its transforming influence in his life. He recognized that the ancient Scriptures handed down from Moses made him wise and more understanding than his teachers (v. 99). It kept him from evil (v. 101). No wonder he exclaimed, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long,” and “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (vv. 97, 103).
Welcome to the joy of loving great literature, especially the life-changing power of God’s Word!
In my work as a chaplain, some people occasionally ask if I am willing to give them some additional spiritual help. While I’m happy to spend time with anyone who asks for help, I often find myself doing more learning than teaching. This was especially true when one painfully honest new Christian said to me with resignation, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to read the Bible. The more I read what God expects from me, the more I judge others who aren’t doing what it says.”
As he said this, I realized that I was at least partly responsible for instilling this judgmental spirit in him. At that time, one of the first things I did with those new to faith in Jesus was to introduce them to things they should no longer be doing. In other words, instead of showing them God’s love and letting the Holy Spirit reshape them, I urged them to “behave like a believer.”
Now I was gaining a new appreciation for John 3:16-17. Jesus’ invitation to believe in Him in verse 16 is followed by these words. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Jesus didn’t come to condemn us. But by giving these new Christians a checklist of behaviors, I was teaching them to condemn themselves, which then led them to judge others. Instead of being agents of condemnation, we are to be ambassadors of God’s love and mercy.
Tenacity and audacity—Elisha had heaps of both. Having spent time with Elijah, he witnessed the Lord working through the prophet by performing miracles and by speaking truth in an age of lies. Second Kings 2:1 tells us that Elijah is about to be taken “up to heaven,” and Elisha doesn’t want him to leave.
The time came for the dreaded separation, and Elisha knew he needed what Elijah had if he was going to successfully continue the ministry. So he made a daring demand: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). His bold request was a reference to the double portion given the firstborn son or heir under the law (Deut. 21:17). Elisha wanted to be recognized as the heir of Elijah. And God said yes.
Recently one of my mentors—a woman who spread the good news of Jesus—died. Having battled ill health for years, she was ready to enjoy her eternal feast with the Lord. Those of us who loved her were grateful at the thought of her newfound freedom from pain and that she could enjoy God’s presence, but we grieved the loss of her love and example. Despite her departure, she did not leave us alone. We too had God’s presence.
Elisha gained a double portion of Elijah’s spirit—a tremendous privilege and blessing. We who live after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have the promised Holy Spirit. The triune God makes His home with us! Amy Boucher Pye
Until recently, many towns in rural Ireland didn’t use house numbers or postal codes. So if there were three Patrick Murphys in town, the newest resident with that name would not get his mail until it was first delivered to the other two Patrick Murphys who had lived there longer. “My neighbors would get it first,” said Patrick Murphy (the newest resident). “They’d have a good read, and they’d go, ‘No, it’s probably not us.’ ” To end all this mail-delivery confusion, the Irish government recently instituted its first postal-code system which will ensure the proper delivery of the mail.
Sometimes when we pray we feel like we need help delivering to God what is on our heart. We may not know the right words to say or how to express our deep longings. The apostle Paul says in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit helps us and intercedes for us by taking our unspeakable “groanings” and presenting them to the Father. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (v. 26). The Spirit always prays according to God’s will, and the Father knows the mind of the Spirit.
Be encouraged that God hears us when we pray and He knows our deepest needs.
A Venus flytrap can digest an insect in about 10 days. The process begins when an unsuspecting bug smells nectar on the leaves that form the trap. When the insect investigates, it crawls into the jaws of the plant. The leaves clamp shut within half a second and digestive juices dissolve the bug.
This meat-eating plant reminds me of the way sin can devour us if we are lured into it. Sin is hungry for us. Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” God spoke these words to Cain just before he killed his brother Abel.
Sin may try to entice us by tempting us with a new experience, convincing us that living right doesn’t matter, or appealing to our physical senses. However, there is a way for us to rule over sin instead of letting it consume our lives. The Bible says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). When we face temptation, we don’t face it alone. We have supernatural assistance. Relying on God’s Spirit supplies the power to live for Him and others.
My son had just started nursery school. The first day he cried and declared, “I don’t like school.” My husband and I talked to him about it. “We may not be physically there, but we are praying for you. Besides, Jesus is with you always.”
“But I can’t see Him!” he reasoned. My husband hugged him and said, “He lives in you. And He won’t leave you alone.” My son touched his heart and said, “Yes, Jesus lives in me.”
Kids are not the only ones who suffer from separation anxiety. In every stage of life we face times of separation from those we love, sometimes because of geographical distance and sometimes because of death. However, we need to remember that even if we feel forsaken by others, God hasn’t forsaken us. He has promised to be with us always. God sent the Spirit of truth—our Advocate and Helper—to dwell with us and in us forever (John 14:15-18). We are His beloved children.
My son is learning to trust, but so am I. Like my son, I can’t see the Spirit, but I feel His power as each day He encourages me and guides me as I read God’s Word. Let us thank God for His wonderful provision, the Spirit of Christ who is with us and in us. We are certainly not alone!