Destined for Transformation



In his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg introduces us to a cranky old guy named Hank. Judgmental and joyless, complaining and contemptuous, he’s “the man who never changed.” “But even more troubling than his lack of change,” says Ortberg, “was the fact that nobody was surprised by it.”[1] After all, Hank had spent his whole life in the church.

Some of us have grown so accustomed to the “Hanks” in the church—and our own lack of genuine transformation—that we’ve all but given up on seeing—much less experiencing—a transformed life.

But that’s a bit like enrolling in nursing school without expecting to become a nurse or securing an electrician apprenticeship without any hope of ever being an electrician. Jesus said,

“The student [disciple] is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40; italics added)

Jesus’ goal in calling you to follow him is to train you to be like him. This has been God’s plan from the start. As the apostle Paul put it, “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Now if you’re anything like me, then becoming Christlike definitely qualifies as a transformation! And this is the point.

If you’re a disciple of Jesus, you’re destined for transformation.

It’s what we signed up for when we said yes to Jesus. But we have to want this transformation if we’re going to experience it in this life. Paul explains the choice before us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Our metamorphosis depends on our refusing the prevailing mindset of this world, while renewing our minds in the ways of Christ.

While the power for transformation clearly belongs to the Lord (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18), we have a responsibility in seeing it come to fruition. There’s no auto-pilot when it comes to discipleship. If we’re going to navigate a deformed world to our destination of a transformed life, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves. We have to want it enough to make a habit of saying no to the prevailing mindset of this world and yes to what God tells us through his Word and his Spirit.

The process of becoming Christlike may seem slow, but we can draw encouragement from the small victories along the way, like the one my wife pointed out recently. It was Saturday, the day before I was to deliver a sermon at a pastor friend’s church while he was away. I was sitting at the kitchen table trying to finish my message when our twelve-year-old son burst into the room noisily lamenting a computer malfunction that had just ruined his Minecraft video mid-recording, which he had intended to upload to YouTube. He was devastated and wanted me to do something about it. I had no idea how to help, and frankly I was irritated by the interruption. So, with some stern words, I told him he wasn’t handling the situation very well and sent him to his room. I let out a sigh and returned to preparing my sermon on how to live a transformed life. But within a couple minutes I heard myself say to my wife (who was sitting at the same table and heard the whole thing go down), “I guess I didn’t handle that very well either.” I got up and went to my son’s room. I apologized for being impatient with him, and we had a proper conversation about his computer issue.

I sensed something significant had just happened, but it was my wife who later suggested that I had just taken a small step in my own ongoing transformation.

She was right. I'm on my way.


[1] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 29.

Making Friends with Change


Jack Welch, the famous CEO of General Electric, said, "If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”  Welch said this in the context of organizational leadership, though I've heard it applied to the local church as well. In fact, Thom Rainer, in Autopsy of a Deceased Church [1], estimates that as many as 100,000 churches could be dying right now, due in part to their unwillingness to change their ministry methods. When a church is decidedly resistant to change, the accelerating rate of cultural change can only hasten their demise. Refusing to change can mean the end of the church you love. 

Lately, I've been contemplating how refusing to change can impact us on a personal level. How many of us know someone who has chosen estrangement from someone they love rather than consider a change of heart or a change of mind on some non-essential issue. Clearly, refusing to change can mean the end of a friendship. 

Change never comes easily, but the cost of refusing to change is something we can't afford. 

Jesus didn't advocate change for change sake, but when he said, "a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40, ESV), he normalized change as part of the discipleship process. If the goal of discipleship is to become like Jesus, then we're in for some Change with a capital-C! It behooves us, then, to not only tolerate change but to make friends with it. After all, if you're a follower of Jesus, then change is what you signed up for. 

It may be hard to admit that you've been selfish, manipulative, or stingy for much of your life and that you need to change. But who wants to pay the price in lost relationships and lost growth opportunities by refusing the needed change of heart? 

What if God uses external change to ignite this kind of internal change? What if the shifting sand at work or in your church is an opportunity to see your own heart in a whole new light? What if that unwelcome change in your work or marital status turns out to be an incubator for the kind of inward transformation God has been intending to produce in you for a long time?  

What if we could learn to view change not as a foe to guard against but as a friend to be welcomed?

Could we accelerate our progress toward the goal of becoming like Jesus? Might our churches enter a new season of fruitful disciple making? Given the possibilities, it only makes sense to reconsider our attitude toward change--especially the changes we complain about. Maybe the converse of Welch's maxim is true. Maybe when the rate of change on the inside exceeds the rate of change on the outside a new beginning is dawning. 


[1] Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2014).

The Joy of Trials


It’s good to know where to go for solace when you desperately need it. More than once, challenging circumstances have driven me to the first few verses of the epistle of James, where God has met me with fresh perspective and encouragement. Lately, I’ve been ruminating on these verses once again.

The original recipients of James’s letter were Christians scattered by persecution. They knew what it was like to leave their home, their job, and their social network—all at once. While I know nothing of the kind of persecution those early believers experienced, I do know something of the stress of leaving home, job, and social network to step into an unknown future. We’re about to do this again, and that’s what has drawn me back to James’s advice. Sooner or later, all of us who follow Christ are going to need to hear this. James says,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
— James 1:2-4

James could have advised us to be joyful despite our circumstances—to rise above the negative messages that get in the way of reaching our goals. Had James done this, his voice would easily have gotten lost in the sea of advice so prevalent in our culture, as evidenced in so many commencement speeches this time of year. But James is offering something altogether different.

What God holds out to us is not joy despite our trials but joy because of them.

It sounds like a typo, but it’s not. I checked.

James is saying that the reason we should consider our difficult circumstances to be sheer joy is that they provide an opportunity to stretch our faith in God which, in turn, expands our capacity to trust him even more. Hard times create the conditions where faith and perseverance can flourish. And when that happens we start to become spiritually mature. It’s a process that takes time. But stick with it and eventually you’ll start to resemble Jesus more and more. You’ll be a complete, fully formed disciple of Jesus who exhibits all of the virtues he exhibited. Imagine how wise and loving and courageous you would be!  

This perspective on difficult circumstances jars us out of our self-pity and points us to something deeper, more worthwhile, more enduring. It provides a glimpse of who we were meant to be when we’re all grown up. The thought of it emboldens us to embrace with joy the difficult circumstances required to get us there.

Do your work, perseverance. Do your work.

Our Responsibility to Fight Hypocrisy


Have you ever known people who pretended to be virtuous and godly, when in reality they were self-serving and phony? Did their hypocrisy make you angry enough to turn to a public forum to denounce their duplicity? If so, you have something in common with Jesus.

Here’s a sample of what Jesus declared publicly to the hypocrites who would eventually get him crucified:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
— Jesus, Matthew 23:27-28

Jesus hates hypocrisy, and so should we.

But before we post our tirade on social media against the hypocrites in our life, we should consider something else Jesus said about hypocrisy:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
— Jesus, Matthew 7:3-5

Christ’s words should give us pause. He was justified in pressing charges against hypocrites because he himself was free from hypocrisy. We are not.[1] If we’re honest, we have to admit that we fall short of our own standard of morality, let alone Christ’s standard. Whether you’re an atheist or the apostle Peter,[2] we’re all guilty of pretending to be more virtuous than we really are. We’ve all played the hypocrite.

In a strict sense, the accusation that “The church is full of hypocrites” is true. But by the same standard, the entire world is full of hypocrites, including the hypocrites who complain that the church is full of hypocrites.

Pascal reveals our double standard when he writes, “We do not like others to deceive us; we do not think it fair that they should be held in higher esteem by us than they deserve; it is not then fair that we should deceive them and should wish them to esteem us more highly than we deserve.”[3]

What makes someone a hypocrite is not that they lack moral virtue, but that they pretend otherwise.

Most of us already agree with Jesus that hypocrisy is wrong. What we easily forget is that our responsibility to fight it begins with identifying and denouncing whatever self-righteousness we find in our own hearts.

Given time, all true Christ followers rise above hypocrisy. We’ve already admitted our need of forgiveness and transformation in coming to Christ. If we’re truly following him, we’ll become more honest about our need, not less.


[1] This, by the way, does not imply that we’re disqualified from ever judging behavior as right or wrong. What the immediate context (Matt. 7:1-5) makes clear is that what is prohibited is not judgment of any sort but hypocritical judgment in particular.

[2] See Gal. 2:11-13.

[3] Blaise Pascal, Pensees and the Provincial Letters (New York, NY: Random House, 1941).

The Key to Resilience

Male hiker atop mountain-Pexels.jpeg


Sometimes we go through rough patches. The job doesn’t pan out the way you had hoped. Your best friend lets you down. The car you were relying on blows its transmission. Your physical health takes a bad turn. Spiritually, you just seem to be stuck. You feel weary, discouraged, maybe even despondent. We’ve all been there. You may be there right now. What can you do when that happens?

How can you keep going when your “get up and go” seems to have got up and went?

Times like these are when we find out how resilient we are. One dictionary defines resilience as the “ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like.” We all need resilience. But where does it come from, and how do we cultivate it?

The writer of the book of Hebrews offers some enduring advice for Christ followers who find themselves wearied by the inevitable hardships of this life. After reviewing an impressive array of ordinary God-fearing people who displayed extraordinary resilience, the writer then comes to the timeless key to resilience in chapter twelve.

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
— Hebrews 12:1-3

Notice the exhortation to run with perseverance (which implies resilience) is followed immediately by the means for doing so: by fixing our eyes on Jesus. So how does one fix their eyes on Jesus? The passage offers at least three practical helps for the weary sojourner.

First, REFLECT on how, for millennia, ordinary people have accomplished extraordinary feats of resilience by trusting God and his coming Messiah (see 11:26). Let their experience inspire you to keep trusting Christ as well. After all, he’s “the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8).

Second, REJECT those things that bog you down. It may be escapist behaviors, lies you choose to believe about yourself and God, or just plain old disbelief in God’s faithfulness. We can’t afford any of this dead weight. We have a heavenly race to run. Throw that stuff off immediately. You’ll feel lighter, and you’ll find your spiritual stamina returning.

Third, REMIND yourself of the one you’re running to. The thought of meeting you at the finish line gave Jesus such joy that he willingly endured death on a cross to make it possible. He blazed a trail for us, showing us how to live by faith. And if Jesus endured such opposition and still emerged victorious, then we’re destined for the same, if his Spirit lives in us.

Brothers and sisters, resilience is ours in Christ. Let’s fix our eyes on him. He’s the key.

A Question for Assessing Your Spiritual Progress



By Dave Steel

There’s nothing like a long road trip to create space to reflect. Recently, somewhere between Florida and Illinois, I found myself contemplating my discipleship to Jesus while the rest of the family passed the time in open-mouthed slumber or headphone-transmitted entertainment. (As the designated driver, these options weren’t open to me.) Something about that cross-country trip got me asking an introspective version of the question, “Are we there yet?”

Usually, when someone asks the Are we there yet? question what they really mean is, “Are we making good progress?” If the goal is to be like Jesus (Luke 6:40), then I know I’m not there yet. What I need to know is, Am I making significant progress toward the goal?  

Taking this question seriously can be both difficult and disconcerting—difficult in that it can be a complicated question and disconcerting in that it inevitably strips away our self-righteousness. This should not keep us from facing the question, however. Sometimes we need to take stock of where we are.

While a careful study of Christ’s earthly ministry (such as the one undergirding the Get Discipled series) can reveal a detailed portrait of a fully trained disciple, there is one trait of a mature disciple that stands out among the rest.

When asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said “if you love one another” (John 13:35).

It is love that heads the list of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). In fact, the apostle Paul wrote a whole chapter on the priority of love (1 Cor. 13). “If I have a faith that can move mountains,” Paul says, “but do not have love, I am nothing” (v. 2). He concludes the chapter by noting that, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (v. 13).

In light of such passages, a simple question emerges for assessing our spiritual progress: “Do I love others more now than I did a year ago?”

Am I becoming more patient and kind toward people? Am I less prone to envy and “one-up-manship” than I used to be? Am I seeking to honor others more and myself less? Am I quick to forgive? Do I bring the presence of Christ into my relationships? Am I faithful, thoughtful, hopeful, and loyal toward the people God has put in my life? Could my family vouch for this?

“Do I love others more now than I did a year ago?”

I know I’ve not arrived, but I’m finding that just keeping that question in mind is helping me to be more open to the spiritual progress I seek.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).

Four Ways to Love Your Enemies

By Dave Steel

When was the last time someone insulted you, harassed you, gossiped about you, swindled you, betrayed you, hurt you?

You might be the most easy-going person there is, but chances are there’s at least one person who mistreated you along the way, who still causes you an allergic reaction whenever you see them or hear their name. As far as it depends on you, you’ve tried to live at peace with that person (Rom. 12:18), but he or she seems bent on being enemies. What can you do?

If you’ve read the Gospels, you know that Jesus had enemies—and that he endured horrible abuse by them. So how does he say we should deal with our enemies? He says love them (Matt. 5:44). What could be more counter-intuitive and counter-cultural than that!

But let’s say you’re a Christ follower, called to lead a transformed life. How do you go about obeying Jesus on this one? Here are four ways to love our enemies, according to Jesus.

1. Pray for them.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44-45). In other words, we take after God when we pray for people who don’t deserve it.

2. Forgive them.

While nailed to a cross, Jesus prayed for the perpetrators, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). I don’t know about you, but I can’t get over this. Jesus forgave those responsible for his crucifixion—while they were killing him! I may not have swung the hammer, but I too am responsible for his crucifixion. He died for my sins. In light of his grace, how could I not forgive my enemies?

3. Bless them.

Jesus taught us to “Do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Similarly, the apostle Paul writes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rom. 12:14). C. S. Lewis was right: “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”[1]

4. Serve them.

Jesus tells us to “lend to [our enemies] without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35). Likewise, Paul quotes the Old Testament proverb that says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Rom. 12:20). We’re called to serve our enemies.

Loving our enemies begins with praying for them and forgiving them, something we can do right now in Christ’s strength. And if we should happen to bump into them in the grocery store, we might even bless them and serve them. Wouldn’t that be just like Jesus.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis, Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, ed. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1989), 400.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

By Dave Steel

Remember when you were a kid and people would ask you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Maybe like me you hated that question, because you had no idea what career you wanted to pursue as a child. Other kids were sure they wanted to be a doctor, a fire-fighter, or an astronaut. Not me. I even waited until the last minute to declare my major in college. Eventually, my fixation with college life was disrupted by the reality that I had to choose a degree if I wanted to return the next semester. Even then, it would be another three years before I could answer with any conviction what I wanted to be when I grew up.  

Sooner or later, we’re all faced with the question, What do I want to be when I grow up?

Even more important than the vocational version of that question is the spiritual version: What do I want to be when I grow up spiritually? Assuming you’re still growing spiritually, what kind of person do you want to be—what kind of person do I want to be—a few years from now? Do you ever think about that?

Jesus said, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” So, for those of us who have decided to follow Jesus, growing up spiritually means becoming the kind of person he is.

One way we can pursue this vision of spiritual adulthood is to pour over the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), studying Jesus’ convictions, his character, and his conduct, prayerfully seeking to be transformed into his likeness. It’s a great way to get to know Jesus better and to get a clearer picture of what you’ll be when you grow up. For years, I’ve been wearing out my copy of The NIV Harmony of the Gospels with this purpose in mind. (Have I mentioned that knowing what I want to be when I grow up hasn’t come easy to me?) You may want to try this spiritual discipline yourself.

Several years ago, I asked my preschool son what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A trash man!” he answered enthusiastically. Every trash day, the biggest truck my son had ever seen would pull up to our house, announced by the impressive growl of a powerful engine and popping of air-brakes. Inside, the trash man who controlled this enormous Tonka Truck made a giant hydraulic arm grab our trash can and dump its unwanted contents into the bed of that massive vehicle. The whole time, my son’s attention was riveted to this spectacle, sometimes causing him to break into a dance of excitement. No wonder he wanted to be a garbage truck driver when he grew up!

Spiritually speaking, what do you want to be when you grow up? What vision of the future “you” has captured your attention?

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

What If You Only Had a Few Weeks Left?


I woke up a couple days ago with this thought running through my head: If I knew I only had a few weeks left to live, what would I do differently? How would I make the most of my remaining days on earth? I’m not sure where that question came from, but attending the funeral of a friend’s dad later that day made it even more poignant.  

As I pondered the question, I was able to rule out a couple of possibilities right away. I wouldn’t spend my last days working harder. Nor would I spend them sunbathing on a tropical island (as appealing as that might sound). I don’t think those things would matter anymore. I would rather spend my last days with people I care about, talking about the hope and the joy to be found in knowing and following Jesus Christ. Honestly, I don’t know of anything more important than to be in loving fellowship with God through Christ and to know that those I love are too.

So, what’s most important to you? What would you want to spend your last days doing?

When I asked myself that question, I had to admit I would need to make some adjustments in my schedule to better reflect my values. So, I’ve started doing that.

After all, why wait until your last days to start really living for what matters most?

For some of us, our job demands a lot of our time. For many of us, whatever discretionary time we do have can be soaked up quickly by the enticements of whatever news or entertainment that happens to be available on our smart phones.  

These things may have their place. But if we wouldn’t choose to spend our last days doing these things, then why do we spend so much of our time on them now? Maybe we’re not living as well as we think we are. And that’s what has me rethinking my priorities.

In particular, I’m reevaluating my daily and weekly rhythms, asking myself how likely my current spiritual habits are to foster real spiritual growth in me and to equip me to disciple others effectively—especially my own family. I wonder if you’re concerned about that as well.

In our time-starved culture, the suggestion that we may need to spend more time on intentional discipleship is liable to overload our circuits. But it’s not about doing more. It’s about doing different. It’s about refusing to capitulate to the tyranny of a busy life when we can have a purposeful life instead. For me, it’s about pursuing a vibrant discipleship to Jesus and letting the fruit of that discipleship bless others.  

Friends, we need to stay focused on the important things—the things we would do if we knew we were running out of time. Because we are.

Why Get Discipled?


Angst. defines it as “a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.” For such a short word, it sure goes a long way in describing what’s in the air these days. If you watch the news at all, you know what I’m talking about. Chances are, you’ve noticed some angst in your own soul, as well.

When your world is awash in “alternative facts” and there’s widespread uncertainty about what and who you can trust, there’s bound to be angst. How do you live well, when all around you desperate voices keep turning up the volume by resorting to ALL CAPS and increasingly inflammatory speech to make themselves heard?   

For those still listening amid the cacophony, a gentle whisper can be heard. It says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). To those who have been drinking the “Kool-Aid” of this world, Jesus goes on to say, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

Such captivating promises and the kind of life they envision are precisely why we should get discipled. Are you desperate for the soul-satisfying rest Jesus offers? When you’re honest with yourself, do you thirst for something more than this world can offer? Jesus understands. That’s why he invites us to follow him—to be his disciple. He’s the answer to our deepest longings.

Jesus is not spinning his own alternative reality here. He’s speaking to you and me—in very personal terms—about how to experience abundant life, eternal life. These are not empty promises. If Jesus actually rose from the dead, as so many eyewitnesses attested, then it’s hard to imagine what more he could do to guarantee the reliability of these promises!

To be discipled by Jesus involves becoming like him by being fully trained in the art of joyfully obeying everything he commanded (see blog post entitled, “The Hazards of Haphazard Discipleship”). Getting discipled is about experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised, despite living in a world filled with angst.  

The most comprehensive and accessible tool I know to help you in your pursuit of this life of joyful obedience to everything Jesus commanded is the new series of guidebooks entitled Get DISCIPLED. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to go to our store to check it out.

There’s bound to be angst when we don’t know who and what we can trust. But that angst evaporates when we come to trust and obey the One who slakes our deepest thirst.