Transformers (Not The Movie)

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2.

Toward the end of Beauty and the Beast, most of the characters are transformed into their true human form. The beast is once again the prince. Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, Chip and all the other characters in the castle transform back into their human characters. The transformation of the Christian can be just as remarkable because it is so much more than a perceptible change outwardly in behavior. The changes in our lives should be just as dramatic as those in Beauty and the Beast and require that you love others and be loved in return.

But what does it mean to be transformed? Can one truly be transformed; does transformation actually occur? As Christians, being transformed should be the priority in our lives much as it was in the life of the beast. Romans 12:1 says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”

Paul is urging us to prioritize a personal relationship and that means nothing is off the table. Everything we are is being continually offered and available to use as God sees fit. If we have a deep and thriving connection in our hearts to God, it will naturally produce a desire to serve. Romans 12:2 goes on to say, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Some of you are thinking God will only love you once you have your issues solved and you’ve reached a stage of “maturity.” That is wrong. God will never love you any more than He already does right now. He will never love you any less than He does right now. God is more concerned with the direction of your life than the perfection of your life. It’s the direction of your heart that says, “God I want to voluntarily submit to the changes You want to make in my life. I want to be transformed. I want to more like You.”

Remember that transformation is a process. This is how growth toward spiritual maturity happens, too. It’s a process, it takes time, and it typically occurs incrementally. 

So, do you want things to be different?  Do you want to experience personal growth?  Does your heart yearn for genuine change?  Is your longing for genuine, inside-out transformation of your heart, your spirit, your attitudes, and your relationships? Then, choose to cooperate with God and let your transformation begin?

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you could change just one thing about your walk with God, what would it be? How can you begin to change it?
  2. What role does the Bible play in spiritual transformation?
  3. What do we need to do this week in the area of being transformed?

My Heart Of The Problem Is The Problem

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7. 

In the introduction to the movie Beauty and the Beast, we are told that the prince had everything his heart desired, but was spoiled, selfish and unkind. The beast’s issue was not his appearance, but the condition of the heart. The beast is a microcosm of the human experience. It is evident throughout history or even by picking up the Bible that humanity may try to rise above the evil that is deep in their hearts, but continually fails. “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah 17:9) 

It doesn’t take much study in the Bible to realize that Jesus is concerned about the heart. It is also equally obvious that Jesus is not concerned about cleaning up our act on the outside. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.” (Matthew 23:25)

Jesus is not concerned with outward appearance. The goal of Jesus Christ is to change the hearts of sinners like you and me. That is because the heart is what you are, with no veneer. The heart is what you really are, when nobody is watching but God: what you are, in the secrecy of your thought and feeling. And what you are at the invisible root matters as much to God as what you are at the visible branch. “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). From the heart are all the issues of life.

So the heart is utterly crucial to Jesus. What we are in the deep, private recesses of our lives is what He cares about most. Jesus did not come into the world simply because we have some habits that need to be broken. He came into the world because we have hearts that need to be purified.

God is looking at why you do what you do. That goes to the level of the heart. Given the mess we are in if left to ourselves and our sinful nature, it is amazing that God would love us enough to reach down and offer us a new heart, and a new mind, and new motives. But that is exactly what He does.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God speak to your heart? How does God give us a change of heart?
  2. How can we help God clean up our heart this week?   

The Nature Of The Beast

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” – Hebrews 4:15.

This week’s movie is Beauty and the Beast. When the beast looked into a mirror he saw a beast and nothing else. It begs the question, how do you see yourself… really? What do you see when you look into a mirror? Do you see all the flaws, the blemishes, gray hair, and do you wonder where all those lines came from? What do you see when you look into your past? Do you see scars from abuse? Do you see brokenness and loss? Do you see choices you now regret and wish you could take back? And what do you see when you look into the future? Like the beast, do you lose hope because it seems you will be stuck doing the same old, same old?

Fortunately for us, God sees us through the lens of the cross. If you are a photographer you deal with the depth of field in every photo you take. If the subject you are focusing on fills the entire frame, naturally that is all you will see. You can’t see anything else no matter what the depth of field is. That’s how God sees us. He focuses on Jesus and you’re right behind Him but the Father only sees His Son. 

1 John 4:17 says, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.”  The “by this,” refers back to the verse above where he says “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16) Isn’t that a wonderful thought? God and us abide in each other. If you stop and meditate on that for awhile, it really boggles the mind.  

But are we becoming more like Jesus? Now all of us struggle with the beast in us, from time to time. We try to hide, the inner darkness that keeps us from God or being what God wants us to be. Sometimes these are character traits or memories that we play for ourselves or sometime there are addictions or patterns that we simply can’t find the strength to break. And sometimes they’re just garden variety sins or maybe more serious sins.

What is my default? It’s not that we’re not going to sin. We are going to sin. But if we have a heart given to Christ, we’re not going to remain in sin. We’re not going to stay in beast mode. We’re not going to be comfortable there. Our default is going to be repentance. Our default is going to be obedience. Our default is going to be humility. Our default is going to be the things that make us more like Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you think God sees you?
  2. What can we do this week to become less beast like and more like Christ?

There Must Be More Than This Provincial Life

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14.   

Lyrics from the Beauty and the Beast Song Belle: “There goes the baker with his tray, like always. The same old bread and rolls to sell. Ev’ry morning just the same. Since the morning that we came. To this poor provincial town…there must be more than this provincial life.”

Have you ever said to yourself, “There has got to be more to life than this?” Most of us spend a little of our time being unsatisfied, discontented with our lot. People who are unemployed long to have a job, those in employment long for a better job and those in top jobs long to retire. It is part of the “grass is greener on the other side” mentality. We’re constantly seeking for something else, something better. Our lives seem to be a constant search for something. We live in a dissatisfied state even when things are going really well. We have a nagging feeling that there must be more to life than this, whatever “this” may be at the time. You’re certain that there’s more to be had, but you’re not sure what it is. Surely this isn’t all there is? Surely this isn’t it?

That itch you feel when you’re alone and quiet and thinking about life, that hunger for purpose and identity is evidence that deep down you know that something temporary will never be enough. You know that there must be something bigger than you, something eternal. That eternal thing is God. We need something eternal to satisfy us ultimately. If you are looking for more out of your life, the answer is clear and available. You will find what you are looking for when you follow Jesus.

The best, most fulfilling, most satisfying life is found only in following Jesus. There are a lot of things out there that promise you a better life, better friends, better relationships, more fun, and more success. In the end, many of these things leave us empty and dissatisfied. Jesus said, “… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) 

Jesus never promised us that life would be perfect or easy. In fact, He said we’d have troubles in this life. But when we face a tough spot we have the assurance that His love will help us change, overwhelming us with His presence and guiding our steps.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever wondered if there is more to life than what we are experiencing? 
  2. “The closer I get to Jesus, the less I care about me, and the more I care about people.” What’s your reaction to this statement.
  3. In what areas of your life do you need to trust God more?

How Much Is One Person Worth?

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” –  Psalm 139:13-16.

One of the most powerful moments in The Martian is when Mark realizes the sacrifices that people made to try to save him—million-dollar missions abandoned, countless overtime hours worked, months spent traveling in space. Watney says, “The cost for my survival must have been hundreds of billions of dollars, all to save one dorky botanist. Why bother?”

The Martian is a story about just how far people will go to save someone who they’ve lost. It reminds us of the incredible lengths that God goes to save us: coming to this earth as a child to show us the way back to God, dying on a cross to pay for the things we have done wrong, and pursuing us in so many big and small ways throughout our lives. When we reflect on ourselves, we might say, oh I’m just one dorky salesman, or student or fireman. Yet Christ saw us as worthy of rescuing, and the cost of our rescue was the life of Jesus Christ.

Think about that for a second. Jesus came to Earth for you and me. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” (Philippians 2:6-7) The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian believers, “You are not your own — for you were bought with a price.”  There is not an illustration in all the vast reaches of time or space that could properly portray what Jesus did. Sometimes we try to fabricate imaginary circumstances to convey the idea of His sacrifice, but even the most creative of us fail miserably when we try to put the sacrifice of the cross into words. How can we truly understand the real meaning of Christ’s suffering and death on that cross. 

Is one soul worth such an infinite price? The answer is yes. Christ’s love for people is repeatedly dramatized in the Bible in spiritual conversations with individuals. The gospels record some fascinating stories of Jesus’ interaction with people. Each encounter reveals something about the nature of Christ, enabling the reader to more deeply understand His mission. Jesus seemed to relish His conversations with all of these, from a despised tax collector (Zaccheus) to a respected Pharisee (Nicodemus) to the thief on the cross. This series emphasizes the love and compassion of Christ for humanity and His creation and the value He placed on people. 

My prayer is that the immensity of the price Jesus paid for our redemption, stirs you to a greater devotion and commitment to the Savior who loves us so much.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the “redemption” picture help you understand the meaning of the cross?
  2. How can we live our life in a way that understands the price Jesus paid for us? 

Faith Under Fire

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Some 33.9 million miles from earth, Mark Watney, a NASA botanist left for dead, has to figure a way to survive for years in a plastic habitat designed to last days, until the folks back home can work out how to get him back. Mark found himself in the valley of the shadow of death both literally and figuratively. It is this type of situation when even the strongest faith would come under fire. 

You may be thinking that The Martian is a movie, but what I am going through is real. You could tell me about circumstances that are so awful, so soul-crushingly terrible; and worst yet, there seems to be no end in sight. Your world these days consists of words like upheaval, uncertainty, and chaos. You might add that while the Bible tells you “not to worry” (Matthew 6:31) you believe there is plenty to worry about. You may feel like Mark Watney in that you have been left behind and God seems 33.9 million miles away. It is in these situations that our faith is under fire.

It is in times like this that we need to remember how good God is and how much power God has. You don’t know that you can count on God to come through until you reach the end of yourself and you have no one to count on except God. Then you learn something about the awesome God we serve. God is able. God is unlimited. God is all powerful. God can do anything. The Bible says with God, nothing is impossible. God doesn’t always give us what we want, but we do know that he is following His plan which is a better plan than we have. Faith is not about what we see, it is about who we know. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

We are called to be a people of faith. A people who are wholeheartedly committed to the journey that God is taking us on. We are to lay down our own fears and trust in Him. What’s so amazing about this is that God gives us the faith as a gift, He brings the trial, He gives us the perseverance to get through the trial, and then He commends us afterwards. It’s God’s grace all the way.

It brings me back to the movie The Martian. At the end of the film, Watney is speaking to a group of fresh-faced new astronaut recruits. He explains how in space, things will go wrong and when they do you can either choose to give up and die or you can choose to do something. When we face tough times we too have a choice: we can accept what is happening to us or we can do something. And doing something is having the faith to trust God to do His will.

Discussion Questions:

  1. A faith journey sometimes begins with a difficult challenge.  Oftentimes, we are unaware of our need for faith until we face something we can’t control. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. A faith journey often gets worse before it gets better. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. What can we do to deepen our faith in tough times? 

All In The Family

“ and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” –  Romans 8:17.

In the movie, The Martian, Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and is determined to not die. NASA finds out Mark is alive and has to make the decision whether to tell the rest of the Ares III team that the crew member they had left for dead is actually still alive. One NASA official believes that such a revelation would destroy the crew’s morale and render them unable to complete the journey back home. But another official disagrees, and says the crew should know immediately. His rationale is that they are a family, after all, and that’s not something you keep from families. The crew is ultimately told and they make the decision as a family to sacrifice a year of their lives to return to Mars and save Watney.

We all have biological families. We also may have extended families from marriage. Some of those relationships are a blessing, and some of them are less of a blessing. There are some family members we love to spend time with and some family members we spend time with only out of obligation. 

But what about our spiritual family? When we meet together as a spiritual family we do so voluntarily. Intelligence, status, looks, gender, race, do not matter because the common denominator is a love for God and a love for each other. When we meet, we collectively think about ways we can serve God and make the world a better place. Hebrews 10:24-15 gives us insights into why being a part of a spiritual family is so important: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 

A Christian builds his or her life into the lives of other believers through the fellowship of a local church. They know they have not yet “arrived.” They need the accountability and instruction of that local body of people called the church. And they need them. We demonstrate to the world that we have been changed.

When we are part of a spiritual community, we have each other’s backs. We meet people whose example inspires us to be better husbands, wives, friends, neighbors, etc. Being involved in a spiritual community also typically puts us in contact with people who have different experiences and different gifts. We build each other up and appreciate each other’s contributions. 

The reality is that we cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when we are a part of a spiritual family. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you see as the benefits of being part of a spiritual family?
  2. What do you see as your role in the church? 

The Circumstances of Life

“casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].” – 1 Peter 5:7 (AMP)

The movie The Martian involves a mission to Mars that goes wrong: the half-dozen American astronauts jovially collecting samples of Martian soil to bring back to Earth find themselves confronted with a storm of deadly intensity and are forced to abort their mission. As they prepare to head home in a big hurry, one of their number, Mark Watney, is struck by flying debris, his space suit damaged. The crew thinking he is dead leaves. Now he has to figure out a way to live until he can be rescued.

That is how life is sometimes. We are all faced with unforeseen obstacles at one time or another in our lives. The question is what do we do when negative circumstances threaten to overwhelm us. We can either dwell on them or seek answers and ways to rise above our circumstances. 

The enemy wants you to believe that the circumstances are yours and must be faced alone. But we are not alone. Psalms 34:19 says, “The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.” And Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

So the question is a simple one: who would you rather have watching over your circumstances, you or God? With circumstances come anxieties, worries, and concerns. Don’t ignore the fact that God is bigger than your circumstances. Don’t tell God you have a big problem, tell your problem you have a big God. We should be asking “What, God, what are you trying to show us?” And then consider transferring your circumstances to God. 

It’s imperative that we allow God to deal with whatever circumstances we are or may have been facing. If we make the circumstances we’re dealing with bigger than our God, then we have drastically overestimated the circumstances and drastically underestimated God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What circumstances are you facing right now?
  2. Who do you think is best able to handle those circumstances?
  3. What can we do this week to transfer our circumstances to God? 

Looking For Answers When Tragedy Strikes

“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” – Hebrews 4:14-16.

Being stranded on Mars would be a scary thought.This turns into reality for astronaut Mark Watney when he becomes stranded on Mars after an intense storm hits the planet. Presuming that he is dead, the remainder of Watney’s crew safely escapes Mars leaving him to fend for himself. Watney doesn’t waste time pondering life and death or his place in the universe. Rather, as he says, “You can either accept that (death) or you can get to work.”

We may never know the reason why some things happen in life. A friend dies in a senseless auto accident, a loved one suffers with a terminal illness, a child dies from a rare, incurable disease. We wonder how any good could possibly come from such heartache. There are times when God reveals the purpose for our suffering. Other times He doesn’t. It is in those hidden times that our faith is tested and stretched.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.” This passage provides the key to dealing faithfully with painful and unjust situations. God may not tell us everything we want to know about the painful event of life, but he has already told us all we need to know.  

There is a mystery to tragedy, but it is not mysterious to Jesus. He knows the plan. He may not always provide all the answers you want to hear, but there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment therefore, when His care falters. Revelation 21:4 reminds us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  We may not know the individual and specific reasons for pain and loss and death, but we know the big picture: the cross and resurrection has defeated these enemies and that is God’s answer to sin and death. 

We don’t know if tomorrow is going to be a good day or a bad day but we do know that the Spirit abides with you and will be in you.”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 14:19)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel alone facing your circumstances? How so?
  2. How do you balance taking action with trusting God? Do you have any guidelines for how much effort is too much (or too little) in any given situation? 
  3. In what areas of your life do you need to trust God more? 

Friends In High Places

“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family. – Proverbs 18:24 (MSG).

It is sometimes easy to think that God is concerned with doctrinal manners and thus is not all that interested in our friends or what type of friend we are. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Christ died in our place, not only to restore our relationship with God, but also to firm up our relationships with other people. In fact, the Bible has just as much to say about interpersonal relationships as it does about theology and doctrine. The Bible has some timeless wisdom on the subject of friends. The Bible also gives us a blueprint for our responsibilities to others when we choose to be in their corner.  

Proverbs 12:26 says, “The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.” The reason we need to be careful is because we often become just like the people we hang around. Proverbs 13:20 reminds us not to necessarily emulate the people we associate with: “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” The apostle Paul picked up on this when he wrote: “Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

So what do we need to do when we are in someone’s corner? First, we need to be loving. Proverbs 17:17 sums up this quality: “A friend loves at all times…” A faithful friend loves at all times, even when we make mistakes. A faithful friend lets you know that you’re a valuable member of God’s team. A friend who loves hangs in there with you even when you feel like all is lost. The second trait is forgiveness. The true test of a friendship is the forgiveness factor. If we spend enough time with somebody we will inevitably hurt them, either intentionally, or unintentionally. A faithful friend is someone who will cut you some slack and forgive you for what you’ve done. Proverbs 17:9: “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.”

Third, a true friend is one who helps you become who God has made you to be. Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Someone once said, “a friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you’ve been, accepts who you’ve become and all the while helps you to grow.” We all need friends who will sharpen us by giving us advice and counsel: “The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.” (Proverbs 27:9).

And lastly, a faithful friend is aware of the needs of others. They know when to give space and when to offer grace. Proverbs 25:17: “Don’t visit your neighbors too often, or will wear out your welcome.” 

A faithful friend is a real blessing. But such friendships must be cultivated and maintained in order for them to last. If I want to have a good friend, I must work at being a good friend.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes a great friend in your mind?
  2. How can you be a better friend to your friends?
  3. What can you do this week to heal wounded friendships?