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“9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:9-13)

What possessed Jesus to go to the wilderness to be tempted? Where did he get the courage to do such an uncomfortable thing? I’ll suggest it was an experience of the Father’s love and the Spirit’s presence at his baptism.

That moment in the Jordan must have been a moment of clarity for Jesus. God knew there were difficult tasks ahead so he gave Jesus 2 big “tools” for his tool belt. These two truths would carry him through the desert, through his ministry, and to the cross.

1.    The Spirit is with me, leading and empowering me.
2.   The Father loves me. I’m his son. And he’s proud of me.

So compelled by the Spirit’s presence and the Father’s love he went willingly into the desert, into hunger, deprivation, and temptation. Notice who’s in the desert? Angels, animals, the Holy Spirit, and the Devil. Notice who’s NOT there? People. I think Jesus went to the desert not just to say “no” to Satan and get clarity on his mission. I think he spent that time apart from civilization, apart from food, apart from human relationships, to learn how to rely on the Spirit and engage with spiritual realities around him. I think it was HERE in this place of total vulnerability that Jesus grew deeper into this “oneness”, this intimacy with the Father.

When I personally experience the Father’s love and the Holy Spirit’s active presence in my life, THEN I gain the power to do the scariest things imaginable. It’s not a pep talk or a kick in the pants or a biblical education that gives me courage. It’s a deep unshakeable knowledge that Daddy loves me and that His Presence is with me, that my life is no accident and that I am no orphan. When I can learn to HEAR the Father’s acceptance, and SEE the Spirit, that’s when I gain the courage to be vulnerable and to rely on Him every day.

This is changing the way I think about parenting. It’s tempting to focus on behavior modification or “winning battles” or protecting my kids or fostering their independence as the stuff that will help my children become courageous adults. But I’m beginning to see that it starts at a much deeper level. Before I do anything else as a parent I need my kids to know two things:

1.    I love you. I’m proud of you. You are MY child.
2.   Your life is no accident. You have great purpose.

We’re currently deciding whether to send our daughter to public or private school. Debra had an excellent experience in a small Christian school where she experienced a feeling of acceptance and belonging. The last thing we’d want for our 4-year-old is for her to be in a classroom (public OR private) where she feels she doesn’t belong or isn’t accepted. Given my daughter’s sensitivity to shame and rejection, we feel pressure to make the right decision from the get-go.

But as I look back on my childhood and think of MY most painful experiences with rejection, I’m realizing something profound. If I had felt comfortable enough to fall in my father’s arms, to embrace my mother’s acceptance, to grow deep in the knowledge that I have a place of nurture and love and belonging… then I could have dealt with those painful experiences with grace and courage. My parents are kind and caring people who sought to instill in me a sense of love and belonging. But no parent is perfect and I needed to make the choice to trust in their care.

So as I parent MY kids, my focus isn’t on keeping them from challenging or painful situations. My focus is on ensuring that every challenging or painful situation in their life is matched by countless experiences which show them that they are loved, that I am emotionally present for them, that they have a place in their father’s heart and in their father’s arms.

If you’re still reading this, I want you to listen to this. It has become the fodder of endless conversation in our house:

Researcher Brenee Brown nails it on the head. In this 20-minute talk, she discusses her research into what gives people the courage to live whole-hearted lives full of risk and vulnerability (or faith, if you like). She basically says that the courage to be vulnerable, to “risk it” with the people and situations in our lives, comes from an innate belief that one’s love and belonging are never on the line. Even if our endeavors fail, WE cannot become failures. Even if our relationships go south, we believe that we are worthy of receiving love. And that belief beyond anything else is what makes us brave.

I think the secret to Jesus’ obedience, his courage, his authoritative confidence, his willingness to do ANYTHING, stemmed from that moment in the Jordan, and other moments throughout his life when he could SEE the Spirit and HEAR the Father. Likewise, in our pursuit of maturity, in our passion to get “unstuck” and grow deeper in God, I think that’s where our focus should be: experiencing the Father’s love… and understanding the Spirit’s presence and purpose in our lives.

When I was growing up, I dreamed of one day becoming a Nuclear Physicist.  To answer your question, yes, that does make me a gigantic nerd. I’m still not exactly sure where this dream came from, but I know that I was always amazed by the power that nuclear energy represented.  I remember being so intrigued by the idea that by manipulating this infinitesimal speck, an atom, you could power an entire city.  Another thing that always fascinated me about nuclear energy was the fact that such great power also comes with the possibility for great danger.  It’s not advisable for humans to be in the presence of radioactive materials unprotected, because they emit radiation that has the power to transform our bodies on an atomic level.  To be in the presence of a radioactive material is to change, but not for the better.  It’s effect on humans is sickness, mutation, cancer, and ultimately death.

In a very similar way, to be in the presence of God is to change.  God is the source of all power. His power is omnipotent, meaning it’s the power that powers all other powers; He is all powerful.  Nuclear power and the gigantic blazing torch that is our Sun are both tiny flickering flames in comparison to the Power of God.  Psalm 62:11 says, “Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God.” (NASB)  And much like radioactive materials, God’s presence has a profound impact on any who draw near to Him.  But by contrast, to be in the presence of God is to change for the better.  In Exodus 34, Moses goes up on a mountain and speaks to God, and when he returns the Bible says in verses 29 & 30, “His face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.  When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.” (NIV) As a result of being in the presence of God, Moses’ face shone with the glory of God.

But the Bible tells us that the glory of God eventually faded from Moses’ face, and everything eventually went back to business as usual.  The transformation was not lasting.  If you are in the presence of radioactive materials, you need special clothing to wear that will protect you from the harmful radiation; and in the same way, the Bible says that to stand in the presence of God, we must wear special clothing as well.  We must wear the clothing of righteousness.  But what’s incredible is that this is something that we can’t do for ourselves. Our best efforts at righteousness, or self-righteousness, always end up woefully short, and in fact, further complicate matters because we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are covered when we are not.  Imagine walking into a nuclear power plant with the special “Atomic Shorts” that you bought online, “Guaranteed Full-Protection or your money back!”  You’re not only in grave danger, you’re doubly lost because you don’t even know it!

But thanks to God, there is a covering available for us, and it is the one found in Jesus Christ.  In fact, Jesus is literally the covering himself!  Galatians 3:27 says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (NASB) This covering is called the Atonement of Christ, which literally means a state of “at-one-ment” or joining, or unity with God. The word for atonement in the Hebrew is the word kaphar which in its most basic form means: to cover, and carries the connotation of being brought close in an embrace.

So in order to see transformation in our lives, we have to continually seek to be in the presence of God. The only way that we can remain in the presence of God is through the Atonement of Christ, wearing His righteousness as our covering.  When you repent of your brokenness and sin and put your faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection as the source of your righteousness, you begin that amazing transformation.  And what is even more incredible is that Christ is the actual result of the transformation as well.  Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”   This isn’t something that happens immediately, but it’s a process that involves actions that we take and miraculous things that God does.  As we daily “clothe ourselves with Christ” (see Romans 13:14) we become more and more like him.  That is the mystery and majesty of God, if you will just put yourself in His presence, you will change for the better.  “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Then you may ask, “How do you ‘go’ into God’s presence?”  It may be a better question to ask, “How can you ‘leave’ God’s presence?” because He’s everywhere!!  David wonders in Psalm 139:7, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”  So in a very real way, we are always able to be in the presence of God.  The question is whether or not we will hear His voice when He speaks to us.  Hebrews 3 warns us against hardening our hearts to God’s Word and refusing to listen when He speaks. “As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.'” Hebrews 3:15

While God can and does speak to anyone at times, the best way to learn to hear God’s voice is through His word, and specifically by reading and meditating on the words of Jesus.  Jesus perfectly heard His Father’s voice all throughout His life.  He also perfectly obeyed His Father at all times because of His love for the Father.  Jesus says in John 14:24, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

Whether or not we obey the words of God is of huge importance.  But, it’s also of huge importance to note that we cannot get “closer” to God by obeying His commands, our faith in Christ is the only thing that allows us to approach God.  You cannot “earn” your way into God’s presence, or “work” your way into a better relationship with God.  But refusing to obey God’s Word is an act of rebellion, and that will naturally draw you away from God.  Also, as you obey God, you will come to know Him more, and trust Him more, and the Bible promises both present and future blessings for those who obey God.

Jesse Dukes is part of WDA’s Next Generation Staff and also serving as the Discipleship Minister and worship leader at Legacy Christian Church in Senoia, GA.

Part 1 of 2

This article is part 1 of 2 on the topic of transformation.  If this article has been meaningful to you consider the following WDA resources on this topic “Disciple Building: A Practical Strategy”.  You can visit a WDA Store under Leadership Manuals.