There it was, soft, white, amidst a vivid hunter green backdrop. Quietly calling for my attention. Gently waving in the breeze. Look. Take notice. Look again! Quietness filled the air surrounding this normal, yet to me, an abnormal scene. This fragile cylindrical living organism, engulfed among crisp green and brown leaves stood lonely, resting, upon a low hanging bough. From the comfy loveseat on my porch, early one morning, I examined the tree carefully with inquisitive wonder. Only one other bud in sight and it was so far from the other, high in the tree, the other bud could have never known that it wasn’t really alone.
This beautiful magnolia bud won my attention. But, as it is with me, I didn’t see it as a simple bud, but a complex message. It was one of those God moments that I almost let pass me by, a window into something that would speak volumes to me throughout the week. This was at the beginning of this past week, where my story begins.
What was the message you may be wondering? Well… I seemed to think of it as an early bloomer, before it’s time, a trendsetter, a leader, radical, a rebel, alone, unique, and something special that has gone unnoticed. I saw this magnolia bud as something that yet needed to grow, to spread it’s petals wide, experiencing the warmth of the sun, the light of the day, the dew of the morning, beautiful and fragrant, exhausting all its potential until its time of expiration. I saw it as taking no thought of tomorrow, resting gently - within a simple branch on a limb, and giving no concern for its ability, nourishment, its purpose, how big or impactful it was going to be, or who was scrutinizing it. And as I watched, I knew that it would be beautiful…magnolias are just that way! Then, my observation began to reveal a comparison in various parts… as me, my life! A life that once was, still is, and waits still to be. I saw it not only as a picture of myself, but of others, and of things, of dreams, things we take for granted, those in the past, the ever changing present, and of a generation yet to come.
The longer I sat in contemplative watch, the more its beauty developed. I was amazed at how quickly the petals unfolded revealing the depth of its center and the surrender of its existence. It had reached its peak…only a day or two left before it fades into a simple memory. The culmination of thoughts toward this single magnolia did not bring sadness to my heart, but rather encouragement, and the courage to press on!
If I had seen many flowers on the tree, I probably would not have even given it a second glance, or a second thought. It was the individualism of this flower that caught my eye. It didn’t seem to conform to the pattern of the trees habit or blooming in step with other buds. To me, it seemed to scream out, “Go for it! Don’t worry about the other flowers, they haven’t even budded yet, set an example, be a leader!” Now, I cannot tell you for sure how this currently relates in my life, but a little seed vision has been planted with a little message for me to recall at some given point in the future. I must tell you that this magnolia story also was followed by a scripture verse that also seemed to stand tall, waving giant arms urgently as if to get me to stop and ponder! The verse?
And be not conformed to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
so that you may prove what the will of God is,
that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (NASB95)
The transformation of which Paul spoke in Rom 12:2 is not a change effected from without but a radical reorientation that begins deep within the human heart.1 Rather than allowing the world to “squeeze you into its own mold” (Phillips), Paul told believers to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds.” From without there is a continuing pressure to adopt the customs and mind-set of the world in which we live. Although that influence must be rejected, that alone will never create the kind of change God has in mind for his followers. Real and lasting change comes from within. We must “let ourselves be transformed.”12 A renewed mind is concerned with those issues of life that are of lasting importance.13 By nature our thoughts tend to dwell on the ephemeral (temporary). But that which passes quickly is normally inconsequential. As Paul said in another place, “What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). The mind renewed enables us to discern the will of God.14 Released from the control of the world around us; we can come to know what God has in mind for us. We will find that his will is “good, pleasing and perfect.” It is good because it brings about moral and spiritual growth. It is pleasing to God because it is an expression of his nature. It is perfect in that no one could possibly improve on what God desires to happen.2
Transformation seems to be an ongoing process in this ever-changing world!
A few days later,
I was driving around town to try and locate wallpaper for my bathroom remodel job. I heard an advertisement on the radio…not sure what it was trying to sell and I rarely listen to the radio…but it was cleverly designed using the word start. Jump start, start up, start over… you get the idea! I gave a quick thought of the cleverness of the ad and kept driving. I had no intention of thinking about it again until the Lord brought it to my mind about two days later. The only thing different was he seemed to be saying, “Remember that clever ad? Change the word start to step and by the way, don’t forget the magnolia!” Humm…interesting! Now I don’t know how God interacts with you, but I am always amazed at how He gets my attention and then causes me to focus in as He begins to speak to my heart.
I begin to speak out loud:
And after I spoke out each phrase, a memory or a thought of a situation came to mind about how I responded or how I should respond. I considered the magnolia…it stepped up and bloomed without surrounding buds, it stepped through time and space to make a bold statement and it stepped ahead and aside to influence and allow room for others to grow. Isn’t that the way we should be as Christians? Step up and do what is right, what is hard, what is admirable. Step through the floods and walk on solid ground! Step over obstacles that seem to distract you from following God’s plan. Step in and immerse yourself, enjoying the grace of God’s abounding faithfulness. Step aside and let Christ go before you to perfectly prepare the way. Step behind and follow in His steps. Step inline with the Word of God and be obedient to every call and command. Step above the mire and gunk of the world that seeks to sink you down and cause you to conform to the world.
Conforming is easy. Transforming takes guts! Stepping takes courage!
Isaiah 43: 1,2
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob, (insert your name)
he who formed you, Israel: (insert your family name)
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
At the time of finally putting my thoughts in writing, I have driven around town and more than you can imagine…I have noticed many magnolia trees with only one bloom! I even started counting the number of trees! What if we were all like an individual tree? What if we all had the courage to bloom where we are planted, even if it is out of season or out of sync with everyone else? What would happen if we spoke up, stepped out, and let the fragrance of Christ flood the entrapment of those conforming to the world? Perhaps revival?? Perhaps souls won for Christ?? Perhaps a newfound personal freedom in Christ and bondage chains shattered?? Maybe even a return to our first love!
Paul reminded the Galatians that the present age is evil (Gal 1:4). It cannot, and must not, serve as a model for Christian living. Its values and goals are antithetical to growth in holiness. The church should stand out from the world as a demonstration of God’s intention for the human race. To be culturally identified with the world is to place the church at risk.11 Believers are to be salt and light (Matt 5:13–14), purifying and enlightening contemporary culture.
Matthew 5:13,14 (NASB95)
13“You are the salt of the earth;
but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?
It is no longer good for anything,
except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
John 14:21, 24
21 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words;
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 232–233.
Phillips J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English
Logos 5. (2014). 12 μεταμορφοῦσθε is a present passive imperative. Although God brings about the transformation, we must voluntarily place ourselves at his disposal so it can happen. He will not “transform” us against our will. The present tense suggests that the process is to continue throughout life. Transformation is not instantaneous.
13 J. A. Fitzmyer defines the νοῦς as “that aspect of the human being which is considered the seat of intellectual and moral judgment” (Romans, AB [New York: Doubleday, 1993], 641). J. Behm says the νοῦς of Christians is “the inner direction of their thought and will and the orientation of their moral consciousness” (TDNT 4.958).
14 δοκιμάζω means “to put to the test” or “to approve as the result of testing.” The second meaning fits the present context better.
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