Theresa, a women in her fifties, has a near death experience on the operating table. She sees God who tells her not to worry since she has at least another thirty years to live. Theresa decides since she’s in the hospital already and she has another thirty years to live, she should make the most of it. She has plastic surgery. She goes for: tucking this, reducing that, enlarging there, lifting those. The surgery is successful. The day she walks out of the hospital she crosses the street, gets hit by a bus, and is killed. Theresa goes to heaven and confronts God. “I don’t understand. You said I had another thirty years?” God answers her, “I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you.” Life is all about change. We all experience change but do we like it? Generally speaking….No! The truth is we are about change as well. We lose about 150-200 strands of hair every day (some of us more!) but each day they are replaced with others—well, not exactly. Change is real and necessary. We must change our mind, what is called repentance, and agree that we need to change our way of doing things. We ought to change or be transformed spiritually through grace, prayer and willingness. As Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds….” Without change, growth is impossible. Abram learned the truth that it is impossible to stay where you are and go with God at the same time: “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.” There’s no doubt it’s tough to leave what we have become in order to continue on God’s journey. But we shouldn’t rest on your laurels. Your soul needs new growth. Let the Lord’s hand work something better in your heart. Refresh your mind with ideas of your potential. Nobody is a finished product. The truth is Abram experienced immense change through his encounters with God. This is no mere shifting of external elements in his life, not simply an adjustment of activity or schedule. God asked for a complete overhaul of Abram’s life, dreams, and destiny—even his name went from Abram to Abraham to signify the depth of this change.
How did Abram respond? Very simply, “Abraham believed the Lord….” Now here’s the thing: Belief isn’t what most people think it is, at least not when it comes to being conformed to God’s will. When Abraham believed the Lord he decided to take the trip. He got over his aversion to following. He accepted the requirements. He became willing to take the risks. He counted the costs and purchased what was being offered. Now someone may say, “Yeah, but God spoke to him. I’ve never heard that type of message.” Perhaps Abraham did hear something different than you or I ever do. I’m not so sure however. Because what happened isn’t any different than what we go through. The blessing God promises doesn’t take place immediately. In Abraham’s case it wasn’t instantaneous. It took years to receive God’s promise of a child. Perhaps the beginning was different, but how it unfolded was no different than how it does with us. The divine promise is given but the human process still has to be engaged. You want your better life now. God promises you it. But you can’t have it yet. It’s available as a promise now but you’ve got to go through the process first. And unfortunately this process should not be thought of as pain free. God invites us to do something counter-intuitive: go through the pain and not around it. We labor in many fields in life. We ought to labor in the spiritual field of life. So don’t give up. Don’t stop mid-struggle. You’re closer today than you were yesterday. You’re further along than when you first started. Your hand is reaching closer to the reward than you know. The promise isn’t just offered, it will be given. Too many don’t keep the belief they first started with. But God is faithful. The Lord is determined to bless. Don’t surrender because of doubt. Build yourself up through prayer, reading, faith. Keep to your acts of love toward others, your family, neighbors, strangers. Be the change you want to become and you will receive the blessing God first offered. One person said, “When I was a judge, it was apparent to me that who a person was when they came out of prison was determined by what they chose to do when they were in prison.” The same is true for us; who we are next month or next fall or a year from now will be determined by what we do today, tomorrow, and the next day.
But you’ve got to be willing to change. Jesus once said, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” It isn’t the worse thing to change. In fact, Christ says there are situations in which change must come. Sometimes things just don’t fit anymore. What you once thought was going to be your life can no longer be. What you once believed had to be true, isn’t. Often change isn’t as hard as realizing the buck stops with you. What I mean is when you realize that what you’re suffering isn’t because of someone else but it’s because of you, your wrong thinking, your distrustful view, your unforgiven stance, then you are more than half way there. If we would only look at ourselves more clearly, recognizing our responsibility and keeping ourselves accountable, then we could see how possible it is to make the changes we really seek. The truth of course is that we are always changing, as are the people around us. Change happens to us. We should be less afraid of it than we are. How we deal with our changes and those we know and love is incredibly important. A writer, a woman named Ada Calhoun wrote this about change and marriage or relationships. “A couple of years ago, it seemed as if everyone I knew was on the verge of divorce. “He’s not the man I married,” one friend told me. “She didn’t change, and I did,” said another. And then there was the no-fault version: “We grew apart.” Emotional and physical abuse are clear-cut grounds for divorce, but they aren’t the most common causes of failing marriages, at least the ones I hear about. What’s the more typical villain? Change. Feeling oppressed by change or lack of change; it’s a tale as old as time. Yet at some point in any long-term relationship, each partner is likely to evolve from the person we fell in love with into someone new — and not always into someone cuter or smarter or more fun. Each goes from rock climber to couch potato, from rebel to middle manager, and from sex crazed to sleep obsessed. Sometimes people feel betrayed by this change. They fell in love with one person, and when that person doesn’t seem familiar anymore, they
decide he or she violated the marriage contract. I have begun to wonder if perhaps the problem isn’t change itself but our susceptibility to what has been called the “end of history” illusion. We change more than we expect to change. A year and a half ago, (Ada continued, my husband) Neal and I bought a place in the country. We hadn’t been in the market for a house, but our city apartment is only 500 square feet, and we kept admiring this lovely blue house we drove by every time we visited my parents. It turned out to be shockingly affordable. So now we own a house. We bought furniture, framed pictures and put up a badminton net. We marveled at the change that had come over us. Who were these backyard-grilling, property-tax-paying, shuttlecock-batting people we had become? When we met in our 20s, Neal wasn’t a man who would delight in lawn care, and I wasn’t a woman who would find such a man appealing. And yet here we were, avidly refilling our bird feeder and remarking on all the cardinals. Neal, who hadn’t hammered a nail in all the years I’d known him, now had opinions on bookshelves and curtains, and loved going to the hardware store. He whistled while he mowed. He was like an alien. But in this new situation, I was an alien, too — one who knew when to plant bulbs and how to use a Crock-Pot, and who, newly armed with CPR and first aid certification, volunteered at a local camp. Our alien selves were remarkably compatible. Several long-married people I know have said this exact line: “I’ve had at least three marriages. They’ve just all been with the same person.” My hair is long and blond now. When Neal and I met, it was dyed black and cut to my chin. Now I weigh about 160 pounds. When I left the hospital after being treated for a burst appendix, I weighed 140. When I was nine months pregnant and starving every second, I weighed 210. I have been everything from size 4 to 14. I have been the life of the party and a drag. I have been broke and loaded, clinically depressed and radiantly happy. Spread out over the years, I’m a harem. One day in the country, Neal and I heard a chipmunk in distress. It had gotten inside the house and was hiding under the couch. Every few minutes,
the creature let out a high-pitched squeak. I tried to sweep it out the door to safety with a broom, but it kept running back at my feet. “Wow, you’re dumb,” I said to it. “I got this,” Neal said, mysteriously carrying a plastic cereal bowl. “Shoo it out from under there.” I did, and the chipmunk raced through the living room. Neal, like an ancient discus thrower, tossed the bowl in a beautiful arc, landing it perfectly atop the scampering creature. He then slid a piece of cardboard under the bowl and carried the chipmunk out into the bushes, where he set it free. “That was really impressive,” I said. “I know,” he said. To feel awed by a man I thought I knew completely: It’s a shock when that happens after so many years. And a boon. That one fling of a bowl probably bought us another five years of marriage. Keep challenging yourself. Get out of your routines, your ruts. Find a spiritual life that demands you set aside boredom. Being comfortable all the time isn’t our life’s work, nor God’s call. Press forward to fulfill the Lord’s command to be of greater service. In the Wednesday morning Communion service at 8:30 a.m. is a call to Confession. “God calls us in our lives to be like the grain of wheat that dies, letting go of one form in order to be transformed into new and fuller life. We often fear the risk and change such growth involves. Let us ponder the places of our lives where we resist such transformation.” That last line is something I repeat quite often during the week: Let us ponder the places of our lives where we resist such transformation. The fact is we resist. We don’t want to go somewhere we don’t know. We’d rather just be ourselves. We’d rather keep the same fights. We’d rather keep the same problems. We’d rather keep the same pain. Because at least we know them. But ruts are not what we want. They have their cost too, you know. The Lord refuses to stop leaning into each of us, nudging, pushing, cajoling, challenging, requesting, requiring transformation. The Lord’s will be done, for your sake and to God’s glory. Can the church say Amen?
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