A soldier was standing at a vending machine when an officer walked up. Officer: “Soldier, do you have change for a dollar?” Soldier: “Sure, buddy.” Officer: “That’s no way to address an officer! Now let’s try it again!” Officer: “Soldier. Do you have change for a dollar?” Soldier: “No, SIR!”
The first time I got my hands on a universal remote, I thought, “This changes everything!”
Suppose you could change anything about yourself, where would you start? Lots of us would start on the outside. Would you be skinnier, taller, shorter, better looking? Would you change your eyes, hair, teeth, legs, bulges? If you could wave a magic wand and change your outward appearance, would it be a light touch-up or an extreme makeover? Would we even recognize you?
I think we all go through periods where we want to change our outward appearance. Teenagers live in a state of almost constant fear that they don’t look good enough. They tinker with this and try that and experiment with this fad or that fashion or this t-shirt or that hat or whatever the latest hip-hop artist happens to be wearing. When we grow older, we get smarter. Or do we?
As hard as it is to change on the outside, it’s often harder to change on the inside. What would you change about yourself on the inside if you could? Now here’s a long list: Would it be an impatient spirit? A critical tongue? Envy of others? Lingering resentment? Lust you can’t conquer? Financial mismanagement? A guilty conscience? An inability to work with others? An overbearing stubbornness? Judgmental spirit? Quick temper? An ungrateful spirit? A disorganized life? Inability to say no? A mean streak you can’t seem to get rid of?
Yikes, that list strikes a little too close to home for me sometimes—and I mean just about the whole list! We all want to change something. Advertisers know this. That’s why your email inbox is crammed with ads promising you can lose weight now, make money overnight, learn a new language, and become a better lover. Don’t fall for the traps. The Lord can do so much more with us than what we’re promised in commercials and deals.
When the apostle John said “now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known,” he was talking about our future when we are with the Lord in heaven. But it is also true in this life. God is in the transformation enterprise.
If you’ve ever visited a construction zone, you know it’s noisy and messy. While the hammering and sawing continues, it may be hard to imagine what the result will be. That’s true of us also. God never stops working on us because there’s so much to be done and only so much time in which to do it. Join in as partners in God’s handiwork over you. Don’t focus on how much it will take; instead focus on God’s faithfulness. Be confident that the Lord has a goal in mind with you. Good things come about when we team up with God’s laboring in our own vineyard.
Now of course none of us is looking to change as much as Saul did. That change or conversion had a massive impact on history. The importance of Saul’s conversion for the early Church is shown in that it occupies so much of the book of Acts. Not only this portion of chapter 9, but this story is repeated twice more in chapters 22 and 26.
Saul was by birth, a Jew; by conviction, a Pharisee; by citizenship, a Roman; by education, a Greek; and then by grace, a Christian. He became a missionary, theologian, evangelist, pastor, teacher, organizer, leader, thinker, all at the same time. But he wasn’t exactly this before his conversion, at least not to Christians.
Back in chapter 7:58, when Stephen, probably the first evangelist to the Hellenistic synagogues, was stoned to death by a group, it says, “They laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” And Chapter 8:1 begins “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.”
In fact, Saul was the one who orchestrated Stephen’s execution. That’s why the cloaks were laid at his feet. And then things started to go really bad for the Jerusalem Church and the little churches in Samaria.
Saul’s home was in Tarsus. Tarsus was a city of Asia Minor right on the Syrian border. Today, it would be on the border of Syria and Turkey. In those days, Tarsus was a very distinguished city, perhaps no more than for what we would call its university, one of the three great universities in the ancient western world. The other two were in Athens and Alexandria, Egypt.
Saul’s father was a Roman citizen, but a Jew. He passed on the priceless assets of Judaism and Roman citizenship to his son. No doubt, his
father was also a highly educated Pharisee and Saul, therefore, inherited his Pharisaic tradition. Saul could say: “I was circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews–as to the law, a Pharisee. As to zeal, a persecutor of the church. As to the righteousness, which is in the law, found blameless.” A very devout Jew.
At about 13, when a Jewish boy would become officially a son of the law, it is very likely Saul was packed off to Jerusalem because his family wanted him to study at the highest level, and the highest level was to study under a teacher named Gamaliel. Gamaliel was so revered as a teacher that he was called the beauty of the law. That was to say that the law was never more beautiful than when Gamaliel articulated it.
Like other students, Saul spent years memorizing Hebrew scripture, years of intense question and answer, arguing and debating back-and-forth. While he was in Jerusalem, it is not likely that he met Jesus, or else he would have mentioned it.
This is Saul who becomes Paul, the main player on the stage after Christ’s ascension, the looming figure in the book of Acts, the inspired author of 13 writings of the New Testament who shapes all our theology, all our understanding of the gospel and its depth, and height, and length, and breadth, and the dominant figure for most of the New Testament. What a change he underwent. What faith he gained and held.
He had no qualms and openly supported killing someone for his belief that Jesus Christ was the messiah and would return. Yet, by the time he was done, Paul ended up traveling thousands of miles by land and sea, speaking to thousands of people, and at the end, executed by sword for his beliefs that Jesus Christ was God’s salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Without Paul, it can be argued there wouldn’t be the western world as we know it. Without his change, that is.
It’s amazing we’re so afraid of change. We believe it’s beyond us to do or to find meaning in a different us or a different world. We should trust the Lord. How small we too often take ourselves to be. Don’t lack imagination. Let yourself be curious.
Can you imagine if God was the lord of routine and the king of the rut? Everything would be the same. But we want things to change. If it didn’t, where would forgiveness come from? Hope wouldn’t exist in such a world. Not if transformation wasn’t what God sought. But everything isn’t the same.
In fact, we say the only thing that’s constant is change. Forgiveness comes and hope is an unparalleled force in our world.
I know I’m talking to people who woke up today at the same time, put on similar clothes to last Sunday’s, got in the same car for years now, drove the same route, parked in a pretty similar parking spot, entered the same building, probably greeted many of the same people, sat in exactly the same spot, and went through a similar worship service today as many times before, and I’m saying to us, “Snap out of it.” Doesn’t seem quite fair. But I’m not trying to pull the rug out from under us. It’s just that too much of a good thing is no longer, well, a good thing.
Be a change agent. Accept that the Lord asks us to improve things. Find some part of your life that needs your attention badly and focus your prayer life and your spiritual walk on it.
We know teenagers get bored, and we tell them to change their choices, so they’re not bored. The same goes for adults. We should be motivated, still feeling inspired. If you don’t, it isn’t anyone else’s fault. As if there isn’t enough to be motivated and inspired and pumped up about on planet earth. Come no now.
Let me put it this way: God isn’t boring. The Lord isn’t sedate. That’s us. Find yourself some challenges. Get to work laboring in God’s vineyard. I mean if you’ve got it all together and don’t need so much help, then be the one who gives the help. If you’re someone’s who’s still lost and hasn’t put it together well enough, get on with it so you can get it together. Don’t just sit there. Create. Cooperate. Partner. Push. Be inspired so you can inspire. Be built up so you can build up. Be the change you want to see.
Can the church say Amen?