Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling with Change

Welcome to our third installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Today we talk about facing down change.

Last week I read a quotation from writer H.P. Lovecraft:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

Change-1080x675Those are some DEEP words. I’ll be totally upfront with you – I’m one of those people who fear the unknown. And nothing brings about the unknown faster than change. It can be change in your job, change in your family, change in your social status, change in the government, or ANYWHERE else in life.

Change brings the unknown.

The unknown brings fear.

People who are know more than I do about psychology note that humans LOVE certainty.

Uncertainty registers as an error, gap, or tension in the brain: something that must be corrected before one can feel comfortable again. That is why people crave certainty. Not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating because it requires extra neural energy. This can diminish memory, undermine performance, and disengage people from the present.

Humanity has been wrestling with change and uncertainty since the dawn of time. From ancient philosophers, to Kansas, to Bill and Ted, the reality of change and the transitory nature of life has overwhelmed us.

This is a prevalent theme of the biblical book Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

When we’re faced with change, many of us will freeze. Change becomes overwhelming and breaks us. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes felt overwhelmed by the permanence of change. That word “meaningless” in the King James English is “vanity.” It literally means “transitory” or “impermanent.”

Life. Is. Change.

But change doesn’t have to break us. How can we bounce back in the face of overwhelming change? Here are a couple tips:

  • Acknowledge the change. One of he most important thing to do when change is happening is to acknowledge it. Running and hiding from your problems never solves them. It may delay them for a bit, but acknowledging them is the best way to move towards overcoming the difficulty.
  • Face your fears. Go through each fear brought up by the oncoming (or already present) change and write down what you would do if that fear came to pass. It’s about shifting perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote about shifting perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ~ For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Instead of focusing on the seen here and now, shift your gaze to that which has REAL permanence – God! Scripture declares that He NEVER changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God who never changes is walking beside you through all of your changes. He is facing them with you, so focus on that instead of the change.

  • Seek support. Many of us don’t like asking for help. The Christian community was DESIGNED to be a source of support for the believer. We ought to be taking care of each other. You should know that I have your back, and I should know that you have mine. Change is less scary when you’re going through it with someone you know and trust!
  • Switch out fearful thoughts with positive ones. Getting back to hope, we can choose to focus on positive aspects of pending change. For example, one of the changes people fear the most is death. Paul takes the idea of passing into the next life and puts an incredibly positive spin on it:

1 Corinthians 15:50-52 ~ I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Make it a habit to focus on the positive things that change can bring.

You’re not going to be able to escape change. But it doesn’t have to break you. Realize that change is a normal (albeit stressful) part of life. But it IS a normal of life. Back to Ecclesiastes, the writer says in a very famous passage:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Change is gonna come. But it won’t break you.

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

They’re Called Christians but SHOULD be Called Judgy McJudgerson

Christians LOVE to judge people.

Well, to be honest, it’s a human trait. I asked a group of people to identify ways in which they have been judged or have judged others. What do you think they came up with?

  • We judge people based on appearance
  • We judge people based on their vehicles
  • We judge people’s intelligence based on our ability to understand them (we often see foreigners as less intelligent when they don’t speak English)
  • We judge people based on their punctuality (or lack thereof)
  • We judge people based on their beliefs (whether they have a different faith than we have or even if they believe different elements of our OWN faith! How many Christian denominations do we have now?)

And this is just the first 5 that came to mind. In a couple minutes we came up with a dozen+ items.

judgmentWhile we all judge and are judged, it’s not SUPPOSED to be this way for those in God’s kingdom. We’re supposed to be above it. We’re supposed to let go of judging others. And most people know this. How often have you heard someone say, “Only God can judge me!”


What people really mean when they say this is, “Don’t tell me how to live my life!”

But the Bible is clear that there IS such a thing as objective truth. There is right and there is wrong. You don’t get to make it up and live life however you want. Well, you CAN, but the end results won’t be the outcome you really desire.

And the Bible doesn’t tell us never to judge. What Jesus really says is this:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7)

What Jesus said is that our hearts and motivations ought to be right. When we pass judgment on someone, our ultimate goal is really to change them without caring about the person. We don’t try to get them on board. We don’t try to build them up. This is why interventions rarely work – we try to impose our ideas on someone else but they never have a desire to really change.

plankeyeJudgment tears people down without building people up. Judgment is more concerned with the tiny fault in someone else than the massive fault in ourselves. This is why Jesus gives us this absurdly humorous illustration about a log sticking out of our face.

If our REAL goal is to help people, let’s focus on cleaning our own mess before trying to help people with theirs. Then, when we’re ready to help, it is not, “LET ME TELL YOU WHY YOU NEED TO CHANGE!” It turns into, “I’ve walked this path, too, and if you want I’m willing to help you find a better way.”

Judgement shuts people down and closes off their spirits to receiving help. Genuine love is about caring for people and walking with them towards growth and maturity. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t judge.” He says, “Get yourself right and love people.”

God has given us a good way – a better way than the world offers. But when we approach people with judgment, no one is going to hear us.

Burn the Ships!

Burn the Ships

New Year’s Day is tomorrow! How many of you have made New Year’s Resolutions? The REAL question is:

How many of you have already blown New Year’s resolutions?

I have read that in America 25% of us blow or discard our resolutions by the end of the first day. Change can be so difficult that even people who want to change will most likely fall back into old patterns and not make change permanent.

One reason permanent change is so hard is because we continue to hang around people who knew us before the change – we maintain old relationships and patterns of life that don’t want to allow or recognize change in us! It’s often easier to change who you are when you make a clean break and get a fresh start. No one knows your old mistakes or the way you used to be. You get a chance to make brand new mistakes!

In the Bible Paul writes:

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. (Philippians 3:7-21)

Paul had everything going for him from a human point of view – he was THE guy and had it all. But nothing he could DO could make him right in God’s eyes. Paul had to change his perspective – to reframe the things he thought were important. He goes on to say:

My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)

Christians are given a new goal – to know Christ and to be conformed to him. And, just as Paul had to change his orientation, we need to change ours. Fixating on the past prevents us from focusing on the now or moving forward into tomorrow. Turn around – refuse to go back. It means we know where we’ve come from but focus instead on where we are headed (it’s like Lot’s wife yearning for the old life when God was trying to move them forward).

There’s an old legend about the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortés. While many history books gloss over the dark elements, the nitty-gritty was something like this. While on a mission in the New World, some of his men were loyal to the Governor of Cuba and conspired to seize a ship and escape to Cuba. Cortés moved swiftly to squash their plans. Two ringleaders were condemned to be hanged; two were lashed, and one had his foot mutilated. To make sure such a mutiny did not happen again, he decided to scuttle his ships, on the pretext that they were no longer seaworthy. There is a popular misconception that the ships were burned rather than sunk. With all of his ships scuttled, except for one small ship with which to send his representatives and booty to the King of Spain, Cortés effectively stranded the expedition in Mexico.

Dark, yes. But it’s the kind of mentality we need to have when we think about moving on in our own lives. We’ve come to a new point with God. Why would we even consider going back?! Deliberate living requires that we model the behavior of the Apostles and take steps to live out a godly life. We can shake free from last year’s crud.

One of my favorite songs is the worship anthem “I Am Free.” It proclaims the idea that, in Christ, we are free from everything that use to have a hold on us.

2018 is here. Admit that it’s time for a change. Go ahead and make resolutions that take you from where you are to where you should be going. Be intentional about making steps towards the coming future. No matter what, refuse to let anything pull you back. Walk in the freedom and newness that comes from a life following Jesus. Burn those ships.

Happy New Year!

Living Through Transition

You will survive
You will survive

Do you remember the first time you drove a manual transmission vehicle on the streets? I do. It was almost 12 years ago. I was newly married and was going to move us into our first apartment together. I arranged to use an automatic transmission moving truck but when we showed up the only vehicle available was stick shift 20 foot truck. Talk about a trial by fire! For the most part I did okay….for the most part. I knew the mechanics and theory behind it, I had simply never driven a stick shift on the roads before.

Most of the driving was highway driving, so that was not too difficult. The hard part came when I was driving to my father-in-law’s house in California. The highway off-ramp brings you out onto a hill at a stop light. So there I am, stopped at the light, facing uphill, knowing that I have difficulty moving from neutral into first. I literally sat there praying, “God, please don’t let me crush the car behind me!” The light turned green, and I just could not get the timing right to get it into first gear. I rolled back a couple of inches, the guy behind me was leaning on his horn and now I’m starting to panic. So I jammed the thing into second gear and hit the gas. It was a jerky ride but I got up the hill!

When we drive manual transmission vehicles, shifting improperly can result in engine damage. When we shift properly we pick up speed. Similarly, if we handle transitions in life poorly the result can be damaging. When we learn how to transition well, we pick up speed and we’re off and flying!

In Nehemiah 4 we see Israel dealing with transition as a people. Up to this point, the Israelites were exiles in Babylon. Eventually the king of Babylon allowed some of the Israelites to return to their homeland. They found the place in ruins. The wall surrounding the great city was crumbling and had gaps. Enemies could easily come and take advantage of weakened defenses. So the people sent word to Nehemiah back in Babylon about the condition of Jerusalem.

I’m sure there are at least a few of us who can admit that we’re going through transitions and it seems as though the walls are falling down around us. So the story goes:

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious. He mocked the Jews 2before his colleagues and the powerful men of Samaria, and said, “What are these pathetic Jews doing? Can they restore it by themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they ever finish it? Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble?” 3 Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was beside him, said, “Indeed, even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!”

1. In the midst of transition, we may feel or appear weak. Imagine the enemies of Israel watching the Israelites trying to rebuild the city wall. Israel’s enemies are mocking their attempts to build – that they are unable to get the job done and do it well. They appear so incapable that one man even comments that a fox climbing up would knock the wall down. Clearly, Israel’s enemies do not think very much of Israel during this time of transition.

I remember going through one of life’s transitions when our oldest daughter was born. On the first day of our baby’s life we were all in the hospital room together. My wife was exhausted – she was simply trying to rest. The baby had a wet diaper. This was my chance to step up and be a great husband and father. But, as I opened the diaper to change her wet diaper, she started to poop! In my moment of transition I felt weak. I didn’t know what to do and I started to freak out while the baby was freaking out. It was a weakness that my wife did not share and she told me, “One of you has to remain calm and, since you’re the adult, it should be you!”

Sure, it’s a silly example, but there are many ways we face transition and many ways we feel or appear weak as we move through transitions. Sometimes it is the overwhelming size of the task or the difficulty of facing the unknown as we transition that makes us seem incapable. Perhaps we feel discomfort with how we are going to change or what will be expected of us on the other side of the transition. Maybe we do not feel like we have the strength to see the transition through to the end. We should realize that appearances are not necessarily reality. What our mockers do not understand is that we may appear or even feel weak but we serve a God who is not. Israel’s efforts to transition and rebuild made them seem weak to outsiders, but they did not know the strength of the Israelite’s God – our God. And it is because the Israelites know the strength of their God that they turn to Him.

4 Listen, our God, for we are despised. Make their insults return on their own heads and let them be taken as plunder to a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover their guilt or let their sin be erased from Your sight, because they have provoked the builders.

2. In transition, God’s people first respond in prayer. The first thing Israel does when their enemies find weakness in the time of transition – they hit their knees. They asked God to bring justice, to stand up for them against their enemies who would hurt them as they tried to rebuild. In our own lives, as we transition and build, we find that we are insulted, despised, and attacked. Attacks come from different sources. Sometimes outsiders will insult and attack us. This is what happened to the Israelites. Sometimes the insults and attacks will come from insiders. My wife and I have found that any time God starts to do something in a group or ministry the first thing to be attacked is the group’s unity. Insiders start picking at each other, and the transition that God is trying to bring about is sidetracked. We face attacks from outsiders and insiders in our personal transitions too.

Nearly seven years ago I started taking care of what I ate and started exercising regularly. I was going through a personal life transition to get healthy and I ended up dropping quite a bit of weight. Walking into Bible Study one night, one of the ladies commented that my eating healthy and exercising were starting to show results and a good Christian man, a friend of mine, said, “Ah, it’ll come back.” He was not trying to insult or attack me, but it was as though he said, “A fox climbing up there would knock the whole thing down.”

How we respond in moments like that will determine if we succeed or fail in transition. As you go through your own transitions, you will face these kinds of comments, insults, and attacks. As this church goes through an incredible period of transition, it will see attacks. Some will come from outsiders. Some might come from insiders. The question is, “How will you respond when under attack?” Let us follow the example of Israel and have our primary response be on our knees in prayer. “God, this is the transition you are leading me through, so I ask that you will be my covering and my protector.” But then look what happens after they take their struggles in transition to the Lord:

11 And our enemies said, “They won’t know or see anything until we’re among them and can kill them and stop the work.” 12 When the Jews who lived nearby arrived, they said to us time and again, “Everywhere you turn, they attack us.” 13 So I stationed people behind the lowest sections of the wall, at the vulnerable areas. I stationed them by families with their swords, spears, and bows…. 15 When our enemies realized that we knew their scheme and that God had frustrated it, every one of us returned to his own work on the wall. 16 From that day on, half of my men did the work while the other half held spears, shields, bows, and armor. The officers supported all the people of Judah, 17 who were rebuilding the wall. The laborers who carried the loads worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other.

3. In transition is that there is no sitting on the sidelines. They’ve taken it to the Lord in prayer to address the attacks and criticisms, then they all get busy doing the work that God has called them to do! There is an interesting phenomenon happening here because there is no such thing as a bystander here in Israel. Nehemiah stationed the people by families along the gaps in the wall, and then they all get to work. They build up with one hand and hold their weapon in the other. There is a very practical reason for this: there is work to be done and no one can afford to sit out.

When I played high school football, my team was not a large team. Because we were smaller in number, every player had to have an offensive and defensive position – playing both sides of the ball when necessary. It wasn’t that some guys were glory hogs and wanted all of the action. If we wanted to man all of the positions to the best of our abilities we all had to stand in the gaps and plug the holes. This is what Israel is doing. Everyone has a role in actively building up and fighting because passive neglect allows the wall to crumb and be open to attack. It is no less different in our lives today. As we face transitions, whether small or monumental, and we realize that we feel or appear weak, and we take our struggles before the Lord, we are to then stand up and start working through the transition! Israel did not complain in prayer, but let God know of the problem and then got to work.

We will never get away from transitions – they happen throughout life. Sometimes they have minimal impact on us. A caterpillar gives way to a butterfly. Diapers give way to pull-ups. Teenagers graduate from high school. Sometimes the transition in monumental. The bank forecloses on the house. We lose our job. Death takes a loved one. The church searches for a new pastor. A time of transition may make you appear weak or disoriented, but appearances are not reality. Transitioning well can lead to rebuilding, greater strength, and increased unity!

How about you? Are you willing to get to work to make it through the transitions in your life? The transitions in your family? The transitions in your church? Do not settle for sitting on the sidelines, but get involved in the building up and defending of the transition God is bringing you through! God is calling you to build and defend, to come back to the city with the crumbling wall and make it a stronghold for the Lord once again.

 If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines time to get in the game – to build up with one hand and defend with the other. You will survive this time of transition.

What’s Your Pet Peeve?

Pet Peeve

Everybody has one. Even if you don’t like to admit it or talk about it, there is probably one in your life. Of course, you all know what I am talking about. I am talking about phrases and expressions that you hate, words that irritate and annoy you. Does anyone in your life use an expression or phrase that really tweaks you? My wife hates “A.S.A.P.” She doesn’t mind if I say, “As soon as possible,” but heaven forbid I say “A.S.A.P.” or “A-SAP.” It also bothers her if I say “guac” instead of guacamole. I don’t know why – it’s just one of those things that rubs her the wrong way.

Is there any particular phrase or expression that always bothered you? What is it? For me it was hearing people say, “Same difference.” Aaagghhhh! Either it’s the same or it’s different! The only way you have a same difference is if you compare 9 minus 5 and with 10 minus 6. What do 9 – 5 and 10 – 6 have in common? They have the same difference. Other than math, things are the same or they are different – there is no same difference.

There is, however, something to be said for being the same. If everyone shares similar tastes or has similar interests then companies can sell millions of product X. If your product doesn’t fit the mold of “this is what everyone wants,” you don’t sell very many. Some years back my wife and I enjoyed watching American Inventor on tv. Did anybody else ever watch that show? The premise was this – thousands of people bring their inventive creations before a panel of judges and explain why their product is the next great American invention. It’s like American Idol for inventors. One couple had invented a device called the “Tea Brain.” It was a device that allows you to brew loose-leaf tea in your coffee maker. One judge in particular thought that this was an idea that would appeal to millions of people – there is a large and shared interest in tea. Then came another pair of inventors – engineer buddies from who invented a new claw for hanging bikes.

The judge that loved the “Tea Brain” hated this claw. He thought it would not be universal enough to be popular. This is how our capitalistic society trains us to be. Something is good only if it has mass appeal. If something is too unique and doesn’t blend in enough, it should probably be discarded. Unfortunately, the same is often true of how people are treated.

Our modern world likes to pretend that we embrace differences but there is a limitation on how different people will allow you to be. Being different in our culture is embraced until that difference interferes with other people’s actions. Being different in our culture is embraced until that difference makes people feel uncomfortable. Look at issues of faith – you can believe whatever you want to believe and I can believe whatever I want to believe and everything is peaches and cream until one person tells another, “You can’t do that” or “You shouldn’t behave like this.” That’s just crossing the line. You and your weird religious beliefs can’t dictate the way I live my life. The funny thing is, when we really examine the issue, differences aren’t really embraced anyway. Those who are “different” are ostracized, mocked, and mistreated.

I’m sure many of you have a story about the awkward and eccentric kid in high school. Maybe you were that kid. You know who I’m talking about, the kid everyone made fun of and teased. The Napoleon Dynamites of the world.

In my high school his name was John. He was different. He stood out. He didn’t fit the mold created by the masses. I always thought, “Thank God I’m not that awkward and geeky. I don’t want to stand out like that – I want to be an accepted part of the group. I think this is a normal reaction for people of all ages. I don’t want to stand out and have others look down on me – I want to be like everyone else. This is the line of thought that Peter is attacking in his letter.

Peter’s message is as clear today as it was for his church centuries ago –

You have a special calling to be God’s people. Therefore you ought to be different from the rest of the world and be like Christ.

4:1-6 – Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge in with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are no dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Peter’s church was a suffering church, but he presents here an idea that we don’t like to accept; present suffering is good for the Christian life. “Say what?!?!? Suffering is good for the Christian life? I don’t believe that. That doesn’t make any sense. If God wanted to make sense, he would say that pleasure is good for the Christian life.” Anyone out there hear me? But I’ll say it again – present suffering is good for the Christian life. I am not saying that God hands out suffering. Peter is not saying that God causes suffering. But suffering has the ability to move us towards God, and Peter patterns human behavior after Jesus’ behavior. If Christ suffered, so can we. So accept suffering, draw close to God, and live for and seek His will.

Peter tells us that we’ve already done enough sin in the past. Now it’s time to live out the calling as His chosen people. We are to be different than we used to be. Notice Peter’s two contrasting time frames: past behavior vs. present and coming behavior. Who we were in the past is no longer who we are in the present and the future because of our encounter with Jesus Christ. Have you seen the movie, Back to the Future?

It’s a classic and one of my favorites. At the beginning of the movie, Marty McFly’s parents are a real mess. They are a mess because they used to be a mess in the past and never changed. Through the course of the movie, Marty travels back in time, has a run-in with his past parents, and then returns to his own time to find that his parents, especially his father, had changed completely. Marty’s dad changed, and who he was in the past was no longer who he was in the future because of his encounter with Marty. Believe it or not, this is what Peter is telling us needs to happen with our own lives. Who we were in the past is no longer who we are supposed to be now because of our encounter with Jesus Christ. We are supposed to be radically different.

Being morally and spiritually different brought abuse to Peter’s church – their old friends didn’t like their new behavior, didn’t understand, and so abused, mocked, and ridiculed the new Christians because of their differences. Like Peter’s church, we have the same responsibility to be different, to stand out from the world and not fit in. It’s okay to be different. No, not just okay – it is what God asks of us – that we be different.

No matter how the world lives, God’s people have a calling to be different, to stand out no matter what the consequences. We don’t need to concern ourselves with their judgment. Peter makes it clear that they will have to give account of their actions and behavior to God. The real question is, are you ready to give account? Are you different? Have gone through a “Back to the Future” transformation, where your current and future actions are different from your past actions?

It’s time to take inventory of your life. Where do stand out from the world? Where do you blend in too much? Your language? Your mental habits? Your sexual behavior? Your social interactions? Your hidden sins that you never want revealed? It’s time for us to stand up and stand out. Our behavior should not reflect the world. Our old friends should be upset that we’re not joining them in their lifestyles anymore. That is not who we are. We are His, and we need to act like it.

Sustaining Change in Your Life

It’s super hard to get motivated to change. Most of us have an area of life that we would like to change; to be different; to be better. We have lists of things that we should be doing, ways in which we ought to be growing and changing. But it’s tough. We know who we are and we may have an idea of who we want to be, but making the necessary changes to achieve that change is one of the hardest things in the world. Whenever we set upon a new path towards growth there primary obstacle to achieving that growth is not the outside world pressing against you. The primary obstacle is you. We haven’t fully owned the change.

External motivation only carries you so far. Real change must be internalized if it’s going to last.

What I mean is this: say you struggle with something in your life that could stand some change and growth. You may be married and your spouse is putting pressure on you to change. Your spouse is external motivation. You may change for your spouse (either because you want to please or because you want to end the nagging). If you have not internalized that the change is YOUR decision then the change will never be permanent. Eventually the old habits and patterns of behavior will resurface.

If you want to see lasting change then you have to OWN it! Why are you changing? What is it in you that desires this growth? What and why do you want to be different? It’s hard enough to change with the proper motivation. Without the internal motivation it’s NEVER gonna happen.

Our six year old is a sweet and loving girl (most of the time!). Every once in a while she’ll have huge meltdown, not want to obey mom and dad, and be a real pill. Being the loving kid she is she always comes to make amends later on. She has said, “I’m sorry, Daddy. I will always listen and obey from now on because I love you. You’re my best daddy (she only has one…).”

She’s totally sincere. She really does love me. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will come another instance where she doesn’t want to do what I am telling her to do…and here we go again. She hasn’t internalized change. Cleaning her room is still something that mom and dad are putting on her – she hasn’t internalized and owned the concept.

Adults are like that, too. There may be areas where we really-maybe-kinda-sorta-wouldbenice if we were different; if we could grow; if we could change. But we usually stay in our same ol’ ruts and habits. At least this is nothing new to the human condition. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Roman church:

I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do. I do what I don’t want to do. But I am not really the one who is doing it. It is sin living in me. Here is the law I find working in me. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

Yes! That’s us! As kids and as adults that perfectly characterizes our attitude towards change. Even when we KNOW we should do something, should grow in some way, something within us keeps dragging us back. We fail to own the process and let go of the old us. It’s so nice to hold on to the old us. Old us is comfortable. Old us is familiar. I’m a big fan of The Simpsons cartoon. Homer, the family’s dad, is your all-American couch potato. So much so that he even has a special groove in his couch cushion that fits his buttocks. In one episode someone messes up his groove and he has to go through the process of re-establishing his groove. We like what we like and we are the way we are. People better not mess up my groove.

Change usually happens only when it hurts more to stay the same than it hurts to change.

When it finally hurts too much to stay the same then we’ll go ahead and change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. God has cleared the path for change-for letting go of the old us and embracing something remade and reborn!

But how? How can we see real and lasting change? Here are some tips that have worked for me:

  1. Identify what it is that YOU (not someone else) really want to change. If you don’t own it it’s probably not gonna happen.
  2. Identify WHY you want to make the change. What benefit or end result will you achieve?
  3. Find someone who you trust who can hold you accountable to maintaining the change.
  4. Through the whole process pray continually. Yep – ask for divine help in morphing into the new and changed you. In the theological world we might call this sanctification: the process of becoming more and more like Jesus.

There will be good days. There will be bad days. You will have peaks and you will have valleys. The path to growth is not a straight-lined graph. It’s a curvy son-of-a-gun. But if you keep on the path you will eventually find that the valleys of your tomorrows are actually higher than the peaks of your yesterdays. Keep pressing on and you will see it happen.

So…what about you? What do you want to change and improve in your life?

Creating Life Change

My 6 year old is a determined and headstrong girl. That’s not always a bad thing. I’m sure that she will not be one to succumb easily to peer pressure. But I don’t want her to be so headstrong when I’m trying to give her instruction. We recently had an exchange that went like this (and yes, I wrote it down word for word because I did not want to forget it):

Daddy sees Daughter jumping on the couch.
Daddy: “Please don’t jump on the couch like that.”
Daughter: “How should I jump on the couch, then?”

It was one of those parenting moments where simultaneously you want to laugh and punish the child (please tell me I’m not the only one with moments like that!). Here’s the thing – she wasn’t being a smart-aleck or mouthy. She was completely sincere in her question. Daddy said, “Don’t jump on the couch LIKE THAT” so I will have to find another way to jump that he will find acceptable. Cute, yes. But she missed my intent.

I know we treat God in similar ways. God tells us (through the Bible, our conscience, the Holy Spirit, a pastor – however…) that he wants our lives to look and be characterized in certain ways. And, rather than seeking his intent for our lives, we ask questions to get around his instruction so that we can keep doing what we want to do.

I was recently watching a SyFy show called “Eureka”. In the episode a person went to the local therapist to talk through some issues. The therapist finally got upset with the counselee and said, “You already know what you SHOULD do – you’re just looking for permission to do what you WANT to do.”

Yup. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Rather than honestly looking for God’s guidance and direction we resort to looking for permission and blessing to do what we want (or already ARE) doing. In contrast, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Paul says that we’ve got it all backwards! It’s not about finding a work-around to do what we want. It’s about changing what we want and who we are to be more like God and his character. We often approach faith with the attitude: “What’s the least I can do and still be a Christian?” That kind of question reveals that we have not surrendered to the idea that God’s ways are better than our ways – that God is God and we are not. The better attitude asks: “What is God like and how can I be more like him?” It’s about an inward change; about BEING. The more we are like him the better we will know him. The better we know him the more we will understand his will and actually want to make his will our own.

Then we’ll understand that he’s not trying to change the way we jump on the couch.

He doesn’t want us jumping on the couch at all.  😉

Shirt Sleeves

Before coming to pastor in Central Illinois my family had been in Florida (about halfway between Orlando and Tampa). My kids had no real knowledge of what it was to live in a place that experiences real seasonal change. Last year my two year old spent the entire winter in long-sleeved shirts. That’s all he knew that winter. I vividly remember the day the weather turned warm and we brought out the warm-weather clothes. I put a short-sleeved shirt on him for the first time in his life (as far as his two year old memory knew). He spent five minutes tugging at his short sleeves, trying to pull them down like all of his other shirts. It was pure comedy.

Truth be told, we behave similarly as adults. We become so accustomed to our habits, patterns, and ruts that often we fail to see that there are other ways of doing things. There are other ways of behaving. There are other ways of living life. Our ruts become blinders that disallow us to see anything else. “Of course I can’t change. This is the way things have always been. This is the way things always will be.” At least that’s the lie we tell ourselves. And we thus give ourselves permission to stay stuck in the old ways of living life. This is the mindset that the Apostle Paul writes against in his letter to the Roman Church

“[A]re you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life…. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims…. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God….   Romans 6:3-14

There’s a new way of life that is made possible because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not the people we used to be, so it’s time to stop acting like the people we used to be. A few weeks ago we had the privilege to baptize 12 people after our Sunday worship service. Baptism is the epitome of the life-change made possible through Jesus. It is us declaring to the world: “I have given myself to Jesus and I will now walk his path – not my own.” Now each of those people needs to start living a changed life.

I frequently hear people talk (or see internet memes) about not judging people and that if Jesus loves and accepts without judging then so should we. But I don’t buy it. You know who we don’t judge? We don’t judge outsiders. We don’t judge non-believers. They don’t have the same belief system or value-set. How could we possibly judge them? But we do hold accountable people who profess faith in Jesus. We should not point fingers and say: “How bad you’ve been – you’re gonna burn.” We need to be helping guide others towards Christ and say: “This is the kind of behavior God expects from those who call themselves believers.”

I know what you’re thinking – you’re still picturing that meme that criticizes Christian snobs who judge others’ imperfections. But think about Jesus’ interactions with “sinners”. Did he criticize them for their ways? No, he did not. But look at what he DID do a couple of times. He said: “Go and stop sinning.”

An encounter with Jesus is not a clean slate to behave in devilish ways. An encounter with Jesus calls us to new life and a new way of behaving. I have told my church repeatedly (although not lately – maybe it’s time again) that EVERYONE is welcome in our church and will ALWAYS be welcome in our church. But…once you’re here we expect that you will be on God’s path for spiritual growth and maturity. Come as you are – and then let God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, affect real life change in you.

Have you had an encounter with the Living God? Then don’t keep living in the same ruts you’ve lived in for years. It’s time to break free from those habits and patterns and to begin living a new life characterized by godly growth and maturity.

Otherwise you’ll be tugging at your sleeves for the rest of your life….

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