This morning we shared and prayed at Pat’s home—fifteen men who do global ministry. Then I moved on to a local coffee shop to write this piece about change. At Pat’s place we talked about a variety of worldwide changes. And with that conversation in mind I found myself noticing some of the changes represented by my Starbucks neighbors. Having sixty-plus years as a grid helped.
Some changes are superficial. Tattoos, for instance, were once exceptional but they now define proper style. So, too, skinny jeans. And some of the men in nearby tables are as dramatic in their hair fashions as any of the women. There’s also a nearly complete shift from the books and newspapers of the past to the phones, tablets, and laptops of today.
Deeper changes are also in view. One cuddly couple at a nearby table reminds me that same-sex preferences are more overt than ever before. And, in a separate arena, my laptop news summary for the day reminds me of changes in the American political scene. The major parties are both selecting presidential candidates whose personal values—though radically opposed—would chill a polar bear… if, of course, our metaphorical bear had biblical values!
So is this just an “I hate change” rant?
No. I’m just inviting us to be more conscious of our shifts. Change is pervasive, constant, and cyclical. Some change is good and some evil. We can be sure that in another couple of decades the more superficial fads will be passé, readily replaced by new devotions; and some of the deeper moral and political shifts of today will either be reversed or will have solidified into concrete social realities. What is certain is that change always swamps efforts to protect the present moment.
I also reflected on a cyclical quality of change during my latest trip to Poland. For one of my transit nights I picked an inexpensive lakeside hotel after reading that it was once Kaiser Wilhelm’s hunting lodge. Wilhelm, the final emperor of Germany, ruled during World War I and then stepped down after Germany lost the war.
On checking in at the hotel I saw a photo of the splendid Kaiser and his retinue standing on the lodge steps in 1905—the same steps I took to reach my modest overnight room. Time has a way of humbling the lofty and affirming the humble.
So here’s a thought question: given the certainty of change, what direction is our own change taking? What are we becoming? As Christians, for instance, we speak of change as transformation—what Paul refers to in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”
Notice how Paul treated change as an inward movement that brings about new behaviors. Any change in the world—whether in us as private citizens or in society at large—starts in the soul. And in tracing this theme through the rest of his letter to the Romans—mainly in chapters 5, 8, and 13—Paul traces every positive change to God’s love poured out in the hearts of believers; or, negatively, to a devotion to the creation rather than to the Creator.
So the world is always changing; and so are Christians. And the direction of our change always depends on how we engage this basic biblical opposition. There is one whose Lie—his claim that we can “be like God”—is only overcome by a delight in Jesus Christ as our true Lord and lover. Jesus, alone, brings changes that are rich, satisfying, and nurturing to others. It all starts in the soul—in our devotion; in what we love.
That, in turn, exposes the locale of change—the place in the soul where love turns into action.
So even as we speak of “choosing” to do things it only expresses a love at work in us. If we love what the Lie offers, we’re immediately and necessarily self-deceived by precluding God from the process. We pretend that our choice is an autonomous creative act—as if we live ex nihilo lives. Yet it’s obvious to a critical—biblically grounded—observer that we’re simply following a current social fad or, ultimately, a satanic cultural impulse. There are, ultimately, only two masters in life.
As Christians, then, we realize how heart-based we are. Our hearts have been awakened to a new and living focus: to our love for Christ. And in response to that love we know how derivative our actions are. We are lovers. And in Christ we get to be creative responders: not as automatons but as lovers of the One who created us to be creative in the context of his love.
So, for instance, we’re free to pray, “Oh Lord, I want to get another tattoo as my expression of love for you today!” Or, perhaps, “Lord, please be with me at the hospital as I go to see my friend who just had surgery this morning for his colon cancer.” We have real freedom in love.
Yet what we soon discover is that some prayers have more weight than others—and that’s where transformation by the renewal of our minds starts to show. And once we’re transformed to look more like Jesus; and as we live as a community of transformed believers, we start to change the world around us.
So let’s give three cheers for change! And let’s pray for Christ’s love to be more and more obvious in us.