The sign outside the nursery quoted 1 Corinthians 15:51 which reads; “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed!”
Change is something we long for and detest at the same time. There is an old off-Broadway play called, “I love you, you’re perfect, now change!” And I like the saying, “Change is good…you go first.”
One comedian remarked, “When we begin to talk about change, the only thing we want to change is the subject.” The truth is…the only things we want to change, are the things we do not like. Everything else can remain the same. But it begs the question, can we really change?
French critic, journalist, and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is known for saying back in 1849, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.
That goes against what Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said around 500BC, “Everything changes, and nothing stands still.” So, which is it?
Looking back at 2020, it sure seems like this was a year of change. Who would have guessed how much our lives could be turned upside down by the Covid19 virus? While it is new to us, this is a cycle that others have seen before. Back in 1918-1920, the Spanish Flu took a terrible toll on America and the world.
Geologist will tell us that the whole planet has gone through countless changes over billions of years – but still revolves around the sun without fail. Psychologists will tell us that life situations change but many of our traits and behaviors remain the same. Meteorologists will share that the weather patterns continue to change and evolve – but the 4 seasons remain the same.
We find similar words and patterns in the Bible. In Psalm 51:10 we read King David’s plea to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me.”
And Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you brothers, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
But earlier in Romans 3:10-12, Paul writes what appears to be a contradiction, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
And again, in Romans 7:15-20, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”
It is clear, if we want a life change, it is going to be complicated. But, the Bible is also very clear that change is possible. Over and over the Bible talks about transformation, a renewed mind and a clean heart.
Ephesians 4:22-24 reads, “ You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
While we are in the flesh, what we need is a spiritual transformation and a deep desire for obedience that produces change.
It begins with a choice. When I recognize, like Paul explains, that I am out of control. I need help. What I want to do, I fail to do. That’s is when I recognize my sin and failure. If change is going to come, it will come from God, not me. I need a heart change and renewal of the mind.
While I am able to change minor things about my life, through a change of routines, deeper parts of my inner life can only be changed by the Spirit. There is no self-help book that can change the essence of mankind. There is nothing that can remove the weight of sin I carry, except the work of God.
Change is a process. Much like what we read in Jeremiah 18:1-6, “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”
So, I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
“Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”
Once we accept Jesus, that process begins. In fact, sometimes before we accept Jesus, God is in the process of shaping and molding us. But once we become partners with God, we truly are a new creation in Christ; evolving and changing.
As 2 Corinthians 5:17 explains, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” Does that mean we now have no desire for sin? Absolutely not, as long as we are in flesh, the desires of the flesh will call to us.
2 Corinthians 5:6 explains, “As long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” To live as Christ, we must remain repentant, faithful and obedient to God’s will. Much the same way Jesus’ modeled the life of a believer.
Paul writes about the mindset we must have, to the church at Philippi, “But whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (Philippians 3:7-8)
“I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)
We obtain this ongoing change by being God-oriented instead of self-oriented. By being sacrificial – instead of seeking to fulfill our own desires. By returning to God’s word, seeking God in prayer and loving as God loves. By fleeing temptation and turning toward the precepts of God. Finally, by walking the walk and talking the talk faithfully.
That is why God created us in community, we are social creatures. We need God and we need one another. We are living examples to others, as Jesus was a living example to us. As we often say, you may be the only example of Christ that others see. (John 17:18)
Jesus calls us to join him on this journey. He will bring change, but we have an ongoing responsibility, as well.
In John 5:1-15, we find the story of a man Jesus healed by the pool in Jerusalem. This man had been an invalid for 38 years. Why did Jesus choose him? Clearly, he knew something was different about this man. That was kindled in his soul that Jesus detected?
Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir”, the invalid replied, “I have ‘no one to help me’ into the pool when the water is stirred.”
That is where they believed the healing took place. Even though his answer was indirect, his response implied that he wanted to be healed.
Then Jesus said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus was asking him to do something unimaginable. The man could have said, “I cannot.” He could have given many reasons why it was impossible or asked for help. Instead, he took the initiative and rose.
“At once, the man was cured, and he took his mat with him.” (John 5:9) This meant he would loss his spot, as others would take it. But he had no need to return to the pool. Notice also, once the man started walking, he didn’t give up and sit back down. There was a deeper faith at work in him.
Finally, I want you to take note to what Jesus said to the man later. Jesus found him in the Temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14) We could debate all day what the man’s sins were but that would be missing the point.
Jesus clearly asked the man to change his behavior. Even though he was healed, the former invalid still had some work to do on his own. Jesus would not have mentioned it, if the man was incapable.
None of this is meant to imply that change is easy. And that we can do it without the help of God and others. But it does point to the fact that change is an ongoing process that we must commit ourselves to.
In my lifetime, we have gone from home phones, to beepers, to cell phones, to faxes, e-mail and texts. We have seen the birth of the internet, iPhone, Facebook, Zoom and more.
We have left typewriters behind for computers and laptops. We have gone from in-person worship to worship on-line. Sometimes I get tired of all the changes. But we must remember, we are not the first to live through these kinds of changes. The Word of God was originally passed exclusively through the oral tradition.
But, because of persecution and the fleeing of believers, they relied on letters and later, the Written Word of God. Many wondered what might be lost in translation, but Today, most of us would not want to give up our Bibles.
The Bible reminds us, when everything else changes, God does not. In Malachi 3:6 God declares, “For I the Lord do not change.”
In Hebrews 13:8 we read, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
And Finally, in James 1:17 we read, “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, whom does not change like shifting shadows.”
Does the name George Mallory ring a bell? If it doesn’t, you’re not alone. Mallory is believed to be the first person to scale Mt. Everest. He planned well and did everything right to get to the top. But he failed to navigate his way down from the summit, perishing atop the mountain. He only planned for half the trip.
When speaking about the first person to successfully complete the treacherous terrain of Mt. Everest, it’s Sir Edmund Hillary who is given the credit for not only getting to the top of the mountain – but also living to tell the tale upon his return. His faith went beyond the summit. He was thinking about ‘the changes beyond it’ that would come.
Rev. Billy Sunday once said, “Stopping at third base adds no more to the score than striking out. It doesn’t matter how well you start if you don’t finish well.”
Changes will come, but believers don’t give up. At the closing of the year, we stop and evaluate where we have come from and learn what we can. But then recognize, we have much farther to go.
So, let’s see change as an opportunity, not a stopping point. Welcome change as a chance to share the gospel in a new way. Do not be afraid, pick up your mats and walk!
Your assignment is…to make a list of all the things that hold you back, and then burn them. Never place a period, where God has placed a comma.
As long as you are alive, trust in the one who never changes in the midst of an evolving world. There, you will find your peace.
Happy New Year!
“And all God’s People said, Amen”