the difficulty of true change

For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

James 1:23-25

Change for the most part is slow and hard. Unlike some change which is relatively fast, most is ponderous accompanied with much difficulty. We so easily fall back into old patterns of thinking and behavior. And when we do, it’s all too easy for us to lose heart and go on to something else, not expecting change.

James tells us that we need to look and see ourselves through ongoing consideration of the law of liberty. That law is found in Christ, in context here especially in Christ’s teaching. Grace is given as we follow through in doing that, seeking to line up our lives accordingly.

 

imagining a new world even in the here and now

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43:18-19

In the context of this prophecy, it’s not at all about some kind of dispensational, “Jesus is coming back” theme. No, it’s about a present to that time matter concerning Israel and Babylon, and suggests an end to the violence endemic then.

Fast forward to the present time, and we again are reminded that indeed, something is quite wrong in the present “law and order” way of doing things. And one of the tragedies is that somehow for probably a multitude of reasons, we can’t imagine any other way of doing things. And worst of all, Christians are often at the forefront of advocating a heavier hand in threatening violence with an unhelpful black and white law paradigm which really ends up not only not helping the problem, but exacerbating it, making it worse, so that more jails are needed. That’s the fictional world which in horror we’ve brought to pass, if only we could see that.

Why instead can’t we imagine a new world, a better world in which we’re all in this together, yes, with wonderful personal freedoms, but also with the merciful accountability and help we all need? In part it’s due to heavy handed poor paradigms we live in, quite apart from the dream God wants us to see and live out.

Most change will take time, and it’s not like there can never be backsliding and even complete loss. Let’s take one example: What I would call the good overturning of patriarchy in different movements which help us see that women indeed are not called to be subservient, but are instead wonderful partners, also gifted in unique ways. That has been a revolutionary thought in the past, and is still rejected by some of the most popular Bible teachers, who in my view are grossly misreading the Bible and life itself. Because of this wonderful new change and awareness, a light has shined in the world which can never be taken back, unless dark ages come which snuff it out. That unfortunately happens. There are always forces of darkness at work in the world which do all they can to push back the light of Day.

Yes, we who have the hope in Christ know that the new Day cannot be held back and that it is coming when Christ returns. But in the meantime we do no one any favor at all to imagine in an astounding lack of imagination that important changes can’t be made now. As I am taught by those who know much more, such change will come only with hard, painstaking, plodding work, and will be incremental. But we must not let up, especially those of us who name the name of Christ. We must hope and pray and envision and work for a much better world now. Desiring the best for all nations and peoples everywhere. Knowing that someday at long last all the darkness will be lost forever in the light of Day.

imagining yourself 5, 10, 20 years from now (and remembering 20 years ago)

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

Sometimes it can be downright discouraging when we’re facing the same or a similar trial with the same poor response, perhaps tied up in knots and set on a panic or being completely ill at ease, even while praying. Not handling this or that all that well. Having a poor attitude, or even if trying, finding ourselves at a loss and essentially lost, as if left on our own and not feeling well. We should get a trusted friend to pray for us, get needed counsel, whatnot, and continue to pray ourselves. As it is, just as a friend was telling me this morning, you don’t see any change in yourself from day to day, just the same unfortunately. But when we look back on the years, maybe even a year, but especially five, ten, twenty years in the past, we can see some significant changes.

I have wondered if I could meet and talk to the Ted of twenty years ago, just how much affinity I might have with that person now. And whether that person back then would listen well to the Ted of twenty years hence. Or whether for that matter, if I could meet the Ted of twenty years from now if I live that long, whether I would have the wisdom to hang in there and find affinity with and learn from that Ted.

All of this gives me hope not just for myself, but for others as well. May God give us a vision of how we might be in the midst of troubles, of the same difficulties, compared to how we are now. Completely different. And perhaps from examples of others we’ve seen. I think God can do that, and I think God does. God is concerned about many things, but one of the most important of quite a few other important things surely, is just who or what we’re becoming, the people and persons we are, were created to be, in essence, our real selves in community and in Christ. So much is secondary in comparison.

God wants to change us into a different person. But that won’t happen overnight. It is incremental and will take time. However the total change will be so great that it will hardly be recognizable. But God can put that desire in us, allowing us to recognize enough along the way to encourage us and help us keep on keeping on. Along with others in Christ by the Spirit.

unlearning and relearning

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43:18-19a

I don’t think faith is about simply settling into one place and remaining there the rest of your life. Even if let’s say one is more or less completely settled into one way of understanding and thinking, one theological school, learning from and in that, this will be so, although only to the extent that their theological understanding gives them freedom to explore and explore and explore some more in understanding God, one’s self, and life. Scripture certainly stimulates growth in that it is a real and unflinching engagement with life. Especially together in community and in our own practice we’ll learn much from it perhaps in spite of, or with the help of our tradition.

For me I’m at a new stage in life in which old settled ways of living and thinking are coming into question. I don’t actually mean right now matters of dogmatism or belief, but more like application of such to life. I find myself hemmed in and fettered down when I think I have to look at things and act in the way I have for years. Perhaps there are other ways to see it given my circumstances, disposition, and gift or lack thereof. At any rate, this is something I can’t escape right now in the new season of life I’m in.

In Isaiah we read that God says that God’s people are to forget the past, that God is going to do something different, a new thing. We need to be open to that possibility. But for that to be the case, we’ll need to let go of the old so that we can lay hold of the new. This will mean a reorientation in day to day matters. And we can expect that it will take time. The dawning of a new day with new possibilities. That’s part of the word God wants God’s people to hear. When God is acting it will never be the same old same old. Even in repetitive things we do day after day and year after year such as morning and evening reading and prayers, and weekly gathering with God’s people in which there is a liturgy or way it is done, God will always be doing something new. We only need to have a heart open to that, with eyes to see and ears to hear.

humbly planting seeds

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Ecclesiastes 11:6

I am amazed when I consider the course of my life, how seeds sown bore fruit even years later. This is true both in terms of lives lived as exemplars as well as words spoken. It takes a while for those seeds to settle and germinate, sometimes at just the opportune time, perhaps laying dormant for years and years.

This should be instructive as well as encouraging to us. What seeds of hopefully good would we like to sow for others? We had better be an example of that. Truth is certainly much more caught (by life) than taught (by words). And that is a lifelong project for us. We aspire and direct ourselves fully to what we would like to see in others.

Needless to say, a whole lot of humility must accompany all of this. If we’re not committed to being open to learn from others and think we’re somehow anyone else’s teacher, then we’re not in the place where our sowing will do any good. We need to be open to what more our garden of life needs, along with what it doesn’t need.

Just a simple word for me, maybe for someone else today. Humbly plant the seed by word, deed, and above all life. And be patient, remembering that we need the same ourselves, and that any good change in us did not happen overnight and is ongoing.

 

revolutions/revolutionary change comes over distress

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Their cry for help rose up to God from their slavery. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

Exodus 2:23-25

Yesterday I posted on how revolutionary change takes time. Logically what precedes that is the actual need which can begin the process of change.

It would be nice if everyone could simply sit down and figure out what is best for all, and have that be an ongoing process with everyone in full participation. What is best for all would certainly exclude wars and all that troubles the world, but given the greed and pride that is rampant, given the spirit of the age in which in part and in many places people are out for themselves, that is simply a pipe dream.

People need to understand that we are essentially one, just one human race with many different expressions, cultural expressions of that. Sadly we’re the ones that foster and honor division. All should indeed bring their distinctive gifts and contributions to the table.

Instead like when Israel groaned, in deep trouble and distress in Egypt, need presses in to the place where people can no longer breathe, and need an escape. That’s when the beginning of the needed revolution and change can come.

For Christ followers, the Jesus we read of in the gospel accounts and what follows is the way, the truth and the life to the actual change the world needs both in terms of the means and the end, we might say especially the means since we’re referring to the way of the cross. There’s no other way in a world that is in such need, even total need of change. No less than a new creation is needed to not replace, but bring the change for which creation now groans (Romans 8). And the church is central for this outworking today.

The simple thought in this post is that whether on a global, international, national scale, in community and in our individual lives, it seems we often have to hit something of a bottom, so that we’ll be content with nothing less than the change that is needed. And will set ourselves in that direction, to participate together with others in the struggle. For us Christ followers, in and through Jesus.

revolutions/revolutionary change comes over time

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:1-2, 10

I’m not advocating for war of any kind and in fact am against that. To think through all of that as a committed Christ follower who because of that is committed to the way of nonviolence and peacemaking when considering the world at large is not easy. Surely apart from Christ followers, if there has to be violence of any kind, it ought to be only a last resort, and then as minimal as possible, and with the goal not of retributive, but restorative justice.

One can see in the foments of history that revolutions (American Revolutionary War) and revolutionary change doesn’t occur overnight. Although because of the fallout of all the harm done often measures have been put in place out of necessity, such as universal healthcare in Europe after the ravages of World War II, a needed sudden revolutionary change. But one more thing on violence: The only real needed revolution in any such scenario is that of ending it just as Christ did at the cross, God forgiving all the violence against Christ so that all violence would come to an end. Otherwise there will be cycles of violence (“Violence breeds violence.”), one group sore and seeking revenge years or even generations later because of the violence suffered at the hands of another group. When will the world at large quit justifying war and bloodshed? Surely the insanity of using weapons of mass destruction ought to awaken the world to the need of settling differences in a nonviolent way, the truly needed revolution. But alas! A mixed record.

But away from that overextended analogy, in our own lives, maybe say within our communities of faith during certain times, we may well become aware of the need for change, a revolution in becoming someone or something totally different than what we are. That is not going to occur overnight, though it actually will happen if we take the necessary steps and keep going through God’s grace and help.

But to get there we need to not sweep under the rug in some way by rationalizations or whatever, what wrong or deficiency has come to light. We need to cringe, confess it to God either ourselves if it’s personal, or together if it’s a sin or shortcoming within our community. The first turn around may seem small and inconsequential, but if we continue on the change over time, it will indeed become revolutionary.

In a penitent (“penance” so to speak), committed way, we continue on, come what may, through trials, temptations, set backs, yes even when we slip and fall in the same way as individuals or as community. We get up, brush ourselves off, acknowledge our wrong, and continue on the new path. Never seeing ourselves as anything less than sinners only in the sense that we are in the process of recovery from that. But committed to the new in what amounts to no less than the new creation in community and within ourselves, in formation in and through Jesus.

time to move on

Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have been skirting this hill country long enough. Head north,

Deuteronomy 2:2-3

There are times in our lives when, as good as it was and is and maybe could continue to be, it’s time for us to end a chapter of our lives, begin another one, and move on. As God told Moses concerning Israel at a certain juncture in Israel’s story, so it is true with us, both as a people, and as individuals.

We live under the lordship and leading of God, which means quite a few things in this present existence, most if not all we can glean from Israel’s story told us in scripture. It won’t be easy. And there can be oh so many reasons why we would just as soon stay put. Possible danger, maybe some of our worst and most persistent fears, new territory, certainly something of the unknown in that. And left to ourselves we would likely stay put.

But with the sense of God being in the equation, we can proceed with enough confidence to take the step of faith, and keep going, and at last settle into what is next for us in God’s design. How all of that works out surely contains plenty of mystery, but there will be verifications enough to help us see together and individually times of change.

Faith in God will see us through. When we have assurance enough that God is leading, then we can move on. On small issues, I’m usually fine with that. But when it comes to the larger ones, I can be all too reticent. And sometimes in that, weaknesses or things which need to be shored up in my mind, heart and life can come to the fore.

But we have the word from scripture over and over again: Trust in God and don’t be afraid. And so a new chapter of life if God wills is soon to begin with me. God will do this with us as individual followers of Christ, and as communities in Christ as well. May we be open to whatever next new chapter God has for us to live in. In and through Jesus.

in process

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

Romans 12:2

I take it that we’ll be in process until the day we die. In other words, we’re always sorting out things, the good from the not so good to the bad, what is fitting and what is not, what we should and shouldn’t do. Where we need to grow in whatever ways we’re deficient. I’m thinking now individually, but this certainly is not solely an individual endeavor. And it’s definitely grounded in real life, which is the point of it all, since that’s where our faith is lived out.

To be in process is to be in the midst of change. I always need to be willing to change on a moment’s notice, but especially as I see life unfolding and try to find and settle in and then live well in my God-given space.

Renewing of the mind is what’s needed. It is continuous, something that is not just done once, but is ongoing, a habit of life. Scripture and life and especially the example of Jesus in all of that is what we’re to consider. While at the same time being open to help from unexpected places. Humbly receiving that.

In and through Jesus.

a new thing

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21; NRSVue

Imagining something different can be God-given, a gift from God. Whether it’s personal or societal, hopefully both. We don’t want to think that we’re either forever in the same rut the rest of our lives, or that the world itself can’t improve in certain marked ways. I have to think though that God’s main work is in Christ within God’s people. Out from that touching and affecting everything. I think now of the sad, sometimes blatant racism which afflicts this nation and in various ways, the world. And other forms of injustice and wrong, as well.

God wants to do something new in our lives and through us into the lives of other, into the world at large, even if that ends up simply being a witness of how things ought to be. We must not let go of this thought, of this hope. This is from God, God’s word.

It will certainly be challenged, and we have to be ready for that. But unlike Israel of old…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22; NRSVue

….we need to persist in faith, “let go and let God,” take hold of God and God’s promises and insist on that and no less than that. Instead of being weary of God, not growing weary of claiming God’s promises and seeking to live in the clear, in God’s will ourselves along with others in Christ. And wanting to see that light shine out on a dark world. In and through Jesus.