Conform or Transform – the Choice is Yours

I have a relative who grew up in the same area as myself. As an adult, she took a job that required her to live in many different parts of the United States. She would spend three to six months in each location before moving on to the next. Everywhere she lived, she would pick up the accents of the local residents. It was something she didn’t notice until she would visit home and people would remark on her latest accent. After several years of traveling the country, she now has an accent that is unrecognizable by region, instead, it appears to be a compilation of many regions. If you were to meet her, you would have a very difficult time guessing where she is from.

Did she set out to change the way she speaks? No, but the change occurred anyway. Why did her speech change? First, because she didn’t pay attention. She wasn’t thinking about it. She was just living her life. She was surrounded by people who spoke with a certain accent and she just picked it up. Second, it’s possible that if she had thought about it, she might have liked it and liked fitting in. She wouldn’t have to feel like the outsider, different than everyone else. Third, it didn’t really matter, did it? It was just a small thing. But all those small changes in the way she spoke, completely changed her speech to the point that she sounds nothing like she did before she left home. Her conformation led to transformation.

So what does all this have to do with living the Christian life? Scripture says we are not to conform to the world, yet the world is always demanding our conformation – and conform we do, many times without even realizing it. Using the innocent example of someone picking up accents from various locations, let’s break it down. First, if we want to follow God’s command to not conform, then unlike the above example, we must pay attention. We have to think about how we are living and what is influencing our behavior and our belief system. We cannot just live life on autopilot and think we can maintain our spirituality, Christian ethics, and beliefs. If we don’t pay attention and guard against worldly values and influences, we will be affected by them. Living the Christian life means to live it intentionally, with awareness.

Second, if we’re honest with ourselves, we like to fit in. All of our lives we strive to feel like we belong, like we are part of the group. Think back to your school days. There were definite social groups and you, like most everyone else, really wanted to be in the group with the “cool” kids. Even as adults, many of us still carry that desire to be one of the people in the “in” group. This desire is contrary to scripture and one we have to struggle against. Scripture tells us to be in the world, but not of the world. It tells us to not conform to the world. A Christian, by nature, will never completely fit in because we do not embrace the beliefs and values of the world at large. Our desire to “fit in” should be replaced with the desire to follow God’s Word, no matter what.

Lastly, we must be on guard. Conforming to the world does not happen in one fell swoop. No, it happens one very small compromise at a time. We find ourselves sitting with a group of co-workers who are putting down another co-worker, but instead of standing up for the person or getting up and walking away, we just sit there. Small compromise. We take on a task, do it well, and receive compliments for our efforts. We revel in the attention, caring more about the opinions of those around us instead of glorifying God. Compromise. Each small compromise we make involves sin like gossip, pride, or selfishness. Each small compromise we make is a small step taken in conforming to the world. If we do not guard ourselves, our conformation will lead to transformation and we will become one with the world.

God wants us to be transformed, but He wants us to be transformed by His Word into someone who reflects the glory of the Lord, not our own. It will take effort and awareness. We will have to live deliberately, with God’s Word as our guide. Living by the Word will mean we won’t fit in and will feel awkward at times. That’s okay. Jesus didn’t fit in either. But I promise you this, it will be worth it. So keep up your guard and your eyes open. Watch out for those small compromises that slowly transform you into a friend of the world. Instead, focus on the transformation God has planned for you – the one that comes with the ultimate gift of immortality with His Son. You won’t regret it.

Lesson Learned

It was the spring of 1972 and my 12th birthday was only a few weeks away. With each passing day, my excitement grew. Unlike previous years, I knew exactly what I wanted and had made sure to drop several not so subtle hints to my parents. I was certain that this year I would get what I so strongly desired, a boy’s 10-speed bike with rounded handlebars. In my daydreams I could picture myself riding it to my friends’ houses, waving to people I passed as my hair blew in the wind.

The day finally arrived. As usual, my birthday party was shared with my brother, whose birthday was just one day after mine. The butterflies in my stomach were so active I could barely eat any cake. We were down to the last gift when my parents brought my brother and me out to the garage where there were two large objects covered with cloths. This is it! I thought. They lifted the cloth off my brother’s gift first, revealing a black three-speed bike with regular handlebars. I’m glad I’m not getting that, I thought to myself. I couldn’t wait to see my beautiful ten-speed. They removed the covering from my gift. My heart sank and I fought back tears. There before me was the twin to my brother’s bicycle, black paint and all.

There has to be some mistake. I’ll look like the Wicked Witch of the West riding that thing. The tears threatened to spill over as I thanked my parents. “Go on, try it,” they said. Reluctantly, I climbed on the bike and pedaled it up and down my street a couple of times. When I returned, I parked it in the garage, determined to never ride it again.

It wasn’t until my grandfather had a chat with me that things changed. He asked me why he never saw me riding my bike. I gave him the honest answer – I hated that bike. He said that I asked for a bicycle and my parents got me a bicycle, that I should be grateful. I explained that it wasn’t the bike I asked for, and I was embarrassed to let people see me riding it. He shook his head and looked directly into my eyes as he spoke the words I dreaded most, “I’m disappointed in you.” He went on to tell me how difficult it was for my parents to purchase two bicycles at the same time and how hard my father had to work to be able to afford them. He described the sacrifices my dad had made in order to give me what I’d asked for. As my tears flowed freely this time, he finished by saying, “You didn’t get exactly what you asked for, but you did get what you needed – and at quite a cost to your parents. I expect to see your attitude change.” From that day forward, I rode that bike with gratitude for the love and sacrifice of my parents.

So many times in our Christian walks, we need to learn this exact same lesson of gratitude. We spend time in prayer, as we should, but if you’re anything like me, I keep finding my prayers filled with requests. Requests are fine – God wants us to bring our requests to Him. However, a big part of prayer is recognizing who God is and who we are before Him. If our thoughts are focused on Him, then praising Him and expressing gratitude to Him for all He has blessed us with and the sacrifice He made for us, comes very naturally. It’s when we’re focused on ourselves that our prayers become long on requests and short on thankfulness. We pray like we expect God to give us whatever we desire, but God, instead of giving us what we ask for, gives us what we need. Sometimes those things are the same, but many times they are different. It’s so easy to be grateful when God says yes to our requests, the trick is being grateful when He says no or gives us something other than what we desire. Instead of behaving like a spoiled child, we need to accept what God has given us with gratitude and humility. The truth is, we don’t deserve anything. So, anything He gives us is truly a gift, and we can always be sure that God has our best interests at heart. No matter the answer, our attitude should be one of gratitude.

So, whenever we find that petulant child trying to assert herself, let’s remember two things. First, God did not promise to give us everything we want, but instead, everything we need. And second, God gave us the greatest gift of all – eternal life through Jesus Christ – and at quite a cost to Himself. If we remember those two things, then we will live each day with gratitude for the love and sacrifice of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. A sacrifice we neither asked for or deserve.

Dry Bones

The blaring of horns, a compressor running a concrete splitting jackhammer, and sirens shouting out their warnings, assaulted my ears as I stepped onto the New York City street. I joined the flow of humanity navigating the narrow sidewalks and began to relax while taking in my surroundings. There was the young father holding up foot traffic as he leisurely pushed a stroller amid the trees and flowers lining the walk in the flower district. I noticed a young woman pushing a cart laden with purchases, accompanied by an older woman trying to guide her path through the crowd. Everywhere I looked, the street was lined with people, all hurrying somewhere, most with blank expressions on their faces, making no eye contact – so many people.

Looking at the blank faces passing by, I began to wonder how many of these people were merely dry bones, people without true life in them? Oh, they walked, talked and went about their business, but were they truly alive? How many desperately needed CPR, and who was going to give it to them? And in the back of my mind, speaking to my heart, came the words, “You must.”

Everyday, whether in New York City or Anytown, USA, we walk in the midst of a valley of dry bones. Just as in Ezekiel 37:4, God expects us to speak His Word so His Spirit can breathe life into them – heavenly CPR. Sadly, we often just walk alongside these dead, dry bones keeping our life-giving words to ourselves.  We don’t see the people around us as we should. Is it because we can’t, or is it that we won’t allow ourselves to do so? If we saw them, truly saw them, with the eyes of Jesus, then we would be compelled to do something. The clicking, clacking and clanking of their dry bones as they walked beside us, would be screaming in our ears, and we would be unable to ignore it.

It’s time we open our eyes to see and our ears to hear. The Bible tells us we are Christ’s ambassadors, the ones He speaks through to reconcile others to Him – to bring new and eternal life to their dry bones. (2 Corinthians 5:20) We have the words of life and we must speak them. Is it scary? Uncomfortable? Awkward at times? Yes. Will we be rejected? Might we be made fun of, or worse yet, ignored? At times. But none of that matters.

Life is short and getting shorter everyday. We’re running out of time, and for that person clinking and clanking next to us, their time may be even shorter than ours. This is the moment. Share the life-giving words of God. Speak to them of the loving sacrifice, mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Hold out the hope of the Gospel – the good news of eternal life. We don’t have to chase after or wonder what purpose we’re here for. This is it. We must speak. Time is of the essence. We must speak now.

The Light is On

I have very poor eyesight. Without my contact lenses or eyeglasses, everything is just a blur of colors and fuzzy shapes. Recently my cornea was scratched when something blew in my eye and became trapped under my contact lens. In order for the cornea to heal, I cannot wear my contacts, so I’ve been wearing my glasses.

Last night at church, I was holding my almost 3-year-old grandson and he said to me, “Grandma, take off your glasses.” I told him that if I took them off I wouldn’t be able to see. His reply? “Yes, you will. See, the light is on,” as he pointed to the light overhead. My ability to see was so simple to him – if you use the light you can see.

This has gotten me to thinking. As Christians, we sometimes feel like living the Christian life is complicated, difficult or confusing. Every day is filled with so many decisions, big and small. Life is very fast-paced, hardly giving us a chance to think through our choices. We often make snap decisions based on a gut feeling or just on what we desire. Who has the time to spend examining every choice and its possible outcomes or consequences? In essence, many times we are walking through life seeing only blurs of color and fuzzy images. Other times we think we’re seeing clearly, only to find out we’ve been operating in the dark.

The solution to our lack of sight is actually quite simple. As my grandson said, “You can see. See, the light is on.” We need to be sure the “light” is on in our lives. Jesus is the light of the world. If we want to see clearly, we must know Him and walk in the light of His Word. Those decisions we’re faced with on a daily basis? They become much easier to make when we know Jesus and how He wants us to live. Years ago, the acronym WWJD was really big. What would Jesus do? If we know Jesus and know what His Word, the Bible, says, then when we face decisions and ask ourselves what would Jesus do, it’s amazing how often we will know exactly what to do.

Is life complicated, difficult or confusing? Are you finding it hard to decide which way to go when faced with choices big and small? Is it hard to see clearly the path to take? Trust me. You can see. The light is always on. The light of the world is there, waiting for you to allow Him to show you the way. He’ll light the path for you – just take the time to look up.


Taking Flight

ButterflyHave you ever watched a butterfly? They’re beautiful, but they don’t make much sense. They flit and flot from plant to plant, never staying very long at each one. Their flight appears very erratic, as if they have no idea where they’r flying off to, but they can’t wait to get there. As they fly, they go up, down and around, but never in a straight line. Still, we watch them, mesmerized by their flight, wondering where they will land next.

Sometimes I feel like a butterfly. My life seems to have no course plotted. I find myself flitting and flotting from one thing to the next, with no real destination or goal in mind. My life seems to be controlled by each circumstance I encounter, causing me to light for a little while here, then a little while there – a haphazard way of living. I have to wonder, is this what God wants for me? Is this what God wants for you? I know one thing. If I were to live my life like this all the time, I would get to the end of it with a feeling that I had squandered my time here.

I know that God has put me on this earth for a purpose and that He has only given me a certain number of days. I want to make the most of the time He has given me. Flitting and flottting, jumping from one thing to another won’t help me do that. If I am to achieve my goal of serving God and becoming like Jesus, then I need to fly in a straight line. The goal must always be within my line of sight and in the forefront of my mind. Even when I encounter life’s inevitable detours, with the goal in sight I can get right back on track.

To achieve my goal, I have to practice intentional living. Daily, I need to remind myself of the goal, and then plan my day so that by the end of it , I am a little closer to what I desire. Even life’s interruptions and unexpected events can be used to propel me closer to my goal. These interruptions give me opportunities to practice things like patience, kindness, forgiveness, grace, mercy and love, all of which will help to transform me in ways that will make me more like Jesus.

This life is the training ground God has prepared for me, the place of transformation, filled with opportunities to serve God and to share Him with those I meet. Time’s a wasting. I’m done flitting and flotting. My eyes are open and focused on the goal – my flight plan is intentional. I’m ready to soar. How about you?