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.

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.

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?

Time for a Change

thI awoke this morning with a feeling of excitement at the possibilities that lay before me. The sense that absolutely anything could happen today permeated my being, filling me with an eagerness to jump into the day. There are only two times each year that I definitely feel this way, at the beginning of a new year and in the beginning of September.

The beginning of the year brings a sense that with the passing of the old year, everything is new again and I’m beginning with a clean slate. It’s the same for many people as evidenced by the New Year’s Resolutions made and new diet and exercise programs begun. Then with the beginning of September and the start of a new school year, the unrealized possibilities from January return, fueling my excitement and creativity once again.

So here we are, another January has begun. Have you felt the excitement of all the possibilities this New Year can bring? Have you set any goals? What changes have you determined to make? I’ll share with you one change I’m determined to make. This year, I refuse to give up on my goals. With each passing year, I’m losing valuable time to achieve them. I’m tired of wasting time and then bemoaning that I’m not where I hoped to be at this time last year. I want this year to be different. “That’s great”, you say. “But how will you do this?” My only answer is, by changing the way I approach goal setting.

Every year, millions of us make a New Year’s Resolution. Some of us write down our resolution on a slip of paper, and promptly forget where we put that paper and eventually what our goal was. Some of us just verbalize our resolution or goal, and within a matter of weeks we forget all about it as well. If I continue to treat my goals the same way this year, then I will not achieve them. My method has to change. This year I’ve started out differently, as a result of some strong prompting and encouragement from my family. They wouldn’t allow me to be vague about how I am going to achieve my goal; they made me write it down. That was a good first step for me, but I need to go further.

In case you’re interested and feel like you want to get off the merry-go-round of making goals, giving up on them and making them again the following year, I’ll share with you what I’m going to try. I don’t know for sure if this will work, but I am hopeful. Now that my goal is written down, the next step for me is to look at my time and allocate it in such a way as to improve the odds of achieving that goal. In other words, set a schedule. Again, my family really helped me with this, and as a result my schedule is written down. Now that my schedule is written down, the hard work begins. I need to stick to that schedule. It’s week two and so far, so good. I’m learning to set boundaries and protect the time I’ve set aside for my goal. It’s not easy, but I know that if I don’t prioritize that time, it will get away from me and I’ll never meet my goal.

My next step is to break down my goal into achievement markers. This is where I have made mistakes in the past. For instance, one of my goals is to finish my book by the end of the year. In order to do that, I need to set achievement markers for myself. I’m taking my goal and breaking it up into smaller chunks with intermediate deadlines. So at specific times during the year, I will be taking stock to see how far I’ve gotten toward my overall goal and my intermediate goal. It’s important that we review our goals and take stock of where we are on the timeline to completing it. By reviewing my goals on a regular basis, I’ll be able to recognize what’s working and what isn’t. I’ll be able to make adjustments and corrections so that I stay on track to accomplishing my goals. If I don’t review regularly, it is too easy to fool myself into thinking I’m putting in the time and energy necessary to meet my goals. Then when the deadline arrives, I’m confused as to why I failed. No confusion necessary, I didn’t keep track of my progress, so I failed.

If you’re like me, even if you write them down and plan them out, you’ll forget to look at them again. My solution to this is going to be my smart phone. I’m going to set an alarm to go off on the days when I am supposed to review my achievement markers so that I will remember. On those days I’m going to evaluate what I’ve done so far, where I am on the overall timeline, and write down any corrections or adjustments I need to make. By doing this, I am more likely to be where I want to be at the end of the year. It won’t sneak up on me and catch me by surprise anymore.

So again, here is what I’m going to do in a simplified listing if you’d like to give it a try.

Step one – write down your goal. Be specific.

Step two – set a schedule for how you will work towards that goal. It can be as simple as a daily schedule or as complicated as hour by hour.

Step three – divide your goal up into smaller chunks, then review your goal on a regular basis and make course corrections as needed. Use your smart phone to remind you of review days.

Step four – Goal met! Time to set a new one.
My hope is that by doing these simple things, I will be able to stick with my goals and accomplish them this year. Will it work? I don’t know. However, I do know that if I don’t make changes in how I go about achieving my goals, the result will be just as it’s always been – goal made, goal forgotten, failure. I’m getting off that merry-go-round and trying something that can really make a difference. I hope you’ll join me.

Reflection or Distortion?

reflectionWe are in the middle of an election cycle, so let the war of words begin. Years ago, it would be a “war of ideas” being waged between candidates, but in today’s political climate, it’s all about words. You know the drill, television ads with quotes from one of the candidates splashed on the screen, or a snippet of video showing a candidate saying something most voters would find offensive or negative.The problem is, these quotes, snippets and sound bites are almost always taken out of context and edited in such a way as to make the candidate in question look bad. Words can be edited, twisted and misrepresented to the point that they paint a completely inaccurate portrait of the person saying them.

This doesn’t just happen in politics. Have you ever had someone twist your words? Has anyone ever misrepresented something you said? How did it make you feel? Angry? Upset? Disappointed? Sad? Words hurt, especially when they are lies or half-truths said to tarnish a person’s reputation and respectability.

In thinking about this topic, I couldn’t help thinking about God and how, daily, He faces an onslaught of accusations, blame, and misrepresentations. The world blames him for bad things happening. You hear things like, “Where’s God? Why did He let this happen? A loving God wouldn’t do this.” when some horrible tragedy occurs, like 9/11 for example. While this is awful to hear, and I’m sure it hurts God’s heart, it comes from people who don’t truly know Him, so it can be understood. What really breaks God’s heart is when He is misrepresented or His Word is twisted by those He calls His own.

“What?” you say. “I would never do that.”

God just shakes His head in sorrow and says, “But my child, you have.”

How can this be? Followers of God would never say anything that would discredit Him. Well, at least we wouldn’t do it intentionally. The truth is that what the world knows about God, about Jesus, they learn from watching His followers – you and me. So, when someone murders an abortion provider, people see God as a murderer full of hate. When the news shows people from a church hurling slurs and holding offensive signs at a military funeral, they see God as intolerant and lacking compassion. And when they see sexual abuse at the hands of so-called men of God, they see God as a monster.

As Christians, we say that isn’t who God is, those are the acts of humans who are failing to live up to who God calls them to be. That may be correct, but the world at large doesn’t see the distinction. I have said many times in my classes, that we need to be aware that for some people, we might be the only Bible they ever read. Everything we do and say, reflects on Christ. If we act out in anger, they think God must be an angry God. If we won’t forgive someone a wrong they’ve done, they conclude that God won’t forgive them either. If we lie, God is a liar and therefore there is no truth. We carry the name Christian, therefore we are Christ’s representation to those around us. If we use our words to tear  down others, negatively influence a person’s reputation, or to judge, then that will be who they think Christ is.

So I ask again, have you ever misrepresented God or His Word? Have you twisted His Word and used it as a tool of judgment? The world does enough of that without our help. God has called us to live as Jesus did and to love as Jesus loves. We need to examine ourselves – our words, our actions, and our attitudes – and ask God’s forgiveness for the hurt we have caused Him and His Name. It’s time for those of us who call ourselves Christians to live our lives as accurate representations of Jesus Christ. Let’s show the world who Jesus really is, one person at a time – the world doesn’t know it yet, but He is just what it needs.