I have a concern that I want to share with you. It’s a concern that absolutely burdens my heart. My concern is for the church. Now, I’m not talking about any particular building of course. What I’m talking about are the people who make up the “body of Christ”, those who have been called by God to enter his kingdom as part of his family.
You know, here in America with over 70% of us saying that we believe Jesus is the Son of God, we apparently aren’t doing so well with getting that message across. I must tell you that we’re struggling as a church against which “the gates of hell shall not prevail.” (Mt 16:18)
Much has changed as we have grown up… for each of us in or own generation. And over the past 10-15 years or so, I think the attitude of the world and, bringing that closer to home, the culture in this country, has changed immensely. I don’t know about you, but it frightens me. I believe it to be the basis for the reluctance of the 70% or so to venture out beyond the safety of the walls that surround them and proclaim the good news.
Change is something we all need. It’s part of life, and I think we all know that. Adjustments to our schedules and plans, family life being different than it was when we were kids… it’s these and other things that create the awareness that “change” is normal. But people’s spiritual lives need more than a change in the calendar or a bit of a different home life. Our spiritual lives are in need of transformation.
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived.” (2 Cor 5:17 CEB) The heart of the Christian faith is centered by change. It isn’t about turning over a new leaf, it’s about living out a new life. Real change starts with new life, not just a new leaf. I believe that Jesus called it being “born again.”
There’s an old story about a church of ducks. Every week they would waddle on in to the church on Sunday morning. They’d waddle on down to their own special place in the pews. They all would open the duck book, sing duck songs and listen to the duck preacher expound on the meaning of being a duck. On one particular Sunday morning, all the ducks waddled in and the service began. At the appropriate time, the duck preacher got up, opened the duck book and began to preach. Not long into the message, the duck preacher moved away from the duckbill pulpit. With new determination and fire in his eyes, the duck preacher began to convey a new message.
“WE ARE DUCKS!” he said with confidence. All the ducks in the congregation shouted back, “AMEN!”
“We have waddled to long in this world, we have wings! We can fly!” he shouted as all the ducks joined together in a resounding “AMEN!” The service came alive as all the ducks began to see their potential. The duck preacher continued on, “We’ve been confined to this mundane existence of waddling around for far, far too long! We can spread our wings and fly!” The enthusiasm in that sanctuary was amazing and it continued for more than an hour with shouts of “AMEN!” and “HALLELUJAH!” filling the church.
When the duck preacher concluded the service, the entire congregation rose to their feet and applauded. They then, closed their duck books and waddled on home.
Now, if I share with you that we’ve waddled around too long and that we’ve been given wings to fly… All the “AMENS!” in the world won’t mean a thing if we waddle on home.
I believe, with all my heart that the church of Jesus Christ is struggling because of all our waddling around outside the walls that surround us. This is what has convicted me to put together this message. I also offer a class about this, both of which are titled “To Roar Like The Lamb”.
Real change is a process not a destination. Let me share with you part of Paul’s opening prayer to the church in Philippi: Philippians 1:3-6 (CEB) “I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you’ve been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.” Our “rebirth”, our being born again, is just the beginning of a life full of change as we grow and mature in our faith. Change is letting go and grabbing hold. “Be holy as I am holy” is what Peter reminds us of Jesus’ words. “Don’t be conformed to your former desires, those that shaped you when you were ignorant. But, as obedient children, you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy.” (1Peter 1:14-16 CEB)
I’m sure we’ve all heard some of the reasons we find change to be so difficult. Often, we feel trapped in our existence and don’t know how to move forward. Often, we find our lives to be comfortable just the way it is, and we may be afraid of what is around the corner, so we continue to walk straight ahead. Often, change hurts and we lack the power to move past that pain.
Eph 4:20-24 “But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ. Since you really listened to him and you were taught how the truth is in Jesus, change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.” Col 3:1-2 “Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. Think about the things above and not things on earth.” Ro 12:1-2 “So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is – what is good and pleasing and mature.” (emphasis added)
Folks, this is all about the change in our lives since the time we accepted God’s invitation for a relationship, accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, confessing our faith in him, realizing our justification as we entered this period of sanctification where we are in continuous motion striving for that “Christian perfection” that John Wesley talked about. We’re in that time of learning more and more each day about living into the image of God.
It is reported that Mark Twain once said that “church is good people standing in front of good people teaching them to be good people.” But let me tell you; church isn’t about teaching people to be good people. That would be a gross misunderstanding of the change and transformation talked about in the Bible. The gospel is much more than simple moralism. Sometimes there’s a need for a universal translator to help us understand words like “change” and “transformation.”
Let me explain it this way: Let’s look at it from the perspective of a marriage relationship and the need there to understand one another. When a husband says, “It’s a guy thing,” what he really means is that there really is no rational thought pattern involved here and there is no chance for you to derive any logic from it.
Then, we have that old cryptic statement, “I can’t find it.” This one can be a bit tricky. What it means is that “It didn’t fall directly into my outstretched hands, so I’m completely clueless.”
One more… wives, pay particular attention when your husband says, “It would take too long to explain.” Because what we really mean is that we have no idea how it works.
You see, words often have one meaning coming from the communicator and a totally different meaning being received by the listener. The church at times, is no different. The church will communicate the need for change in people’s lives and what gets understood is some low-level therapeutic moralistic deism where a faraway God makes life better and makes you a better person. That’s not what we find in the gospel. We don’t want to produce good religious people. The Pharisees are a good example of what happens to good religious people. What God wants to see is for people to be transformed at a spiritual level rather than a behavioral level. Transformation doesn’t come from decisions made, it comes from re-creation. And that re-creation comes from new life in Jesus Christ. The change people need most is not in their circumstances, but in themselves. It’s not found in an ability to try harder, rather, it’s found in a life entrusted to Jesus.
As part of our continued growth in the strength and courage of our faith, and in the growth of our ability to fulfill the great commission to make disciples, we need to constantly explore ways to communicate our faith… to share our faith.
The Apostle Paul expressed a prayer for faith-sharers when he wrote to his friend Philemon, “I pray that your partnership in the faith might become effective by an understanding of all that is good among us in Christ.” (Philemon 6 CEB)