September 29, 2013

Change and Choice

All month we’ve been considering various aspects of Change and how God uses Change to help us be “transformed into the same image [of God in Christ] from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18) There is the change of the seasons, change that comes through learning, change that happens when we open our hearts more fully to God, and change that can feel painful.

God, though does not impose change on us, even though it might sometimes feel that way… It has been said that “God is a Gentleman” and that means we are partners in the transformative process. I came across this saying on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and I think it summarizes our responsibility in the journey of change nicely.

First we must be willing to make the Choice to be open to the work God is doing in our lives. Then we have to Trust God enough to take the Chance of stepping out in faith. Only then will real Change happen and we will indeed be transformed.
How do we embark on these three steps?

Certainly, prayer and Bible study are necessary for us to discern what God is doing in and through us. It can be very easy to discount the importance of the ‘little things’ we do and not see them as part of Kingdom work. The simple little day-to-day interactions can have as much impact as huge mission trips. You don’t know if the smile you offer may be just the thing to brighten a discouraged store clerk. A note of love might encourage a friend who is feeling down and letting that person into rush hour traffic ahead of you may ease their stress. It takes making a Choice to do these things and to know that you might not know the results.
Making the Choice to do something for the Kingdom means we are Trusting God and taking the Chance to be vulnerable and to be rejected. The clerk you smile at may remain sullen and the person you let into traffic may not even acknowledge your thoughtfulness. You’ve planted a small seed, though, and perhaps someday that seed will germinate and grow.

Whether or not we see outward results from our Choice and from taking a Chance, we will indeed be Changed a bit inside. You cannot smile at someone else and remain grumpy yourself. You can’t do something nice and continue to grump about the day. The seed you plant may just be inside your own heart. And that is good, because that seed will grow into the transformation into the image of Christ.
So, I challenge you to Make a Choice, to Take a Chance, and see what Change Happens in your heart and life. In fact, because in God there are no coincidences (just places where God wants to remain anonymous), yesterday I heard of a woman who has posted on her blog three simple words that she uses when situations get tense, troublesome, or too much: “Lord Change Me”. (I wish I could give you the link, but I was in the car and didn’t catch the entire blog address.) “Me” is the only entity I have any hope of changing, so…praying “Lord Change Me” is a good place to start.

Warning, though-God will take you up on that request and you will be changed in ways you may not have expected!
Next month, I invite you to come along on some meditations based on Madeline L’Engle’s book A Stone for a Pillow 

September 22, 2013

Change: A Growth Opportunity

Change…we’ve seen it is not always a comfortable thing. Change is usually an opportunity for some kind of growth, even if we don’t see the results right away. Change is God’s way of transforming us from creatures formed from dirt, like Adam to creations of glory as Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 3:18.

I don’t claim to know how that happens, any more than Paul can explain it. What I have experienced is that those difficult times are the ones that often provide the most growth and change. A friend of mine calls events that are unexpected and disconcerting, “Growth Opportunities”. She says it tongue in cheek, but in truth that’s what they are. Traumatic experiences change us, whether they are corporate traumas like 9/11, or individual disasters like an illness or death, or even just life experiences (job, family, love) that don’t turn out like we want them to.
The truth is that God takes whatever happens and wherever we are in our life journey and transforms it to glory. We might not see it right away. In fact, it’s usually in looking back that we realize how we have grown and changed because of an experience. Sometimes we don’t know where or when the seed planted in ‘adversity’ will blossom. Someday…it will and you will see the result like a beautiful flower sprouting from a plant you thought was dead. (Or new growth will spring up through the ashes, like in this picture of new life in a burned over area taken last year in AZ.)

We are drawn closer to God’s glory when we offer our lives. That means offering all our lives, not just the parts we think are already ‘holy’, but those we’d really rather keep hidden from God. Paul states (2 Corinthians 3:4-6) “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
We cannot ever make ourselves ‘good enough’ for God. That’s not what God desires anyway. Our God wants to love us, to be in a relationship with us. The Holy God wants us to trust so fully that we live even the trials and traumas as bearing the glory of God. Sounds hard and it does require me giving up my own agenda.

“All of me, why not take all of me” says the old Louis Armstrong song. Of course that song is about lost love, but it applies to what we need to offer to God. As the words of the song say, “I’m no good without you. Take my lips…take my arms…take my heart…”
Through life’s changes we discover that, paradoxically, it really is when we give all to God that we gain the glory. With Paul we can say “but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And 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 3:16-18)

A paraphrase of that citation might read, “When you turn to the Lord…there is freedom and you will see the glory of the Lord as you are transformed…to glory.” Take a few minutes to consider the times in your life that seemed very difficult, heartbreaking, and soul challenging. See if you can remember when in and through those times, you felt the sustaining Love of God and were changed, just a bit, into greater glory. I'll bet you'll see life sprouting from the dead branches and burned over ground! Expect new life, new growth, when God touches your life in “growth opportunities”.

September 15, 2013

Changed-From Glory into Glory

We have been looking at the topic of ‘change’ and what that might mean for our spiritual growth as the seasons change. We are drawing close to what the Celts called the ‘thin time’ when the veil between this world and the next is more transparent than usual. In Celtic thought, fall was one of those times culminating at the Feast of Samhein (Oct. 31) when spirits were free to roam the earth for that day. (Sound a little familiar?) Thin times and thin places are when we can more easily and closely find or be found by the Holy and in that mutual finding, we are changed. 

Second Corinthians 3:18 tells us in the KJV “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” I cannot hear that verse without also hearing Charles Wesley’s hymn Love Divine that ends by triumphantly promising, Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

The entire hymn (below) is about the type of holy change that God works in us, when we are open to the Spirit of God. When we allow ourselves to be a ‘thin place’ God will “Fix in us Thy humble dwelling” and “Visit us with Thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.” God enters our lives through times of change and transforms us into a new creation. A creature deeper in union with the Holy.
We become that thin place and holy dwelling when we allow God to “breathe Thy loving Spirit, into every troubled breast” even and especially in times of change. Then we can “find that second rest…Set our hearts at liberty.” Being open to the Holy allows us to say, “Let us all Thy life receive”.

When we are full of the Holy, we find ourselves in a relationship to God that is “always blessing, Serve Thee as Thy hosts above, Pray and praise Thee without ceasing, Glory in Thy perfect love”. Then the transformation and change is complete. We can offer ourselves fully to God and say, with Wesley, “Finish, then, Thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be.”
The hymn concludes as we began with all creation being “Changed from glory into glory…Lost in wonder, love, and praise.” You can view a lovely version of this hymn on YouTube. It’s not the tune I am used to, but it is a beautiful arrangement.
The holy change God works in us when we are open to being a thin place will truly transform our lives and relationship. Come Lord Jesus, come.

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

September 8, 2013

Change-an opportunity for growth

Last week, we started looking at ‘change’, esp. change based in our response to God who, according to 2 Corinthians 3:18, causes us to be “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (NIV)

As I noted last week, change isn’t something we are necessarily enthusiastic or happy about. Sure change is nice when it involves a new dress or hair style, but not so welcome when it demands we change lifestyle or affects health or family. Change can be gradual or it can be sudden. Change can be good even when it is difficult at first.
One such change I’ve recently observed is among the doves who flock to the bird feeder in my yard. The feeder is much more ‘user friendly’ for sparrows, however last year one dove figured out how to access the seed. It involved laying on his/her side and balancing with a wing to peck out a few seeds before having to fly off and made another run. The other doves watched in amazement but never could seem to quite get the hang of how to do it. In fact I never saw another dove even try the maneuver. I’m pretty sure it was the same dove each time, because he/she had a distinctive wide white band on the wing.

Well, recently I observed the youngsters among the doves this year are doing the exact same thing. Clearly they have learned to change their habits and take advantage of the feeder! They are even better at it than the first dove and several can feed at one time. (Not a terribly good photo, but you can see the doves on the feeder to the left, while others wait.) They still haven’t mastered the finch feeder, but you can see that there are a couple, on the right, studying the options.
Isn’t it interesting that the young doves are willing and even eager to try something the mature doves wouldn’t. I think the same can often be said of humans. The youngsters are often more eager to try something new, whether it is a game or technology or even sharing the Gospel. If we don’t stifle them with do’s and don’ts, we will see the children among us living out the truth that “a little child shall lead them.” I like the New Living Translation of Matthew 19:14, “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’”

How can we be like children and like the young doves when it comes to change and getting nourishment from the Spirit and even sharing the Good News of the Kingdom? How can we be open to the goodness in the changes of our life and see God’s hand in even those we might characterize as ‘bad’? (And it is easy to say something is bad if we don’t understand it or disagree with the change that is happening, but that’s a different topic.)
Maybe part of the answer is found in Romans 8: 18-30 in which Paul reassures the Romans that there is nothing to be afraid of, even though there is a lot of change and turmoil. He says, I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” Indeed, Paul says, the entire creation is undergoing change and will ultimately be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

We don’t know how or when change and transformation will come, but we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Ultimately, we are assured that “We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Indeed we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, [we are]…called…justified…[and] glorified.” We are as Paul states in 2 Corinthians “transformed into his image.”
Therefore we do not need to fear change because it is bringing about our transformation, our redemption, our glory. Paul would agree with Julian of Norwich who stated “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Discovering (or re-discovering) the courage of the young to try new things and to be open to God’s leading should be a change we are anxious to seek. Like those young doves, we may just discover that there are new ways of obtaining nourishment from the Spirit that we hadn’t considered!  

September 1, 2013

Change is in the Air

Hard to believe we have reached the end of summer. Even though the start of fall is a couple weeks away, Labor Day really seems to mark the end of summer activities. In fact, most schools are already back in session. Some have been for weeks.

The slight difference in temperature and the resumption of activities and shortening days all signal to our bodies that change is around the corner. The new school year brings with it change. There are new teachers, new books, new friends… For some it means a new school. When I was growing up we moved a lot and very often the new school year meant a new town and entirely new set of friends to meet.
Even if we aren’t in school, September is the start and resumption of many church programs that have taken a summer break. In the workplace, fall means that people are back from vacation and work that might have been a bit more laid back for a couple of months, is now back in full swing. There may be new projects starting up and perhaps even new co-workers.

Even the plants and trees are changing. There’s a last burst of blooms and as the days get cooler, the leaves change color and will soon start falling off the trees. The cooler temperatures may allow us more energy now that the summer heat isn’t sapping it from us.
It all means that there is change happening. Change…not something very many of us are comfortable with. Yet change is the only constant in life. From birth to death we are changing. Recently I read a meditation that helped put change into the framework of God.

Every single encounter with God
Holds the promise of
A new direction;
A new perspective;
A change of heart and mind.
Go now resolved that your life will be
Made over again
By the overwhelming grace of God.”

It was a helpful reminder of the fact that all change is in the hand of God. Moreover, all life is an encounter with God. So, it follows, that day-by-day we are changed, transformed, renewed by the “overwhelming grace of God”. That puts change in a whole new light. We are indeed as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
The first part of that verse says “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory…” To me that is a promise that we encounter God in every moment and, unlike Moses, we don’t have to veil our face to be with God or when we come from God’s presence. We meet God in all things and in those encounters we are changed and then we change the world.

For the next few weeks we’ll explore some aspects of change. Come and see what changes you might experience.