Pastor Terry ends this part of our (RE) series with ways our life can be transformed and transformative.
This is the last part of our three-part New Year opening series Restart. We started with this idea of the holy life. That was our opening. We knew the term would be intimidating to a lot of people. It has a bulkiness to it now. It’s not used. Sometimes, for some people it’s scary. We talked about what holiness is. How important it was to think about it as aligned with the expansive love of Christ, but also embedded in the love of Jesus. We spent a lot of time talking about what it looks like and how we can live it out. We laid the groundwork for what we called ‘The Called Life.’ We talked about how the called life is connected to the Cross and a crosswalk. If we’re really serious about following Jesus, there are going to be times when we’re carrying a cross of sorts. We’re struggling. If there was nothing that a person was struggling with in regards to their faith, then to try to surrender or yield. The likelihood was we were not being, according to Jesus, a sincere follower. We’re either perfect, or we’re trying to learn how to grow. The truth is, all of us have areas that God wants us to grow in. None of us have this all the way down.
Having said that, there’s also this idea of the transformed life. That’s what we want to sit with this morning. As we move into the afternoon, we want to talk about what it means to be transformed in Jesus. We have the Holy Life, the Called Life, and the Transformed Life. The word itself means to change the form. In the original Greek, it’s the same root word that we get metamorphosis from. It’s the idea of change, meta, form, shape, morpho, this idea of change. Most of us understand that I know the Lord wants us to change, but the classic example of metamorphosis is the caterpillar. Metamorphosing into a beautiful moth or butterfly. I threw in the moth because a lot of times the moth gets left out in the analogy. I feel like they deserve a little bit of help too. Some of them are quite pretty. It’s the idea of transforming into a moth or a butterfly.
The point being is it has to do with change. It has to do with emerging. It has to do with becoming. I think we all can understand that when we come to follow Jesus, we’re essentially embarking on a transformative journey that is intended to dramatically change and alter us from the inside out. God wants us to become a very different kind of people. A person looks to Jesus so that it affects how we think about ourselves. It affects how we love key people in our lives. It affects how we relate and work. It affects the quality of work we do and the way we interact with the people we work with. All those things matter. The Lord’s will is that we would increasingly reflect the reality of Jesus in all of those areas of our lives.
He wants us to be a growing people. The biblical understanding of transformation has a lot to do with spiritual growth and development that shows up in the way we live, love, relate, and the way we negotiate life. I was thinking about a verse that I first memorized when I was a teenager. 2 Corinthians 5:17, captures a lot of what we just talked about. It says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation, Old things start to pass away. Behold,” that’s the language of the Old King James or the New King James version, “Behold, all things become new.” I always like that. Look at the new things God is doing.
The truth is when we come to Jesus, sincerely for the first time, it seems like an instantaneous change occurs. I’ve watched this happen in the lives of a lot of people. Although it was a little bit different because I grew up around these things. So it wasn’t quite as profound. I still recall certain things that changed when I opened up my life and heart to Jesus. I’ve watched when someone comes to the Lord, it is stunning. It is miraculous. It’s like an instantaneous change occurs. People outside immediately ask “What happened to you?” Certain things of our past just fall away, almost as if we thought they would always be with us and all of a sudden they’re healed. Certain habits we’ve acquired, all of a sudden we have this newfound power to get past them.
When we read the Bible, it’s so different. All of a sudden we’re reading and it’s saying different things to us. We’re learning and we have a hunger and desire for certain things to start to change. It’s remarkable what happens. One of the things I’ve also noticed is that this happens sometimes for those who are new believers, it sometimes is difficult. Many times what we’ll find is that even though there are some things miraculously gone, there’s this power that we didn’t have before. Our healing takes place like we were set free in a certain area. There are other areas where that doesn’t happen as much. We start realizing that this is something that is going to stay with me for a while. I’m going to have to learn how to struggle through this. This transformation is going to be a process in my life.
Sometimes that’s very discouraging because someone’s thinking “Well, I came to Jesus and why isn’t everything fixed?” I don’t know 100% why, I have my suspicions why and we’ll talk about that. I can say, many times we find that there are going to be some things in our lives that we may have certain areas that we struggle with for our entire Christian life. Whereas, there are certainly other areas where we have experienced a stunning breakthrough. That can only be attributed to the power of God at work in our lives. Yet there are some things that we think, ‘I’m probably going to have this as an issue. It’s going to cause me to need God’s grace all the days of my life.’ That’s okay. In fact, one of the things I want to say is that I think there are some real positives, and that’s not even the best word to use. There are some amazing opportunities that are present for deep growth within both ourselves and certainly with our relationship with the Lord that can come in no other place than those places of struggle. We’re going to talk about that.
One of the things we often discuss when we’re talking about Christian growth and change is how sometimes it’s going to be immediate. Other times it’s going to be very gradual, incremental. Sometimes it is imperceptible. We don’t even think we’re growing. Just because we don’t see the growth doesn’t mean like the seed under the ground that it’s not happening. It can happen in fits and stages in ways that often are not seen. Jesus was clear that if we apply ourselves, even a little growth will come. It may be only the size of a mustard seed. Jesus said all it takes, and he intentionally chose it, is a little mustard seed of faith. Watch what I can do with that. There is something to be said about that. Many times we will see transformation occurring and we’re not even aware of it. I’ll use my family as an example to illustrate this point. Some of you may know my wife Cheryl. We have four grown children now. They are all in their twenties. My oldest son is the one with the tie, that’s Caleb, he’s numero uno of the group. Then is Chloe our second born. Jacob, our third, and Aubrey, who’s the baby and in two weeks turns 21. What happened? That time went very fast.
One of the cool things that Cheryl did about 10 years back is when Caleb was graduating high school, she put these large pictures up in the hallway. The large pictures contain little pictures. Others do this, but I want to show you because it traces the children through the years. This is Caleb’s. I took a picture of these with the iPhone so they’re not the best quality, the glass reflects. You can see Caleb from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade. Then Chloe, his sister, watch her change every year. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Then Jacob our youngest son. Look specifically at seven o’clock because what were you doing, son? What was that? You have your finger in a socket. I remember when he came home with that picture. He goes, “Oh, we all decided…” I said “Jacob.” Now it’s fun for us to look back on. Next is Aubrey, our youngest one. One of the things that’s interesting here is that’s over 12, 13 years. One year to the next, the change is not noticeable as much. Some years just like in our lives you do notice. For the most part, it’s a very gradual transformation. Yet that same person is becoming some other version. Aubrey changes along the way. I suspect that’s exactly what God’s trying to do in us.
Our growth path probably isn’t going to look like this. I’ve never seen it look like this. You know, what it is going to look like right? There might be times when it flattens out, but the goal is to keep growing. I want to suggest that even in those times of dip that it creates the opportunity for real development in us. There are two passages that I think will help us. I to use them to lay the foundation. I want us to talk about what the transformed Life looks like practically speaking. We can see this in second Corinthians 3:17. Watch for the reference to transformation. “Now the Lord is the spirit and what the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” God is in the freedom business. That’s what He does. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly. He whom The son says is free indeed.” Freedom, He came to set humanity free. If you think of it that way, He gave Himself as a ransom. He paid the price that we could not pay ourselves.
It’s about Liberty. It’s about freedom. It’s about the God who loves us so much that He would give Himself to pay a price. You and I could never pay so that we could be drawn into a relationship with Him. It would have everlasting implications where the spirit of the Lord is. ‘There is freedom, we all with unveiled faith.’ That’s a reference to Moses and the older Testament. That is a whole ‘nother path to walk down. “Beholding the glory, the Lord are being transformed. There it is being transformed, changed in the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is a spirit.” Paul wants us to understand that as we look on the Lord and truly set our gaze on Him, as we sincerely engage God, we will be transformed into a closer image to one degree or another, of what He looks like. In other words, we start to look and act more like Him. You all know, or at least we should, that we become like the things we worship.
Usually, the things we look at the most are what we’re worshiping the most. There is no way to grow with God. When we sing about God, we sing to Him. We sing about Him. It is good to remember this. Every time we do this, we come to church and we say, oh, I’m singing to God. I praise God. Worship doesn’t change God. It changes us. Remember what I said last week? What we confess, we possess. When we speak to Him in this way, He becomes that to us. It’s the same reason there’s such power in the way we speak to people we love. If we use our intimacy as an excuse to demean, to somehow give us more freedom to tear it down, then we increase the power of that emotion by articulating it in the same way.
When we speak out love, kindness, and tenderness to people, to the little ones, to the ones we’re called into a relationship with, it enhances who they are to us. It’s the same principle with God. When I speak to Him, share my heart, or sing to Him, it changes who He is to me. Who he is to us. Paul’s talking about that. He’s talking about how we’re going to look more like Him. Let’s look at what Paul says in Romans though. Watch how he places more emphasis on our role. I know it’s subtle. The first passage in Corinthians was talking about what God does. We look at Him. In this one, he now shifts it around. He says, “I appeal to you. Therefore brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God on the basis of God’s incredible mercy. I’m inviting you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” That is as a person who’s yielded up but is still alive. Holy, we talk about a lion and pure acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. That is what he’s getting at because he brings in the body. Paul’s saying, if you really want to know what kind of worship impresses God, it’s how you live your life. Live your life as if it’s worship. Let this faith not just be something that we practice for an hour a week or even just in our own closet. But seek to find a way to share that out into the arenas of our interactions and friendships. The people we work with or go to school with, our families. How does it show up there?
Are we worshiping God by the way we do our jobs? Does our language reflect that in any way? What does it look like in our lives? This is interesting. Do not be conformed to this world, to this culture. Don’t be squeezed. Don’t be molded. Don’t be defined. Learn how to live counter-culturally. Don’t just go with the dominant culture. Paul’s saying. Learn how to swim against the grain. Don’t engage in ‘group think’ which is what our culture’s constantly preaching at us. Whether it’s San Francisco culture, our nation’s culture, Western culture, or global culture, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m talking about Jesus’ culture. I’m talking about how He’s asking us to think differently. Do not be conformed to this world. “Be transformed, think changed in a different way, changed by the renewal of your mind by the way we think. By testing, you may discern what is God’s Will, what is good, acceptable, and perfect.” What does that look like in our lives? What is this transformational life? What does it mean to pursue it? Here are a couple of things. Number one has to do with becoming more of who He wants us to be. It has to do with growing into His lightness. It’s a process that’s going to require patience, resilience, and trust. We can sit with each of those words because they have great meaning.
Patience; learning how to endure things when it’s hard. Not get our attitude corrupted and our faith crippled. How? Learning how to be resilient. Resilience is something that you could come back from. It doesn’t define us. It doesn’t beat us down to where all the life is beaten out of us. Trust. What does it mean to trust God? When everything in us is afraid and feels forsaken, how do we do it? This is the thing, a Jesus-centered life is going to be filled with ups and downs. It’s true of our faith life. There are going to be mountains. There are going to be valleys. We all prefer the mountain tops, vistas, and panoramas. I do. I love getting above the tree line. When I go backpacking, I always feel something about it. The expansiveness of it, the beauty, the grand makes me want to worship God. The master artist and creator of all that I see with its power, force, and beauty. Having said that, this has been the case with many Pilgrims of Jesus over the centuries. It was true of David in the Psalms, which historically was the prayer book of the church and still is. When Jesus was struggling with despair and discouragement, I found that many times in the dark forest valley, the despairing and foreboding place where the deepest growth usually takes place, the most transformational experiences occur in the dark valley, not the mountaintop.
Here are a couple of sub principles underneath the first one. Most growth doesn’t take place on the terrain of our choosing. I wish it did. Sun Tzu was a Chinese military genius. He is an author whose books we’ll read many times in business circles. His book The Art of War talks about one of the principles of succeeding in warfare having to do with choosing the terrain. When it comes to growth and transformation, most of our growth takes place on the terrain we would not have chosen. If we choose our own growth terrain, I know I can say this for myself, it would be the easy terrain, not the hard. If I was choosing my own growth terrain, it would be the terrain of happy, not sad and afraid. It would be the terrain of euphoria and joy, not of suffering. It would be the terrain of letting me grow on the terrain of pleasure, Lord, not pain!
The truth is, most of these transformation opportunities take place on the terrain we wouldn’t have chosen nor would we have seen it coming. It is in those precise places, the unwanted terrain, where the most profound growth often takes place. We’re forced to wrestle with ourselves, our true selves when the pretense has slipped and been stripped away. When we’re hurting enough to be real, honest, and authentic, we can wrestle with ourselves, God, and faith. Now we can get into places we couldn’t go. We wouldn’t want to go there. Ask where God does this work. So not only do we not get to choose the terrain that we would’ve desired, but it’s also going to challenge our faith, terminology, and self-perceptions. They’re all going to be changed. What am I talking about? What do you mean? I’m talking about when we’re being pressured to grow, change, and transform, most of us tend to say things like, this is just the way I am. I have to be real. Other of us might say, this is the way my family did it. I’m a product of my upbringing. It’s how I was raised. I can’t help. That’s just me. Or maybe someone says, this is the way I’ve always done it. I’m used to this. Maybe those of us who are older might say, I’m older now and more set in my ways. I’m never that interested in changing. Some of us who are younger might say, that’s good, but I don’t want to be hemmed in or pressured. I want to have my freedom.
These are all legit at some level. Some of us that are younger are old souls. Some of us that are older are young souls. By and large, the younger we are the more adventurous and restless we are. The older we are or the older we get, the more stable and risk-averse we become. That’s interesting and understandable because we’ve lived long enough to know that we don’t have that many redos left. Not really. Somehow, we think when we’re younger, which is probably true most of the time, even if I don’t get this read, I have a redo or two left. I have told this to those I love and I’ve tried to tell it to the church I love, it’s better not to have to learn things the hard way. We can be like the Prodigal son and must leave. I cannot stand it in my father’s house anymore. It bores me to no end. I need to stretch out, it’s okay, but be careful. We can set ourselves back decades or years by being reckless in our restlessness.
There is a timing to all things and most big decisions should not be made in a vacuum. They certainly should not be made in a God uninformed way. Having said that, those of us who are older have other issues. We tend to get stuck into a non-growth rut. It just happens sometimes. One of the things I’ve realized is that when we really come to think about following Jesus, it’s not meant to be boring. It’s not meant to be a religious thing that we do habitually. Where it doesn’t connect with anything I’m doing in real life, but Hey, I did it. I put in my time. It is meant to be an adventure of faith and growth. It calls us to exploration and transformation. It invites us to be lifelong learners, to be able to deepen our faith life and to open up new growth fronts in our lives that weren’t there before. We need to start challenging things when it’s working right. There’s nothing like it. It’s unmatched. It’s awesome. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the pathway is sometimes the breakthrough that comes through a little bit of difficulty, pain, and tough things.
Number two, transformation will often involve struggle and embracing limitation. At times, it’s pain and weakness that propels us in the seasons of transformation. It creates the necessary openness. C S Lewis, the great writer, wrote the Chronicles of Narnia and many other amazing books that have been extraordinarily capable of being relevant to generations. One after the other, even in these times such as ours, in our postmodern times, his writings still have an amazing capacity to connect part of it and people have wondering why? One of the things he said was, “pain is often God’s megaphone.” In his book called The Problem of Pain, which helped me, he says, “we can ignore our pleasure, but pain insists upon us being attended to God, whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious. He shouts in our pain. God, think about it. It is his megaphone. Torous a death world.” This man knew loss. He never planned on getting married later in his life. That was his thought. That was his path. He ended up getting married much to his surprise, to a lady, I believe named Joy Davidson. She ended up getting very sick. She ended up dying. He had to work through that. His book called A Grief Observed has helped many souls in deep pain. The question was his attempt to get out of the maddening midnight hour that he found himself in devastating? Wondering why I should have ever loved if it was going to end like this with such pain for me. Where are you in all of this God?
A few months ago, someone who was very close to me, actually, I’ll say is my mother. She’s very close to me. I’m very close to her. She said, “I have this for you.” She is in her seventies. I am sharing in a very non-disrespectful fashion. I know I would have her permission to say this. In the middle of her years, she got off course in terms of her faith life. She came back to the Lord in a more wonderful beautiful growing way to me when she was in her late sixties. She is now into her seventies. She was walking with me through this and said, “I want to share with you something I read in a devotional.” I said, “Mom, that’s great. I love that. What is it? I’ll look at it. Let me see it.” So I read it.
It was from a bestselling book and is a devotional. It’s very popular and is called Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I looked at this particular page. I thought, oh yeah, thank you. Many people offer me things. But I took a picture of it. It spoke to me. Sarah Young said, “when you are plagued by a persistent problem,” we’re talking about ones that go on and on. There are some problems that will come and go. There are others that are relentless. It’s the relentlessness of it. Other people don’t know our problem because it’s not a crisis. It’s just a relentless problem that doesn’t go away. Just when you’re plagued by a persistent problem that goes on and on and can’t be known. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t. She said, “this is a paradigm shift. View it as a rich opportunity.” I’ll tell you initially it was hard for me because I was thought, “I don’t want to do that. I want to be unhappy about what is causing me pain.” View it as a rich opportunity. An ongoing problem is like a tutor who is always by your side. The learning and transformational possibilities are limited only by your willingness to be teachable. She personifies Jesus in this particular spot. She says, “in faith, thank me for your problem.”
It’s an opportunity to know me, to know yourself, to grow deeper. You have such a learning opportunity. This is what I would add in those places. Our emotions are real, honest, and authentic. One of the side benefits is the rawness of our feelings that are such a gift to us. We learn and think about who we really are. What does my walk with Jesus really mean to me? This is a lot of what we’re talking about. I’ll just flip it and put it this way when transformation number three comes and is connected to Christ, it will fuel us with possibility and opportunity. Just like what we just read. All those learning opportunities fuel it. It’s like one of my favorite pieces of a poem from Robert Browning Hamilton. “I walked a mile with Pleasure. She chatted all the way, leaving me none the wiser, all that she had to say. I walked a mile with Sorrow. And never a word said she. But oh! The things I learned from her when sorrow walked with me.” There’s something about that. The learning mechanism. Why, what is it? It’s the fertile ground for breakthroughs. It’s the fertile ground for the development of real harvest. It doesn’t mean that we should say, “I can’t wait to have a problem.” Nor should we say, “I can wait to have pain.” No, but when it happens, what do we do? How are we going to get through this in Christ? How are we going to take it from the negative, and see what God can do through His grace at work in our lives? How do you wrestle with things and see breakthroughs?
Lastly, it’s going to require courage. Transformation will call out courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage requires fear. We only have courage when we have fear. It’s okay to be afraid. God is with us. So we may say, “Be not afraid, I am with you.” God has my help in times of trouble. Sometimes we need to reaffirm a verse in our hearts and minds in a season. We say, “when God will never leave me nor forsake me.” We may say with confidence Hebrews 13, 5: “That God is my helper. I will not be afraid for what command do to me.” For some, courage is going to look like starting for the first time to make a commitment step out of square one. Take a leap of faith and let the resurrection power of Jesus begin to emerge in our lives. That’s a step that takes courage. For others, courage is going to look like we’re upping our game in terms of following Jesus. Maybe it’s time for us to declare ourselves for Him. As one of His, regardless of whatever else happens, decide that maybe my next transformation is going to come when I decide I’m going to quit dabbling and go for it.
I’m going to make it a priority in my life to grow this year with Christ. For others, it might have to do with being courageous enough to get out of the rut we’ve got ourselves stuck in. That means I have to rearrange the room in some way. I’ve been doing this over and over and over again, but I need to feed the fire some oxygen. The room needs to be repainted and the carpet removed. Rearrange it, do something different to create something different, bring a new person into our lives. Get involved in a new group, extend ourselves in different ways, or carve out time. I don’t know what it is for some of us.
This is going to be our year of amazing healing and breakthrough. This is when God does some stuff. Even through the ugly stuff we’ve been hoping and praying. Not all the areas in the year are the same. Some years are tough. Some years are destined for breakthrough in God. May we say, Lord, have your way in our lives. May we say, Do amazing things in and through us Lord. When we’re at our lowest Lord, do your most amazing work. Amazing Grace shows up. When I’m at my least capable, show yourself strong on my behalf and the glory will go to no man, but to the Lord. We may say this, my weakness is not a limitation. It’s an invitation. My weakness is not a limitation. It’s an invitation. It’s an invitation for the grace of God to show up in our lives in amazing ways.
Let’s pray, Lord, I thank you for your words which are good words for us. I pray that as we move in, even to the next phase, we begin to move into the idea of refocusing ourselves in practical ways. The groundwork we have laid will have benefit for us. I realized that some change is profound and others are incremental. I welcome your grace to show up, especially in places of limitation. We ask for your blessing. Bless our time of giving as we do this together as a church. I pray for the closing song that put the energetic exclamation point behind everything we’ve shared. This is what I ask. Continue your good work in all of us in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.