Monday, November 25, 2013

People Do Change

I hear this a lot: People never change. It's a kind of cynical look at the world that says bad people will always be bad (ever heard it applied to a "good" person? didn't think so...) and that we have to be skeptical of their behaviors, motivations, intentions toward us. Wrong me once, shame on you. Wrong me twice? Shame on me. People never change, remember? I should have known better.

Unfortunately, this is true. People are broken, by their sin, by the world. We start off cute (well, some of us...), but our hearts are bent. Your broken coffee mug will not fix itself and you can't fix yourself either. Even the good people around us, the really stellar people, have vices. Think of your favorite humanitarian, world-changer, peace-maker, do-gooder. They sin, and they cannot stop. Outside, that is, the power of Jesus.

If you knew me in, say, seventh grade, I'm sorry. No, really, I'm sorry. I was just a very not-nice person. (If you're surprised to hear me say this, well, I put on a good show. Maybe.) I was a total smarty-pants and thought myself better than everyone else. Seriously. And let's just be honest here, you all have your high horses too. It only got worse for me into high school as I even offended and verbally back-handed people I called friends. I was broken and I didn't know it. I thought I was perfect, awesome, the best. But Jesus had a new message for me.

My husband was instrumental in my salvation, and one of the key messages he had for me was that I needed Jesus. I didn't think I needed anything, so I thought this was crazy, but he persisted in showing me how there was one way, one faith, one path. God was working in my heart and slowly he thawed my frozen center and peeled the scales from my eyes. "Look at yourself, Aleah. See how far you are from the model of Christ." I didn't become perfect over night. I wasn't suddenly the nicest, kindest, most loving person on earth. But I did change. Through the power and love of Jesus, I began considering others before myself. (Gasp!) I thought about my words more carefully, knowing they had power, and desiring to use that power not to knock down but build up. I started to see people as people, not play-actors in my tyrannical world.

It's been about ten years since Jesus began changing my heart, and I am a new creation. I still carry the baggage and weight of my sin. I still speak sharply and put myself first and make mean, sarcastic jokes that are meant to cut. But over the past ten years, Jesus has taught me how to love. He has taught me how to be kind. He has taught me how to be honest -- in love. He has taught me patience. I about fell out of my chair one day when my husband said to me, "You are so patient with our son." I didn't believe him. I'm not a "patient person". But having kids? It's sanctifying. I have changed, am changing, will change. People do change.

Sometimes God puts us in the fire to show us where we are still weak. I had been bee-bopping along with life until my daughter was born and walking through those flames showed me that I am still a sinful, broken creature. I still think I deserve an easy life. ("Why would something like this happen to me?") I still think I'm basically a good person. ("I didn't do anything wrong! I don't deserve this!") I still think I'm the smartest, most capable person in the room. ("I should be the one caring for her, not them.") I still have mean thoughts in my heart and let them escape through my lips. (Ask my sweet husband who had to spend a lot of time with tired, not-well-fed me.)

My circumstances, stressful though they were, didn't get to be my excuse. It wasn't okay for me to say, "Well, I can say mean things because my daughter is sick." "I'm just really tired so I'm feeling emotional." Jesus was very tired. Jesus saw all manner of illness and death, even among His own friends and eventually Himself, and He still lived a life without sin. That is my measure. That is my standard and I've fallen short.

But God is faithful, and people do change. We rest in the grace of God through Christ; He accomplished the work and we do not have to become pretty perfect people to earn His favor. But because we are children of God, we are being "conformed to the image of his Son (Jesus)" and our lives should start to look more like His. Jesus prays this for his disciples in John: "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." Jesus prays that when we encounter difficulty in the world, not that God would remove us from the world or remove the difficulty, but that God would sanctify us in the truth. What is truth? God's word. The Bible teaches us what is true, not in relation to anything else or as it's based on anything else. The Word is truth. From that truth, we learn how to grow in holiness and become moral according to God's standard, the true standard. In that, we become more like Christ. God sent Christ to be this example (among many other reasons), and now Christ sends His disciples to be that example. Obviously, we aren't living perfect lives, but we are Christians, "little Christs" meant to resemble Him and be Jesus to those around us. For us, Jesus consecrated, or dedicated Himself, so that we could achieve this sanctification. Hebrews tells us that "Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood." Jesus went to the place where they used to sacrifice the animals required to cleanse the sins of the people, to sanctify them. He used His life as an example of sanctified living and then gave that life that we might have His power to be sanctified ourselves.

This is a life-long journey. We are being put back together, piece by piece, by God, using Jesus as our guide and as our means. Jesus' life was a sacrifice and as a result, we are called to that same standard. "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)" We are called to give ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (not one who will die like Jesus [though He did return to life] or the animals of the Old Testament). This act is an act of worship to God in response to His great mercy to us. How do we accomplish this? By what means will this happen? "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)" We need our minds changed. We need to be changed people. You can't drink out of a broken coffee mug, and we can't live broken lives to the glory of God. "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)" The Holy Spirit has the power to renew our hears, change our minds, make us new creations so that we might stand with Christ in glory, fellow heirs to His rich inheritance. It is a process, a life-long process, that we cannot do on our own. We must walk lock-step with Christ, allow our hearts to open to God and the Holy Spirit.

The mind-changing process is long and by the end of your days, you will not be perfect. But take this promise with you: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)" If you have Jesus, you are a new creation already. You are being changed and renewed by God and the Holy Spirit to look more like the Jesus you proclaim. "In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them." God seeks to reconcile through Jesus, looking to Jesus instead of our cracked exterior. "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." God made Jesus, who lived a sinless life, take on the sin of the world. Why? So that, through Christ, we can be changed people.

We can't be righteous all on our own. We can't be right with God by ourselves. We need Jesus. We can't change into sweet, loving, caring, trusting, honest people without the work of the Spirit in our hearts and the example of Christ in our lives. The trials you encounter in your life may be just the thing to show you how broken you still are, how far you are from the picture of perfection in Jesus. But praise God, those same trials can be what breaks you so much that you finally see the light through the cracks. We are not left to try to put the pieces back together ourselves. Christ and the Holy Spirit are doing that work in us and we? We have only to surrender, to allow ourselves to be changed, to truly become the new creation that we already are.

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