Today's thought has to do with change. Real change. True change. Lasting change -- and how that comes about. This selection comes from the book, "Seeing God - Twelve Reliable Signs of True Spirituality" by Gerald McDermott.
It contains a mix of personal stories related to biblical truth. His point is well taken -- can you point to any true change? Enjoy.
The Seventh Reliable Sign -- A Change of Nature
"Jay is a Vietnam-era veteran who used to get his kicks by enticing gay men to a hotel room with the implicit promise of a sexual encounter. Once there, he would mug the unsuspecting man and run off with his cash and valuables. In the mid-1970's Jay had a powerful conversion experience. Some time ago he described it to me in a letter.
"I didn't turn to Christ because of conviction of sin -- that came later -- but by extreme poverty of spirit. I was empty inside. I was tired of bars, drugs and the friends I did these things with. Life seemed to have no meaning or purpose. One day, I remember, as I was driving to my construction job in Milwaukee, I felt like I didn't have the strength to live one more day. I drove by the job site to a park on Lake Michigan. I sat in the car, looking at the lake, not knowing what to do or where to go. Suddenly it occurred to me to take my new BMW motorcycle that I had just bought -- the best that was then made -- and head for South America. That week, without going back to work, I started planning my trip, with no intention of returning. I figured I would probably die on the way.
But God had other plans for me. A friend from Madison happened to drop by to give me a copy of a book entitled, 'Be Here Now.' This was something of a classic in the sixties and seventies. It was filled with sayings from religious teachers and philosophers, mostly from the East. I took the book to my room the next day and started to read it. Something strange started happening: I felt my inner spirit being lifted or stirred. For the first time in years I felt a glimmer of hope. Then I came across the teaching of Jesus about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Nothing profound, but it triggered a battle in my soul. A voice inside me insisted: "This is what you need; Jesus is the way."
But other voices within me argued that I didn't want Jesus and offered several reasons why. The debate continued for quite a while and increased in intensity. While I sat on the edge of my bed, the call to follow Jesus got stronger and stronger, and I kept resisting harder and harder. Then I stood up and paced back and forth from one end of my small room to the other. There was now a battle raging within my soul, with one part of me afraid to let go of my old life, and the other crying out for freedom. Finally I fell to my knees and shouted: "I GIVE UP!" In that split second of time my life changed. My soul and spirit were flooded with a peace and hope I had never felt before. The battle was won. I knew who I was going to live for the rest of my life."
Jay has grown in the Lord ever since. He is now a deeply committed Christian who works with the youth ministry of his church... His experience is typical of the millions of true conversions that have occurred since the birth of the Church two thousand years ago. There is a spiritual enlightening that transforms. It changes the nature of the soul so that one's life is different ever after.
The change is not always outwardly visible, at least for a while, but what happens on the inside changes one's very nature. And eventually the inner change will manifest itself in a different kind of life -- a different pattern of thinking, feeling and acting.... This kind of fundamental change requires far more than willpower or a new way of thinking. It is possible only through a basic change of heart -- a change of affection -- that God alone can give.
Those who have struggled with addiction know what I am talking about. They know the need for fundamental change and the futility of New Year's resolutions and self-help formulas. So does psychiatrist Gerald May who started his career with the confidence that his psychiatric training would equip him to change lives... [Yet] he discovered that the best of human knowledge and effort was not enough. "With all the energy that might be expected of a young doctor, I applied my best psychiatric methods to the treatment of addictions. None of them worked." Then May did some informal research. He identified a few people who had overcome serious addictions to drugs and alcohol and asked them how they did it. "All of them described some sort of spiritual experience," he reports. They said they had gotten some professional help, but that was not the source of their healing. "It had to do with God." None of them pointed to anything but God. No willpower, or self-discipline, or meditation, or using their own spiritual energy, or self-esteem. All testified to a power that came from outside themselves...
The transformation that comes in true spirituality is a revolution from the inside out. The authors of Scripture make it clear that this inner revolution is the implantation of a new nature. They call it being "born again," becoming a "new creature," "rising from the dead," becoming "renewed in the spirit of your mind," "dying to sin and living to Christ," "putting off the old man and putting on the new man," having a "divine seed implanted in your heart" and being made "partakers of the divine nature."
If the inner transformation is real, it is lasting. But if the change is only temporary, it is not the result of genuine conversion. Many people dabble with various spiritualities before they are converted by the grace of Jesus. While experimenting with these spiritualities, they make some changes in their lifestyle and habits... Their old nature tries to do something only a new nature can do consistently and over the long haul. There has been no new creation, and without that fundamental transformation of the heart, neither moral change nor religious activity has any lasting value."
Becoming a changed person is not simply a matter of making a decision. It is not a matter of making a commitment. It is not a matter of cranking up our will-power or making an earnest determination to change. It's not pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps or any other "natural" human attempt to change. Such resolutions often make Pharisees, but not changed Christians. Because human choices and decisions last only as long as human strength has the power to resist that which it hopes to conquer -- which usually isn't that long (as New Year's Resolutions habitually testify).
To fight against sin by human strength alone is to lose -- always. That's what the Bible teaches. True change is a matter of God, by His grace, making a supernatural and miraculous change in the core of our being. It is discovering ourselves to be different and not knowing why. It is sensing new affections for new and good things, and seeing other negative things fall away -- and not being able to fully explain how it happened. And for good reason -- since we didn't do it, God did.
And because HE did it and not us (altering our nature in the process) the change lasts. We may slip and fall, but because our nature has been made new (having been given a new heart and a new spirit) the slip is temporary and not a permanent return to our old ways. In fact, if the return is permanent, its an evidence that our nature had not been truly changed.
Thankful, as we ever must be, for the unspeakable gift of God's grace in Jesus! Pastor Jeff