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Posts Tagged ‘change agent’

It’s hard to change and then return to one’s old environment. So often, acquaintances and even family can’t see the metamorphosis, or they resist the transformation, or worse, they treat the person as though nothing has happened. It’s obvious, if Onesimus changes, then so must they.

Philemon 10-12
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.

When I first accepted Christ, back in the day, I woke up the next morning (Christmas morning, actually), and felt compelled to tell my family that I had made a huge decision in my life, a new commitment to Christ. My mother stared at me momentarily and then said, “Don’t worry, this too shall pass,” and went back to drinking her morning coffee. In essence, don’t be ridiculous.

Men and women who are released from prison often find themselves thrown back into the same crowd and ultimately the same behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. Generally, a former prisoner is better off starting over in a new setting, a new town, a fresh beginning. But the loneliness and lack of support is overwhelming. Everyone wants to be loved and acknowledged for the “new” self. The decision to change is hard work.

Alcoholics and addicts are constantly undermined by friends and family, with phrases like, “oh, just once won’t hurt you,” or “it’s a special occasion, come on!” Even dieters are sabotaged with offers of cookies and treats over and over again. What is the message? Don’t change. Don’t make me adapt this new self. Don’t make me look at myself in a new way by your decision to take a different path.

Onesimus escaped the household of Philemon as one person and under the loving care of Paul, became a believer and follower of Christ. He was not longer the same man. In order to successfully return to Philemon, he would need the support and acceptance of that family. They would have to look with new eyes, hear with new ears, and willingly, break old habits and build new ones.

Twitter was ablaze yesterday about men and women who made decisions to follow the Christ. But what happens next? They must still walk back through the same front door, sit at the same kitchen table, and wake to the same alarm this morning. They must go to work and wonder, can anyone tell? Should I say something? What do I say? And if I do say something, will I be under the microscope?

What is my role in such a scenario? I remember an old friend who hated being called “Tammy.” I asked what she really wanted and she said she wanted to be called “Tamera,” her given name. And so we agreed, she would commit to telling people of the change and I would commit to the new name. It took about six months but it worked; she grew into her beautiful name and so did others. Change is a team effort.

Lord, today, give me sensitivity to the personal revolutions of others around me. Show me how to be a safe haven for new things, new birth, new hope, new directions.

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Every endeavor has rules. I hate that. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the sixties [age-alert] but there’s some part of me that wants to rebel just at the whiff of rules. But why? Why have they become limitations instead of opportunities for excellence?

II Timothy 2:5
Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

In reality, it’s the rules or the finiteness of the task and the subsequent precision and commitment to working within that framework that separates the good from the great.

When Paul uses a sports analogy, the first sport that comes to my mind is diving. It’s so terribly precise. All those Olympic dives look wonderful to me until it’s replayed in slow motion and the announcer breaks down the movements and compares them to perfect.

I also think of ice skating, skiing, even ballet. The individual, in order to reach excellence, must ascribe to a certain set of standards. Ultimately, it is only after reaching the highest benchmark that rules can be broken or bent for the sake of creativity or experimentation or invention.

I remember, as a child, watching a clown on a high wire and I thought he was crazy to be on a high wire with so little experience. He always looked like he might fall off the wire at any moment. It was funny and scary at the same time. Only later, as an adult, did I learn that the clown must have the most precise technique and confidence in order to “play” on the wire. In the same vein, the jazz artist (whether dance or music) must know the fundamentals thoroughly or the modern artist classic proficiency before improvising.

So, in a way, it’s true, the rules are to be broken, but only after understanding and mastering the space between the rules. Once we learn to color inside the lines, then we can venture out.

Now, what has this to do with my faith in the Christ or serving God? What are the basics or rules of my faith? Isn’t it Christ crucified, resurrected, and engaged in human life thereafter through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to reestablish communion with God? And thereby I can walk out in love, light, truth, justice, and faithfulness because God is forever in our midst: Emmanuel. Yes, and so essentially, to live is Christ (the greatest mystery of all).

If Christ is exalted (manifest) in/through me [Philippians 1:20-21], then I am living loved and loving others, I am a light in dark places [Matthew 5;15], I am faith-filled and faithful [Luke 17:5-6], I am a spokesperson for truth [John 17:17], and, best of all, I can know, recognize and collaborate with the Holy Spirit [I Corinthians 6;19].

From here, I can improvise. I can be the clown for Christ. I can be a fool. I can be martyr. I can be a change agent. I can be human as God always intended.

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How do I convince someone that what I’m saying is the truth? I mean, really! People lie all the time. Show me a person who says he/she doesn’t lie and I’ll show you someone who is lying. It’s human nature: a slight embellishment, a minor distortion, a self-protection. And yet, when it’s really important . . .

Galatians 1:11, 20
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. . . . I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

How can I “make” someone believe me? Answer? I can’t.

“I believe you” must first be built on a foundation of trust. If trust is missing or lost, all bets are off. As soon as trust is broken, it’s a very long road back to acceptance. Betrayal is the antithesis of trust. They cannot co-exist.

In Galatians, Paul is trying to remind those churches of the bedrock he laid down for them while he was among them. Jesus did the same thing before his final sacrifice, he built trust and believability. He didn’t just walk up to people and say, “By the way, I’m the Son of God and I’ll be dying for your sins.” He would have been led to the nearest loony bin.

It’s really a simple equation: to the degree that I trust a person, it’s the same degree to which I will believe.

I trust God. I trust Christ.

But here’s what I’m thinking. The next time I don’t believe someone, I need to figure out what would change my mind. What is my criteria for trust? And the same in reverse. When someone doesn’t believe me, I must ask, “what do you need from me to believe me?” If there is no paradigm, then I can’t shift it. If the person cannot articulate what is needed to bring change, no change can happen. And that reality works both ways as well.

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With each day that the veil of my heart is down, the more accessible and available I am for transformation and change. Isn’t that why I keep pulling the veil back up? Transformation is not easy. Old things must pass away and the new is unpredictable.

II Corinthians 3:18
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

I have always considered myself as some kind of agent for change. It’s even part of my personal mission statement, “to inspire meaningful change . . . ” But when it’s my own change, my own transformation, I am a little more reluctant. Oh, I can change my hair, my weight, my clothes, and all the other external trappings. I can change my job and change my tasks. I can change the way I work. But in all of those things, I am in charge. I control the change.

The next step in my Journey requires a submission to the work of Holy Spirit. It’s moving into something more unfamiliar. It’s giving permission to the relationship I have with God to manifest differently.

What does it really mean to be a believer, to love God with my whole heart, soul and mind? What does it really mean to love others, to love my neighbor as myself, to love unconditionally, to the love the unlovely (an not just on a mission trip, but every day).

My theme song for many years has been, “Refiner’s Fire.” But the dross is so familiar, so comfortable, and yet so meaningless in the bigger picture.

I’m still afraid.

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It comes up a lot: grace. It is one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith and the least likely to be immediately understood. Grace is a power. Grace is a state of being. Grace is personal and specific. Grace is a gift. And Grace . . . is a change agent.

I Corinthians 15:9-10a
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect . . .

As a believer, I can look back and say that grace has changed me during these years of following after Christ. That would only make sense since it’s all about God’s grace.

But, what about the time before? Can I understand that the really hard times before I accepted Christ were also about grace? Can I understand that losing my father at age nine included grace? Can I accept a bi-polar mother, poverty, loneliness, and a failed first marriage still had the mark of grace?

That is certainly the message of Paul, the great persecutor of the early Christians, a “pharisee of pharisees” [Acts 23:6], he thought he knew it all. He was an insider. And from his perspective, the followers of Jesus were desecrating the law, blaspheming against God, and disrupting a tenuously achieved “order.” He took it as a personal mission to destroy or incarcerate all followers of Christ. He was a righteous champion for God.

In many ways, after his conversion, he was still the same man: a man of passion and conviction. He was relentless before and after meeting Christ on the road to Damascus.

But all the while . . . he was under the banner of grace. And although he would carry the guilt and shame for those years of persecution and would have to face the friends and relatives of those he had killed, he also recognized the call that was there throughout his journey.

I feel the same way really. In the Methodist church, they call it “prevenient grace,” that time when God was putting together all the pieces, manifesting in ways unknown, unrecognizable, and yet, still present. For all of the tough times in my life, I have to admit I was graced with many strengths as well.

I am more like a little terrier dog that will not let go. I have persistence and I have energy. I have hope and I have resilience. These are also gifts of grace that I needed as I slogged through those early years without understanding and with a veil still covering the eyes of my heart.

None of us can assume where someone else is on this journey. God forgive my judgment of others. Help me recognize the hand of grace on them, just like it was on me.

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It’s difficult to see something with new eyes or get new understanding when our memories abound with old movie images and Sunday School bible stories. Who can forget Yul Brynner’s angry, jealous, heart-hardened Pharaoh who would not let Mose’s people go?

Romans 9:17
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

I used to believe that people who were marked for despicable acts by God were literally “born and bred” for those moments. I limited my definition to the word, “raised” to be “reared” as in a child who is reared by his parents. But there are over 31 meanings for the word including “setting in motion” or “to cause” something to happen. That means someone could be “raised up” in a single moment, a single choice.

We will never know much about the childhood of Rameses or what challenges he faced as he was being trained for leadership. Perhaps he had always struggled with making decisions and his tutors put heavy constraints on him to “stick to his guns.” In any event, he came to a point in his life, when he was confronted by Moses and said, “No.” And with each “No” he uttered, the future of a people was set into motion.

I cannot assume that Rameses was particularly evil or cruel as a child, teen, or even young man. In fact, a quick trip over to Wikipedia shows that he was actually known as “Rameses the Great” and ruled for nearly 66 years. Or was it Rameses I (even that is unclear historically)?

Whichever Pharoah oppressed the Israelites and then later tried to block their “exodus,” his “raised up” moment could have happened in a heartbeat and God used that encounter to birth a nation.

I don’t believe I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea that a child is born with an evil future. Depending on the scenarios and the choices made along the way, there will be always be turning points that can bring a person to an evil day and time (or not). Does God know how a life will go? Sure, as I have written before, God is outside of linear time. And yet, a life still has more to it than a signature event or time period. Men and women who are remembered for evil may have kissed a child, planted a tree, loved a mate, or created something of a beauty as well.

If I love someone today, anyone, that moment could turn the tide the other way, for me as well as for the “other.” It is why the power is in the now. We can all be change agents for God through touch, compassion, friendship, love: koinonia.

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