A sermon delivered by, Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on October 17, 2010.
O dear God and Father of us all, we thank you for the way that our lives are changed by your son, Jesus Christ. We thank you that we are not constantly weighed down by the heaviness of our sin but that we can know the relief and release that comes with the assurance of our forgiveness. We thank you that you have not left us to our own strength alone, but in those moments of miracle, you have come to us and you have given us strength, wisdom or courage beyond our own abilities. We thank you for prayer through which we can bring before you the people we love most and the concerns that burden our hearts. For the changes, the new resources, the hopes and possibilities that come with Christ, we give you thanks. We pray that you would not let these be the limit of our blessings. We pray that they would not be the end of your work. Grant us even more. Mold our lives that they would continue more and more to take the shape of Jesus, that more and more our hearts would reflect his heart, that we would show the same love, the same courage, the same focus on your mission that we see in him as we read scripture. May our presence grow more gracious so that those without Christ would be drawn through new hope. May we live truthfully every day in such a way that hate would have no answer and that selfishness would be exposed for the poison that it is. May our minds grow to such singleness of purpose that the only desire of our lives would be to do your will. Continue your work in us. As long as we have life and breath, may we be open to the changes that your spirit would work in us. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.
Christians have an incredible opportunity to help Americans face a daunting future with confidence and joy by showing the fruit of applied biblical truths and principles. But we cannot be effective unless we understand our context and boldly lead our culture to a higher plane. —George Barna
Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.
The scripture for today is an often quoted passage. Even though it is short, the number of words that appear in the passage that can be studied individually is extensive, but let me just mention two words that really drive the passage and convey the point that we want to think about today.
If you are reading from the New Revised Standard Version, the first word is conform. “Don’t be conformed.” In another translation, they use the word adapt. Don’t be adapted. When we think about the word adapt, we think about fitting in. We think about adjusting so that the environment, the circumstances, or the situation serves the backdrop and we fit in to that. If a family has children and they move, someone asks them, “How are things going in your new community?” They might say, “The children are adapting.” That is a good thing because we know they have figured out the lay of the land in sports or whatever it is they participate in and they have made the adjustment so that they are part of the landscape. The environment, the circumstances, or the situation serves as the background and we fit it into it when we adapt. That is one word.
The second word is transformed. We know that transform means change, but not simply a little bit of change. Change would be the five pounds that we lose regularly to gain back, but transformation is when you go from a size 42 waist to a size 32 waist. That is altogether different. That is something that is a quantum leap from where we have been to where we are. However things were before are now in the past and we have gone on to something new. Transformation means that we don’t even recognize the way things are today.
If a new principal comes to a school and a parent asks a teacher, “What do you think?” The teacher replies, “I can tell you that she is transforming this school.” That means, Don’t expect the same things that you saw before because this is going to be radically different.
The two words that really carry the weight in the text today are: Don’t adapt to the world, but instead be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Until May 2011, we are engaged in a spiritual journey entitled “Now That I Believe.” One of the things that is clearest in this is that when we come to follow Jesus Christ there is a before and then there is an after. Things were once one way and now they are different. On a Sunday morning, it would be impossible for us to catalog all the ways that scripture speaks about new, different or change. There is the expectation that before, life was one way, and now, something different has happened.
In the moral realm of this, one of the chief fears of a Christian is to be labeled a hypocrite. When we become a Christian, we understand that before, there was a certain level of living that we had, and now because we have accepted Christ and wear the name Christian, there is a different expectation among people, even those who are not Christian. To be labeled a hypocrite is a painful experience because we don’t want people to see us as acting the way we did before. We know, now that we believe, something has changed.
In the first two verses in the 12th chapter of Romans, Paul is helping us focus more clearly on change. He says, “Don’t adapt to the world, but instead have the mind of Christ and the heart of Christ. Be more Christ like. Be transformed. Be changed.”
The barrier to applying this to our own lives is that some of us are so adept at adapting that we don’t even recognize that we have done it. Hunters wear camouflage. We have camouflaged ourselves so well that we can’t even see ourselves in the woods. We have adapted conveniently, completely, to the world in such a way that we don’t even recognize that our lives are more like the world than the mind of Christ.
I want to give you some statistics. Some of them are from past sermons and I could not track down the original source. Some are from George Barna who is a Christian researcher. You can go to his website and find all manner of things.
In some age groups, people who classify themselves as born-again Christians are more likely to steal than people who classify themselves as atheist or agnostic.
In some age groups, people who label themselves as born-again Christians are more likely to buy lottery tickets then people who classify themselves as atheist or agnostic.
In some age groups, people who classify themselves as born-again Christians are more likely to retaliate and try to hurt someone who has hurt them than people who classify themselves as atheist or agnostic.
I am not going into sex outside of marriage. You don’t want to know about those statistics. But in those overt, moral things that we can observe, there are categories where we have adapted perfectly, and these are only a few illustrations. There are so many things that go on in society that we have assumed are a part of life and we never even challenge whether or not they are Christian.
I want to mention three things that scripture says might be a challenge to us if we are trying to allow the spirit of God to transform us or to radically change us as opposed to simply adapting to a landscape.
In Paul’s scripture, we are told to speak the truth in love. Have you ever heard that before? This is an interesting suggestion in a world that has become increasingly uncivil in the way that people talk to each other. We live in a world where the person who takes the first breath in a TV debate loses. We live in a world where people shout each other down. We have come to a place where we have assumed that is just the way we communicate, but yet scripture says to speak the truth in love. What would that look like? Can you see Jesus on some of these talk shows where they yell at each other all the time?
Someone comes to Jesus and says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Jesus, who is my neighbor?”
That is where we get the story of the Good Samaritan. Of course, one of the problems with the story of the Good Samaritan is that the Samaritan is a racial outcast to people who are hearing the story. Not only is it a challenge about love, but it is a challenge about somebody who is altogether different and excluded because of race being the person who gives the best example of love. It is a parable also against racism. I know racism doesn’t exist any more in this world or does it? Hasn’t it just simply morphed itself into a different shape. Some of our objects of racism are not the same as they were before. Now they are aimed at people at the post office who are buying money orders to send their money home.
Paul was taking up an offering to minister the love of Christ to the people in Jerusalem and he said to the Corinthians, “You excel in so many things. There is something else I want you to excel in. I want you to be excellent in giving. You take pride in all the things you do well. Then do this well. Give well.”
There is an interesting statistic that Americans spend more money on their pets than they give to missions. Think about that. I have a dog and people in my neighborhood will speak to my dog before they speak to me. I love my dog, but the average American spends more on their pet than they give to helping people around the world know about Jesus Christ.
Do a mental exercise for me. If the Global Missions offering is not something you normally give to and you have a pet, think about how much you spend on the vet, grooming, food, and all the other things. Would you be willing to write a check to Global Missions so that the word of Christ might be spread around the world at least equal to what you have spent on your pet this year? I think we have adapted pretty well to the world, haven’t we?
Last week, Rob Nash in his sermon talked about the fact that the moment we come to Christ is called conversion. But the truth is we live a life of conversion where we constantly and regularly are allowing God to work in our lives in such a way so that this corner of my heart and that corner of my heart are finally converted. Our whole lives are gradually being turned more and more into the likeness of Christ. We were being given a preview of this sermon. Do not adapt to the world but instead be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
There are two meditation texts for today. I will refer to the one by Einstein. This is a quotation that I have kept in my collection of quotations for a long time. Einstein says, “Problems can rarely be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.” All of us would say that the blessing and change of being a Christian has been the most important thing in our lives. What if we opened our lives to allow God to constantly continue the process of making us like Christ? Would what has been a blessing before not be that much greater of a blessing if we allowed that to happen? Well, it won’t happen at the same level of openness to the spirit that got us to the place where we have adapted so well.
So do this: When we pray, let’s listen to what it is that God might say to us that might need to be different or changed. When we read scripture, instead of opening up the Bible and reading to confirm the things that we already believe, what if we opened it up and paid attention to it so that in those places where it challenged how we live we would say, Wait a minute. That hits me between the eyes. I don’t do that. I need to change my way of life.
What if we looked at the people we emulate as such positive, wonderful Christian examples and stopped and thought about what it is in their lives that is different and said, I must do that, too. What blessing would there be if we somehow elevated our openness and desire that God would, indeed, transform us? What blessing would there be then?
“So I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters by the mercies of God, present your bodies, present your whole lives as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God and this is your appropriate spiritual worship. Don’t adapt to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you might know what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. “
What a blessing that would be to know what the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God is.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.