Words: Transformation

Good morning.  My name is Phil Human and I’m the lead pastor here at Journey Church.  We have been studying important words in the Bible in an effort to understand them – and today the word we are studying is transformation.

Jesus promises to transform us from the inside out.   And that is a remarkable promise because, we all know, change is hard.  It’s hard to change yourself.  It’s hard to change the easy stuff – like the external stuff.

Americans spend an estimated 60 Billion dollars a year trying to lose weight.  That is staggering!  I was thinking that maybe we should start serving apples at our coffee time.  Maybe some celery? Raise your hand if you want to eat some celery in between services?  Ushers – get these hippies out of my church!

We spend another billion trying to fight baldness.  Seems like you’d save a lot more by buying a razor.  What’s the big deal?  Says the guy with thick luxurious hair, right?  Luxurious gray hair.

Want to know what the number one cosmetic service is today?  I was a little surprised to discover that it’s Teeth Whitening.  1.4 billion dollars.  Even veterinarians are getting into the action – I took my dog to the vet and they said my dog needed his teeth cleaned.  And I was like, “How much?” and they were like $119.  And I was like, “$119 to whiten my dogs teeth?  Deal!”   And I have to admit – I think it was worth it.  Hard to argue with those results.

It’s one thing – and a hard thing at that – to change your external appearance.  But is it even possible to change the invisible part of you – the inside part of you?  Which, if we are honest, is the real you?  The real you is invisible, you know.

If you were a mean spirited jerk to people, will that really change by getting your teeth whitened?  No.  Because none of that is touching what’s going on in our heart – the center of our being.

And so the question is how to we change our character – is it even possible?

Many would have us think that real change is impossible.  Somehow we have adopted this idea that people never change.  A leopard can’t change it’s spots!  Some would have us think that we are only products of DNA strands and therefore, who we are and what we are on the inside is indelibly written and we are left only to come to terms and accept ourselves as we are.

But is that true?  If you are a hothead right now at this stage in your life, must you be an angry person ten years from now? If you are today prone to worrying, must you be a worry wart ten years from now?  Is there no hope for you?

Well, the answer that the bible gives us is loud and clear.  Not only is it possible to change the real you, but it is part and parcel of faith in Jesus.  Transformation is not only possible, it is guaranteed through faith in Jesus.

In fact, I’d say that if we have placed our faith in Jesus, and ten years from today we are not different -not more kind, more loving, more patient, then something is broken in your faith and needs to be fixed.

In fact – check out how important this internal transformation is to the Apostle Paul, the guy who wrote half the New Testament.  He write in Galatians 6:15

15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not.  (He is battling a group of teachers who are trying to tell people that in order to follow Jesus they must first convert to Judaism – and that included circumcision.  And this is Paul’s definitive answer.)  What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 

This is probably Paul’s first time using this ‘new creation’ language, but it’s not the last time.  Later, he wrote to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Recently I came across a story about one of the earliest Roman historians, a man named Suetonious – who was writing a history about the Ceasars about 100 ad.  And he’s writing regarding Nero, but what’s interesting is that it’s one of the first times Christians are mentioned by secular historian.  He’s not a fan of Christians, but he writes about how Nero had to deal with them.  He writes…

Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a “new genus” of man given to a new and mischievous superstition. 

Now he’s not all that excited about Christians – By the way the reason they called it a dangerous superstition was because rumors were being spread that followers of Jesus practiced cannibalism.   Why?  Because when they gathered together they engaged in communion – which they thought was actual eating of the body of Christ, and actual drinking of his blood.

But I find it interesting that Suetonius didn’t know what to make of these early followers of Jesus.  They were different.  So different that this secular historian calls them New Creations!

What was different about them?  Part of what stood out about these Christians were that they were radically committed to the poor.  They elevated the status of women to a place their society was unaccustomed to seeing.  They assembled in halls and mixed races and socio economic status as they worshipped.  They were committed to sexual purity, and were against the bloodshed of the gladiator fights.

From the very beginning of Christianity – followers of Jesus were being transformed into different kinds of people, from the inside out.  (Back to Gal 6:15)

Now perhaps there is a skeptic here today who is rather cynical about the claim that following Jesus transforms a person into someone new.  Maybe the most cynical might even say, yeah, following Jesus transforms you into an intolerant hateful person.  That would be mighty skeptical, but we get your point.

We would, naturally, disagree with that assessment – and would want to vigorously defend ourselves, but that said, we are not unaware and neither can we completely disagree with you.  There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support your claim.

So we admit to you, our skeptical friend, that there are churches who have failed to to deliver on the promise of transformation.  But I can also tell you that this church intends to help people become everything Jesus said we could become.  This church is doggedly determined to live as salt and Light of the world – as dispensers of God’s grace and mercy in this kind of world.

And lest you think we are the only church like that, I could and will provide you a list of dozens of churches like ours all over the place.  The church itself, I would argue – and this should be good news to all of us – the church itself is in the process of becoming transformed into the image of Christ.  It’s happening all over this country and indeed this world.

We would invite you to be part of it.  Stick around.  Our goal is that you would come to think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with your life.  That you would make a decision to become a follower of Jesus.  To step out of the kingdom of darkness that we were born into by default, and step into the Kingdom of God’s son, Jesus.

What awaits you?  What kind of life awaits you?  Well, if you read through Jesus’ most famous sermon, called the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5,6,7, you will read Jesus’ description of a new creation.

So let’s talk about what kinds of things Jesus intends to change about us…. What specifically does Jesus mention as being transformed?  He starts with anger. Why?  Because a thousand sins are launched from an angry heart.  Can you imagine becoming the kind of person who doesn’t walk around at one degree shy of boiling?

How about, Jesus says, you become the kind of person who doesn’t degrade people with your contempt and scorn.  The kind of person who doesn’t hate?

You can stop hating that person you hate.  And it’s scary for some to imagine that, you’ve hated them for so long, but Jesus wants to free you from it and transform you into a loving person.

Same thing with lust.  Jesus says, how about you become the kind of person who even in their thought life, is loving and kind.

It is Jesus’ intention to turn you into someone who is full of integrity, who keeps their promises, who doesn’t worry or fret.  Someone secure and confident in God’s presence and protection and plan for them that they don’t freak out when asked to travel down difficult paths.

See – this is important – these things aren’t laws – Jesus isn’t saying to you, don’t worry or I’ll….  He’s describing the kind of person that you will become once you realize that you are not on your own.  The Lord is your shepherd and with him by your side you lack nothing, and you fear nothing.

Now the question is “What can we do to facilitate this transformation?  What’s my role in this?”

But before we talk about how – let me tell you what we are not talking about.  Transformation is not behavior modification.  We are not trying to modify behavior.

Let me give you an example.  I remember walking into this office one time and there was this mason jar and on the side it said, Swear Jar.   Yeah, the person said, I’m trying to stop cursing, so every time I curse I put a dollar in the jar.  Meanwhile the jar is overflowing – I’m like, you really do have an issue, don’t you.

I suggested, if you really want to modify your behavior, listen every time you swear, give a thousand dollars to our work in Mali.  Right Brett?  Hell yea!   I bet that will get er done pretty quick, right?

Of course, we know what happens.  We just substitute words that aren’t curse words but sound like it. We christians are hilarious at this.  I remember one time in college I got into a car accident – it really wasn’t my fault – and the girl jumped out of the car and she said, “Oh Freak, Oh freak.  I can’t believe I just flipping ran into your freaking car.” I’m quoting her.  Those were her exact words.   And I said to myself – this girl goes to the Christian college.  And sure enough she did.

That’s the problem with behavior modification.  It changes behavior, and there’s a place for that – but it doesn’t go to the heart level.  That’s not what we are talking about today.  We don’t want to just modify it so we hate people with kinder more gentler terms.

Instead, we’re talking about transformation from the inside out – so that we become the kind of people who bless others instead of cursing them out.

So how do we do it?   

  1. Surrender to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the third member of the Trinity.  And it is his job to supply the power to transform us into the image of Jesus.   When we think of the Holy Spirit we should think of Him as God inside of us, coaching, cajoling, sometimes convicting us as He shapes us into these new kinds of human beings.

Without inviting the Holy Spirit to empower and direct us, we will never become the new creation that we read about.  Transformation is not a matter of will power.  It’s not.  Will power is the weakest kid on the block.   It simply cannot generate the power needed to be transformed.  No, only God can provide that power.

Jesus knew it.  Jesus himself was empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Check out these verses from Luke chapter 4.  Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when he was led by the Spirit into the desert – where what happened?  Jesus’ character was tempted.  The point is that the same Holy Spirit fills you, and provides us the power to be transformed.  will give you the same power to be like Jesus.

If we are going to be transformed into a new genus of mankind, it will require that we invite the Holy Spirit to come into us and empower it.

What will become of us?  Well, the fruit of this transformation will begin to grow in our lives – not coincidentally, called the fruit of the Spirit.  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness self control.

How do I do such a thing?  Well, pray – speak with the Holy Spirit.  And invite him to control your life.  It’s okay.

  1. Pray specifically. What exactly do you want to see changed about you?  Is there something that stands out as priority 1?

If in fact you want your teeth whitened, it doesn’t help to be vague with the dentist.  “I was just driving by and saw your office and thought I’d pop in – Do whatever you feel is best.”  No.  You sit down and open your mouth and say, My choppers glistening.

The point is, be specific.  If you struggle with anger – then ask God to help you become more calm, less of a hothead.  And pray it three or four or five times a day.  Keep it in front of your soul.

Now some people – some people.  I hear people say – never pray for patience, because if you do, God might put you into situations where patience will be required.  That’s the point, you pansy!  Don’t be lazy!

  1. Be intentional by utilizing spiritual disciplines.

It takes effort on our part to change.  Too many wait around for a lightning bolt – true transformation is a partnership between you and the Holy Spirit.  It takes effort.  God is not opposed to our efforts.

What are spiritual disciplines?  Consider them training practices that followers of Jesus have been successfully using to help them mature in their faith.

On the information table on the way out I made a list of about eight of the more common spiritual disciplines.  For instance – solitude and silence.  When was the last time you intentionally planned a time to get away and be alone – or be silent.  Find some place to stare at a tree and listen for God.  Try it.

We live in a very busy, very loud world.  Hard to hear God – who often speaks in still small voices, unless we intentionally plan some time to be alone with God and to be quiet.

Fasting:  Fasting is one of those tools that trains your body to understand that it doesn’t always has to have what it wants.  Your body can be a real baby sometimes!  I want this.  Gimme that!  Well, fasting for a time trains the body to be able to withstand a “No.”

Scripture memory is a great attitude adjuster – it will deliver peace to a worried person.  Yes it will.

Serving – Serving helps us get over ourselves.  It helps remind our soul that it’s not the center of the universe.  Not you have to be careful of course, there’s always way to serve in such a way as to receive maximum credit – to turn the spotlight on one’s self – which would defeat the purpose.  But perhaps secretly or silently serving.  Without drawing attention to yourself – it will help put to death self centeredness of the selfish soul.

  1. Receive adversity as tools for transformation. I want us to be ready to receive circumstances and adverse situations as tools of transformation.

Romans 5

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 

This is difficult, because no one really wants to go through trials and tests.  But God in his wisdom, is able to take adverse situations in our life, and shape us into the image if Christ through them.  That’s why James says that we should be able to meet adversity with some level of joy, knowing that God never wastes difficulties.  He uses them as tools of transformation.

  1. Small Groups – Consider joining a small group – if you want info write it on your communication card and Gary Zessin – who oversees our small groups, will be in contact with you.

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