New Revised Standard Version
Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Many of you know that Marcia, Sydney and I took Sarah – our oldest to college this week. Like some of you, we unloaded a pile of belongings, decorated a dorm room, and left her on a strange and beautiful college campus – Samford University in Birmingham, AL. One benefit of college is that now that Sarah is 18 and on her own – I no longer is obligated to pay her $1 every time I use her name in a sermon illustration. We just ring it up to the cost of growing up in a preacher’s home.
On the way home yesterday, my mind began creating montages of her growing up years. I thought of the many good things I had done as her dad – picking her up at school, coaching a little league softball team, and traveling to every out of town Raider football game.
There were other images, too, though, darker images. I remembered the moments I failed as her dad: The nights I lost my temper, yelled too loud and made her cry and the days I let being a pastor come before being a dad.
If I allow myself to be honest – I realize I had a pretty high expectation of being her dad and most days – reality never caught up. Even in the great joy of being a dad, this discrepancy creates disappointment. I call it the disappointment gap – the gap I feel between expectation and reality. What I want to do and what I actually do.
This disappointment gap includes much more than my skills as a parent – it covers every
Some of our disappointments are trivial – I need to get in better physical health or do a better job on my finances.
Some of our disappointments are neurotic – concerned about the expectations other people have for me.
Some of our disappointments, though, run much deeper and darker. So deep we will never share them.
We stand in good company with our disappointment gap. Listen to the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:14 as he talks about the power of sin in our lives: “In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate.” Paul had certain expectations of what he would do and not do – and reality set in and he did the opposite.
We do the same thing in our spiritual lives – we have certain expectations like – I will forgive this person, I will become a person of prayer, I will invite that person to church, I will offer to pray for my co-worker – and then reality sets in and we live in the disappointment gap.
What do we do with our disappointment gaps?
For some of us – we have learned to rationalize our disappointment gap. John Ortberg in The Life You’ve always Wanted, calls this the Popeye approach. Many of us will remember these old cartoons – or maybe the 1980’s movie - about an old crusty sailor named Popeye The Sailor Man. When Popeye was frustrated or wasn’t sure what to do or felt inadequate, he would simply say, “I yam what I yam.”
“Popeye wasn’t a sophisticated guy. He had never been to therapy and was woefully out of touch with his shadow side and his inner child. He didn’t have much education. He knew who he was: a simple, pipe-smoking, Olive Oyl-loving sailor man and he wasn’t pretending to be anything else.” He “owned his story.” Sound like anyone you know?
Ortberg notes a bit of sadness in Popeye’s expression, though. He offered this expression as an explanation of his short comings with nonsense that he could ever grow or change. He was saying – ‘Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t expect too much. I yam what I’m yam and that’s all that I yam.”
I bet you have said those same words too – I know that I have. “I am what I am and that’s all that I am – I will never be able to change.” We get caught in the struggle between our disappointment gap and God’s hope. (John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2002),14).
God desires a better way out of our disappointment gap.
If fact, God has designed a better way. When we are experiencing life in our disappointment gap – we have dis-appointed God – we have removed ourselves from the life God appointed for us. We have refused to let God be God. Acknowledging God is the first step.
Do you remember the name God gives to Moses at the burning bush? Back in Exodus, Moses has run away to the desert to escape. Then, one day, God comes to Moses in this great burning bush – a tree burning, yet, not being consumed. God calls Moses back to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. The task seems too enormous and Moses gets a little free with God and asks:
“Who are you? What if I go to the people and tell them the God of our fathers has sent me, and they ask me his name – what should I tell them?” Do you remember what God says?
“I am what I am.” It’s the powerful word in Hebrew we name YAWEH. Literally Yahweh means: “I was what I was.” I am what I am. I will be what I will be.
While we may struggle with a life of disappointment gaps – rationalizing our disappointment to God and ourselves – “I yam what I yam,” God gives it right back to us: “No – I am what I am. There is no situation, no sin, no mistake, and no disappointment that is too big for me. Get your hopes up. You know me. I yam what I yam!”
Get this into your head: God created you as a great piece of art. And now God calls us to become the person God had in mind when God originally designed us to be.
Soren Kierkegaard has this wonderful prayer. It simple says, “And now Lord, with your help, I shall become myself.” Do you remember God’s Name? I am who I am! This is the hope in the midst of the disappointment gap!
During college, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world – St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. It is filled with some of the most beautiful pieces of art in the world. In one enclave towards the back sits a piece of renaissance art called the Pieta by Michelangelo. Even as one unschooled in art – this piece of art spoke to me and took my breath away. It’s a marble statue of an anguished Mary holding the crucified Christ. I stood staring at the statue for several moments taking in this scene.
What I didn’t know was that in 1972, a fanatic nationalist rushed the masterpiece and began smashing it with a sledgehammer. Although there was much damage, the Vatican artists restored it to near perfect condition. The damaged piece of art became beautiful again.
God wants to do the same thing in each of our lives. Each of us are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God – and yet, our sin has taken a sledgehammer to that image. God is determined to overcome the defacing that sin has caused of his image in us.
God does not want the person that we are now to be the end of our story. God desires for us to become something more.
Let me invite you to take answer a simple multiple choice question. It’s on your sermon guide and here on the screen.
“The purpose of my spiritual life is:
To Be Good
To learn about God
To go to church
To serve others
To make a difference in the world.
All of the Above
None of the Above
Now - Listen again to our scripture passage Romans 12:2 (MSG):
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out”
God’s goal for our spiritual life is: Human Transformation – changed from the inside out.
Each of these answers to the question are good answers – yet, God wants something deeper and longer lasting. God wants to change you – from the inside out.
The Greek word used in this passage in Romans 12:2 is Metamorphoo: It means to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure – from the inside out. This greek word became our English word metamorphous which we use to describe the transition that takes place between a caterpillar and a butterfly.
This is the Greek word translated as transfigure when Jesus goes up the mountain with this disciples and the disciples see Jesus for whom he really is. Matthew describes it this way: “Jesus "was transfigured [metamorphoo] before them; his face shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.”
Paul says in Romans – this is what God wants to do to us. “Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed [metamorphoo] by the renewing of your minds.”
The image of Jesus lies dormant inside each one of us – and like a beautiful butterfly emerging from its cocoon, God wants to slowly, sometimes painfully, bring that image out in each of us. God wants us to become something new. In Corinthians, Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
God desires the transformation of you and me – from lives lived in the disappointment gap – to lives lived mirroring the face of Jesus in the world.
Do you remember the tv craze back in the 1990’s called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers? The show was an unlikely hit – originally produced on a very low budget in Japan and badly dubbed into English. The show and its characters continue to have their supporters – I still see Power Ranger costumes at Halloween and I learned this week there will be a new movie arriving in theaters in 2017.
The key to the shows appeal was the character’s ability to morph. Ordinarily, they were normal adolescences, but as needed they would access a power beyond themselves to become martial arts heroes for justice. Their rallying cry in moments of crises was “It’s morphing time!” and they would transform with the ability to do extraordinary things. Since then, the word “morph” has become a part of the American vocabulary (The Life You've Always Wanted, 19).
In reality, we all desire deep down to be able to morph, to change from the inside out, to be transformed.
Here’s the Gospel for you and me: The possibility of transformation lies within each of us. This is the essence of hope. Ortberg says this: “We are pregnant with possibilities for spiritual growth and moral beauty so great that they cannot be adequately described as anything less than the formation of Christ in our very lives.” Wow!
The goal of the spiritual life is our transformation from a life defined by our disappointment gap into an expression of Jesus. Jesus wants to morph you and me!
And when our morphing happens, we don’t just find ourselves doing the things of Jesus, we find ourselves wanting to do them. We start becoming the kind of person Jesus wants us to be.
I would like for us to learn a new litany to use in the coming days, weeks, months and years. It points us to the heart and goal of our spiritual life and the life of our church. It’s simply this:
Pastor: It’s Morphing Time
People: We shall morph indeed!
Let’s try it.
When we morph into the image of Jesus – the world sees the changes and responses.
Last week, I spoke about the shifting of our world. I challenged us to not just be afraid, angry, or apathetic – but instead to approach this new world with the excitement of a new adventure in faith. The only way this makes any sense is when we are morphing more and more into the image of Jesus – as we begin to think, act, and become like Jesus.
When we do this – the world will be changed. When we are transformed, we live by different rules – Kingdom living – than the surrounding culture. Early Christians lived this way, attracting attention from outsiders and ultimately won many of them over the ways of Jesus. Here is one report from a Christian sympathizer inside the Roman World:
“[The Christians] marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They share a common table, but not a common bed. They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives. The love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything" (Phillip Yancey, Vanishing Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 73).
When we morph into the image of Jesus – everything changes.
Jesus desires us to morph – he wants to destroy the disappointment gap.
Our family needs us to morph – they want the best for us.
The world needs us to morph – they need to see Jesus.
What will you do?
Pastor: It’s Morphing Time
People: We shall morph indeed!
Thanks be to God. Amen.