I haven’t had an old dog for quite some time. In fact, both of the dogs in my house are two years of age or younger. Which often results in things being chewed that aren’t intended for chewing (I may be a little bitter as one of these items was my most frequently worn Red Sox hat this last week). But I want to take issue with that old adage today, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. While perhaps this may be true for dogs, it is oft applied to humans and I’m not sure that this is exactly the case. Case in point; I have been a sufferer of teenage acne for going on 28 years. I have taken various pills, lotions, creams, etc in pursuit of a clear complexion over those 28 years. But most recently I have found the simplest method is to actually just wash my face one more time before bed. Now most of you at this point are putting your palm to your forehead and saying duh, but for me this was a completely new habit. And yet I have seen better response to this in my later years than to anything else I have done throughout my entire time of eternal adolescence.
It got me thinking about something my pastor, Kevin Ulmet, recently tweeted. He said, “The holiness of God calls us to transformation not continuation. That is a message of hope and change that we must teach and live in these days.” We as people of God are called to transformation and not continuation. And yet continuation is so much easier. Albert Einstein is often credited with the expression, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And that’s sometimes the way we behave in this Christian life. We keep living the way we always live and are surprised that people are not impacted by our witness. We keep the same routines and schedule and we wonder why we feel relatively the same in our relationship with God. What we come to realize is that continuation is simply that…continuation.
In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul has this to say about transformation, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2 The word for transformation in the Greek here is anakainōsis which is defined as renovation, something becoming completely new. And that’s what people of faith are ultimately about; becoming completely new. Even the faith habits that we establish early on in life are in need of continued renewal and growth and transformation. After all, I’m not anywhere near the same person I was when I was fourteen…save the teenage acne. So let us learn new tricks. Let us discipline ourselves with new habits. Let us be transformed in new ways so that we don’t continue with the same old same old.
In the beginning…
These are words that spark a variety of responses from different folks. Some might hear the beginning of a story. Others might think about their family and how it started. For those of the Judaeo-Christian camp we know where this phrase leads, “…God created the heavens and the earth.” But sometimes we don’t think about the way the rest of the story goes and how it applies to the way in which we live today. The story continues: God separates the light from darkness, the sky from water and the land from the sea. He then fills in the spaces He has created and after He has filled in these spaces He says that it is good. The crown of creation after all of this is God’s selem; His image. He creates mankind in His image as a reflection of Himself and then God stops. We often refer to this stopping as the Sabbath rest but literally God is allowing space for creation and Creator to pause, breathe, reflect and it is called good.
I want to return to that idea of mankind being made in God’s image. Because I believe that there is something in this story that we miss if we simply try to break this down to a line by line account of how and not necessarily why. On days one through three God creates space. On days four through six God fills in that space and on day seven He pauses to look at all that has been done. If we are made in that same image, then how does our life reflect the life of a creator God? Do we make space in our lives for God’s creative Spirit to blow through us and allow new and good things to be created? Or are we so busy filling our lives with our own concerns that there is no space for His Spirit to work? The writer of Genesis understood that there was a rhythm to life. The seventh day was necessary to allow one to reorient, to recast the vision of how one leads their lives and then to move on from there. But if that rhythm is missing, can we be a complete selem?
The writer of the Psalms knew a little about this idea when he penned the words, “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;“- Psalm 46:10. All too often in today’s world we are so busy going and doing and acquiring and earning that we don’t even realize we have taken up all the creative space inside of our selves and left no room for the Spirit of God to work. I belong to a tradition where we consider ourselves to be people who live by the presence of the Spirit of God. But if we don’t make space in our lives for God to work, can He? One last thought came from my reading this morning from Dennis Kinlaw today and I want to share it with you. “This personal character [creativity and love] of God and the personal character of Christianity, along with its emphasis on faith, means that God does not desire primarily obedience from us. If He wanted servile obedience, he could force it. What He really desires from us is that we should love Him so much that He is our joy, our delight, and our fulfillment” Are you making space for God to be all He can be in you today?