Change: The World

Change: The World
A Message on Romans 12:1-2
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 17, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, 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.

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As we continue our journey exploring the topic of “Change” in the Bible we come to a topic that we have gained a new perspective on since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Apostle Paul calls it the “world.” “Do not be conformed to this world, 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.”

What is this “world”? I like to think of it as the things that influence us.

It’s the programs we watch on television. It’s what we do for a living and the people we interact with as we make a living. It’s the conversations and interaction with our family and friends, the content of what we view on our electronic devices, the political beliefs we align our lives to, the books we read, the movies we watch, the way we take care of–or don’t take care of–our physical bodies. It’s how we spend our money and what we do “for fun.” and I contend it even involves the food we eat and the liquids we drink.

It’s all the little things–and probably a few “big” things–that so subtly over time creates in our minds an image of who we are and what our purpose on earth is. And it’s these things that largely shape our sense of self worth. We form a perception of who we are in the larger society and our role in the world.

The world is seductive. It is patient as it slowly, day by day, sends us messages specifically crafted to appeal psychologically to our egos and our sense of competitiveness. The world promises to build us up, make us better than others, to make our lives “complete.”

There’s only one problem: it’s not true.

How do we know it’s not true? The Bible tells us so.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In the world you face persecution [trouble]. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

In 1 John 2:15-17 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

James is his characteristic blunt self when he writes, “Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” — James 4:4

In John 18:36 Jesus tells us, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

And Paul tells the Christians living in Colossae, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” — Colossians 3:1-3

And listen again to the scripture we read today from Romans 12, this time from The Message paraphrase: “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.”

On the topic of change, most of the time we don’t like it when the world changes, do we? Our world has certainly changed this past few months, hasn’t it? Things we took for granted, even simple things like toilet paper, we no longer take for granted.

There have been some silver linings, though, with this COVID-19 pandemic. One of those silver linings has been the way the phenomenon of celebrity has been stripped of some of its mystique. We have discovered that Hollywood celebrities aren’t really as important as what we make them out to be. We have developed a better appreciation not for celebrities, but for “essential workers” such as health care workers, first responders, peace officers, and even those to deliver and stock groceries and supplies. The soaring meat prices make us more respectful of those who work in meat processing plants.

All this has shown us, if we have eyes to see, the things in our lives that are really important, separated from the things that we thought were important but are discovering really aren’t. We are discovering the difference between being “conformed” and being “transformed.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, 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.”

Have any of you wanted something so bad that you thought you couldn’t live without it? I remember when we got our first cell phone. It was one of these. [Show photo of bag phone.] Oh, I thought we were so awesome when we got that bag phone. Yep! We could call people from anywhere! (Well, anywhere there was service, which wasn’t very many places back in those days.) Yes, it was expensive, but hey, we got 30 free minutes every month! Wow! We were somebody! We were with the “in” crowd that had cell phones, or so we thought.

Looking back I can see that we were being “conformed” to the world, not “transformed.” It seems so ridiculous now.

Fashion is another area where we can see “the world” at work “conforming” us. How many of you were “big hair” people back in the 80s? I’m talking big, big hair. Here let me show you some photos! Remember these hairstyles? What was the saying, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”? And it was both men and women! (And I hear the “mullet” hairstyle is making a comeback. I don’t know about that…)

The world, and it’s persuasion for us to be conformed to it, changes. We are trying to conform to a moving target. But God does not. And it’s only in God that we can find true meaning and truth. A relationship with God through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the only thing that will fill what theologian and mathematician Blaise Pascal described as the God-shaped-hole in each of us. That hole in our soul can only be filled by Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham once said, “Christianity is not a long list of restrictions. It flings open the windows to the real joy of living. The cosmos would have us believe that following Christ is nothing but ‘thou shalt nots.’ The cosmos would have us believe that Christianity is a killjoy, a stolid kind of life, unnatural and abnormal.

“But the evidence in the Bible is to the contrary. Christ said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10). And those who have been truly converted to Jesus Christ know the meaning of abundant living.”

If we are conformed to the world, then we are not transformed by the love of God in Jesus Christ. It’s one or the other.

It’s like having one foot on the dock and the other foot in a boat that is slowly moving away. We have to decide and make a choice. If we try to keep one foot trying to conform to the world and the other foot on trying to be transformed by the love of Jesus Christ, we will end up wet and without either one.

Because we have free will, we have a choice. We choose. God will not force anyone to love him. Love that is forced is not love, after all.

So my challenge to you today is to resist being conformed to the world, 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.” Remember that the things of this world are temporary, but a relationship with Jesus Christ has eternal rewards. Make that relationship the number one priority of your life. Why walk when you can fly?

And if this COVID-19 doesn’t let up soon you may see me sporting a mullet.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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