Well, it’s a pleasantly cool February morning here in SW Florida. I’ve just ridden my beloved bike quite a few miles to my favorite downtown Starbucks, where I set up my office for the day.
Why do I do my office work at Starbucks? Three reasons, actually.
My church rents space in a school, but I could rent office space as well. But I like to make myself available to people. For years as a more traditional church pastor, I sat cloistered in my comfy church office, waiting for people to come see me. But most people don’t want to make the fuss of scheduling an appointment with you…it’s sort of like volunteering to be sent to the principal’s office. So I try to be available as often as possible in a non-threatening environment (translation: one where you can see all the exits).
What are the two other reasons? Two toddlers wreaking havoc at home, which would be my other option for a work environment. Trust me, it’s worth the trip.
So why do I ride a bike instead of just driving here? Is it because I have a heightened consciousness toward fossil-fuel emissions and their effects on our environment? Am I “Captain Recycle” with solar panels on my roof and a compost pile in my backyard?
No. I’m fat. The reason I ride a bike is…I’m just fat.
It’s OK, I know you’ll protest that I’m not really THAT fat, and that my height hides it well. Thanks, but I’m the one who has to look at this in the mirror every morning. And I’m starting to think I’ll soon need to add expanding side-flaps to that mirror if I don’t do something…
…not to mention, it gets tiring when I go to the beach and those Greenpeace workers keep trying to roll me back in the ocean and splash water on my blow hole.
So I made some New Year’s resolutions. I know, it sounds so cliched. But sometimes when you need a change, you’re looking for a marker, a signpost, anything to help you say, “Today, I start again”.
As far as landmarks go, I figure a new calendar year is as good as anything.
Starting over is actually pretty important in the Christian scheme of things. We make mistakes in life, and now we’re saddled with guilt and consequences. In truth, some of those “mistakes” were actually sins against other people, and against God’s will for us.
Self-help gurus try to remedy guilt by telling us we didn’t really do anything wrong. Those were “our choices”, they say, and forget other people if they can’t accept them. But as much as we try to convince ourselves there are no absolutes, guilt keeps ringing in our spiritual ears. And the Bible says that not dealing properly with that guilt actually keeps us from God (Romans 6:23).
God’s remedy for sin was not to ignore its heavy price but to pay for it Himself. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. When we accept Him, we get the incredible privilege of our sins being truly forgiven – completely cancelled off of God’s books – and starting over.
But even with all that help, starting over sounds a lot easier than it is.
The problem is sin leaves carnage in our lives and others. It destroys relationships, but also damages us at the core of our character and personality. So trying to change after being forgiven might seem a no-brainer, but it’s not.
I’ve got a friend named Scott who made some really wrong choices as a teenager. Since then, he’s spent time in and out of jail, and tried to have a family as well. Now divorced and out of jail, he’s finally trying to live fully committed to Christ. And I can tell from watching him, it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done.
It’s tough when you’re doing things right now but still paying for your former life. Sure, God forgives. But people? Not so much. And just try and get a job with a criminal record. No matter how hard he works, he faces discouragement on a daily basis.
So what should you do if you’ve blown it but want to change? The same thing I’m doing – taking life in smaller bites (for me, both literally and figuratively). Small, gradual progress is not what we want, but it is actually how God works best in our lives. In fact, I rarely believe the “God delivered me instantaneously from all my problems” testimonies. It’s the ones that involve daily submission to God’s Spirit and continually refining in the fire that I take seriously.
The other day, the pedal came off my bike in the middle of my ride. No matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t stay on. Finally, I took it to a repair shop, and they got the problem fixed. However, they did a few other things I never asked them to do.
First, I could tell they pumped up my tires. But as I got on the bike, I noticed they’d also raised my seat higher. Funny, why would they bother to do that? I liked it where it was. And also, I noticed they had moved my gear settings to a higher, tougher speed than I liked.
The nerve of them. What did they think they were doing?
Well, what they were doing was several small little tweaks that ended up making a huge difference in my ride. The fuller tires made the bike travel smoother. But raising the seat put me at a higher angle so that I was able to push down on the pedals even stronger than before. That gave me the power to pedal with the higher gear setting, which increased my speed greatly.
So with just a few minor tweaks, they cut my 45-minute ride down to 30! I wouldn’t have believed it if they had asked me ahead of time, but I’m so glad they did it.
That’s the way you need to let God work on your life. He’s going to start tweaking some things that don’t seem very important to you – changing some habits you see as harmless and have accepted more over time, cutting some negative people out of your life, and repositioning you in what may seem random ways at first.
But if you’ll trust Him in these little changes, you’ll begin to find your life working much better. And if you’ll be happy with small blessings rather than asking God to just zap you into immediate perfection, you’ll see gradual but very real progress.
Remember, Jesus performed miracles, not magic. Miracles involve a spiritual process. Magic is immediate, only make-believe and belongs with the Harry Potter merchandise on the sale rack.
I like what I’m seeing now in the first week of February with my resolutions. By focusing on a few simples things like diet and exercise, I’m feeling better already. That’s the way it works for a healthier body, but also for a healthier spiritual life as well.
Today, trust God’s plan even though you are not seeing major breakthroughs. Be happy with His gradual, often-unimpressive progress. If you do, God’s got a surprise in store for you. One day you’ll look in the mirror and be amazed at what you see…
…you’ll see Christ’s image looking back at you. Daily, He’s been transforming you. Though you didn’t notice the change, now you look just like Him.