August 22, 2010
Scripture: Eph. 4:17-5:2; Romans 12:1-3, 16
Patrick and I were in Northern New York a couple of weeks ago with my family. It’s where my Dad grew up and his 2 sisters still live there. One afternoon while we were there some of us went to my Aunt Carol and Uncle Cliff’s house. They’re in their upper 70’s and their house is full of all kinds of dishes and glassware, furniture, and collections. There’s a whole room in their basement that is full of all kinds of dolls, there’s a collection of amethyst glassware in the living room—pieces arranged on the ledge and the window sills. There’s a collection of blue dishes on the dresser in one of the bedrooms and the shelves of the closet in that room are filled with lots more glassware. My aunt and uncle enjoy going to garage sales and auctions and a lot of the furniture in their home came from garage sales. It wasn’t in good condition or pretty to look at when they brought it home. But with a good amount of time, work and attention to detail, my uncle, who enjoys repairing and refinishing furniture, made the pieces look just beautiful. The wood is as smooth as can be and the original beauty is restored.
God created us as original works of art. And he put within each of us certain gifts and abilities. And one of the greatest things God gave us is our minds. He created our minds complex and intricate and good. To be used to reflect and ponder, to imagine and motivate us to do great things. But like the Gentiles that Paul talks about in Ephesians, our minds can become futile—ineffective, vain, senseless. Like those pieces of furniture, our minds lose their original luster and beauty. We start to think unkind thoughts toward certain people. We carry an attitude that we’re a little better, a little more spiritual than someone else because we go to church, we give money to good causes, we live in a nicer house, we do well in social situations and they’re somewhat awkward so we’re just a little better, a little cooler. Maybe our weakness is to compare ourselves to others who seem to have it better than us and our thoughts turn envious or ungrateful. Perhaps we sometimes let words out of our mouths before using our mind to filter what we say. Or we let our minds become lazy, making no effort to sharpen them with new insights and new learnings.
Whatever your mind’s temptation or weakness is, as the passage says, “That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
We need God to restore our minds to their original state—the beautiful minds he created them to be. Back to my uncle……as my uncle works with the pieces of furniture he’s repairing and restoring, he puts a lot of his time and energy into it. He’s learned the skills needed to re-cane a chair, or strip a finish and put it back on. The work he does is beautiful when it’s finished, but until then it’s just a big mess. My uncle sees potential in the most unlikely places. Furniture that other people see as only fit to sell at a garage sale, Cliff takes home and turns into a masterpiece.
God’s work in our lives is beautiful too, but the difference is God works alongside us. He uses the circumstances we find ourselves in to transform and restore us. At times it’s exciting to be a part of that. I remember being in youth group at my home church. We had weekly Bible studies and I was soaking up everything I could. It was fun learning new things about God and being challenged in my walk with God. I found the new learning to be stimulating and I looked at the challenges I faced in my life as opportunities to grow in my relationship with God and to become more Christ-like. Then I headed off to college and there was a whole other level of learning—about God and endless other topics like music, astronomy, history, how to live with your roommate, how to listen to and learn from those who have a different perspective than you…… Then seminary was another time of even more intense studying and learning about myself and about who God is. Now there were definitely challenges throughout all these times of learning, and sometimes very difficult issues and circumstances to work through. But there was also energy in the learning. So in those experiences there was an element of excitement and energy as God transformed and restored me.
Then there’s other times when God uses the circumstances we find ourselves in to transform and restore us that are anything but exciting. They are painful and full of struggle. Instead of giving us energy, these circumstances drain our energy. We’re full of questions, uncertainties, doubt. And it’s those experiences, those most unlikely places that have the greatest potential to change us. We may not have the energy to think about what God is teaching us through the struggle. It may take all the energy we have just to do our normal daily activities. So we may feel like we’re not learning anything and we may not be aware that God is working in us, but deep inside God is transforming us. Even during those times that seem so dry and unfruitful, we are growing and being changed into the likeness of Christ.
But transformation takes time. An alcoholic will tell you that giving up alcohol isn’t a one-time thing—it’s an ongoing choice to deny themselves something they enjoy, something that’s taken the sting out of whatever pain or disappointment they’ve experienced. What’s the first thing you say at an AA meeting? I’m so and so and I’m an alcoholic. It’s an acknowledgement of their weakness, that they have the potential to slip back into harmful practices of their past.
In Ephesians Paul tells us to put away our former way of life, our old self, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, to clothe ourselves with the new self. And in Romans Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” Transformation takes time. Whether we’re watching and praying for it in the lives of people around us or in our own lives, significant change takes time. It’s easy to think that one really good sermon, or one really intense experience will change our lives forever. And sometimes that’s the case, but more lasting change and more meaningful renewal comes not from one big experience that happens suddenly, but rather from a lot of hard work, painstakingly applied to something that really doesn’t look like it’s worth the effort. Change comes one choice at a time.
In the second part of the Ephesians passage that was read Paul tells us how to live this new life in Christ. He names a number of things–put away falsehood and speak the truth to your neighbours; in your anger, do not sin; let no evil talk come out of your mouth, but only what is useful for building up; put away all bitterness and slander and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us.
And who is Paul writing to here? He’s writing to Christians, not to unbelievers. So he’s addressing us—followers of Jesus—to put away our bitterness and anger, our hurtful words, our stealing, our desire for more, for the latest technology, the trendiest clothes, the stylish home. Put away those things that the world says are important, those things that do not matter, those attitudes that are un-Christlike, and put on truth, encouraging words, a tender heart, and forgiveness. Let us, as followers of Jesus, make our decisions based not on what choice brings us the best paycheck, highest status, and most comfortable life, but whether it would allow us to serve those in need.
As we strive to change, to be imitators of God instead of imitators of the world, it takes a hard work and perseverance. It’s making a conscious choice—one that might not feel fun or natural to us, but it’s who we were created to be. So how will you go about renewing your mind? What do you find helpful when your thoughts go in an unkind direction, or when life overwhelms your brain?
I was feeling overwhelmed this week by the task of writing this sermon. To be honest, it was the last thing I wanted to do. My mind was full of other things and I had no idea how I was going to pull anything together. So on Friday morning when I got up, I made the conscious decision to spend a little intentional God-time before jumping into writing. I played and sang a song of praise to God, read a short devotional and spent a few minutes in the quiet. It was probably a matter of 10 minutes and my mind and spirit felt renewed. In just that bit of slowing down, of connecting to God in a way that’s meaningful to me, God gave me what I needed to complete the work I was dreading.
I challenge you to commit yourself to renewing your mind in some way over the next weeks. Maybe it’s getting out in nature and being still before God, or reading something that will challenge and deepen your faith, maybe it’s taking a course through Ashland Seminary or one of our Mennonite seminaries online. We have endless opportunities for learning in this country. So make the most of them, but keep a humble attitude as you do so.
Knowledge can sometimes puff us up. Sometimes when we get more education we start to think of ourselves more highly than we ought and to look down on others who don’t have the same amount of knowledge. Paul warns us about that in Ephesians when he tells us to live in harmony with one another, not becoming haughty, and not claiming to be wiser than we are. So take time to renew your mind, to allow God to restore it to it’s original Christ-like beauty. And as you grow in knowledge, let it draw you to Christ.