Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Jesus Changes Lives?

Yesterday as I was sitting at a red light, I noticed a van parked at a convenience store. This van was completely unremarkable—it was one of those white work vans, but on the doors, in neatly stenciled letters an aqua blue color were the words “JESUS CHANGES LIVES.” My first thought in response to this statement was “amen.” As the light changed to green and I eased off down the road with the rest of the traffic, I began to think that, no, that statement wasn’t quite right. Yes, the presence of Jesus in one’s life creates definite changes, and his father can definitely change a person’s character, but really, much of the change that a person experiences when deciding to follow Jesus comes from within.

Being a follower of Jesus is a daily decision to take my focus off of myself and tune my attention to matters of his kingdom. This is not an easy task. Naturally, my thoughts gravitate toward obtaining those things that will give me immediate comfort and pleasure. But Jesus was constantly thinking about the comfort and well-being of others. For me to do the same requires a conscious shifting of my way of thinking, a real sacrifice of my thoughts and time. Jesus told his would-be disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.” This means that I have to make a choice to set aside all my concerns about daily life—what to have for dinner, when the truck payment is due, how high the price of gas is, how to schedule all of my activities and appointments—and pick up a new burden to carry around. But the cool thing is that Jesus tells me that the burden he wants me to carry is much lighter than all the junk that I carry around now. If I quit thinking about myself and how I’m going to get ahead, and instead focus on the needs of others, I’ll find that I’ll be content with just simple day-to-day living.

The words on the van door are true, but also a little deceptive. When I decide to follow Jesus, he doesn’t just swoop in and, presto-change-o, my life is different. The change comes over time as I adjust my lifestyle and way of thinking to match his.

12 comments:

Tony Arnold said...

JMG, I remember you mentioning you are not active in "church" anymore. That is too bad, because you should be preaching.

Oops, I forgot you are a woman. Never mind. ;-)

Tony

JMG said...

Gosh, Tony, thanks!

But people would have to wear steel toed shoes to my church.

Tony Arnold said...

Because you would be stepping on toes with your sermons?

Tony

JMG said...

Yep!

Sadly, I step on my own toes all the time.

Preston said...

In light of your post, what would you say if you were to write something on your car? "Jesus Changes Your Perspective," or maybe "Jesus Changes Your Priorities?"

I agree with your post, by the way. Unfortunately, some folks look around at all the pain and think that the presence of pain and suffering says something negative about the nature of God or the effectiveness of Jesus. Like maybe he hasn't changed lives at all. I'm thankful for guys like Francois de Fenelon who is helping me see that God works through suffering, he is present there, and he has borne it for our sakes. In that way, suffering shows us something very positive about God's nature, so much so that we can rejoice in our sufferings. If that's not a radically changed perspective, I don't know what would be.

JMG said...

Preston, as a general rule, I don't put any writing on my truck, but how about "Jesus Will Adjust Your Attitude"?

Gee, why'd you have to bring up suffering? Maybe I should change my slogan to "Jesus Will Mess You Up." :-)

Tony Arnold said...

Jesus clearly warned that taking up the cross would produce suffering and pain, but we would gain our lives through it.

We don't like pain and suffering so we just skip this part of the Gospels. And if we don't skip it, we blow it off as it was not meant literally.

Tony

JMG said...

Suffering sucks, if I may be so blunt, but I'm to the point that if that's what it takes to hear "Well done good and faithful servant" I'll endure it. (But I'll probably still complain about it.)

jettybetty said...

Can I must AMEN everything said here really loudly?? It might not be the most popular theology, but I think you are right on. I'm not really sure people would need steel toed shoes to listen to you JMG--probably some people would have worn them to listen to Jesus (if they had such in Biblical times)--but He just kept preaching anyway!!! Please keep telling it like it is!!!

JB

Tony Arnold said...

JMG, I think one of the best essays on understanding pain and suffering I have read is the chapter "The Word of the Cross" in Thomas Merton's No Man Is an Island.

Check it out at your library and see what you think. Shouldn't take you long to read through the chapter and get a feel for it.

Tony

jettybetty said...

JMG--I thought about you so much last night--our lesson was on courage--and over and over we heard "so much of the time you have to step on toes!!". So, I will just consider you courageous if you step on a few toes!! You go girl!!!

I also love your comments on my current post--18 year olds do think they know it all--soooo opinionated--and it is such a delight to see them figure out who they are and it's just down right EXCITING to see them understand just a wee bit of God's call for them. I get chills just thinking about it. I can retire in 4 years--and I pray God will use me in college ministry somehow!!

Blessings!
JB

George said...

Love all that is being said and discussed. In our ultra individualism of American culture we miss a lot as that kind of individualism is not biblical. C.S. Lewis' idea of hell was a place were people live far apart from each other. We tend to choose friends who have similar interest, taste and personalities. Jesus died for the church and choose the church and the church will be the bride he welcomes. The church is the new community of Christ's that he gave His life for. It is that community that we belong too only because of Jesus not because the other people are people we might choose to be friends with. It is where we learn to live with and love others in spite of differences, failures and sin. The witness of the church has been that they know we are Christians by our love. Hope you find a community of believers to commit yourself to. You have much to offer others and to receive from others.
George