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There was a guy who bought a parrot that reportedly talked a lot. He got the parrot home and found that the parrot not only talked a lot, but his speech was peppered with profuse profanity. Being a Christian man, he tried to get the parrot to change his ways by teaching him new words, but try as he might, the parrot kept cussing up a storm. Finally, out of frustration, he threatened his pet parrot, “You say one more cuss word and I’m going to put you in the freezer.” However; it wasn’t long before the parrot blurted out another profanity, so the man grabbed the bird, opened the freezer put him in, and closed the door. After about five minutes, he heard the parrot cry out, “OK, OK! I give up! Let me out! I promise I won’t cuss anymore.” So the man removed the desperate bird from the freezer. Greatly relieved, the parrot said as he shivered, “I just have one question: ‘What the heck did the chicken do?’”
Like the guy who tried to force his pet parrot to change, many times we try to force people to change. Sometimes preachers engage in such a fruitless effort. I say fruitless because the truth is, effective and meaningful change usually only occurs when someone like you or I choose to change. And that doesn’t happen very often.
Change? People say, “Leave me alone; why should I change? I like myself the way I am, change is hard, change takes work. I don’t have the desire to self-evaluate. I don’t have the time or the energy to change.
If any of this so far rings true for anyone here, I have good news for you today; especially if you are a believer and follower of Christ Jesus, the Lord.
For the Bible truth is that not long after we become Christians; positive changes begin to occur in our lives despite ourselves because they are motivated by God’s Spirit given to the new believer.
Sometimes these changes are immediate and enormous and are indicative of the probability that we have been a rather dastardly person. I remember after I came to Christ I was enabled by God’s grace and the work of His Spirit to quit swearing immediately. (And no one had to put me in a freezer to make it happen).
Most often; however, the changes occur more slowly and are more subtle. The good news is, if that’s the way change has happened and is happening to you it is likely that you were not a despicable person to begin with.
But to be sure, after we have accepted Christ, and we begin to draw near to Him, we begin to become more like Him. We begin to think and then behave in ways that Jesus did, even if we don’t notice the changes in growth.
This past week, when we saw 16-month-old grandson, Elliot, we said, “Wow, he’s really grown since we saw him last” which was just a couple months ago. And his parents replied, “Really, you think so?”
And the reason, of course, is that it’s hard to perceive changes on a daily basis. Similarly, we, or people who see us every day may not perceive incremental changes in our Christ-like thinking and behaving.
When we don’t see growth in Christ occurring, it can be discouraging and we may even want to give up on drawing near to God through worship, prayer, and scripture. Just remember, that you may not see the changes in the short term, but if we are believers and followers of Christ, and will keep seeking Him we WILL become more and more like Him over the long haul.
For as Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, (4:16) “we never give up for though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day” (NLT). Or as the NIV has it: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, (we all know what that’s about) yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” I like the Good News Version even better: “For this reason we never become discouraged. Even though our physical being is gradually decaying, yet our spiritual being is renewed day after day.”
I hope and pray that this truth encourages you to either begin or continue to earmark some of your personal time toward drawing closer to God.
For when it comes to bringing about change to become more and more like Jesus, God is on our side and promises that by His grace, if we will draw near to Him through spending time in His word and reflecting upon its application for our lives through solitude and prayer, we will, with time, change to become better human beings. And who among us wouldn’t want to become a better person?
A woman was talking about the change in her life as a result of following Christ. She declared, “I’m so glad I became a Christian. I have an uncle I used to hate so much I vowed I’d never go to his funeral. But now, why, I’d be happy to go to it any time.”
In a study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers discovered that when you lose yourself in a work of fiction, your thoughts and even your behavior can be transformed to match those of your favorite character. Dr. Lisa Libby of the Ohio State University suspected that when people read a fictional story, they vicariously experience their favorite character’s emotions, thoughts and beliefs in a process that’s been dubbed ‘experience-taking.’ And her research indicated her premise was true and that just reading about fictional characters can change us for the good. Sadly for some of us who would take the shortcut, she also found the effect only occurs when reading the written word and not when we watch a movie. 1
Shortly after becoming a teenager, I got hooked on comic books; Marvel, not DC and my favorite Marvel character was Spider-Man. I couldn’t wait for next month’s edition of Spidey to hit the newsstands. I dreamed of having Spidey-sense, becoming a web-slinger, and climbing up walls. I recall there was a time when my parents or grandparents would take me to the Springfield Church of the Brethren and I would sit there bored to tears as Rev. Naylor droned on and on. So to relieve my boredom, my thoughts would turn to my hero. And I would imagine being Spider-man right in that sanctuary and how all the people would be amazed if I climbed up the brick wall behind the pulpit and began to swing from chandelier to chandelier. To be sure, despite my desire, I was not able to mimic Spider-man’s super-human behaviors but his behaviors were certainly in my thoughts.
If reading about fictional characters can have such a life-changing effect on us, how much more could we be impacted by reading and identifying with the real lives of the heroes and heroines chronicled in the Scriptures; especially our Lord?
This would be “experience-taking” at its best!
When was the last time you opened a Bible to read the real-life stories of people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Paul?
Or when was the last time you read one of the four gospels which tell the story of the greatest superhero of all time; the Lord Jesus? What a thrill it is to turn to Matthew chapters five, six and seven and give an ear as the Master preaches the sermon on the Mount.
Or to in one setting quickly reading through the 16 chapters of the gospel of Mark where the author’s intent is to capture our imaginations by rapidly telling the story of Jesus’ ministry and passion.
And then there is Luke, who has us cheering and high fiving each time Jesus offers an invitation to His Kingdom to people we’d least expect: a Roman soldier, a prostitute, the lost son, and the thief who died beside Him.
And then last but not least, there’s the gospel according to John who draws us in by pairing the miracles of Jesus with His enthralling “I am” sayings:
the feeding of the 5,000 paired with the “I am bread of life” discourse
the healing of a blind man and “I am the light of the world”
the raising of His friend Lazarus and “I am the resurrection and the life”
to name three that go along with today’s text . . .
“I am the vine and you are the branches; remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in Me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (John 15:5-6)
Jesus brings the most beneficial changes to our lives. Everyone who comes to Christ comes as a babe; not knowing much about the walk of faith. But the Bible teaches us that by His grace, as we draw near to Christ He begins to change us from the inside out. He transforms us; He makes us look more and more like Himself.
Gail and I left our home last Sunday afternoon and didn’t return until Thursday evening. Even in that short amount of time, when we got back we could tell that the air in our home was a little stale. And so the first thing we did was to throw open the windows and doors to allow fresh air to flow in and fill the house.
When we open the windows of our hearts and draw near to Christ in full assurance of His love and grace and begin to hang out with Him in the scriptures and through prayer, He flows in and refreshes our souls and fills us with His Spirit of love and power, enabling us to become better fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and colleagues.
Andrew Murray, the well-known 19th-century pastor and author of 240 books wrote: “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him.” 2
And I would add that on the other hand, we must assume full responsibility when we refuse to yield our lives to Him.
Which begs the question: how are we doing at yielding to Him? And perhaps a follow-up question may apply to some here: Have you ever bowed the knee to Christ?
For as I draw to a close I must remind us that when we’re talking about growing as Christians and developing Christ-like character, we’re not talking about how we can ‘earn’ God’s approval. For no matter how many spiritual jumping jacks we do they will never be able to make up for sin in our lives; sin which acts as a barrier between us and God. But the main reason Jesus came into the world was to give His life on the cross as the only means by which can be forgiven.
For as Paul informs us in Romans, chapter 3: vs. 22, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. And again in vs. 25, “People are made right with God when they have faith that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding his blood.”
John Newton wrote, author of Amazing Grace, wrote: “I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’” 3
2 https://www .whatchristianswanttoknow….