I stayed in a hotel named after Calvin Coolidge's dad and the room where the son/president stayed had no number on it--he was a bit suspicious. I visited Emily Dickinson's house--that was a treat. I adore her poetry and to step into her world was lovely. I was privileged to read one of her poems to the tour group.
I suppose my affinity with Emily is how nature was her schoolhouse, and the lessons she learned about life, death, God and immortality take my breath away. I, too, have lived in the mountains above Boise, Idaho, and have learned much about God, His character, life and love and how His hand is never too far from His creation: "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear." (Is. 59:1)
So, as we drove through New England, and saw the beautiful fall colors of the trees, I kept asking the Lord, "What do you want me to learn from this?" Then, this morning, looking at my previous blog post about how we deal with people who are not aligning their lives with Biblical norms, it hit me: change is slow, uneven, and sometimes rather hidden for awhile.
As my pastor points out, we are quick to shower a new believer with God's forgiveness, but we are even quicker to throw them under the Condemnation Bus when after a while, their lives are not aligning with Biblical norms. Yet Romans 8:1-14 sounds the clarion call:
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
I quote this long portion for a reason. It outlines the transformative process that we all undergo once we are born again. It takes time for us to live according to Christ in us. He provides the power; we must surrender each and every area of our lives to His lordship. Some areas of our lives may be instantly conformed to Him; others will take time. So, let's allow the trees of New England to illustrate the process.
Look at this tree. Half is in glorious color; the other half still speaks of summer and spring, with just a hint of fall colors. Why haven't the tree's leaves all turned at the same time? One side was closer to some other trees; the other side was fully uninfluenced by other trees. It had more direct sunlight but also more direct contact with the chilled air. Within this one tree is a variety of color.
Doesn't this speak to our walk in Christ? We have surrendered certain areas of our lives to His lordship and the glorious color of His power is evident. We have not surrendered other areas and they still speak of the old nature, the old us. We are changing, yes, but at an uneven rate. Christ wants all of me, but not all of me wants Christ.
Here is a group of trees, all next to each other. Only one is showing evidence of the change, even though all the trees are nourished by the same soil and receive the same amount of light each day.
Not too dissimilar from church, is it? We sit with others who seem not to evince Christ's work in them, even though they are hearing the same pastor's message and fellowship with the same people week after week. We show the power of Him in our lives and expect others to be experiencing the same rate of change that we have.
But these trees have taught me a valuable lesson: Change is uneven in myself. It is equally so in others.
So, what do we do with those people? We trust that the same loving God who is infinitely patient with us is likewise with them; if we don't see the change, pray that it will come through an obedient heart. Pray for such a heart. Condemnation never won anyone over.
The church will face those people in every generation. Why? Because human nature needs to be transformed by Christ in every generation, regardless of the sin that is being expressed. He wants us to reflect His glorious power and presence and can only do so with surrendered hearts.