True (and False) Transformation
Hank had been a Christian for 50 years. By the time I came to pastor Hank's church, he was an old cranky guy. He had been a member there since he was a young cranky guy.
Hank complained about his family, he complained about his job, and one day, he began to complain about the church's music. He stopped people in the church lobby—visitors, strangers—and said, "Don't you think the music in this church is too loud?" We sat him down and told him he had to stop that. I figured that was the end of it.
Several weeks later, I got a visit from a man from OSHA, the government agency that oversees safety in workplaces. I wondered, Why is someone from OSHA here to see me?
He began explaining dangerous decibel levels at airports and rock concerts. Then I realized what had happened. Hank couldn't get satisfaction anywhere else, so he called OSHA to report that the church's music was too loud!
I started laughing. I apologized to the OSHA agent for making light of the situation, but it just struck me as silly. The agent said, "You think you feel silly? Do you have any idea how much abuse I've taken at OSHA since everyone found out I was busting a church?"
Fifty years in the church hadn't brought a smile to Hank. He was just as grumpy as he had always been, maybe more.
How can we help people like Hank grow to be more like Christ?
Hank's lack of joy wasn't only his fault. He hadn't changed, perhaps because we didn't expect him to. We expected him to attend, to tithe, to serve, and to stay away from certain scandalous things. But we didn't expect transformation, significant change on the inside and outside.
Unfortunately, we hadn't helped him to change, either.
In Romans 12:2, "Be transformed by the renewing of your minds," the word translated transformed is metamorphoo, from which we get metamorphosis. Paul uses a variant of that word in Galatians 4:19, "Until Christ is formed in you" (emphasis added). The transformation God desires for us is a process of morphing into Christlikeness.
My son was once obsessed with the television show, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The teenagers on this show would yell, "It's morphing time," and then they would receive power to do extraordinary things.
I liked that so much I tried to use it at Hank's church. It wasn't a liturgical congregation, but I tried to teach the people a liturgy where I would say, "Let us morph." The people were supposed to respond, "We shall morph, indeed." They encouraged me to move to Chicago not long after that.
But for Christians, it is morphing time. When Jesus told us the kingdom of God was at hand, he wasn't referring to a someday promise beyond the pearly gates. The kingdom is supposed to be marked by changed lives and by the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, and so on. But our churches and pulpits are filled with people who, under the surface, are just as anxious or driven or unsettled or angry or unhappy or ego-fed as anyone outside the church.
Some years ago, a Christian leader wrote, ...
John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership Journal and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.