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Change.
by Rev. Dave Roberts.+

Jeff Freeman once told me two wise words of observation that I still see applied: ďPeople change.Ē Perhaps he said that after someone I thought I had really known turned out to be quite different. Now, here it is, 25 years since he said that, and I found it more evident than I ever would have thought.

I was talking with one of the fellows from Church of the Risen Christ last night and mentioned that I had been disappointed with people whom I had seen be really strong in their faith and their convictions only to cave in later on. The fellow to whom I said it is still in his early twenties and probably wouldnít be able to relate to that so I explained it this way: the longer you live, the more youíll see changes in people in one way or another. Let me give you a few examples from my own life: Andrew was an example to me of a Christian man who was a pillar in his church and, when I was a young believer, he showed the kind of compassion toward his wife and family that I would have wanted if I had a family. A few years later when I visited that church again, I asked where Andrew was.

ďAndrew? Oh, he left a couple of years ago. He had a tiff with the pastor and doesnít go anywhere now.Ē He had become sullen, didnít want to see anyone and died a few years later in a selfimposed isolation. It makes you wonder if he really knew the Lord or, if he did, did he have a choice to make somewhere to avoid becoming sour.

Beverly was an anointed preacher from a Black Pentecostal church who gave me a lot of encouraging words. She could move a congregation with a few simple phrases and had a singing voice that could catapult her to the lead of any choir. We had great fellowship anytime we got together but that all changed once she went on to a liberal seminary to get her Master of Divinity and, later, her doctorate. When I saw her some years later, the glow was gone, the anointing had left and she speaks more about politics and accuses anyone who disagrees with her of being a racist. This is not the Beverly I used to know.

When I was a new Christian, Russell was a real example to me. He was so dedicated to God, very patient with my questions as a new believer and was always journaling, even skipping classes to pray. He never did graduate, went into the Special Forces instead and, when we reconnected after three decades, I found him twice divorced and living an alternate lifestyle in Atlanta. He had changed from being a serious disciple of Jesus Christ, determined to go on the mission field or to become a pastor but became someone I didnít recognize at all. And when I asked him what had happened, he said, ďletís go for a beer.Ē I didnít and itís not because I donít like beer. (I donít).

Rodney had been a fellow student at my Christian college who had all of the God-talk and came from a multi-generational family of evangelicals. He is now a liberal chaplain, twice divorced and very arrogant. One wonders if he really ever knew Jesus at all but originally he had appeared to be so.

Leigh was a quiet kid who never quite recovered from his parentsí divorce when he was 11. He was an only child whom I befriended when he was 12 and I was 13 and we had some good times together. He was a good kid. Five years later I would become a Christian and when I tried to find him in Massachusetts a few years after that, he had turned into a biker, nearly got killed in The Bronx in a gang war, and ended up divorced with two sons and a heavy drinker. He finally was killed not long after in a car crash in Boston at 3 a.m. I wish I could have gotten to him sooner because I believe he might have become a Christian. After all, he had nothing else to live for and his life had no meaning. But he trusted me enough to hear me. I still wish now, more than forty years later, that I had made that trip to Norwood and found him when we still could have met up and talked it out.

OK, those are some of gloomy ones I could name. But here are some others: Barbara was from Providence and someone who grew up in a simpler time for being a minority person in the United States. After she went through some things to find her identity as a person, but most of all as a Christian, she married and had two daughters who are both now grown and living away from home.

For decades I watched her and her husband live sacrificially in a very bad part of New Haven and later in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. She has always hung on to hope and her conversation has always been Christ-centered. She might seem like an anachronism to some in todayís churches because she is still a believer in holiness both in dress and conduct but she has lived a life of giving to others by example through more than a couple of ministries that she founded or accepted.

In spite of suffering from occasional migraines that can put her down for days, and enduring the vicissitudes of life that anyone else would, she is still the same today as she was when we first met in 1962. No, thatís not quite true; she is wiser and more fruitful than she was before because she took whatever she was dealt with in life and went with it. Matt & Margaret left their homes in Scotland and England, respectively, and moved to France where they became French citizens and worked with the same mission board they did at the beginning as they do now Ė four decades later. They have planted countless churches in a country where there are so few Christian believers that, as they say, ďIf you put all of the Christians in France into all of the phone booths in the country, youíd still have empty phone booths.Ē They raised their sons in a Godly way and both of them are serving Jesus Christ in missions in France and Cambodia. How did they change in the thirty-two years Iíve known them? Iím not sure except that theyíre now proud grandparents but they are continuing to look for new places in which to establish or build-up Christian churches in a country that is spiritually dark. In their case, some people donít change. Pretty good for being in their seventies.

John lived here for a short while while he was healing up from a divorce and after a few months he returned to his home state. I didnít know that anything lasting really happened to him in the eight months he was here at Holy Trinity because he still seemed to be angry about things in his past that I didnít know how to address after a point. And the fact that he wouldnít get a haircut bothered me but I let that go because, while he was here, I had to choose my battles and we all know that at times like that, you have to deal with the bigger fish to fry. Therefore, and I donít know if he knows why either, but in my most recent conversation with him, I found out that John is now a home group leader and hosts a Bible study in an evangelical church. From the sound of it, he is more practiced at being an elder than the elders in his church. They are asking him for counsel in the absence of a pastor at this time. I told him that the thing he swore he never wanted to become Ė a pastor, is already coming into place and he admitted that it was. I canít say it happened this way because of his time here but I can say that, in his case, ďpeople change,Ē and he certainly has. I didnít see that one coming.

And when I first met ďAlanĒ some years ago, he was working in his dadís gas station, was dropping a lot of acid, (LSD), and was a 300-pound bruiser with whom you wouldnít want to tangle. I was there the night God filled him with the Holy Spirit and watched a change that today has led him to a position of leadership in his church. His life, and the life of his wife, is all about Jesus Christ and how to make Him known. And they do, by example. And heís been an example to me of what God can do in a personís heart.

OK, enough with the examples already. I guess Iím writing this because there is something more Iíve learned from almost six full decades of life than just wisdom. You start to look at othersí lives, at least I do, as though Iím reading several different novels at the same time. Everyone has a story and thatís because their life is a story. We donít know the end from the beginning and, in the case with people, you canít know unless God has revealed it to you prophetically. And that would be both rare and still patchy knowledge if you were ever party to it. No, it is a fascinating study, although at times tragic and disappointing, to see how God has brought each person along and how they either respond to or reject Him.

Iím seeing more clearly now that God does give plenty of opportunities to people to break out of their rut than I did when we asked the question, ďbut what about people whoíve never heard of the Lord,Ē in bull-sessions we had in the college dorm at night. Heís given them openers all along and Heís given them to you too if you will stop, look and meditate on where your life has gone and where Jesus intersected it in several instances. Better to meditate now than medicate later! Because, in looking back over your life, you can see Godís hand of mercy, grace and deliverance more than you may want to give Him credit for. Donít curse your life! If it was rough, it wasnít Godís fault and He has demonstrated to me, by watching the lives of others, over and over again how He rescued them from despair and meaninglessness. Why have a wasted life just because you want to sit and whine about it rather than seizing the opportunity to escape it now? This is where your addictions and ruts become chances for change once you decide youíre sick of having them determine the course of your life.

Youíre never too old to change, especially if youíre in a life thatís going nowhere. What would you have to lose? A habit? A bad attitude? Self-hatred? Fear of death? Fear itself?

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews said, ďJesus Christ, The Same yesterday, today and forever.Ē (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus does not change. We are the ones called to change and that is what I look for whenever anyone tells me theyíve become a Christian. A fellow phoned me a month ago to tell me that a fellow heís discipling was upset because his brother was going to get baptized in a church but his brother is a full hypocrite and probably is only doing it because this church requires baptism. Itís a badge of identity that evidently holds no eternal merit and the church in question seems to care more about the numbers of baptisms than they do the character of the candidate.

No, there has to be a change and I look for it. As cited above, I showed how I was shocked to see how some ended up Ė people I thought were spiritual giants whose lives are now shipwrecked. I never would have seen it coming. Yet others who, in spite of any adversity, pressed on to change into a greater example of what Jesus can do with a life that is wholly committed to Him. And sometimes it takes decades to see the changes, for good or for bad. Thatís why most of the people I mentioned above were folks I had known from when I first became a Christian or soon after Ė nearly fifty years of observation.

In my 49 years as a Christian believer, I want to assure you that I have watched a relationship with Jesus Christ effect changes in the lives of people with serious addictions to bad behavior and even just the ordinary ďnice-guyĒ types who thought they really didnít think they were that bad but realized that without Jesus, theyíre just as lost as Saddam Hussein was (who died cursing).

God is calling some of you to make a decisive change and become Christians. Yes, I am aware that there are a number of you who read this newsletter each month who have never really given Him the right to save you. He is willing. You are able. And Iím available to talk with you about it. Call me at 801+718-2524. This operator is standing by! If the line is busy, try again.

Best of all, while I might be having good days and not-so-good days or my line might be busy, Jesus is never-changing and is always available. Isnít it reassuring to know that there is a God Who, unlike the gods of the world that are often capricious and made in manís image, is The One Who does not change His Mind toward you but has always given you opportunities to know Him? He doesnít want your acknowledgement of Him; He wants your heart Ė for your good, because your heart, like you, needs a change.

And that, for you, like it was for me, would be good Ė ďfor a change.Ē

© Copyright 2011 by Dave Roberts

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