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Posted: 7/8/2015
Can I Let Go? ... and Let God?
God's Transforming Love: Do We Want It?
Butterfly: Taken from website:

Like many churches, my church has one of those "Who We Are" statements on its service bulletin, an attempt to capture the essence of the local body in one or two statements. (See our full statement below.Who We Are: The Church of the Good Samaritan is an Episcopal Church within the greater Anglican Communion that seeks to be a biblically faithful congregation, transformed by God's love, and empowered to serve our neighbor.) I wasn't a part of the church when our statement was developed; but, I understand, as with many such statements, the final words were not without controversy.

Apparently, one phrase in particular produced significant differences of thought: ... transformed by God's love,..... As I understand it, some folks felt strongly that emphasizing transformed de-emphasized the belief that God accepts and loves us just as we are. Others wanted to stress the need for us to be transformed, to become more Christ-like.

I'd assume the actual debate was deeper than it appears to me long after the fact, but I don't see this as an either/or proposition. From a point of view of scripture and church history, it seems a given that God loves and accepts us "just as we are." Accepting Christ (and being accepted by Christ) requires no pre-conditions of righteousness, special knowledge, or right connections. Saint, sinner: God loves and accepts us ... just as we are.

But, it also seems clear that we are not to remain just as we are. We are to open ourselves to God and let God change ... transform! ... us. Realizing we will never "arrive", we know we are to change. To me, that is what discipleship is all about. We are to turn our lives over to Christ and allow him to mold us in his image. And, transforming is to be ongoing, not a one-time event. But, do we really want to be transformed? Are we willing to really let God transform us?

The seed for this Reflection was a discussion in my Friday Men's Breakfast group (The Bellis Boys). Someone asked whether we had anyone who seemed to be a mentor for us in our faith journey. Some had good recollections, a few others not so good experiences. The latter remembered mentors who cared but were somewhat controlling.

The discussion caused me to wonder: Do we really want God to do the transforming, or do we want to do it? Are we content to help lead a person to a loving relationship with Christ and let Christ do the transforming? Or do we feel the need to spell out the steps and results of transformation? Do we trust God in Christ to transform the other ... or do we presume to know the desired results? Do I want to prod the process of transformation to ends where God leads; or, do I really want to transform the other into my image? Do I make room for God to mold, or do I have my own preconceived goals for that person? Tougher than it might seem; but, do I trust God?

In Life Together, German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarizes the difficulty well:

"God does not want me to model others into the image that seems good to me, that is, into my own image. Instead, in their freedom from me God made other people into God's own image. I can never know in advance how God's image should appear in others. That image always takes on a completely new and unique form whose origin is found solely in God's free and sovereign act of creation. To me that form may seem strange, even ungodly. But God creates every person in the image of God's Son." (Life Together, pp. 100-101.)

We do have a role to play with mentoring and shepherding the other, and we are called to do so. But, do we trust God to do the transforming? Do we allow God to lead our friend down paths we don't think are right ones? (Or at least paths we would not have chosen for our friend.) "No, no! You have to do it this way!"

Somewhat related, I have found it curious that parents will spend thousands of dollars to send a child to college, and then bemoan that the educational experience resulted in changed views on life and adoption of some different values. (Or worst of all, has changed political parties!) Shouldn't we expect (and maybe desire) education and exposure to a broader world to bring about change?

As churches, we often take on the challenge (as an institution) to be transformed. We ask God to transform us. "Transform "Churches don't need new members half so much as they need the old bunch made over."
Billy SundayWilliam Ashley "Billy" Sunday (November 19, 1862 - November 6, 1935) was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball's National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century.
and revive our church, Lord!" But, as with mentoring, do we really want God to do that? At least in the way and areas God might want to transform us? Do we listen to God as the spirit tries to help us discern financial goals for a new year; but, turn a deaf ear to the spirit's prodding toward deeper transformation that might lead to a social values position that would not sit well with a few of the pillars of our church? Do we really want God to examine and transform us? Do we trust God?

And what about ourselves? As Christians we want transformation; we ask Christ to come into our lives and transform us. We know we are not who we should be. Transform us Lord! We even pay good money to go on retreats where on the mountain top we can open ourselves to God's transforming love and power.

I wonder though. Perhaps I'm alone in this area of self-examination, but, I doubt it. I do pray ... sincerely, I think ... for transformation. God, change me! But, if I am honest, I know I put out a major caveat: Let me identify those places where I want transformation. Please, God, work on me to make me a more attentive husband, help me focus on my spouse's needs, not mine. Transform me to be a better listener to those who tend to bore me. I realize that's a weakness. As a boss, I know I'm too controlling. Help me be the boss who understands and supports. Transform me, Lord!

But, don't go too far, Lord. You know I want to be a more inclusive person; but, let me decide those groups and individuals I want to include. And, Lord, I'd rather you stay away from my political positions. As we know, politics and religion don't mix well; let's not go there. And please don't suggest transforming some of my long-held religious beliefs. They are part of me and how others see me. I'm afraid you might unmask some of them and show them as just the deep biases and prejudices they really might be. How would I explain a change of view to my friends? Transform me, Lord; but, let's work together on this transformation plan.

And, do I realize that God's transformation in me may not always be a bolt-of-lightening type process. God's work may take time. Do I listen to those stirrings that God has seemed to have placed on my heart? Might God be using some reoccurring news events to spur me to think about the values I have developed over time? Is God asking me to think about some types of people in a new way? When I have such feelings, do I have the courage to ask, "God, are you trying to tell me something? Is there something you want me to think about?" Do I really want to hear God? Or do I want to decide what I want to hear?

Examine Me Maybe the problem is that I'm really not looking for God's transformation. What I want is to "feel" transformed. I'll be satisfied with the warmth of feeling transformed. I don't want to feel upset; don't want some crisis of faith; don't want to think that my path hasn't always been yours, God.

The reality is that if we want God to transform us, we need to be open to God's transforming love through and through ... over the long haul. Frances Havergal's great hymn, Take My Life and Let It Be, Consecrated Lord to Thee, puts into words the need to allow God to transform all aspects of our lives. Yes, even those areas where transformation might feel difficult or impossible. Or toward a change I am afraid of right now and don't want. Says the hymn: "Take my moments and my days; Take my hands; Take my feet; Take my silver and my gold ..." And even, "Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose; Take my will; Take my heart; Take myself, and I will be, Ever, only, all for Thee." (See Resources below for more about this hymn.)

As we pray for transformation in others, transformation in our churches, and our own transformation, do we trust God enough to welcome God's transforming spirit ... one hundred percent? "God's Transforming Love: Do We Want It?" Do I want it? Am I willing to let go?

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Resources Related To this Reflection

Church group singing a standard version of the hymn "Take My Life and Let it Be ...", with lyrics.
Words to the hymn "Take My Life and Let it Be ...", along with story of Frances Havergal's inspiration for it.

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