Is it really possible to change? As the prophet Jeremiah put it more than 2,000 years ago, “Can a leopard change its spots?” Can a person change his or her basic nature? Can the cruel become kind? Can the vengeful become forgiving? Can the cowardly become courageous? Can the weak become strong? Can the world be made better? Can people change really?
It’s an important question, isn’t it? Our world is not what we want it to be. In our personal lives, we are not all we could be. That’s why at the beginning of each New Year, we make resolutions. We resolve to do better and better. But is there any hope? Can we change?
Albert Einstein once said that it’s easier to denature plutonium then it is to denature the evil spirit of man. Will Rogers once said with tongue-in-cheek, “You can’t say that civilization doesn’t advance ... for in every war they kill you in a new way.”
Some years ago Bruce Catton, who was editor of American Heritage and authority on the Civil War, spoke on the theme, “What 1861 has to say to us today.” In his address, he emphasized that while weaponry has changed over the past century, our biggest and most explosive problem has not – that is our own human nature. He said, “The chief problem in the world back then ... is the chief problem now – people, human nature!”
And then remember Jack Paar’s classic line: “Looking back, my life seems like one long obstacle race, with me as its chief obstacle!” Or as Pogo put it: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Many of us can relate to that, can’t we?
Well, what do you think? Is it really possible to change? The answer is yes! Of course! Absolutely! With God’s help, we can change! With God’s help, we can be made better! History documents it. Millions of people have experienced dramatic change in their lives. They have been redeemed, converted, turned around. We see it in the Scripture lesson.
Remember how the Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians and describes his own experience. He says: “You have heard of my former life ... how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it ... but then God called me by His grace ... and (later) it was said: He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
Talk about change! Read I Corinthians 13 – the love chapter – and try to imagine that the man who wrote those beautiful words was the same man who earlier had bitterly and violently persecuted people who disagreed with him. It’s one of the most dramatic conversions of all time, but the good news is that change is a wondrous possibility for all of us. We can, with the help of God, realize our dreams and remedy our defects.
First, there must be a desire, an intense desire to change. Do we really want to change? Have we really made up our minds to change? Are we truly willing to pay the price that it requires?
There is a humorous story about two Chicago men who had never been out of the city, who decided that they had just about “had it” with urban living. So they bought a ranch down in Texas. They decided they were going to live off the land like their ancestors.
The first thing they decided they needed in order to ranch was a mule. So they went to a neighboring rancher and asked him if he had a mule to sell. The rancher answered, “No, I’m afraid not.” They were disappointed, but they decided to stand around and visit with the rancher for a few moments. One of the men saw some watermelons stacked against the barn and asked the rancher, “What are those?”
The rancher, seeing that they were hopelessly city slickers, decided to have some fun. “Oh,” he answered, “Those are mule eggs.” The two city slickers were enthralled. “Mule eggs?” They asked. “Yes, mule eggs,” the rancher answered. “You take one of those big green eggs home and wait for it to hatch, and you’ll have a mule.”
The Chicagoans were overjoyed at this, and they offered to buy one of those mule eggs. They agreed on a fair price, put one of those watermelons in the back of their pick-up truck and headed down the bumpy country road toward their own ranch. But suddenly they hit an especially treacherous bump, and the watermelon bounced out of the pick-up truck, hit the road and burst open! Seeing in his rearview mirror what had happened, the driver turned his truck around and drove back to retrieve his mule egg.
Meanwhile, a bid old Texas jackrabbit was hopping by, and he saw this watermelon burst in the road and he hopped over to it. The jackrabbit was standing in the middle of that watermelon getting ready to feast when the two city slickers drove up. Seeing their mule egg burst open and the long-eared creature in the middle of it, one of the men shouted, “Look at that! Look at that! Our mule egg has hatched!”
But then, the jackrabbit took off, with the city slickers in hot pursuit. They chased him and chased him but finally could go no further, and they fell wearily to the ground, gasping for air while the jackrabbit sped off into the distance. Raising up on his elbow, one of the men said to the other, “Well, I guess we lost our mule.” The other man nodded grimly. “Yeah, but you know,” he said, “I’m not sure I wanted to plow that fast anyway!”
Well, that is the real question when we come to the matter of changing our lives, isn’t it? Do we want to? Do we really want to change? Do we want to plow that fast? Do we want to pay the price and make the sacrifices involved? Whether it’s going on a diet to lose weight or living God’s way or committing ourselves to better church attendance or more Bible Study or to serving God better, to being a kinder, more compassionate person, the key thing is to want to, to make up our minds, to have a real desire to change. There must be a genuine desire to change. That’s No. 1.
Second, we need divine help to change. That is, we need Divine Power, a power that is not our own, a power that comes only from God! That’s our hope. We can’t do it by ourselves, but God has the power to change us. The Apostle Paul knew that power, that dynamic. What happened to him on the Damascus road was so powerful that he couldn’t even find the words to adequately describe it. He just knew that God had exploded into his life, that God had a job for him and that he could never be the same again. The power of God made him a changed man.
Have you heard about the two ministers’ wives who sat mending their husbands’ pants? One of them said to the other, “My John, he is so discouraged in his church work. He feels overworked and unappreciated. Nothing seems to go right for him. He is seriously considering quitting.”
The other replied, “Why, my husband is just the opposite. He is so enthused, so thrilled. It seems the Lord is closer to him than ever.” A hushed silence fell as they continued to mend the trousers: one patching the knees and the other patching the seat!
If change is to come for us, first, we need the desire, and, second, we need divine help.
Third and finally, we need daring. We have to take a risk; we have to dare to take that first step. Getting started, daring to start is the hardest part. In theNew York Magazine, some time back was a cartoon entitled “Nanook Goes South.” The first frame shows Nanook in the cold, frigid north wearing his heavy parka. The second frame shows Nanook in the same outfit in the sunny south. He is sweating profusely, boiling in his parka. The caption reads, “Old habits die hard!” Old habit do die hard, but they will indeed die if we will dare to take the first step.
We can change! The formula is simple. There must be a desire. There must be divine help. And there must be a daring. But it can happen. By the grace of God and through the power of Christ, we can change, we can become a new person, we can be made better. It can happen!
Rev. Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.
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