Change is Possible

Friday, December 27, 2019

In my neighborhood, there's a white kidnapper van that attracts all kinds of attention. Parked on the street, the van is covered with homemade stickers with just about every controversial word known to the year 2019 in bold, block letters: "NRA," "THE BEAST," "666," "TRUMP 2020," "GOP," "DEMOCRATS LIE" ... Every time I run or bike by it I look for new stickers I hadn't noticed before. It's quite the sight to behold. I could sell tickets.

The last time I jogged by it, however, I almost missed it. To my great surprise, all of the stickers had been taken down from the van, except for one: "JESUS SAVES".

How did this van go from political evangelism to Jesus evangelism? Since this transformation, I've concocted several hypothetical explanations for what happened. Maybe this person realized that associating any political affiliation with Jesus harmed the message of the gospel. Maybe this person realized that neither Trump nor the NRA can save us. Or maybe I'm being way too idealistic and this person just got tired of printing off new stickers to keep up with all of our nation's crazy political developments. I have no clue what the motivation was, but one thing is certain: something changed.

This now-blank van reminds me of one important truth in our Christian faith:

Change is possible.

You see, we expect many things from people who profess to follow Christ. We expect them to attend church regularly and to tithe at least 10% of their income. We expect them to read their Bibles and pray on a daily basis. We expect them to serve and to join small groups.

But do we expect that showing up at church and living life with flawed and broken people is going to change us into people who love God's people more? Do we expect that tithing is going to change our minds from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality? Do we expect that reading God's Word and praying is going to change us so that we intimately know God and are able to discern his voice?

Do we anticipate that these practices will lead to change? Do we expect the Holy Spirit to work through them in order to change us?

Do we just believe that "Jesus saves"... or do we believe that Jesus saves and changes?

It's taken me an embarrasingly long time to realize that I can't will myself into change. Truth is certainly necessary for change, but I can't will myself into believing it and living differently because of it. Information alone does not produce transformation. If that were the case, we'd be the most changed people in history thanks to all the information we can instantly access! For all of us who are achievers, this is bad news. It means that trying harder or applying more effort won't make us changed people.

Spiritual maturity happens at God's initiative rather than by our own pushing and pulling.

In John 15:1-8, Jesus instructs his followers that he is the vine and they are the branches. "If you remain in me and I in you," he says, "you will bear much fruit" (v. 5). Remaining in Jesus, dwelling in God's presence - this is the key to change.

God's truth changes us, but only when we invite the Spirit to make us receptive to the work that God wants to do in us. God invites all of us to open ourselves to his presence, to quit striving and to just be still and know.

Honestly, based upon the stickers, I never would have expected that the owner of that van could change. I had my mind made up about who they were and what they could or could not do. But this visible transformation gives me hope. If a van can be wiped clean of its unyielding, political messaging, then there's hope for me, too.

God is not finished with me yet. God continues to wipe me clean of the ways that I refuse to yield to his Spirit. He's removing all of my messaging and agendas that are not aligned with his kingdom. In his loving grace, he is inviting me to continue to change.

Because the God who comes to me can change me in ways I cannot manage by myself.

Advent: Welcoming Jesus in All His Strangeness

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A few weeks ago, I was flying out of the Chicago airport and found myself sitting next to an elderly woman named Joann. Have you ever met someone and somehow knew right away that they were a treasure-trove of depth and experience? This 81-year-old woman was one of those instant connections for me. I initiated conversation, and before you knew it we were laughing over her story of getting run over by a nun at the Vatican and my story of throwing up in the Church of the Nativity (and then fleeing). We were at one point laughing so hard that I feared a flight attendant would come and tell us to quiet down.

Before we disembarked, Joann offered to give me a ride to my next destination and even kindly offered her home for me to stay the night. She wrote down both her home and cell phone numbers on a napkin so I could call her if I ever came back to Kansas City (she wants to take me out to dinner and give me a tour of all of her favorite parts of KC).

I left that plane that day in awe over this stranger's kindness and hospitality. She didn't really even know me. I wasn't "her people" - I was from a strange place called Columbus, Ohio. And yet she genuinely cared enough about me to invite me into her world. I don't know if I'll ever find myself back in KC, but there's great comfort in knowing that I already have a friend there.

Ever since this interaction, I haven't been able to stop thinking about how much hospitality has to do with Advent. 

I think about how Mary had to travel from her hometown of Nazareth all the way to Bethlehem, where she stayed with Joseph's extended family in their courtyard (not a barn at an inn as we tend to imagine). Even though they were technically family, they were strangers to the newly-wed Mary (and maybe even to Joseph).

I think about how the shepherds came to welcome this new baby, even though they were complete strangers to this visiting family. How chaotic it must have been to have a band of strangers packed together with Joseph's family in the tiny courtyard! Yet, Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

And then Jesus grew up, and I think about all the times that Jesus was denied hospitality. Baby Jesus was welcomed with open arms, but adult Jesus was chased out of towns, scorned by the rich and the powerful, and ultimately killed in a way that was reserved for the most shameful of crimes.

Advent reminds us that Jesus became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. But it also reminds us that we did not receive him. Jesus was born in the world that he made, yet "the world did not recognize him" (John 1:10-14).

We as a culture tend to love the "holy infant so tender and mild," but adult Jesus is more difficult to contend with. Adult Jesus challenges our priorities, our motives, our hearts, our wants. Adult Jesus scatters those who are proud and brings down rulers from their thrones. Adult Jesus fills the hungry but sends the rich away empty (Luke 2:51-53).

We can relate to baby Jesus, tender and mild, but adult Jesus is a stranger to us from a very, very strange place.

But, oh, how I long to be like Joann! How I long to have a heart that overflows with generosity toward that which is strange. How I long to invite Jesus and all his wild kingdom ways into my world. How I long for Jesus to know that he has place here on earth with me.

How I long to extend radical hospitality so that Jesus, in all his strangeness, becomes that which is most familiar. 

Before he left this earth, Jesus talked about how he was going away to prepare a place for his followers (John 14:1-4). Jesus understands very well what hospitality means. But maybe Advent is an opportunity for our hearts to "prepare him room," too.

And when we prepare room for both baby Jesus and adult Jesus, all of heaven and nature sing.

Latest Instagrams

© Christina Bohn. Design by FCD.