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The Experience Of Transformation

People in the world, Christian or non-Christian, religious or not, perform deeds and kind acts all the time. Yes, some more than others, but there are, in fact, good deeds being done all the time—people feeding people, serving people, saving people. In contrast, being done all the time as well are hideous crimes against individuals and society as a whole. On a daily basis to varying degrees and in many different ways, people hurt people.

In any case, it is nearly impossible, especially today, to separate the thing that a person does in any given moment, good or bad, from the experiences in that person’s life that led up to that action. “I ran a 5k to benefit breast cancer research.” Why? “My mother died two years ago from the disease.” “I told a friend that she should leave her husband.” Why? “Because I’ve experienced the hell she’s going through … I know …” “I shot and killed three classmates today.” Why? “They made fun of me too many times.”

We all have personal "certainties” that we count as absolute truth that are based on our experiences. We act as if we have no control over what those past experiences are going to make us do. Often, we attempt to use this truth-like idea to our advantage. This defense has become almost cliché in our justice system. They were driven to kill by the abuse they experienced as a teenager. They were driven to steal by their cultural background and standing. They were driven to gang participation by never having felt loved. What experiences are believers driven by? Any and all? What was the defining event in our lives that causes our daily defining reactions? Is it guilt from our pastors? Is it an exaggerated sense of obligation our churches impose on us? Is it peer pressure? Is it a lack of significance that drives us to be a part of the family of God, even though we hate to serve? Is it a fear of saying no? Is it a greed for the big bucks available in vocational ministry?

For Paul, it was the road to Damascus. He was on his way to take Christians captive. Everything leading up to that moment “called” him to that mission. Earlier, he had witnessed the passionate speech of Stephen, a Greek man who waited tables and loved his Lord. Saul gave approval for his stoning. And he set out to witness more deaths like this—the fall of this new, crazy religion at the hands of God’s real chosen people. But a flash of light changed his direction. They say at death, you see your life pass before your eyes. At this flash, maybe Paul saw visions of his past, confidences dying along with his old self—his upbringing, his training, his family, his studies, his avoidance of temptations, his church life, his thought life … To say that after his conversion Paul’s actions were no longer affected by his past experiences would be a blatant lie.

Paul’s writings are evidence of how his past played a part in his ministry (see Acts 9:1-19 and Philippians 3). And we can only imagine how his conversations were effected—how he related to people personally and as a minister of the Gospel. (After all, some of the best sermon illustrations ever come from a pastor’s wild pre-Christian life). But his actions and reactions were no longer ruled by his circumstances—they were ruled by the transformation of his heart through Christ. “I serve as a youth pastor.” “I serve on a committee.” “I serve in a soup kitchen.” “I serve in my home.”

Why? Is it because you’re expected to? Is it because you were raised to? Is it because you feel obligated? Do you serve in that capacity because you’ve forgotten what it’s like to have your plans wrecked, just as you were on your way to Damascus? In the postmodern mindset, experience is everything. But we can fall prey to the experiences from the road behind us and forget that none of that matters. Our hurts, our prejudices, our confidences, our empty triumphs, our circumcisions, our tribes, our zeal, and our faults and faultlessness should fade quickly in light of the transformation we have in Christ.

And that transformation runs hand in hand with a calling to experience more than we can imagine on this side of it. This experience comes in our conversations, our decisions, our vocations, our churches, our committees, our smile to the Wal-Mart cashier, our donations to the homeless, and our tips to our waitresses. It’s not a call to be a better me that stills borrows excuses from the not-so-good me, a me that now has more to do on Wednesdays and Sundays—it’s a call to be a new me, a “little Christ.” Experience this transformation, and serve because of it.

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See Also

LECTIO: A CHRISTIAN WAY TO TRANSFORMATION

CONNECTING WITH CHRIST

READ MORE GOD | POST COMMENTS BELOW

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