by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

August, 1999

Several years ago, I worked in a nursing home. One of the most interesting aspects of the job was the people I had a chance to meet. Some of the residents were real characters.

One day, a lady named Anna approached me and asked, “Can you do it without killing me?”

“What?” I asked, surprised.

“Can you do it without killing me?!” she demanded.

“Do what?”

“Well,” she replied, “I guess you can’t.” Then she turned and went away in the opposite direction, leaving me standing there dumbfounded.

A couple of months ago, we had to buy a new VCR. It’s a very nice one, with lots of “bells and whistles,” but it’s not like our old one. Some of the fancy features are difficult to figure out, and sometimes the indicators can be hard to find.

When you begin a new job, a new situation or a new relationship, there is always a period of adjustment. Last summer, shortly after our pastor, Allen Ladage, came to our church, Ray Norris and I pointed out that the kids (not to mention the adults) were used to having a prayer at the end of the Children’s Sermon.

Allen simply replied, “This is the way I’ve always done it.”

In this instance, we were the ones who were expected to adjust.

The church has always had to deal with change. We are constantly being confronted with conditions and situations that demand change. Sometimes, we decide not to change. This is called “tradition.” Other times, we decide we will change after all. This is called “progress.” Usually, “tradition” wins out over “progress.” We like things to stay the way they are. It’s beeen said that the two worst phrases in the church are “But we’ve never done it that way before,” and “But we’ve always done it that way.” And yet, an encounter with God is a life-changing experience, whether it involves an individual, a congregation or a denomination. When Nicodemus the Pharisee asked Jesus how to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus replied, “You must be born again.” (Jn.3:7b NIV). What more fundamental change could there be than to be “born again?”

Owners of personal computers know that whenever you “upgrade” or change the “operating system”—the main program that allows the computer to run all the other programs —you sometimes have to learn to use the computer all over again. An encounter with Christ has the power to change our “operating system” from the world’s to God’s (Mt. 5:38-48).

Such an encounter with Christ is not necessarily a comfortable experience. A rich man once asked Jesus what was required to inherit eternal life (Mk.10:17-22).

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
“At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mk. 10:21-22 NIV).

You can almost hear him asking Jesus, “Can you do it without killing me?” And we ask God to make us servants, to make us witnesses, but then we ask, “Can you do it without killing me?” Can you do it without asking me to change my behavior or attitudes? Can you do it without asking me to be in a situation that might make me uncomfortable? Perhaps we should ask Peter or Paul or John the Baptist. Yet, Jesus has promised, “‘. . . my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’” (Mt. 11:30b NIV).

The late Erma Bombeck once wrote that a woman should remain married to her husband as long as she wanted to hug him more often than she wanted to strangle him. We are continually poised between hugs and homicide: God loves us but sometimes needs to kill us to make sure we do what we need to do.

People all around us are dying for want of God’s love, God’s forgiveness and God’s spirit. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Can you not do it without killing them ?”

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:5-7 NIV).


Copyright © 1999 by David Phelps