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    Why You Have to Take It

    Every one of us, from the moment we are born to the moment we die, undergo a continual process of transformation and change. It is not a question of whether we wish it or don't wish it, for the process is largely inevitable. Hour by hour, day by day, and year by year, we are being changed -- for better or for worse. The forces and pressures of life that surround us transform us into a certain pattern. We stand in the midst of these life forces as free agents, and, by the power of choice, we decide the pattern. Even if we do not decide anything, but allow life to flow over us and around us, our very indecision is a decision -- we decide not to decide.

    From Barrister to Tramp

    I once read of a minister who, on London's famous Embankment, talked to a dirty and dishevelled tramp who greatly surprised him by taking out of his pocket a worn and faded photograph of a handsome barrister [lawyer]. "This was me," he said, "before I discovered that my partner had been embezzling our financial resources." He went on to say that the shock of the discovery had driven him to drink, and ultimately to the pitiable plight of a London tramp. Regrettably, the man had been transformed into the image of his decisions. The hurt started off a chain reaction of conflicts that left him a human wreck. Had he reacted rightly to the blow he could have turned the setback into a springboard but the wrong reaction let in the forces of disruption and decay, which plunged him into the abyss of human failure. When we let conflict in, we soon become a conflict, and end in looking like a conflict. Nothing can be sadder.

    Accepting responsibility for the choices we make in this life, no matter what the circumstances that lead to those choices, is one of the most important lessons we can learn in this life. A study of human beings reveals that men and women, under one guise of another, are seeking to evade responsibility for what they are and blaming other people for their circumstances.

    Religious Escape Routes and Cop-Outs

    When a Moslem gets into difficulty he blames his kismet -- his fate. But as he believes his kismet is ordained by God he is indirectly making God responsible. When a Hindu or a Buddhist gets into trouble, he blames his karma -- the result of deeds of a previous birth now catching up with him. An authority on Indian customs says of this approach to life: "He removes the responsibility from the "now" to the "then" and to a person of whom he has no memory. It saves him from the necessity of finding the cause in his present actions and attitudes."

    Here in the West people evade their responsibility in many ingenious ways. Some blame the stars. As if worlds spinning in outer space could affect the destiny of free moral agents! Others blame the subconscious and claim that the drives which go on down there are, in large measure, out of control. Still others blame the environment and claim that man is just an animal in a cage, and all his actions result from an attempt to adapt to his environment. Then another way, in which people attempt to evade responsibility, is to say that we are doing what everybody else is doing. They lay the blame on the behaviour of others. How absurd!

    There is only one way out, and that is to lay the blame where it belongs -- on ourselves. It is not so much what happens to us but how we respond to it that matters. And the choice is always ours.

    The Spiritual Vagrant

    When I lived in Oxford I remember a man who would occasionally come to our church meetings. What was unusual about the man was not that he moved from congregation to congregation trying to find the truth and commit himself to it but the fact that he had joined every church in the city in the hope that one of them might be the right one and that he would thereby be saved. He had been baptised into every church! In doing this he hoped he would avoid the responsibility of making a commitment. His life was a spiritual vacuum. Belonging everywhere, he ended up belonging nowhere. He was never around long enough to establish close relationships with a Christian group. I remember him as a colourless and uninspiring personality, a prisoner of his own uncertainty and lack of knowledge.

    There are alot of people like him. Afraid to make a mistake, they choose not to choose. I know one lady in Norway who took 15 years investigating a church before she joined it and committed herself to it. Later she found that it had many errors but because she feared to use another 15 years investigating this New Covenant she decided in the end that the best thing she could do was remain where she was. Her excuse was that her church "needed her" despite the fact that she knew she could never change that church or the people in it without leading them away from it.

    My Own Journeys

    I have been a member of three different churches in my life. The first one I was convinced was God's only true church and I threw my energy into serving in it with all my heart. I later discovered that it taught many pernicious errors despite having many good sides. The shattering of my illusions was very painful and even cost me my marriage but I do not regret taking the decision to join it. I learned so much.

    I joined my second church with my eyes wide open. I knew it had many faults and that it taught things I did not agree with but, as with the first one, I knew that God had led me to it and that He wanted me to join it. I served to the best of my ability. When that church evolved to such an extent that it was denying fundamental doctrines of the Bible I left it with little regret.

    The third church of which I am a member -- the New Covenant Church of God -- is now my home. I spent many years searching for my spiritual home and it took me ten years to find it. En route I was a part of two others. In all three cases the Lord opened the doors in my life and led me by the hand and I obeyed the call. In all three cases I gave my all and was blessed. There was a period between my membership of the first and second churches when I joined no church and devoted myself to intense study of the scriptures and church history. I learned a great deal in this time but given the choice of being outside to being inside an imperfect church I would always choose the latter because the latter is the only real way to spiritual growth.

    The first church I joined was a stagnant church -- a fossil of the mid 19th century. It was incapable of any real change. When I outgrew the light it had I came into conflict with it. The second church I joined was0 in a process of radical doctrinal and practical change which was exciting except for the fact that it was going in the wrong direction -- towards the New Age and Hinduism, and I knew I had to get out of it before it swallowed me up.

    This church -- the third church of which I am now member -- is quite different from the other two. Unlike other churches I know, not only is it gradually changing all the time, but it allows space for souls of diverse natures to grow up in and to realise their God-given spiritual potential. With a safety net of true doctrine underneath it and a limitless sky above it, it is, I believe, the kind of church the first Christian Church was in New Testament times. It is a Church where you can feel at peace and grow whether you are in the highest echelons of authority or just an ordinary member. Whether as a pastor or as a member with no office at all, I find that I can be productive and spiritually growing. I find that I am changing now as much as I was before and in new and exciting ways.

    Nothing is Changeless in Life

    Whether we like it or not everyone of us is constantly undergoing a process of change. So inevitable is this change that someone once said of it: "There is nothing changeless about life -- except change itself." And one writer claims: "The science of semantics (i.e. the meaning of words) is based on the fact that human nature is changing every moment. So, when you use a word to describe a man, you must define which man -- the man a year ago, the man a month ago, or the man now. You must, therefore, change the words to describe the changed man."

    It is not often that I come to Bergen and in the case of some people I know here it is many years since I saw them last. I am under no illusions that these people are very likely different from the persons I met last year or even several years ago. I also know that many people have a picture of me that is several years out-of-date and that when I meet them they expect me to be someone I am not any longer. That, brethren and sisters, is the miracle of Christ. He is constantly transforming us.

    The same may be true of this Church. Some, who have had no contact with us in over two or three years, have a picture of a Church which is now hopelessly out-of-date. And the same will be true in three years time, for I truly believe that if we continue on our path of spiritual endowment as we have been, the New Covenant Church of God in 1998 will be quite different from the one that exists today.

    To Grow or Fossilise

    This is how it should be too -- whether for us as individuals or as a Church. I know that most of us -- and that includes myself -- are uncomfortable with change. We like certainties, things that are familiar. Well, there is no doubt that there are certain things about us as individuals and as a Church -- the good side -- that will always be the same, but we must also expect the bad side to undergo radical transformation. If this doesn't happen then we will either evolve into a fossil like the first church I was a member of or go shooting off along a false path that leads to false life and false religion like the second one I belonged to. I pray that may never be.

    The writer of Proverbs said: "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov 23:7, AV). When what you think or believe is not reality, then what you think or believe is actually yourself. You must choose which direction you are going to change in. Are you, like so many Albanians, going to harbour grudges and resentment for past problems and pass them down from generation to generation? Even in the communist régime, which preached equality, families waged blood feuds over deeds committed hundreds of years ago. Sometimes small children were punished for the deeds their great-great-grandfathers had done. The whole Albanian nation, it seems to me, has chosen to live in a certain mind-frame -- as all nations do -- and has condemned itself to spiritual darkness.

    Who or What Will Shape You?

    So, I ask you today, which forces are you going to allow to shape your life and destiny? The forces of negativity, the forces of indecision, or the forces of positive action? When men and women mentally shut the door to Jesus Christ and the upward thrust He gives to life, they open the door to change in a downward direction.

    If you have received Christ but have entered into the valley of indecision, will you choose to once again throw your weight into the Body of Christ in active service or condemn yourself to spiritual stagnation? For I would remind you that there is no true discipleship in being alone -- the fact of salvation and sanctification is intimately connected with the Body of Christ. You cannot be saved in any ultimate sense alone. You, and you alone, are the instrument of your own change. God is not going to burst into your life and suddenly elevate you into a new realm of consciousness and joy without your taking the initial steps of making peace with Him and those you are estranged from. Only those forces which you allow to affect you actually affect you. The ultimate responsibility is yours, no-one else's, and certainly not the Lord's.

    I know that there are many people who have been called into this work who either never responded to the call or who quit half way through. Whatever their circumstances are, they are responsible for them -- not me, not this Church, or anyone else in this Church. I am responsible for the way I am inside. The barrister who decided to become a tramp was responsible for his life. You are responsible for the way you feel inside. We are all responsible for the way we are. So I challenge you today to ask yourself this question: Am I going to keep blaming other people or life in general for all my problems, or am I going to grow up and accept personal responsibility? Am I going to let excuses cripple my spirituality in this life and retard my spirit in eternity? For that, brethren and sisters, is the start choice. It cannot be avoided.

    When Things Go Wrong in Life

    When anything goes wrong in this life, our first impulse is to blame someone else, and look around for some way of evading responsibility. I have experienced enormous setbacks and difficulties in my life. I am experiencing them now and I expect to experience them for the rest of my life. But I made the decision long ago to accept personal responsibility for my inner life -- the way I react to outer situations.

    Adam was the first human to blame others for misfortunes. He said: "The woman whom thou didst set at my side, it was she who gave me fruit from the tree ; so I ate it" (Gen.3:12, S&GV). Yes, Eve was wrong, but she didn't force Adam to eat. He was seduced too and made the personal decision to sin. He tried to evade his responsibility! So what if Eve tempted him? Was it her fault that he ate? No, it was his own -- he knew what he was doing. She was responsible for tempting him but not for the choice he made to eat.

    Blaming others for our situation doesn't get us out of that situation. It never has done and never will. Evasions don't evade, excuses don't excuse, dodging doesn't dodge, except propel us into deeper problems.

    How Not to React to Adversity

    There was once a man who cheated in an examination and got a place in a company that a certain woman wanted. She was brighter than him and deserved the place. If the man hadn't cheated there is no doubt she would have got the job. She bitterly resented what the man had done and told him to his face what she thought of him. She was a Christian and said that she would forgive him if he would admit what he had done wrong and apologise. She waited and waited but he never did. In fact, shortly afterwards he died of a heart-attack. Now he couldn't apologise because he was dead and she was trapped by her insistence for retribution. Only later did she understand that her bitterness and resentment was of her own making and that it had crippled her Christian discipleship. She was consumed by the passion to receive acknowdgement from her detractor and it effected everything she did. Only when she chose to forgive him in her heart was she freed. If she had forgiven him without pre-conditions in the beginning she could have stopped the spiritual spiral into darkness which wasted so many years of her life.

    What God Expects of You

    Brethren and sisters, life is short, and there is only one life in which to choose and serve Christ. What we do in this life marks us for all eternity. God does not expect perfection of you because He knows you cannot manage it alone, but He does expect your best. He expects you, in your imperfection, to make mistakes. He will, however, if you accept Him as Saviour, hedge you in until you can no longer dodge your responsibilities and you are forced to choose either light or darkness. You cannot evade the truth for ever. And the Lord loves you too much not to allow you to keep on escaping. He will, in end, force you to a decision: to follow Him or to reject Him. For a follower of Christ is expected to obey His Master, and he who willfully disobeys without repenting must, in the end, choose darkness.

    So why don't you make the decision to follow Him all the way and to stop dodging the painful and difficult things of life? Seek for union with Christ, not a casual relationship on the outskirts of your soul. With Paul, I invite you to listen to these words of life:

      "So if anyone is in union Christ, he is a new being; the old state has passed away; there is a new state of things. All this comes from God, who through Christ has reconciled me to himself, and has commissioned me to proclaim this reconciliation -- how God through Christ reconciled the world to himself, refusing to count men's offenses against them, and intrusted me with the message of reconciliation. It is for Christ, therefore, that I am envoy, seeing that God makes his appeal through me. On Christ's behalf I beg you to be reconciled to God" (2 Cor.5:17-20, S&G).

    May the Lord bless us, in my prayer, as we confront reality, accept responsibility for the way we are, be reconciled with one another and commit ourselves unreservedly for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Amen.

    This page was created on 30 May 1998
    Last updated on 30 May 1998

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