Growth=Change: Respond

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Two weeks ago, we started a series called Growth=Change. So far, we’ve talked about our first two steps in the process—recognition and re-cognition. Recognition means we must first realize the need for change. If we cannot see the need to change, we won’t. We are broken by the lives we have led, each in our own way. We need to come to a place of changing direction, the literal meaning of repent. The second step in this process is re-cognition. To get to the place where we can truly change direction, we must re-learn or re-think. Seeing the need to change is not enough. We must see how we can change. We must have a plan for change to engage with or we will revert to our old ways of thinking and being. Today we come to the third stage in our process, response.

The idea of response and what it means to respond can be illustrated, I believe, through a singular device. The first of these devices for consumers show up in the early 1990’s. It was called the Simon Personal Communicator, made by IBM. The early models had the capacity to place and receive cellular calls. The touchscreen-equipped Simon could also send and receive faxes and emails. It included an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, and notepad, as well as other visionary mobile applications such as maps, stock reports and news.[1] The current concept of these devices came a few years later however, when Apple combined the capabilities of the iPod with a Blackberry and a cell phone. In 2007, the Macworld conference introduced us to what would become one of the most ubiquitous devices in modern history: the iPhone.[2]

And the world responded so that now, responding takes on new meaning. Because the capability exists to call, text, or email from the little electric box we carry around in our pockets, the expectation is near immediate response. Etiquette experts have weighed in an they tell us there is a certain amount of time considered suitable to respond. Of course, if you are away from your phone (unlikely the younger you are), you have more time you have. That said, most people have strong expectations. For a text message, if it is urgent, immediately; non-urgent, by the end of the day. For a voicemail, within twenty-four hours. For an email, as soon as possible to twenty-four hours. But the truth of the matter is most people expect you to respond immediately. After all, we always have our phones on us, right. If your phone is right there, why not respond. It’s only polite. I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but if I’m honest, there are times I would love to go back to the old phones that couldn’t leave the house. That is not to be. We live in a responsive world. 

Response is, however, a good thing where change and growth are concerned. In fact, response is necessary for change and growth. This is where the rubber meets the road. If we look at the steps we’ve taken so far in our growth=change journey, we have worked out the need for change and the direction of that change. We have reoriented our way of thinking. Now, act on it. Respond to it. 

This encouragement to respond is at the heart of our passage today. Until this point in the letter to Colossae, the writer has focused on offering thanks for change God has brought in the lives of the Colossian church, thanks for their work as disciples, something about a mystery plan hidden for ages and generations that is now coming to fruition, and a promise that the writer is struggling for them. In chapter two, the writer of Colossians begins sharing some ideas on dealing with errors apparently cropping up in the church at Colossae. The writer believes these errors are enslaving and deceiving the people of Colossae. The solution? The writer says, “So, live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught.” The idea is that the people of Colossae need to not only know and understand the teachings of Jesus passed down to them, but they need to act on those beliefs, they need to ‘live in Christ’.

Being ‘in Christ’ is a common phrase throughout the New Testament. Eighty-nine times from Acts onward, writers use this phrase as something we should strive for as disciples. So, what does it mean? Based on what I have studied and understand, I would break the words up, define them, and put them back together to make the most sense of this. The word in is describing an immersive state. To be in something is to be surrounded completely by it. If we are in water, water is touching every part of our body. If we were in the sky, we would be surrounded by the sky, touching nothing else. To say we are in something then, is to say we are immersed or surrounded by it, totally embraced by whatever we are in. 

When we speak of Christ, we are speaking of a way of living and being. Christ is not Jesus’ last name or part of his name. It was a title, a way of saying Jesus was singled out for a divine mission. This divine mission was to reveal God in the truest sense to the people that they might learn how to live (actions) and be (mindset) as Jesus taught. So, to say we are ‘in Christ’ is to say we are immersed, surrounding ourselves in the way and being Jesus taught and lived. We are embracing with everything we have the Jesus Way of Life. 

In this, we have the two parts of what we are talking about, the mindset being recognition and re-cognition and the actions being response. They cannot be separated from one another because having the mindset of Jesus leads us to living the Way of Jesus and responding to life with Jesus’ actions. The writer of 2 Corinthians says, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”[3] What this means is when the person becomes immersed in the Way of Jesus, they are connected to a new created order of things. What they were, how they thought, how they lived are changed into something new. And Romans 12:2 tells us to, “…be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” Which means as we grow toward maturity, we are being changed, altered to be part of the one body in Christ mentioned later in the same chapter. 

So, we need to recognize the need for change. We need to re-cognize ourselves to see new paths and ways of being in line with the Jesus Way of Living and Being. And we need to respond, to act, to become committed to living out the change we have experienced and be intentional about changing who we are to be in line with who Jesus is. The problem I have seen all too many times in the church is that people already know they need to change. They already know what needs to change. But they won’t change. Their community connections get in the way and become more important than their connection to God and the Way of Jesus. Their politics, both inside and outside the church, get in the way. Their fear of what people might say or how they might be viewed, gets in the way. They know they need to change, know change is the right thing to do, but they won’t.

I believe this is the reason the church is where it is. In my studies, I noticed around a hundred or so years ago, our part of the world had a theological/social/political mindset that was handed down with the force of communal and social tradition. Within nearly every denomination, a form of faith popped up that demanded allegiance to a set of ideas and propositions and made the mistake of what Romans 1 calls worshiping and serving the creation rather than the Creator. Instead of worshiping God the being they made idols out of things like creeds, manifestos, doctrinal statements, and the bible itself. They moved on to worship religious leaders and their ideas and politicians and political parties without realizing it. They moved the Way of Jesus into the way of religious and political parties, cultic personalities, and personal desires. And they called it ‘the true faith’ or ‘doctrinal Christianity’ or any number of other ideologies to hide the fact that it was about them, their power, their control over others, and worse their fear of being asked or challenged to change and grow. Changing to live the way of Jesus was harder than changing their way of life and their communal beliefs so they stuck Jesus into their beliefs rather than let Jesus define their beliefs. They put God in a box, and many of those following these traditions who are still with us now mean for God to stay there. I believe this has undermined Christianity in the Western world since. 

If you want to see change in the church, if you want to see growth in the church, it’s time to set aside ourselves, our misunderstandings, our selfish, self-serving predilections and embrace the Jesus Way. Embrace the way of seeing ourselves as we are. Embrace the way of seeing the change we need to make to move past the brokenness we experience. Embrace the need to act out the change. Live into the Jesus Way of Life and Being. To put it in the words of Jesus, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, amen.



[3] 2 Corinthians 5:17