Unchangeable

The other night I went to the grocery store to buy ice cream.  It was on sale, and I was really looking forward to a carton of my favorite, Cookies and Cream.  Unfortunately, as is often the case with sale items, there was no Cookies and Cream in sight.

Sigh.

I was standing in the freezer aisle debating whether to skip the ice cream or get a less desirable flavor when I decided to not give up the hunt so easily.  Maybe there was a carton shoved back behind some of the others.

I dug through first one shelf and then the other.  I sorted through stacks of Rocky Road and Vanilla Bean, and Peanut Butter Cup.  And would you believe my luck?  There in the back I suddenly uncovered a rogue carton of Cookies and Cream.  I snatched it up triumphantly and placed it in my cart.

I was about to walk away when I suddenly realized that what I really wanted was Chocolate Chip.

So I opened the freezer case again, replaced the Cookies and Cream, and bought a carton of Chocolate Chip.

So far I have been happy with my purchase, although I expect at any moment to begin craving Cookies and Cream. (Help me out here.  Am I the only one who does things like this?)

Isn’t it good to know, amidst all our idiosyncrasies and changeability, that there is One who is not tossed so easily by whimsy?  We worship the unchanging, everlasting, eternal God.  He is the one who is, and was, and is to come (Revelation 1:8).  He does not change with the weather, or the season, or the year, or the culture.  Our God is the great I AM.  He was there when time began, and He will be there at the end of time and the beginning of eternity.  No matter what is going on around us, we can rest securely in the firm foundation of our unchanging God.

Think about that the next time you’re deliberating an ice cream selection.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John: 8:58).

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Recycling

I recycle because I have a friend who recycles. 

I mean, I have a friend who recycles.  She carries a bag with her when she goes on walks simply so she can pick up trash.  When she comes to visit, she brings me all the recyclables she can’t recycle in her own town, because my town has a broader recycling program.  “Maybe I’ll inspire someone else,” she says.  And by someone, she occasionally means me.

Any activist will tell you that the hardest thing to initiate is a change in someone’s behavior.  Changing the way someone thinks is hard enough.  Swaying another’s opinion to agree with you – now that’s a challenge!  But these changes are still a marathon away from actually changing their behavior.  This was certainly true for me.  I agreed 100% with everything my friend told me.  “Be the change you want to see in the world,” she’d quote.  “Absolutely!”  I’d agree. 

Now I should clarify.  I would occasionally pick up trash and pack it out of my favorite hiking haunts.  Or I might pick up something blown from my apartment’s dumpster and return it.  I would recycle when it was convenient, but my apartment complex didn’t have recycling pick-up.  I knew there was a recycling center in town, but… I chose not to figure out how to use it.

So what was it that actually manifested a change in my behavior?  Well, for one, my friend’s persistence.  But more importantly, she didn’t drive me to it.  She led me to it. 

This same friend recently sent me an article with a short video about the impacts of plastics in our oceans.  It made me glad that I recycle.  It made me glad that I was being part of the solution and not part of the problem.  But before I started recycling, the article probably would have garnered a different reaction.  I still would have agreed with the message – Wow, what a mess we are making of our environment!  But rather than drive me to action, it probably would have just made me feel guilty.  I would have exiled the thought to the island of guilty thoughts that I am not going to act on, and I would have continued on as usual.

Too often when we are trying to change someone’s behavior – or even when we are trying to change our own – we try to drive the change like a cowboy driving a herd of cattle.  We crack the whip of reason, we coerce, we plead.  But instead of a stampede toward the corral, the result is usually more like a baulking bull.  The topic of change can become a matter of stubborn principle.  “Well, I’m not going to do it,” we say.  Even when we want to change, we find ourselves pushing back rather than embracing a new behavior.

The Bible gives us a different analogy of change.  Jesus didn’t ride herd with a whip.  He simply entered the pen through the gate.  “I am the good Shepherd,” Jesus told his followers. “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3,14). 

Jesus wasn’t driving the change; Jesus was leading the change.  And this is precisely what my friend did to change my recycling habits.  One time when she was visiting, she threw me and her recycling in the car and drove to the recycling center.  She never said: “I’m going to show you how to recycle so that you will start doing it.”  We simply went and recycled together.  And after I had done it once, there was no reason for me not to continue. 

Sometimes in life, change is elicited simply because we have someone come alongside us and show us how.  Even when it is something we could easily figure out on our own, we sometimes need that physical presence to help initiate the change.  This is true for the activities of our life, and it is true for our walk of faith.  Positive change comes not from being driven toward it from behind, but from being led by someone walking with us.

I wonder how many of us can say, “I am a Christian because I have a friend who is a Christian.”  And more importantly, how many of us have friends who can say about us, “I am a Christian, because I have a friend who is a Christian.”

 He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:3b).

Adjust

What can one learn by pet sitting a friend’s dog for two weeks?  An appreciation for one’s own dog, who is quiet and does not pee in the house, perhaps.  But, I suspect the answer is supposed to be a bit deeper than that. 

One night, early on in the visit, while “Ricky” was sitting by the door looking forlorn and my dog was making vain attempts at engaging him in play, I said: “You might as well enjoy it while you’re here, Ricky.  You’re only here for two weeks, and it’s really not that bad.  You’ve got your bed, company, food and water, frequent walks…make the most of it and before you know it you’ll be headed back home.”

Ho, ho!  How easy it was to say, and how many times have I myself been like that puppy dog, sitting by a “door,” pining for something on the other side!  How true it is that the grass is always greener just over the fence.  Why is it that we often miss the blessings immediately surrounding us because we are too caught up in thinking about what we are missing?  And perhaps more importantly, how do we fix it? 

Through his letter to the Philippians (2:14) Paul tells us whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  And John reminds us: From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another (John 1:16).  Adjusting to a new situation means adjusting our thoughts to focus on those things which God wants us to focus on.  If we are busy counting our blessings, there will be less time for us to count our losses.

I have often struggled with “moving on,” feeling as though allowing my thoughts to stray from what I am missing is somehow unappreciative to where I have been.  Or as though enjoying today means I enjoyed yesterday less.  But this is not true.  Counting our current blessings does not mean we are disrespecting the past or disregarding the future.  It means we are acknowledging the new situation God has presented and acknowledging the blessings – one after another – He bestows.

We also need to do more than train ourselves towards positive thinking and acknowledging the blessings in our current situation.  We also need to act.  James admonishes those who think simply having faith is enough.  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? …faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14,17). We need to think the right thoughts, but we need to follow through by doing the right deeds.  God prepared in advance works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), and that includes right here, right now.

I learned quickly there is nothing like a good long romp to help an anxious dog sleep through the night, and there is nothing like taking action, become involved, reaching out to assist others to help us adjust to new situations.  We may be someplace new and scary – physically, emotionally, spiritually – but it is not new and scary to God.  As David writes, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16).  God put us here, right at this moment, for a reason.  It is up to us to actually take action on what He ordained for us to do.  You cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.  Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6).  In other words, take action!  Even if you are not sure what it is you are supposed to do, do something.  You may not know what will succeed, but God does.

What can one learn from watching a friend’s dog for two weeks?  Well, to start, it takes a bit of adjustment – for both of us.  But more importantly, like Ricky, we need to make the most of the situations God presents to us.  It is only for a little while, and before we know it, He will be back to take us home.

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).