“Be Transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The Apostle Paul is writing about a powerful transformation from within, a spiritual process of learning to work with our own minds, our messy, sometimes small minded thoughts, to become something greater, open hearted, making a shift. Paul new this shift quite personally, moving from persecuting Christians, hunting them down, to being an apostle of Jesus. We often focus on the dramatic moment on the road to Damascus, but I think Paul worked at that shift every day. His letters are full of exhortation to leave behind the old self, and put on the new in Christ. Death and resurrection is a daily work throughout our lives, as we move through our metamorphosis.
This is what I’m going to explore for several weeks, the spiritual shifts that transform us, from surviving to thriving, from “going along to get along” to moving on, and going where God calls. Its all about “the shift.” Here is a story about why I am calling it “the shift.”
I learned to ride a bicycle in Iowa where everything is flat. I just put the bike in the highest gear and peddled till I got tired. My first big trip through the hill towns of Hampshire County did not go well. I was stymied on my first steep ascent, leaving my gears too high, and I lost all my momentum, and came to a dead stop as I watched Jeanne pedal away from me. The second big hill, I shifted from a high gear to a low gear. My pedals ground and skipped and the chain fell off and I was stuck with a messy job, while once again watching Jeanne ride smoothly up the hill.
Getting in the right gear is almost as important in bike riding as being in shape. Recently while cruising up a steep hill, it dawned on me I wasn’t even thinking about gears anymore. I had the feel of what to do. As the road inclined I shifted down a notch at a time and I could decide if it was a middle to low gear hill or a low-low gear, peddle like a gorilla climb. Now I know the right gear is the one where I feel enough resistance that I am pressing smoothly but not slowing down. If I lose momentum I shift down, and if I am pedaling fast without resistance, I shift up the gear to maximize my energy into forward motion.
Imagine for a moment, if I had decided that shifting gears was not my problem, but it was the bike. Then I would go get a new, more expensive bike, which might be lighter and have more gears, but what would happen? I would maybe get 20 feet further, and my bank account would be smaller. Imagine if I decided the problem was me, I needed to be in better shape. So my solution would be to work out really hard and then attempt to pedal up the mountains in a high gear without shifting. Again, that would help to some extent, but in the end few human beings could accomplish this feat. Some problems cannot be solved by working harder. You need to learn to shift gears.
This seems obvious when the issue is riding a bike up the hill, but we do this all the time. How many situations do you feel like you are riding uphill in the wrong gear? We blame our equipment, we blame our circumstance or we blame ourselves, when we really need to shift, to shift our minds, our vision, our way of looking at things. “Be renewed by the transforming of your mind.” It is a part of being alive, and dealing with change. Shifts are built into our life cycles. a feel for how to use all that information, and know when to shift for ourselves.
Here is one of the biggest mind-shifts we all have to make. A shift is needed when who we were in the past gets in the way of who we are becoming. There is an old self from our past, that does not exist anymore, but it still lives in our heads, so it is real, and holds us back. This old self makes keeps us pedaling through life in a big gear, uphill, so we don’t have any momentum and we just stop and give up.
I will use myself from last weeks children’s sermon as an example. It takes more than a day to make a geek. Sure, I made a poor impression my first day of fifth grade in a new school, walking into a country school with my nerdy clothes, and a zipper that didn’t work. But I was a weird kid. I was the kid who loved fractions and algebra, who read Isaac Asimov and Kurt Vonnegut. And I went to a school where boys argued about who made better trucks, Ford or Chevy. I was the smart kid who snorted at my own jokes that no one else would get, the kid who was anti-war in a conservative little town; the tall, awkward kid who was so skinny I could turn sideways and hide. I was the one who had to take piano lessons, the only able-bodied male not playing football, it’s a long list.
You don’t have to feel sorry for me because most of you probably have geek lists from school days, where the locker room and cafeteria is a crucible of insecurities. Here is what happened next. I grew up. I was a little of a late bloomer, but I like to think I’m just patient, in a tortoise and hare kind a way. So by my senior year I was captain of the basketball and track team, and President of Student Council and Future Farmers of America. (Yup, you heard that right!) All is well that ends well.
Except it did not end in my head. Self image stuff gets worn into the brain. Even though I moved off the farm for college, and later seminary in Boston, and I worked hard and did well academically, but saw myself as a geek belonging on the sidelines. Working harder and achieving more did not solve my problem. There is always another hill to climb, a little higher than the last to measure oneself. It doesn’t end. How do you ever know “measure up?” (This is how you get 17.5 candidates for President. Biden is .5 till he declares. How many people run for public office just to bolster their ego to compensate for some past inadequacy they have not reconciled into their personhood?)
Honestly I don’t think I started making this shift to a healthy self-understanding until my early 40s. My spiritual life finally developed to the point where my self image became more internal rather than external. Confronting failure has a way of doing that. Divorce and leaving ministry forced me to turn inward, and God met me there. Then it finally registered, I didn’t need to be Moses, or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Larry Bird. Being Todd, created in the image of God, filled with the Holy Spirit with gifts from God, is all I need to be.
The life of the spirit is all about shifts- as we move from who we were in the past, what the world tells us we should be, what those old voices of criticism keep telling us, the internal editor that says it isn’t good enough. The life of the spirit grounds us in the reality of God, and our restless souls are finally home, and loved and filled with passion, health, joy and abundance.
Here are the spiritual shifts I will preach about the next few weeks.
Worry to Faith
Despair to Joy
Cynicism to Hope
Fear of death to Life from Eternity
Judgment to Compassion
Scarcity to Gratitude
Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. If you ground yourself in God, live a life of the Spirit, allow love to flow through your heart, you will be transformed, you will make the shift, we will do this together.