Change Me, Not the Circumstances! Part 1

I had to speak to our Cert IV grads who are beginning the Diploma course today. And while today should be a celebration for them… they have finished the CertIV… and although they earned to right to look back… and while it would be good to talk about how good the journey has been so far… I was reluctant to do so. And it wasn’t because I feared some of them would not shutup!

I will explain in a moment.

If you visit my house you’d see some of the furniture I’ve made. Traditional cabinet making is my trade, but it was more than a trade for me, it was my passion. Before I was married I spent what seemed like an eternity making pieces of furniture for our house. I wanted to impress my soon-to-be wife!

One thing I’d never do was show anyone any of my incomplete work. It just seemed so foolish… so pointless: ‘Here is a piece of wood, it may not look much right now, but it is going to be a turtle on the bottom of the leg supports’.

No one apart from me would understand what I am talking about. No one but me would be able to see the finished product. No one but me would be able to appreciate it!

The same is true for the students I addressed today, and the same is true for you.

You are God’s work. But you are still very much raw timber waiting to be turned into something beautiful. No one apart from God can truly see the beauty which is waiting to emerge, waiting to be carved out of you. And that’s why it is foolish to talk too much about the journey so far. Sure you can celebrate the past! But it is equally important to remember the challenge ahead.

The beauty is yet to come!

One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Proverbs 26:11 ‘Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool that repeats his folly’.

This is one of those passages that illustrates my life. If I look at my life I see the train wrecks… the vomits… the moth returning to the light… or a fly attracted to, well, you know.

This verse graphically encapsulates so much about life. It is a perfect picture.

Do you find yourself making the same mistake over and over again? (or maybe it’s just me). We vow never to go into debt again, but we do. We vow never to eat junk food again, but we do. We vow never to say and or think in a certain manner again, and gues what? We do!

And the amazing thing is more often than not we are surprised by the outcome! How can we be surprised by the same thing over and over again? It illustrates how we are like a dog returning to his own vomit.

Did you know the Bible actually mentions the word ‘fool’ 161 times? And it has nearly another 150 references or teaching on how we can avoid being foolish. Plus another handful on how you are to be a fool (go figure).

As a young fellow I was very foolish. I was the sort of kid who was always getting into trouble. It didn’t seem to matter what good intentions I had or how hard I’d try, trouble would always find me!

At the ripe old age of 14 I decided enough was enough. I decided the best way to avoid the trouble and make it all go away was to end it… So over a period of an hour I slowly started taking downers, one after another until I had gone through a couple hundred of them.

There was a young girl in the class, Sandra Carpenter. She observed me sitting in the back row of a class room slowly fading away, becoming more and more dazed and confused. She got up and asked to be excused, and went to the office and reported my strange behaviour.

To cut a long story short I was taken by ambulance to the hospital, spent several days there and I am not sure how to explain it, but it was like all my troubles just… well… like a wave just rolled on over the top of me. After several days I was released from hospital to the care of a school attached to the hospital… a school for troubled boys. It was there for the first time in my life that I got any sort of insight into my own brand of craziness, and yes I do have the paperwork to prove it… perhaps I shouldn’t have told you that… did I just say that?

Simply put, I was a broken kid. Except now I was not only broken but I could see I was broken. Here in the school for troubled boys I was completely alone. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone else. I was completely defeated. I had no power to fight. I definitely did not have the will to live, but equally telling is that I did not have the power to go through the whole ordeal again. I could not cope with doing it all again. So the result was I just did whatever I was told, I did whatever the counsellors or doctors requested.

I did not even try to comprehend or understand, I just complied. I just existed. I became like a docile puppy.

Eventually I was allowed out and returned to a normal school.

However it wasn’t until recently that I noticed something about the whole experience. Something important to do with the way my foolish behaviour was addressed. My “counselling” and tuition at the school for troubled boys focused on my foolish behaviour. Everything pointed towards the past; everything was focused on the destructive elements.

New thought: do you know how the FBI trains people to detect counterfeit money?

It is not what I imagined. I thought FBI newbies would be shown lots of counterfeit money to they’d learn what isn’t real. But in fact the reverse happens. The FBI agents-in-waiting are given nothing but lots and lots of real money. They have to constantly study the real thing. They study the authentic more than the unauthentic.

My experience at the school for troubled boys highlights one of the problems at the core of human psychology: we spend so much time study human dysfunction that we neglect human function. We look at our brokenness rather than our health… the counterfeit, the unauthentic rather than the authentic.

We know about how messed up we are, but we don’t know how to get better! That was my experience in the troubled boy’s school. I learnt just how screwed up I was… but had no idea what to do about it… no other option… nothing to look to in the hope of getting better. I was so ignorant about so many things.

I heard the other day, ‘You are not supposed to die as stupid as you were born’. There was something about that quote which really sparked my curiosity, because I know of so many people who seem to make it their life ambition to make certain they do.

It is true all of us are born ‘ignorant’. By that I am not meaning something bad, but more neutral. For example, when born, we don’t know how to eat, walk, speak, in fact some babies need to be spanked in order to breathe. We just don’t know anything. We don’t even know how to sleep properly. Most parents will be able to confirm that for you.

We all start of in a pool of ignorance and as we grow up we are meant to become wise people… not foolish people. I think this is equally true of churches not just individuals. The fortunate few will learn just how messed up they are, but fewer still will actually learn to move ahead. Learn how to stop looking back, how to stop returning to their own vomit.

Hebrew 6:1 We must try to become mature/wise and start thinking about more than just the basic things we were taught about Christ. We shouldn’t need to keep talking about why we ought to turn from deeds to bring death and why we ought to have faith in God.

Today it is time for you to move on to more, not to return to the same path of a fool… like a dog returning to his vomit. To move from the unathentic to the authentic.

It’s horrible to see people who’ve encountered God simply return to their normal lives and make the same mistakes they’ve always made.

Every now and then I see people who come to the Pines (a training college for church planting, evangelism and disciplemaking among other things) when finished, go back to the same life which they believed God was calling them out of, all because that work is all they know and anything else is just too much to bear. Too risky. Too big.

And in my mind here is the real kick in the guts. The same is also true of churches. What is it that your/my church keeps returning too? What same old programs, philosophies, type of ministry people and patterns does she return to?

Like a dog returning to its vomit!

I suspect one of the reasons why we and the churches we belong to return to foolish ways is simply because we are too afraid to try new things. Take church planting for example. What is stopping you from planting a church? Are you worried that you can’t do it? The results are in His hands, and besides didn’t we learn in evangelism (sorry in house stuff for Pines Graduates) that it is really Jesus who draws people anyway? who builds His Church? Jesus said, ‘if I be lifted up, I will draw all men’. The results are not ours to worry about!

Is it what people might think? Who cares what people think I would rather give something else a go than do nothing but the same thing which does not work over and over again. Why do we do the same thing yet expect different results? I would rather try something new then be a dog returning to his vomit!

Is it because you just don’t have the faith to do it? Well in that case let me read to you Heb 6:1 again

We must try to become mature/wise and start thinking about more than just the basic things we were taught about Christ. We shouldn’t need to keep talking about why we ought to turn from deeds to bring death and why we ought to have faith in God.

Or perhaps this would be better suited Proverbs 26:11 ‘like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool that repeats his folly’.

This can be a new season for you. You can be transformed into life-changing people of God.

It is time to stop looking back. It is time to look forward. It is time to stop looking for excuses regardless of how valid they may be and start living a life worthy of inviting people into it. Start living a life with a real cause!

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