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relationship1There is a certain effect that local and national news has on my soul. I have this love/hate relationship with it. On one hand, I want to be informed and know what is happening in the world around me. On the other, most of the stories tear at my soul. Maybe the worst part about all of this is that I’m not sure who I can trust.

It seems as though there has been an all out war waged against information. Many news outlets have become places where opinions and slanted views are presented. Yes, I know there are some who are balanced in their reporting, but others swing either tot eh right or left. Why is it so hard to determine truths in broadcasting? I go back to those words from Pontius Pilate; “What is truth?” I guess we could say that the truth in somewhere in the middle unfortunately, we need to do more research to find the truth.

In this age of information overload, it shouldn’t be that hard. We have the world at our fingertips, so to speak, and yet we are further from the truth than we have ever been. One reason I say this is because we have become so polarized in our political beliefs that we have a difficult time having civil conversations about difficult topics. We can no longer “agree to disagree.” Either you are with me, or you’re against me. One group says that our president is the best we’ve ever had and is doing so much for the American people, while others will tell us that this is the worst one in history. The problem? We can go back 5 years and the roles would be reversed.

Couple this all with the media, social media saturation, and the tension within the world around us, and you get this strange space we live in. I know, I am starting to sound like Rodney King when he said “Why can’t we all just get along?” Why can’t we treat each other as Jesus taught us when he said to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength AND to love our neighbor as ourselves?

There are root problems that we need to face and correct. Many of them come from our political differences and some come from a history of oppression and hate.

What started this thought was a news story that we’ve all seen over the past couple of days. George Floyd was the latest victim in this oppression and hate which is prevalent at our very core, rooted in systems created to hold people of color down. It is a result of a fear which stems from white privilege; it is the fear of the other. Those with privilege fear losing status and power and therefore put systems in place to ensure they don’t lose the power.

Media feeds into this by shining a light on the perils of communities of color, the crimes committed, and overall showing a skewed view of the lives of people of color. All of this perpetuates the beliefs and systems meant to oppress a large part of humanity.

God created us all in this image of God. This image of God is not white. It is not an upper middle class white individual with a good job, a family, and a house with two bathrooms and more space than they know what to do with. The image of God is found within us all, white, black, brown, and every shade in-between. George Floyd was created in the image of God.

Statistically speaking, there is not a huge disparity in crimes committed by people of color versus white, however, there is a large gap in the differences of those convicted of crimes and spending their lives in prison. There is disproportional amount of people of color being profiled because of their skin color. And know we have yet another story about a black man being abused and killed by authorities. When does it stop?

Now, please understand, that I am not claiming that all police officers are one step away from committing these same types of crimes. I am not. I know many officers who are good and upstanding and truly hold their vows close to their hearts. they serve and protect the people, all people, with truth and justice. But what happened to George Howard is unacceptable. Many are saying that we should wait to hear the whole story, but what I witnessed on the video that was shared yesterday and the ones which surfaced today, all point to something that went terribly wrong.

George Floyd’s life was cut short, regardless of the original reason for the call to police. No one should lose their life because of a possible forgery. George’s life ended far too early. This is just another incident which points to the real truth that racism is still alive in our society. This is not acceptable to God, and it’s not acceptable to me. This must end.

I’m Going Fishing

Lake-Boat-Peaceful-Horizon-Photography-Landscape-900x1600Mark 1:16-17; “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.””

John 21:3; “Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”

Mark speaks about the first calling of Peter to become a disciple. It is before he even has a clue who this Jesus guy was, but yet he drops his fishing pole and follows Jesus, learning all he can. Then the John passage is after the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is even after Jesus appears to them an Thomas puts his finger in Jesus’ side. But here is Peter, deciding to go fishing, back to the thing that he knows so well. Was he afraid to venture out into the brave new world, the world that had changed so much in the last few days? I guess it was easier to go back to what he knew.

What’s interesting is that toward the end of chapter 21, we find Jesus asking Peter to “Follow me” once again. (v.19) Maybe it was because Peter went back to his old ways of doing things, back to what he knew. Jesus needed to call him once again to follow and trust in him.

During this time of changes due to the virus, the Church has been ‘forced’ into finding new ways to connect with each other, to maintain community, and to reach new people. We have begun online worship, video conferencing bible studies, conference call meetings, and multiple video sources for prayers, announcements, and gathering spaces. God has opened doors, windows, and maybe even secret passageways for us to enter into this delicate space we live in.

It is amazing! It is Spirit led. And it is God ordained. We have adapted to our surroundings. I am reminded about the early church as it spread from house to house, with people gathering in small groups, praying for each other, giving of themselves for their community, and worshiping in different spaces. There was a fear of the authorities who were out to eliminate this movement of ‘the way.’ They still worshiped, gathered, healed, and prayed, sometimes in secret, sometimes in public, but it was still moving.

Today, we have been encouraged to not be in the sanctuary for worship, community, healing, and prayer. But we have not been refused the myriad of opportunities to do these things, just in a different way, a new way.

My prayer is that when this is all past us, and we are able to rejoin in community, that we will not forget these new ways. We will not leave behind the ways God has blessed us in technology and other innovative ways of connecting and reaching out to our neighbors. I pray that we will incorporate all of these new ministry ideas into the message that God’s Church brings to the world around us.

I hope that we will not go back to what we have always known, relying on the long standing traditions. I hope that Jesus doesn’t have to remind us once again to ‘follow me.’ It’s time to go fishing, and we have all the tackle we need. Meet me at the boat…

All for the Good

microphone-1007154_1920So, yes, we are the middle of something that most of us have never experienced before. Sure, we’ve had pandemics before. We’ve had illnesses which have threatened multitudes of people, even took so many lives. Flu’s, diseases, storms, natural disasters, and so many other things that affect our lives.

However, isolation? It began with a request to stay home of you were not feeling well. Then it was social distancing, followed by canceling events. I remember watching an NBA game when the announcements began rolling out, that the season would be suspended. Then baseball, college and high school sports, soccer, and it didn’t stop there. Concerts and other events and conventions cancelled. When would it end?

Schools closed, colleges, local, and private school districts. Seniors started to ask, what about prom and graduation? The acceptable group sizes began shrinking, at first it was 1000 people, then 250, then 50, and finally 10. Of course that was even discouraged. The latest is our ‘shelter in place’ order, where we are to stay home if we can and only essential parts of society should still function.

As a pastor, I was incredibly discouraged. How do you actually close a church to the public? Shouldn’t we just stay open and be a refuge for those who need us? (Which is all of us frankly.) How can they tell us to shut down? I was upset thinking about all the people who would not be able to gather to be encouraged and hear about the love of God in their lives. This virus felt like an attack on more than just people in our community, I felt like it was an attack on the church because there are not many occasions in history when the church was physically held back from gathering.

But then something happened. Sunday, as it does every week, came around. God’s people found a new voice. Now I understand that many churches were doing this type of thing for many years, but there were quite a few of us who never did. We took God’s message into the “streets” as we shared online worship. Was it perfect, probably not, and I’m sure there were many mistakes made, but we still put ourselves out there.

While some did not have the technology to be able to watch the many services offered, so many others participated, some had not been in worship for a while. I saw people inviting friends to join in worship, and they joined! I saw people who had walked away form the church for many years, come back for this ‘new’ thing and were engaged by others during the service. It was amazing! It reminds me of a couple of things.

Joseph endured some pretty horrific things along the path which led him to be able to help so many others with his position. He told his brothers that being thrown in the pit started a journey which God used for good. God was able to use the bad things that were happening to Joseph to bring out the glory of God.

One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:28 where we hear; “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

It was as if God said, you think this will stop my message of hope, grace, and love will be held back by this? I will use new things, new ways, new technologies to reach even more people. And just like that, we realize that the gospel message will never be held back by anything and that God will work in all things to show this amazing grace and love for everyone.

It is all for the good, all for the glory of our creator! Glory to God! Amen.

Edit: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe this is all a good thing. There are many people hurting as they face not only this virus, but also the financial implications that come with the ‘shelter in place’ order. I do have hope and faith that we will emerge on the other side stronger for enduring this storm. However, prayers are with all of those who face difficulties in this time. May God grant you peace and comfort in the days ahead.

Is This Heaven?

Woodstock 2020Such a great line from “Field of Dreams,” but I wonder how many times we have thought the same thing. Maybe it was that beautiful waterfall, a sunrise over the mountains, a sunset on the beach, or maybe a family gathering that you didn’t want to end. Do you remember a time when you felt like an experience was a “slice of heaven?” (Who knows maybe it was a piece of pizza…)

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been listening to a project from Jim Ratts and the Runaway Express called Woodstock 2020. This CD is beautifully put together with so many artistic pieces, re-telling the story of a concert that changed the atmosphere. The project is a journey back in time and follows the weekend as it unfolded.

A couple of things you should know. I am not old enough to remember the event, especially since it happened a little before I was born. I also do not condone some of the things that happened during the weekend. The drugs and open sex do not foster the  committed loving relationships that God desires for us. However, in the midst of much of that behavior came something truly amazing. Because this event was about so much more that what meets the eye.

The weekend concert was wrought with difficulties, from artists, to food, supplies, and even locations, but yet it still happened. And not only did it happen, it thrived!

Here’s what resonated with me. As the hoards of young people gathered on a tiny plot of land for what they hoped would be the concert of a lifetime, the people in charge of the event quickly realized that it was going to be much larger than ever expected. They didn’t have enough food, enough camping spaces, or even enough restrooms. This alone should have shut down the event right then and there. But it didn’t.

Word spread around the area and residents searched through their cupboards, went to the store, and brought food to the festival grounds. They didn’t know the people who were attending, but they felt called to help in a very tangible way, to feed this huge crowd. When the food started to be distributed, the people attending seemed to self-ration the food, making sure there was enough for everyone. The fed each other, shared with each other, and loved each other. In a moment in time, when things should have been absolute chaos, peace reigned, even in the storm and downpour, peace reigned.

People slept right next to each other, cared for one another, helped when it was needed, and celebrated together. This was a little slice of heaven, a place where peace ruled and love abounded. Isn’t it amazing to reflect on how God can work all things for the good? Who would have thought that a concert in the middle of some farmland with hundreds of thousands of youth, could give us a glimpse of what the kingdom of God could be like?

If you’re wanting a little more, or just a musical journey into this amazing event, check out Celebrate Woodstock 2020 by Jim Ratts and the Runaway Express on I-Tunes, Amazon, or many other sites where you can listen or download.

Listen, reflect, and love as you travel this life, always asking, where have I seen God today?

Imperfect Vessels

Jars-of-Clay

This morning, the passage from Jeremiah 18 came to mind. It truly is amazing that certain things come to light at just the right time. Messages from God are received right when they are needed. Today was no different.

This is a passage about the potter and the clay, and many of you remember this story. Jeremiah hears the voice of God, who tells him to go down to the potters house where Jeremiah will hear a message from God. Now, this may or may not have been a verbal command. It might have been an unexplained internal urge to so and see the potter, but we know that it is a message from God and Jeremiah listens and obeys. He goes down to the potter’s house.

Here is where I think we miss the little things. We need to be aware of our surroundings, or all that is going on around us, and of all the little, sometimes insignificant things. Because here is where God will sometimes speak. It is in the awareness that we see and hear God’s messages, and if we don’t take the time to reflect on them or don’t pay attention to them, we will miss the message all together.

Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and sees him working on a ‘spoiled’ vessel. He could have just said that he saw the potter working with the clay and forming it into a beautiful vase, pitcher, or cup, but he didn’t. He tells us the vessel was spoiled or marred, there was something wrong with it. In the shaping of the vessel, something happened and it was not what the potter was designing for it. But did he throw it out and grab a new handful of clay, no! The potter took the imperfect vessel and reworked it. It was the master’s hands that shaped and molded the imperfect piece into something beautiful, useful, and complete.

This is just like our lives. We are imperfect vessels which have beaten down by life, broken by past sins, and viewed by the world as worthless. But our potter, God, takes the pieces, the ‘spoiled’ parts, and reworks them, shaping them into something beautiful. Remember what Romans 8:28 tells us; “God works ALL things for the good of those who love him.”

Even if the world thinks you’re ‘spoiled,’ please know that God is not done shaping you into the person he has called into this life. You may be an imperfect vessel; so am I; but God will use all of those imperfections in his great salvation plan. Isn’t that exciting?

It’s worth wondering…

Toast SticksThere are many things that I do not remember from my childhood. Whether it was some trauma from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, or just the mind playing tricks by forgetting certain things, there are just some things that I don’t remember. But I was just reading about Mister Rogers and one of the foods that he enjoyed when he would visit Mama Bell, a close neighbor of his while growing up. He would show up at her back door and Mama Bell would ask him if he wanted ‘toast sticks.’ He was overjoyed when she eventually taught him how to make them, even though they were pretty simple to make.

What was interesting, is that while reading about this story from his life, it brought back memories from my childhood. I know the recipe well, as simple as it is. After the toast is cooked, you butter it and then cut it into 3 or 4 strips. That’s it! But I remember mom making that for me. I’m sure this was a staple meal for the times when I was sick. My stomach was upset and I didn’t really feel like eating much of anything, but there was something about strips of toast. I remember stacking them up, building some kind of structure, only to dismantle it by eating every last strip.

What makes little strips of bread, toasted, buttered and cut into strips taste so good. Maybe it was the hands that made it…

I wonder if this might also give a glimpse into God’s plan for our lives. There’s something special the God has called each of us to in this world, and maybe we can’t handle it all at once. Maybe this plan the God has for us would just scare us if we saw the whole thing. I remember discerning my call into ministry and as I reflected on the call, I realized that if God had called me right out of college, I would have either laughed or ran the other way, maybe both! At that age, I couldn’t see pastoral ministry as a vocation for me. But over time, God opened my eyes through life experiences to the call of ordained ministry. This path was taken on incremental steps, one after another. I needed to take each step and not all of them at once.

God knew I needed ‘toast sticks.’ I needed this call in bite sized pieces, and I’m so glad for God’s ability to guide me into this wonderful calling. I wonder, what are your ‘toast sticks?’

Practice, Practice, Practice

AboutFred_IntroOver the past few weeks I have been preparing and participating in a worship series about Mister Rogers. I have been reading many of his sayings, about his stories, and some of the views from others about him. I was able to see the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” from 2018 and the movie starring Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

I grew up watching Mister Rogers, as well as Mister Mustache, Kaptain Kangaroo, It’s Magic, and so many others on TV who would teach through their programs. But Mister Rogers was different. He wasn’t flashy, active, or very enthusiastic, but he was engaging. There was a magic about him, but it didn’t come from visual effects or bright lights. It was his calming nature, the slow delivery of his speech, and the way he would make eye contact through the screen, right into the living rooms of all those kids.

Fred Rogers was a perfectionist in that everything had to be just right, and if it wasn’t, they would run it again. Everyone knew it. I was also amazed when I heard that he weighed 143 lbs., all the time. He would weigh himself everyday to make sure it hadn’t changed, because there was something special about that 143 number. I (1 letter) LOVE (4 letters) YOU (3 letters). Fred was a wonderful pianist, a Presbyterian minister, and song-writer. None of these came to him without a great deal of practice.

There are not many talents that we have, which don’t get better without practicing. My daughter loves to do gymnastics, mainly tumbling, but it has taken quite a bit of practice to gain the technique that she has. While she could do some things without instruction and practice, there are many things, including the ‘no-handed-flippy-thing’ as my brother would call it, without a lot of work.

As followers of Christ, we need to practice as well. We need to devote time to growing in our relationship with him. This is what it means to be a disciple. The only way of doing this is to spend time in spiritual disciplines. Spending 15 minutes of prayer, studying scripture, meditation and listening for God’s guidance are essential to our growth as disciples of Christ. As we approach Lent this year, I wonder if you would begin something new? Would you consider starting a spiritual discipline and carve out at least 15 minutes of your day, devoted to growing in your relationship with Jesus Christ?

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Christmas Past“Objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear.” Our pasts are closer than they appear. The things they we have lived through and maybe put behind us are never that far away from us. Let’s talk about our pasts. Now I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to talk about my past, for a couple of reasons. First, there are things there that I don’t want to remember. I know what I’ve done, I know that some of them have not been good, and I would rather just leave them there, forget them, never bring them up again. What could the purpose be of bringing those things up. They will just bring back bad memories and pain, so therefore, I would be better off leaving them there, in the past.

Second, I don’t remember parts of my past that well. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. First, my early childhood was scarred with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Our brains are a wonderful thing, and because of the pain that I was in, my brain blocked many of my memories from my early childhood. Much of my early life is known only because of what I have been told. The other reason that I find it hard to talk about the past is because I don’t remember things the way they actually happened. I remember telling stories about when our daughters were born and every so often, I would look over at my wife. She would be shaking her head, so I knew I got it wrong. This also happens when we are out talking with friends or any other social gathering. I gauge my conversation by watching her as I talk, especially when it’s something that I don’t remember too well. She sets me straight. Know what I’m talking about?

You see, our memories are subject to our own bias, even though they are “our” memories. We remember what we want to. We will forget the pain in certain situations and remember only they really good things. Memories are hard to trust. They can be incomplete as we leave pieces of the picture out. They can be subjective where we only remember what we want to.

In “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Christmas past and in the Disney version, this ghost is portrayed as a candle. It’s interesting to think of the ghost of Christmas past as a candle, shedding its light on the events of Scrooge’s past. He confronts both memories that are happy and those that bring him pain. He remembers his childhood friends, but also his isolation during school. He remembers working for Fezziwig who had a love of life and people and held many celebrations. During one of those celebrations, Scrooge met a woman who he fell in love with, only to watch her walk away when his love for money became stronger than his love for her. And here is where we find Scrooge beginning to realize some of his past mistakes. He wants the ghost to haunt him no longer. I love the way Disney portrays this scene as Scrooge gets angry with the ghost, the candle of light, and tries to cover the candle with the ghost’s hat. But Scrooge can’t hide the light, the light shines in the darkness, illumining his past. Showing him all of his mistakes as well triumphs.

We too have pasts. We too have triumphs as well as mistakes. Many times, we try not to remember the mistakes, we want to put them behind us and forget about them. They’re painful, they remind us what we’ve done. They remind us who we’ve done wrong to, who we haven’t loved, who we’ve turned our backs on, who we’ve hurt; physically or emotionally. Our pasts remind us who we are, and maybe, just maybe, that’s not who we want to be. So, we block it out, try to forget it. Let the past be the past.

Jesus calls the first disciples and we hear how they dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. From what we hear, there were no second thoughts, no “let me get a few things from the house,” no “wait, I have to finish cleaning the fish for dinner, or mending this net for my father, or even let me go say goodbye to my mother.” They just left and followed Jesus. Jesus knew who these men were, he knew their faults, their problems, their attitudes; he knew their pasts. He called them anyway. Jesus doesn’t call the perfect, he perfects the called. He doesn’t look for those who would be vetted and found to be not guilty of any sin. He finds the ordinary, the flawed, the misunderstood, redeems them and uses ALL of them is this wonderful calling that he has.

Jesus also comes to redeem us, and it certainly came at a cost, his life. Jesus paid the ultimate price to redeem all of us. But remember, his redemption does not remain with our lives as they are today. His redemption goes all the way back. He redeems our past and by doing this, he is using all of our past experiences for his glory. All of those things that we keep trying to hide, he knows about, and he uses them in his calling for us. What do you have in your past that you might be trying to hide from God? What closets are hiding things in? What are those skeletons that you don’t want anyone else to know about? Jesus knows all about those doors, in fact, he is standing at those doors, and he’s knocking. He wants you to open those doors to him so that he can fully redeem them. Not just what you want to bring him on Sunday morning, he wants it all, including what’s behind those doors that no one has seen.

Scrooge was taken on a trip back in time to encounter or confront his past, and that’s the only way he can move forward. That’s the only way he can begin to understand how he became who he was in the present and begin to change his life. Some of you are facing those same situations. You want to move forward, you want to give your whole life to God, but there are things holding you back. Your past is holding you back. Today’s the day to confront your past, see all those things for what they really are, and allow Jesus to enter those areas of your life and redeem them. Let him take your past, your experiences, and use them for his glory. Offer up your past to him so that they will be a part of your salvation story and witness.

Leave it There

Red-Cloth---Bible-2As the weather began to change this year (quite rapidly I must admit), I pulled my light jacket out of the closet and walked out the front door. I don’t fully remember what it was that I had to do that day, other than it was full of running from this place to another, maybe even a stop in a coffee shop for a little pick me up. However, it was in the middle of the craziness of the day that I reached into my left pocket and found something that I wasn’t expecting. It was a small piece of red cloth, cut in a strip. Now, to many, this will mean nothing. But for some, it will mean everything.

This piece of cloth represents those burdens, sins, and other things that I didn’t want to carry with me anymore. During a Palm Sunday celebration, I asked people to pick up a similar piece of cloth and nail it to a cross in the sanctuary. And then I proceeded to tell them that now that they have laid this at the foot of the cross, even nailing it to the cross, they should leave it there. Jesus has taken the burden and lightened the load. God has removed the sin as far as the East is to the West. It is all gone!

But now the hard part; leave it there. Don’t pick up that burden when you leave the cross. Don’t dwell on the sins of the past, God has forgiven them. It is so easy to pick up that feeling again and carry it around with you. Some of us treat it like a badge of honor, that we need to show others what we think defines us. So every year we make the journey to the cross, may our burdens down, and then pick them back up again. Sometimes we don’t even know that we are doing it.

When I reached into my pocket and pulled out that little reminder, I began to reflect on how many times I had unknowingly picked my burdens back up, only to find them when I least expected to. The past hurts were never too far away, which also means that they effected many of my everyday decisions. I wonder if that is also true for you. Are there some things you need to let go of? What needs to be left at the foot of the cross?

Will you commit to not picking it back up? Will you leave it there?

The “Trying” Christian

bee-1726659_1920Recently, someone asked a question about something they read. It presented the fact that if we are ‘trying’ to be a good Christian, that we didn’t know what it meant to really ‘be’ a christian. (This came from “The Road Back to You” by Cron and Stabile.) While this may seem a bit confusing for those living in this world, it holds some valuable truths.

We must accept that we live in a society that glorifies those who succeed, many times at great and painstaking work. It was from the ‘sweat of their brow’ they achieved the level of success they are. By the code of society, we are the ones who accomplish everything; we are self-reliant. I know as I lived into this for so many years. I worked long hours, devoted so much time to the success of the businesses that I was working for. I wanted to be accepted, valued, and praised for what I could accomplish. It was all about me and what I could do. Many of you might be in that same boat, trying to be the best employee, the best boss, the best parents, or the best whatever it may be for you.

Then we encounter Jesus and things shift, dramatically. However, our worldly minds kick in and we try to become the best Christian we can. We attend worship, join a small group, attend meetings, serve within the community, and do a host of other things, all in the name of trying to be the best Christian we can. But many times we forget the most important piece, allowing God to encourage, empower, and guide us in those actions. We can’t seem to get out of God’s way as we strive to serve God. We even enter into our prayer time and tell God just how good we’ve been. Do you see God, how we served that meal yesterday, how we volunteered to read scripture for worship, or how we visited 3 people last week in the hospital?

If we are quiet enough, I think we might hear God at times say “Yes, I saw that, but did you bring me with you? Did you let me give you wisdom in what to say or not say? Did you allow me to guide your footsteps?” God wants to be that integral part of your life, involved in everything. And we need God in our lives, otherwise we can’t do anything. Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches, apart from Him we can do nothing. So, why are we trying?

We can try to change our lives, but the One who can truly change us, is Jesus Christ. It is through the grace of God that we are transformed into the ‘best’ that we can become. And we must remember that God’s grace is not something that we earn or something we work towards. This grace is something that’s given to us as a gift. When we accept this grace, the change that we desire happens to us, through the love and grace of God.

We need God. Stop trying to be the best Christian, and allow God to transform you into the Christian you are meant to be. Allow the change to happen to you.