Friday, October 20, 2006

Let Us Morph

The author and pastor John Ortberg wrote an article a few years ago about transformation (Leadership Journal, 2002) and related the story of Hank, a member of his previous church who was a perpetual grouch. Hank grew so irritated by the volume of the church’s music that he reported the congregation to OSHA, the government agency that oversees safety in workplaces! Ortberg notes that some Christians like Hank have not learned that they are expected to be changed over time, to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2) as “Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). He writes,

“My son was once obsessed with the television show, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The teenagers on this show would yell, “It’s morphing time,” and then they would receive power to do extraordinary things. I liked that so much I tried to use it at my church. It wasn’t a liturgical congregation, but I tried to teach the people a liturgy where I would say, ‘Let us morph.’ The people were supposed to respond, ‘We shall morph, indeed.’ They encouraged me to move to Chicago not long after that.”

But Ortberg asks a good question: Why aren’t the people of the kingdom of God morphing? He suggests two possibilities: First, we have been led to believe (or chosen to believe) that the primary purpose of following Jesus is to get to heaven. More specifically, to be able to “meet the minimum requirement,” which is to answer correctly God’s “entrance question” at Judgment. But as Ortberg points out,

“Jesus never said, “Now, I’m going to tell you what you need to say to get into heaven when you die.” The gospel writers make it clear that Jesus’ good news was that we no longer have to live in the guilt, failure, and impotence of our own strength. The transforming presence and power of God is available through Christ, right here, right now.”

The second reason Christians too often don’t morph is because we focus on outward manifestations of spirituality. Amid first century Judaism Jesus decried the religious leaders’ emphasis on things like the dietary law, Sabbath keeping, and ritual purity not because they were bad but because they had become ends in themselves rather than disciplines by which to be transformed by God. There are numerous modern equivalents to these outward disciplines. To the extent that they help us obey and yield ourselves to God’s shaping hand, they are helpful and worthwhile. When they become ends in themselves they thwart our formation in Christ.

Part of the journey we are on together as Christians is the journey of being transformed into the image of Christ. As Dallas Willard notes, we are invited to practice disciplines of engagement (worship, service, prayer, scripture reading, relationships, etc.) and disciplines of abstinence (forsaking certain things) as part of this journey. Here’s how I think of these disciplines: they enable God to get a better “grip” on me so he can shape me more. Without these, I’m a bit slippery, if you know what I mean.

I’ve never seen the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (I have daughters). But I’m on board. Let us morph, indeed.


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