Pastor's Pastor

Change can be transforming

James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

The gospel's account of Jesus healing the demoniac of Gadara offers some fascinating insight into human nature. People resist change. People resist change even for the better.

Consider the demoniac. He lived a hellish existence. He made his home among the tombs. He broke off the strongest bonds with which he was fettered, and ran naked through the villages. He terrorized everyone. Then came Jesus.

The account of the demoniac's transformation is compelling. After the swine plunged into the sea, the pig herders ran and told their tale to the citizens of the 10 towns. Then the people "came to Jesus and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid" (Mark 5:15).*

What was so fearful about a sane man, sitting quietly with his clothes on? The fearful sight would be a demon-possessed individual running naked and wild. But the Bible says that they were afraid!

The people were accustomed to their profession, their politics, their priorities, and their processes. They were even accustomed to their wild man. Now Jesus had disrupted the equilibrium. His intervention—even one with marvelous results—frightened them. In fact, they were so frightened that "they began to plead with Him to depart from their region" (verse 17.)

Do you see the irony? If Jesus was going to change things, they preferred to be left alone. Better to have the status quo than anything that requires something different.

Change goes against our nature. We invest so much energy and emotion toward maintaining the status quo that our tendency is to resist change, even a change for the better. But the gospel is essentially a call for change.

The gospel requires change

When Jesus encounters human lives He brings change despite our resistance and reluctance. That is the nature of Christ's message. Conversion. Transformation. Change.

The story of the early church is one of this dynamic change encountering both the established traditions of the Jewish religion and the Roman empire.

The kingdom of heaven required a new order. Such change was so dynamic that the ministry of the early Christians "turned the world upside down."

This does not mean that the requirements for God's kingdom were easily accepted. They never are! Even the disciples wanted to burn villages that rejected Jesus' message. They certainly didn't love the world any more than they loved each other as they competed for position and personal advancement.

Even after the resurrection, Peter struggled with God's intention toward Gentiles despite what Jesus had shown by His personal call to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well—that neither nationality nor gender nor social standing prevented effective ministry. Finally, in the vision of unclean animals, God got Peter's attention and he learned the lesson we still struggle to absorb. The God of heaven is no re specter of persons, and He requires nothing less from His church.

When these requirements finally impact His church, Christ's followers relate differently. Parents relate differently to children. Masters relate differently to slaves. Spouses relate to each other differently. Race barriers are broken. Class distinctions are abolished. Gender prejudices are removed. And the results are so amazing that all are "one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Perhaps it is because of God's power to transform that Satan uses our resistance to change to hinder the finishing of the work.

As for the demoniac? What was the result of his change? As in the case of the cursing fisherman and the Samaritan woman, Jesus called him to preach. That is Jesus' way. He takes the unlikeliest prospects and makes them ministers!

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James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

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