“Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is – what is good and pleasing and mature.”
Romans 12:2 (Common English Bible)
My wife, Grace, and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with an eight-day Caribbean cruise. That was in November of 2012 – four months after beginning a new ministry that took me from the Philadelphia area to Delray Beach, Florida. The last day was a sea day, the ship making its way back to Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Placing an assortment of oatmeal cookies and chocolate chip cookies on a plate someone approached me, thrusting his hand toward me for a handshake, and said, “Hello Dr. Hood.” Naturally, I was startled. I am on a cruise ship of nearly 3,000 strangers. Who could possibly know me? The stranger continued, “I am a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach. I saw you board the ship. I’ve been watching you during this cruise. I wanted to see what kind of man you were when you didn’t know you were being watched.”
That is a good question for any of us. What kind of man, what kind of woman are we when we don’t know we are being watched? This question reminds me of a presidential race several decades ago. Suspicion whirred around one candidate, suspicion about his private life and fidelity to his marriage vows. The candidate boldly told the press, “Follow me. Watch me!” Apparently, he didn’t believe they would. They did. And he was caught being unfaithful to his wife. That was the end of his presidential run. What kind of man, what kind of woman are we when we don’t know we are being watched? It is a good question.
The apostle Paul teaches us in his letter to the Roman Church that each of our lives are being molded and shaped by one of two forces, either by the world or by God. The world has its patterns and desires which would shape our lives and God has another pattern and desire for us. Fortunately, says Paul, we have a choice in the matter. It is a matter of where our attention is focused. Attention to the values and priorities of the world will result in feelings of scarcity, a fear that there is simply not enough to go around. Our response becomes one of struggle – wrestling with others to ensure our fair share. Attention to God and God’s values and priorities results in concern for others and generosity. The world will create a man or woman that is selfish, self-centered, and fearful. God creates a man or woman that is secure in God’s care and embodies hope for the future. Again, teaches Paul, we have the freedom to choose.
The Christian life is a life lived in, through, and for God. Attention to God through regular prayer, reading the Bible, and intentional practices of obedience to what we hear in scripture increasingly conforms us to the image of Christ. Neglect of these things thrusts us into a default position of being conformed to the brokenness and disintegration of the world. Over time, we become someone who lives in the dark, fearful that someone will see what we are ashamed of. The apostle Paul is urging the church to recognize the negative and destructive forces of the world that seek to grasp us and shape us. “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world,” writes Paul. Rather, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” That is accomplished by living into a relationship with God. It is then we are not ashamed of what others see when we don’t know we are being watched. My conversation with the man on the ship ended that day with his gentle and gracious comment, “I look forward to you being my pastor, Dr. Hood.”