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Conform, Inform, or Transform?

April 11, 2013

I spent a week in Honduras last October. I’ll never forget visiting Tegucigalpa’s (capital city) largest trash dump where 1,000 people (men, women, and children) live.

I discovered that each day trash trucks drive from all over the city to dump their garbage. As the truck approaches the dump site, young boys race to be the first to jump onto the truck, climb into the garbage and begin to search for hidden treasures.

We were told that if you asked one of these kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” most of them would say, “A trash truck driver.” From their perspective, that’s the key to a better life.

I was so encouraged to learn about an incredible local ministry that is now educating, housing, and ministering to these kids. One long-term result is that some of the kids are discovering that there’s so much more to life than living near the trash dump.

You can see one of the boys who lives at the dump and jumps into the back of the trucks searching for garbage.

Some of the people who live at the trash dump

When it comes to my faith, I sometimes settle for being a trash truck driver. Maybe you can relate. Let me explain.

Ginger and I have a group of friends we hang out with every Wednesday night. (You can meet them on THIS video.)

We are discussing John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted.

According to Ortberg, we are trying to grow our faith by being: conformed, informed or transformed. Here’s the cliff notes version:

Conformed (premier value = rules) – Despite Duet. 6:4, first century rabbis focused on circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath keeping. Why? Because when we can’t experience transformation we want to separate ourselves from “outsiders” so there’s a noticeable difference. John Ortberg calls this “boundary markers”. These are highly visible, superficial practices (vocabulary, dress, style) intended to distinguish insiders from outsiders.

Informed (premier value = information) – Some people constantly desire “deeper” teaching. For most of us, it’s easier to be intellectually stimulated than be internally transformed. Since learning can disguise a heart that’s not being transformed, sometimes we pursue “deeper”.

Transformed (premier value = heart change) – Jesus focused on the internal vs. the external. He asked, “Do you love God and do you love people?” Not, “What are you doing?” Or, “What do you know?” Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 13:1.

Sheldon Vanauken wrote, “The strongest argument for Christianity is Christians, when they are drawing life from God. The strongest argument against Christianity? Also Christians, when they become exclusive, self-righteous, and complacent.”

Which of these 3 are you pursuing?

John Ortberg offers these 5 questions to help us discover if we are being transformed:

1. Am I spiritually “inauthentic”? Inauthenticity involves a preoccupation with appearing to be spiritual.
2. Am I becoming judgmental or exclusive or proud? Pride is a potential problem for anyone who takes spiritual growth seriously. As soon as we start to pursue virtue, we begin to wonder why others aren’t as virtuous as we are. As Homer Simpson’s fundamentalist neighbors said: “We went away to a Christian camp. We were learning how to be more judgmental.”
3. Am I becoming more approachable, or less? Jesus was the most approachable person people had ever seen. The religious leaders had a kind of differentness that pushed people away. Jesus had a kind of differentness that drew people to him.
4. Am I growing weary of pursuing spiritual growth? Observing boundary markers, conforming to a religious subculture, is simply not a compelling enough vision to captivate the human spirit. It was never intended to be.
5. Am I measuring my spiritual life in superficial ways? “How is your spiritual life going these days?” Quick—what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If you’re like me, I  immediately think about how consistent my quiet time is going. As if that is the single measurement of my spiritual growth. A better set of internal questions is, “Am I loving God more? Am I loving others more?”

When I focus on conform or inform above transform, I’m settling for driving the spiritual trash truck when God has so much more.

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