People were thawing out their tongues with 180-degree java and the jaws were loosening up.
The man sitting across from me was an unemployed freelance commentator. He began to pontificate about the fact that people don't really change.
"A zebra can't change its stripes. Rev, once a thief always a thief."
My mind raced to Victor Hugo, the French writer, who built a great story around whether criminals could be redeemed.
My response was, "Well, I am holding onto hope that some people can change, otherwise I may be out of a job."
"Oh I'm sorry, Rev. I didn't mean that God can't change someone. It is just that the longer I live, the more I see that you can't teach an old ... "
Old dogs, spotted leopards and zebras all get categorized into a people group by other people who think that "those people will never change."
If I was an old dog, which I am not, and my owner moved my bowl of food around, I think I could change and learn to adapt.
There are things I can't change, like history, genetics and natural law. I don't have spots like a leopard, but I am blessed with freckles and there is nothing I can do to change that.
The real question is, "Can people change, and, if so, how do they change?"
Every person who is going to change must first start with a want to; that is, they have to take initiative upon themselves.
I love the story of the four lepers in 2 Kings 7:3, who stated in the midst of their famine, " ... why sit here till we die?"
They got up and became proactive to change their circumstance.
The next step is that one must find a method to change, someone who will help or, as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, a sponsor.
The UFC (unemployed freelance commentator) continued, and my eyes went around the doughnut shop. There were three sets of two people all at different tables. I recognized the insurance man, but not the young teen with the apple fritter.
The domestic engineer was sitting across the room with a young teenage girl, and I knew them both.
Both of the adults are mentors with a local high school program.
I thought of saying to the UFC that the people around him (self included) must be wasting their time.
If people don't change, why do we have so many mentors willing to take time out of their busy day to become bridge builders, coaches, mentors and agents to assist people who want to change?
Don't they know that people don't change? That's it. It is not that they don't know, but rather that they don't believe it.
They believe that people can change, and God is using them to be agents of change.
If you need some local examples, look at 25-year-old Danny, who was raised by dysfunctional, drug-addicted parents.
Danny was traded back and forth between mom and dad. When he was with dad, they utilized the only shelter available, the back seat of a car.
Danny's aunt would sometimes come and conduct an intervention. Danny was encouraged to join Job Corps, where he met a young lady who went to church. This was a bit novel, but he decided to give it a try.
Danny thought that sleeping in the back seat of a car, drug availability and drug abuse were normal lifestyle functions.
Through a short-term process, God used people to speak a God-initiated transformation into Danny's life.
Today, his wife and three girls are productive, thriving members of the Kenai Peninsula.
Then there is Al, who went through a difficult dissolution of his marriage. He had no hope and no reason to continue with life.
God used mentors like Carl to intervene. Al is now a commercial fisherman, does prison ministry and has remarried.
If you take the time to look around you, I suspect you will see that God is actively at work changing people.
The third element is that God uses people like my friendly UFC to be agents of change. 1 Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood ... that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
This is my motivational text for being a bridge-builder, (priesthood) agent of change, coach, mentor or just plain old helper to someone during this holiday season.
The java has now cooled to room temp and time is escaping. My UFC partner puts the paper down and says, "Hey, Rev, you look like you got something on your mind."
"Yes I do. I was just wondering ... if a dog wanted to learn new tricks, would anyone be willing to work with him or her?"
Jim D. Duncan is senior pastor at Peninsula Christian Center, which also is the home of the new Matrix Church. Matrix Church will conduct its Christmas service at 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 14. The center is behind the Salvation Army store on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna.
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