I’m not sure why, but some of us are like verbal chameleons. If we hang around people with a certain accent for very long, we start talking like them. I first discovered this when Cathy and I spent three years on a church staff in California. We were about a mile from the Pacific, surrounded by the nuances of West Coast culture. But, when we left there and went back to school in Phoenix, old friends wondered if I had lived in Texas those three years. Why? Because our pastor was from Texas and many of the people in our church were military families who grew up in the South. I spent most of my time around people with a drawl and guess what? I got a bit of my own! Almost forty years later, someone occasionally asks me if I’m from Texas because of the way I pronounce a word.
I saw it again a year or two ago when our friend Kenra returned from eleven months of mission work in some of the poorest countries of the world. Obviously, some of her team were from the South and Kenra, who grew up in Yuma, came home sounding like she had spent a year in Alabama or Georgia. Like I said, some of us are verbal chameleons.
In life, most of us would admit that we are influenced by our environment. We often want to cut some slack to people who grew up in poverty in the inner cities of the world. No matter how much anger we may have about drug abuse, for instance, we can sort of understand a ghetto kid who starts selling drugs because he can see no other way out of the poverty cycle.
If we can unwittingly adapt to linguistic nuances or to the harsh realities of our environments, could we also be changed in a positive way if we were saturated by things like love? Or joy? Or peace? Is it possible that attitudes can be changed because of the attitudes of those around us? Is it possible that we might think differently because of what we read or watch or listen to? The obvious answer is, “Yes!” A subtle danger lurks in our “people-are-products-of-their-environment” argument, however. It’s the danger that moving to a different environment would just change us again. We need something more, something deeper than environment to turn us into a different person. Fortunately, the Good News of Jesus offers it: "Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence."2 Corinthians 5:17 (God’s Word translation)
It takes both the “new creation” power of God’s Spirit and the saturation power of environment to mold our characters, our attitudes, our relationships and our thinking into God’s beautiful design. That design was lost by the first man and woman on the planet and we inherited that loss. God, however, has always…ALWAYS…longed for us to be reshaped, both on the inside and the outside.
Jesus took care of the inside part of us; all we have to do is claim God’s gift of salvation by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The chameleon parts of us require discipline and a lifelong journey of the soul to know and do what God’s Word says. We will talk more about it this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. Can’t be there? Catch the podcast!