Last year in September my family and I spent two wonderful weeks near a North Sea beach in Denmark. After a very busy summer (including the memorable fifty-ninth General Conference session in Atlanta) we needed to “come aside and rest.”
September in Denmark is autumn, and significantly fewer people populated the long beaches, full of white sand, smooth stones, some crushed shells—and, yes, what was that? Jemima, my youngest, had bent down on our first visit to the beach, right after we had arrived. “This is pretty,” she proclaimed proudly—and sure enough, it looked interesting. It looked smooth and green and felt great—a polished piece of sea glass. This opened officially our family’s sea-glass-hunting season. We spent hours walking and searching for the elusive prize and brought home at least four pounds of sea glass, white, green, brown, and one blue piece.
In case you wonder what sea glass is: it is the remains of regular bottles or other glass containers that somehow ended up riding the wide ocean. These glass shards are being polished and smoothed by the sea, the sand, and the rocks. They have been transformed from something ugly and dangerous into something beautiful.
Transformation is a key concept of Scripture. The unrighteous is declared righteous. The sinner becomes a child of God. The lost is found.
Transformation is also a catchword in post-Apartheid South Africa. Some weeks ago my wife and I visited that country that played such an important role in our lives. More than 20 years ago we had met and married there. God opened many doors allowing me to complete my doctoral studies there.
I still remember the long lines of people waiting to vote for the first time in 1994 in an all-race, inclusive election. I stood with them in line, waiting for my turn. Since then, the country and the Seventh-day Adventist Church have made great strides, trying to transform political, social, and economical realities. I was delighted to meet the first Black president of Helderberg College, Tankiso Letseli, recently appointed. I was touched listening to the joyful singing of the new national anthem of South Africa that includes so many different languages (and memories). However, 16 years after the first election and the many intents at transformation, things still have a long way to go.
Mind-sets and culture cannot be easily changed. It takes generations to unlearn what it took generations to imprint, as we can still see and sense even here in the U.S.A., 50 years after the civil rights movement. And somehow, even though we think that we can change and transform the big and small challenges in our lives, we soon come to realize that we are really helpless.
Scripture tells us that true transformation is a heart issue. It comes from within. It requires a mind-set change—not a change of social, legal, or any other circumstances. Ezekiel reminds us of this process. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Eze. 36:26, NKJV).* God is speaking here to His people, giving them the promise of real transformation. A heart of stone (that cannot sustain life) becomes a heart of flesh. Something ugly turns into something beautiful and valuable. Something potentially dangerous becomes useful and benign.
As I look at our smooth, colorful, and attractive sea glass collection in our family room I am reminded of God’s transforming power that is at work in the church—and also in me. God’s transformation may at times be painful, but the outcome will always be beautiful and God-directed.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is associate editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published January 20, 2011.