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Enjoying these unusually mild winter temps and actually getting to see the sun for once this year, I found a nice park bench.

Looking out over the lake, bits of flotsam and jetsam washing up, I noticed down the shoreline a ways was a large object, somewhat like one of those oak barrels. Where’d that come from?, I thought.

Just then, Jimmy Knechtle walked up.

“Happy New Year,” I said. “How’s your dog, Pablo?”

“Well, I had to put him down.”

“Oh no!”

“Yeah, he’s too fat to carry. Here, Pablo!”

That oak barrel suddenly turned toward us and slowly began to waddle in our direction.

“My dog got fat this fall,” said Jimmy, looking on, shaking his head. “He learned how to open the pantry and the dog food bag. We didn’t notice until he couldn’t fit out the doggie door at Christmas.”

“Did he get into your stash of jerky?”

“How’d you know?”

“Smart dog.”

“Yeah, he’s kind of ashamed. Last week, he told me he was making a New Year’s resolution.”

“Buy him a scale. They say the more often you weigh yourself, the faster you lose the weight. Regardless, to make that kind of change, he’s got to really want it.”

Gym equipment flies off the shelves this time of year. But you can find the same gear at garage sales next summer. By February, the exercise bike becomes a useful clothes rack.

“Here’s the thing, Jimmy. See that freighter out in the bay? How hard is it to turn one of those around?”

Jimmy gazed out at the ship.

“Those ships can be over 1,000 feet long and carry as much as 80,000 tons of cargo.

“One freighter captain said he begins the turn from Lake Michigan into a harbor while the ship is still about three miles out.

“It’s a beast to turn around.”

Jimmy was right. We then spent some time discussing how difficult it is to make a change in ourselves or in the world. We need three things:

1). Dissatisfaction with the status quo

2). Knowledge of a better way

3). Knowledge of first steps

Our desire for change must be greater than the inertia, the habits of body and mind that created the rut.

Then we need some wisdom to know how.

For example, one of the biggest challenges in the world today is our addiction to all things plastic. It is ubiquitous, everywhere, because it’s so darn useful. Packaging is easy, light, and cheap. We live in a throw-away society, and we don’t know what to do with the little that gets recycled.

No matter how dissatisfied we are, we don’t have a better way. We don’t know the steps to overcome the problem. So we throw up our hands in defeat or ignore it all together and move on, even though microplastics are poisoning our bodies as we read the paper today.

To develop new habits, we need to be able to say no to old habits, from simple to devastating. No to scratching that scab and reopening the wound, no to the siren call of cell-phone distraction tyranny, no to abusing our bodies with unhealthy food choices, no to lashing out in anger at others who innocently pushed one of our tender buttons, no to soul-crushing, relationship-destroying porn.

The Bible uses the word “repentance,” which simply means “to turn and go back in the other direction.” We see the wrong in what we’ve been doing, get a vision of where we need to be, and take the steps to make the change.

It’s difficult to turn. It’s difficult to overcome our momentum. We’re lazy. Comfortable. Inertia and habit and laziness and tradition all keep us from making progress.

For some crazy reason, repentance is an offensive word these days. It assumes that one has made or accepted a value judgment, a judgment that says that our behavior is less than perfect, not optimal, and — no, can we say it? — wrong.

Our choices, our sins — to turn away from God to make ourselves into gods — are the problem. God wants reconciliation. We should also.

Turning from the sin that separates us from God needs to happen.

Even for those of us who have accepted Jesus’ payment to remove the sin-caused separation from God, we are called to a better lifestyle. “Are we to persist in sinning in order that the grace extended to us may be the greater (Romans 6:1)?”

The answer: “Certainly not!”

Or, as my college roommate used to say, “No way, big dummy!”

At that time, Pablo finally arrived at the bench. Wheezing, he waddled over to Jimmy’s backpack, unzipped it, and pulled out and unwrapped a footlong meat stick.

“I’ll start tomorrow,” he said.

Phil Cook is a teacher, works in northern Michigan with Biglife, an international disciple-making ministry, and serves on the Board of Directors for Sunrise Mission in Alpena.

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