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Tigers Losing Stripes?

The Alpena News

OCT 1, 2022


Everyday Faith

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were strolling through Harrisville as part of their Labor Day festivities, and, as we walked downtown, there was an older gentleman singing and playing country classic songs that caught our attention.

He had a gravelly voice that not only sounded captivating, but it was the kind of voice that also had a lifetime of experiences behind it. As others came and left, my wife and I sat on the nearby porch swing, eventually striking up a conversation.

In talking about his music and love for Nashville, he decided to sing a Hank Williams song that he said was one of his favorites. As we listened to the words, the song spoke of a man who had lived on the city streets and was hoping not to be found dead there. The chorus repeated this sentiment over and over again.

It wasn’t a light-hearted song that made you smile. It was a song that made you pause and think.

As he wrapped up his song, I asked him why that song would be one of his favorites, considering how somber the song actually was. He looked up and said that he had lived that life, but it was long ago and he didn’t really want to talk about it.

He moved on and sang his next song, and I didn’t have the gumption to bring the Hank Williams’ song up again, as it clearly evoked some strong emotions towards a time of his life that brought him pain. Clearly, he had lived a different life than he was now living. He had changed!

I would love to have heard his story and what he had gone through. Making a change from living on the streets to what he was now doing certainly wouldn’t have been easy. I’m sure that’s where the gravel in his voice came from. He wasn’t just singing. He was replaying a portion of his life through the lyrics.

But that brings up something I’ve been thinking about in the Christian realm. Do I — do we — really truly believe that ALL people can change?

Now, the easy answer to that question, of course, is “yes.” As Christians, we’re supposed to believe that, when God intervenes in someone’s life, change will naturally result. However, there’s a pragmatic side to me that really has nothing to do with my faith.

I remember when I was a young coach and I was being mentored by a veteran coach. We were going through tryouts and had to make the final decisions as to who would make the squad. In our conversations, he would remind me, “Tigers don’t lose their stripes, and leopards don’t lose their spots.”

His point was very simple. The kids’ pasts would point toward their futures. Whatever they had been is what they were going to be.

Let’s think about that for a moment. “Whatever they had been is what they were going to be.”

And here is the spiritual conflict.

We often so simply write people off.

Before quickly saying, “Well, I would never do that,” you might want to do a quick personal assessment. Do you have someone in your life that you have a “history” with? Someone with whom you’ve witnessed their bad decisions over and over again? Someone who has hurt you over and over again? Someone who just seems trapped in sin?

I would venture to say that you probably do. And my guess is that, when they start talking, you might just think, “Here we go again.” And whatever they say gets written off because of their past.

Here’s our problem: Our timeframe for someone else’s needed change isn’t God’s.

Our own personal frustration leads us to our unforgiving conclusions. We may not want to get hurt again. We may not want to suffer similar pain to previous pain we’ve experienced with this person.

That all makes sense, but, in our heart of hearts, are we leaving room for God to reach down into their life and transform them?

I’ve read lots of stories in the Bible about people who have experienced transformed lives, and I don’t ever remember reading one story where God just gave up on a person. I’ve read about his relentless love and how far he would go just to save one person’s soul.

God doesn’t give up on his people — ever!

We may know this, but are we living this out?

Certainly, there are people who find themselves in tough spots and need God’s love, but, as a Christian, what are we supposed to do? Give up on them?

I just don’t see that as God’s model anywhere in the Bible for us.

Change does and can occur … even with the people we want to write off. God’s supernatural abilities trump our pragmatic viewpoints every time!

Might I even suggest that part of the reason you are involved in this person’s life is that God also wants to bring further change in your life? Maybe, just maybe, we need to rethink whether or not that tiger can lose its stripes.

2 Corinthians 5:17: “… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here.”

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