Being Changed

© Wendy Clark, 2021

I’ve been using Bob Goff’s book Live in Grace-Walk in Love:A 365-Day Journey as a supplement to my other Bible studies, Bible reading, and personal reflection. Though Bob Goff’s book follows a schedule of sorts, I don’t read in keeping with it.  (I’m somewhere in October’s reading right now.) But as often happens when I read daily readings according to my own schedule, the reading for today relates well to what I have been thinking about.

Here are a few of the things that Bob Goff writes that stand out to me:

“ . . . when I started to think of them [dreaded airport experiences] as opportunities to give away love,my attitude changed.”

“When I think someone ought to be more loving, it’s usually me.”

“The longer I follow Jesus, the more I’m trying to see through the eyes of other people.”

“We come into contact with people every day who need to encounter love.”

“Don’t leave it to someone else to do the loving for you.”

I agree with all of these statements, and I understand them to be true, both in what I know and by what I have experienced. But I would not have been able to agree in the same way many years ago.

In a Bible study discussion the other day one question centered around our awareness of sin, what causes our awareness of sin, and how we respond when we become aware of our own sin.

I thought back to when I was 19 or 20, and in studying the book of I John, I became very convicted by my own lack of love for others, especially difficult people or people who thought very differently from me.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  
I John 4:7-8, ESV

I had sung this passage many times (maybe you can sing the song and know where the claps belong), but suddenly the words leaped off the page right into my heart, and the entire book of I John took on new significance for me.  I felt an acute awareness of my inability to truly love other people, not an emotional, feeling, but the love that Paul describes in I Corinthians 13:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV

I mourned over the incredible lack of true love in me, my intense selfishness, my general lack of concern about most other people, and my propensity to justify my own actions while criticizing the actions of others.

I came to the place where I recognized that in and of myself and my own will, I would never really love other people, especially difficult, challenging people. But that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” 
Matthew 5:43-47, ESV

I needed a Savior, a Deliverer, a Redeemer, and a Teacher,  I needed transformation by a Power other than my own.

And so . . . 

I confessed my sin of being selfish and unloving, and I took my sin where it belongs and laid it at the foot of the cross.  I surrendered.

I am convinced that if we really want to be changed, the cross is the place where we must start, confessing our sin to God, laying it down, along with all of the plans and schemes and methods that we have tried in our own strength, by our own understanding, and recognizing our total inability to do anything about our sin or our weakness. Then turning in the direction of Jesus, let Him take us to the next place in our journey.

Today when I read Bob Goff’s words about love, I agreed with them, knowing them to be true, both intellectually by the Word of God, and also by my personal experience, having lived them.  I am a much more loving person today than I was nearly 40 years ago when I felt hopeless in my ability to ever truly love.  I see the world completely differently than I did back then.  I see you differently.

How did I move from a place where loving people was never much on my radar to a place where loving people is front and center and where I actually look for opportunities to love other people?

I encountered the Word of God.
I believed it.
I submitted to it by putting it into practice.
I repeated these steps over and over and over again.

If you are struggling with sin, something in you that you know is counter to God’s Word, that you know needs to change, there is a simple practice that will take you to the next step:  Encounter the Word of God.  Believe it.  Surrender to it. 

Easy?  Often it is not. It tends to take a lot of practice.

Simple?  Yes, very simple.  Even a young child can learn this practice, step by step, and it’s something that we should teach our children, even as we model it for them.

So then, do I now love perfectly? No. I am still being transformed.  I am not who I once was, but I am not yet who I will be.  

To me, that is very good news because in this last strange and challenging year, I have both made some new mistakes, and I’ve also repeated some very old ones.  I have sometimes fallen into trying to persuade people who perhaps needed more to experience unconditional love. I have sometimes trod with heavy feet where I ought to have stopped lightly. 

I am aware of these sinful missteps because I have daily encountered the Word of God.  I believe that what God says is true and non-negotiable. I confess my sin daily (and trust me, I have daily sin to confess), and I seek to align myself with what God says is true and right and good.  I surrender.

Every day that I practice, practice, practice following Jesus, I am transformed by the Power of the Holy Spirit, little by little.

If we will seek to be transformed, minute by minute, day by day, over a lifetime, we will, in time, be greatly changed. Instead, often we look for huge change in a short amount of time and with little perseverance, and so find ourselves to be ever the same.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 
2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  
Romans 12:1-2, ESV

At the Proper Time

©  Wendy Anne Clark, 2020

So often have I heard Believers say that they do not read the Old Testament because it is “too troubling” or too confusing.  So often I have heard those who do not believe in the God of the Bible refer to God in the Old Testament as full of wrath and vengeance, seeking to annihilate sinners.

How they have misread and misunderstood God and what He reveals about Himself in the Old Testament! How they have missed the great mercy and grace of God revealed throughout the entire Scriptures!

For the past couple of years I have been studying the different books of the prophets.  Currently, I am working through the book of Ezekiel.  Here’s what I have been learning over the past couple of years:

God’s wrath is the pouring out of His perfect justice in response to sin. God’s wrath is the right and appropriate response of holiness to unholiness, and we all long for it.  We want God to pour out His wrath.  We want the world to be set right.  We want justice and truth and everything that is wrong and deceitful and manipulated and twisted to be dealt with and corrected.

One big problem we have, though, is that we are all sinners.  When God’s wrath is finally and fully poured out on all of mankind, in our natural state, we will all be destroyed.  So, for now, God is withholding His wrath. 

People get mad about that sometimes.  Why does God allow evil to exist and the wicked to prosper?  Why doesn’t He just wipe it all out right now?  If God were truly loving and truly powerful, surely He would do just that, wipe out evil and make things perfect, right now.

But if we would take the time to read the Old Testament and to look for what God teaches  about Himself, about humanity, about sin, about justice and judgment and wrath and mercy, we would have a better understanding of why an all-loving, perfectly wise, and all-powerful God, holds back His wrath, for now.

God’s perfect and divine wrath is balanced by His perfect and divine love, which results in His mercy and grace, perfectly poured out.  And all of God’s attributes are perfectly intertwined so that “at just the right time” everything that is supposed to happen, happens, just as it is meant to happen.

In the book of Ezekiel, God tells the prophet Ezekiel that He is going to release His wrath against the evil and sin of His own priests and prophets as well as their enemies. The right time has come.  This is something that absolutely will be; this is not something they will escape.  The sword is coming their way, and there will be widespread destruction and suffering.  And yet, in chapter 33, God says that if the people will appoint a watchman to be on the lookout for the coming sword of judgment, and that if the watchman will see and sound the trumpet of warning, and if the people heed the warning and turn from their iniquity, they will escape the judgment and be saved. 

If anyone fails to heed the warning, his own destruction will be on his own head.  But if the watchman fails to give the warning, all of the people will die in their iniquity, but the watchman will bear responsibility for their destruction. 

So much to think about here, but one point for today is that God, even though He has pronounced coming judgment and is getting ready to pour out His wrath, still invites people to turn and receive mercy and be saved.  

This indeed is the heart of God throughout all of Scripture.  God is longing to show mercy and is giving us every opportunity to turn to Him and receive it. 

When God sees Cain’s murderous heart, He points Cain in the direction of escape and deliverance.  Cain ignores the warning, and yet God still cares for Cain and shows concern for him.

When the world becomes completely evil, God chooses Noah to warn the people of the coming judgment and to build a place of protection that is offered as a way of escape and deliverance.  Noah and his family go into that place of protection and are saved.  No one else responds to the warning.  Everyone else perishes.

When God gets ready to pour out His wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah, He agrees to hold back His wrath on the account of even a few righteous people living there.  When none is found, God provides a warning and a way of escape for Lot and his family, but only those who heed the warning and are obedient are saved.

When the right time has come for God to respond to the great evil of Nineveh, He sends Jonah to warn the people of the coming judgment.  Jonah does not want to deliver this warning, and later we learn that he does not want the people to heed the warning and be saved.  He wants to be the watchman who doesn’t sound the trumpet.

Eventually, Jonah does as God commands, and he warns the people that they have forty days until God’s wrath will be poured out on their sin.  Here’s what happens next:

“The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

‘By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’

Did you catch that?  There was mass repentance in Nineveh.  The king even declared a time of fasting and repentance for all of the people and even the animals.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:5-10)

How can anyone reading this account think that God is longing to pour out His wrath and miss that God is actually longing to pour out His mercy? 

What this account reveals is that God’s wrath is the appropriate response to sin and that there comes a time when it must be poured out unless . . . unless the people will respond and repent–turn to the Lord and turn away from their sin.  And God sends a warning, a watchman to sound the trumpet and show the way of deliverance.  If the people heed the warning, they will be saved.

We discover that Jonah knew this about God, and like many of us, Jonah wanted judgment for his enemies but mercy for himself.

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’” (Jonah 4:1-3)

When someone asks why God allows evil to exist in the world, why He doesn’t wipe the evil people out, destroy them on the spot, I want to look at that person and say, “Because He’s not ready to give up on you just yet.”  That is the truth that many are not willing to face. 

“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

But what people fail to perceive is that we are living in a temporary situation, a time where God is waiting, holding back, actively NOT pouring out His wrath because of His great love for us.

God’s wrath poured out means that everyone who is not in the place of protection and provision that God has provided, will perish.  But because of God’s great love, He has mercifully provided a place of protection and provision, and He invites all people to come and be saved.

For Noah and his family and anyone who would have listened, it was to be sheltered in the ark. 

For Lot, it was a town nearby that God did not destroy, but allowed Lot and his family to flee to for safety.

For those living today it is the protection that is given to us by salvation provided through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.  All who are in Christ Jesus will be saved.  Those who are trying to make their own way or provide for their own salvation will be lost.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

There is a right and proper time that will come when God will pour out His wrath, God’s perfect justice will deal with all wickedness and evil, and sin and evil will no longer have a place in the world.

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”
(2 Peter 3:8–13)

In the meantime, we are to be the watchmen on the wall, warn people of what is coming, and point them in the direction of Jesus, that they might be saved. We are to live in such a way that when we warn people, they will take the warning seriously, not like Lot’s extended family, who heard Lot’s warning, but stayed where they were and were destroyed. We are to live as God’s people, dearly loved by God, basking in His great mercy and grace, and we are to love the people around us and invite them to come and experience God’s great and perfect mercy and grace.

Justice will come when the time is right. 

Encouragement from the Lives of Other Believers: Corrie Ten Boom

© Wendy Anne Clark, 2020

Hebrews 12:1-3

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

Over the past couple of years I have been reading and re-reading the testimonies of Christians who experienced very difficult circumstances, yet in those times continued to walk closely with God and to live in peace and joy, ministering to the people around them.  These testimonies act as encouragement from the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us.

One book that I have read three times is the book The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.

This is an older book, so used copies are often available on  thriftbooks.com and Ebay.com.

I read this book for the first time back when I was in junior high school, then again when I was in my late 20s, and then again just recently. It was interesting to me to realize that what I most remembered about the book from reading it in the past was Corrie Ten Boom’s experience in prison and in a concentration camp, but quite a bit of the book takes place before she and her family are arrested. 

I found myself asking some of the same questions that I asked back when I first read the book, but also noticing things I don’t remember noticing before.  For example, Corrie believes it is okay to lie in a time of war to protect the innocent from evil people, but her sister Nollie does not agree and insists that she must tell the truth and allow God to be the protector that He is. 

Corrie is confused and frustrated by her sister’s perspective and approach, but also says that Nollie has more faith than she does and wonders how Nollie can be so sure about what God wants her to do.  When I read the book the first time, I took more of Corrie’s position on this question, but this time, I had a better understanding of Nollie’s side.  In this story there are many things to consider about what is okay to do in protecting people from evil.

In this reading of the book I was more attuned to the different personalities and giftings of each of the Ten Boom children and of their father.  I took more notice of how God worked differently and individually in their lives.  Though we encounter each of these people through Corrie’s eyes and perspective, we can tell something about who they are and how they are different from each other by what they do and say.

This isn’t a book full of what I call “Sunday school answers” (simple answers to complex questions).  Instead, Corrie Ten Boom is exploring how war and evil complicate what it means to believe and follow God.  Will we follow even when it is not easy?  Even when doing so results in harm to us and people we love?  What does following God look like when we are trying to protect people from evil?

One story that stands out to me involves a  Jewish woman and her baby.  How to hide a baby when there is no way to assure the baby will be quiet?  They are looking for a remote location, outside of the city, and when a pastor who lives on a large, rural property comes to see them, they think they might have found the perfect solution to their problem.  But he refuses to hide the woman and her baby, stating that doing so would be dangerous, is illegal, and that he must follow the law.

Well-known Psychologist, Jordan Peterson, encourages us as readers, when we read historic, heroic stories, to consider who we might be in the same situation and to try to identify with those who are weak or fearful and not just with those who are heroic.  In that vein, why does the pastor align himself with the law of the Nazi’s rather than as protecter of the innocent? Why do many of the Dutch people join the Germans and spy on their neighbors?  Why do some choose to profit from the German occupation at the expense of their own people? Why do many others simply ignore the evil that is going on around them?

This book is full of dilemmas and hardship and suffering and evil, but it is a very encouraging book because it is also full of people who are willing to risk their lives for others and with God working, moving, providing, rescuing and using even terrible situations for His purposes and His glory.  God is on the move, and He is building His Kingdom, and no evil can stop Him.  That’s very encouraging news. 

Encouragement from the Lives of Other Believers: Darlene Deibler Rose

© Wendy Anne Clark, 2020

Hebrews 12:1-3

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

Over the past couple of years I have been reading and re-reading the testimonies of Christians who experienced very difficult circumstances, yet in those times continued to walk closely with God and to live in peace and joy, ministering to the people around them.  These testimonies act as encouragement from the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us.

Darlene Deibler Rose a young missionary who was taken prisoner by the Japanese during WWII is a story well worth reading if you haven’t read it before or re-reading if you need some encouragement today. 

Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II

There are many both challenging and encouraging stories in this book, but one that stands out to me involves Mr. Yamaji, who ran the Kampili POW camp where Darlene was held captive.  He was a particularly cruel and unreasonable man.  One of the things they were required to do was for each prisoner to catch 100 flies every day to help reduce the fly population in the camp. He would beat those who couldn’t produce 100 dead flies.

Darlene’s young husband dies in a separate camp, and Yamaji calls her into his office to deliver the news and to ask her to not lose the joyful influence that she has over others in the camp. Darlene assures him that her hope is not in this world and then shares the gospel with him:

“[Jesus] died for you, Mr. Yamaji, and He puts love in our hearts—even for those who are our enemies. That’s why I don’t hate you, Mr. Yamaji. Maybe God brought me to this place and this time to tell you He loves you.”

He leaves her sitting in the outer office where she must wait until she is formally dismissed, and he goes into his private office where Darlene can hear that he is weeping, for some time.  Whatever happened to him in that office that day, he begins to show evidence of a changed life. One striking piece of evidence that he is not the same cruel man he once was  involves bananas.

After Darlene had been moved from Yamaji’s camp to solitary confinement in a prison where she is likely to be eventually executed, she observes a woman outside her window in the courtyard being passed bananas over the fence.  She begins to long for a single banana and asks God to send her one but doesn’t really see how that might even be possible.

“I bowed my head again and prayed, ‘Lord, there’s no one here who could get a banana to me. There’s no way for You to do it. Please don’t think I’m not thankful for the rice porridge. It’s just that–well, those bananas looked so delicious!’”

The next day, Mr. Yamaji comes to visit her in solitary confinement and then delivers to her 92 bananas, which prompts her to kneel in confession before God:

“In all my spiritual experience, I’ve never known such shame before my Lord. I pushed the bananas into a corner and wept before Him. ‘Lord, forgive me; I’m so ashamed. I couldn’t trust You enough to get even one banana for me. Just look at them–there are almost a hundred.’”

God responds back to her:

“’That’s what I delight to do, the exceeding abundant above anything you ask or think.’ I knew in those moments that nothing is impossible to my God.”

Two encouraging words through this story.  God loves us personally and knows what we need.  He is faithful to care for us and to bless us, even when we can’t see how He will do it.

Second, we can minister to others and have influence even when that seems impossible.  

After the war Mr. Yamaji was set to be executed for his war crimes, but because of the number of people who testified on his behalf, prisoners who said his manner changed and he was a great help to them, Mr. Yamaji was spared and sentenced to life in prison.  Later however, because of his good behavior in prison, he was released  from prison and went on to own a business.  Though Darlene had not had confirmation of his salvation while in prison, Mr. Yamaji shared the Gospel on the radio in the 1980s, many years later.

We don’t always know the influence that we are having at the time, but if we stay close to God and remain faithful, God can use us, even when we can’t see how.

To Tell the Truth

Wendy Clark © 2020

A few days ago I stepped on my bathroom scale, and it betrayed me.  The number I saw was inexplicably low.  I stepped off and then stepped on again.  It showed me an even lower number.  I repeated the process, over and over again, and each time it showed me a lower number than before.  I thought to myself, “Oh, no, even my scale is lying to me!”

Lately it seems that lying has become very common, and people will lie about the most unimportant things.  Has this always been, or are people more willing to lie now than they once were?

Years ago my dad had a 16 mm reel of Candid Camera episodes, and in one of the episodes was the Candid Camera team pretending to film a detergent commercial.  The detergent was called “Wham” or “Zam” or something like that.  They set-up a table with two sets of “white” towels.  Both piles looked less than impressive.  Then they stopped people on the street and told them they were filming a commercial and asked if they would pick out the brightest, cleanest looking towels. 

A person would choose a pile, and the host would say something like, “I’m so sorry, but those are not the towels cleaned by our detergent.  Would you like to try again?”  Many people said, “Yes,” and then the crew filmed them selecting the “right” pile of towels.

One woman stood out as honest.  She took a look at both sets of towels and said, “None of these towels is clean.  They all look terrible!”  When the host said, “but this pile over here was cleaned by Wham” (or whatever name they used for the detergent), “If you want to, we can start over and try again.” The woman said, “I don’t care if it was Wham or Zam or whatever, they’re all filthy!”

It was funny to watch, but is it funny that people are willing to lie so that they can be seen in a commercial on TV?  This was filmed back in the 60s.  I don’t think much has changed unless maybe lying has become more common.

Current late-night TV show hosts enjoy going out on the street and questioning people about events that have never occurred.  Many people will talk with great confidence and in great detail about something when they are clearly lying.  On Social media sites people will post pictures that they have clearly manipulated and lie about how “genuine” they are.

Realizing that people will lie when it doesn’t even matter has made me doubly skeptical about how people might lie when they are desperate or frightened or feel out of control.  That’s why I am unlikely to be moved when someone posts the sworn testimony of a person I do not know who has this friend who had such and such happen to them.  It is not good evidence that you have a friend whose dad is an expert in his field who said whatever he said . . . I have no way to determine the honesty of your friend or of your friend’s dad.  It’s all “hearsay,” to use a legal term, even when it’s in a typed post.  Often it is simply Internet gossip that is passed around and around and around. 

One thing I have noticed in these kinds of references to “experts” is that often the “experts” are using the exact same turn of phrase, the soundbites that are used in the news.  This raises a red flag for me.  At the very least, the language they use often reveals a possible political bias that may be influencing the way they present the “facts,” but some people seem completely unaware of these soundbites, even as they use them themselves and reveal where they have been picking up their “news.” 

When my bathroom scale started lying to me, I knew it right away because there are other clear pieces of evidence to consider, like how I look in the mirror, how I feel, and how my clothes fit.  I picked up my scale and turned it over and dusted off the censors on the bottom.  I put it back on the floor and tried again.  This time it gave me a more reasonable number.  It went back to being honest.

But how do we reset a culture populated with people who lie so easily and with such confidence and very little noticeable remorse?  If only “liar, liar, pants on fire” was really a thing, but then perhaps we would have all been badly burned by now. 

One of the Scriptures that has most influenced me to reject lying and tell the truth is when Jesus says this, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44).  The enemy of my soul is the father of lies?  I don’t want to give him any foothold in my life!

A few years ago I spent a whole year studying honesty and what it means to be truly honest according to Scripture.  God is completely honest.  There is “no shadow of turning” in Him, not even a shade of manipulating or enhancing or downplaying or withholding or many other things that people are apt to do when they aren’t being completely honest. To be truly honest requires that we submit to the refining fire of the Holy Spirit, every minute of every day.  I am convinced that we can continue to grow in our understanding of honesty and our ability to be honest for as long as we live. In this life there will be no end to pulling at the threads of what we may not yet see as lying–to ourselves, to others, to God.  It is a continuous, ever- deepening process if we are willing to submit to it. 

Here are some of the other things that the Bible teaches about lying and honesty.

Proverbs 11:3
“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”

Proverbs 12:22
“The LORD detests lying lips, but He delights in people who are trustworthy.”

Proverbs 13:5
“The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves.”

Proverbs 19:1
“Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.”

Colossians 3:9 (the Apostle Paul to Believers)
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.”

Philippians 4:8-9 (the Apostle Paul to Believers)
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

The One True King

Ezekiel 20:32-33
“What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’

“As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you.”

God was well aware that His people wanted to be like the people of other nations and to worship like them.  But God was committed to His people, and He was not about to abandon them to the worship of false gods. 

God’s desire and will is to rule over His own people and all of Creation–everything that He has made.  Some people think that is a bad thing.  How arrogant.  How self involved must be such a God that He would demand allegiance to Himself alone.  

Those who think such thoughts do so only because they have never encountered the One True God.  His desire to rule over His creation flows out of His great love, compassion, and mercy.  He rules out of perfect wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and holiness.  How is it possible that I would encounter the One True God and desire that anyone else ever rule over me?  How is it possible that I would know my own lack of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding and yet desire to rule over myself in place of the One True God?

God knows that anyone or anything that we allow to rule over us in place of Him will in the end bring brokenness, chaos, sickness, perversion, death.  “Choose life,”  He says, “so that you may live.”  We are going to submit to some rule in our lives.  Why would we not choose God, who created us in love, sees us fully, knows us perfectly, still loves us, and knows exactly what is good and right and holy and perfect for our lives?

“As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you.” 

This is not a statement of arrogance or of selfishness, but the ultimate statement of love and compassion and righteousness.  The only response that makes any sense is this one:

“Yes, God, I will bow my will before Yours.  You will be king over me.”  

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (TPT)
“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep His commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in His ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.

“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.”

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying Him, and committing yourself firmly to Him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

What Is the Gospel?

Wendy Anne Clark (C) 2020

Mark 16:15
And Jesus said to His followers, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation.”

Proclaim the gospel, literally, “the good news.”  What is the gospel? What is this good news?

I used to think that when Christians, pastors, teachers in the Church, those who identify themselves as Christ followers used the word “gospel” that we were using the word the way the Bible uses it.

The Apostle Paul warned us about people who would come and preach a false gospel, but somehow I wasn’t picturing those people rising up in accepted churches or within my circle of friends. Without actively thinking about it, I suppose I pictured them being more “fringe” and even more obvious.

But lately I hear and read a form of “gospel” being preached that looks on the surface to be the gospel of the Bible, but is not.

Last week I listened to a preacher who said, “This is the true gospel,” and then he quoted this verse:

Luke 4:18-19
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  

This is Scripture, and this is true. Jesus read this passage out of Isaiah while preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, and then He sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Although the people of His hometown didn’t understand the fullness of what Jesus was saying about Himself, they understood that He was speaking with authority about the Scriptures and establishing Himself as sent by God, and they were offended by His message. 

The pastor that I heard referred to this passage as “the gospel” then went on to talk about social justice and the need to care for the poor, free the prisoners, and lift up the oppressed.  All of his examples were limited to this physical world and this temporary life, but is that what Jesus was talking about, and is that what Jesus focused on in his three years of ministry?

When Jesus multiplied the bread and the fish for the crowd, they then followed Him.  Jesus recognized that they were looking for Him to keep on providing their physical food, but He refocused their attention off of the physical and onto the spiritual:

John 6:26-27
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.” 

Why did Jesus talk about “signs”?  Signs of what? What were they missing in what Jesus was saying?

Why didn’t Jesus fight against the Roman government, declare all of the slaves to be set free, establish funds for the poor and the orphans and the widows?  

It wasn’t because He didn’t care about doing these things or because God the Father does not care about these things; the Bible clearly promotes doing all of these things.  It was because this is not the focus of the gospel and not what we are to go and preach.

How do I state that with confidence?  Because I use the Bible to understand what the Bible means. Many people are saying that for us to come to understanding about what the Bible really means, we must read a particular book or watch a particular movie, but the Bible tells us what the Bible means, and the Bible clearly states what the gospel is.

Romans 1:16
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

Paul says that the gospel brings salvation.  What kind of salvation? He explains more in his letter to the Church in Corinth.

I Corinthians 15;1-4
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . . “

Paul is not talking about being saved in the physical world, but being saved from our sins–spiritual salvation. 

But if you aren’t willing to take Paul’s word for it, Jesus said it too:

Luke 24:45-49
Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus tells us what the gospel is that is to be preached to all nations, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

After Jesus rises from the dead, lives among the disciples teaching them for another 40 days, He ascends into heaven, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, and they go out in obedience and begin to preach the gospel.  What do they preach?  

Here’s the first recorded sermon we have of Peter preaching the gospel:

Acts 2:14-24
“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, 
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls   
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.”

And verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” 

Jesus had referred to the “signs” that the people of God were supposed to recognize, the “signs” pointing to the promised Messiah.

Here’s what happens after the people hear Peter’s sermon:

Acts 2:37-39
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’

“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”

So in the very first sermon we have of Peter preaching the gospel, he does not talk about how to treat the poor or widows or orphans.  He does not talk about standing up for the oppressed.  When the people ask him what they should do in response to what Peter has told them, Peter talks about repentance and sins and Jesus.

The Bible tells us over and over why Jesus came:

I John 4:9-10
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

John 3:16-17
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

Romans 10:9-13
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

But does it matter that this is what the word “gospel” means?  The pastor I listened to was trying to stir people to do good things, so does it matter that he identified and described the gospel message incorrectly?

What about what James writes, isn’t he saying that the gospel is to do good things?

James 1:26-27
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Go back and read everything that James writes. He is not writing to define the gospel message or to explain how one is saved.  He is clearly writing about how what we do demonstrates what is in our hearts and is evidence of who we really are and what we truly believe.  When he writes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14), he is not arguing that it is our works that save us, only that it is our works that flow out of a true salvation.

We are not saved by our works. I know this because the Apostle Paul in explaining salvation writes this:

Ephesians 2:4-10
“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Notice the order that Paul explains to the Christians in Ephesus:  salvation by faith through Jesus, which results in works.

Paul uses this same order in writing to the Christians in Rome:

Romans 1:1-6
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

The gospel we are to preach is salvation from our sin, not because loving others, serving others, and caring for others is unimportant, but because those things flow out of our salvation and do not produce salvation.

Salvation according to the Bible is not some collective thing that occurs as people in a society promote justice and do loving and kind acts. Salvation is for individuals who will confess their sins, repent, and trust Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross in their place for the forgiveness of their sins. 

When one person believes and confesses and turns to Jesus to be Savior and Lord, in a single moment that person is transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light.  In a single moment, that person is declared righteous before God.  In a single moment, that person becomes a child of God, belongs to the family of God, and is part of the Body of Christ.  All of these things happen before that person ever shows a change of behavior or does anything “good.”

In that same moment the process of sanctification begins, but it continues for a lifetime. Sanctification is a refining, purifying, aligning to the truth and to the heart of God. But Sanctification cannot happen without personal confession (agreeing with what God says is sin) and personal repentance (turning away from sin and back toward God).  

Sanctification cannot happen collectively, and man’s attempt to sanctify self, can never result in salvation. And we can’t come up with our own ideas and rules about salvation and then live by them and hope to be saved.

Romans 10:1-4
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

The Apostle Paul takes the use of the word “gospel” very seriously:

Galatians 1:6-8
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”

Galatians 3:1-3
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

I have been troubled by what looks like Christians who came to Christ by grace and through faith, but are now preaching a false gospel of works to purify and make holy.  Only the blood of Jesus purifies and makes holy. 

2 Corinthians 5:14-21
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The gospel, the good news, is this:  Though we were all born as enemies of God, God Himself loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins in our place so that we could be reconciled to God, make peace with God, and live in relationship with Him.  

We are all invited.  But each one of us must individually respond in faith and accept the gift that we have been offered. There is nothing that we can do to earn or deserve this gift, and God is not waiting for us to do anything but to believe and respond in faith. 

Everything good that God has for us and everything that we are called to do in obedience to His commands, will flow out of our willingness to “be reconciled to God” and to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. 

Do Not Be Afraid

Wendy Clark © 2020

Fear and Hope.  Though sometimes it seems like they sneak up and overtake us, we have a lot more control over fear and hope than we often realize.

I can drive out fear by looking forward in hope, and I can squeeze out hope by feeding present fear. In any moment of my life I can shift my focus and perspective and change my whole attitude about my current situation from one of fear or discouragement or despair, to one of hope. 

So simple, but not so easy. The shift takes focus, intention, effort, and often practice and repetition.

Examining my fear or my discouragement can be a big help in shifting to hope because both fear and hope are intricately interwoven with trust and faith.

For example, if I am fearful about my finances, I can take a look at what I am trusting to keep my finances in order and consider how trustworthy that source is.  Am I trusting my own ability to work and earn and save and make good decisions?  Am I trusting a bank or financial institution to manage my money well and give me a reliable check each month?  Am I trusting the government to be generous and reliable and faithful in providing for my needs?  How reliable are each of these sources? 

I can avoid a certain amount of fear by shifting the source of my trust to something or someone more stable and trustworthy.  I might divide my assets and look for my fiances to come from a variety of sources.  I might come up with strategies and make plans that help me to manage the money that I have better.  These are not bad ideas.

But in the end, I will stop being fearful about my finances when I come to understand that God is the source of all provision for me. God is the one who gives me the ability to make wealth and blesses the work of my hands. God, in His Word, gives me principles of truth that I can apply to my finances. God promises that if I walk with Him and trust Him for provision, He is faithful to lead me and guide me and trustworthy to provide generously for all that I need.

Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart ,and do not  lean on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to Him, and He will lead you on the straight path.”

Psalm 40:1-3
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.”

The Bible says that the fear of the LORD is a wise kind of fear because we recognize who is really in charge and who is really the One powerful enough to handle all of our concerns with faithfulness, love, compassion . . . holiness.

And God is trustworthy not just with my fiances.   The same is true for all areas of fear in my life.  I can examine the fear and what it tells me about where my trust is and where I am putting my hope.

Am I afraid for my safety or the safety of those I love? Who or what am I trusting to keep us all safe? Am I afraid of failure?  Who or what am I relying on to determine whether I fail or succeed? Am I fearful about my future?  Who or what am I trusting to make a way for me? 

Isaiah 41:10
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Psalm 23:4
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

We all have the power to drive out fear and live in hope and peace.  That power lies in the choices we make about where we will put our trust.

There are 365 verses in the Bible that say “Fear Not,” one for each day of the year. 

One good step toward overcoming fear, anxiety, worry is to take one verse each day and read the context of the passage.  If there is a story, read the whole story.  Sometimes, you might find yourself reading the same story a few days in a row because God tells the same person to not be afraid several different times.  What does that repetition tell us about God?  About the person or people God is speaking to? What are the promises associated with not being afraid?

Genesis 15:1; 21:17; 26:24; 35:17; 43:23; 46:3; 50:19. 21

Exodus 14:13; 20:20 

Leviticus 26:6 

Numbers 6:24-26; 14:9; 21:34 

Deuteronomy 1:17, 21, 29;  3:2, 22;  7:18; 20:1, 3; 20:3; 31:6, 8

Joshua 1:9; 8:1; 10:8, 25; 11:6 

Judges 4:18; 6:23

I Samuel 4:20; 12:20; 22:23;  23:17;  28:13 

II Samuel 9:7 

I Kings 17:13

II Kings 1:15; 6:16; 19:6; 25:24 

I Chronicles 22:13; 28:20 

II Chronicles 20:15; 20:17; 32:7

Nehemiah 4:14 

Job 5:21; 11:15; 21:9 .

Psalm 3:6; 4:8; 16:7-9; 23:4; 27:1, 3; 29:11; 46:2; 49:16; 56: 3-4, 11; 78:53; 91:5; 94:19; 118:6; 119:165

Proverbs 3:24-25

Ecclesiastes 11:10

Isaiah 7:4; 8:12; 10:24; 12:2; 17:2; 26:3; 35:4; 37:6; 40:9; 41:10, 13-14; 43:1, 5; 44:2, 8; 51:7; 54:4, 14

Jeremiah 1:8; 10:5; 17:8; 30:10; 40:9; 42:11; 46:27-28; 51:46

Lamentations 3:57

Ezekiel 3:9 

Daniel 10:12, 19 

Joel 2:21-22

 Zephaniah 3:16 

Haggai 2:5 

Zechariah 8:13, 15 

Malachi 3:5 

Matthew 1:20: 6:25-34; 10:19, 26, 28, 31; 14:27; 17:7;  28:5, 10, 36

Mark 5:36; 6:50; 13:11

Luke 1:13, 30; 2:10; 5:10; 8:50; 12:4, 7, 11, 32

John 6:20; 12:15; 14:27; 16:33

Acts 18:9; 20:10; 27:24

Romans 5:1,

Hebrews 13:6

Philippians 4:6 

I Peter 3:6, 14; 5:7

1 John 4:18 

Revelation 1:17

Revelation 2:10 


Joshua 1:9
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Clashing Worldviews

By Wendy Clark © 2020

Sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, we make the mistake of thinking that everyone else sees the world the same way we do or that if we could just talk persuasively enough, others would shift directions and see the world the way that we see it. The “right” way.

We’ve all seen the written shouting matches going back and forth on social media.  Most of us have been caught off guard when we have posted something heartfelt and were met with hostility from people we think of as “friends.” We may have responded with a harsh answer back, or with silence, or with more explanation, or by deleting the entire conversation, or even by blocking the other person from ever engaging with us again. 

In 2020, it has become clearer than it has been in a long time, that we are living in an age of clashing worldviews.  No matter who you are and how you see the world, you can be pretty sure that you see the world differently than many of those around you: co-workers, neighbors, friends, even people in your own family.  

We all see the world from a perspective that has been shaped by our experiences and how we have interpreted and responded to those experiences.  Our interpretation of events is an interweaving of what we see, hear, feel, and believe.

When something happens to us in life, especially something uncomfortable, painful, or traumatic, we try to make meaning out of the experience, to find a place to categorize the what happened to us.

We tend to play what happened  over and over in our minds, the order of all of the little pieces, all of the details, but we don’t just sort through the facts; we have feelings attached to what happened, whether we recognize and acknowledge those feelings or not, and what we feel shapes our understanding of what we experienced, sometimes correctly, and sometimes incorrectly.

I think back to a very turbulent time in my life, back when I was in the 6th grade.  Someone who did business with my dad–a man who was a missionary–cheated my dad out of a lot of money.  This threw our family into an economic crisis.  

I was attending a small Christian school at the time and had been there since kindergarten. I was with the same kids every year and had known most of them from the beginning. My parents had sacrificed to pay for us to attend there, and we had received scholarships and other financial help as well.  But now we could no longer afford to stay, so suddenly in 6th grade, I was entering a K-6 public school, knowing only a few of the kids that lived on my block.

What a relief that this turned out to be a great school and a great situation for me!  I loved my sweet teacher.  I was put in a challenging, interesting, and fun class.  I was making friends.  But then . . .

To deal with our financial situation, we had to sell our house and rent a house in another neighborhood.  I didn’t really understand how public schools worked and that this would mean I would need to change schools again.  One day during school, the principal called me into her office to tell me that I would have to leave the school and go to a different school, closer to where we had moved.

I remember that I was completely shocked and devastated as this woman, who looked so cold and uncaring delivered the news, watched me break down into sobbing, and never said one kind or compassionate word. 

I asked her why I couldn’t just stay and finish out the year.  I had already switched schools once, and we would all be changing again the next year for junior high.  She responded to me in a tone that I remember being harsh and unkind:

“I can’t even get my own daughter into this school.  Why should you get to go to school here?”

She sent me back to class a complete wreck.  My kind teacher felt very bad and said she would do what she could to help me stay, but I had to leave anyway.  She did have the class write to me a few times, which was very kind.

I am stunned by the fact that I started crying as I was writing this, some 45 years later.

The new school experience was terrible for me.  The class of the motivated and engaged students was full, and I was put in a class with the lower academic students.  I was pulled out of the class for an advanced reading group and a few other things during the week, but it was clear what kind of class this was, and all of us in that class (and all the kids in the other class) knew it was the class for ‘the dumb kids.”

For a long time I didn’t have any friends in my class, and one girl at the school kept trying to bully me.  I use the word “tried” because I stood up to her, but it was a difficult and troubling time for me.

A few weeks after I had moved to the new school, my family and I were eating in a restaurant when the principal for the other school walked in.  I felt sick to my stomach.  Then I was filled with rage so powerful that I didn’t know what to do.  I remember silently praying over and over, “Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!”

Why was that woman so unkind to a young girl who was clearly devastated?  I have often wondered about her, and I have had to forgive her over and over again.  Even now, I find myself having to forgive her as I write this and to choose to think merciful thoughts about her. I doubt she ever had any idea of what effect her words, actions, and attitudes had on me, and how even the memory of them still has the power to affect me.

And recent events have brought this childhood experience to mind yet again because I started wondering how I might have interpreted this event if I had been a black little girl, facing that unloving white woman across the desk in her office.  Would I have been sure of her motives, sure of her heart?  Would I have “known” that her attitude toward me was because of my skin color?

I was white, and she was white, so of course it never occurred to me that her harshness was due to racism because it was not.  I don’t know why she behaved the way she did.  I think it had something to do with her wanting her daughter to go to the school where she was a principal, but I had nothing to do with whatever was going on there.  She didn’t speak to me with kindness or compassion.  She didn’t try to help me.  Why not?  I don’t know, and I can’t imagine that I ever will.

As I think back on that experience, I’m struck by how what we believe about God plays a part in how we interpret events, both how we relate to Him, and how we understand Him to relate to us.

When I was filled with a sickening rage against this woman for how she had treated me, I started praying because I understood, even then, that the source of my strength and help was and is the LORD. I also understood that holding onto those feelings was not good for me, and that I needed a way to release them, to release her, and to move forward in my life. 

What we believe about other people, how we see them, and how we believe they see us, also plays a part in how we shape our experiences, and because that is true, I recognize that my memory of those events may not be completely accurate.  I remember that principal as being cold and uncaring and for certain she said nothing kind to me, and she didn’t help me in any way.  I still wonder why she called me into her office during the school day to give me that news.  Why didn’t she call my parents?  Why wasn’t my mom there with me? What did the principal think was going to happen? 

But maybe she was moved by my distress, and I didn’t perceive it.  Maybe she was caught by surprise by my reaction.  My memory of her as being hard and uncaring is part of how I interpreted what I saw and heard and felt that day.  The evidence seems to support that interpretation, but it can’t reveal what the woman was thinking or feeling on that day or why she behaved the way she did.

Fast forward many years to an encounter with another woman who appeared to be cold and unfeeling. 

I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 32 and had two daughters, ages 2 and 4 months old. It was a shocking and devastating time for my whole family.  Again I found myself sitting in an office across from a woman who seemed unmoved as she laid out to my husband and me treatment plans and what we could expect. Although we had an appointment early that day, we had waited for several hours before getting in to see this doctor.  We were on edge, and she was expressionless. I went out of that room feeling like the doctor was a competent but hard woman.

Months later, after I had finished my treatment, was cancer free, and was coming back for a follow-up appointment, one of the nurses talked of what she remembered that first day.  She said that she knew from the beginning that I was going to be okay because I had a positive attitude and I was looking to the future.  Then she said something that surprised me.

She said that after our meeting, the doctor sat in her office for a while and cried.  She talked to the nurse about her great grief at the young women with cancer that she was treating.  (Another of her patients also had a baby and was being treated for cancer.) The doctor herself was pregnant.  She was overwhelmed by imagining what it might be like to have a new baby and be diagnosed with cancer.  She was struggling to “keep it together.”

When we have a bad experience that is connected to someone else, we want to know why people do the things they do.  We often make up our minds about why they do those things, and our worldview plays a big part in what we decide is true about other peoples’ hearts and motives.

But we have no way of knowing what is inside the heart of someone else.  Sometimes we are not even able to see our own hearts clearly.  The Bible talks about this problem:  

“Every way of a person is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2).

When Samuel was sent by God to anoint the person who would be the next king of Israel, he was distracted by what he could see and what he thought about who should be king. God corrected Samuel when he incorrectly picked out the person he thought should be king: 

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).

We can’t see inside to the heart.  We can see lots of clues, and we are told to look for those clues, the things people say, the things people do  (what the Bible calls “fruit”) in order to have some understanding about who is trustworthy and truthful, but in the end, we can’t really know why people do what they do.

“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart . . .” (I Corinthians 4:5).

Motives and intentions are something that we can’t really know and we have to leave to a future time when God will reveal those deeper things that for now remain hidden.

Because we are such complex people, with so many things that shape how we see the world, God tells us not to use the world around us as the guide for interpreting events.  Instead, we are to replace whatever worldview we have come to have with a Biblical worldview.  We are to line up our thinking with God’s thinking.

The Apostle Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

We must actively resist thinking like the world thinks by renewing our minds and being transformed.  How do we do that?  We surrender our thoughts, to God’s thoughts.  We let the Word of God shape us.

Jesus prayed for those who would follow Him, that the Father would sanctify us (transform, purify, refine) in the truth, and then He said this, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).

So if I can’t know why people do the things they do, then what am I supposed to do with all the bad things that others have done to hurt me?  

The Apostle Paul writes, “Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:12-13).

I can choose how I will think of other people.  I can choose to think of the principal with mercy and to forgive her even though I do not understand why she did what she did. I can choose to remember that doctor as a person, as a woman struggling with her own hopes, dreams, and fears.

The Apostle Paul also writes, “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith” (I Timothy 1;5).

And to the believers at Philippi, he writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

I can examine myself, comparing myself against the Word of God, I can agree with what God says is true and reject what I think or feel when it is contrary to God’s word. I can surrender and submit my thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and feelings, even my memories to make them obedient to God’s Word.

No, I don’t know the motives behind the things that you say and do.  I don’t know your heart and all the places where it has been hurt and broken.

Here’s what I do know about you:  You were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  God knew you before you were even born (Psalm 139:13-15).  God knows everything about you (Psalm 139:1-6).  God loves you (John 3:16).  God’s desire is that you would know Him (2 Peter 3:9). God wants me to love you even if you are not kind and loving toward me (Matthew 5:44). God’s goal is for you and I to live in peace and unity, and that we would love each other (Psalm 133;1-3).

None of these truths hinge on your experiences or my experiences.  They are true whether you or I believe them or not. And as I was taught long ago, the only two things from this world that will last forever are people, and the Word of God.

So we ought to give great care to both.