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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

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.