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Transformation In The Face Of Trials

They are compelled to care for others because they have changed the way they think about things.

Christ’s Church has had the honor for the last couple decades to partner with some missionaries in Papua New Guinea. The Owen family has faithfully served there as Bible translators, doing the hard work of putting scripture in the native tongue of the people they serve. About a year ago the Owen family returned to pick up the work after some time in the States and immediately began to face resistance and persecution.

One of the stories that stuck in my mind came after a weekend where the family had traveled to a larger city to do some shopping and preparation for an extended time in the remote area where they serve. They had been traveling all day and came home to find out their home had been vandalized and their two dogs attacked. One of the animals was already dead and the other was hurt badly. Their daughter was able to locate the animal and held it in her arms through the night trying to help it recover until it passed early in the morning.

I heard the story and my first thoughts were full of anger and judgment. It might not have happened to me but I could put myself in that situation and my thoughts quickly moved from sadness for the family to deeper emotions about the people who would do such things. Here’s a family trying to bring hope and truth to a community and people are doing all they can to intimidate and discourage them.

This past Sunday in our journey of discovery through the Gospels, Mark opened up two passages about John the Baptist. I walked into church Sunday fully expecting a sermon about John but walked away deeply impacted by the focus Mark put on Jesus. John plays a significant role in the Gospels but ultimately his purpose was not to be the center of the story but rather to serve as a forerunner to prepare the way for Jesus. In the midst of that work, we were given a glimpse into the work Jesus was about.

Sunday we were reminded that Jesus, who had no sin, came and took on our sin so that we who have no righteousness of our own could have it through his sacrifice. That’s a lot to consider. If you go back and re-read that sentence that’s a lot of good news packed into one statement.

So what does that mean for us? Mark made some solid application for us when he started with our own personal sins. Remember his illustration about the kid who gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar? The child says “I’m sorry” but he’s not sorry he has the cookie, he is just sorry he got caught.
Perhaps it’s helpful to think about it this way. In college, I played basketball for a coach who wouldn’t allow us to say “my bad” whenever we made a bad play. Our team had a bad habit of saying that and his point was that we were simply saying the words but weren’t actually changing our play and getting better. “My bad” was just an easy way to acknowledge our mistake but not necessary commit to doing better. Instead of my bad, we were only allowed to say “I’ll do better”. I admit, I hated his rule but it also made a great deal of sense. When we would do film study after games and our mistakes would show up, we would stop the tape and discuss a plan on what we should have done and then we would work on those things in practice. We wouldn’t just admit our mistake, we would work as a team to make sure those mistakes didn’t happen again.

Mark shared three steps in dealing with our sin Sunday that reminded me of that experience in college. It starts with an admission of sin, which is similar to the phrase “my bad”. But then we add the other two steps of sorrow over our sin and turning from our sin. It’s those final two steps that are key. They are the pieces we do, not to earn our salvation but to work towards our salvation. When we focus on sorrow and turning it is not because God wants to shame us. Rather he wants us to enjoy the kingdom now and move forward, no longer making the same mistakes. One of the passages from Sunday that has helped me as I process this is 2 Corinthians 7:10 which says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” It’s that phrase “leaves no regret” that sticks in my mind. Just saying my bad doesn’t go far enough to remove the issue. When I just said my bad on the basketball court I continued to make the same mistakes. When I went farther and worked with my teammates to make better decisions, I became a better player and stopped making the same mistakes over and over.

To pull this all together, we were encouraged to take the words of Dallas Willard to heart to “change your thoughts about your thinking.” We have been challenged this week to think differently about what we are mindful of, to do more than just think about our sin but to consider greater things like what it means to have a full life, following Christ and trusting him to help us. Jesus demonstrated what following the Father looks like so we would have the perfect example to live out on this earth.

Today I want to encourage us all to read the words of Hebrews 4:14-16 and consider it as we pursue a life with God not just someday in eternity but right now on earth. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Jesus demonstrates that we can stand up under any trial we may face. He also shows us the way to pursue a relationship with God today. Thanks to Jesus, we have the power to overcome sin, to live the kingdom of heaven each day here on earth and the ability to be transformed from people who live lives of judgment. Instead, we can exchange judgment and fear for lives full of hope that demonstrate the promises of God.

On a personal level that means we aren’t just trying to not sin as much but are focused on becoming more like Jesus and living lives that demonstrate his character through our actions. On a bigger scale, it means people like the Owen’s can pursue mission work even in the midst of persecution. What keeps the Owen family on the field even when their possessions are destroyed or people discourage them? I believe it is the depth of their faith in Christ. Regardless of what man might do to them, they are compelled to care for others because they have changed the way they think about things. They no longer just consider things from a personal perspective. They have the example of Jesus who was also dismissed and attacked by those he came to save. They aren’t perfect people but they embody what Sunday was about and living a life that declares that the King is coming and He will transform our hearts from judgment to hope and promise.

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