Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumn Grace #26: Authentic Transformation and Loving Those in Low Places

My friend Sandy serving with joy!

Dear friends,

I love this life-giving passage from Romans 12!

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will… Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Romans 12: 1-2, 9-16

I have been thinking lately about how people change. Authentic change doesn't come from just behavior modification. There has to be an inner transformation and a new identity to make it happen. Our strongest passions will always rule in the end. If you don't change the desire, the actions will always revert. 

For example, you can attempt to take on a desirable behavior for a while to look good.  Maybe your core desire is for approval or to convince someone else to go along with your plans, rather than doing it "for goodness sake." As soon as your actions fail to get you what you want, or someone gets in the way of your goals, selfishness shows its ugly side again. If manipulation is your motivation, sparks will fly if you are hindered in your pursuit. Your hypocrisy will end up shredding your relationships. However, if you are motivated by genuine transformation and sincere service to God and others, then you will learn to work through the difficulties with patience. You will keep pressing on toward integrity and compassion, and realize that these frustrations are actually stepping stones toward strengthening your character.

I found this passage from Romans 12 to be an encouragement for me this afternoon as I prepared for a monthly outreach dinner for disadvantaged folks in our community. We set this up in the parking lot of a local motel where people live in transition, often for months at a time, usually with government or charitable assistance. At our dinner, they can get a full meal, clothing, toiletries, and laundry detergent for free. 

I usually can't stay the whole time since my kids have youth group on Sunday evenings, but I do at least buy the last minute supplies, set out a few seasonal table decorations, write and distribute name tags for the volunteers, restock the hand wipes, and pass out information sheets on where to find food, health care, housing, and other assistance in our area. 

I love to greet people and hear even just a little of their stories. One lady said she hadn't eaten in four days, is disabled, and is having trouble getting financial assistance. She was so grateful for whatever we could share with her, and we were glad we could do it. 

I always hate to rush off. I wish I could linger longer to listen. Yes, I think these are the "people of low position" Paul talks about in verse 16. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be with them, and to show them a little friendly hospitality in a hostile world. 

Sure, there are things they can try to change in their lives to get back on their feet. Some have made poor choices that got them where they are, and they need to learn a new way. Some need substance abuse treatment. Some need more education or job skills or help with budgeting. Those are valid concerns. But most of all, as we try to address these practical needs, we also share the love of Jesus and his dynamic power to change their lives from the inside out. That's where the real transformation comes.

It's not just them, of course. When I look at my own life, there are so many things I want to change, so many areas where I repeatedly fall short, or just don't know what to do. I remind myself that it starts on the inside, with my core identity and desires, the renewing of my mind, and the strength and wisdom God gives. I know I'll be looking at this passage in Romans 12 again and again in days to come.

God bless you!
Virginia Knowles

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