I had a discouraging experience during my college years. I was working part-time at a local church. In exchange for my work, the church let me live in the top floor of a small house right next to the church. There wasn't much furniture there, so one day a bought a beautiful rocking chair at a thrift store. That chair was partly broken, but it still was a nice chair. One day, I was shocked to find that the chair was gone! I began checking with people in the church, and I found out that one elder in the church had that chair. When I talked to him, this elder did not even apologize for taking my chair.
On the contrary, he refused to give me my chair back unless I paid him $100!! He said that he did not know it was my chair, and he already paid to have the chair repaired. At that time, $100 was really almost impossible for me to pay, but eventually I paid him, because I loved my chair so much. This experience made sometimes doubt that people can really change and become good and kind. This elder had attended church all his life, and yet he still seemed to be so greedy and unkind to others.
Have you every asked yourself if God can really change people? I have a good friend who is not a Christian, and sometimes he complains to me that it seems like God cannot really change people's hearts! Do you even feel this way? Or maybe you feel discouraged because you feel that God had not changed you as much as you want. Maybe you feel like you tried to do everything right, but you still cannot overcome your sinful habits. However you feel today, I hope you can find guidance and encouragement from today's verses. Let's read them one more time.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.
This is how God showed his love among us:
He sent his one and only Son in to the world that we might live through him.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and send his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."
In these verses, we can find the right message to overcome our mistaken ideas about change. In this message, I want to look at two mistaken idea, and correct them with the Biblical truth. Are you ready?
Mistaken Idea #1: Real change all begins with my hard work.
This mistaken idea is all over the place. I recently saw a Korean movie called "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring." One of the main characters in that movie was a boy who is a Buddhist monk from childhood. He leaves the monastery when he was a teenager, but later on he commits a horrible crime. He serves time in prison, and then he goes back to a Buddhist monastery. He lives alone as a hermit and spends all his time trying to change himself. There is even one scene where he straps a large stone to his back and walks around in the middle of winter, trying to rid his mind of greed and desire. He endures a lot of physical pain to try to change his soul.
Reality Check: Real change all began with God's love!
After I watched that movie, I thought about that Buddhist monk a lot. I admire his sincere efforts to change. He realized that he had done wrong and wanted to change. That is good. The problem is, he was trying to change himself, but he was missing love. The love that comes from God.
"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and send his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
Bible clearly teaches that a meaningful life comes through accepting God's love. God does not ask us to just work harder and harder to change ourselves. God does not ask us to make ourselves into better people by our own efforts. He asks us to receive his love and then to love others. Each day, that is what we need to do. When I try to live this way, my life becomes much more simple, much more satisfying. But when I try to change myself through my own hard work, I just feel exhausted and disappointed with myself.
Mistaken Idea #2: The goal is individual, personal change.
Remember that Buddhist monk? When I was a younger Christian, I sometimes lived a little like this monk. I certainly did not go to a monastery. I did not tie to try a stone on my back or walk around in the snow with barefoot. But I did try to change myself by my own efforts. I thought that if I could be self-disciplined enough, God would love me more and others people would like me better. So, I tried to do everything right. I tried to get up early in the morning and read the Bible. I tried to pray fervently. I tried to work harder at my job. I tried to study well. Anddo you know what the result was? Even though I was trying hard to do good things, I still never felt satisfied with myself. Even though I tried hard to change, I could never change enough. After a while, I got discouraged. I even started to feel resentful towards God. I thought, "I've tried so hard to change myself, but it seems like God isn't helping me or keeping his end of the bargain!"
My mistake was thinking that the goal was all about ME. I looked at life and thought about three people. --ME, MYSELF, and I. God wanted me to start looking outside of myself and seeing the people around me.
Reality Check: The goal is love the community.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Do you notice that this verse does not say "Since God has so loved us, we should try really hard to make ourselves perfect." No, this verse says that we should love. We are changed by God's love, and then we spread his love to other people. I have to keep
reminding myself this when I am discouraged. My life is not only about me, but about the whole community of people around me. God has given me his love so that I can learn to love others. God is not looking at me angrily or waiting for me to make another mistake. He is encouraging me to quit focusing on myself, and learn to appreciate and love others.
Before we leave, here is some encouragement for you today: being loved by God and loving others reinforce one another. That is, even though we cannot perfectly understand God's love, and even though we cannot perfectly love others, we can start today right where we are. My prayer is that you will remember God's love for you this week, and that you will take small steps to show that love to others. God is with us, and he will change our community as we learn to love others.