Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Renewing of Your Mind, Part 2

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.  (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Last time, we talked about the importance of repentance when it comes to renewing your mind about a life dominating sin. Perhaps you thought you were repentant the last time you tried to overcome this sin. You confessed to God and others. You memorized Scripture. You prayed and begged the Lord to remove it. But still the battle continues, and you find yourself on the losing end of it. What went wrong? Why can’t you put this sin to death once and for all? Maybe the problem is that you have never really experienced true repentance. So today, I want to talk about what true repentance looks like, both on the heart level and in your behavior.

If we read on in 2 Corinthians 7, we find this in verse 11:  For observe this very thing that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

Paul has laid out for us here a very clear set of indicators for true repentance. Let’s take them one by one and see exactly what they mean for us in our battle.  First, Paul says that when true godly sorrow has come to your heart, you will be diligent. The Blue Letter Bible says that this word means earnest or eager. This eager earnestness is the first reaction you will observe in your heart when God has granted you true repentance. John MacArthur, in his Study Bible, says that this is an “…attitude that ends indifference to sin and complacency about evil and deception.” Perhaps, in past attempts to kill this sin, you have started out strong, but defaulted back to complacency about it. Maybe you decided it wasn’t that bad, or that there were much worse sins you could be committing. When you experience God-granted, true repentance, there will be no trace of complacency.  No longer self-deceived, your mission to put this sin to death will be clear and mandatory.

The next mark of true repentance Paul points out is the clearing of oneself. Basically, this is a desire to clear your name of the sin you have indulged, and completely disassociate with all manifestations of it. You don’t go to that bar, visit that website, or hang out with that group of friends any more. You will desire to restore the trust of those you have harmed by your sin, and reassure them that this time, there is no going back. You will want to build their confidence in you, and you will be diligent to make sure you do not disappoint them.

Indignation is the next clear marker of true repentance. This is righteous indignation, even holy anger—anger over your own sin, and even disgust at the amount of time you allowed that sin to dwell in your heart. You are literally sick of your sin. You are mortified at the shame you have brought to God’s name with your sinful attitudes and actions, and you are eager to be rid of both the sin and the shame that is now associated with it. This indignation is fueled by godly fear of the One who judges sin.

Next, Paul lists vehement desire and zeal. These go hand in hand. It means that you will have a yearning to restore the relationship with those you have sinned against, including God. The motive behind this is that you have such a great love for God and for those people, that you sincerely hate anyone or anything that brings shame or harm to them. This includes the sin you are putting to death.

Finally, the truly repentant sinner will have a desire to see justice done. This doesn’t mean that you go out seeking penance, or trying to make amends (although that can be a part of true repentance). This means that you are no long shifting blame or dodging responsibility for your sin. It is the end of “I’m sorry for what I did, but you…” kind of false repentance. When you are truly repentant, you will desire to take full responsibility for what you’ve done, regardless of the consequences. You will also be willing to be held accountable in the future, to give the one sinned against an extra measure of comfort in restoring trust.

This passage is an excellent primer on repentance, and if you truly desire to repent of a particular sin or pattern of sinful thinking, you would do well to memorize it. Measuring true repentance can be difficult, and a gauge like this one is very helpful for keeping on track. Having this passage ready in your mind at all times may be just the tool you need, from the moment God grants true repentance, until the death of that sin in your heart.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Renewing of Your Mind, Part I

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may   prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.           
(Romans 12:2)

This is a “go-to” verse for me when I am talking with counselees. I have found that many of them are well aware of that first command, which is stated in the negative: Do not be conformed to this world. Most find it fairly easy to understand that they must resist the temptations of the world, and avoid situations that might draw them to sin. Some have a long list of “don’ts” and they are eager to avoid those things that are clearly sinful.  Some even teeter on the edge of legalism, thinking that they can achieve holiness by the things that they don’t do.

In our pursuit of holiness, it is true that we must avoid sin, but there is more to it than that. Paul goes on to tell us that we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind, not just reformed from sinful worldliness. But what does it mean to renew your mind? Well, when we think about making something new, the implication is that the old is no longer satisfactory or functional. When we are fed up with a certain besetting sin, or crushed under the weight of a life-dominating sin, then we know that the old has got to go, and the new must be put on. This is one thing that must be present in order to renew your mind: A strong distaste for the sin, and a heart that is determined to change.

A second necessary tool for mind renewal is the Word of God and a desire to read, understand, study and memorize it. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). If you are unsure of how to change, your best guidance will come from the Word of God.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). Your mind needs the reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness that only God’s Word can provide.

The final and most important thing that must be present if you are truly to renew your mind is conviction of sin and true repentance, both of which can come only from the Spirit of God (2 Timothy 2:25). You will know when God has granted you true repentance, because your zeal for reform will be unquenchable. You will be determined, well beyond your own will, to kill the sin that has taken up residence in your heart. You will be willing to do anything to be rid of it. Even if you have tried many times before to renew your mind in a particular area, this time will be different. The difference is that you are not trying to change under your own power, but under the power of the living Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Think about that. The same power that brought Jesus up from the grave is living inside you right now and is available to help you quench the power of sin in your heart. All you have to do is submit your will to His, and He will give you the power to change.

Next time we’ll talk in a little more detail about what true repentance looks like. Since mind renewal simply won’t happen without it, it’s important that we understand exactly what the real thing looks like, so we can recognize the counterfeit, even if it is in our own heart. Meanwhile, dig into the Scriptures and begin to read about the mechanics of mind renewal. I would suggest you start with Ephesians 4:17-24. Meditate on this passage, and search your heart and life for evidences of the things listed there that must be put off. Begin to ask the Lord to reveal to you the areas where you need true repentance. He is faithful and just, and will do it!



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy Anniversary

This week was the fourth anniversary of the surgery that was supposed to repair the errors made on my first knee procedure. That second surgery ended up causing irreversible damage to the knee joint and, as they say, the rest is history. I had actually forgotten that the anniversary was close, until I was reminded by Facebook. The “On This Day” app popped up to remind me of the anticipation I had shared the week before that surgery, that I would finally be able to get back to normal, and that this surgeon’s error would finally be corrected after two years of limping and hobbling.

Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that that was not the case. That second surgery caused all kinds of problems for me physically.  But, as I look back over these last six years, I see some very positive spiritual things I’d like to share with you. Maybe, as you deal with your own struggles, you will be able to apply the lessons I’ve learned, and see the good things God has done for you.

The first gift God has given me through this journey is the realization of how very self-focused I am. God was not surprised by this, but I certainly was. I learned that my default response, when things are difficult, is self-pity. As the realization sunk in that the surgery had made things much worse, my heart went immediately to self: Why me? Did I make the wrong decision? What have I done that God should punish me this way? Can he really love me if He is choosing to allow this to happen? It took some time, and a skilled biblical counselor, to set me straight, but eventually He granted me repentance from a pattern of self-focus and self-pity. While I am not perfect in this, He has given me many victories, and a heart-level change in this area.

Secondly, God has increased my compassion for those who suffer. He has especially brought into the light my judgmental attitude toward people who complain of pain or immobility, but look perfectly fine to me. Before all this happened, I had been guilty of harshly judging people for complaining about what they can’t do, believing in my heart that they were just making excuses. What I have learned is that no one knows anyone else’s level of pain, and no one has liberty to judge anyone. I have received more than one disgusted look from people who see me walk fairly normally from my handicapped spot into the store, not knowing how carefully I have to conserve my steps, so that I can last to the end of the day.

Finally, God’s greatest gift to me in all of this: His call on my heart to finally complete my certification and become a Biblical Counselor. This has been a desire of mine for nearly 10 years, but one thing after another has prevented me from pursuing it. I have always been an on-the-go kind of person, always busy. When driving and walking became difficult or impossible, I was forced to stay home and deal with my own heart issues. As I found freedom from the bondage of self-focus and self-pity, I became excited about helping others to be free from the bondage of life-dominating sin, and to show them that God can redeem their pain.  The Lord stirred up my heart to get my training done and get to work for Him, and that is exactly what I have done.

So, looking back on these last six years, I won’t say there is no sadness for what I have lost. But the truth is, what I have gained far outweighs those losses. How ‘bout you? What has God done for your heart as you have travelled your own path of suffering? I would be very interested to hear about it in the comments.

My God has been faithful and true to me, never wasting a single moment of pain or suffering. By His mercy, I have been enabled to serve Him in exactly the way He wants me to, and I am so grateful. He has indeed redeemed my pain, my suffering, and my loss.  Hallelujah! What a Redeemer! What a Savior!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

For His Glory

Many people struggle with their purpose in life. Those who deal with chronic pain, illness, grief, and other life-altering circumstances are especially prone to such musings. What would encourage a sufferer to go on when she sees no relief in sight, no end to the pain? What exactly is the purpose of life?

The answer to that question is no different for the person I just described than for any other person. Whether you are in perfect health and can’t think of a thing that would make your life better; or you are a quadriplegic with constant, debilitating pain, the purpose of your life is the same: To bring glory to God. How do I know this? Because of the truth of God’s Word. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that we were created for God’s glory. In this verse, God is calling…

“Everyone who is called by My name, 
 Whom I have created for My glory; 
 I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”

God has made each one of us for His glory. This truth changes our perspective on the question of purpose, doesn’t it? The terminal cancer patient can say that the purpose of her life, even if there is little of it left, is to bring glory to God. Once she embraces this truth, her outlook on the rest of her life will be transformed. Instead of dreading chemo treatments and being anxious about her last days, she has renewed confidence that her suffering has a purpose that is greater than her experiences. She can begin to face each new day with a renewed perspective. Instead of waking up to fear and dread, she can embrace the new day, thanking God for it and asking Him how she can glorify Him in it.

My own experience has proven this truth out time and time again. When pain is overwhelming; when disappointment crushes my morale; when I long for the things I have lost, the Spirit reminds my heart that my loving Father created me for a higher purpose than just to have my own desires fulfilled, my own comfort assured. He created me in His image, for His glory, so that I can enjoy Him forever! No matter what condition my body and mind are in, He will always enable me to glorify and enjoy Him. My work is to discipline my heart and mind to believe and act on that truth.

As Paul reminds us in Romans 11:36, “…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” My dear friend, if you are feeling today as though there can’t possibly be any purpose for your life of suffering, be encouraged! God has created you for His glory. You are made in His image, and He will always allow you to glorify Him, regardless of your circumstances. Ask Him to show you how.

To help this new paradigm stick, I often give counselees an assignment: Write the words, “I was created to glorify God (Isaiah 43:7). How am I doing right now?” on a 3X5 card, and carry it with you everywhere you go. When fear, sadness, and frustration creep up on you, pull that card out as a reminder, and adjust your response accordingly. You will be surprised how quickly this new kind of thinking will take root, and your attitude will be transformed as you walk in obedience.