Mind Your Mind

I wanted to share some quick thoughts about an area of our lives we disregard quite foolishly most of the time: our minds. I say that we disregard our mind because we do very little in our daily lives to guard it from the attacks of Satan.

It is like we are at war. Our mind in the headquarters where all the important directives are sent out from. If the enemy knows the location of our stronghold he will stop at nothing to destroy it. So in war, the headquarters is well guarded and protected from the enemy. Satan is our enemy and he knows the location of our headquarters. He knows our weak spots and how to attack and how to exploit them.

So if the enemy knows where to attack, shouldn’t we be prepared and have extra defense at that location? Here is our problem and this is why I say we disregard our minds. We basically allow Satan a free pass to tempt us. Sometimes, we even bring the temptation upon ourselves.

I want to suggest two fairly easy and practical ways in which you can guard your mind. If you are struggling with any particular sin, (and we all are), I believe this is often where that temptation first takes root. So hopefully these suggestions will help, with the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit, combat sin struggles in your life.

The first is guard what comes into your mind. The White House does not just allow anyone to walk in and talk with the President. They tightly guard and control who enters so that the President remains safe. We can do the exact same thing with our minds. Psalm 101:3 says “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.”

I had a basketball coach in college who always told us to guard our “eargates and eyegates.” I always thought it was a strange thing to say, but as I have grown and matured I now see the incredible advise in these words. What we allow into our eyes and ears directly affects our mind. So if I am listening to music that degrades women and watching movies that show improper relationships then my mind will start to fall for the temptation and sin of lust. If I listen to people always being rude and watch TV shows where rudeness is celebrated then I will most likely treat others poorly.

We are foolish to think that what we watch and listen to on a daily basis does not directly affect our sin struggles. It is most likely that whatever sin you are struggling with can be traced back to what you are allowing into your “eargates and eyegates.”

So my first suggestion is to guard these valuable gates to your mind. Don’t watch movies that put bad thoughts in your head. Don’t listen to music with constant negative overtones. Don’t always hang around people who are rude, condescending or mean. Don’t watch shows which portray selfishness as freedom, (which is pretty much everything shown on American television these days). Figure out what sin you struggle with, (that shouldn’t be too hard, you probably already know what sin you struggle with but if not ask a close friend), and try to figure out what things cause that sin to be more difficult to fight. My guess is it will relate to what you are letting in your ears or eyes. So guard your gates!

Second, allow the right things in. While the White House doesn’t allow everyone in, they do allow the right people in. We cannot just try to block out everything, but rather allow the right things into our minds. Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Instead of filling your mind with garbage, (TV, movies, negative people and music), why not fill your mind with what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent? If we put garbage in, garbage will come out. If we put excellent in then excellent will come out. Fill your mind with good things.

What are these good things? Read your Bible. Memorize verses. Listen to Christian music. Hang around uplifting and encouraging people. I can tell the difference in my attitude when I have been listening to secular music and when I have been listening to Christian music. Secular music focuses on self, Christian music focuses on God. So when I only listen to secular music I tend to focus more on myself, (selfishness), but when I listen to Christian music I tend to focus more on God. Psalm 119:9 teaches us “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word.”

You can never put too much Bible or God in your brain. He is inexhaustible. The more you learn and grow the more you want. And as we fill our brains with the things of God our lives are transformed. Romans 12:2 says “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.” As we dwell on the things of God, our mind is transformed and we are actually able to discern God’s will. That is amazing!

I hope these two quick, practical steps will help you as you learn to guard a valuable place at the front of our spiritual warfare. May we not be so foolish as to think we need not protect our headquarters. Instead, may we build in practices of keeping the temptations out and allowing the heavenly in. May we stop feeling helpless in our fight against sin, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, fight the battle of our minds so that what we take in and what comes out may glorify our Father who is in Heaven.

You are Forgiven

I think it is vital that we understand that as a Christian we are forgiven. So many of us get caught up in moralism and trying to be a good person. This is not the Gospel message. Becoming more Christlike through lifelong sanctification is, but moralism and the pursuit of moral perfection is the lie of every other world religion.

As Christians, we do want to become more Christlike in our daily walk, but we also recognize that we fall short time and time again. I am not perfect and often find myself feeling guilt or shame that I am not as good as I think I should be. But the Apostle John’s words in 1 John 1:8-10 shine light into the darkness we often put ourselves in.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10).

So today I want to look how these 3 verses can dramatically shape the life of a Christian and can hopefully bring the non-Christian to a place of repentance and forgiveness.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” ( 1 John 1:8). The first step towards forgiveness is admitting fault. You must realize that you have sin and then admit and confess it to God. Now God already knows what you have done, said or thought, so why the need to confess?

Confession is a humbling act and makes us realize our fragile nature. When we confess that we have done something wrong, (sinned), we are laying down our pride and asking for God’s help. God’s forgiveness can wipe clean any and all evil we have committed. God can forgive our daily moral failures, (the things we shouldn’t do but did and the things we should do but didn’t do).

The problem is most of us “deceive ourselves.” We feel no need to confess wrongdoing to God. We feel that each person is free to make their own moral decisions and that truth is a subjective thing. This attitude only shows that “the truth is not in us.” If you feel you have nothing you need to confess and be forgiven of by God then you sadly do not know the truth. If you are unsure of what you need forgiveness for than pray and ask God that He would show you your sins against Him.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Second, we see here that when we do confess our sins that God is faithful to forgive. Notice there is no description of the degree of sin. That’s because in God’s eyes all sin is equally evil. God does not say He will forgive a lie but not murder. He doesn’t say He will forgive arrogance but not selfishness. You see that every sin, whether it is something you did, said or thought, will be forgiven.

This massive truth is important to grasp. When I look back at my past I see so much selfishness, arrogance, worldliness and many other sins. I see things I did, said and thought that are wrong and sinful. I see things I didn’t do, say or think that I should have. I see moral mistake after moral mistake. And then this causes guilt and shame because I realize I am not as good as I think I should be.

But, that is what makes the Gospel and this verse in particular so amazing. God has forgiven each of those sins I have committed. I have no need to feel any guilt or shame for my mistakes and moral failings. Now I don’t want this to take away from the seriousness of our sin. The amazing truth is that I am forgiven and cleansed from such a great evil.

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10). But again many of us will look back on our lives and not see sin. I often hear people say they don’t regret anything in their past, that each thing that occurred was a new experience and helped their overall growth as a person. What a lie from the devil! I don’t regret hard times or when trial came my way because it did help me grow, but I do regret each and every foolish word or deed I did that dishonored God. How arrogant we must be to try and condone our sin or use it as some platform for moral improvement!

Rather, I hope we can all look back and find things in our lives that we do truly regret. That we know we shouldn’t have done, said or thought. And may we see those things as sin and confess them to God for we know that He will truly forgive us and we can be set free from any guilt or shame we may have.

So Christians, stop acting like you have no sin. Confess your sins to God. And not just the obvious ones. Confess your wrong motives, your selfish ambitions and bad thoughts as well as the more blatant sins you commit. If you don’t know which of the harder to see sins, (jealousy, idolatry, selfishness, pride, doubt, fear), you are struggling with, then ask God to reveal them to you so that you can confess them and be forgiven and cleansed. Daily confess your sins to God and be set free.

Non-Christians, you need to realize that your life is sinful. You are not as good as you pretend to be. Moral truth is not subjective. You have made mistakes and need to be forgiven. Confess your sins to God. Turn to Him who alone can cleanse you and set you free from your sins. Your good deeds will never outweigh your bad. You can never make up for your past wrongs. Rather, you must be forgiven of them and that comes only through the precious blood of Christ. Turn to God, confess and He is faithful to forgive.

May we all realize our need to be forgiven and then go to Jesus, the only place where true forgiveness can be offered. May we stop living with guilt or shame because of our past deeds or because we aren’t as good as we think we should be. May we stop lying to ourselves that we don’t have sin or moral failings. May we stop believing the lie of moral subjectivity and instead believe the truth of Jesus. My hope and prayer is that we would all turn to Jesus and be forgiven.

My Work or Jesus’?

This week I am going to deal with an idea that is mainly discussed in Christian circles. But next week I am going to start a series about some very basic, logic based proofs for Christianity. Hopefully both will be helpful no matter what situation you are in.

I remember my favorite verse in high school was James 1:12. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” The thing I loved most about the verse was the idea that I would need to overcome some difficulty in order to be rewarded.

This idea taps into my maleness or “hero complex” as some have called it. Most men love to be the hero so any chance they have to overcome some adversity in order to reach a final goal or prize is always loved. Look at movies men love: Rudy, Hoosiers, Batman, James Bond, Mission Impossible, Star Wars, etc… Each movie has a hero, (or team), that is faced with a very difficult situation and by overcoming that difficulty they receive a prize, (saving the universe, getting the girl, winning the championship).

We love when our work earns us a prize. But is the overcoming spoken of in James 1:12 really my work? How can I reconcile a verse like James 1:12 with Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” How can I stand the test and receive a prize if it is not based on my work? Am I the one earning or is it a gift of God? These are tough questions and many great scholars have argued over this for years. What I want to look at is how these verses can be viewed in accord with each other rather than at odds.

To do this, we first must recognize that these are not necessarily two completely opposite arguments. God’s work for us and our work in sanctification are not mutually exclusive events. They are two things that work together to help us produce fruit or to remain steadfast under trial.

We commonly make two errors. First, many of us put too much emphasis on our work and neglect God’s work in us. This leads to a devaluing of Christ’s sacrifice for us as well as a lack of proper respect of God’s sovereignty. Romans 5:8 says “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is Christ’s work that set us free from our sin.

Second, many of us solely focus on Christ’s work and neglect our own part in our standing steadfastly. This often can lead to stagnation or complacency, (the idea that I don’t need to work at it cause God will change me when He wants), as well as a lack of disgust with sin and our responsibility of sin. James 2:26 says “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” There is a work that is done by us as well in response to faith.

Rather then leaning too far on either side, we must see how the two ideas work together in harmony. Now there is part of this that remains a mystery, (how the sovereignty of God and man’s free will work together completely will only be fully understood in eternity), but I believe a healthy view of the two will allow us to see sanctification in a new light.

First, we must recognize that the actual act of salvation is by grace alone. God saves us. We are completely unable to respond to God until He has opened out eyes to His amazing truth. Romans 8:30 starts like this: “And those whom He predestined he also called.” You see that God’s choosing us happens before His calling us. Thus, we cannot answer God’s call until He has chosen to call us. Then we can act in response.

Second, once we have been saved by grace alone through faith alone we are given The Helper. This again, is God’s work in us, but this allows our work to soon begin. The Holy Spirit is given to those whom God calls and teaches, grows and helps us know God more. Romans 8:26 says “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Paul uses an example from prayer to illustrate that we don’t work without God’s help.

Finally, our part comes in. Now that God has saved us through grace and has given His Spirit to help us grow, we are able to do, act and grow like never before. This is why you hear stories of people who tried to quit smoking but couldn’t until they met Christ. These are people who were alcoholics and couldn’t quit until they met Christ.

Once Christ comes and makes us new (John 3:3), our work begins and coincides with His. God is working in us through the Holy Spirit and now we are able to work alongside God in our sanctification. Now we are able to stand steadfast in the face of trial. Now we are able to have works that reflect our new life in Christ.

But remember that it is God who acts first. Christ sets you free. The Holy Spirit instructs, convicts and grows us, and then you respond in kind. This way, God gets the glory so that none of us may boast before God.

I hope this short treatise on a big idea can be helpful. I know there is much more that can be said about this topic but for today’s discussion I hope the above will suffice. I do feel it is vital we get the order right so that we may give glory to God for what He has done for and in us rather than boasting in ourselves. But I also help that we will realize that as the Holy Spirit convicts and instructs we must act and grow as well. May we understand that our God saves us and that He provides the help needed in order for us to do the work He has called us to do.

Being All You Can Be is Not All its Cracked Up to Be

So the last few weeks I have been writing a lot about things we can practically do in order to serve and honor God in our daily lives. And while this is good and necessary, I want to caution us that this is not the point of this blog. In fact, this is not the point of our lives. Living your life in such a way as to honor Christ is important, but if you make it your focus you start to do for duty sake rather than love.

Now I want to make a quick point here. For Christians, trying to be more like Christ is good. It’s called sanctification. Once you have a relationship with Christ you now go through the process of becoming more like him. But if you do not know Christ, this idea of self-improvement is actually sin because you are trying to do so without Jesus. Without Jesus as your foundation, it just won’t work.

I remember when I was growing up there was an advertisement for the army that said “Be all you can be.” Sounds great right? On my own I am decent, but what if I fully unleashed my potential as a human? Wouldn’t that be a great benefit to myself, those around me and my society? We love the idea of becoming a better or more useful person. No one goes to college in order to find a worse job. No one gets married to make their life more lonely or boring. Almost everything we do is done in order to add positively to our lives.

And that’s where the danger lies. Especially when talking about our Christian faith and our walk with God. Learning how to live a more moral life is only good and useful if it is built on a foundation. You could read the Bible, go to Church and even use this blog as a way to make yourself a better person. But all of that would be self-focused and not the point. So what is the point?

The point is that you can’t be all you can be. You can’t improve yourself to the level that you are able to unlock all your hidden potential. There is no secret enlightenment. There is no higher level. There is no finally arriving at my best self now. As much as you improve and better yourself you will still fall short. You will still make mistakes and slip up. It’s called sin, and no matter how hard we study or try, we can’t outrun it. Yes you may become slightly better in some areas, (that’s called maturity), but you will continue to see your actions, thoughts and words all stained with sin.

Look at Paul, a man far better than you or I could ever be:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” -Romans 7:15-24

So as long as you try to work hard and will your way over sin you’ll continue to miss the point. YOU CAN’T DO IT. That is not something our modern ears like to hear. But it’s true. There is absolutely nothing YOU can do to overcome, cancel out or move beyond sin. But that is exactly where the beauty lies. You don’t have to.

The truth of Christianity is that you can’t, but Jesus did. While most of us these days can admit that no one is perfect, few have an answer for how to solve this sin problem. The main difference between Christians and non-Christians is that we have stopped trying to do it ourselves and rather have asked Jesus to do it for us. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).

And that’s what the Bible is for. That’s what Church is for. That’s what this blog is for. Not a better you today, but a new you. A completely new person whose identity is found in Christ. Paul teaches us in Romans 6 that our old self was buried and our new self was raised to walk with God. We weren’t meant to grit our teeth and bear it to overcome sin. We were meant to trust in Christ who was and is able to overcome.

So stop reading your Bible, going to Church and reading this blog if you are just trying to be a better person. If you want to hear nice things about how to be a better person watch Oprah or Dr. Phil. But if you want life transformation, come to Jesus. Learn how to have a real, loving relationship with God. The point is not duty and self-improvement. Rather, it is humility and realizing I can’t do it alone. God is looking for relationship, not religion.

Finally, I feel like many of you may wish to believe this, but something is keeping you from the joy of knowing Christ. Usually it is one of two things: either some sin you love too much, or an idol you have made to take the place of God. I just want to ask you, is that sin or that idol really fulfilling? Are you really find a deep, lasting joy in it? These could be family, job, money, sex, pleasure, comfort or even TV. Whatever your sin or idol is, I want you to take a closer look at it and examine if it is really as good as it seems.

So may we stop trying to improve ourselves without first having the love of Christ. May we see that Jesus did what we can not possibly do. May we stop trying to be all we can be, and realize we can’t but He did. May we humbly come to Jesus and become a new creation. May we lay down any sin or idol that may try to take Christ’s place in our lives. And ultimately, may we count it all as loss compared to the surpassing joy found in knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, (Philippians 3:8).