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Monday, December 27, 2010

Dying to Lies and Illusions

The Bible tells us, “Do not conform any longer 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” (Romans 12:2).
Eugene Peterson, The Message, paraphrases:

Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
We now know what goes into our minds often comes out in our words and actions. It’s garbage in, garbage out. Most movies today pull our minds into the gutter. The only way to protect the mind is to expose it to the best. You will need to refocus on positive, wholesome, godly, joyous activities the moment you feel the desire to tune to an avenue of celebrity adoration. The good news is God designed people to adapt.

Dr. Norman Doidge, in his book The Brain the Changes Itself, wrote, “Each time patients try to shift gears, they begin fixing their “transmission” by growing new circuits and altering the caudate. By refocusing, the patient is learning not to get sucked in by the content of an obsession but to work around it.”

I made a decision to switch from senseless celebrity-oriented television shows years ago. Instead of eliminating television altogether, I began watching more creation-based programming. I believe when we watch this type of programming in lieu of the entertainment celebrity menu, we become a more interesting person because of our newfound knowledge. Secondly, creation gives dramatic evidence of God’s existence. I always have something to talk to God about, which strengthens our relationship.
Surrender means we stop watching non-sense and begin to engage in other activities such as talking to a family member, walking or grooming the dog, clean out and organize your closet, learn a new language, or exercise. Go for a walk with God, capturing the majesty of his creation. As Christians we are called to practice spiritual disciplines to help us seek God such as reading our Bible, prayer, corporate worship, fasting, going on a retreat, mediation and solitude. Each discipline strengthens our relationship with God and begins the process of breaking our attachment to celebrity masters.

Will you refocus as the Holy Spirit directs? Write down how many times a day you interact with media: TV, computer, cell phone, DVD, etc. Compare that to how many times a day you participate in a faith-based exercise (reading your Bible, or listening to Christian radio, a sermon CD or music).

This is a lifelong endeavor, so may I suggest following this book with another book I wrote: Breaking the Cover Girl Mask. There is one thing I have learned: there is no freedom without a change of mind. In this book, you will be given more proven techniques to optimize heart and mind, even brain function, restoring the new mind and nature Christ died to give you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saying Good Bye

In a beloved song, "Muppets Take Manhattan," the very sad Miss Piggy sings, “Saying goodbye, going away, Seems like goodbye's such a hard thing to say.”

What does it mean to say “good bye” to the familiar? It means to renounce or give up that something. No question, letting go of what is familiar is difficult. It’s hard because presently we have something tangible we can hang onto, something we perceive brings us pleasure and happiness. When we let go or say “good bye” we don’t have anything tangible in our hands. We feel a void.

God’s first commandment: let nothing be more important than him (Exodus 20:3). Our hearts and minds must be centered on God and on loving others. He fills those voids. The prophet Isaiah warned, “Stop trusting in man; do not follow the way of this people” (Isaiah 2:22; 8:11).

What I want you to realize is when you let go you open the doors to freedom. But I can’t show you scientific measurable results. This is called faith. What Jesus is asking us to do is give him all our tangibles. What he gives us in return is immeasurable love and purpose. This can be extremely scary. I know. Even though we are spiritual beings we still live in a material world. It’s tough.
God said, “I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:21-22).

In God’s eyes, a servant is the greatest of all. Recognize that being a servant won’t make you famous—just rich spiritually. No celebrity or idol can love you this way and do this for you. Only God Almighty!
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

A big reason we remain immature and in the dark, unaffected by truth, is we are dying to all the wrong things. Many of us have extravagantly designed fantasies and a wish list that our real lives can’t nearly support. It’s time to demolish some things and get off our celebrity inspired thrones—a must in the pursuit of becoming an authentic person.

This is our season of truth! Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything. It says there is a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, and a time to love (verses 6-8). This is our time to search, to throw away and to rebuild.

We talked a little about surrendering ourselves. Surrender is an act of the will and accepting what God has ordained as his purpose in our circumstances. It is an intention. But we have to go one step further and take an action step—lay it aside. Another word is detachment, which means we stop finding meaning and security in people, things, positions, money and power so they no longer lure us into unChristlike behaviors.

Jesus said, "Anyone who wants to follow me must put aside his own desires and conveniences and carry his cross with him every day and keep close to me!” (Luke 9:23, TLB). I think too often this is one of those biblical truths that has been misapplied. Taken out of context it results in a narrow and faulty theology that basically says, “If you really want to follow Christ you must suffer and be miserable. The more you suffer, the more God will love you.”

Jesus meant we must accept the death of our own self-directed life. This means we say good-bye to an undisciplined inner life—the one that receives its nourishment from the world. In that process we must be willing to face whatever physical, emotional, or social harassments ensue—loss of certain friends (they were probably not real friends to begin with), being ridiculed for our beliefs, swapping happy hour for serving the homeless, or saying no to those seductive cosmetic dermatology offers.

Research suggests that in many crucial areas evangelical Christians are not living any differently from their unbelieving neighbors. We are being asked to give up pride, arrogance, greed for power and money, judgmentalism, bitterness, hypocrisy, denial, stubbornness—sins that are described for us in the Scriptures.

We are not being asked to die to the good parts of who we are. God has never asked us to lay aside healthy desires and the pleasures of life. He plants those desires in our heart so we will nourish and nurture them. These are gifts from God. No one should feel guilty for unwrapping them.

God said, “Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults” (Isaiah 51:7). If people make fun of you or dislike you because you choose to follow Christ, remember, they are not against you personally, but against God. God will deal with them.

Living out this verse is not easy. It takes everything to follow Jesus. It’s hard to concentrate solely on loving him and others. I struggle repeatedly. But the love of Jesus and watching my personal transformation into his likeness, no matter how slow the progress, is the reward.

Too many of us live spiritually like a person who is on a diet but leaves a pack of frozen pizzas in the freezer. Let’s be honest—it is extremely difficult to deny ourselves what we truly desire while at the same time admit our shortcomings. People want us to be perfect. Our own expectations can be extreme. If we choose to go on this journey, God will refine us over time. As he refines us we gain more strength to pick up that cross.

Becoming a Christian does not guarantee immediate strength or perfection. Like gold being refined through a transformative process, God will make us better and stronger with time—lots of time! We'll be tempted to ignore and deny our faults, but if we don't face them it becomes impossible to refine them. Our mindset needs to change to: don't go through life, grow through life.

Jesus said, “If your eye--even if it is your best eye--causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. Better for part of you to be destroyed than for all of you to be cast into hell. If your hand--even your right hand--causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Better that than find yourself in hell” (Matthew 5:30, TLB).
When Jesus said this he wasn’t speaking figuratively. He didn’t mean to literally gouge out your eye or cut off your hand. Even a blind person can lust and an amputee can steal. Today, especially, we tolerate sin in our lives. Left unchecked it can destroy us. This line of discipline is stern. However, it is better in the long run to experience the pain of removal—getting grid of that bad habit or something we treasure, than to allow sin to bring pain, in addition to condemnation and discipline by God.

We have a choice—to stay as we are: comfortable, perhaps safe, but tragically unfilled. Or, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we determinedly demolish those things that stand in the way of our relationship with God and others. God said “to the captives, 'Come out,' and to those in darkness, 'Be free!'” (Isaiah 49:9).

Although it often feels like we are helpless, we are not. We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit and therefore the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). It is our responsibility as Christians to "choose this day whom we will serve" (Joshua 24:15), to actively pursue our sinful behaviors and examine ourselves to determine if we are striving toward the finish line in a manner that would be pleasing to our Lord (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). It is such a comfort to know that his power is made perfect in our weakness and that his grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What is God asking you to let go of—to do or not to do? What must you commit to Jesus and say farewell to so that you aren’t continually recaptured by the world? Money held the rich young ruler's heart. What has a hold on your heart?