Perú

Greetings again.  I have been out of touch – and out of town – for a bit this summer.  I recently had the joy of joining a trip with our church to visit our friends at Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera in Rimac (a district just outside of Lima), Perú.  If you recall your 6th grade world geography, July is winter in the Southern Hemisphere and smack dab in the middle of their school year.

Our team participated in art, drama, and music classes as well as chapel services at the affiliated Christian school during the day.  In the evenings, we joined and shared in workshops for the church and school parents on family and parenting topics.  We also enjoyed the energy of Peruvian style worship.

The connection in Rimac was almost immediate as we were warmly and generously embraced by our new friends.  Our brotherhood in Christ crosses all language and cultural barriers.  I was struck in our seminars with how family challenges are universal; and how God’s grace, God’s ways, and God’s love is the timeless answer to our family issues.

In every culture, the need to love our children, lead our children, and affirm our children are critical building blocks to family living.  Learning to communicate in ways that seek to understand, bring honor rather than shame, and resolve conflict are valuable lessons for all who seek to follow after Christ in their family dynamics.

Here are a few photos of what has been happening across the equator while our blog has been silent.  We will be back soon to continue our journey to “walking in the new self” and the 500 things that that entails.

What’s Behind My “New Identity” Obsession?

Writing about the accelerants of Christ in you, the Spirit inside, the new self with its new nature, and the Word implanted takes me back to my roots in starting this blog seven years ago.  My starting point and recurring topic has always been who we are in Christ as new creations and how that fuels living the Christian life.  You could say it is an obsession of mine.

So the other night over dinner, Rhonda asked me to explain and clarify for her (and as it turned out, for myself) this passion for the new identity.  “So what is the end goal, Jay, in this enthusiastic focus of yours on the end of sin’s power in us and our predominant righteous nature?  What do you hope to accomplish with your persistent writing on this topic?  Do you want to win a theological argument with [our pastor]?  Do you want folks to leap up and agree with you and think you are a smart fellow?  Are you feeding an approval idol that needs buy in and accolades from friends both near and far?”  It was a great question.

(Just to be clear, given her line of questions, Rhonda has celebrated and embraced the beauty of the “new life” as we have looked into the Word together.  She also edits and improves every post, including this one.)

I didn’t answer right away.  These were probing questions that caused me to evaluate -as I seriously needed to do -my underlying motivation for my writing and teaching.  I paused over my Pei Wei Honey Seared Chicken with White Rice and thought to myself.  Then the answer came to me.

“Rhonda, if I have communicated anything competitive or combative in my approach to these topics, that has been a miscommunication on my part.  My goal in all of my writing is actually quite simple when I boil it down.”

“My goal is to encourage a community of Christ followers to lock arms with the Holy Spirit within and make a thousand righteous choices every day.  I want to see fathers come home from work and pitch in, even if they are tired, rather than emotionally  checking out.  I want to see parents engaging their children in life-affirming ways rather than through criticism and shame.  I want to see husbands making choices to serve their wives with love that emulates how Christ loves the church.  I want to see moms dialing down the anger and dialing up the peace.  I want to see kids honor their parents, be loyal friends, tell the truth, and look out for the best interests of their siblings.  I want to see believers walking in the Spirit in the big issues of life and in the tiniest pieces of their day.  I want us – all of us – to experience the power and the joy that the Lord has promised.”

All of these goals are what the rest of the book of Ephesians addresses.  Our last stop in Ephesians about putting on the new self (Eph 4:24) took us on an appropriate detour through renewing our mind and a lifestyle of repentance.  But now, returning to Ephesians chapters 4 through 6, we will see Paul’s descriptions and encouragements regarding what a community of Christ followers – making a thousand righteous choices – looks like.  If you want to see what that looks like, or better yet experience and live it for yourself, join us on the journey ahead.

Accelerants to the Rescue

If you love fires like me, than you love accelerants; “any substance used to accelerate a process (such as the spreading of a fire)” [Merriam-Webster 2018].  In fact, I love fanning a fire so much that it is the ongoing title of this weblog.  I am seeking through my writing and our interaction to fan the flames of all the new that is inside you to live the supernatural Christian life.  But let’s get back to accelerants.

Everything I have written lately about renewing our minds is standard theology that you may have heard before.  What I think is surprising and revolutionary and not talked about enough is that this lifestyle of repentance is not something you have to slog through, buck up, try harder, and tough it out.  The beauty of all the new of who we are in Christ is that you have the power to live this lifestyle of repentance inside you right now!

The New Testament makes clear that there are at least four accelerants inside you that rapidly speed up the process of renewing our minds.  Lighter fluid, gasoline, a hair dryer, or the big lid of a camping box to fan the flames are all pictures of a spiritual reality happening inside you.  Let’s list the top four accelerants at your disposal.

First, you have “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).  You literally have Christ living His life through you (Gal 2:20) to heal and renew and change your mind to thinking and acting His way.  This is accelerant number one.

A second and related accelerant is the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you.  As you “walk in the Spirit, you will not satisfy the deeds of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).  Instead, obedience will be your forward path and you will be redirected to begin to think and walk God’s way.

Third, the new self or new nature is now your motivating DNA.  Acting in accordance with your new nature – laying aside the old man and putting on the new – will accelerate the growth process.  As a believer, you have the power to choose every day.  You have a choice to put on the new self every morning, just like putting on your favorite pair of jeans.  I have a pair of worn jeans that really need to go to the trash.  But they are so comfortable and fit so naturally that I continue to wear them to work in my home office when I know no one is going to be around.

Do you know that you can be just as comfortable in your new nature, in your new self?  The instruction to “put on the new self” (Eph 4:24) or “clothe yourselves” (Col 3:12) with righteous qualities suggests to me that obedience can become just as natural to you as the most comfortable clothes in your closet.

Finally, the fourth accelerant is the Word of God implanted in you.  This isn’t just the Word around you or near you or available to you.  According to James’ letter, we can “receive the word implanted that is able to save [deliver in the present tense] your souls” (James 1:22).  The Word planted deep inside us delivers us from the power of sin.

These are four I can think of off the top of my head.  There may be more.  But we will stop here with Christ in you the hope of glory, the Holy Spirit inside, the new self with its new nature, and the Word implanted in you; all ways the New Testament describes the incredible power inside you to live this life.  Don’t ignore His gifts, fully given to you!

Renewing Your Mind

The short answer to how positive change happens in the Christian life is by renewing your mind.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).  Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words expands on the word “renewing” to describe it as “the adjustment of one’s moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon one’s life.”

Now the way we renew our minds, freshen them up to a new way of thinking, open them up to thinking like the mind of God, is through a lifestyle of repentance.  Repentance is a crucial piece of both accepting and living the gospel message.

Repentance (Gk. μετανοέω  METANOEŌ.  meta = change; noeo = to perceive, from the root nous (the mind); i.e. to change the perception in one’s mind) literally means to change one’s mind.  When we first believed and embraced the gospel, we “metanoeō”; changed our mind of resistance to Christ and accepted His offer of forgiveness.

Jesus’ first proclamation of the gospel was, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Jesus was asking His hearers to change their minds about religion – about how to be right with God – and place their trust in the good news; His new message of forgiveness.  He was asking them to join the new kingdom that He was announcing; the kingdom with Christ Himself as head.

But repentance is also key to moving forward after our conversion.  As we live the Christian life, we continue in a lifestyle of “metanoeō”; changing our mind from our old way of thinking and choosing to agree with Christ about anger, gossip, lust, lying, and any number of sins.

These sins were once thought by us to varying degrees to be acceptable because we were interpreting the world though a “world-compatible” mind.  But now we are interpreting the world through the grid of God’s thoughts, through our “God-compatible” mind.  And this change from seeing the world through our old grid of thinking to seeing it with the mind of Christ takes some time and is an ongoing process as we practice abiding in Christ and His instructions to us.

As we repent (change our minds) and learn to live into our new nature, rejecting our old sinful ways, we experience what I call “lived truth”.  We are beginning to live the truth about what God says about you and the world you live in rather than our old worldly ways.  We used to think that:

  • Wealth would bring us happiness.
  • We could step on people to get to the top of …
  • Anger would help us accomplish our goals.
  • A small lie here and there is useful.
  • We have no power to overcome the temptations in our life.

Now, we begin to live the truth about what God says about us and how we successfully operate in His world.  And we now learn and believe and act on:

  • The pursuit of wealth will let you down.
  • Serving others rather than using others is the way of Christ.
  • Anger does not accomplish the will of God or your goals.
  • Lying never fits the need of the moment.
  • You have a new righteous nature with the power to say “no” to temptation.

As we live into these truths, we will literally be changed people.  Our actions will reflect our new and righteous nature.  We will learn to trust God and His promises.  It is all part of the process that we will continue to explore next time.

Your Mind; A Theological History (Excitement Alert!)

As we introduced last time, even when I accept and embrace all the new of my conversion; a new identity, a new nature, a new heart, a new Spirit within, a new self, and a new power over sin, I still have a lingering challenge; my old mind.  Let’s track some theological history regarding the mind.

In the garden, Adam was what I call “God-compatible” in his heart and his mind.  He had a relationship with God.  While little is said about this relationship in the Genesis account, I think we can infer from other Scripture that Adam had an “innocent” relationship with God.  That is, Adam was right with God and had a sense that he was OK.

When Adam rebelled, he was no longer “God-compatible” in his heart or his mind.  He essentially became “un-plugged” from God.  Adam now has a depraved heart and with it, a sin nature.  He cannot know or experience God because his sin nature renders him spiritually dead (Eph 2:1).  Adam’s nature – and the nature we were born with in Adam – is biased toward self and away from God (Rom 3:10).  We now gain a sense of who we are based on other people, and we will do anything we can – manipulate, blame, lie, accuse, hide – to gain a sense from them and within ourselves that we are OK.

In the natural man state, controlled by our deceitful and wicked heart (Jer 17:9), our minds are darkened (Eph 4:18).  As we take in information, it passes through our selfish nature and is stored in our mind.  Our mind is now “world-compatible”, motivating us to act in the sinful ways of the world.  The options in our mind for following God are severely limited by our depraved heart and the sin nature that accompanies it.

But that is all about to change.  When you accepted and embraced the gospel message, you were given a new heart (Ez 36:26) and a new nature; a nature that you literally share with Christ (II Pet 1:4).  A nature that is completely “God-compatible” again.  And this puts you back in a right relationship with God (Rom 5:1) and you know that you are OK.

The key takeaway in this introduction is that all this new, this complete revolution, has happened to you on the inside.  On the outside, which includes our mind and our body, the revolution – completed on the inside – is only brewing.  Your change to a righteous nature and a new heart, instantaneous on the inside, is only beginning to show on the outside.

On the outside (again, this includes our mind), we are still “in Adam” so to speak.  We are still interpreting the world through that old mind, that old natural system, that old worldly way of thinking.  What we need is new information to feed our mind.  Because our mind – though not new – is now “God-compatible” (I Cor 2:16).  Our mind is no longer limited in its movement towards God by a depraved heart.  It can now accept information in keeping with our righteous nature.

So how do we bring the mind along?  The life-giving drumbeat of the New Testament is “renew your mind” (Rom 12:2).  And this renewal is totally made possible because your mind is now “God-compatible”, ready to accept truth.  Living God’s truth will change your life.  Then you will see the revolution within spread to the outside and all of life.  We will continue to uncover how change happens next time.