Overcoming Tough Sins, Part 3; Get Someone to be Accountable To

The last couple of posts in this series have dealt with the influences around us and how to “change the channel”. But there is more that can be done to help us in making the changes in our lives that the Lord calls upon us to make in our lives. Especially tough sins may require someone to be accountable to, an accountability partner (AP).

Now, of course, we’re always accountable to God, He sees everything we do, knows everything we think, hears everything we say, and will hold us to account for all of it on Judgment Day. The problem is that we human beings don’t see Him with our eyes of flesh; we don’t literally see His disappointment or literally hear His rebuke. And this is why it can be useful to ask a trusted brother or sister to hold us accountable regarding those difficult things in our lives that we want to change.

The New Testament gives us a foundation for such helpers in our lives. Galatians 6:1, 2 tells us, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” One of the reasons we gather together weekly is for such encouragement: (Hebrews 10:24, 25) “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Likewise, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says to, “…encourage one another and build each other up…”

There are several things that could be said about how to go about doing something like this, but here are a few rules to work with…

  • Find a trusted and reliable brother or sister to be your AP. Once chosen, take the him or her fully into your confidence. Share what you want to change, what your temptations are, what your challenges are, where your likely to fail, and some of the reasons that you want to change (there ought to be more than one—the most important being the Lord, of course).
  • The second step is one that is easy to do, but hard to live with: Give permission to your AP to ask tons of tough, uncomfortable questions. Generally speaking, one of the biggest obstacles to changing the tough sins in our lives is that most of us are pretty at generous excusing ourselves for our bad behavior, words, attitudes, or thoughts. Part of having an AP is keep us honest with ourselves, expose our excuses as unacceptable, and call sin a sin. That is made possible, only if the AP has your permission to ask you hard personal questions. And when the hard questions come, confess freely. Nothing is gained by keeping things back.
  • Meet regularly without fail. You and your AP will have to determine when to meet and how often; but when those plans have been made, you must commit yourself to faithfully to make your appointment. Sometimes when a person has failed, the instinct to hide (just like Adam and Eve) kicks in—in the form of discovering that you had another not-to-be-missed appointment, or conveniently forgetting the AP appointment, or something else. There are things to be learned from failure, that you and your AP can and should talk about.
  • Set up a number of small goals and celebrate wins. As you and your AP set things up, it can be really useful to set up goals—tiny goals—for yourself. Why tiny goals? First, tiny goals are more doable than big ones. Second, just because they are tiny doesn’t mean that progress isn’t being made; lots of tiny successes start adding up to larger and larger successes. And as you find success in the tiny goals, celebrate! Another reason to have an AP is to have someone to celebrate your success with.

If overcoming some sins in your life is proving more difficult that you thought, an accountability partner just might help. And let’s talk about our spiritual “Accountability Partner” next time.

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Overcoming Tough Sins, Part 2; What’s Going on in Your Mind?

A week or so ago I began a series of postings on things that could help us to overcome tough sins. We started with bad company corrupting good morals (or intentions). Hopefully you’ve worked on changing the people and kind of entertainment that you “associate with” that influence us in a worldly way.

Another thing that is helpful is learning to “change the channel” of our hearts and minds. Jesus warned us, )Matthew 15:19) “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” In other words, what we think about and dwell on will come out in our words and deeds. So, if we want to stop certain kinds of words or deeds, we need to think different things—or put another way, “change the channel”.

A lot of people have never even considered that they could change what they’re thinking, but it is not only possible, it is required of the Christian. Romans 12:2 says “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” So, how do we do this?

First, we should go back to the “bad company corrupts good morals” principle, because changing the channel is going to be hard, if there are others who want to keep our minds on the wrong channel. But secondly, if we want to be less critical of others, we need to stop dwelling on the negative, what’s not quite “right”, and what happens to irritate me. If we want to be more active in the Lord’s service; we need to stop telling ourselves that others will do it, that we’re not talented enough, that there are other more fun or interesting or less challenging things that we could do instead. If we want to be better at attendance, we need to stop thinking that we need our rest, that church isn’t all that important, or that church is a lesser priority than other things. Hopefully you get the drift of what we must stop.

But how do we do that? The more we think about not thinking about “X”, the more we think about it! It just becomes a vicious circle, right?

Successfully changing the channel must include more than stopping certain kinds of thinking, it also includes starting the right thing to think about. Psychologists sometimes put it this way, “To stop thinking about a brown cow, start thinking about a purple horse.” To use the illustrations above, if we want to be less critical of others, we need to start thinking about all the positive we can about others. Start small and you’ll find increasing things to think positive about others. If we want to be more active in the Lord’s service, start thinking about all the things that need to be done around the church and for the Lord’s kingdom. Rely in faith on the Lord to stretch you beyond what you think you can do; and be humble enough to ask for help, when you need it. If you want to be a better attender, think of how important attendance is to your soul, how great the fellowship is, how important the Lord says it is, what you can do to encourage others, and how pleased the Lord will be with your presence and worship.

Changing the channel of our minds will take some time and planning and effort until new patterns and habits are formed, but it is one of the most effective way to overcome tough sins. Change how you think, renew your mind, and you’ll change your world!!

Persevere on those good resolutions, brother and sister! With the Lord’s wisdom, with the Spirit’s strength, with the church’s encouragement, and with your focused will to follow Jesus, you will overcome!

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Overcoming Tough Sins, Part 1

OK, so here we are several weeks (at this point) into 2018. How’re your new year’s resolutions? I’m hopeful that you’re doing well, but if you’re like many of us, you’ve had a stumble or two already. Is it time to throw up the white flag and give up? No; it’s time to double down on those good intentions, examine what happened on the stumbles, and overcome!

But how? For the next few weeks, let’s talk about a few things that can help us overcome. These will be things that we often already know, but overlook. We’ll start with the principle: (1 Corinthians 15:33) “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’”

One of the great enemies of our great intentions for spiritual growth is the way that other people around us live. God created us as social beings; and no matter how independent we’d like to think we are, we will be influenced by others. That’s why Paul started the principle of 1 Cor. 15:33 with “Do not be deceived”. From language to bad eating habits, to attitudes, to substance abuse, to even faith—the behavior, attitudes, etc. of others influences us deeply.

And by the way, the influence of others is not just the people that we are physically around. These days we have more “company” than ever in the history of the world in the form of: TV (how many hours of this do we do per week?), music (how many hours?), internet (how many hours?), social media (how many hours?)—all of it available in “technicolor”. And how much of the TV, music, internet, and social media is wholesome, G-rated, in other words, something that you would not be ashamed to do, say, or be entertained by in front of the Lord?

“But I just filter out the bad stuff” we may answer. Yes, if we are sincerely trying to be disciples of Jesus, we must and probably do filter out a lot. We must be in the world but not of the world (John 17:15,16). But let’s talk about filtering.

Sometimes filtering begins with eliminating big chunks. What about the genre of your music that might be continually filled with glorifying lust and sexual sin, violence, or rebellion? What about some of the TV shows that you watch that consistently model bad attitudes, worldliness, and acceptance of sinful lifestyles. How about your social media or favorite internet sites? Or even—here’s the really tough one—your circle of worldly friends.

“Is that really necessary?” you may ask. Paul replies, “Do not be deceived, ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.”

“Then, who will I associate with? What kind of music will I listen to? It will be so awkward to unfriend some folks. And my TV shows!! Won’t things get boring?” The fact that we think non-worldly friends, TV, music, etc. will be boring says something about how much we’ve already been negatively influenced by them, doesn’t it? Good isn’t more boring, sin isn’t more interesting. “Interesting” is defined by what we choose to find interesting.

But to answer the question of who will I associate with, well there are your Christian friends, right? There are more wholesome TV shows on, more wholesome music available, etc. If it is true that bad company corrupts good morals; it is also true that good company will promote good morals. Substitute good influences for bad ones and you’ll be surprised at how much easier the good, godly things that you want to add to your life will become.

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The Marks of Commitment

I was reading a fortune cookie the other day: “Punctuality is a mark of commitment.” Now, I don’t take fortune cookie philosophy too seriously, but it did cause me wonder, “Is that true, and what are the marks of commitment?” And perhaps, more importantly, “Am I committed to the Lord?”

First, yeah, I think that punctuality is a mark of commitment. It is what one does, when we love something (or someone). It shows a readiness and an eagerness to get on with the job ahead. I can almost guarantee you that your employer thinks so. Do we demonstrate punctuality in the Lord’s work?

Volunteerism is another manifestation of commitment. Committed people don’t wait around for others to volunteer for things that need to be done to accomplish the mission. Volunteering says, “I believe in this and want to be involved in this!” After Isaiah’s vision and cleansing, the LORD asked, “Who shall we send?”; Isaiah’s hand shot up, “Here am I, send me!” Do we volunteer readily or do we hang back hoping that others will do what we could?

Committed people also are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission. It doesn’t matter if it is hard, unpleasant, humble, or even strange, as long as it makes a contribution to the larger cause. The committed person is just happy to be part of something larger than himself. Paul tells us, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the Lord’s mission?

Related to the willingness to do whatever it takes is the willingness to sacrifice lesser things to do what needs to be done. Committed people act sacrificially; whether it’s time, effort, talents, money, leisure, or advances in this life they are considered expendable. Paul said, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7. Are we willing sacrifice for the Kingdom?

Endurance and persistence are also marks of commitment. Committed people don’t give up easily. Knowing the importance of the cause, committed folks continue to work without giving up. Twenty-four times the New Testament encourages disciples of Jesus to endurance (hupomene, courageous, active service to the very end). Do I persevere in the Lord’s business or do I throw in the towel, when the going gets tough?

Commitment also is willing to serve the mission even when others abandon it. Some will abandon the battle, and when they do they give aid to the enemy, because it is discouraging to those who continue on. But the committed do continue on. Do we continue to serve even when others have fallen away?

And finally, commitment doesn’t offer half-measures. Commitment is “all in”, “no holds barred”, and “leaving it all on the field”. Jesus in His life and on His cross was clearly committed to you and me. Are we as committed to Him?

So, are you committed. I’ll confess I’ve got some work to do on myself. How about you? Are you really committed to the Lord and His great cause of salvation for all men?

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This Little Light of Mine

It’s a simple song, but it has a profound message—straight from Scripture—”This Light of Mine”.

It comes from a the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells us that His disciples are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Let’s allow this children’s song based on the Master’s teaching to remind us of some important Christian basics.

First of all, the world needs your light.

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine,

Lights make a difference in a dark room, and the world is a dark place. You become the “light of the world” with your Christ-like deeds, attitudes, words, mercy, and message. And as the song says, it really does take a deliberate choice and effort on our part to “let it shine”. Are you letting your light shine?

Many times, of course, our lights will be unwelcome in the world of darkness. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19. And with the opposition of the world, there will be a temptation to hide our light, become a secret disciple. But the song encourage us:

…Hide it under a bushel? No!

I’m gonna let it shine

Jesus told the disciples at the Sermon on the Mount that no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel or bowl. You lit the candle or lamp to shed light and make difference in the room; putting it under a bushel or bowl would be the opposite of what you need. The world needs the light of Jesus shining in our lives.

Naturally, Satan would like nothing better than to darken your light, lessening your influence in his world of darkness, or blow it out altogether, a return to darkness. But…

…Don’t let Satan blow (wwwhhh) it out.

I’m gonna let it shine

Satan tries to blow our our light through sin in our lives. He’s always got his lips puckered up for a light-dimming wwwhhh by entangling us in sin. Better still, he thinks, if he can blow out the light altogether and return the disciple to the darkness. Sin is the air in Satan’s wwwhhh; that can cause our light’s flame to flutter or go out completely; don’t let him near.

Lastly, we sing…

…All around the neighborhood

I’m gonna let it shine

…Let it shine all the time;

Let it shine!

Whether at school or work or in the neighborhood or in the coffee shop or the store or the whatever, let your light shine. In the morning or lunchtime or afternoon or commute time or game time or evening or night time, let it shine all the time, let it shine.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;” Matthew 5:14. Be the light, out on a lampstand, shielded from the wind, up on a hill for all to see! This is how the dark world gets changed!

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The Encouragement of Involvement

After the defeat of Ammonites and Moabites, lands east of the Jordan River, the Gad, Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh came to Moses and asked if it were possible for them to settle east of the Jordan. They had large herds of livestock and east of the Jordan had abundant grazing lands. Moses’ first response to them was sharp, “…Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here? Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the LORD has given them?” Numbers 32:6, 7. As the story has a happy ending; the tribes explain that they would go to war with the rest of Israel and stay as long as needed (they only wanted to settle their families in the east), and Israel conquered Canaan. But Moses brought up a very good point that applies to the Lord’s people in modern times, too: failing to join the work at hand discourages those who are working, but joining in uplifts. And with that in mind, let’s do a little soul-searching.

Are you a lifter or a leaner? Have you ever lifted something with a 3 or 4 year old? If you have, you might remember that sometimes you get to lift not only the original load, but the child also. It’s not their fault, they don’t know how to lift—yet. But we expect more from an adult, right? In the Lord’s church there is much to do; be a lifter, not a leaner. When you lift, you encourage others with your involvement!

Are you a server or a customer? Some folks see the church as a place to be served, not unlike a store or a restaurant. When the service is fine, they offer no complaint, but if the service is off—well, that’s different. But the Lord’s church isn’t a store or restaurant, and members are not customers, they are servants. Instead of looking to be served, shouldn’t we be rolling up our sleeves and doing what needs to be done?  When you serve, you encourage others with your involvement!

Are you an owner or a renter? Owners tend to be more careful with the homes they live in, the cars they drive, and the furniture they use. It’s theirs and they take ownership. Renters are usually not as careful; because these things aren’t theirs. Owners paint the walls, maintenance the cars, and clean the furniture; renters just call the owner when things get broken. Do you see the church and the work of the church like an “owner” or a renter? We know the church belongs to the Lord, but we are all stewards, charged with the duty of caring for it the way the Master would. And when we have an owner’s perspective, things start getting done. When you “own” the work of the church, you encourage others with your involvement!

Are you part of the church’s core workers or a peripheral member? Ask any church leader… It’s not that the core workers are just that talented; most often it is that the core group is willing to say, “Yes!” It’s not that the core group has more time than anyone else (they often have less); most often they are simply the ones who have eyes to see the need and are willing to find the time to get it done. Sometimes they are the ones who are willing to cancel other plans to get the Lord’s work done. Become one of the church’s core workers, and encourage others with your involvement!

When the church has a high rate of involvement, the whole church gets encouraged. Things get done by God’s power. New opportunities arise with God’s blessings. Souls are saved by God’s message. And the momentum of growth snowballs into great things. Get involved. Get excited. Invite others to get involved. And watch what God will do!

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Let Your Joy Shine!

Christian is not a negative religion. The world—very unfortunately—sees God’s word, Christ’s church, and Christians generally as very negative—a religion of “No”. We know why, of course; God often says, “No,” to the evil and harmful things that people in the world seem to love, but which hurt themselves and others, and violate God’s very nature. However, those who know the Lord understand that Christianity is very positive—and more than merely optimistic, it is full of faith and hope! The very things that make men pessimistic, cynical, curmudgeon-like, and defeatist have no power over the Christian!

For example, Christian know that our troubles will ultimately be turned upside down, if we follow the Lord’s commands. Paul reminds us, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NAS95). There is no problem so difficult that God cannot fix it, if we are willing to follow His solution.

And of course, one of the two greatest problems that man has ever had to face is death (the other being sin)—the Lord has solved it! While other religions may make a claim to some sort of afterlife and “salvation”, Christianity has proven it through the resurrection of Jesus. Let that sink in; the event in this world that brings the most sorrow and dread has been solved! “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, NAS95). Death is not the end of existence; there is much more. And for the Christian, the “much more” is more wonderful than words can express. With this sort of hope, it’s hard to threaten a Christian with death!

And here’s another, the nature of individual men can be changed! In Jesus, where a new kind of life is revealed, a clean slate is offered, and forgiveness is bestowed, the lives of men and women can be radically changed, not just for the better but for the best! God’s word and Jesus’ cross can make amazing changes in individuals and in the world, when it is sown into the hearts of men and men submit to it. God through Isaiah said, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, NAS95).

There is real joy in the fellowship of the saved. There is delight found in the commands of the Lord. There is hope for men in this world and iron-clad hope for the world to come. Even when we are persecuted in this world, we are confident in our victory, overcoming evil with good. We have abundant reasons to be joyful rather than cynical, dark, or suspicious.

And when we do dwell on the joy, on the hope, on the faith; we discover a strength for perseverance, endurance, and zeal in doing the Lord’s will—“Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”” (Nehemiah 8:10, NAS95).

This week, ponder the positive, enjoy the joy, and affirm the affirmative in your Christian life! Let that joy shine; people will wonder what you’re smiling about—and you can tell them. God is so very good, and He has given to us the hope, the peace, and the joy that cannot be touched by the world—if we don’t let it.

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