“I want to change, but I can’t!” (part 2 of 5)

The growth process:
Step #1: Getting past “I don’t need to change.”
Step #2: Getting past “I can do it on my own.”
Step #3: Getting past “I want to change, but I can’t.”

So how do we make it past Step #3? How do we change once we figure out that we can’t? To put it in Christian jargon: How do we repent?

To answer that question, I’ll tell you a story. When my children were young, one of my sons was hitting his little sister. So I took him by the hand, we went out to another room, I sat him down and asked him, “Can you think of any reasons why it might not be a good idea to hit your little sister?”

He immediately rattled off six reasons. He knew the speech better than I did! Hmm. I thought about that for a moment, and I followed up with this question:

“Can you think of any reasons why it WOULD be a good idea to hit your little sister?”

Then we got into something. We got to the beliefs that were driving the behavior. And that’s where we all need to go. We need to find the beliefs that are driving the behavior.

The reason we can’t change when we want to is this: Somewhere inside are beliefs that are blocking that change. Transformation occurs when we let Jesus deal with those beliefs.

More next time, and this is a topic I cover in detail in my course, Spiritual Self Defense.

Stairwell image: Pixabay, Public Domain

“I want to change, but I can’t!” (part 1 of 5)

“I want to change, but I can’t!”

If this is you, then that is good news!

Let me explain. You just made it to step #3 in the growth process. Most people are stuck in steps #1 & #2.

Step #1: Getting past “I don’t need to change.” Staying in denial about our need to change and grow is, of course, the easiest place to be. No effort is required. Just drift through life. Most of us don’t get beyond this until some crisis descends upon us—we lose our job, the spouse threatens to walk out, whatever—and then we find the courage to stop blaming everyone else, and begin looking at ourselves.

Step #2: Getting past “I can do it on my own.” This is especially hard for those strong-willed, do-it-yourself, goal-setting achiever types because they will set goals and achieve them. They can accomplish some level of behavior modification, and it’s easy to confuse that with real transformation. I don’t want to knock this; my hat is off to you if you’re a go-get-’em type. But there is a real danger of confusing what we can do with what only God can do.

More next time, and this is a topic I cover in detail in my course, Spiritual Self Defense.

Stairwell image: JoE Cass, Flickr, Creative Commons

A Beautiful Christmas and new resources

Hi!

I’d like to make you aware of two new resources.

#1 Over the weekend I released a brand new book: A Beautiful Christmas.

Celebrate this beautiful season with me with freshly rendered scriptures, thoughtful meditations, and beautiful images. You can preview it, learn more, or purchase here.

#2 I’ve posted dozens of free resources on a new page on my site

Some of those resources include

  • How to hear the voice of God
  • How to forgive those who have hurt you
  • [What to do] When Christian leaders disappoint
  • Which books of the Bible are easiest to read?
  • What it means to follow Jesus (soon to be a new book)
  • 5 things every survivor of sexual abuse needs to know
  • 7 questions you must answer before you write your book

and several more…

Enjoy!

Dwight

7 questions to ask before voting: A fresh look at Christianity and politics

This is a little different than what I usually post, but it’s been on my mind for a while, so here goes…

Left Right Fight? No. I’m not going there.

Our identity as Christians is a thousand times more important than any political label we might carry. I hope these questions will inspire us to move—not right or left—but closer to God.

 

#1 Have I taken the time to listen?
Am I listening not only to people who agree with me, but also to people who have a different point of view? This is critically important. Most of us listen ONLY to people we agree with. That’s dangerous. We don’t learn and grow unless and until we listen to a variety of viewpoints.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20 NIV

“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” Proverbs 18:13 NLT

“Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight.” Proverbs 18:17 TLB

 

#2 In my political conduct, am I contributing to love or to hate?
Hint: Accusing your political opponents of hate does NOT mean you are contributing to love.

I’m distressed by the political polarization I see not only in our country (USA), but also in the church—in the very family of God. When the world looks at us and sees strife and division, that damages the name of God. We don’t want that to happen. We want to lead the world in love.

“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear … hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy … and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5:19-23 NLT

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice…” Proverbs 24:17 NIV

 

#3 Am I looking at the role spiritual darkness is playing in politics and in media?
Let me encourage you not to underestimate this. The battle that makes headlines may not be where the real fight is going on. We can fight very hard to win, only to discover we were fighting the wrong enemy. The Star Wars prequels come to mind. Remember the evil emperor Palpatine? Behind the scenes he stirred up conflict, not because he cared who won or lost, but because it diverted everyone’s attention from what he was really up to.

Am I praying against deception? Deception is a major tool of the enemy, and it is pervasive in politics and the media.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV

“Doom to you who call evil good and good evil, Who put darkness in place of light and light in place of darkness, Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20 MSG

“Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 NIV

 

#4 Am I promoting people of integrity?
Integrity matters. A lot.

“A wicked ruler is as dangerous to poor people as a roaring lion or a charging bear.” Proverbs 28:15 NCV

“When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans.” Proverbs 29:2 MSG

“For the wicked shall not rule the godly, lest the godly be forced to do wrong.” Psalm 125:3 TLB

 

#5 What have I learned from history and the Bible?
If I’m going to campaign, vote, or even discuss politics, how well do I know the full counsel of God? Can I think biblically? Here’s an example. In Genesis 12:3, God makes this promise to Abram (Abraham), “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (NIV) As a result of that verse and others, many Christians believe that our prosperity as a nation is directly tied to our treatment of the nation of Israel. Do you know your Bible well enough to know whether you agree or disagree and why?

The word “remember” occurs 231 times in the Bible. In the Biblical narrative, when people forgot their history, they got into big trouble. (Judges 8:34) We’ve all seen videos in which even Ivy League educated adults are woefully ignorant of history. To me this is frightening. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

What was the significance of the Battle of Tours? What happened at Selma? What are the lessons of the Holocaust? What can we learn from the purges of Stalin and Mao? How is our culture different now than it was in 1776?

How many Christians were martyred for their faith from 1900 to 2000? Why were they killed? If you don’t know the answer to this, you are operating from a serious disadvantage. Most of these Christians were murdered by governments or by people who wanted to take control of government. Do you know why? Do you know how to prevent it from happening here? Is that on your radar?

 

#6 Am I looking at the big picture?
Am I able to see outside my own narrow experience? Am I only looking for policies that benefit me and people like me? If I only advocate policies that benefit me, especially if they benefit me at the expense of others, then how is that different than greed?

Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…” Luke 12:15 NIV

 

#7 Do I share God’s concern for the vulnerable?
I speak here, of course, of the poor, the pre-born, the children, the elderly, the disabled, the refugee, the immigrant, the prisoner, the marginalized. Read the Bible carefully and you find that God’s eye is always on the most vulnerable person in the room.

Here is an opportunity for Christians across the political spectrum to show real leadership. We may approach these issues differently, but we cannot and do not argue with God’s heart.

There is a great need here for people to listen to and respect one another. Are we considering things from another person’s perspective? Sometimes well-intentioned policies do more harm than good. But doing nothing is not an acceptable alternative. This is why it’s so important to listen, to respect, to refrain from judging, to build trust, to empower.

Issues like abortion, poverty, and immigration do not lend themselves to quick and easy answers. And government policies alone will not solve all our problems. But we have a flexibility that politicians don’t have—we have the ability to be salt and light in our culture, to inspire institutions such as the church and the family to step in and do what the government cannot or should not do.

Vulnerable people, as a rule, are neither stupid nor lazy. But they are marginalized, misjudged, and misunderstood by people at all points on the political spectrum. Will we do the hard work of getting God’s heart and God’s mind on this issue?

For further study: Matthew 7:1, Exodus 22:21, 1 John 3:14-18, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, James 2:2-7,

 

Bonus question: What role should the government have in our lives?
This is an important and challenging question. If we give government too much power, then it paves the way for evil leaders to use that power to abuse and oppress the people. If we give the government too little power, then it paves the way for evil people to get away with all kinds of harm against their fellow citizens.

What problems is government NOT able to solve? What problems should government NOT solve? What other institutions has God ordained to address these problems? How can I strengthen those institutions? What is the role of government in my life?

For further study: Romans 13, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Acts 5:29, Philippians 3:20, 1 Timothy 1:9-11, 1 Samuel 8:6-20

I’ve written three short books on politics, two of which are available at my website DwightClough.com.

A prayer for you

Jesus talks about the importance of agreeing with someone else in prayer. I was praying about that today, and I felt that God wanted me to agree with you in prayer about a few things.

Actually, here below, I’ve written out a prayer for you, and
I’ve already agreed to each one of these requests for you.
So … if you agree, then that locks in the promise of Jesus:

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19 NIV)

Here goes:

Father in heaven
I make room for You, for Your Son Jesus, and for Your Holy Spirit.
Have the place of honor in my life.
Please reveal Your goodness to me.
Point my life heavenward, and guide my steps.
Break through into my world that I might know You and know Your love for me.
Grant me the courage to be real with you.
Heal my hurts.
Renew my mind.
Transform my life.
Let the details of my life reveal who You really are.
Let every life I touch be touched by the presence of God.
Save me from bitterness and all other sins.
Grant me the inner wealth that is my birthright as a child of God.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen.


Pre- Miracle Territory

Sooner or later you’re going to find yourself here. You have a problem you can’t solve. You have a need you can’t meet. You have an adversary you cannot overcome.

We see this everywhere in the Bible. Moses and the Israelis escape Egyptian slavery only to find themselves backed against the Red Sea with the Egyptian army closing in. Pre-miracle territory. A woman spends all she has on doctors, and, instead of getting better, she gets worse. Pre-miracle territory. Elijah, hiding from King Ahab, drinks from the brook, but then the brook dries up. Pre-miracle territory.

I’m not talking about presumption. We don’t jump out in front of a semi and expect God to show up and save us. I’m talking about doing your best to stay in step with God, and your path takes you into trouble that’s way over your head.

In fact, I will say this: If you don’t occasionally find yourself in pre-miracle territory, I feel sorry for you. If you always have enough money, if you always have good health, if you can always solve your own problems thank you very much, then you have no opportunity to experience a God who is much, much bigger than you.

Are you in a mess? Lift up your head. Listen for the voice of God. Get ready for the deliverance God has custom designed for you.

Coaching and new training available


Hi all

I know I’ve been silent for a long time.

Here’s what I’ve been working on.

#1 I’ve been working on a short mini-course, Overcoming Life’s Biggest Challenges. The course will include:

  • Overcoming inner barriers
  • Overcoming life-controlling issues
  • Overcoming disabling beliefs
  • Overcoming a painful past
  • Overcoming bitterness and anger
  • Overcoming difficult emotions
  • Overcoming challenges caused by difficult people

The course will be free, and I hope to have it available in the next week or two.

#2 Videos online and more! For those of you who have my textbook, Spiritual Self Defense, I have great news! I finally edited all the videos linked from the textbook, and I’ve posted them online. The DVD is not yet ready (although I did buy the software to author it—just need to figure it out), but I hope to get that out in the next month or so. I’m also creating a course to go with the Spiritual Self Defense material which should be available sometime in the next few weeks. Spiritual Self Defense gives you an in-depth strategy for overcoming spiritual bullies like addiction, anxiety, anger, and much more.

October 28, 2017 UPDATE:

DVD now available here

Course available here

#3 I’m launching a Christian transformation coaching service. This is halfway in between life coaching and transformation prayer ministry. Check it out here: http://dwightclough.com/coaching-services/

#4 Kim and I are offering intensive training in TPM (transformational prayer ministry) this summer. Enrollment is limited, and the deadline to enroll is in the next couple days. Info here: https://goo.gl/34Baxv

In other news, the house is up for sale, and I probably need to repair the roof this week. If you want to help, I’d be delighted!

Have a super day!

Dwight

Are we really wretched sinners?


Today’s post will be longer than most, but I want to clear up some confusion about who we are and why it matters.

A troubling passage
In Romans 7:14-24 (NIV) we come across a troubling passage. Here are some excerpts: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature [or my flesh]. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. … making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me…?”

What gives? If Paul, a great leader, pioneer, and example to us all couldn’t overcome sin, what hope do the rest of us have?

We need to understand what Paul is saying. If we get it wrong, it can mess with our minds for years. (It sure messed with mine.)

Never read Romans 7 without also reading chapters 6 and 8
To make sense of this passage, we need to return to the first rule of Bible interpretation: Consider the context. How does this passage fit into the flow of thought throughout the entire book of Romans? How does it fit the times in which it was written? How does it fit into the flow of thought for the entire Bible?

When this passage was originally written, there were no chapter divisions, no verse divisions. I’m sure Paul never imagined that anyone would consider this passage all by itself without taking into account everything he said before and after.

So what does he say before and after?

In the book of Romans, Paul asks and answers a big question: What kind of goodness puts you right with God?

Okay without Jesus?
Back then (as today) there was a school of thought that said, “You don’t need Jesus. Just be a good person. That’s all that matters.” In those days, it was expressed like this: “All you need is the law (of Moses from the Old Testament). If you have the law, you’ll be okay.”

“No, you will NOT be okay,” says Paul over and over again in the book of Romans and throughout his writings. “Instead, the law will show you just how corrupt you are apart from Jesus.”

Do we Christians have a split personality?
In many translations of Romans 7, Paul talks about our “sinful nature.” “Sinful nature” is, I think, a misleading translation. It gives the idea that Christians have a dual identity—a redeemed nature and a sinful nature.

That’s what I believed for years and years. I have a good nature and a bad nature, and my sin nature gets me into all kinds of trouble. No matter how hard I try, I will mess up, because I have a sinful nature. Millions of Christians believe this. But I don’t believe it any more. I’ll explain why, and I’ll explain why I think it’s so very important to get this straight.

“Flesh”—what it means and why it matters
“Sinful nature” is more accurately translated “flesh.” Go to BibleGateway.com, turn to the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and do a search for the word “flesh.” You’ll find a couple hundred passages including passages like 2 Chronicles 32:8 that makes it clear that “flesh” often means human effort apart from God (and often in opposition to God). Whenever “flesh” is contrasted to God or God’s Spirit, “flesh” shows up as weak, failing, corruptible.

So what does “flesh” mean in this context? I would describe it as human effort apart from God.

Why the law doesn’t help
Remember, Paul is writing to a mixed group. Some of the people receiving his letter were putting their hope in the Old Testament law rather than putting their hope in Jesus. That was a problem.

So Paul lays it out like this:
Law is good
Law + flesh = failure

Remember: flesh = human effort apart from God

So: Law + human effort apart from God = sin

The “wretched sinner” in us is dead
What do we learn in Romans 6? We learn that our old self is dead. The you with a propensity for sin (call it your sin nature if you want)—it’s dead. We have died to sin. Because we died to sin, we are no longer slaves to sin. Sin does not control us. Sin doesn’t call the shots; we do.

We’ve all heard this before, and I think we tend to zone out when we hear it. So let me add this:

Something that’s dead isn’t simultaneously alive. Sorry. It doesn’t work like that. If it’s dead, it’s dead. Something that’s dead isn’t alive, well, and active in your life. It’s dead. In the coffin. Buried. Underground. Gone. Dead.

This isn’t just nice sounding Christian words. This is reality—a far different reality than most Christians believe.

We’re not under the law—what that means
Romans 6 states, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Not only have we died to sin, but we have died to the Old Testament law. (See Romans 7:1-4.) We need to be very careful to understand what that means. It doesn’t mean that we throw away God’s moral code. Murder is still wrong. Stealing is still wrong. Adultery is still wrong.

What it DOES mean is this: our goodness comes from a different place. It doesn’t come from human effort apart from God (flesh). It doesn’t come from obeying a set of rules. Instead, it comes from our union with Jesus where His desires become our desires, His wishes our wishes.

So what is Romans 7 about?
First, what it’s NOT about:
Romans 7
does NOT mean we Christians fight a losing battle with sin
does NOT mean we Christians have a dual identity of new righteous nature and old sinful nature

Instead, Romans 7:14-24 is merely a description of what life would be if our sinful nature wasn’t dead and we had to rely on human effort apart from God to keep the Old Testament law in order to be right with God.

Our reality
At the end of Romans 7, Paul asks the question: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Then he answers it, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ. In chapter 8, one of the most triumphant chapters of the entire Bible, he expands on that answer.

  • We are not condemned.
  • We are set free from the law of sin and death.
  • We live according to the Spirit.
  • We don’t live by the flesh.
  • We are children of God.
  • Our present sufferings are nothing compared to what God has for us.
  • God’s Spirit prays for us.
  • Everything works together for our good.
  • Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Why this matters
Let me explain it like this: I’m Dwight Clough. I act like Dwight Clough. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t stand in front of the mirror and give myself a little pep talk, “Okay, Dwight, today I want you to try really hard to act like Dwight Clough.” Nonsense. I don’t need to try. Dwight Clough is who I am.

Once in a while I do something that is out of character for me. But this is the exception. As a rule, I act like Dwight Clough because I am Dwight Clough.

We act out of our identity. Who we are determines what we do.

In the book of Romans, Paul makes a compelling case about who we are. We are God’s children, led by His Spirit, free from the control of sin, dead to the demands of the law, alive to the desires of God. That is who we are. And we will act from our identity.

So, why the struggle with sin?
Okay, if all this is true, then why does Romans 7 sound so real to so many Christians? Why do we struggle with sin?

Let me suggest that the culprit is deception. I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere, but I’ll summarize here: Deep down (often below our everyday awareness), we believe lies about ourselves, about God, about our world. Those lies cause pain. We try to medicate that pain with inadequate solutions. Those solutions are sin.

But Jesus says we shall know the truth, and the truth shall set us free. (John 8:32) For the Christian, one of the most important things we can do is receive truth from Jesus in those hurting places in our lives. As we do, all of this will sound a whole lot less like abstract theory and a whole lot more like every day reality.

Sin is the disease … Jesus is the cure


Sin is the disease … Jesus is the cure

Duh! Right? Everybody knows that—at least everybody who claims to be a Christian.

I’m not so sure.

For many years, my understanding went like this:

God’s anger is the problem. Jesus is the solution.

God is angry. Sure—righteously angry—but angry nonetheless, and nobody wants to get in the way of an angry God.

Why is God angry? Because we’re bad. We’re bad; God’s angry; that’s a problem.

But Jesus got between us and God, absorbed God’s anger, and if we accept the gift of salvation, then God won’t be angry at us any more.

So our biggest need was forgiveness, and our biggest problem now is convincing ourselves that God isn’t still (secretly) angry at us any more.

That’s what I thought, but now I see it differently. Here’s how I see it now:

Sin destroys all that is good and holy. A child is molested and scarred for life. A spouse is unfaithful, and a family is torn apart. A person sinks into a harmful addiction. Sin destroys people, families, communities, and nations. Sin put Jesus on the cross.

But God is greater than sin; Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus is alive and well. He is repairing the damage done by sin and removing the power of sin in our lives. We, His followers, have new identities—not as sinners, but as children of God—part of the solution—not part of the problem.

So the biggest need is not for us to be forgiven, but for us to be transformed. Heaven will be populated not with forgiven sinners but with transformed saints.

That’s what I’m thinking. And, for me, that changes everything. What are your thoughts?

When making the right choice hurts other people

One day Jesus turned to His close friend Peter and said, “Get out of My way, Satan!”

I’m guessing that did not leave Peter with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

Jesus, led by the Spirit, left in His wake a trail of hurt, angry, offended, and even humiliated people. He healed on the Sabbath, and His enemies are humiliated. He raises Lazarus from the dead, and the leaders of religion are furious. He goes to His death, and Simon of Cyrene gets stuck carrying the cross.

I wish doing good always made everybody happy. But it doesn’t.

Okay. There are some people who are just offensive. They hurt people and blame it on the gospel.

I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about doing the right thing, the good thing, and other people—even people you love—get hurt.

How do you navigate through that?

At first glance, the Bible doesn’t offer much reassurance. Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

No, Jesus isn’t asking us to hate people. He’s merely saying that a choice between Jesus and somebody else isn’t a choice. Choose Jesus.

Sooner or later, in one form or another, life puts that choice to us. Jesus or somebody else? Choose.

Abraham was willing to give up his son Isaac if he had to choose between Isaac and God. Why? What gave Abraham the confidence to do that?

I think we find the beginning of an answer in Hebrews 11:19. Abraham had confidence that God knew how to take care of Isaac.

Maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe God needs to pry from our fingers those things and those people we value most so we can discover that our treasures are much safer in His hands than in ours.

So, yes, we choose Jesus even when it means other people get hurt. It’s a test of faith. It’s a test of leadership. And, no, it ain’t easy.

Dwight

PS. Sorry I’ve been out of the loop. I’ve been getting our home ready for sale; you can read about it here:
http://dwightclough.com/whats-up-with-dwight-kim-selling-their-home/
I hope to be more engaged in coming weeks.

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