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About this series
Yes! You Really CAN Change
What to do When You're Spiritually Stuck
Is a "changed life" really possible? If we're honest, most of us would say no. Maybe you've tried numerous programs that promise big changes, but in reality, they deliver very little results. You long for transformation, but don't know where to begin. There's good news for you! Life change is possible! God created you to grow, to change, to experience intimacy and adventure. In this series, from Ephesians 4, you will learn how true life change can happen to you. You'll be able to identify the barriers that have held you back from receiving God's best and you'll also learn how to break out of a destructive lifestyle so you can become the person you've always longed to be. This fresh approach to spiritual transformation is designed to move you from the frustration of failure to the freedom you have in Christ.More from this series
When you go into training for your speech, you know what you’re doing? You’re building, probably, the most important muscle in your body. The most important muscle in your body is your heart. And there are few things that you can go into training for that will let you know how your heart is doing like saying to yourself, Lord, I’m going to use my speech as a mirror. In fact, Your Word is a mirror unto me, and I’m going to use my speech as a mirror, so that rather than just some external nice, moral Christian, I want to be someone who is pure in heart. Because according to Jesus, the pure in heart see God, and experience God.
And I’m going to go into training to be positive. I’m going to be positive in my words in my home, and with my roommate, and with my friends. I’m going to be positive when people are around. I’m going to be positive with my tone of voice. Now, when you go into training on this one, it will be very painful, at first, because most of us don’t think much about our words.
Well, how do you do that? Let me give you a little training apparatus: Practice silence and solitude. Under silence, would you just jot the verse “Proverbs 10:19”? It says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.”
This is a funny application: Talk less. Now, for some of you, that’s not a problem. For others – I won’t mention any names – it’s a big problem, especially if you’re a verbal processor. Sometimes, you think out loud. And as my wife lovingly says to me, “Chip, it’s okay if you think out loud, but could you do it with your tongue not moving?”
Because sometimes, as you’re processing out loud, it’s very unhelpful for other people.
In fact, you might even try – if you have a problem with speaking, and you want to get control, you might do the five, or ten-second rule. Something comes to your mind, One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand, before you speak. For some of us, you need to go to ten. But silence.
The second is solitude. And what I mean by solitude is – I don’t have a picture of you, although it probably wouldn’t hurt most of us to get two or three days away in some retreat center, and not speak to anyone for two or three days. Many of us, that would maybe be too much, too soon. We’d probably go insane, white jacket, you know?
But I will tell you what, if you would say, God, I’m going to spend solitude with You, a half hour, or forty-five minutes, or an hour every day, and since this is the mirror of Your Word, and it is truth, what I’m going to do, God, is, I want You to know that I want my heart to be pure. And I will deceive myself, and so I’m going to systematically read through Your Word. And there are lots of good programs.
And you read, and then you close your Bible, and you say, Lord, would You help me respond? What do You want to say to me? And then, you sit quietly, and for some of you, just sit quietly; you don’t need to do this.
For some of us that are very, very verbal, it’s, then I get out my journal. I begin to write: Lord, would You speak to me? Would You bring to my mind anybody, or anything, in the last day or so, where things have come out of my mouth?
And sit quietly, and I will tell you, if you struggle with, “God never answers my prayers,” you’re going to get some answers to prayers in a hurry. He’ll bring vivid pictures to your mind, of what you said, or how you said it. And this will be difficult at first, but you’ll start experiencing God.
When you go into training on your speech, and you begin to open His Word, you’ll start to experience God, because He longs for your words to give life. He longs for you to be a conduit of life, and hope, and building up, and education, in your home, and at work, and in your family, and your neighborhood. But most of us don’t think much about what we say. So, let me encourage you. Go into training. Be positive. Don’t wound with your words.
Station number five: We go into training to be forgiving. Be forgiving. Be the first to say, “I’m sorry.” Verse 31, Paul says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other” – well, how? – “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Would you put a line under those key words: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander? And then, skip down to all malice. Then, put a circle around kind, circle around tender-hearted, circle around forgiving. In fact, grammatically, what he’s going to say is, “Stop being bitter,” and grammatically it’s, “Show yourself,” or, “demonstrate yourself to be a kind, tenderhearted, compassionate, forgiving person.”
The training command is to be kind. Training objective is relational harmony. That’s really what he’s talking about, is great relationships. The training command is to be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving. The negative is, stop hateful attitudes and behaviors. Start showing and demonstrating loving attitudes and behaviors.
And so, the training actions are to put off hate. Put off hate. I did a little word study on each of these, and since we tend to use words loosely, let me just go through and tell you what bitterness, and anger – and he’s very particular about these.
Bitterness is the longstanding resentment that we have. It’s a spirit inside of us that refuses to be reconciled with someone. Now, by the way, you do understand that this is a command, in light of someone has hurt you, betrayed you, abused you, wounded you, gossiped about you, slandered you, did you in, right? You’re hurt! That’s why you get bitter, and that’s why you get angry, right? It’s nursing anger to keep it warm, and brooding over insults and injuries. You have anger fantasies about these people.
Wrath, here, is an outbreak of passion. It’s a picture of, like a piece of newspaper that you light – whoo – this is rage. These are those outbursts that people have.
The clamor, or anger, here, is that habitual, righteous anger, but the sun goes down on it. And so, although it’s righteous, and it’s just, and you’re angry, pretty soon, everything in you is critical about everything and everyone, because it doesn’t measure up.
The clamor is loud talking, brawling, shouting. This is that screaming at one another, shouting at one another, injurious names, calling people names. It’s the kind of stuff that some of you remember was a part of your first marriage. And then, even in counseling, you said, “Oh, well, we’ll bring it back,” and, “I’m sorry,” and, “I didn’t mean it.” But, see, words have the power of life and death. People blew up, and scars were there.
Slander, we get our word blasphemy from. It’s evil speaking; it’s trying to injure someone with your speech, and making up untrue statements, or shading them, or spinning them in a way that when other people hear it, it puts another person in a bad light.
And then, finally, malice just has the idea of flowing from a heart that desires for the other person to pay. It’s just this joy in the demise of another person.
And what he says is, “You are not a spiritual green caterpillar anymore. You have come to know the living Savior. You’ve been in the cocoon of the supernatural community of God’s Church. And put it off! That behavior is off limits for the children of God. And you are now a supernatural, by His grace, butterfly.”
And he’s going to say, “I want you to put on kindness, sweetness, gentleness.” It has the idea of “generosity.” It has the focus of thinking of others. It’s an outward focus.
Then, he says, “Put on kindness and tender-heartedness,” or, literally, the word is compassion. It’s an interesting word used of Jesus: splagchnon. In the ancient world, they didn’t use the heart as the center of affections. It was the liver and the bowels. They thought the deepest thinking came from here, and so, that’s this word for this.
And it’s the idea – it’s more than empathy. This is someone, even, who has hurt you, but you think about where is it they came from. And there’s something where you see the hurt, and the damage. And every time this word comes up with Jesus, He sees a great multitude. And He sees they’re like downcast sheep. And if you know anything about a downcast sheep, once they roll over too far, on their own, they cannot roll back without help. They will die.
And he says that’s how He saw people in their dysfunction, and their sin, and their hurt, and their patterns. And He had compassion on them. Compassion always leads to action to help. And so, he says, “Put away those things, but instead, be tender-hearted, not hardhearted, not harsh, compassionate.”
And then, forgiving – it literally means “to put it away; to release it,” just the way God took your sin, and my sin, and He put it away, and He placed it on Christ, so that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, your sin, and my sin, and the sins of the whole world were placed on Him, and the just wrath of God, for your sin and mine, was placed on Him, and He paid for it.
And so, He atoned, or His blood covered our sin. And whosoever would believe and turn in faith, and receive that gift, your sins go to His account, and His righteousness comes to your account, because He’s merciful to you. And that’s what he’s saying. But your thinking has to change. My thinking has to change. We put off hate.
The renewing of our mind is, we remember that right relationships take precedent over my rights. See, when I’m hurt, when you’re hurt, you’re thinking, Don’t be bitter? Be kind? Don’t blow up? Be tender-hearted? After what she did? After what he did? He said he was a Christian. He was my business partner; he ripped me off. After she talked behind my back? Are you kidding me? I will never… You know what? I’ll never – Thanksgiving? Until hell freezes over, I’ll never be in the same room with that group of people. Anybody had any of those?
Paying people back. He said, “That’s not how spiritual butterflies live. When you give other people what they don’t deserve…” Granted, there may be situations where you have to set boundaries, but this starts in a real attitude of the heart. You will never be more like Jesus.
“You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. For what value is it if you do good to them who can do good back to you? Be merciful like your Heavenly Father is merciful, who causes it to rain on the just and on the unjust.”
And so, the training command here is what I call the “Matthew 5:24 principle.” The Matthew 5:24 principle. This is the one that reminds me that my rights, “This isn’t fair,” are not as important as right relationships.
Matthew 5:24, it’s this picture of an Old Testament saint, in the time of Jesus, coming to the altar, and he’s going to present his offering. He may have a pigeon, or he may have a calf, or a goat, and he’s making an offering. And it says, “If you come there before God, with your offering, and there remember your brother has something against you –”
Now, notice, it’s not you have something against him. Now, that I could buy. Right? “I’ve got this against him. I’ve got a bad attitude. I ripped him off. I’m really mad. I’m really angry. I, Okay, Lord, I get it. I’ll go apologize.”
That’s not what it says! It says, “If, when you’re bringing your offering, and you know they have something against you.” And in your mind, you’re going, Something against me! Are you kidding me? It was ninety-two percent their fault! When they come and apologize, we’ll get this right.
What’s it say? “When you know they have something against you, leave your offering at the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother.” Go own the eight percent. “Make every effort, as far as it depends on you, to be at peace with all men.” Do whatever it takes, because the relationship to God is more important than who is right.
The relationship in your family – and some of you have been there. You’re estranged from family members; there have been these breakdowns, and pains, and hurts, and struggles, and they’re real. And it takes someone with maturity, who says, “Being fair is not the issue.” And just because you do this doesn’t mean there’s reconciliation. It doesn’t mean people hug. It doesn’t mean Thanksgiving is wonderful.
But what it means is, you have been a child of God. You’re walking in a manner worthy. You’re living the way Jesus is – His life through you. And so, you go to them, and you make every effort. And you’d be surprised what God will do. You’d be surprised how healing can occur.
In so many relationships among Christians, this happens, there’s a divide, and they’re over here; you’re over here. When their name comes up, your stomach – right? It gets a little like – ew! – like this. When you see them in a grocery store or someplace, or, heaven forbid, like, at the airport when you’re traveling? Ahhhh. And you just realize, Oh my lands. Then, you try and act like you don’t see them. Then, it’s too late, and then, it’s like a scab. You know why? Because it’s not dealt with.
You go into training. And you go into training to make the relationships what God wants them to be, because when I sin and blow it, like I do, and you do, I come to God, and I say, Oh, Lord, I can’t believe I said that. I can’t believe I did that. I know I should have done this, but I did that. And, boy, the potential consequences are this, and this, and this, and this. Oh, Jesus, will You please forgive me? Would You please forgive me? Please be merciful. Please don’t hold me accountable for this. Would You please forgive me? What do I want? Mercy!
And yet, someone violates me, and what do I want? Justice! And what Jesus says is, “I gave you mercy. Now you need to extend it.”
See, this is like this training station, and it’s the one that many of us don’t appreciate, at all: the abs. The abs hold everything together. But if there’s bitterness in your heart, relationships out of sync. The principle of the entire book of 1 John is, if your relationship with God, vertically, is right, then your relationships with people, horizontally, have to be right.
So, you do the ab work, and you do all this kind of stuff, and you ride the bicycle. And for some of us, you remember junior high sports? You put your feet up like this? And the coach would say, “Okay! Keep them up! Keep them up! Keep them up!” And you go, “Uhhhh, uhhhhh, uh.” “No, keep them up! Get ‘em up, get ‘em up, get ‘em up, get ‘em up! C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon” – right? It’s really hard, but the core connects everything else.
What relationship do you realize you need to forgive someone? It’s hard to have integrity when there’s this thing out there you need to be cleansed of. Who is coming to your mind, right now, that you realize, I need to make a phone call, or have a breakfast, or grab a cup of coffee, or at least write a letter, and, as far as it depends on me, leave my offering at the altar, and…?
I remember, about five years ago, I tore a disc in my back – L4, L5 – and I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t – when I rode on planes, it was just excruciating. I had to take three Advil and a pain pill. And I did injections – I did everything. Nothing worked. And a guy said, “Well, I can fuse your back, but then you can’t do anything.” He said, “If you can endure the pain, in a couple years, the body is going to start healing. But you’ve got to endure it.” I tried everything.
And then, this doctor, who was a back doctor, had my same problem. He gave me the card of his personal trainer. He said, “What I did is, I went nuts.” And he said, “I got my core so strong that it began to take all the pressure off my back.”
And I didn’t go to his trainer, but I tried everything, and so – ladies, please don’t laugh. I learned that Pilates really builds your core. And I found myself in a room, with all women. And my wife was gracious to go with me.
And all of a sudden, “Okay! The plank!” You know? Diligent! You know? And here’s all these ladies, smiling. I’m going, “Oooohh, ooohh.” You know, I haven’t done anything in two years. And what I had to learn was to be diligent.
And I did Pilates, and a Pilates Fusion-type deal. And after three, four, five months, my back pain was gone. Because what happened here, and what happened here, put the rest of it together.
And for some of you, you need to go into training. Some with your heart being positive with your words. Some, right? Those back exercises? For others, it’s the cardio work.
I want to wrap up our time, and wrap up our series, by really asking you to do a little thinking, and work. God is a provider. Transformation is always by grace. Your number one cheerleader is living inside you. It’s the Holy Spirit.
What we’ve learned is that you grieve Him, and I grieve Him, when words come out of our mouths, when we hurt other people. This isn’t a formula; these aren’t principles. These are not self-help. This isn’t, “Go into training, and do all these things. You’ll be a better person, be more successful.”
All those things may happen, but it is completely not the point. This is a relationship. This is about the living God, living inside of you, and there’s a part of the transformation that no one’s going to do for you. You’ve got everything you need: His Spirit, His Word, His people.
And there’s part of it that’s hard, to be honest, and be angry, and be diligent, and be positive, and be forgiving. That’s your part. You can’t do it, but He is working, and He is creating – some of you, right now – He’s creating the will and the desire to do some things that you don’t want to do.
And so, here’s the application: Number one, I want you – look at your notes, underneath there. Where are you doing well? Some of your personalities – “Oh, I’m doing terrible. I’m terrible on the bike, I’m terrible on the back. I don’t do – I need spiritual abs. I need – I’m a terrible person.” That is not God’s word to you.
You need to rejoice and say, “You know something? Where was I a year ago, or three years ago? I’ve made progress.” Jot it down. “I’m a lot better with my words. I used to have an anger problem. Wow, I remember, I forgave so-and-so a couple years ago, after what she or he did.” Write that down. Be encouraged.
Then, second, what one area do you need to address? Don’t look at all five of those and go, “Oh, yes, yes –” No, no, no, no. Don’t try to do all five. What’s the critical one? What’s the keystone habit, spiritually, that when you make progress on this, the others will fall into place?
And then, finally, you can’t do this by yourself. None of us can do this. And so, the last question is: Who, who is going to help you?
I just had another injury, and I went to a physical therapist on Friday. And I had been doing exercises, by myself. And I felt very proud of myself. And then, I went to this physical therapist. And he had me do exercises. I mean, tears. “Put this ball between your knees; do this on the back.” “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” “How you doing? Give me ten more. Okay, here’s this machine – three sets.” He took me through something – it was amazing the difference.
You need someone in your life to help you push to the levels, by the grace of God, to become the person God died for you to become, so that you could demonstrate His love, and His light, and His holiness, as a natural response to the life that comes at you. He’s done His part. Now, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.