Connecting earth and heaven

The Bible clearly and consistently connects earth and heaven. We must never allow ourselves to think that our lives on earth do not connect with eternity.

The basic truth behind this connection is that we must answer to our Creator and Redeemer when we leave this world.

The undeniable fact of future accountability before God is repeatedly made in Scripture. “…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27).

“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone…. For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14:7-12).

Future accountability of believers (2 Corinthians 5:8-10)

“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

  • “Even for the Christian there is to be a day of reckoning. We must all, apostles and the rest, whether living or dead at Christ’s coming, be made manifest before the tribunal of Christ. … All the implications and consequences of appearing before the judgment-seat of Christ will not be known until the day itself arrives; but meanwhile the Christian is left in no doubt that he is regarded by God as fully answerable for the quality of his present life in the body” (Philip Hughes, Second Corinthians, NICNT, 179-180, 182-183).

Although all the implications and consequences of our future appearance before Christ’s judgment seat are not known, Scripture is not silent about the subject.

What is involved in accountability to God?

In II Corinthians 5, we learn of a future evaluation of our present lives focused on “the deeds of the body.” These deeds will prove to be either “good” or “bad” (“bad” means “worthless” or “of no enduring value”). This will happen at our “appearing” or “being made manifest” before Christ’s judgment seat.

  • We “will be open to the scrutiny of Christ…for it is only the divine gaze which penetrates to the very essence of our personality: ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). The conduct of our lives should constantly be influenced by the solemn remembrance that ‘there is no creature that is not manifest in God’s sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5). In that day both the hypocritical and the hypercritical will be shown for what they really are.”
  • “’Because much is required of those to whom much has been given,’ comments Tasker, ‘the thought of the judgment seat of Christ has for the Christian a special solemnity. It is not meant to cloud his prospect of future blessedness, but to act as a stimulus.’ The incentive is to Christian living that is marked throughout by complete integrity, both in what is apparent and in what is not apparent to one’s fellow-men, so that the outward, instead of concealing the inward person, corresponds to it. It is only in Christ, through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, that this wholeness of being, free from division, can be realized. ‘Let us then imagine Christ’s judgment-seat to be present now,’ urges Chrysostom, ‘and reckon each one of us with his own conscience, and account the Judge to be already present, and everything to be revealed and brought forth. For we must not merely stand, but also be manifested. Do you not blush? Are you not dismayed?’” (Hughes)
  • “In the light of the ultimate realities of which he has been speaking every genuine follower of Christ should apply himself earnestly to ‘the perfecting of holiness in the fear of God’ (7:1). By ‘the fear of the Lord,’ then, the Apostle does not mean that terror which the ungodly will experience when they stand before God’s judgment throne (cf. Rev. 6:15ff), but that reverential awe which the Christian should feel towards the Master whom he loves and serves and at whose hands he will receive ‘the things done in the body’” (cf. 1 Peter 1:17-19) (Hughes).

Matthew 6:19-20

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Matthew 6:1-18

In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus exposed those who prostitute sacred acts of devotion to God (giving – vv. 2-4; praying – vv. 5-6; fasting – vv. 16-18) in order to promote themselves. He then contrasted such ways with those who serve God in secret – not seeking an audience or an applause. This group is seen by and will be rewarded by the Father.

Motives of the heart appear to be the criteria for judgment. I Corinthians 4:5- “…wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

The One who knows the motives of men’s hearts will expose them, and it will be very personal—“at that time each will receive his praise from God.” Yet some also will “suffer loss” (1 John 2:28) as their works prove to be “worthless” (i.e. of no enduring value). (cf. Hebrews 4:12). This distinction might also explain the difference between the categories of “gold, silver, costly stones” and “wood, hay or straw” spoken of in I Corinthians 3:10-15.

In heaven, there will evidently be reward and loss of reward in relation to our earthly lives (i.e. “our acts of righteousness” or “deeds done in the body”). Some of what we’ve done will be of the quality that endures (done for the Lord in secret); some will disappear like fire consuming wood, hay or straw.

The picture used in I Corinthians 3:10-15 is trial by fire, and the materials are either destroyed by fire (wood, hay, stubble) or resistant to and indeed purified by fire (gold, silver, precious stones). The Christian whose work abides after the test will receive a reward, whereas he whose work is consumed will suffer loss—‘but he himself shall be saved’ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).” (cf. Revelation 1:14-17a).

Reward not salvation

“The declaration of Christ’s judgment-seat is not the ultimate of salvation or damnation; for it is the redeemed alone who stand before it, and their doing so results either, on the one hand, in their hearing the Lord’s ‘well done’ and the receiving of a reward, or, on the other hand, in their suffering loss, that is, through failing to receive a reward. The rewards themselves vary in proportion to the faithfulness and diligence of each individual (cf. Luke 19:16ff).” (Hughes)

Life and service for our Lord is an accountable stewardship of various talents, gifts, opportunities, and abilities.

The Lord’s parables stress this truth. Reward and loss are a certainty but their exact nature is not as clear. Evidently, the quality of each person’s work is either temporal or enduring. Acts of devotion done for temporal glory will have no eternal significance. And there will be awareness of loss.

I Corinthians 3:10-15 is most likely a reference to efforts at building Christ’s Church. Do we build based on worldly wisdom or Christ and His teaching? In verse 15, it’s the man’s work (evidently in building the church) that could be burned up, while the man himself is spared.

This is “one of the most significant passages in the New Testament that warn—and encourage—those responsible for “building” the church of Christ. In the final analysis, of course, this includes all believers, but it has particular relevance, following so closely as it does vv. 5-9, to those with teaching/leadership responsibilities. Paul’s point is unquestionably warning.”

“It is unfortunately possible for people to attempt to build the church out of every imaginable human system predicated on merely worldly wisdom, be it philosophy, ‘pop’ psychology, managerial techniques, relational ‘good feelings,’ or what have you. But at the final judgment, all such building (and perhaps countless other forms, where systems have become more important than the gospel itself) will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or his gospel in it. Often, of course, the test may come this side of the final one, and in such an hour of stress that which has been built of modern forms of sophia usually comes tumbling down.” (Gordon Fee, First Corinthians, NICNT,) (cf. the seven churches in Revelation 2/3)

Prayerfully reflect on these Scriptures:

  • Colossians 3:23-24 - “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
  • Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight.”

Connecting earth and heaven

Although we know that good works do not accomplish our salvation, we must take seriously the connection between this life and heaven. Do we anticipate God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”

Richard Baxter wrote, “Live now as you would wish you had done at death and judgment.”

On degrees of reward, see Dan. 12:2; Matt. 6:20-21; 19:21; Luke 6:22-23; 12:18-21, 32, 42-48; 14:13-14; 1 Cor. 3:8; 9:18; 13:3; 15:19, 29-32, 58; Gal. 6:9-10; Eph. 6:7-8; Col. 3:23-24; 1 Tim. 6:18; Heb. 10:34-35; 11:10, 14-16, 26, 35; 1 Peter 1:4; 2 John 8; Rev. 11:18; 22:12; cf. also Matt. 5:46; 6:2-6, 16-18, 24; Luke 6:35; 19:17-19.

Steve Cornell

How can I know he means it?

“He said I am sorry, but it’s at least the tenth time! I don’t know what to do. I know it’s my Christian duty to forgive and Lord knows I’ve tried! But each time I forgive him, he changes for a little while, and then returns to the same behavior. I have this gut feeling I am handling things the wrong way. He never really changes and I just become more angry.”

What should I do?

Unlike forgiveness, reconciliation of a broken relationship is a process conditioned on the attitude and actions of an offender.

Those who commit significant and repeated offenses must realize that their responses and actions affect the timing of the process. Those who are genuinely repentant will accept this fact with brokenness and humility.

Forgiveness and reconciliation should occur together in relation to minor offenses.

Relationships shaped by the gospel are ones where, “love covers a multitude of sins” (i.e. offenses)” (I Peter 4:8). People who withhold restoration over minor offenses are lacking genuine love based on God’s grace and forgiveness (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1). Immaturity and manipulation will repeatedly threaten unity where this love is absent.

When we’ve been deeply or repeatedly betrayed, forgiveness does not necessarily require that one immediately grant the same level of relationship back to an offender. Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions.

Being forgiven, restored, and trusted again is an amazing experience, but those who deeply and repeatedly hurt others must understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process and timing of rebuilding trust and restoring a broken relationship.

In the act of forgiveness (which is always required by God), we surrender the desire for revenge. We do this in the presence of the God who said, ““It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is first about God. Forgiveness is an act of worship.  

When forgiveness is genuine, an offended person will be open to the possibility of reconciliation. Forgiveness requires us to offer a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and to regain trust (unless safety is at risk).

But when a person has repeatedly behaved in a hurtful and irresponsible ways, he must accept the fact that reconciliation will likely be a slow and difficult process.

Three considerations in the timing of reconciliation

  1. The attitude of the offender
  2. The depth of the betrayal
  3. The pattern of the offense (repeated offenses)

When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is to confirm whether the offender is genuinely repentant (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent a desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. He might even resort to lines of manipulation.

  • “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
  • “You just want to rub it in my face.”
  • “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
  • “I am not the only one who does wrong things, you know?”
  • “Are you some kind of perfect person looking down on me?”
  • “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”

These lines of manipulation reveal an unrepentant attitude. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance. When relationships are broken badly, it is best to seek a wise counselor to assist in reconciliation (but only a counselor who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation explained here). 

Carefully and prayerfully use the seven signs of true repentance listed below. Words alone are not enough to restore trust in such cases. True confirmation can be found in the seven signs of true repentance below.

7 signs of genuine repentance

The offender…

  1. Accepts full responsibility for his/her actions (Not, “Since you think I’ve done wrong…” or “If I have done anything to offend you…”).
  2. Accepts accountability from others.
  3. Does not continue in the behavior or anything associated with it.
  4. Does not have a defensive attitude about the wrong he or she has done.
  5. Does not have a light attitude toward the hurtful behavior.
  6. Does not resent doubts about sincerity or the need to demonstrate sincerity (especially for repeated offenses).
  7. Makes restitution wherever necessary.

Steve Cornell

Another urgent question for the Church

suggestion box handle with careIn my sermon at our Church today, I will continue our look at what it means to be a caring Church based on I Corinthians 5:1-13.

Here’s a question I will explore:

Q. How can we proclaim and celebrate a gospel of grace and forgiveness while enforcing standards of morality — without becoming a prideful and self-righteous or watchful and legalistic Church?

A few examples of what I will say:

  1. A caring Church must be a place of loving, grace-based accountability.
  2. Accountability – Helping people keep their commitments to God.
  3. Accountability should offer protection based on positive and corrective reinforcements in a context of loving relationships of mutual care and encouragement (see: Hebrews 3:12-13; 13:17).
  • “Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting.  It is also tough love that holds one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness.
  • For most Christians, the support side of the equation comes more easily than accountability… Maybe it’s because we simply haven’t taught accountability. Or maybe it’s because, in today’s fiercely individualistic culture, people resent being told what to do, and since we don’t want to “scare them off,” we give in to cultural pressures.”
  • “But too often we confuse love with permissiveness.It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a child. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability” (from, Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 130).
  • “If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (Chinese – 多愁善感, Korean – 감상벽) (from, John R. W. Stott, Confess Your Sins).

Three Foundational Truths

  1. The costly nature of saving grace (v. 7- “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed”)
  2. The transforming power of salvation (I John 3:9 – “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” cf. James 2)
  3. The necessity of community for spiritual transformation (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24; 13:17)

Steve Cornell

Local Church Membership Covenant

Having received Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord and having been baptized as a follower of Christ, I commit myself to God and to the members of my local Church to do the following:

  1. I will protect the unity of my church … by acting in love toward other members, by refusing to gossip or slander others and by supporting the leadership God places in it.
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).
  • “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (I Peter 3:8).
  • “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
  • “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (romans 16:17-18).
  • “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
  • “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 16).
  1. I will share the responsibility of my church …by praying for its members … for its growth; by attending faithfully and by financially supporting it.
  • “To the church…we always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers” (I Thessalonians 1:1-2).
  • “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
  • “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:12-13).
  • “Let us not give up meeting together…let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).
  • “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income” (I Corinthians 16:2).
  1. I will serve the ministry of my church …by developing a servant’s heart …by using my gifts and talents and by being equipped to serve by my pastors
  • “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
  • “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who… [took on] the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:4-5,7).
  • “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (I Peter 4:10).
  • “It was he [God] who gave…some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”… “From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:11-12, 16).
  1. I will support the testimony of my church …by living a godly life in my actions, attitudes and words, by warmly welcoming visitors and by bearing witness to Christ and making disciples.
  • “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
  • “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).
  • “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (I Peter 4:9).
  • “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Please feel free to use this as a teaching tool in your local Church. Simply note the source as (Wisdomforlife – http://www.thinkpoint.com).

Steve Cornell

What pastoral care looks like

 

Here’s a great illustration for deeper discussion about pastoral ministry:  

“Roberta (not her real name) is a bright woman in her forties with a highly charged emotional attachment to Jesus. Roberta loves to sing in church, and her passion for worship infuses those around her with a desire to know God more deeply. Unfortunately, Roberta’s family background has set her on an apparently irreversible course to relational confusion and heartache. After a failed marriage, Roberta lived with a sister for more than a decade, spending hours each week involved in various charitable causes. The sister’s death brought to the surface a host of family and financial crises.”

“Roberta’s grief process was highly intensified due to years of dysfunctional family relationships. She was dangerously despondent. It was clear to us that Roberta needed outside help in order to gain a proper perspective on herself and the world around her. Roberta’s current money problems were only the latest in a history of such fiscal fiascoes, suddenly intensified by a squabble with her surviving siblings over their sister’s estate.”

“Roberta is loved and highly appreciated by our church family. Our leaders sincerely desired to do something tangible to help Roberta get on her feet again, both emotionally and economically. We offered to meet the most pressing financial needs immediately. But we knew that our assistance would benefit Roberta only if accompanied by several nonnegotiable conditions.”

“We informed Roberta that the money would be hers if she met three conditions. (1) She would see our staff [counselor] (initially at the church’s expense) on a weekly basis in order to find short-term support and guidance in dealing with the loss of her sister. (2) She would meet with a financial adviser who is a member of our congregation (again, pro bono) to come up with a game plan to dig herself out of debt. (3) She would agree to attend church regularly and partner with others in the church family in some area of ministry.”

“What we asked of Roberta was really quite straightforward: relational accountability. We challenged Roberta to quit trying to find her way through life as an isolated individual and, instead, to take advantage of the guidance, community, and accountability offered by her brothers and sisters in the family of God. Only in this way would Roberta begin to grow up to become the healthy person God had designed her to be.”

“Roberta declined our offer and rejected our advice. Like many people in our churches, she chose to chart her own course and to bear her pain alone rather than to integrate herself into the body of Christ through the vehicle of strong relational accountability. We no longer see Roberta at Oceanside Christian Fellowship anymore.”

American Individualism and a Church in Crisis

“A story like Roberta’s impacts more than just the individual involved; it takes its toll on a whole church family. On more than one occasion I spent a great deal of time with Roberta on the phone as the above crisis unfolded. We also dedicated an hour or so of our elder board’s precious meeting time in our efforts to carefully craft the three conditions (see above) for the financial assistance that she requested.”

“We have free assistance available through professional counselors and financial planners who are graciously willing to donate their time. And we have a church body ready to receive and encourage anyone willing to embrace our oversight and our guidelines. But Roberta benefited from none of these resources since she foolishly chose to sort out her problems on her own, apart from input from her brothers and sisters in Christ. And we are all the worse for it” (Joseph Hellerman, “When the Church was a family”).

 

The Death of Character

More than a decade ago, James Davison Hunter, (University of Virginia) wrote: “The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil.

Hunter’s observations remain sobering for us today. He described the daunting task we face as a nation.

“We say we want renewal of character in our day but we don’t really know what we ask for… We want character but without unyielding conviction; we want strong morality but without the emotional burden of guilt or shame; we want virtue but without particular moral justifications that invariably offend; we want good without having to name evil; we want decency without the authority to insist upon it; we want moral community without any limitations to personal freedom. In short, we want what we cannot possibly have on the terms that we want it.”

Professor Hunter suggested that, “the most basic element of character is moral discipline — the inner capacity for restraint, an ability to inhibit oneself in one’s passions, desires and habits within the boundaries of a moral order and on behalf of a greater good.” Hunter believes (rightly in my view) that, “the boundaries of moral order come in significant measure through social order.”

So if character and culture are inseparable; if the social order of the individual is what largely shapes his conscience, liberating or restraining it, perhaps we can understand why Hunter believes character is dead.

Although churches often played decisive roles in framing the boundaries of conscience, Hunter acknowledged that “character does not require religious faith.” What it does require is “the conviction of truth made sacred, abiding as an authoritative presence within consciousness and life, reinforced by habits, institutionalized within a moral community.”

Here is the great challenge for western culture (and particularly for democratic societies). The diversity of moral traditions and varying ideals for the common good in pluralistic culture can be powerfully divisive forces. Hunter believes that such diversity challenges us “to confront the sources by which we define the ‘moral’ life and, by extension, ‘good’ character.”

If, for example, “our commitments to benevolence and justice are to have any substance and meaning, if they are not to be merely slogans, it is essential to open a discussion of the means by which we support these commitments.”

How then do we arrive at consensus regarding the right means for recognizing truth and morality? This is far more than a theoretical question for those who care about the good of humanity.

But settling the matter of means is particularly difficult for moral relativists and militant atheists. They have nothing to look to beyond their own feelings or experiences. On what basis should we impose one standard or law over another? Appealing to principles of utilitarian consensus will not be much good in a context of conflicting values and vision. In the wrong hands (or minds), as history proves, this approach to law can be dangerous. Something stronger must undergird utilitarian conclusions.

What does history tell us about the better source for making laws and establishing social order? Judges who take the bench must repeatedly make decisions based on laws. Many of the laws of the US have an undeniable moral background that was forged in a social context based largely on a Judeo-Christian worldview.

Although we cannot ask our government for laws formed explicitly from Christian Scripture, the current trend to push as far from these Scriptures as possible could be a significant cause of our demise.

Steve Cornell

6 step detox plan for a painful past

The early years of life are the most foundational to the formation of our identity and character. These years profoundly affect our future health and stability.  

If you’ve experienced a healthy and functionally stable upbringing, you’ve received a gift that has become increasingly rare. But if your 18-year factor was marked by a significant disruption or a serious dysfunction, it will have a definite effect on your identity, security, and relationship skills.

You had what I call a toxic background if there were significant disruptions – (like sexual abuse or your parents’ divorce) or serious dysfunctions (like a domineering father or mother, a parent who walks in and out of your life, abuse from a parent, an alcoholic parent or an emotionally distance one). The toxicity of your past must be addressed if you desire to have healthy adult relationships.

The protective mechanisms children practice to shield themselves from hurt do not protect them when carried into adult relationships. The walls, defensive postures, alternate realities, and over compensations potentially alienate people and typically hinder true intimacy in adult life.

If you identify with such an 18-year factor, may I suggest a six point detox plan for you? Look closely and prayerfully at each point.

1- Redemption

Change begins with God. First we need God’s gift of salvation. God is the one who redeems us “…from the empty way of life handed down to you” (1 Peter 1:18). Many times God uses the pain of our past to make us see how much we need His love, forgiveness and help. But change and transformation is a process. It is described in Philippians 2:12-13-”…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

This transformation will cut deeply into the things that run deeply into our character– especially the 18-year factor stuff.

2 – Respect

Don’t minimize the significance of how your life was impacted by your 18-year factor. Sometimes it’s not a matter of “Just get over it!” or “Put it behind you!” To minimize these matters is to belittle God’s ordained role for family.  Denial or distortion of your past is not the way to gain true freedom. Failure to take seriously your 18-year factor is not good for you or those close to you. So often, generational sins continue because of a refusal to stop, listen and learn from the past.

3 – Revisit

Take a trip down memory lane — even if it is painful. Don’t allow suppressed feelings and buried memories to stay hidden. Talk about your father and mother and family of origin with people who have godly wisdom. Recognize and reflect on ways you were impacted by your upbringing. Do not do this to wallow in self-pity or anger toward your parents. Do this with humble honesty and with deeply reflective prayer (Psalm 62:8; Philippians 4:6-7).

Be honest about the trigger issues that set you off or close you up. Look closely at the walls and defense mechanisms you use. Why do you choose cynicism or use sarcastic humor? Self-perception is often distorted so let others help you. But avoid selective disclosure and remember that the only thing you can change about the past is the way it affects you in the future. Be balanced in your perspective by following my next point:

4 – Reaffirm/reinforce

Try to think of some good things from your home of origin. Perhaps through your parents you’ve learned only a few good things but reaffirm them. It is unhealthy to be too one-sided in perspective. Even if you can only be grateful for food and shelter, find something to affirm. Perhaps you could rehearse ways you learned through the difficulties. This will help you think more clearly about other matters from your past.

The next step is more challenging:

5 – Renounce/repent

Significantly disrupted or seriously dysfunctional 18-year factors leave deep tracks in our hearts and minds. Thought patterns and heart postures must be examined closely. We must clearly and directly renounce wrong and hurtful ways of thinking about ourselves, others, life and God.

Reject false perceptions, self-blame, guilt; the need to be in control, wrong ideas about all men or all women. Reject wrong thoughts about God by choosing to see how he has revealed Himself in Scripture. Give blame and responsibility to those to whom it belongs. Address your unwillingness to trust or determination to be self-sufficient–needing no one! (Life in this world is vulnerable)

An unhealthy fear of vulnerability will keep you from allowing your heart to love another person. A  fear of loss and betrayal can destroy your ability to enjoy loving relationships. Renouncing these things takes patience and resolve. Identifying destructive thought patterns is a process that usually requires the help of others. Don’t be threatened by learning painful truths about yourself. Repentance is a change of mind or outlook. It requires a new way of seeing things—God’s way. It begins the path to healthy and joyful living.

6 – Renew

This is what God does in our lives. “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10, NLT). He said to His people: “I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” (Jeremiah 30:17). God is the one who can “….restore to you the years that the locust have eaten” (Joel 2:25). Like the Psalmist, we must pray, “Renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Resolve to commit yourself to a renewed mind. Change the way you think by learning to think godly thoughts from Scripture. “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23).

Change comes through a disciplined practice of renunciation and renewal.

“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. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you (Romans 12:2-3).

This pattern of renunciation and renewal—“do not be conformed….but be transformed” is essential to overcoming one’s past. It’s also a daily practice that over time yields long-term benefits.

Notice that the mind is what must be renewed. The mind is the center of thought, perception, understanding, and consciousness itself. Change must begin with a new way of thinking. The word repentance refers to this change of mind that leads to other changes. God uses Scripture to effect this change in us: (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:11;II Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:22-25).

The command is in the present tense indicating continuous action – “Continually renew your mind.” This means that we cannot accept defeat. Complacency, stagnation and pride of achievement must be viewed as threats to needed progress. We never arrive at a place where we no longer need to continually renew our minds.

Interestingly, one of the first changes in thought mentioned in Romans 12:3 is concerning self-perception (how we see ourselves): “Do not think of yourself ….rather think of yourself.”

A disrupted or dysfunctional 18-year factor can badly distort your self-perception and damage future relationships. God calls us to sober (and humble) judgment in how we view ourselves.

Take time to prayerfully work through each of the six steps. Engage a trusted friend in the process.

Steve Cornell