Earlier this week I was having a conversation with someone who has been struggling, and who had fallen out of church. (I hate that terminology, because no one "falls" out, they walk out... but that's for another blog.)
Anyway, this person was talking about the need to make some changes in their life, but said that they just could not seem to figure out how to make those changes.
This got me to start thinking about how I make real changes in my own life.
Not just any change, but the kind that changes my life, that really change me.
As I reflect back on my life, I realize that whenever I have made changes that really took, I have had to change what i believe.
One thing that I have learned is that just repeating concepts that other people have written about or spoke of has never worked to change what I think, because it doesn't change what i believe.
News Flash: You and I just can't talk ourselves into accepting a thought that we have no basis for believing.
Those that have known me longest know that toward the end of the 70's and into the early 80's, when I was teen going into my early adult years I had some serious meltdowns. The truth is, I never had much confidence in myself and as a product of my insecurity and lack of self worth, I had never really learned to relate with others. I found my confidence in a bottle of Southern Comfort or Vodka, smoking pot, and various other drugs I used as my problem grew deeper.
I reached the place that I could not even function in life without chemical "assistance." In high school I always had a bottle in my locker, another in my car, stashed in my room, at work (I worked at Pizza Hut while in school) and always had plenty of pot stashed as well. Few of my friends new just how much I was drinking. Some actually saw me do a pinch hitter sitting in the back corner of the class room or bathroom, but they saw it as my being funny or trying to draw attention... I don't think anyone saw the dependence.
A really strange pattern developed in my life in my teen years. It's really weird. I never had any sense of self worth, so I was always seeking for approval of someone else. I constantly had to have a girl friend, because that meant I was accepted. I know, many folks do that. Where it really got weird was that I never would let anyone get too close to me. For one, if someone got too close, they might really discover just how much I was drinking, smoking and popping pills.
Another thing was that after losing my parents and my brother at a young age, I made up my mind that I just would not let anyone get inside of me. It hurt too much when they were gone, so I pushed them away.I hurt a lot of people over the years because I'd let someone get just so close to me and then abruptly end a relationship for absolutely no reason that they could see.
A really strange twist was that if the young lady ended the relationship with me, I would feel so rejected that I would have an absolute meltdown and frequently became suicidal.
Ironically, I grew up in church, and come from a family with a strong relationship with Christ. Several times over the years I would pray and ask Jesus into my
life. My thinking was that because I asked Jesus into my life that things would change all by themselves. I found out that this is not how things work.
I got to the place that church and religion was a place to go and appease my guilty conscience and make me feel better for awhile, before I slipped right back into my "normal" way of doing life.
This became a regular pattern for me, running back to God every now and then when I was suffering another of my meltdowns, until finally I began to feel that God was rejecting me too.
This was primarily because my image of God was that of a God who was really pissed off at the world (and me) most of the time. God was a God who would "get you" if you did not serve Him.
I now know that I never really wanted to know God, but in fact, most of the times I had come to an altar to pray, it was usually because some one had preached a message on Hell and once again, how God was ticked off and was going to punish me.
This pattern, this vicious cycle continued on and on, with each cycle taking me deeper into depression, anxiety, feeling useless and the drinking and drug use escalated, pulling me more and more into a pit of despair.
I began looking for new highs and rushes in my life, and my exploration took me into a life of crime. I really did not need the money as I had a good job and was making a lot more dealing drugs to my co-workers. It was simply the "rush" that I felt when I stuck a gun in someones face and demanded their money or whatever.
Everything in my life began to unravel on December 17, 1980 when I was arrested on murder charges along with a host of others. In the course of the legal wrangling, it was found that I had not been involved in the murder, but a "friend" who I had brought into my criminal ways, had gotten out of control and killed a woman and then told the police that I had done it. By the time they finished with him, the detectives had enough evidence against me on other charges that I was facing a long, long time in prison. I became more suicidal at that time than ever before, and nearly killed myself several times between December 1980 and June 1981.
Oh yeah, I tried the "religion" angle during that time too, but I was looking for a way out of my trouble, not a change of life.
Then, on June 12, 1981, I had a real, personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
I have to admit, even then I thought things would change by themselves.
It still did not happen. My circumstances did not automatically get better.
In fact, I went to prison.
But being born again made me a new creature on the inside.
What I discovered is that my new birth gave me a brand new nature, and gave me access to everything God is and has.
But being born again didn't automatically change my mind, the part of me that connects to this world. It took me awhile, but I discovered that my mind wasn't the part of me that was born again.
The bible says in several places to put on the new man, made in the image of God.
It took me some time to grasp why that is necessary, and how that is done.
Like so many new believers, I thought changes would just take me over.
But the mind has to be renewed before the changes are evident.
In the book of James it is described like a man who looks at himself in a mirror, and then goes away and forgets what he looks like. The man who continues to renew his mind with the Word of God is like a man who continually looks into a mirror, sees the image of God there, and begins to believe that that is what he looks like too.
The key that began a life long change took place laying in a hospital room in Menard Penitentiary in January 1982, when a priest challenged me to forget everything I had ever heard about God, church, religion and the Bible, and to read the Bible for myself and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the true nature of God to me.
I was so tired of stumbling in the dark, and I accepted his challenge.
I asked the Holy Spirit to be my teacher, and He lead me to a scripture that launched me into many changes ever since that time.
1 John 4:16, “and we have known and believed the love that God hath to us …”
It was like the light came on!
It was not that God was pissed off or angry with me... God loved me!
Some of you are going, "Duh!?!"
But this was brand new to me! It changed me... and it will change you!
I now know God loves me.
Understand this... I KNOW... I BELIEVE that God loves me... and it is NOT because i feel like He loves me, because to be quite honest, there are times when I don't FEEL like He is even paying attention, let alone that he loves me.
But I KNOW that He loves me, and my friends... knowledge is power!
My faith is built on what I know the Word says, which never changes.
My feelings are the reactions of everything I think, experience, and believe.It is easier to walk on water than to build on my feelings!
Why? Because they are always changing!
So when I saw this verse, I knew what to do. I had to begin to choose to believe. Understand, NOT just believe whatever sounded good, or whatever people told me. I had to choose to believe what God was telling me.He reveals what His Word is saying to my heart, and I choose to believe it.
Then I stand on it and speak it to myself – the same way people do when they're worrying about something and continually say what they're afraid is going to happen.
I began to apply this to all the scriptures that describe who and what i am in Christ. And you know what?
I began to renew my mind!And as my mind was renewed, I began to walk in newness of life.It was like being a warrior, and finally beginning to put on my armor.It was like being a child of the King, and finally holding my head up, not because of who I am, but because of whose I am.
You know, the fact is that in the 28 years since I met Jesus, this world hasn't changed, except maybe to have gotten worse. There will always be things to contend with. There will be difficult people who will hurt me. There will be losses, pain and yes, there will be storms.But I have changed.I will still make mistakes, and sometimes do the wrong thing out of anger.
I still have many changes to make.
But these things, and the world, don't tell me who I am anymore.
I know who I am.
At times I still do struggle with having a personal identity, but I know I am a man who is in covenant with God. Today, I really know Who I am in covenant with and that makes me strong.
I wont be having anymore meltdowns.
Thank you Jesus!