This past week, my sister and brother in law celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary. When I realized it had been 36 years I thought, wow, I was just 18 when they got married. Next month, I’ll be 55. Where did the time go? Do you ever look back on pictures from when you were a child or teenager or a new parent and laugh at what you were wearing or what you were doing? Do you ever look at a picture and say to yourself, What was I thinking? We often laugh at style changes and wonder why on earth we ever thought the mullet haircut looked good or parachute pants, but looking back on problems and disasters where we have had to start over can be painful, but we still need to ask ourselves that question: What was I thinking?
I’ve asked this question a few times in my life. What was I thinking when I moved to California three different times to start over in life? What was I thinking when I quit my job without having anything else lined up? Maybe you’ve asked the same question looking back on relationships, jobs or other major life decisions. Most of the time the reality is that we don’t know what we were thinking or we weren’t thinking clearly. As we move on in our series on starting over, we need to not only own our part of past mistakes, but we need to take the time to reflect on what we were thinking so we can then – Rethink It . While we can’t go back and rethink a situation and have it turn out differently, we can think about why we made that decision and then rethink it so that this time can be better than last time.
Andy Stanley has said, if we think the way we used to think then we will do the things we used to do. If we never change our thinking, then we will never make different and better decisions, so to make sure that starting over this time is better than last time we need to stop and rethink what it is we believe about ourselves and others. We need to rethink what is important to us and how to set right priorities so we can make healthy and godly decisions.
The Apostle Paul knew about starting over. He began his life as a man named Saul who was a very well educated Jewish leader. Saul knew the law of the OT backwards and forward and he worked hard to make sure that God’s people followed the law. When the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection started to spread, Saul was one of the people put in charge of stopping the movement and this meant stopping the people who were involved in the movement, even if it meant having them put to death. Saul was the one who often carried the orders to have the followers of Jesus executed and when Stephen was stoned for his faith in Jesus, Saul was the one standing there giving his approval and holding the coats of the men who stoned him.
Saul then had a divine encounter with the risen Jesus who gave him a chance to start over. Saul accepted Jesus as the Messiah and went from stoning Christians to making them. Saul went from trying to silence the gospel of Jesus Christ to being one of its most eloquent and powerful preachers and teachers. Saul started over and he not only changed his name to Paul but he completely changed his way of thinking. In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about starting over. Romans 12:1. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.
Whenever we start over, we need to offer ourselves to God fully and completely. As we heard last week, the first step means owning our failures and mistakes and the reason Paul says we can do this is because of God’s mercy. We don’t have to hide our sin because God is merciful and will forgive us when are honest. So we can own our mistakes and confess them to God which allows us to move on and start over.
Being a living sacrifices means that every thought and action of every day needs to be offered to God. Everything we do should be pleasing and acceptable to God which is obviously difficult, but Paul doesn’t just tell us to do this, he goes on and tells us how and this is what we need to do to start over.
Romans 12:2a . Do not conform to the pattern of this world…
Paul is saying that we can’t live like everyone else which means we can’t think like everyone else. We can’t just accept what the world says and believe the conventional wisdom of the day. Standing firm in our faith means being willing to be different from the world around us and think differently as well, but this is not easy. The message of the world comes at us from all sides. Music, entertainment, sports, social media, news and advertising are constantly trying to shape our thinking and if we aren’t intentional and thoughtful – we will simply conform to the pattern and thinking of the world and do what we have always done. So Paul gives us the answer.
Romans 12b . be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We are transformed – we are able to start over and do it better and right the next time when our minds are renewed. The word renew here means restored. Have you ever restored something old? Whether it is a piece of furniture or a car, the process begins by taking off the old layers before you can put on anything new.
When I was in high school, I bought a 100 year old mirror that was in an old beaten up frame. Since my Dad restored a lot of old furniture, I thought I would restore it and then sell it. So I started taking off all the old finish. If you have ever restored something then you know you have to take off ALL the old material before you can put on anything new. If you don’t take of all of the old, then when you put on the new finish, it will eventual peel off and you will have to start over. What I realized working on that mirror is that the process of taking off the old is long and hard. There were so many tiny little crevices in the wood that I had to scrape out and apply more and more coats of paint remover.
Learning to rethink things can also be a long and painful process. It can take months of reflection for us to answer the question, what was I thinking? It can take months of reflection to dig deep into the crevices of our mind and heart to figure out why we did what we did and why we still do what we do. Learning to see ourselves and others differently so we don’t make the same mistakes again takes time. It takes time to evaluate our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors and actions so that we can do better the next time and just like when we restore a car or furniture, we can’t rush this process. If we do it’s like putting the new finish on top of the old, in time, it will bubble up and peel away and we will have to start over again. So we need to take time to rethink.
Many people tell those who have lost a spouse to not make any major decisions in that first year. Time is needed to grieve and heal and then think about how to start over. I often see people come out of bad relationships or even a marriage, and then jump right into another relationship without taking the time to think about what just happened. Many of these new relationships have the same issues as the old ones, because it is the same person in it. They didn’t take the time to rethink who they are and what they want in life. It takes time to rethink our lives and it is only in rethinking that we are going to be able to act in new ways.
The renewal of our minds, or learning to rethink it, is what helps us move in new and better directions, because it is through this process that we actually begin to see who we are and who God is and what God wants for us. Listen to the rest of Romans 12:2 , then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. It is only after our minds have been renewed that we are able to see God’s will for our lives and make decisions that are in line with God’s will. So we need to rethink it so we can make better and faithful decisions.
So how do we renew our minds? How do we actually begin to rethink it? This may sound strange but we begin to think differently by doing things differently. New actions lead us to new ways of thinking and then those new ways of thinking leads us to new actions.
So the renewal of our minds takes place, when we begin to do things differently. Renewal of our minds takes place, when we put ourselves in places where we can hear God’s truth, purpose and plan for us and others. Renewal and transformation begins, when we gather for worship and get involved in small groups and do devotional readings and pray. Each of these activities helps renew our minds because it puts us in places where we are confronted by new ways of thinking which shapes our thoughts and attitudes which can then change our actions.
The same is true when we start serving others. Serving other people changes our thinking because it gives us a better perspective on our own lives. It helps shape healthier attitudes and set better priorities and we gain a Godly vision for our own lives and the world in which we live. Serving others can lead to deeper gratitude and lift us out of depression which in turn helps us make healthier and more faithful decisions. So part of renewing our minds and rethinking it comes, when we take steps to live our lives and our faith differently.
One opportunity we all have to rethink it, to restore and renew our minds and be transformed is to volunteer and serve in some new way. We have included in the bulletin a list of many different ways you can serve God here at Faith Church. These are areas where we have a need and it might be that you not only have the gifts we need but that this new time of serving will help you rethink your life and see what God’s will for you really is. This is one way we can act differently so we can think differently – which is important because when we start thinking differently we will start over well.
When we begin to rethink it, we are challenged in ways that are uncomfortable to us and so we fall back to unhealthy ways of thinking. Let me close by sharing 4 ways of thinking that need to change, if we are going to start over well. The first one is this – but my situation is unique. When people try to give us input or advice about how to do things differently or better and our immediate response is to say, but my situation is unique, we are often just pushing out a difficult truth. Our situations are not the unique. I am often struck by how many people’s problems are very similar to others and how often we could learn from one another if we would be willing to listen and learn from others. We are all unique, but our situations are not and we can learn from one another when we need to start over.
Another way of thinking we need to change is feeling like If I only had ______________, I would be satisfied. And you can fill in the blank. If I only had a girlfriend, spouse, children, different job, more money, new car… If we start over and only look for satisfaction in things or people – we will always come up empty. Satisfaction is found when we have a stronger relationship with God and allow God to define who we are. So we need to stop looking to fill in this blank and instead allow our hearts to be filled with God so that we can be satisfied.
The third assumption we need to rethink is this, I know it’s not right, but… If it’s not right it will never turn out right. Whenever we engage in behavior that we know is wrong, it will never make our situation better. It might work for a while, but it will always break down in the end. If we start over doing something we know is not right – we will eventually have to start over again.
And, the last thought that needs to change in our way of thinking today is this, Sex will solve the problem. Sex is a wonderful gift God has given, but it does not solve problems in a relationship. If problems are there before – they will be there afterwards. If anything, sex will complicate the situation and often make things more difficult but we live in a society where we are told that sex is the answer to everything. It is not and we need to rethink this idea, if we want healthier relationships and more fulfilled lives.
If we are going to break the cycle of repeated mistakes we first need to own it, we need to own our piece of the problem and then we need to rethink it. We need to think differently and renew our minds so that this time can be better and healthier and more fulfilled than last time.
1. Where in your life do you look back and ask yourself, What was I thinking? Take time to reflect on these questions:
• What was I thinking?
• Why did I make the decisions I did?
• What have I learned from this situation?
2. Read Romans 12:1-2
What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?
In what ways do you need to stop conforming to the patterns of this world?
3. What old ways of thinking about yourself, your life and others do you need to let go of so you can think in new ways?
4. Where do you need to give yourself more time before you start over?
5. What does Philippians 4:8-9 tell us we should be thinking about and doing?
6. Thinking differently often comes after we start acting differently. In what ways can you act differently in your life of faith?
• Attend worship each week
• Read and reflect on Scripture every day
• Pray three times a day
• Join a small group or class
• Volunteer and serve in some new way (on the back is a list of current volunteer needs at Faith Church)