How to Win While Losing

“Losing is only temporary and not encompassing. You must simply study it, learn from it, and try hard not to lose the same way again. Then you must have the self-control to forget about it.” ~ John Wooden

This evening I was doing two things at the same time.

I was watching the Gonzaga-Baylor NCAA title game. And I was polishing up my notes for my Sunday message out of the Sermon on the Mount.

Obviously, with Spokane less than 30 miles from our house, I was pulling for the Zags.

But it was obvious from the get-go that Baylor came out with more energy and greater determination.

(As an excuse for the loss, I’d like to think that Gonzaga burned up all their passion on their win over UCLA two days before.)

On this night, there was no denying that Baylor was the better team.

The Zags were, sadly, the losers.

But then I stuck around long enough to catch the post game interview with Gonzaga coach Mark Few.

And as Few spoke, I found my spirits being lifted.

The more Coach Few talked, the more I could tell he was a man of character and healthy perspective.

-He graciously congratulated Baylor on their victory.

-He spoke of his love for his players and how he sought to encourage them in the face of a loss on national TV.

-He marveled that his team could actually win 31 games in one season, and saw it as a gift to be enjoyed rather than grow bitter because of one loss.

-He told his players that the difficult emotions they were experiencing would pass.

Coach Few didn’t come across crestfallen, but grateful. He displayed an air of peace, joy and humility.

Interesting, so much of the Sermon on the Mount of which I was studying is about living differently than the rest of the world.

-Its a call to make peace rather than fight

-Its the challenge to go the extra mile

-Its the invitation to be people of our word

-Its Jesus summoning us to shine like lights in a dark world

-Its a bid for us live humbly in a world filled with pride

One can’t read Jesus’ sermon without realizing it’s a call to live in contrast to how people typically live.

A lot like how Mark Few displayed himself during the post-game interview.

My hunch was that Coach Mark Few would follow in the footsteps of many other coaches who have confronted loss with anger, frustration, blame or defiance.

But what I saw was more than good sportsmanship. I believe I was witnessing deep character being revealed.

Few offered a fresh perspective that I imagine his players couldn’t help but notice.

And because Coach Few was placed on the national stage, we also got to see the type of man he is: a winner in the face of losing.

The Testing of Faith

“The ultimate test of faith isn’t how loudly you praise God in happy times but how deeply you trust him in dark times.” ~ Rick Warren

At various times throughout our lives, God will seek to move our faith out the realm of mere mental theory and and allow it to be tested.

That’s because faith isn’t meant to be something ambiguous that only dwells in our minds, but something practically applied to our everyday lives.

Why?

Because what good is faith if it is never scrutinized? How can we know we possess faith if it is never probed? How can we know the quality of our faith if it is never employed?

Bottom line, our faith must, from time to time, be taken out for a test drive.

Typically, the “faith tests” we face come in the form of obstacles, challenges, diversions, mysteries, pain, and suffering.

Sometimes we pass the tests God allows into our lives. (If so, hallelujah!)

And sometimes our tests of faith show us we have more growing to do.

The apostle Peter wrote about allowing our faith to go under the microscope in his first epistle. The recipients of his letter were being persecuted for taking a stand for Jesus. Life wasn’t easy. Endurance was waning. Thus, Peter offered these words of both encouragement and exhortation:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7 CSB)

If faith is never tested, we can never be quite sure it exists. But as faith is tested, it reveals itself through our character and conduct.

The testing of our faith is not only for proving the existence of faith, but also for growing of faith. James said as much:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-3 CSB)

Simply put, the more we practice faith, the stronger our faith can become.

It’s a bit like going to the gym. The more we run, the farther we can run. The more weight we lift, the stronger our muscles become.

The testing or trials we undergo come in various ways. Becoming a Christian will often require us to move out of our comfort zones and into the unknown. Every test, every trial, and every difficulty is not intended to break us but to shape us, form us, and make us into the image of the Son of God, as “he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8)

Sometimes I wonder if we put too much energy into running from trials, rather than spending time building our faith. Rather than try to protect our faith, we should be willing to allow it to be tested to make sure its there!

I think its important to note that whatever trials God has ordained for us during the course of our lives, we will ultimately be made to stand by God’s power, and not our own. God gifts us with faith. And if we allow, He will grow our faith that it might glorify Him and bless those around us.

When we experience the storms of life, we should be like the tree that digs its roots ever more deeply for a greater grip in the earth. We must “dig our roots” more deeply into God’s Word and cling to His promises so we can weather whatever storms come against us.

Equipping, Not Entertaining

In the early chapters of the book of Revelation, the apostle John received some words from Jesus about the spiritual condition of seven churches that were scattered throughout Asia Minor. A few of the churches were highly commended (Good job churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia!). Most of the churches received a mixture of both commendation and correction. And, of course, the church located in Laodicea only got complaints from Jesus.

I sometimes wonder what Jesus might say about church life in 2021. Would he give us a high five? Or would he be forced to point out some problems that needed some attention?

One thing that seems obvious to me is that many of us approach church more like a consumer rather than a communer. In other words, we come to church seeking what church can do for us, rather than finding out how we can help make the church become more fruitful and faithful. Rather than give, we’re more interested in taking.

One way this shows up is how some people think about the hired staff. For some, the pastors and ministry team leaders are hired to do the all the work of ministry. For this kind of church attender, the bulk of their responsibility is limited to (1) showing up for worship services and church events, and (2) giving to the offering.

But this is not a scriptural perspective. Not in the least! Check out what Paul wrote to the Ephesians in regard the primary role ministry leaders are to play within the life of the church:

And he himself (Jesus) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. (Ephesians 4:11-13 CSB)

It seems that in our modern day we have broken down the church into two groups: the professionals and everyone else. The implication is that the professionals do all the work while they rest of the church shows up and gives money. But from God’s perspective, every believer has a role and function within the church. This is the point Paul sought to make in 1 Corinthians 12,

They key task of ministry leaders is not to do all the work of the ministry, but to equip all the members of the church to carry out the ministry! In too many of our churches, the majority of Christians are too busy watching the action rather than participating in actual service. The church was never intended to be a spectator sport where great numbers of believers warm the bench. But sadly, a lot of Christians are doing just that. Which doesn’t make for much health, for the individual or the church body.

It’s been said that the modern church could be compared to a pro football game. On any given Sunday, the stands are filled with 80,000 people desperately in need of exercise. And on the field are 22 players desperately in need of rest. What an imbalance!

May the people of God resist the urge to have our ministry leaders entertain us. Instead, may God’s people insist on being equipped.

Equipped to teach.

Equipped to counsel.

Equipped to serve.

Equipped to love.

The bottom line is this: the more equipped Christians are serving within the church, the healthier that church will be.

Let’s say no to spectator Christianity once and for all.

Christianity Without Change Isn’t Christianity

Transformation is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Throughout our relationship with Jesus we are to grow, mature and develop in the areas of our thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.

For this transformation to take place, we must put ourselves in a position of submission and obedience to the clear directives (whether positive or negative) found in the scriptures and the promptings and prodding of the Holy Spirit.

At the moment a person puts their trust in Christ, all sorts of change takes place. For example, we move from guilt before God to being justified by Him. Also, we become God’s friend after being His enemy. Not only that, but we are adopted into the family of God.

But God’s plan is for us to continue changing beyond the point of salvation as we follow the life and example of Jesus.

Sadly, some have reduced the gospel message as avoiding an unpleasant hell in favor of much preferable heaven. But the gospel is much more than a rescue from a disagreeable afterlife. Yes, the gospel is the power of God to rescue us from hell. But it is all the power of God to renew, restore and reframe our lives.

If we are honest, we will admit our lives need work. We understand that our minds and hearts aren’t pure. And we know our actions are often motivated by self, rather than a love for God or concern for others.

Such change must begin in how we think. That’s because thoughts impact attitudes, and attitudes impact behavior. No wonder Paul wrote these words in Romans 12:

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2 CSB)

The word Paul used in Romans 12:2 is the word we use for the metamorphosis of a butterfly. The change in the end is something completely different than was there before. This is how total the transformation should be when it comes to our thinking.

If we are satisfied with the status quo of our life, then we likely are not in tune with God’s life-giving plan to continually reshape us more into the example of Jesus.

Let’s not wrestle with the idea of transformation. Let’s embrace it!

Wear Your (Jesus) Colors

January is the time of year that people begin coming to church wearing a variety of shirts, jerseys and jackets representing their favorite football teams.

Packer green.

Seahawks blue.

Chiefs Red.

And, as teams go deeper into the playoffs, the more people seem to come to church in their NFL garb.

Of course, Super Bowl Sunday is when all of this reaches an apex. On “Super” Sunday, the energy is palpable. Maybe even a bit competitive! At this point in the season, its down to the final two teams. Pretty much everyone has picked a side of who they would like to win.

I think all of this is pretty fun. Why not get behind your favorite team and make known to all your gridiron allegiance?

Allegiance. That’s a word that I wonder if we use enough as Christians.

Think about it: through the scriptures and the Spirit, we are called to manifest an abiding loyalty to Jesus. We are called to joyfully praise Him, consistently obey Him and faithfully serve Him. All in all, our loyalty is not to be divided or diminished.

When a person chooses a favorite football team, its near impossible to talk them out of their strong feelings of devotion. Whether their team wins or loses, they don’t bail out and jump on the bandwagon of another team.

In the same way, we ought to show Jesus an even greater degree of undying fidelity. Yet, divided loyalties can prove to be a huge hurdle for some Christians. All I can say is that we are called to go all in for Jesus.

So how do we display our Jesus colors?

By loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength,

By loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

By doing what Jesus tells us to do.

By acting as light to a world that stumbles in the darkness.

By serving as salt to a world that suffers from sin-induced decay.

When we live like this, we let the world know where are loyalties lie.

Here’s my challenge. Live in such a way that your allegiance to Jesus is unquestionable.

Wear your colors.

The Tragedy of Spiritual Stagnation

Many years ago, we lived in a community that surrounded a fairly large lake. Each spring the lake was filled by a river that brought forth rainwater and melted snow from the nearby mountains. But, one thing unusual about this lake was that it had no outflow. All the water that entered the lake remained in the lake.

When summer came and temperatures began to rise, the lake would stagnate. The result? Algae blooms made swimming unsafe and a drop in oxygen levels proved deadly for the fish. By August, it was typical for the shoreline of the lake to be lined with scores of rotting fish. You can imagine the noxious odor that wafted through the air! All because the lake didn’t have an outflow.

So, why I am a telling you this? Here’s why: I want you to get a mental picture of what happens when a Christian is filled up with all sorts of good things pertaining to the Christian life (such as good doctrine and discipleship training) but fails to put such things into practice.

Simply put, the Christian life is meant to be a steady stream of both inflow and outflow. What we learn is supposed to be applied to our lives (which often impacts others as well).

James wrote about the unfortunate disconnect that occurs when we hear the instructions of God, yet decide to apply the brakes at the point of actual practice:

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:19-25 CSB)

Sadly, some people will spend years learning about things like serving, ministering, sharing, loving, teaching and evangelizing, yet apply very little of what they’ve learned. Such people are like athletes who ravenously invest in learning about the details of their particular sport, but rarely make the move to actually play the game.

I believe that, from the perspective of heaven, this is heartbreaking!

In a nutshell, Christianity was never been meant to be a spectator sport. We aren’t trained and equipped for our own personal satisfaction, but rather to make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

Remember the Hebrews writers lament of chapter 5? “By now you should be teachers…” These people should have had an outflow of their Christian lives, but instead, they just kept taking in for themselves. Which meant they were getting spiritually bloated. Yet, in reality they were going backwards! So much so, they were having to learn about the basics of the faith all over again. And, as a result of this irresponsibility, the ball of ministry was obviously getting dropped.

I think one of the main reasons we hesitate from getting involved in service and ministry is we feel inadequate. We feel like we might mess up. Brothers and sisters in Jesus, on our own we are inadequate! And we very well may mess up! But doing nothing with all our learning is even worse. It’s disobedient and it shows a lack of faith that God, by his power, can use us for his purposes. Remember, according to 1 Corinthians, God actually prefers to use people who are weak:

Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 CSB)

So here’s my challenge: get involved in living out the Christian life! Assist a neighbor in need. Teach a kid’s class. Serve in the nursery. Use your God-given skills to help your church. Disciple a new believer. Volunteer at a local ministry.

Whatever God prompts you to do, just get your hands dirty! Don’t stop being equipped, but at the same time, become fully determined to put your equipping to use. I guarantee this: to do so will bring about greater spiritual vitality and well-being in your life. Conversely, without a spiritual outflow, we will become weak and a burden to the body of Christ.

Winds Will Blow

This week we had a major windstorm strike our area. The aftermath included felled trees, blocked roadways. dropped power lines, mangled roofs and extended power outages. It’s amazing to think that something that cannot be seen can do so much damage!

Sometimes the Bible uses the imagery of wind as a metaphor for trials and troubles. Jesus did so when He wrapped up the Sermon on the Mount. Here’s what He said:

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27 CSB)

In this story, the wind is shown to hold the potential to wreak great havoc. But, the focus of story isn’t supposed to be the wind. The point of the story is to get us thinking about the difference between flimsy and firm foundations.

Make no mistake, life is turbulent. There are all sorts of “winds” that blow about at any time, bringing with them all types of possible confusion and upset. When the winds struck our community this week, the main reason their was so much damage was some of the trees had weak roots and some of the roofs weren’t nailed down well. The wind was able to dislodge them and create incredibly hazardous conditions.

The Bible makes a point that the person who builds their life on the words of Jesus will be like a well-rooted tree and a house constructed on a solid foundation. Another section of scripture that provides a similar picture is Psalm 1, which challenges the reader to develop roots that run deep to the source of living water:

How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams, that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3 CSB)

But what’s in store for the person who decides to not be well-rooted in the instructions of the Lord? Well, just as Jesus did in Matthew 7, the writer of Psalm 1 brings up the potential destructiveness of the wind:

The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin. (Psalm 1:4-6 CSB)

We live in times of extreme storminess. There are issues all around us that seem intent on uprooting us from life-giving truth. It could be politics. It might be the pandemic. It may be social upheaval. The question is this: when the winds of life blow, will we be left stand standing or will we fall?

I dare say that too many Christians who ought to be standing firm through life’s storms end up being blown away. How we fare in the midst of the squall depends on whether we build our life on the words of Jesus, and how deep our roots dig into the truth of the scriptures.

If we find ourselves easily tossed about by the winds of life, struggling with stress, anxiety and dismay, maybe its time to reassess the condition of our foundation.

Not of this World

Well, it looks like 2021 gave us a five-day honeymoon.

But now our nation is once again struggling with strife, division and turmoil.

It was of course extremely surprising to see our nation’s capitol under siege.

But I would venture to say it should not be shocking to us.

What boiled over yesterday was just another chapter in the story of a nation on edge. The seeds of distrust and disunity simply continue to leaf and produce their ugly fruit.

Why is this so? I’d say it’s an amalgamation of frustration, mistrust, selfishness and injustice. Which can prove to be pretty potent brew. Hence, protests which turn into riots which often result in violence.

In reality, our nation is acting just like many nations that have gone before us. As Solomon once wisely noted, “There is nothing new under the sun.” What we are seeing are common humans struggling with what’s known as the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. And this struggle has existed ever since humans fell into sin.

What’s sad to me is that it appears that some Christians have found it right in their minds to join in these destructive expressions of angst.

One thing that seems clear to me from the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament is that Christians, by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the instruction of the Word, are called to live noticeably different than the world. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a complete treatise on how kingdom living is vastly different than worldly living.

-The world loves to fight, but scripture tells us vengeance belongs to the Lord.

-The world seems fueled by pride and greed, but Jesus consistently called His followers to pursue humility.

-The world wrestles for power, but Jesus told his disciples that their lives were to be marked by humble service to others.

At the end of the day (as well as the beginning and the middle!), Christians are to demonstrate a different way of doing life. It’s the way of love. It’s the way of peace. It’s the way of grace.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he offered this counsel to His listeners:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 CSB

Here’s a few questions on my mind:

As Jesus’ followers, are we in danger of losing our saltiness?

Is our light dimming?

Are we becoming less distinctive?

If so, I would dare say it’s because our gaze has drifted off of Jesus and onto the turbulent waves of culture and politics.

My prayer is that God’s indwelling spirit will convince us that the only firm foundation worth standing on is Jesus. As the old hymn declares, “All other ground is shifting sand.”

Yes, God works through the means of human governments (Romans 13). But as G.K. Chesterton once said, “All government is an ugly necessity.” As long as sinful humans are involved, politics and government can quickly devolve into chaos.

Ultimately, there is only one perfect King. And, more than a king who only rules nations, Jesus rules hearts. And when Jesus rules hearts, the world quickly moves from bedlam to beauty.

Make this an Isaiah 9:6 Christmas

When it comes to Christmas, some of us may come to the end of the holiday and wonder if we’ve missed something. For all the talk about joy, love, hope and peace, we find ourselves marked by feelings of sadness and emptiness.

This may occur because we’ve been expecting what some might call “commercial Christmas” to deliver. You know, the Christmas that’s pushed by the malls and the advertisements and the TV shows. Think about it: the root word for “commercial” is “commerce.” In the realm of secular Christmas, buying and selling is what its all about.

But, by and large, commercial Christmas and Christian Christmas have very little in common. Commercial Christmas often falls short. The Christian concept of Christmas always comes through.

Maybe we’re just looking for Christmas in the wrong place.

One of the better known Christmas prophecies is Isaiah 9:6, which reads:

For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

The first part of the verse is pretty easy to understand. It speaks about how the Messiah will come as an infant and how He will serve as Lord, Savior and King.

What I find interesting is the different descriptions of Jesus found in the last half of the verse; four portraits of the character qualities of the Messiah. When these attributes are understood and applied, we get to experience Christmas as it was intended. Here are a few thoughts on each of the four descriptions:

Wonderful Counselor

When Jesus speaks, His words are always worth listening to! And beyond that, they are always worth applying to our lives. We live in a world where people are lost, misdirected and confused. We are often guilty of making foolish, self-centered decisions. But the counsel Jesus offers will always lead us to life. The quickest way to clear up spiritual confusion is to listen to and obey Jesus. The clarity will come in like a flood.

Mighty God

Jesus was not only human, He was also divine. And time after time he proved it! He proved it when He transformed water into wine. And when he calmed the waves. And when he healed the sick and gave sight to the blind. Not only is Jesus a wonderful counselor, he provides us the power to obey his wise instruction. What a promise this was! The idea that the mighty God of the universe would want to share his power with us that we might become the kind of person He created us to be.

Eternal Father

The person who puts their trust in Christ is immediately adopted into God’s family. And God’s family is an eternal family. For those who are fortunate enough, we might have our earthly fathers for some 50 or 60 years. Many people lose their fathers at an earlier age. But Jesus serves as an eternal father who will never leave or forsake us. This name of Jesus reminds us that there is life beyond the grave. No wonder “hope” is a word that is often associated with Christmas!

Prince of Peace

Jesus offers those who trust in him a “peace that goes beyond human understanding.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Through Christ, we are able to gain peace with God where there once was separation and hostility. Many people are afraid of God because they think He is mad at them and wants to punish them. Yet, one of the most common commands of scripture is “Fear not!” We are called to be free of worry or fear because can bring peace and tranquility to our hearts – even in the turbulent world in which we live.

Commercial Christmas or Christian Christmas?

Which will it be? Perhaps by continually pursuing commercially-driven Christmases, you’ve failed to come up with the results only a Christ-focused Christmas can offer. This year I urge you to release the urge to find meaning and purpose in commerce. Instead, reach out to pursue the very creator and source of life: Jesus.

Do you know the wise insights that come from the wonderful counselor?

Have you experienced the power of the mighty God?

Do you rest in the hope of eternity supplied by an eternal father?

Does your heart know the type of peace on Jesus can offer?

If so, you know Christmas.

If not, the invitation to fully experience Christmas anxiously awaits your response.

The Agonizing Art of Unlearning

“Repentance means unlearning all the self-conceit and self -will that we have been training ourselves into. It means killing part of yourself, under-going a kind of death.”  ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Life is all about learning.

But not everything we learn is good, true or helpful.

Through the years we pick up an assortment of biases, prejudices and false beliefs. Along the way we collect troublesome patterns, habits and coping devices.

As time goes by, if we fail to question, wrestle with or adapt to all we have been taught and believe, any negative thoughts/attitudes/behaviors will likely become even more entrenched within our psyche.

Thus the age-old expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Without unlearning and relearning, we become stuck in our ways, unaware of how we (and others) are negatively impacted.

Sometimes we become limited in our perspectives because we choose to gather our information from narrow, restrictive sources. If we choose to obtain our information from what some might describe as an “echo chamber,” we probably won’t develop the necessary skills of critical thinking and deductive reasoning. In some cases, our preferred tribe may actually discourage any comparative thinking or thoughtful reflection, instead asking (or demanding) us to simply accept the pre-approved mandates and statutes without question or dissent.

But, to be a follower of Jesus means we must always put willing to place ourselves in the position of unlearning in order to relearn.

Unlearning is the challenging process through which we break down the origins of our unhelpful thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, feelings, and biases.

Sometimes we have to unlearn the ways of our former life; the life we lived before Christ took up residence in our lives. Before becoming a Christian, it’s not uncommon for people to have off-course ideas about love, mixed-up thoughts about power, and erroneous attitudes about sin.

Several times in scripture, Paul wrote to believers about “putting off” the ways of the old life and embracing new perspectives and practices that better reflect the teaching of the Bible and an active, abiding relationship with Jesus. In a nutshell, we are called to unlearn the bad and relearn the good.

Imagine what it was like to be one of those people who heard Jesus preach his well-known “Sermon on the Mount.” In fairly short order, Jesus expressed a list new ideas that challenged the status quo! Jesus’ sermon wasn’t designed to be appreciated or enjoyed. He wasn’t looking for applause. No, Jesus’ sermon cut right to the bone when it came to ungodly perspectives and sinful practices. Jesus’ message demanded unlearning in order that the values for living in His kingdom might take root in hearts and minds.

I find one of the most difficult areas to unlearn is in the area of religious training. Unbiblical instruction can run rampant within our churches and from our pulpits. But because such training comes from a place of (supposed) spiritual authority, we may feel compelled to digest the wayward doctrine. After awhile, we may even take what we have learned and move it into the category of orthodox and beyond challenge.

How hard it is to come to a place to realize what we have been taught may not have any biblical standing!

On one occasion, Jesus taught some lessons to a religious Pharisee named Nicodemus that unraveled a lot of what he had been taught before. Here’s how the conversation played out according to John 3:

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “How can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus. “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied. “Truly I tell you, we speak what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you do not accept our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? (John 1:1-12 CSB)

Nicodemus entered the conversation thinking he was at least a religious peer to Jesus. (My hunch is he thought he was a little higher up the ecclesiastical ladder.) Nicodemus was confident in his education, experience and religious pedigree. But within a matter of sentences, Nicodemus realized he was being schooled by the wisdom and insight of Jesus. The result? Nicodemus had to be willing to set down some of his presuppositions in order to take in the teaching of Jesus. Thankfully, Nicodemus chose to unlearn in order to become a disciple of Jesus.

Unlearning isn’t deconstruction for the sake of deconstruction. It is thoughtfully reflecting on the teachings found in our Bibles and gladly adapting our lives to become more conformed to the precepts of scripture. Unlearning is enrolling ourselves in the school of spiritual transformation. It is a humble approach to how we live our lives. It’s the concession that, at times, our thinking may be foolish or ignorant. It’s a modest willingness to admit we sometimes believe things that aren’t true.