|(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch“)|
Being Transformed – Part 1
Lesson 26 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
By Eric Elder
I’d like to give you three practical ideas today for how to transform your life. These ideas have been passed on to me over the years, and I’m glad to pass them onto you. They’re based in part on the verse in Romans 12 for which this entire study of the book of Romans is named, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind. The verse says this:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a).
This verse contains two distinct thoughts for how you can transform your life, like two sides of the same coin. On one side of the coin, it says: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…” And on the other side it says: “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Two different thoughts, but the same goal. Don’t conform. Be transformed.
Today I’d like to focus on the first side of the coin, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” Next week, we’ll look at the other side of the coin, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
When Paul talks about “the pattern of this world,” he’s talking about what might seem “normal” in the world around us. But the truth is that what’s normal in the world around us are thoughts and ideas that pull us in the exact opposite direction that God wants for us. This is why Paul didn’t want the Romans to conform to the world around them, and why God doesn’t want us to conform to the world around us.
But how do you break out of what may seem “normal”? How do you break out of “the pattern of this world”?
Here are a few ideas that others have passed on to me over the years, and I’m glad to pass them onto you. These aren’t meant to be legalistic “do’s and don’t’s” for your life, but they’re good ideas that I’ve tested out in my own life and found to be extremely helpful. So in that light, here are three ideas that might help you to avoid being conformed to the world around you. And all three have to do with the media that we consume: the TV shows, movies, and material we read.
I’m not a TV basher, but before my wife and I got married twenty-two years ago, we read a book that encouraged us not to have a TV in our house for the first year of our marriage. The author suggested that having a TV in your house is like having a third partner in your marriage. It’s always sitting there, always available for a bit of entertainment or distraction, and could take away significant time from simply enjoying each other’s company during the first year of your marriage. The author also suggested that the first year of marriage is perhaps the most important, for in the first year couple’s start patterns that can become habits for the rest of their married life.
So we gave it a try. It was radical idea among the people we knew. I remember a family that came over one night and the first thing one of the kids did when he walked in the house was to started running around in circles, looking for the TV. When he couldn’t find one, he started shouting with a bit of desperation in his voice, saying, “This is a house with no TV! This is a house with no TV!”
But for us, we were so excited about getting married and spending as much time as we could together that it didn’t seem like we were giving up that much. It was great to just spend our hours talking together, cooking together, and doing dishes together.
When we finally did get a TV again, we were shocked at how much the programming seemed to have changed in the time that we weren’t watching. Looking back, it’s hard to know if the programming had gotten so much worse, or if we had just been away from it for long enough to realize that the shows on TV were no longer “normal” for us. It was easy to turn it off and keep it off.
Over the years, we’ve gone through various seasons where we’ve watched more TV than others, but in general, that first year of marriage set a pattern for us that has held for more than two decades. We’ve recently moved out into the country where we only get three or four channels at most, and those are dependent on the weather. And for the most part, neither my wife nor I, nor or six kids, seem to miss it too much. Our family has grown up with TV on the “side burner” of our lives, not at its center, an idea that started for us over twenty-two years ago, and has continued to help us avoid being conformed to the pattern of this world.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said. And by intentionally limiting the amount and type of TV shows that we’ve watched, we’ve been better able to keep God’s view of what’s “normal” in plain sight, rather than the world’s view of life.
The second type of media that people have suggested I limit over the years are the types of movies I watch. Prior to becoming a Christian, I would watch all kinds of movies, regardless of their ratings. Someone challenged me, however, on the idea of not watching any movie that was rated R or above, an idea that again seemed radical to me at the time. I was over 17, after all, and why cut out what might be good movies, just because they contained more adult content? But I respected the person who told me, and began to look more closely at the movies I watched.
I noticed that whenever I would watch an R-rated movie, the images that stayed in my head the longest seemed to be those images that gave the movie it’s R-rating. There may have been other redeeming qualities to the movies, but those that stuck with me the most were those that were most questionable, whether violence, or cursing, or strong sensuality. I began to realize that if the people in Hollywood, whose morals and values were often much more loose than my own, felt that a movie had questionable content for the general public, then perhaps there was a reason for me to stay away from it, too!
A friend of recently told me that he, too, used to watch R-rated movies all the time, not thinking anything about it. He could handle it, he thought. It didn’t affect him, he said, to watch women in little or no clothing, or to watch gruesome violence, or to listen to people repeatedly take God’s name in vain. But then he got married. And when he brought home a stack of movies to watch with his wife, he saw it through new eyes: hers. After trying to watch a few movies together, his wife said, “Why are you watching that?” She began to wonder what kind of man she had married, who thought that these kinds of shows were normal. Now he chooses his movies more carefully, not just because of his wife, but because he realized that the movies he watched were affecting his view of life and what he considered to be “normal.”
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said. By intentionally putting limits on the types of movies that we watch, whether it’s going by the rating systems that Hollywood has put in place, or checking out movie reviews first by people that we trust, such as “Plugged In”, we’ve found ourselves better able to focus on God’s pattern for our lives and less on the world’s.
The third type of media that I’ve had to take control over are the things I read-the newspapers and magazines, blogs and books. Words have power, and a writer can steer a person’s emotions and thoughts and viewpoints in ways that can affect us for a lifetime, whether for good or for bad.
I remember a national newspaper that I used to love to read. The stories were always interesting and educational. When I read them, I learned so much about topics I never thought about, and I felt like the paper was keeping me “up” with current events, and helping me have the inside scoop on what was going on. But over time, I realized that whenever the paper wrote about topics that I already knew something about in-depth, I found that the authors were surprisingly one-side in their views, leaving out opposing views or slanting the articles towards conclusions that were the exact opposite of mine.
I continued reading the paper because I was learning so much about other topics, but began to wonder: If the paper could take such a one-sided view of the topics that I did know about in-depth, what other ideas were they skewing in my mind on topics that I knew much less about? As much as I loved the paper-and my company at the time even paid for my subscription-I decided to cancel it. I didn’t want my worldview to be shaped by an organization that held such different beliefs at their core than my own.
The same has carried over into the books I read and the blogs that I follow. My goal isn’t just to surround myself with ideas that are only compatible with my own, but to consider carefully what I’m reading and why, rather than just consuming the material because it’s interesting or intriguing. Books, newspapers, magazines, blogs all come with their own slant, no matter how much they say they are trying to remain neutral. The important thing to find out is whether that slant is in line with God’s Word or not, and then choosing what we read based on that.
“Don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said. And by being careful about what I read, making sure it lines up with God’s view of life rather than than the world’s view of life, I find it much easier to resist the pull of the world on my heart and soul.
In all three of these areas-whether it’s TV show you watch, the movies you buy or download or rent, or the newspapers or magazines or books or blogs that you read-God wants you to be careful about what you take into your life. You don’t have to be a prude, and you don’t have to be legalistic. Each of these media can have good, useful and redeeming values. But if you want to see your life transformed, you’ll find that the process will be easier when you take control over the media that you consume. You’ll begin to get your life back, your time back, and be able to see the world with a set of fresh eyes.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said. That’s not just good advice from a first-century apostle to the Romans of his day. It’s good advice for you and me in regards to the world of our day, too.
Next week, I’ll share more about the flip side of this coin, with some practical ideas for how to you can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In the mean time, I pray that God will use the ideas I’ve shared with you today to spark new ways that you can avoid being conformed to the pattern of this world.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for helping us realize that You don’t want us to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Help us to cut out or limit those things that are harmful to us, causing us to conform to the pattern of the world. Give us ideas for how we can do this in practical ways in our lives and in our world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. Thanks to those of you who have been praying for us and our ministry. It means so much. Your prayers are powerful, and they’re helping us get God’s Word out to so many people around the world. I’m still adding people to our prayer team who would like to get updates every month or so about our ministry so you can pray for us in specific ways. If you’d like to join the team, just send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll keep you updated about our prayer needs on a regular basis. I know that not only will we be blessed, but many others around the world will be blessed because of your prayers for us. Thanks so much!
Questions for Reflection
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