Third Sunday of Lent – 7 March 2021

By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts ,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). 

We think about when we have to renew our license or our passport, our magazine subscription or our book from the library.  Some have to renew a charter, or a lease, or anything else that you may be thinking about as I list these things.  There is so much that requires renewal in our daily lives.  We even renew our bodies by providing them with nourishment and sleep.  We think about these things.  Yet how often do you think about renewing your mind?

A husband and wife got into an argument.  Neither one was getting anywhere towards winning the argument, and one of them stormed out of the house to take a walk.  It may have seemed to the other in that moment that it was the wrong thing to do to not confront the issue at hand.  In truth, simply walking away without saying anything is often called “stonewalling,” because your partner has no idea if you have the intention to come back and address the issue at hand at a later time.  Therapist Carol Lambert says that if you need a timeout, it is better to voice that to your partner instead of just bailing out.  But, when you do, it actually can be healthier to take a walk in the middle of an unresolved argument, tabling it for a little while, than it would be to continue the argument, perhaps throw in the kitchen sink (making unrelated grievances known), and allow it to escalate further.  It will only make both couples feel worse.  Taking a walk allows us to cool down, take a step back, and take a new approach at the issue at hand that needs to be resolved.  It becomes much more likely that you can then focus on the single issue instead of a whole host of issues thrown in an attempt to win.  Let me ask you a question: Do you find yourself doing this at times?  Do you find yourself upset at one particular issue, which then triggers thoughts of all the other grievances you have?  Has this happened with a friend?  Has this happened with God?  One thing that God teaches us is to constantly renew our minds.  We often know where we have fallen short serving God, and God forgives us for that as long as we are seeking God in this moment.  Part of seeking God is learning how to renew our minds so that we may build bridges and not walls, both between ourselves and between us and God.

The Bible answers some of our questions about why we need to renew our mind, and it always involves renewing our focus on God.  Isaiah 40:31 tells us that when we wait on God, we renew our strength.  We wait on God by praying, by studying Scripture, by worshipping God, by doing acts of service, or by doing anything that turns our focus back to God.  This should be a constant effort.  Paul tells us to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).  The benefits of waiting on God include more than just renewing our strength (which we can interpret as both our physical and mental strength).  They include figuring out what God’s will for us is.  Paul writes to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).  We all want to know what God wills for us – what God is willing us to do in every moment.   To understand this, Peter tells us, “prepar[e] . . . your minds for action. . . . Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (1 Peter 1:13-14).  Pastor and author John Piper explains, “There is an ignorance of God — a willful suppression of the truth of God (Romans 1:18) — that makes us slaves to many passions and desires that would lose their power if we knew God as we ought.  They are life-ruining, worship-destroying desires, and they get their life and their power from the deceit of our minds. There is a kind of knowledge of God — a renewal of mind — that transforms us because it liberates us from the deceit and the power of alien passions” (John Piper, The Renewed Mind and How to Have It).  When we ask God to renew our inner being, we are asking God to renew our focus on God, to keep us focused on God, and to be with us as we stay the course.  We need to do this repeatedly, or we will fall exhausted, not know what God wants us to do in our circumstance, and be led astray by our own deceitful desires.

We began this Lent by discovering that because we are feeling weak and inadequate, especially because of the season that we find ourselves in, feeling distanced and apart and having little that we can do about it without feeling like we are taking unnecessary risks.  Or we are angry at the government.  Either way, there are plenty of things that are taking our attention away from God.  This is how we have transgressed.  But despite our transgressions, God forgives us as long as we are seeking God now.  To seek God now, we should strive to renew our minds.

Our scripture today in John tells us of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers and rebuking those who were selling cattle.  Jesus confronted them saying, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:16).  The temple in that day was a very central location for Jews, and it was the most frequent place for the Jews to gather.  It would fall to reason that those trying to find the best place for their business or operation would choose the temple grounds.  Finding prime real estate where the most people are likely to pass by is also a strong influence today.  Many people went to the temple to worship, but now there were other reasons to go to the temple as well.  Since Jerusalem was a central location for travel, it was necessary to exchange currencies for other currencies, so that travelers would be able to conduct business in the region that they were traveling to. Yet, Jesus did not approve of this practice.  Why?  For him, it took away from the focus on the presence and worship of God.  They served as distractions.  When we feel the need to renew ourselves, we need to make an effort to take away the distractions that draw us from God.  This does not mean that we can never change money or sell merchandise, but that we recognize that there is a time and a place for everything.  If we truly want to have a relationship with God, both now and in eternity, we must set aside a specific time and place for prayer and study and worship.

Paul told the Ephesians that they have been taught to do this from the beginning: He writes, “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24).  It sounds simple, right?  It is definitely something that we can handle by ourselves.  Well, Pastor Craig Groeschel does not agree.  It shouldn’t be.  We need prayer.  Last year, Pastor Craig wrote a book called, Dangerous Prayers: Because Following Jesus was Never Meant to be Safe.  He suggests that we do not feel God as much as those before us because we always pray safe prayers.  We pray, “God, bless me.”  We pray, “God, heal me.”  He argues that if we really want God to move our lives, we need to pray more dangerous prayers.  The three prayers that he suggests are: search me, break me, and send me.  Search my soul, break my habits, and send me on my call to do ministry for God.  We want to ask God to remove all evil within us that takes our attention away from God.  David prayed to God to teach him wisdom and to purge him (Psalm 51:6-7).  There are many good things about each of our spirits which we can rejoice for.  Yet, if we do not continually return to our various means of building ourselves up, the things that distract us from God can build up, perhaps at a rate that we do not even notice.  If we do not also ask God to take away those parts of us that distract us from God – whether it be worry, a sinful habit, hurriedness, procrastination, or anything else – we will not be able to realize our full potential of God’s will for us.

Let’s take it back one step.  When there is an argument in a relationship, there is a healthy way to move forward and there is an unhealthy way.  The healthy way is to deescalate, perhaps take a walk to cool down, and reapproach the issue with a new set of eyes.  We have removed the tension that was building up in our minds, causing us to react in ways that we might regret later.  We can go back with a renewed mind, refocused on the task at hand.  But if we did not remove our defensiveness, or our desire to do anything to win, or our shortsightedness, or our need to be right, we would keep building a wall.  It is the same way with God, but just less noticeable.  We believe that we are right.  We think that we know best.  When we ask God to purge us, we are asking God to remove those things that are building a wall between us and God.  This week, I challenge you to pray two of these dangerous prayers: Search me, and break me.  Search me God, to find where I have been falling short in my desire to know you.  Break me God, when you have found those things that are keeping me from your full presence, by removing them from my desires or my habits.  Next week, we will continue our task to renew our minds by filling the space that has been created by God searching us and breaking us.

You may think that asking God to search us and break us will lead to suffering, that we do not need more of that right now.  But that does not need to be the case.  Praying these prayers will more likely feel refreshing than painful, because we will feel closer to God.  Breaking our judgmental or sinful habits in our relationship in the home actually feels good, not painful.  Paul knew too that this journey could seem frightening, but he offered a word of encouragement to the Corinthians: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).  God has been working on us all along.  God just needs a little help from us.  What does it mean to renew our inner being?  It means that we remove what builds a wall between us and God, and replace it with what builds a bridge.  It means to keep our focus on God as you would a focal point as you are trying to balance on one leg.  If you take away the focal point, you fall.  But even then, God is there to catch us.  So, let us pray together.  God, we cannot search ourselves on our own.  So we ask your help.  Search us.  Help us find what is dividing us from you, and from understanding your will for us.  Break our deceitful desires, so that we may come in after our walk and know you better, with a clean heart, and a fresh perspective.  Prepare us to be sent through the coming Easter season.  In your name we pray.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Psalm 19
19:1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
19:4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
19:5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
19:6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
19:8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;
19:9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
19:11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
19:12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
19:13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

John 2:13-22
2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
2:15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
2:16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
2:18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
2:20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”
2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

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