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June 2017

Don’t Be Afraid to Change Direction

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(This is the fourth post on pivoting and repentance. Here are the links to the first, second, and third articles.)

When I started my freshman year at Oral Roberts University, I wrestled with choosing a major. About the only thing I was certain of was that I didn’t want to major in theology! I told the Lord I’d consider any subject except that one. I felt like it would be fine for church involvement but not for a college education.

After reviewing my options, I settled on social work because it seemed to integrate two areas that appealed to me: helping people and psychology.

Among my first semester classes was Introduction to Behavioral Science, one of the general ed courses ORU required of all students. This was perfect; because it was similar to social work, I’d get a chance to explore the field right away.

A good plan except for one thing; I hated it! This shocked me; I thought I’d enjoy learning about the dynamics of human behavior, but I couldn’t connect with the textbook or the lectures. I passed the class but my heart wasn’t in it.

Back to the drawing board–I needed to choose a major! If I couldn’t stomach behavioral science, then majoring in social work was out of the question. Where did that leave me?

Going over the student handbook again proved fruitless; nothing fit. I believed that Jesus wanted me at ORU but for what reason?

Breaking down, I called out to God: “Why did you send me here, Lord? What am I supposed to major in?”

And that’s when He replied, no doubt with a smile: “theology!”

God insisted on the one major I’d rejected!

I was in no position to argue, so I repented and did as I was told. At dinner, I told a couple of friends about my switch. Instead of razzing me, they applauded the move! In their minds, this was the right decision.

Was it? Well, God honored that step of obedience because for decades I’ve used that degree for church work, Christian education, and missions.

I pivoted, but it wasn’t easy. Why not? What makes it difficult to turn and change direction? Why is it hard to repent and think a new way?

Larry Alton explores these questions in relation to business. He notes that “Entrepreneurs often put off a pivot because they feel like it’s a sign of weakness – as if they’re publicly admitting failure for everyone to see. But the reality is that the opposite is true. A pivot shows that you’re aware of your surroundings and willing and able to recognize new opportunities as they arise. Investors, business partners, and customers respect this.”

I can relate. I blushed over choosing a major I didn’t like but worried that I wouldn’t find something I did. And I was sheepish about having to tell people that I’d changed my mind.

But Alton is right; pivoting is worth it and garners respect.

Most of the time.

But not always.

Sometimes, people fight your pivot.

“For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.” – 1 Peter 4:3-4

They don’t like the new you. The fact that you’ve changed bothers them and they’ll let you know it.

Resistance attacks you from within yourself and from other people. So how do you fight back?

Alton suggests that “before you pivot, you probably want to be sure that you’re making a smart decision.”

Did I give the behavioral science class enough time? Should I have spend more time researching career prospects in theology?

“What ifs” can gnaw at your confidence and keep you from either making a change or regretting your decision after the fact.

Think it through; clarify what you’re letting go and turning toward.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it– 29lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” – Luke 14:28-30 (NKJV)

In my case, I knew what I didn’t like, but I hadn’t a clue about what to do next. Yet that put me in the ideal spot to receive guidance from Jesus.

And He won’t fail you. As you take stock of where you’re at in life and where you need to be, ask the Lord for His help. He’ll respond.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My loving eye on you.” – Psalm 32:8

Not to pressure you, but Alton claims that “a failure to pivot at just the right time can result in a total collapse of your business. A pivot in the wrong direction can also lead to failure. In fact, you have to pivot at the right time and in the right direction in order to reap the rewards of such a transition.”

Don’t panic, God has control of the issues of your life! He lets things fall apart so you can turn to Him, lean on Him, and depend on His grace.

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” – Isaiah 41:13

Where do you feel stuck in your life? Are your relationships at home or at work in trouble? Do you feel like spiritual advancement lies outside your grasp no matter how hard you try?

Take Alton’s advice and “consider the viability of a pivot. It might be the best decision you ever make.”

How Long Repentance?

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(This is the third post on pivoting and repentance. Here are the links to the first and second articles.)

Repent! More than a slogan of overzealous, sign-carrying street preachers, it’s the heart of the gospel.

“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Mark 1:4

“‘The time has come,’ Jesus said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” – Mark 1:15

“Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:47

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38

“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.” – Acts 17:30

And repentance isn’t limited to the religious sphere. Larry Alton advises business leaders, “It’s time to face reality and start thinking about your two options: pivot or collapse. That may seem overly dramatic, but unless something changes, this is where you’re headed.”

Overly dramatic? Not really. Jesus sounded the same warning.

“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” – Luke 13:3

A pivot is a quick, sudden move in response to pressure that enables you to go in a new direction. Is that what repentance is like? Is it a single, non-repeating occurrence that sets you on a new path? Or is repentance repetitive, ongoing, even permanent? How long must you repent?

You can view repentance as “punctiliar,” or a point in time. You do it once and then you’re finished. According to St. Ambrose of Optina, “years are not needed for true repentance, and not days but only an instant.”

It’s how the Christian life gets started; you turn from the old life of sin and begin a new one of righteousness in Christ. For the believer, that event of repentance takes place at some moment in the past.

You can also take a broader or “linear” understanding of repentance. Pastor Kevin DeYoung approvingly quotes the opinion of John Calvin: “Therefore, I think he has profited greatly who has learned to be very much displeased with himself, not so as to stick fast in this mire and progress no farther, but rather to hasten to God and yearn for him in order that, having been engrafted into the life and death of Christ, he may give attention to continual repentance.”

And David Mathis says that this was Martin Luther’s position as well: “His first thesis reads, ‘When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” He intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.’ All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

Reflecting on Luther’s first thesis, Sinclair B. Ferguson insists that “repentance is not a discreet external act; it is the turning round of the whole life of faith in Christ . . . Repentance then is not the punctiliar decision of a moment but a radical heart transformation that reverses the whole direction of life.”

So which is it? Punctiliar or linear, a one-time event or a life-long process?

Why not both?

An identifiable, one-time event but also a succession of course corrections, even a permanent posture or attitude.

The Verse by Verse Ministry proposes two kinds of repentance: big “R” and little “r”. The former occurs at the moment of salvation when you receive Jesus as Lord. The latter transpires whenever you sin and need cleansing. In their framework, “Repentance” is punctiliar while “repentance” is linear. You “Repent” once but you “repent” frequently.

Basketball and tennis players pivot many times in their games. You can distinguish each move from the other but when you add them up, you get a picture of a person’s athletic performance.

How does turning from sin define your spiritual life? What is Jesus challenging you to abandon? What is He calling you to pursue?

Whatever it is, make the pivot.

with Bob Condly

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