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Am I a good thinker?

11 Aug

Logical minds are those that operate clearly and rationally.

So, it pays to check, from time to time, the state of our minds.  Are we thinking rationally?  Are our premises true?

Examining my notions and beliefs has preoccupied my thinking this summer!

My conclusions about thinking fall into 2 sections:  How God is cultivating my thought life and worldly truisms that contain wisdom and help in pruning one’s beliefs.  First, the Master Gardener’s work:

Through a series of trials, God has pressed on me the need to abandon worry…..completely!  In a post on my other blog site, I wrote about pulling my thoughts back (numerous times in a day) from the constant pattern of worrying or daydreaming what-if situations.

The night after writing my post, I fell into a different kind of thinking – the quicksand variety that pulls one down into an endless do-loop.  Not ACTUAL thinking but ‘stewing‘!  It all started after that wee-hours routine stumble into the darkened bathroom.  Back in bed, I simply stayed awake and segued into pondering several situations.  Not problems, not trials, just specific issues like:

  • teacher workdays starting very soon and the need to plan lessons
  • researching more portable hiking snacks that fit our Keto lifestyle
  • the need to prioritize and streamline activities during my non-school hours

I couldn’t fall back to sleep.

Can you relate?

When I finally arose and headed downstairs, coffee in hand, for my time with God and His Word, I was saying to myself, “Maria, you are such a mess!  Look at what you wrote in your blog yesterday and look at you now!”  I flipped open my Bible to the section in Philippians where Paul addresses worry:

Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Square in the head, it hit me.  The problem with ‘stewing’.  It has no purpose, it has no endpoint.  It can go ON and ON!  Most importantly, it doesn’t fit the definition of a REQUEST to be handed over to God.

So, what is the solution?  A grid to sift my thoughts, a form of triage or consideration whereby I evaluate thoughts, draw distinctions and dispose of them:

  • I already have a category set up called:  Sinful worry or meditations on what-ifs, positive and fearful.  Solution?  Stop it and repent!
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 1:  can this concern be formulated into a succinct prayer request to hand over to God to take care of?  Yes? – cast it on Him.
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 2:  what remains from that which canNOT be reworded into a prayer?  If anything, then just stop the thoughts. How?  By God’s power for those who are worshippers of Jesus. AND by substituting new thoughts.  Per Paul’s formula, as follows.
  • Alternative meditative topics for the middle of the night: Think about what is praiseworthy and beautiful and true.  And what is the noblest of subjects, if not Jesus and His death and life for us?

Second, from the category of sources other than the Bible, I have heard two new messages.  Each has caused me to question the accuracy of my mind and my brain:

  1. What I think about me might not be true!

My pattern up to now has been to accept this: I AM my thoughts.

I take for granted that what I believe is true.   Okay, maybe not about political issues or even some difficult cultural controversies.  But when it comes to what I take as TRUTH about me, I rarely doubt those conclusions. What I think about me IS me. What I think about me IS true, for who knows me better than me?

I began to doubt my mind’s ability to be accurate about Maria when I heard a gal on a podcast say we are to verify or authenticate the content of our self-talk:

  • How do I know that ‘I can’t change X about me because I’ve always done ‘it’ that way?  What are my reasons? Where is my evidence?

That startled me because I had never applied Logic to what I believed about me, who I am.  The next day, a surprise guest, a ‘motto’, came to lodge in my mind: Be Flexible. I am NOW practicing doubting and questioning my thinking about me.

The other message that has challenged me positively and been a REAL help is this (again from a podcast):

2. The brain seeks ‘pleasant’. 

I see evidence for this EVERY morning. When my alarm sounds, I GROAN inwardly because my routine is to exercise first thing. BEFORE coffee and Bible.  I have battled conflicting desires for years.  But now I know – that’s not me who paints an unpleasant scenario blocking my morning pleasure.  It’s my brain. That bodily organ whose goal is to organize fight or flight to avoid PAIN.

Obviously, but falsely, my brain views 15 minutes of weights plus 15 minutes of yoga as PAIN.  However, with my mind, I can remind my brain of our reasons why health takes precedence over ‘pleasant’ right now. Thank you very much, Ms. Brain, but Maria’s mind is running things, now.

So…..these new thoughts about nighttime churning and limiting beliefs are the fruit of reading, listening, meditating and openness to new ideas.

To sum up, consider how God reveals truth about Himself through the prophet Jeremiah in 11:20 But, O LORD of Hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and mind….

Since we are made in God’s image, shouldn’t we as well test our heart and mind to know if what we are thinking is true, good and helpful?

 

 

 

What to do with your mind

6 Jul

I never understood, until now, how important the mind is in the Christian life.  Yes, I know, that sounds STUPID.  But have you ever read any of John Owen’s books?  I’m on book 2 in an Owen trilogy, this one named, The Power and Efficacy of Indwelling Sin.

John Owen book cover

Owen’s main point is that our minds, once we are believers, have the crucial role of guarding our souls.  That is their job. They stand sentinel, keeping watch over potential influencers.  The battle against temptation and sin starts in the arena of the mind.  If Satan can deceive our minds into thinking OTHERWISE about reality, then he can get the mind to draw a false (and dangerous) conclusion.

And here is the scary thought.  Whatever the mind believes and settles on, the soul (our will plus our affections) follow.  The battle is in the mind.  I should know this, having read Joyce Meyer’s book years ago.   Joyce Meyer

Given the life and death nature of our mind’s assignment, to keep out lies and deceit that lead to sin, training in logic and clear thinking is crucial!

Here are some thoughts gleaned from Owen’s book (quote marks to indicate taken from his writing verbatim) that have sobered me into thinking about thinking:

  • Our minds can only default to one reality – earthly or heavenly.
  • Where the mind goes, what we set our minds on, the entire soul (our will + our affections) will follow automatically.  The mind opens the gate and the soul rushes in.
  • We CAN retrain our minds to default to things above (for we have the Spirit of God permanently ingrafted in us.) The FACT in 2 Tim 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. – Holman Christian Standard Bible) reminds us of God’s gift.
  • “The principal care and charge of the soul lies on the mind.”

By the way, and this nugget was WAY helpful to me, John Owen explains that ‘spirit’ is often used interchangeably with ‘mind or thoughts’  For example, Paul refers to God, “…whom I serve with my spirit.”  Romans 1:9, meaning he serves God with his mind.  How cool is that!  We are to walk with God, fueled and motivated by means of our thoughts, our mind!!!!

With that idea of how to understand the human spirit, look at this Pauline prayer:  I pray that God, who gives peace, will make you completely holy. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept healthy and faultless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns.  1 Thess 5:23  (Contemporary English Version)

Here is an example of how the mind can easily fail to do its appointed duty.   Owen explains that our minds can be so deceived by the ‘law of sin’ or Satan’s influence, that we can reason falsely and arrive at a conclusion that does not correspond to reality.  He writes: The deceived mind imposes on the will to obtain its consent unto sin by proposing unto it the advantages that may accrue and arise thereby.  It renders that which is absolutely evil a present appearing good. (page 338).

Owen uses Eve as an example.  Her mind did not hold fast to God’s law, nor to the consequences of disobeying Him. She stopped contemplating/thinking about the sweetness of fellowship with her Creator and how good He was.  Instead, she shifted her mind to consider the benefits of such pretty, delicious and ‘beneficial’ (per that serpent) fruit.

Why did she start contemplating this dangerous tree?  Because she shifted her thoughts from God’s truth to the statements coming out of the serpent’s mouth.  And she concluded they were more true.  And once her mind shifted its weight to this dangerous reasoning that she would benefit MORE from eating the forbidden fruit, her will and affections followed with nary a peep.  Imagine her thinking looking like this:

Thought 1: This fruit does look attractive, tasty and full of good consequences

Thought 2: This garden creature assures me that no harm will come to me, unlike what God has said.

Thought 3:  These potential benefits outweight what I can get from God.

By turning her back on God’s truth and listening to another source, Eve opened the door for her will and affections to side with her mind and almost ‘compel’ her to disobey God.

So what are we to do to strengthen our mind, since so much rides on it?  Much.  But that’s another post.  So I’ll leave you with this starting point.  Observe your thoughts.  And evaluate them through the grid of God’s Word.  Are most about God or about circumstances? Do you tend to say, “I feel that….” rather than “I think that…”?  That might be a clue that your mind is flabby.

And what would I advise if you wake up a weak state of mind?  Read a good book, one that makes you think. Read with pen and paper in hand.  That will slow you down.  The good news is we CAN retrain our minds.  With God’s help.

 

 

No time for Bible study? One-verse Logic

24 Jun

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 (ESV)

Recently I spent a few days with one of our sons and his family.  Anne, my ‘daughter-in-love’, is a busy mom with 3 small children.  She takes care of the home, prepares good meals, daily maintains fitness, nurtures and is encouraged by girlfriends, listens to and loves her husband well.

In other words, her plate is full.  And it’s hard, very hard, to find a patch of time to study God’s Word and pray.  She is frustrated because she knows she NEEDS this food from God.

What I am offering here is a way to be sustained by God’s Word no matter how few or many minutes you can allot to meditating on God’s deeds, instructions and promises.

I love pondering ‘mere’ phrases of the Bible.  I have been well trained through years of listening to John Piper as he works through Bible passages one word, phrase, and passage at a time. The truth is (and Satan doesn’t want you to know this) that it can be enough to spend time with just one verse, pondering the individual words and then the verse as a whole.

I find it all-too-often tempting to read right through familiar texts like the line from Psalm 23 quoted above, without slowing down to digest any part of it.  That’s because we might be operating under a false presupposition:

  • More Bible read or covered produces more knowledge of God

Worded a bit differently:

  • Larger quantity = greater Knowledge

Not necessarily so.  God’s Word is to be tasted, chewed, swallowed and savored – slowly.  Over and over again. Let me show you what I mean:

Since any good logical Joe or Jane starts with terms, that is, the words that represent a concept, I’m going to narrow my focus and share some thoughts as I move slowly through the first half of this one verse, Psalm 23:5.

You prepare a table:

  • This is present tense. You ARE PREPARING.  Right now. In my current circumstances. Implications?  God cares for me this moment.  He is aware of what I need.  I can’t prepare my own table.  He has access to provisions that I don’t, for He creates ALL. The preparation is not yet complete, but He is working on it.
  • It’s a table, not a snack.  A table implies multiple dishes.  Time to savor a meal. Table fellowship.  No eating on the run.  Not fast food.  I’ll be able to sit down at a table and not have to stand up.  There’s the element of rest.

In the presence of my enemies:

  • I have enemies.  God knows what I am facing.  He is a realist.  And He is able and willing and committed to taking care of me, especially when besieged by enemies.  Not just one enemy, but multiple.
  • In their presence.  These enemies see the table prep going on.  They are aware of my God and His loving care for my physical and emotional needs.

And that’s just half the verse and my thoughts THIS day!  Because the Holy Spirit makes God’s Word alive to believers, by faith, I assume that He knows what I will need tomorrow. And what I see tomorrow might be different.  I find that exciting and motivating enough to want to feed on God’s Word every day.

When I ponder a verse like this, I like to do it out loud and narrate it back to God, measure by measure, as I go down into it.  Always in the context of thanksgiving and praise to Him.  I might say:

Oh, thank you, Father, that you are RIGHT NOW preparing what I need in the midst of this situation where I feel knocked about, threatened and scared.  You are going to feed me and strengthen me.  I don’t have to feed myself.  What a good Father you are!

So, if you don’t have much time to spend a quiet hour with your Bible because of the day or the season of life, don’t go extreme and settle for a starvation diet.  That just makes you vulnerable to Christians’ very powerful enemy, Satan.  He is on the prowl for busy Christians too distracted to nourish their souls with God’s Word.

Take ONE verse for the day and chew on it throughout the hours.  Better than a breath mint, a candy bar or a Starbucks coffee, it’ll keep your lips releasing a sweet odor, pleasing to the Lord and totally off-putting to that wicked roaring lion.

 

 

 

Using reason to evaluate feelings

7 Apr

There was a man named Manoah.  He enjoyed a God-centered marriage to an unnamed wife who ‘happened’ to be barren when the story begins.  One day, an angel appeared to her and told her she would soon be pregnant and have a son.  (The son turns out to be Samson).

The wife ran and got her husband and filled him in on all the details of the conversation.  He believed her. (Smart man!)

The angel next appeared to both of them, reiterated the same message and agreed to wait while Manoah prepared a meal for him.  But this divine being did not eat the goat and bread set before him on a rock, instead caused fire to consume it. He then disappeared in the flames.  Manoah realized at once that this angel was the LORD and feared for his life.

Read his panicky reaction from Judges 13: 21b-22. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”

The text doesn’t SAY he was frozen in fear, but I can imagine his emotional state.  If I cried out to my husband, “We’re gonna die because….!” there would be A LOT of emotion.

Manoah’s wife did not share her husband’s panic.  Instead, she responded with REASON, with truth.  This is what I want us to look at, her assessment of the situation.  She calmly fed her husband with facts, in a way that he could evaluate whether his feelings were well grounded or false.

Judges 13: 23  But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Apparently, that was enough to settle Manoah, because the next verse in the text simply announces that she bore a son.

When Mike and I read this account last week I remarked to him, “Look at her logic!”  I love seeing how God encourages us to use our biblically informed minds to reason through situations.

I find that I often churn with emotion when I am not thinking biblically about a situation.  Here’s a simple and very real example.  I’m coming to the end of my Spring Break.  And like many of my students and colleagues as well, there is this reluctance to get back into the saddle, plunging into the fast pace of the workweek.

As I tried to THINK my way scripturally through this dread, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a new application about why we are not to worry.  I’ve written about the battle against anxiety and angst on my other blog site. What helps me fight the sin of unbelief  (at the root of worry) is the idea that when I think about TOMORROW, all I see are the potential circumstances minus God’s provision of grace.  He gives ‘manna for the day’.  And since it’s not yet tomorrow, the pre-planned grace is invisible to me right now.

My variation of that tactic was to think about the idea of what I’m going to call ‘joy-moments’.  I started telling myself yesterday each and every time a ‘dread’ thought popped into my mind, “Maria – God has planned moments of joy and delight for you on Monday – whether with your colleagues or students or in an email or a turn of circumstances. You just can’t see them yet.  All you are imagining are the bare circumstances unadorned by God’s goodness.”

Today, I found the biblical warrant for that idea.  Psalm 16:11b states ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy.’ Before today I assumed that this promised condition referred to my future in heaven when I am face to face with Jesus.  But this morning, a Saturday, I had time to think. And I realized that Jesus’ presence TODAY, on this earth, is promised me.  During Jesus’ explaining the ‘Great Commission’ He promised that He would be with us all the days of our lives.  And the writer to the Hebrews in Chapter 13 argued that we can “…..be content with what (we) have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So here is how I used my reasoning abilities to fight the emotion of dread about going back to work:

P1 – As a Christ follower, I have the promise of His permanent presence.

P2 – The Bible teaches that in His presence the believer experiences joy.

C – As a Christ follower, I can expect to experience joy each day, from being aware of His continual presence.

No, I don’t know what that joy will feel or be like, but I trust God and His Word.

And that is ENOUGH of a rope to cling to when I’m battling anxiety.

Your worries might very well be weightier and more serious today than mine.  But these every-day fights for faith are where I live.  And I am a BELIEVER!   I’m in that category of Christians who confess:  ‘Help me, Jesus, for I’m fighting unbelief!’

And God’s answer to my prayer?  He has given me reason AND His Word, to think my way out of some of these emotions that seem to want to keep me locked into ‘churn’ and sadness.

What do YOU do when your negative feelings tend to dominate?

Do Christian beliefs rest on ‘blind’ faith?

23 Mar

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”  John 20:29

I love Venn diagrams!  Creating categories helps me think through possibilities and provides a way to understand what something IS because I can see ‘what it is NOT!’

Take screwdrivers.  When I’m new to a concept, in order to picture it through descriptive words, I have to know what the other possibilities might be.

My dad first introduced me to the screwdriver by sending me to fetch a Phillips.  I asked him what one was.  He described the cross-recessed tool.  I had to know if there were other possibilities besides this design.  As I recall, he only mentioned the other common device – the slot drive one.  If your curiosity is piqued, then take a glance at this website.

Back to Jesus’ comment about ‘those who believe without seeing’.  Just like with screwdrivers, I want to know how many possible kinds of believers are there and what distinguishes each from the other.  Are believers merely binary?  That is, are there only 2 kinds – those who believe because they see Jesus and those who believe yet don’t see Jesus?   Or are there other categories because of different distinctives?

I think the ‘world’ outside of Christianity will respond with a hearty Yes!  There are those who believe because they SEE and then there are “the blind-faith kind“.   These folks are often parodied as those who ‘check their brains at the door.’   I’ve even run across some Christians who proudly echo a version of that kind of belief.  When queried about why they believe, they’ll respond with an ‘I just do!’

But is that the only basis for trusting Christianity to be true?

No!  and fortunately not.

We believe that Jesus is God and that all He said about Himself, His Father, the world, the past and the future IS accurate because we have eyewitness testimony.  The written Bible is a document that has been historically validated and stood the test of time.

Yes, the Holy Spirit has to open eyes and hearts to accept that the testimony is true.  But the documentation exists, nonetheless.

So back to Jesus and His blessing on those of us who were not around to encounter Jesus in 1st-century Palestine.  We have the benefit of being able to read every single day the evidentiary accounts of God dealing with Old Testament Israel and her enemies.  And we have written testimony by the apostles of what happened in the life of Jesus and after His ascension.

Don’t forget, many of those who DID hear Jesus teach and see Him perform miracles did not believe.  This fact alone throws into question the adage, ‘seeing is believing’.  It certainly wasn’t for everyone.

If you believe and rest in the fact of Jesus being who the Bible says He is, then thank God for giving you this living faith. It IS a gift.  But it’s not a blessing bestowed in a vacuum.  The Bible exists; be glad about that!  And please practice being able to point to this evidence with confidence when someone asks you why you believe.   As the apostle Peter wrote, honor Jesus for the testimonies:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  1 Peter 3:15

 

My heart’s desires – the logical approach

17 Mar

Consider this argument: 

P1 – Designers who manufacture products know best how they should operate

P2 – God designed and made human beings

C – Therefore, God knows best how they should operate

 

Psalm 33:15 refers to God as He who fashions the hearts of them all (the children of man)

Given our topsy-turvy contemporary culture, I’ve been thinking about the desires that pour out of our hearts and incline us to move in different directions.  Society’s icons counsel:

  • Be true to your heart
  • Follow your heart
  • Look within
  • Trust your heart
  • Go after your passion

But that assumes that what the human heart wants is optimal for humans.  This ‘wisdom’ also presupposes that in our reasoning, we know when we should yield to the heart and when we should hold back. (Or worse yet – that the mere existence of a desire MEANS an automatic seeking to fulfill it!)

Imagine a car, fresh off the dealer’s lot.  Having written a very large check for your vehicle that should work well since it’s new, you cautiously ease onto the road, headed home.  You don’t have to drive very far until you notice a distinct tug by the steering wheel to the left. The wheels seem to have a mind of their own, wanting to veer into oncoming traffic.

The way this car operates at the moment is what happens to be natural for it. It ‘desires’ to pull left.

But you, the operator, know better.  And in fact, the car manufacturer knows better.

Yet if your car could talk, he might even argue, ‘THIS makes me feel good, to favor the left!”

Are we any different, from the point of view of being something designed and made?  We human beings have bodies, hearts, and minds purposefully planned and fashioned by our creator God.  Only when we align ourselves according to His Word, the Scriptures, do we ‘operate’ or ‘function’ correctly.

To assume that all desires are GOOD and beneficial for not only us but society is dangerous and misleading.  Yes, people will argue, “That’s just the way God made me.  If he hadn’t wanted me to feel a certain way, he would have designed me differently.”

There happens to be one detail that throws that argument out the window!  Given the fall of one man and woman (thanks, Aunt Eve and Uncle Adam!), all of creation has been disordered.  AND God alone both knows and has the manufacturer’s right to prescribe how we should function to optimize LIFE.

 

Bible Promise Logic

11 Jan

John 8:31-32  If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free

I’ve been struggling with knowing God’s truth, but not having it make a difference in my day to day life.  Here’s how this struggle looks in a partial syllogism or Enthymeme:

  • Premise:  If you know the truth
  • Conclusion: Then, you will be set free

To complete or make explicit the missing premise in this enthymeme, I can write it like this:

  • P1 – All those who know the truth will be set free
  • P2 – I know the truth
  • Conclusion – Therefore, I have been set free

But here’s the rub:  I DO know the truth about Jesus and how I have a new identity as a regenerate Christian, adopted child of our Triune God.  But I still live in bondage to some faulty thinking EVEN though I know better.

So the syllogism that describes my true, functional condition looks like this:

  • P1 All those who know the truth will be set free
  • P2 I am not free, but in bondage
  • Therefore, I do not really know the truth

Solution?  There’s only one way to be set free.  And that is to immerse myself in the Gospels and pray, asking God to grant me to know Jesus and what He did for me both in atoning for my sins and in fulfilling the law.  The shorthand way to describe that remedy is for me to meditate on just how much He loves me.

A verse I read this morning caused me to see that possibility: 1 John 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

Maybe I don’t TRUST God’s love for me because I don’t really know it.  I see now that even before my recent frustration with feeling trapped in habitual practices, I was groping for a deeper and more intimate knowledge of God.  I had chosen my 2018 New Year’s Resolution to notice and study God’s glory wherever it comes up in the Bible.

I intuitively feel that the path to liberation lies in going deep into seeing, observing, studying, meditating on the glory of God as manifest in Jesus and being satisfied with who He is and what He has done.