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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.

 

 

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.

 

Logical minds STILL need God’s enlightenment

15 Feb

Sojourner Truth quote.jpg

I saw this quote on a homemade sign carried by a protester in the 21 January 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC.  A reporter from our local Western North Carolina weekly paper must have snapped it while covering the demonstration.

Having recently read through the book of Genesis again, the story of Eve’s disastrous fall lingered fresh in my mind. Reading the write-up and glancing at the photo almost caused my logical brain to blow a fuse!

Here’s the way Sojourner Truth’s argument appears to take form.

If the very first woman had the power to mess up the world in a catastrophic manner, then the scope of many more women with that kind of power ought to be enough to exercise a beneficial force in society.

What Eve did was evil and deserved immediate death.  It was pre-meditated, defiant rebellion against her Creator God.  How could anyone conclude that MORE Eves working together would have the opposite effect of healing or righting a wrong?

Seeing the quote carried proudly by a marcher made me realize that unless our God sovereignly gives us light to see Truth, our logical minds remain in darkness.  Yes, we can draw some correct conclusions.  But we won’t recognize all truth or all falsity.

Pray for God’s enlightenment, not the radical 18th century age of ‘so-called’ reason that caused many to turn away from the the One who IS light.

John 12:46 – I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness

 

 

 

The power of a conclusion

8 Feb

It’s never too late to begin to parent well.

Even if you have been a poor father and raised 10 ungodly sons.

My husband and I were marveling the other day at Joseph’s unwavering faith displayed while a slave in Potiphar’s house and then during subsequent years stuck in that Egyptian prison.

Unlike Great Grandpa Abraham, Grandpa Isaac or Dad Jacob, Joseph neither saw nor spoke with God or His angels.  But God’s hand rested on him.

  •  Genesis 39:2-4 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.

What happened to Joseph that set him apart from his wicked, ungodly older brothers?

Here’s my theory:

Genesis 34 narrates the account of Dinah’s rape by one of pagan Shechem’s local boys. Father Jacob does nothing.  His 10 older boys take matters in their own hands and brutally revenge their sister’s honor.

Jacob had not exercised any godly influence on his sons that we can discern. After this dark chapter of family history, he could have concluded:

  • I have failed as a father for I have NOT raised my sons to know the Lord
  • Therefore, I’m a terrible father.  That’s just who I am.

I don’t think Jacob indulged the human inclination toward self-pity and paralyzing remorse.  I think the nadir in his life marks a turning point in his resolve and behavior.  What’s the evidence?  In Genesis 37 Joseph shares some startling dreams about his brothers bowing down to him.  Then during his Egyptian captivity, dreams play a major role in his deliverance.

Maybe Jacob came to his senses after the Dinah tragedy and began to take his father role seriously.  I can picture him spending hours relating all he knew to Joseph and Benjamin about Abraham’s adventures with God and then their grandfather Isaac’s experiences on Mount Moriah with the sacrificial ram swap for his own life and then how he prayed for their grandmother Rebekah to get pregnant. And then his, Jacob’s, very own encounters with God.

He would have dramatically narrated the ladder dream with angels descending and ascending to heaven, which occurred the first night on his outward journey to Uncle Laban’s. Then God spoke to him, directing him to lead the entire clan back to Canaan.  He would have explained the ‘genesis’ of his perpetual limp, trophy won during the famous wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord.  Joseph and Benjamin would have begged to hear yet again how God spared them all when Uncle Esau met Jacob’s approaching gaggle of people and herds with a small army of 400 men!  Jacob had feared for all their lives and strategically divided everyone into smaller groups.

Yes, Jacob must have drawn a different conclusion after his last parenting failure, one that changed the course of history.

Yes, he had mostly abdicated his responsibility to teach his family about Almighty God. But, he could change and perhaps influence the two remaining boys. There WAS something he could do. It wasn’t too late.

My scenario is speculative.  Yet, there is no question that Joseph WAS different from his brothers.  His character turned out to be pivotal for the family, for the Hebrews and for the world.  Had he not heard about the family’s God encounters of years past and learned about the character of God, he might not have been open to the dreams God gave him. There possibly would have been…….

  • No bragging to his brothers
  • N0 fuming jealousy that turned murderous
  • No enslavement in Egypt
  • No ruling in Egypt
  • No rescue from famine
  • No fertile cocooning in Goshen
  • No population explosion
  • No miraculous departure
  • and on and on all the way to NO birth of the Messiah in the tribe of Judah, as predicted

Why was Joseph different?  As my husband pointed out, the Bible is silent on how he learned about God, but God was clearly with him during his 13-14 as a slave/prisoner.  He worked diligently with skill and rose in the ranks wherever God planted him.  We read of neither moping nor complaining.  He strove to serve those around him, whether as a household slave, a helper to the prison boss or the number two ruler in Egypt.

My point is this: what we conclude from past failures affects the future.  What encouragement.  And what a warning about drawing the WRONG conclusions.

It’s NEVER too late to change.

Julie Andrews and faulty logic

8 Jun

Nothing comes from Nothing

“Nothing comes from nothing,” sang Julie Andrews in my favorite film of all time, The Sound of Music.

And that is a true statement! If all there ever was, was nothing, then that is all that would be right now!

Here is the governess Maria’s argument:

No thing comes from no thing

Here is some thing

Therefore, some other existing thing caused this particular thing

But where the Maria character goes with her conclusion is debatable.  And as a Christian, I would assert that it is unsubstantiated and false.

Let’s think about the possible argument setups.

Truth: Nothing comes from nothing

Explicit Fact most would agree with:  Something VERY good is going on in Maria’s life – she has fallen in love with the Captain

Implicit Fact most would agree with: Falling in love and the accompanying joy is not anything that circumstances or another person can give us

Possible Causal Agents for this ‘love’:

a) the Karma principle and Maria’s conclusion – I must have done something good in my youth

b) random circumstances just fell out this way and Maria has chosen to ascribe significance to these particular molecules in motion

c) God is the source of ‘all good gifts’, one of which is ‘this something good’.

  • (James 1:17   Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens)

So which precipitating event for Maria & the Captain’s relationship are you or I going to pick?

It all depends on one’s worldview.  What is a worldview?  It is a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.

I’ll leave you to work out your own conclusion.  What astonishes me is how long it took for me to grow aware of the lyrics to this song.  Throughout the numerous times I’ve watched the movie or listened to the music, I remained caught up in the happy evocative sentiments. NEVER did I consider the import of the words. It’s clear that a large portion of our world operates out of a secular worldview, whether material or immaterial.  AND, it’s a story easy to absorb and accept without thinking or questioning.

*Lyrics – [Maria:]

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/soundtracks/s/thesoundofmusiclyrics/somethinggoodlyrics.html

 

 

Truth matters…and can change your life

23 Mar

POW bracelet  When I was a junior in high school, many of us wore POW bracelets to remind ourselves of those men still held prisoner by the North Vietnamese.  I don’t know what happened to ‘my POW’ or the bracelet.  But that memory was vividly stirred when I heard someone explain how ‘news’ makes a difference.  The scenario he painted was of a wife, bereft of her POW husband, who still held on to the slim hope that he might be returned to her and their children.

One day, she picks up the phone to hear the startling news that not only is her husband alive, but he is already safely travelling home on a naval ship.  The Navy will pay for her to fly to San Diego to meet him in two weeks.

After the phone call, her circumstances have not changed, for she is still without her husband.  But the news of that future event WILL have an effect on her and the children.

What’s this example have to do with truth?  That’s easy: unless that mom trusts the veracity of the phone call, that it is NOT a hoax, then she won’t book the flight and make the arrangements to meet the ship when it docks.   Truth DOES matter.

So too does truth carry weight in a logical argument.  Recall that to have a powerful position, two conditions must be met.  Premises must be true and the way a conclusion is drawn must follow rules of logic.  An argument that abides by guidelines in how it’s formed is deemed valid.

Couple true premises with an orderly, valid proceeding from premises to conclusion, and you have a sound, or ‘unbeatable’ argument.

I saw another example of the power of true premises this morning when I was reminded of the account of Hannah, future mom of the prophet Samuel.

Mournful due to infertility and constantly belittled by ‘the other wife’ of Elkanah, Hannah refuses to eat but prays in the tabernacle during the family’s annual trek to worship at Shiloh.  Hannah receives a blessing from the priest Eli when she prays in for a son (1 Sam 1:1-18).

All she has heard is ‘news’ (Eli’s blessing) that the Lord will do for her as she requested while praying. When she arises from prayer, nothing has changed.  She is still childless, but she has heard and believed the ‘truth’ given to her by this representative of God, the priest Eli.

Here is a framework for this news and why it changed the live of our hypothetical POW’s wife and for Hannah, future mom of the renowned prophet Samuel.

P1 – I can confidently trust and act on true news of future events

P2 – My husband’s return is true news of a future event

C – Therefore, I can confidently count on my husband’s return

We can substitute the Hannah details for premise # 2

P2- My conceiving a son is true news of a future event

C – Therefore, I can confidently count on being a mom

What happens after the ‘counting on something occurring that has been foretold’?  Lives change!

  • The POW’s wife and children felt joy during the 2 weeks before Dad reached American soil.  They quickly sprang into action, prepping for Dad’s return.  Perhaps a planned spring break vacation was cancelled.
  • Hannah’s countenance immediately turned glad.  She ended her mournful fast, took food and confidently did the next step of sleeping with her husband Elkanah in order to conceive a son.

I’ll leave you with the MOST IMPORTANT news that Christians have heard:

  • Jesus, Son of God, was executed in the place of guilty sinners who are deprived of the means of coming to God and glorifying him by enjoying him (sin bars the way to commune with a holy God)
  • After dying, he was buried and came back to life 3 days later. His resurrection validated his prior public claims to BE God as well as demonstrated the truth of his announced purpose to live and die for helpless sinners. His punishment for our sins removed a holy God’s hostility toward men, opening the way to a happy father-child relationship.

Let’s put THAT news into our syllogism:

P1:  I can confidently trust and act on true news of future events

P2: Jesus’s substitutionary death for guilty sinners (as well as his substitutionary life perfectly pleasing to God and law-fulfilling) is a fact

C: Therefore, I can make decisions, both day-to-day and long term, counting on those facts.

Besides the outward impact on my life’s choices, the AFFECTIVE part is equally changed:

  • Picture the glee, delight and joy of the POW family as they make plans.  Mom is still a single parent juggling the demands of mothering, working and keeping house.  Those circumstances haven’t changed. But her whistle and glowing face point to a significant change.
  • Imagine Hannah’s attitude NOW when ‘the other wife’ with children mocks her. She still is slim and childless, but the taunting rolls off her back if she even notices it. She finds herself wanting to take in sufficient and healthy food to carry her future baby safely. Her mind is preoccupied with thoughts about the future.

And we who are Christians who trust and act on the news of what Jesus has done for us also live life differently, although we still might be suffering in today’s current circumstances.

What if we don’t EXPERIENCE joy or find ourselves meditating on meeting Jesus face to face?  What if we actually FEEL and ACT the same as our neighbor who has no certainty of this paradigm-shattering historical event?  Maybe it’s as simple as this: we haven’t been convinced what eyewitness testimony (the Gospel accounts in the New Testament) describes is true.

Remember, faith (or certainty about an unseen but true event) grows stronger by hearing reports again of what Jesus has done.

Truth DOES and should make a difference in our lives.

Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

 

The logic behind worry

3 Feb

Weather forecast

I’m preparing to lead a group of students to Québec and God-willing when this blog posts, we will be in the middle of our weeklong French language ‘field trip’.

Travel like all of life is unpredictable, but flights in the winter seem more weather dependent.  The other day during my morning prayers,  I was asking God to grant clement conditions. Immediately I found myself reasoning, “There’s no point in worrying about that!”

Suddenly I found myself engaged in a hypothetical conversation:

Maria 1 – No point getting anxious about the weather two weeks hence!

Maria 2 – Why not?

Maria 1 – Because I can’t do anything about it!

Maria 2 – Right!  but….is  your overall guiding assumption  “One should worry only about those things one can control.”?  Is that it?  Tell me, what ARE the areas over which you exercise control?

Maria 1 – Well, to be honest, I don’t really control anything.

Maria 2 – So why worry about anything?

Maria 1 – Good point.  It’s not rational or ‘reason-able’, is it.

Conclusion: Logic is VERY practical and useful for everyday life.