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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.

 

 

When do I keep my mouth shut? – Flawed reasoning confronted me.

6 May

Knowledge is important.  And so is wisdom.

I recognized and used both in one conversation last week: knowledge about a hole in someone’s thinking AND sense or wisdom to keep my mouth shut.

I was with some teacher colleagues on an overnight trip with our 6th-grade class.  It was dinnertime.  We sat together, enjoying some adult conversation while the kids jabbered away contentedly over their pasta and meatballs.

I joined the table with my tray as a fellow teacher,  a dad with a soon to be high school graduate, reasoned that he was going to have to offer his younger child, a daughter, the same arrangement he had with this son.  I interrupted the explanation, asking to be brought up to speed on the conversation.

What I learned should not have surprised me, but it did.  Apparently, this father and his wife allow and even have encouraged their son and his girlfriend to sleep together IN their home, in the boy’s bedroom.  Their rationale?  ‘They are going to do it anyway, so we would rather have them ‘do it’ in our home.

The other teachers at the table, all with children of various ages from college-aged down to 5, seemed to agree.

I immediately spotted the flaw in this man’s reasoning.  I WANTED to pose this hypothetical:

  • So, if your son wanted to use opioids, you would furnish them yourself because he is going to take them into his body anyway

That was only the FIRST scenario that came to mind.  I truly was astonished by this man’s blatant lack of chagrin or shame in sharing this information with us. What an open rationale for just about anything an 18-year old boy might find fun or stimulating to do!

HAD I presented that hypothetical scenario about drug use, I would have been using an argumentative tactic called Reductio ad absurdum.

Here’s the rub:  I wasn’t involved in an argument with someone.  I simply was party to a conversation.  No one asked my opinion.  Therefore, as I continued eating, listening and contemplating this example of poor parenting (to say the least), I made the decision to keep my reasoning to myself.

The writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1 wisely penned: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Guided by wisdom, I believe, I kept silent.  Not only was I not invited to weigh in with my views, I recognized that none of these colleagues shared my Biblical worldview.  None are believers, held captive to God’s truth by His Holy Spirit.

But I did rejoice that I have grown skilled as a Logical Jane to spot so quickly the lack of healthy reasoning.

I hope someone asks me what I think about a similar topic. Soon!  May I, by God’s grace, be prepared to give a reason for what I believe.

 

 

 

 

Stating the obvious – words matter!

18 Jan

Aren’t you thankful that God created us with communicative language skills?  I often take that gift for granted.

Two recent ‘aha!’ moments brightened my day and made me grateful for the insights words can provide.

The first one:

This morning, while walking for exercise, I listened to a John Piper sermon where he mentioned God’s purpose for creating you & me.  He cited Isaiah 43:8 when describing what God says His reasons:

  • everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

What was new to me was that the fact that God WILL be glorified by every person.  Piper framed it like this.  Are we going to glorify God like Judas or like Peter? It’s not up to US whether we glorify Him or not.  If God says He created us with the express purpose of showcasing His glory, then He will. For being God, by ontological nature, everything that He wills to be done IS/WILL BE done.  And how do WE know what His will is?  From what He says, what is written in the Bible.  Words!

The import of this fact that God will be glorified by each of the people He creates is this: Whether we die as a hardened God-hater or rather as a person whose heart burns to proclaim and point to the wonders of God, each of us WILL bring glory to Him when He rewards or punishes us.

The second one: 

Alan Shlemon from Stand to Reason wrote a letter about how Jesus modeled truth and compassion while on earth.

As I began to read, I assumed I knew what sense of ‘truth’ Alan was addressing:  the truth that Jesus, as God, had about the moral failures of everyone He met.

But the way Alan described Jesus’ use of truth was in focused study of someone.  Read this excerpt from his letter dated Thursday, 5 January 2017:

In Matthew 9:35–36, for example, Jesus is going through all the towns and villages, healing diseases and sickness, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Matthew writes, Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Notice the order. Jesus learns the truth and then is motivated by compassion. He sees that the people are distressed, dispirited, and like sheep without a shepherd and, because of that truth, He is driven to compassion.

I had never considered that use of truth.  But because of how Alan painted Jesus’ actions toward people, I now WANT to look more carefully at those around me, to study their tone, their faces, their postures and ask the kind of questions that will give me some true insight into their burdens.  I know this:  only THAT kind of truth will soften my heart.

 

The other kind of truth can puff up, even if it’s accurate and well grounded.  (I’m not arguing against the responsibility we all have to KNOW truth and live by it.)

So here’s to WORDS and the power of eloquent and accurate communication, whether from a fellow created being or our Creator!

Your questions matter!

26 Oct

Control and certainty appeal to 21st century earthlings.

Is predictability always a good thing? Just how much value CAN a world of no doubts offer?

Looking at my own life, I know that routine and a state of ‘no surprises’ make me FEEL safe.

That safety, however, is sometimes illusionary.  Consider a ‘normal’ where status quo is dangerous to our health.  Against better judgment, we might still choose what the familiar. ‘They‘ say this bent to the customary translates into women likely to return to a relationship with a known abuser.  A kind of ‘better the devil you know’ reflex.

What I’m suggesting as a healthy alternative is a modus operandi that goes beyond a degree of comfort.  Bypassing certainty, this approach employs careful questions about what is NOT known.  The byproduct?  a potential wealth of new knowledge.

Good teachers borrow from the past interactive habits of Socrates and Jesus to guide students to ask questions and think their way to new awareness.  Haven’t you found that you are more likely to swallow and accept a thought you generate rather than one imposed from someone else?

Kim Brooks, a 2000 alumna from the University of Virginia, writes primarily from her questions, rather than from what she knows.  In an interview for a recent article in UVa’s alumni magazine, she describes how FREEING and relief-providing this way of approaching a new book can be.

What would our schools, businesses and governmental agencies be like if constituents felt free to admit uncertainty about solutions?  Wouldn’t the entire planet heave a sigh of relief, having dumped the weight of false pride that absorbs so much energy?

Don’t weaken the anchor ropes of your faith!

21 Sep

Do you ever play out an imaginary conversation between you and someone else?  It could be with a hypothetical person or maybe with someone you know whose likely responses you think you can predict as well.

anchor

I spun one out yesterday as I read an essay meant to encourage Christians about the trustworthiness of God’s promises as recorded in the Bible.

Anyone who reads the Bible knows that it teaches that God never changes.  All his characteristics are not only inalterable, they are perfect and pure.  God’s qualities or attributes are the standard by which we created beings know what moral values look like. Which kind of values specifically?  To name a few, consider:

  • beauty
  • goodness
  • strength
  • truth
  • evil
  • mercy
  • wisdom
  • peace

The essayist whom I was reading argued for the importance of integrity and how we long for it in others.  Given our election choices this year, who isn’t interested in a candidate who will do what he or she promises!  Alas, we know that human beings will always disappoint, both others AND themselves.  Why? because created human beings have limits; we are finite and fallible!  But the God who created all things is always true to his word.

Why is this important?  Because life is filled with suffering and the promises to Christians in the Bible are hope-giving and life-sustaining.  Ken Boa, the author of what I was reading wrote, “Because it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2), he is the ultimate and reliable source of hope…….Whatever he says he will do is as good as done, and when we hope in his promises, this hope becomes an anchor for the soul…(Hebrews 6:19)”

My imaginary conversation took flight at this point.  I have a relative who does not believe that all the Bible is true.  She picks out what seems reasonable to her.  Not a very reliable metric, wouldn’t you say?

Here goes:

Me:  We can count on God’s promises in the Bible because what he says comes to pass, whether in our lifetime or later.

She:  How can you say that?  The Bible is just primitive man’s interpretation of his world around him.  We know better these days.

Me:  Do you think that about the New Testament as well?

She:  Not as much as I do about the Old Testament.  I’m sure that parts of the New Testament are true, like Jesus’ words.

Me: Why wouldn’t you think all of it is reliable?

She:  Because the Bible was written by men prejudiced by their times and lots has been changed in all the translations since the originals.

Me:  Do you believe God is all powerful?

She:  Yes, I would say so.

Me:  Do you believe God is all good?

She:  At least MY God is!

Me:  Well then, do you think that an all-powerful and all-good God would be incapable of insuring that what he intended to be written actually got written and translated correctly?

She: (I can’t predict what her response would have been at this point)

Where would you have gone in this conversation?

Dear friends, clear thinking and logic are tools not just for political arguments or policy debates.  Our handling of the tools of rational reasoning and clear terms is vital to our very life.  For anyone to retain the gift of faith that God has granted, a Christian must think clearly.

There are many attacks on Christianity today and those who number among the Church must know what they believe and why.  And all our TRUE beliefs find their source in who God is and what kind of sovereign Creator and Sustainer He is.

If we lose our faith in who he is as recorded in his Word, the Bible, we will drift with the cultural tide and be miserable.

Another reason for believing God

31 Aug

Do you accept God for who he says he is in the Bible because the written words are true?

And do you know that the words are true because there is enough external evidence to warrant true belief?

Or do you trust God and his words because you always have and don’t really think about why you do?

I ask because I learned of another way to justify one’s belief in God.  Listening to a podcasted discussion (Unbelievable with Justin Brierley) between 2 philosophers the other day introduced me to the concept of ‘properly basic beliefs’ and ‘non-propositional’ logic.

As a layperson, I gleaned that a properly basic belief is one not based on other propositional truth or on evidence, but accepted and trusted.  These are beliefs that can’t be proven. Examples might be:

  • the sense or knowing that there is more to life than what we see
  • 2 + 2 = 4

The American philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, offers this example:

  •  I think other minds exist because I have a mind and I exist, but I can’t prove it.  All might be an illusion (remember The Matrix?).
  • Nonetheless, we humans do accept that if we exist, then others exist. And if we acknowledge THAT as a rational belief, then might we not also accept as rational the proposition that God exists?

This way of ‘argumentation’ does presuppose that we humans have the capacity to think rationally.  (to use this lingo, “the belief that humans are designed to think rationally” is properly basic)

Plantinga points to the ‘sensus divinitatis’ in every human as evidence that the existence of God is a rational conclusion.  This sense of the divine appears in every culture across the expanse of history.

So what do you think?  For Christians who are commanded by Jesus to explain the good news of God’s rescue plans to all we encounter in our daily lives, is this approach sufficient?  Probably not.  But as we live out ‘the Great Commission’ we are learning and assembling a ‘tool kit’.  I’m reassured just knowing that intelligent Christian thinkers across the centuries have vetted what is probably common to all people I meet.  There ARE convictions we hold as rational without being able to articulate any propositional or evidential reason other than, “I just believe it!”

 

How logic rescues us from false guilt

29 Jun

John 14:15  If you love me, you will keep my commandments

At first reading, I feel convicted.  I must not really love God, for I don’t obey his every commandment.

But that is a reverse and false reading of this hypothetical conditional premise.

Jesus, who instructed his disciples right up until Roman guards arrested him on the eve of his crucifixion, did NOT teach:

If you keep all my rules, then it’ll be true that you love me.

Well, then what was it that he taught?  Here’s both the bad news and the good news (Gospel) of our love for God.

  • No one naturally is capable of loving God, for everyone is born with a birth defect called hatred or indifference toward God
  • If we feel ANY affection for or interest in the biblical God (as described in the Bible), then that is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s saving work in our stony hearts.  Only God can swap out a stiff and impenetrable heart and replace it with a softness and inclination for him.

So what about the ….”then you’ll obey me” clause?

Think of it like this.  When someone loves you and you feel love for him or her, you naturally want to please him or her.  You want to know what they think, what interests them, what they consider important.  So it is with God.  Because he loves us first and then follows that electing and intentional love by implanting in us a reciprocal love for him, we receive new desires and delights.

If it is THAT easy to twist the meaning of a Bible truth through faulty logic, what other realities might we have equally misconstrued?

 

Scientists imbibe philosophy, some without thinking

25 May

I’m a fan of repetition.  Arguments and their detailed steps of reasoning lodge themselves within me for my ready use ONLY through constant hearing and understanding.

repetition

So I was pleased the other day when a logical rebuttal sprang into mind upon hearing the core belief of scientific naturalists – Scientific naturalism refers to the view that only scientific knowledge is reliable and that science can, in principle, explain everything.”

A site that explains scientific naturalism

I have reached the comforting position, having acquired certain arguments, that I KNOW -were I to meet face to face with a proponent of scientific naturalism, I would ask them:

  • How can you be sure that ‘scientific knowledge is alone to be trusted as well as the only source to explain everything’?

Think about it: just how is scientific knowledge obtained?  Through observation, hypotheses and repeatable experiments and tests to prove or disprove a hypothesis.

But the REASONING that ‘this knowledge is the only source of trusted information’ itself cannot be observed, measured or quantified.  Why not?  For, sense perception is not the only input in the knowledge equation.  Some understanding derives through reasoning from assumptions.

The reasoning that undergirds their claim about the sufficiency of knowledge drawn uniquely from scientific data is truly MORE than physical; it’s meta-physical, that is it’s philosophical.

Furthermore, any reasoning that one employs while making sense of experimentation has to depend on some logical and natural laws that are accepted a priori, without testing.

As much as a scientist wants to be rational only, data-driven only depends on the assumption that he or she can trust their observations and reasoning.  The tacit acknowledgement of data that is authentic and real world seems to be taken for granted.

But not by all.  Apparently physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks we are living in a matrix, a computer simulation.  Link here  If so, then what we observe and measure would not be true.

Logical gals and guys, let’s be encouraged.  We don’t have to be experts in all the fields to engage gently with argument-proponents (or argument-imbibers) around us. We need only to be interested in what people believe and why.  There are only so many basic irrational arguments out there.  Learning the main ones and hearing multiple times what undergirds them leads to pattern recognition.   And if we ask questions in non-confrontational ways, we can help people examine some of their assumptions.

And for that matter, question OUR assumptions.  We want to be Truth-driven as well.

 

 

Gospel logic

18 May

God is able to make all grace abound to you that always having all sufficiency in all things, you may have an abundance for every good work. 2 Cor 9:8

I sometimes struggle with feeling as though I have SUFFICIENT time to do what I want to do – read during a period of the day when I am most alert.

So anytime I hear mention of the concepts of ENOUGH or SATISFACTION, which both can be described as contentment with the current supply, my ears perk up.

The other day, I was thinking about how  I might logically frame my feeling of sufficiency. Here is an initial attempt:

Premise 1: If I have all sufficiency in money, time and health, I am content

Premise 2: God has said that He is able to provide me with complete sufficiency

Conclusion: I should be content because I have access to my sufficiency by asking Him regularly for what I need

If the above reasoning is true, then why might I still struggle with a sense of lack or not enough?

Immediately the Holy Spirit reminded me of the PURPOSE for which God promises to provide me sufficiency.  Not primarily (so it might seem) simply to please myself, but instead to do the work that HE has planned for me to undertake.  In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we are raised from the walking dead to being alive in Christ to undertake and carry out the works that God has planned for us.

For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10

(an aside, the Greek word for workmanship is poiema which some have rendered as ‘poetry’)

Okay – so when God gives us grace that translates into sufficiency, He says that it is not for our good pleasure (my reading), but to do the work that He has pre-ordained for us.

Hmm…is that disappointing?  Well, ça dépend! (that depends, as the French say).

Jesus said: My food/meat is to do the will of God who sent me and to accomplish His work – John 4:34  And food is the Greek word broma which means:

  • aliment which refreshes, delights or truly satisfies the mind

It seems that God is VERY efficient.  He has so created work both to accomplish His purposes AND to refresh me. I can be assured that looking to God the Father for what will ultimately satisfy me involves letting HIM assign and organize the work I am to do.

Left to please myself, I might think what I crave for restoration are the time and energy to READ.  But I am beginning to see that maybe I am not wise enough as the created being to know what is best for me.

I’m slowly learning to depend on my Maker to know what kind of high-grade octane nurtures, protects and optimizes my spiritual engine.

high octane

Taking a text literally

13 Apr

Literalists get bad press and are viewed as simplistic and irrational at times.

I’ve recently heard both an agnostic, Stanley Fish, and a Christian, Hugh Ross, expound on how to take a text literally. And they are nothing but reasoned and intelligent men who document a sensible manner to textual analysis.  Both men are experts in their field: Fish is currently a visiting professor at the Cardozo School of Law in NYC.  Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist who founded and guides a Christian think tank called Reasons to Believe.

Our law professor is a practitioner of intentional originalism.  Simplified, this is a method of interpreting the Constitution regarding cases that come before a court.  One examines the meaning of the original words in the written text and searches to find the original intent of those who wrote the law or the Constitution. Antonin Scalia, the recently deceased Supreme Court justice was also an originalist. However, he placed more emphasis on the text and differed from Fish who gave more weight to the intent of the author(s).

Although this distinction is not that wide, what IS striking is the vast gulf in worldviews between Scalia and Fish.  Apparently some critics of originalism have criticized Justice Scalia’s originalism as just ‘code’ for conservative values. That’s a simplistic strawman fallacy, however, even per Fish.

The other misunderstood ‘smart man’ is Hugh Ross who as a Christian takes the Bible literally.  And he is an old earth creationist.  Yes, he does believe the universe was created in 6 days.  But what counts is the translation of the Hebrew term, ‘day’. As Ross explains, Hebrew uses a small vocabulary compared to English. Here’s what Wikipedia writes:

Although it is commonly rendered as day in English translations, the word yom has several literal definitions: [1]

  • Period of light (as contrasted with the period of darkness),
  • Period of twenty-four hours
  • General term for time
  • Point of time
  • Sunrise to sunset
  • Sunset to next sunset
  • A year (in the plural; I Sam 27:7; Ex 13:10, etc.)
  • Time period of unspecified length.
  • A long, but finite span of time – ageepochseason.

To determine the appropriate literal meaning for words in Genesis, one has to look at the context and reasonably (based on REASON) evaluate which meaning best fits the context. Yes, this is a humble undertaking, but not beyond the abilities God has given us and redeemed for His use.

Here’s a clue for Hugh Ross that Yom means an epoch or long time, his view. He points to the words ‘evening….morning, the first day‘ and makes the obvious observation that until Day 4, there IS no sun, hence no 24-hour rotation of the earth.  Look at the text below:

Genesis 1:3-5

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

What do you make, then, of the words ‘evening….morning’?  Dr. Hugh Ross offers the following, as what he thinks could very well have been the intention of the author, God:

  • ‘evening and morning’ are used to communicate the start and the end of a period of time

In the evangelical world, there are Christians who self-identify as ‘young earth creationists’.  From some of the criticisms I’ve heard leveled at their ‘old earth creationist’ brothers and sisters, these Christians FEAR that assenting to ‘an old earth creation model’ smuggles in an accompanying assent to Darwinian evolution.  I can understand that fear, but I believe it is unfounded and not reasonable. These believers are acting more like liberal legislators or judges who fear that originalism might open the door to conservative values.

These differing approaches to finding truth DO encourage me in one way.  They showcase that most folks really do believe and function in a world of values and truth. (good, bad, right, wrong…). And the fact that people hold differing worldviews does not prevent them from agreeing on certain principles.