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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.

 

 

Abortion in Ireland – masking truth with acronyms

27 May

Ireland prefers unrestricted abortion, at least according to 2/3 of those who voted last Friday.  Currently, unless a mom’s life is in danger, abortion in this Catholic country is illegal.  Now, subsequent to this recent referendum, the legislature will put together a bill allowing for unfettered access to legal abortion in the first twelve weeks of gestation.

I listen to two daily news programs by podcast.  One of them is in French, broadcast by Radio France Internationale. So this morning, as I was catching up on last night’s summary of the previous day’s events,  I marveled over the deliberate French obfuscation of the act of ‘avortement‘ or abortion.  Their popular substitute for that guilt-producing word is the acronym IVG – ‘interruption volontaire de grossesse’, which stands for ‘voluntary interruption of pregnancy’.

The newsman explained to us worldwide learners of French (yes, this podcast broadcast is designed for French learners) that these 3 letters, I-V-G, were neutral and carried no moral value or stigma. Apparently the original and still used word ‘avortement’ does evoke a judgment.

Why would it be necessary to create a neutral way of communicating the act of killing one’s unborn child?  Because everyone knows it is WRONG!  Scott Klusendorf of Life Training Institute defines abortion this way: the intentional killing of an innocent human fetus.

But doesn’t that pointed description just load guilt onto a mom?  Does a woman who already feels bad because she doesn’t want to go through with her pregnancy need this added burden?

First of all, calling abortion a deliberate death sentence for an innocent life DOES pre-indict a mom if she goes through with the act.  But the goal is NOT to make her FEEL bad, but so that she can wake up to the impending DISASTER, take a breath, step back from the temptation to do this evil that she will most likely come to regret and seek out another solution to her crisis.  If she already feels bad about this unwanted pregnancy, is it reasonable she will feel LESS bad for having allowed her baby to be killed?  Repentance, or telling the truth about a WRONG DEED is a gift!  And there ARE other healthy, God-honoring, life-preserving, ultimately GOOD ways to handle this trauma.  Will it cost her?  Yes!  But abortion will cost her, too.  And that act will harm her and the baby in permanent ways.

My dear logical friends, terms matter! And they impact our standing before the one, true and Living God. Yes, we can repent and God will forgive us.  But we can’t confess our guilt if we don’t think we are guilty!  And others won’t be able to SEE the danger of sin if we don’t call it what it is, ‘evil’!

Isaiah 5:20  Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

The men and women in the French medical field who have institutionalized and banalized (made ordinary) this appellation, one free of moral judgment, bear more guilt before God.

But what about us? What responsibility do Christians exercise, especially those like you and me who take our spoken and written words seriously?  Dear God, may we exercise GREAT care, to be honest!  Why?  Here’s why:

  • If God, who is Truth, spoke the universe into existence through words (in fact, THE Word who is Jesus)
  • If we are made in God’s image
  • If we have the ability to use language
  • Then we, who bear God’s image, should truthfully use our words to communicate ideas and information.

So let us commit to thinking clearly, with integrity before we speak or write.  Life and death can depend on how we communicate.

By the way, here’s another interesting tidbit about how the French view words.  In English, one can always look up synonyms to express an idea differently. In fact, I often do when writing blog posts, in order to write more freshly.   Apparently, the French do not substitute synonyms as freely as we do.  For to them, EACH synonym means something just a shade different and one should use language with precision.  No casual thought-less substitutions will do!

Not a bad principle.  Just wish some of them would apply that standard to their acronyms!

The logic of receiving God’s power

25 Apr

Do you feel weak as a believer?  I know I do, every day.  I throw myself on God each and every morning as well as throughout my school day?  Why?  It’s how I tame/master/subdue those negative feelings, my fears that pop up while driving to school.  It’s knowing that I have to ‘do it again’, teach one more day. Even after 26 years, I feel inadequate, like there won’t be enough time to complete planning and grading and teaching AND engage the students so they both acquire AND enjoy French!  It’s THAT pressure that I don’t like and that I fear.

So when I read about God’s power this week, my ears perked up.

Listening to a John Piper classic sermon of the day got me to thinking about how we actually RECEIVE supernatural strength to fight those fears.

Piper explained that Paul’s epistle greetings and even his closures contained power phrases like ‘grace and peace be to you’.  Here’s an example:

2 Tim 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

My mind started backtracking by wondering:

  • Okay, how do I actually GET this grace?  And what specifically IS it, this grace?

I think the Holy Spirit led me logically to see the simple but effective way to receive God’s power.  Hear me out.

If you are a Christian, you’ve heard and read it many times over that:

…..faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

So…IF faith comes from hearing or reading God’s Word (and faith means BELIEVING, TRUSTING, RELYING ON, RESTING IN, COUNTING ON), then God’s word is a source of supernatural effectual power that tramples our natural unbelief and causes us to take as true what the Word says.

....AND if Paul is writing what Christians accept as God’s intended words, then God means to transmit the gift (what grace is) of actual power to hearers/readers through the words themselves.  How is that?  by hearing with faith, hearing words that we believe, trust, will rely on, rest in and count on.

Grace covers LOTS of types of gift.  What supernatural gift might one need?  I can think of several:

  • strength
  • patience
  • wisdom
  • clarity
  • understanding
  • peace
  • joy
  • new desires to exercise kindness and compassion toward others
  • control over one’s ‘natural’ expression of feelings
  • releasing of grudges and leaving revenge to God

So here’s the string of logical propositional truths that my mind locked onto:

  • If believing God’s Word to be true comes by hearing with understanding…

…and

  • If God, in His Word, promises spirit and power-filled divine gifts (grace) to His children

Then

  • Grace comes to us from hearing God’s Word.

What’s the implication?

Nothing, that is NO THING, should hinder us from filling up on this grace from the Bible, each and every day.

 

 

Personal growth through questions

15 Apr

A young woman I know, a mom with three small children, related a transformative conversation she had with a wise friend.  With her confidant patiently listening, the mother detailed all the reasons why she was going to try homeschooling again. She had resorted to public school for her older two kids when baby number three came along. In explaining the decision to pick up again with homeschooling, she offered what she considered a strong closing conclusion, the following assertion:

  • Besides, everyone knows how much time is wasted in a regular classroom!

The wise friend thoughtfully asked, “What’s wrong with that?”

Startled, the mom paused and couldn’t really come up with a concrete reason AGAINST ‘wasting time’.  In fact, the more she thought about it, she started to see how ‘wasting time’ all depends on how you view time and the purpose(s) for it.  Her thought process led her to ask some good questions, beginning with the one that had stopped her in her tracks:

  • Well, what is wrong with wasting time? Why do I view that negatively and use that kind of language?
  • Do I believe that we don’t ‘waste time’ here at home or would not if I homeschooled?
  • Is being productive ‘all the time’ actually good for my children?  Don’t they need some ‘down’ time, like I do?
  • In fact, is any time wasted in office settings, on the job?
  • Is my view of time universal, around the globe?

Then, in the providence of God, Anne picked up a book called The Yes Brain.

In it, the author described the different kinds of time children AND adults actually need to cultivate and maintain a healthy brain.  One category had to do with time for play; another was focused time for work or study. Then there was the kind of time necessary for us all to exercise our imagination or to meditate.  You know, the kind of ‘lost-in-thought’ ponderings that Westerners often categorize as ‘doing nothing’.

All this to illustrate not only the POWER but the GIFT of a good question.  Questions make room for new insights. Had the friend not responded to the mom’s assertion with a question, this mother would not have had space or motivation to evaluate her belief to see if it really was true!

So how can we remember to ask ourselves or someone else a question?

Look for assertions that you or others make.  In our climate, people are asserting unexamined opinions and beliefs left and right.  A well-timed, thoughtful question can often stop them in their tracks.  Most of us really don’t know WHY we believe what we do.

Don’t just think of the political or economic arenas, as important as they are. I find I’m WAY more excited about the potential impact of questions for personal growth. With God’s help, I want to develop habits of:

  • noticing what I’m thinking or saying to myself
  • wondering why I think something
  • examining what actually supports my belief, if anything!
  • determining if what I think is true.

What comes to mind as a first belief to question?

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

 

How to avoid Confirmation Bias

17 Dec

Just what IS confirmation bias?  In short, it’s drawing a conclusion that you WANT, by overlooking some evidence to the contrary or picking and choosing partial evidence to support or bolster your predetermined view.

My husband surprised me last week when he acknowledged his own confirmation bias regarding the verdict of ‘not guilty’ in the trial of illegal immigrant Jose Zarate, accused of 1st degree (intentional) murder.  Mike, in fact, changed his mind after reading a report written by an alternate juror.  This citizen performed his civic duty by sitting through all the testimony and lawyer presentations for the two sides.  After the verdict, he then discussed with several jurors the verdict-arrival process the sequestered group had followed.  He concluded that the jury had indeed arrived at the correct decision because the alleged murderer had NOT in fact premeditated the shooting of Kate Steinle.

Dear clear thinking, rational friends: We must hold on to a commitment to the truth.  We must focus on ALL the evidence and follow it, even if it leads us to a judgment we don’t like.  Isn’t that why this bronze statue was cast?

Justice is blind

We Americans hold that justice is blind.  Surely we must apply that restraint to our biases and cherished pet beliefs when we are called to make a fair and impartial decision.

Again, I say, ‘Well done, Michael!’  Now may I be equally willing to embrace such fairness and evenhandedness as my husband.  After all, doing so would only be following our Father’s lead as described by the prophet Jeremiah:

……..I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:24b)