Mind Renewal

bible-85815_1280You may heard it quoted that we only retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we see, 30% of what we hear.  I don’t think I come anywhere close to that. I can’t remember what pastor said a month ago. So was it a waste of time? No, hearing his teaching is part of my mind renewal. What am I filling my mind with? 1Corinthians 10:5 commands me to “take every thought captive.” What does that really mean? What does that look like in everyday life? I compare it to sorting a deck of cards. Heart-Out. Diamond-Out. Spade-Keep. Diamond-Out. In my thoughts it’s: Bitterness-Out. Lust-Out. Kindness-Keep. Hope-Keep. Fear-Out.

If I want to take thoughts captive, I need to examine the books I read, the TV programs I watch, and the music I listen to. Each of those is planting thoughts in the soil of my mind. What I sow I will reap. (Galatians 6:7-8) The more I consistently sow the right thoughts, the faster I will experience change in my thinking. I remember cramming for history tests. I could cram all sorts of facts into short term memory for the purposes of the test, but it had little long term impact.  One summer I took a Western Civilization class. I can only remember one question from that entire semester: What was the name of Alexander the Great’s horse? The answer: I have no idea! It is what I focus on consistently every day over a long period that will make a lasting change.

Mind renewal happens through diligence. I tried to learn Spanish but I didn’t have the diligence needed.  I tried to learn cha-cha but I lacked diligence. Lasting change only happens when I am fully committed to do whatever it takes.

In college, a group of guys and I decided it would be fun to go up the down escalator. I could make some progress for a while but as soon as I stopped I quickly lost everything I had gained. Mind renewal takes continuous effort. Just like salmon swimming upstream, if I let up on my efforts I will tend to slide right back into old patterns of thinking and reacting. Laziness doesn’t hack it. Renewal is a continuous effort. Whatever family environment I grew up in becomes my “normal”. Even if intellectually I now see that it was dysfunctional, I will gravitate back to that familiar way of living unless I make a concerted effort to reprogram my thinking.

There is a constant battle going on for who will control my mind. Satan is not a gentleman. He will use every trick and deceit he can to win the fight. There is more to this battle than just sin. There is depression, fear, insecurity and false beliefs.

Romans 12:2 warns don’t be conformed to the world. That deals with thoughts. The more I fill my mind with Scripture, the more I listen to Godly music and conversation the more likely I am to react in a Godly way when the pressure is applied. My actions when I encounter hard times show what I truly believe.  My attitudes and behavior are just a reflection of what goes into my mind! My goal is to no longer being conformed to the world but to be conformed to the Word. Transformation as a Christian is not about how I dress or how I comb my hair. Transformation must be about what is on the inside. Without the inner transformation I cannot be a light to a dark world because I am spiritually still just like the world. If I am conformed I have nothing different to offer.

Psalms 1:1-3 (NKJV) – “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” This describes the one who has decided to control his thoughts, to meditate on the Word of God and break from the patterns of the world.

If I am going to put on a new way of thinking, I must first put off the old (Ephesians 4:22-24). I must let go of old ways of acting – “Everything . . . connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it!” (Ephesians 4:22 MSG)  What is the old way? Hurt, lust, fear, pride, doubt, bitterness, or any barrier that would keep the fruit of the Sprit from shining forth in my life. It includes the victim mentality that wants to blame others for the crummy life I find myself in. I can’t change the old man, I must get rid of him. I spent years developing the worldly life style. Now, with God’s help, I must work to put that off so that putting on the new man is possible.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1Corinthians 2:16 (NIV)) What does it mean to have the mind of Christ?  I am choosing to exchange my thoughts for God’s thoughts. It does not happen without surrender to God’s will and His truth, without the constant decision to let go of those old thought patterns and instead make the choice to think differently.

The Israelites left the bondage of Egypt but they still had a slave mindset, a grasshopper mentality that prevented them from entering the Promised Land. I can get buried in my own hurts, and the result is broken relationships, rejection, betrayal, and addiction. Sure it is easier to just let my thoughts rule, to let them take me captive, but freedom comes when I take my thoughts captive. When I allow negative thoughts to rule, I have given in to the principalities and powers of the kingdom of darkness.

When I was reborn as a Christian, my spirit experienced a transformation. Some day at the last trumpet my body will experience a transformation.  Today in this day to day life it is my mind that is undergoing transformation. It is a process that will last a lifetime. Mind renewal empowers me to live as He intended my life to be, to experience His power in my life and to be the light He has called me to be. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 (NIV)). I am free not because I have to follow a bunch of rules but because I experience His love and I can respond to that love by loving others.

Education was a god in my family growing up.  Both my parents were educators.  My sister has a doctorate in microbiology and a career in teaching as did my brother.  I was under a lot of pressure to complete a doctorate (although I never did). Our problem is not that we do not have enough education, our mind is fallen. It is hostile to the lordship of God.  Pride wants to elevate my thinking above God’s truth.

When driving my VW bug as a teenager, I turned too soon and hit the curb pretty hard.  After that the car pulled to the right to the point that it was tiring to drive until I got an alignment. If I “just let go” of the wheel in my life, where will my mind and my heart take me? What forces are tugging on me trying to take my attention off Christ, and His love for me, His plan for my life, His forgiveness, mercy, and grace? Relationship troubles, health concerns, finances, a sin I refuse to acknowledge as sin, something from my past that won’t let me rest?

Ultimately I am the one who must decide if I am willing to do the hard work of mind renewal. Sorry to break the news but it is hard work. I have built ruts in my thinking that, even though contrary to truth, I accept those habits of thought as truth and they lead me to wrong choices.

When my family traveled in a motor home, the furnace and air conditioner allowed us to keep the same temperature regardless of the outside. The oven, stove and microwave enabled us to cook the same meals we cooked at home. The beds were comfortable and the bathroom convenient.  We could watch the scenery outside change but it really didn’t need to affect us. I don’t want to live my Christian life from the motor home of isolation but rather I choose to allow transformation of my heart and mind take place that will allow me to be truly free. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 (NLT)) Truth in my thoughts results in freedom in my life.

Abundant Life

Abundant LifeI was walking through a local park by the Columbia River recently when I heard a voice, “Hey, over here.” I looked around but didn’t see anyone. I was about to walk on when I heard the voice again. “Down here.” I looked down and there was a frog. She said to me, “Kiss me and I’ll turn into your own personal super-model.” Well I picked that frog up and put her in my pocket. She complained, “Aren’t you going to kiss me so I’ll turn into a super-model?” I responded, “Nope, at my age I’d rather have a talking frog.” (I suspect my wife would prefer that too.) My vision of abundant life and that frog’s vision were different.

In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came that _____ may have life, and he/she may have it abundantly.” What does abundant life mean? Is it a big house, fancy clothes, or maybe the latest LeBron James basketball shoes? Is it driving a BMW? Of course not, abundant life is driving a Mercedes (just kidding). Remember what the Bible says in James 1:11: “For the sun rises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So also will the rich man/woman fade away in his/her pursuits.”

Psalm 35:27 says that God takes pleasure in the prosperity of His people. So God’s going to make me rich! No, God has another view of prosperity. He keeps an eternal perspective. Luke 16:15 warns, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

One question is in the heart of every human being: what must I do to be at peace with God and myself? To answer that we need God’s perspective. As I write this, we are approaching the Christmas season. A TV show that comes on every year is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We have all seen it. A young man has dreams and plans but then life happens. A depression, a war and soon George is making adjustments and his dreams fade. But in the end his brother says, “George is the richest man in town.” Why? Because he had a big house or a lot of money in the bank. No, because of relationships, because of love.

Abundant life does not depend on luck, your bank account or your health. It is not about wealth, power, status or pleasure. Luke 12:15 say that life does not consist in the abundance of things. It’s not about the stuff! Rather it’s joy, peace, love, kindness. That is the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Gal 5:22-23. That is the fruit that comes from right choices.

This past weekend I went Christmas shopping, the Black Friday thing and all. I went to Wal-Mart but they were out of patience. I stopped at Target to look for joy but there was none. Costco had a special on hope but when I got there the shelves were empty. Stores don’t sell patience, joy, wisdom or hope. The Holy Spirit is the only source.

We get caught by what I call “life-suckers”: selfishness, anger, hatred, lust, unforgiveness, fear, greed or despair. Let them in and they will suck the life out of you. “Oh, that is just who I am.” No! That is who you were. 2Corinthians 5:17 tells us we are new creations; the old nature has passed away. The bondage of life-suckers is broken.

James 1:17 says “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor shifting shadow.” Receive the life of God and it has a positive impact.

Let’s read Psalm 23:

The Lord is _____’s shepherd:

_____ shall lack nothing.

He makes _____ lie down in green pastures.

He leads him/her beside the still waters.

He restores _____’s soul.

He guides _____ in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Even though _____ walks through the valley of the shadow of death,

_____ will fear no evil, for You are with him/her.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort him/her.

You prepare a table before _____ in the presence of his/her enemies.

You anoint _____’s head with oil.

_____’s cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow _____ all the days of his/her life,

And _____ shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Green pastures and still waters represent the peace of God that overwhelms my soul when I place my trust in Him. His guidance leads me away from evil and toward righteousness. When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil because I am the meanest son of a gun in the valley? That only lasts until a meaner son of a gun shows up. I would rather depend on His rod and staff. His rod denotes protection and His staff denotes guidance.

Have you ever lived where you were looking over your shoulder to see who was sneaking up on you? Now when I look over my shoulder I see goodness and mercy. They are following me. The ultimate abundant life is eternal life when I dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

If I think like the world, I will get what the world gets. My decisions open my life to God or to the devil. Is my focus on:

  • Pleasure? Chasing after what feels good? It is empty. Eccl. 1:8 “The eye never has enough of seeing, not the ear its fill of hearing.”
  • Possessions? How much is enough? How much money, how much stuff? It will always be a little bit more. Eccl. 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has enough, whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
  • Performance? Recognition at work or even church? Eccl. 4:8 “Man is always working, never satisfied.” Why do you think they call it the “rat race”? Actor Jim Carrey is not someone who I would categorize as a great Christian role model but he made a very wise statement: “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

The world’s trinity is me, myself and I. One of the tools of the thief is the temptation to be selfish and self-centered. We have raised four children. Think about a child’s first words. After “mommy”, “daddy” and “no” it’s probably “mine”. Put two 2 year olds together with some toys and it won’t be long before one is clutching a toy and yelling “mine.” We expect that behavior in a 2 year old; in a 22 year old there is a problem.

“I” is in the middle of sin. “I” will kill you. The anecdote is to recognize that everything belongs to God. Galatians 6:7-8 in The Message says, “Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.”

We all want life more abundantly. So what is the answer? It begins with Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Until I surrender to Him, I will not experience abundant life. After that every day is an opportunity to grow.

Deuteronomy 30:19 say, “I call heaven and earth to witness against _____ this day, that I have set before him/her life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore _____ should choose life, that he/she may live, he/she and his/her descendants.” Choose death or choose life? Which way will I go? The thing that impresses me in this Scripture is that my choices are not only important to me and they impact my children and my grandchildren. If I won’t choose righteousness for myself then I should consider the impact that choice will have on those after me.

One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 4:18: “But _____’s path is that of the righteous, like the first light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full light of day.” Beginning this walk with God may not be easy, the path may not always be clear, but as I continue to walk in righteousness, the path becomes brighter, the way smoother. I just need to stick with it.

What is abundant life mean to me? Someday I will stand before my heavenly Father and hear him say as in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is truly abundant life.

Now where did I put that frog?