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Where the Mind Goes

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

 (Philippians 4:8, KJV)

  Where the Mind Goes I have heard this verse used in sermons and bible studies many times. It is usually in the context of protecting our thoughts by what we put into our mind. You know, like listening to Christian music, reading “good” books, limiting television and movie viewing to G rated materials, and other things like that. But I don’t necessarily agree with that interpretation. In the verses before this believers are being encouraged to always rejoice in God and not worry about things.  The last part of this verse says If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these” I believe Paul was telling believers to look closely at the things happening in their lives and in the world around them and to find any inkling of good that there was and hold on to that.

   I have been in the midst of situations that were terrible but there always seemed to be one incident or object or just something that stood out as amazing in the middle of all the bad.  I think Paul is telling believers to hold on to these things. If we can focus on these, we can find things to praise God for no matter how bad everything else may be.  They serve to remind us that God is there and will be there and he is in control so all we have to do is endure.

   As to limiting our entertainment and media usage to only “Christian” sources or child-proof levels, I think that is a mistake. I am not saying to read or watch porn. That’s a little too extreme. But what I am saying is that we live in a complicated, messy, unpleasant (at times) society and world. Having a simplistic view of the culture is not going to work. You can’t reach those you can’t understand. You can’t survive in a culture you can’t keep up with. Look at the Amish. Even their communities are having to change to keep up. Either that or they are dying.

   Do we have to protect our children from the culture? Absolutely!!!! But you can’t do this by keeping them insulated from life. They need to be given age appropriate access to cultural norms and then you need to talk WITH them about it. Don’t leave them to process on their own and don’t reject their thoughts and feelings. Help them find the good and virtuous and reject the bad in the music, books and movies around them.  If we do that with both our children and ourselves, we can be in the world but not of the world. We can connect with non-believers in a meaningful way and we can make informed choices about things that we need to work to change.

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Remembering

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. (Gen 8:1)

Remembering

 This verse is one of my favorites because it gives me hope. That might sound kind of weird but consider the context of this verse. In the preceding verses, God’s wrath is turned loose on creation. Everything and everyone is destroyed except this little boat (comparatively speaking) and its passengers. God is pissed and he is venting his fury. But even in the midst of it, his mind turns to Noah.  He could have just said forget about this. Let’s get rid of them all and start over. Who would have been there to say anything different? But he didn’t. He remembered Noah.

I have been that kind of angry before. When all I wanted to do was destroy everything I could get my hands on. I have gone too far and destroyed some things that, afterward,  I really wished I hadn’t. Fortunately, God isn’t as careless as me. Or as shortsighted. Or… well, you get the picture.

 So back to why this gives me hope. On days (weeks, months, whatever) when everything is crashing around my ears, it helps to think of this verse and know that God is in control. He is never careless with his creation. He is never too late to save us. And he loves us. I know that God will not let anything happen to me that he does not have to. Sometimes it is because he is trying to teach me something. Sometimes it is because I have to learn the consequences  of my actions. No matter the reason, when the time is right, God will remember me. Just like he did Noah.

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Superman

“And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9, AKJV)

       How many times have you ever said, I am so glad I can’t take care of myself or do something for myself? Probably not a lot. We, especially Americans, pride ourselves on being able to take care of ourselves. We are independent and don’t need anybody’s help.

Yeah, right! We wish. If we didn’t need anyone then we would have no need of a savior, no need of God and no need of the church. Our weaknesses exist so that God can show us his power. We exist to glorify him, not the other way around.

Imagine it is a beautiful summer day and you are at the beach.  Now you also have to imagine you are a guy. Unless you are a guy, then just run with it. Next imagine there is a beautiful girl there that you are trying to impress. A couple guys challenge you and a friend to a tug of war contest (they also want to show off for the girl). Who do you want your friend to be? Well, if you are the buff, weight lifter type who could beat these guys almost on your own, then you want your friend to be kind of scrawny so your strength can shine and impress the girl. If you are the scrawny guy, you want your friend to be bigger and stronger so you won’t lose and be totally humiliated.

The reason for this somewhat twisted analogy is this: God is the big muscle-y dude. He wants to show off for the girl (non-believers) how strong he is and he can best do that if his pulling partner (us) is obviously weaker and unable to compete by himself.  But at the same time, we (still the scrawny guy) have things we want to accomplish. God is there to provide the things we couldn’t do on our own (in this case the girl is life, the house, the job, the ministry, whatever). And in this, he is showing his compassionate side because we would obviously fall short of the goal on our own.

Don’t take me wrong on this. I am at no point saying God is our back-up. I am also not saying that he is there to help us get whatever we want. In order for him to pull with us we have to be pulling in the direction he intends for us to go.

I guess my point is that God designed us as weaker, flawed beings to that He would shine brighter to those who desperately need him. We need to set aside our strong individuality and instead cultivate our communal side. We need God. We need fellow believers. None of us can make it through this alone. If you think you can then you are deluding yourself.

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Story Telling

Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land…(Ruth 1:1, KJV)

Storytelling

        Ruth is one of my favorite books of the bible. Not just for the content, although I love the story too. But, rather, because it is a storyteller’s book. This is the best example in the Old Testament of the oral tradition of our faith.

Think about it. Before the days of the printing press and public education, access to written material was extremely limited and most people couldn’t have read it anyway. So how did they teach their children the important things in their history? By telling the stories over and over until they became a part of them. Think about your grandparents if you were privileged to have some to spend time with, or even your parents. Aren’t there stories from their lives that they have told you until you could recite them in your sleep?

To truly appreciate the book of Ruth imagine yourself sitting around a campfire or around a table at a feast. The village is gathered together and the storyteller is about to start. It is late evening. You have finished eating and are full and happy. The kids are still a little wiggly but they will settle once the story starts and the little ones will probably fall asleep. As the storyteller starts he get to the part that says, “And the name of the man was,” And he pauses. The older children who have heard this story many times by now fill in his name: Elimelech. And it continues through naming his wife and sons. This participation helps make them a part of the story.

Now to get the full effect, you need the King James Bible. I am not saying this translation is “better” or more accurate. It is just that the language flows so much nicer for this purpose. And it needs to be read out loud. If you aren’t good with the language in this translation, find someone who is to read it to you and don’t worry if you don’t know what all the words mean. You will discover that, somehow, the meaning becomes clear. I promise you, this is an amazing opportunity to put yourself back to where our faith began.  I hope you try it and that it speaks to you like it did to me.

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Messy

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2, NKJV)

        I have been thinking some more about this verse. I know I concentrated on how we twist ourselves to make sure the world still likes us even though we are different now. But I don’t think that is the only case where this applies. I think it also applies within the church itself.

       How many times have you “played church” on Sundays? You (and your family, if you have one) go to church and you say the right things and you do the right things and you hear a good message from the word of God, one that could make your life better, and you are determined to apply it. But then, you go home, change out of your Sunday person and you are left feeling kind of empty. The message doesn’t seem as important all of a sudden, what you can remember of it.

      What would our churches be like if we just came as we are? Brought our messy, less than perfect selves to the altar and let Christ and the brethren minister to us and we ministered to others in turn. Would the building collapse or just our idea of what “church” is?

       It would be uncomfortable, especially at first. No doubt about that. Honesty often is. A lot of talk in the past few years has been about living transparently so that others can better see what God is doing in our lives. I don’t agree with public transparency. If God wants me to share my life with someone, he will let me know. I don’t need to bare myself to everyone I meet. But I do believe we all need a few people with whom we can totally be ourselves. Who will accept us, love us and correct us when we need it. Who will hold us accountable for our actions and will hold us up in front of God when we need them to. This is what the church is supposed to be.

        But is it? I would bet not. We are humans and so the church will never be a perfect institution. However, we can do better than we have been. If your church is too large for that kind of intimacy then get into a small group or create one. Sitting under an anointed pastor is a must. We need to be fed. But, just as important, is having the opportunity to minister to others and be ministered to. If we are going to live the abundant life Jesus promised us we have to stop pretending to be who we aren’t whether that is someone of the world or the person we present to the church on Sunday. We have to be us in all our glorious, messy, complicated selves.

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Transformation

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2, NKJV)

      Last night I got back into bed after an early morning bathroom run and got a sharp pain in my side. One of my ribs slid and it really hurt. For some reason that made me think about werewolves. (Probably because I watched An American Werewolf in London the other day) But it got me thinking about how painful that kind of transformation would be if my rib wiggling around hurt as much as it did.  Then I got to thinking about how every day we put ourselves through transformations that are every bit as painful but we don’t give them a second thought.

          How many times each day do we cram our Christian beliefs into a form that will be pleasing to the world? Think this doesn’t hurt? How’s your life? Is it as joy-filled and meaningful as you would like? How are your relationships? If we aren’t living authentically, we can’t expect our lives to be what we want them to. We can’t be transforming into world-wolves every day and then wonder why we are living in pain.

        So what does it take to live an authentic life? First of all it takes courage. Some people aren’t going to like you as much anymore. They will be offended by what you say and do. They may feel you are being fake (how ironic is that?). It also takes knowledge. You have to know what you believe. The only way to get this is through the third requirement: time. You have to spend time with God. You have to spend time with Christians more experienced than you. You have to spend time with yourself. I am sure there are other requirements but, for me, these are the biggies.

            Our transformation into a Christian is not painless, but living in that transformed state is a whole lot less painful than continuing to try to live a double life. We need to decide what kind of person we want to be and stick with it. No more world-wolf for me. Eventually. I know I have a long way to go. But admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

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