Monday, July 19, 2010

Changing My Mind

Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Eastern Europe in 1473. He grew up, as a mathematician and scholar, in an age when "everyone knew" the sun revolved around the earth.  He studied astronomy in Krakow, and probably began to take it seriously in about 1497 (five years after Christopher Columbus's famous voyage).  He began tracking the movements of the moon, planets and stars, becoming more and more convinced that common knowledge was wrong.  Finally, in 1543, just at the end of his life, his book showing mathematical proof of the sun as the center of our galaxy was finally published.  Today, we take his ideas for granted, but Nicolaus studied for nearly 50 years to understand, refine and publish a revolutionary idea. 

We all have ideas, like the one Copernicus overturned, that aren't correct.  In order to change those ideas, we need to spend time studying the truth and learning to re-order our thinking processes.  It may not take 50 years, but it will take time and effort. Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 to 'let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.' 

Jesus himself said in John 8:32, "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  Which truth did he mean that would set us free?  He also said "I am the truth" in John 14:6, so I believe that he was talking about himself, and truth dealing with himself -- not mathematical or theoretical truth, or merely memorizing a set of Bible verses. 

So the question is, how can we learn that truth?  We Christians believe the Bible is our spiritual guidebook; and we also believe that Jesus Christ is the full, complete and perfect revelation of God (John 14:9, for instance).  So as we read the word of God, we will know the truth about Jesus and thus about God's plans for us and the way he provided for us in Jesus.  Hebrews 12:2 says "We do this [endure in the Christian life] by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith." 

There are many warnings in the Bible to not be deceived, distracted and hurt by focusing on things that don't profit.  So for us, the way we can keep our focus, and know the truth, is to focus on Christ and learn about him.  There's a lot in the Bible about him; I think you'll find that the entire Bible focuses on him.  So as we focus on him, study about him, and see the truth revealed in him and through him, God will "change the way we think" and we will know the truth.  Let's get to it!  Need help?  Just ask!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I've been mowing lawns since I was about six years old, so pushing a lawnmower -- or growing grass that must be mowed -- has sort of lost its shine for me.  But because I love my wife (The Amazing Joanne) we have a lawn with grass, and I help work on it.  This morning, I pulled weeds for an hour while it was still more-or-less cool outside.  Adam was told in Genesis 3 after he rebelled in the perfect garden, "the ground is cursed because of you.  All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you..."  So every time I dig or pull weeds, I remember that note.  But it's not just the ground that grows harmful things; our minds and emotions do too. 

In Hebrews 12:15, we're told " Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many."  When we focus on a real or imagined hurt, and let that divide us from our friends and family, and from our family in Christ, we start believing that the hurt is more important than the relationship.  That's a lie!  But that lie has destroyed many friendships and family bonds. 

Hurting others, or letting ourselves be poisoned by hurt, are two very common kinds of weed.  There are many more:  lust, greed, envy, anger, selfish ambition, idolatry (anything ahead of God in our lives) and so on.  Galatians 5:16-21 tells us to be steered by the Spirit of God, not the fleshly pull that produces those weeds.

How do you destroy weeds?  In a lawn, pulling or digging them out is one way.  Another step is to feed the grass and make it so healthy that the weeds get choked out.  No, seriously -- if the grass is good and strong, and covers all the available soil, there won't be any way for weed seeds to get rooted and grow.  Gal. 5:22-26 gives us more:  "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!"  Those are 'good grass,' the kind of thing God is himself, and that he wants in us.  It goes on to say "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives."  So, we're told to make sure we're really focusing on our Christian life, and that will produce the good results in life.  That's both pro-active, by choosing to focus on God, and reactive, because God will continue to 'fertilize and water us' with his Word and his Spirit.

It's easy enough to get tired, and then lose our focus or ambition to live our whole lives focused on Christ.  To let the TV or internet or idle ideas dominate our minds -- and that gives a spot for the weeds to take root.  Then, they start blocking out the good results God wants in us, like weeds block the sun from the grass.  So we need to keep on top of our day-to-day living, and let God water and fertilize us so our lives will be filled with the fruits of the Spirit -- not the weeds of the flesh. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Prayer: Talking and Listening

"Now I lay me down to sleep..." goes the old childhood prayer.  That's  fine for two-year-olds, I guess, but the more we grow in Christ, the more we should know and practice deeper prayer.  Prayer is hard work, not an exercise in reciting some words or giving God our to-do list for his day! But good prayer, deep prayer, changes our own ideas and our lives. 

I wrote in January about my own feelings of not wanting to be threatened by being too close to God, in a post called "Half a Cup of Jesus".  It's common for us to ask for a few things from God, but not to get too close to him, because he might ask something of us that we don't want to do.  Even when confessing a sin or weakness, we can leave it at "God, I'm sorry this happened, help me not to do it again" without letting him show us our deeper motives that keep drawing us to that hurtful behavior. 

Some quote Jesus' words in Matt. 21:22, "You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it" to prove that God is obligated to deliver whatever we ask for "in faith."  That idea turns God into a vending machine or a servant at our pleasure, which is backwards to our true relationship with him.  James reminds us in 4:2-3 "Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure." And so Richard Foster explains "To 'ask rightly' involves transformed passions.  In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God's thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills"  (Celebration of Discipline, p. 33).  That would have to involve focus: intently pursuing a problem, or a motive of ours, to inquire as to God's view on it; being willing to hear him tell us we've not been thinking, acting or speaking from love; and being ready to yield to his will even if it looks like a loss to our agenda. 

We could say that prayer is bending our bodies and our thoughts to God, in an exercise of the mind and will that works to transform us from self-centered to God-centered persons. Real prayer is work -- the hard work of facing ourselves and submitting to God -- not a relaxed little session of pleasant thoughts as an interlude to our otherwise 'busy' day.  We will still have requests of God, and we will still ask him to change the circumstances around us -- but as we grow up in prayer, our requests will come from a deeper sense of his love for us and others, and we may be surprised about how many answers we receive once our motives are the same as God's. 

And that will be worth all the effort.