Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Growth & Flourishing of the Christian Mind

God works in mysterious ways, as they say.  And how truly mysterious it is and difficult to comprehend.  Just when you think you've discovered a way in which God operates, he surprises you with another.  

At times he seems distant.  At times it seems hopeless.  At other times he is close.  Sometimes he grants the prayer.  Other times he refrains.  Sometimes light wins the day, and sometimes it seems as though there is no shame in the universe and no hope for a better tomorrow.  At times it seems that evil reigns.  At other moments one wonders just how this world could be so dark with such wonderful souls within it. 

To understand God is to understand who we really are, as humans.  But who can understand God?  Who can know his ways?  No one may know him completely, but we can know certain truths about him.  The wise seek out his hidden secrets, as it is written.  

To be a truly wise person, that seems like the height of this life.  We want a mind of wisdom.  We want a mind fully absorbed in the truths of God.  In short, we want the mind of Christ.  

Life is a short and beautiful thing.  I think of life as a vast forest.  Though I was raised in the forests of Wisconsin, so that would make sense.  But think of it... we watch a sun rise and set every day.  We see a moon dangling in the sky.  We see millions of stars in the sky.  Nature grows from the ground, springs up into giant trees, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and all these wonders.  We see people on their journeys.  We can wander for hours and explore the vast landscape.  How exciting don't you think?  How absolutely amazing!  It's simply incredible.  We tend to muck it up though, don't we?  We stare at computer screens.  We sit in cubicles.  We pay bills.  We drive along the roads.  And we rarely look up.  

It reminds me of the classic C.S. Lewis novel, The Screw Tape Letters.  One demon instructing another demon on how to stifle mankind from knowing God.  Imagine if we all looked up a few times everyday.  There wouldn't be a non-believer left.  Abraham Lincoln agrees with that when he said, “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”

Today my assertion is this: God has not made us to live miserable and defeated.  Though I sometimes feel that way.  There are legitimate moments to feel such things.  But in essence God has called us to a life of victories.  Not victories in the normative sense, but victories of the soul.  And victories over the world.  Victory is the effect of Christ's victory, his gift of the Spirit, and the Spirit's work in our souls. 

Let me tell you, before I knew Jesus I was quite assured of my own wisdom.  Or I was at least quite well assured of my own militant agnosticism, and that I was right about it.  Not very humble of me, I know.  

Before I knew Jesus, and for most, before they know Jesus, their wisdom amounts to that of a drunk, crippled inebriate locked in a closet.  I knew jack.  They know jack. A central part of my walk with Jesus Christ has been slowly being made knowledgeable of the world around me.  And of myself.  

I had always been told Christianity was for dumb hicks and elderly grandmothers.  And that at the greatest universities were all these great, complex philosophies and views.  And I found much the opposite is true.  The prevailing philosophies, like relativism and post-modernism are blatantly anti-intellectual, basically saying that there is no truth, there is no reason to study or look into anything, so just do whatever you want.  Basically the philosophy of a beach bum or a drug addict, just garbed in higher terminology.  And within Christianity, a wealth of wisdom, hard facts, and very difficult truths to follow.  These are often truths about ourselves and about our conduct.  Not necessarily about our critical rhetoric, or the things we believe within, but more what we brass tacks actually do.  The word of God cuts right to the heart of our hypocrisy and demands better.  Alone, not possible.  No hope.  With Jesus, it's inevitable.  Victory comes like a flowing river.

Let's talk about a few ways in which God floods the light into our former darkness.  It's versatile.  It's far reaching.  It's absolutely incredible.  But a huge part of it is our active participation.  God does the mighty work, we do the footwork.  God provides the breakthroughs, we do the action steps in the real world.  

The journey starts out pretty tough.  At least it started out tough for me.  I'd been saved, yet I was a mess.  So I got to work on myself.  God got to work on me.  

I started to understand the truth about the world.  A true, biblical worldview began to be cultivated in my mind.  The soft spiritual world begins to appear out of the fog.  I started to recognize the spiritual battle, the heavens, the earth, and the true intents of the human heart.  I noticed the battle and I begin to take part in it.  

How truly astonishing; and awkward.  It is quite difficult at first.  If you remember in C.S. Lewis' work The Great Divorce, those who walk into heaven find it quite prickly and painful at first.  As if everything were sharp and painful to the touch.  But eventually the skin toughens and it becomes easier and easier to walk in such a way.  It is a new way of walking.  And much like learning to live for the first time; How to truly live!  

For earlier I lived in the shadow of the true life, now I'm beginning to live a real life.  And it's amazing.  Yet very scary too.  Quite difficult at times.  And I don't want to pray, but I make myself pray.  I don't want to study God's word, but I make myself study.  I don't want to go to twelve step groups, but I make myself go to them.  I don't always want to be at church, but for some reason I'm impelled to go.  In fact in all these areas, where there had been little to no interest or drive, suddenly I find myself able to force myself.  Much more able to force myself down more moral roads.  That sensation, of being able, actually able to live a better life, having that internal drive to do it, that was the pink cloud of the first few years of my Christian walk. Because I had wanted to want such things, I had ached for a better life, yet it seemed like my debased desires for sex, pleasure, and entertainment had always dominated and pushed aside those desires for righteousness and moral conduct.  

Finally I thought to myself, no more losing the war.  Finally I can fight hard and win the battles. By the incredible power of God.  His will be done, not mine.  And I began to embrace not my plans for my life, but God's plans for my life.  How did I know them?  I didn't really at first.  But I prayed constantly and God revealed his ways to me and shined a light in the direction he wanted me to go.  So it all began falling into place. 

It's very difficult.  But finally, a challenge worth taking.  No more lounging at clubs or grungy bars hoping to get drunk enough to talk to a random girl and maybe have a night of fun, only to feel empty and hopeless the next morning.  No more sitting in basements smoking bowls, and wishing something meaningful would happen in my life.  No more tripping out in summer, trying to trick myself into believing for a few moments that I'm really on a mind changing journey. And all too soon the realization would come that it was just another fragmented high, gone, taking much of me with it. Soon enough no amount of tripping could conceal the fact that I was an obese, chemically twisted failure of a human being.  The challenge of Christianity changed all that.  No more darkness and sadness and suicidal thoughts, no more laying in roads wishing to be hit by a car!  No more hospital beds, and no more staying up all night talking, thinking we're smart, but not remembering a word of what we said.  

Instead, a real challenge.  To live a real life!  To live a life outside the internet, outside the movie screen, outside the dope house, outside mom and pop's basement in suburbia.  To really live for something greater.  A real challenge, wow.  It is tough, yet so very worth it.  

So quickly, ten positions of the mind, developments of the soul that I've encountered within the Christian life.  They come in the fullness of time, in prayer, in study, and in His willingness to give them.  These revelations are short in comparison with the wealth of genius and growth God gives over the fullness of time.

1.  One of the earliest revelations I had was the moment of being sold out: God must have all there is of me.  God must be all in my life, no compromises, no half measures.  God gave that thought, my part was to resolve to see it through, patiently over time. 

2. In surrender is vast power.  I got low, very low to the ground in worship to God early on and to this day.  This physical response reflects an eternal reliance upon God in all circumstances.  It's necessary because this new attitude is just that, new. It does not come easily.  Beating back internal rebellion is best accomplished through prayer, flat upon the ground.  It sounds odd, trust me, it's amazing.

3. Cultivating an attitude of gratefulness is essential to daily worship.  The more I thank God throughout the day, the more I come to realize just how blessed I am.  I've taken for granted everything in my life, being a pompous self-entitled middle class suburban kid.  Reality sets in when learning about life in the rest of the world where food and shelter are often scarce.  No need for guilt though, just more praise and thankfulness to God.  Easy to describe, it even seems cliche' but if one can actually put it into practice, that's where it's powerful.

4.  God has made you with the option of standing on the heights. Psalm 18:33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.  This one is a mystery to me.  It has something to do with wisdom, but also much more.  I think it must be related to worldview, to understanding reality, yet also to do with an attitude of mind.  I'm learning. 

5. God gives us the gift of mounting up on wings like eagles (Isaiah 41:30).  The mystery here is of deliverance. And of strength.  Even youths grow weary.  Very weary, if your like me.  Yet God promises a future where we will mount up on wings like eagles.  We will walk and not grow weary, we will run and not be faint.  I've often had dreams of running, jogging, and loving the wind in my face. I run along dark suburban streets, through dark woods, though I'm not afraid, along ancient trails, though I know not where I tread.  And I see the beautiful dark city, and the trees.  This is a gift God gives, of being at full speed, of being strong and able to perceive the world and see the beauty of life.  It is part of that Christ-like mindset of awe and wonder, and also of consistent strength and wisdom. 

6. In suffering we mature.  Every saint will go through dark midnights of the soul.  They are so very natural in our Christian walk.  Don't let anyone condemn you and get on you, that somehow you have to always been cheerful and joyous.  That is not so.  There are certainly tough times, dark times, and dark midnights of the soul.  No need for pretending.  Be real.  If they don't get it, oh well.  But on the back end of suffering, and through trials I'll find myself coming out the other end amazed by a new strength I feel.  I run my hands across my arms and chest and back and find new spiritual muscles have formed where there had only been flubber.  Through suffering and trials we mature into more full stable Christians.  It's really quite amazing.  I always take a particular delight after coming out of trial, to find myself crafted a bit more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  It is something to be grateful for.

7. Desperate to Share.  This is where zeal, power, faith, love , and wisdom combine to form a blazing fire, a Spirit fire of conviction, conviction, conviction to share the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a consuming fire within, a conviction unbendable.  This same desperation, this zeal has stood against the worst threats of death and martyrdom from the worst evils across history.  The fire of the Spirit, the zeal to share the gospel ensures that the gospel is spread throughout the world.  And it ensures that the true disciples give up their lives for Jesus Christ at the proper moments to bring Him glory. 

8. Seeking Knowledge & Wisdom - This is one of my favorites.  I love wisdom and I love knowledge.  I love reading books.  I love listening to audiobooks.  I love watching documentaries.  I love browsing Youtube for lectures, sermons, apologetics, and presentations.  I love taking college courses and writing papers.  I love searching for books on sins I struggle with, reading them, and finding victory over sin.  This journey is fun, it's astonishing, and so rewarding. Many Christians reject wisdom, don't be foolish like that, seek it out. 

9.  His Will be done, not mine.  Oh how hard it is to set aside my plans for His plan.  I wanted to be a writer, a blogger, a podcast host or some such thing.  But God set me into ministry in the Salvation Army and I follow where he leads.  Are you following Him or are you stubbornly staking out your own way?  God's plan extends into romance, into friendships, personal conduct, money, goals, plans, political views, and personal moral framework.  His will in all these things be done, not mine. 

10. All for His Glory.  Finally, my internal motivation.  Who am I doing it for?  My own personal prestige?  Or for His eternal glory?  All we can do is ask God to make us right in this area.  And seek to have the heart of a servant.  This is a profound mystery.  But God makes it possible.  All for Him.  All for His glory and honor.  Amen.  

The greatest wisdom is in his word of course.  One of the greatest choices I've ever made was to trust God's word fully.  I started off exceedingly skeptical of the Bible.  I tended to lean toward my own personal opinions instead of God's teaching.  I tended to assume if I didn't understand a scripture, that perhaps it was wrong or misrecorded.  I don't think that anymore.  I realize that if I don't understand something yet, the fault lies with me, not the word.  Trust his word.  And believe in God.  Belief is trusting that God is really real, that Jesus Christ is really alive, seated in glory in heaven, and faith is trusting Him, that he will do what is right and that His word is really the truth about life and reality.  

If you cultivate that vital relationship with God through Christ, on a daily basis, and pursue wisdom in your life, you will find greater revelations than these on the journey of life.  Grow and flourish as a Christian.  You've been called to victory, to overcome the world.  Embrace that legacy and live the victory as your new Christian mindset.  

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