Publication:Pastoral Letter,July 2017
Dear Friend in Christ:
A man walks into a pet store and sees the owner with his finger in the aquarium. “What are you doing?” the man asks. The owner replies, “I am using mind control on these fish; see, they are swimming around my finger.”
The phone rings, and the owner leaves to answer it. The man decides to try mind control on the fish. When the owner returns, the man is making swimming motions and gulping air. The fish had gained control over his mind. What controls your mind?
This story would be funny except that many people are being controlled by outside forces and have lost self-control. When self-control is lost, freedom to choose is lost as well; then we are in bondage to someone else or something else. That is another way of saying “We have lost our minds.”
The Bible says a lot about the mind: love God with our mind, renew our mind, have this mind, think on this; Jesus tells us to love God with our minds (see Luke 10:27). The “mind” is the thoughts and influences that inform the brain. The brain is the organ that controls the body, but the mind (mentality) is what controls the brain and therefore the body and entire life. The power of the mind is almost incomprehensible. In regard to the mind, I highly recommend Dr. Carolyn Leaf, a neuroscientist and biblical psychologist.
As in the case of the man controlled by the fish, seemingly intelligent people can be manipulated by people of lesser intelligence who are motivated by some evil purpose. I could cite Hitler’s control over Germany, Stalin’s control over Russia, Mao’s control over China, or numerous other examples. The truth is that every day, millions of people have “lost their minds”, their freedoms, and in some cases their lives. When the mindset goes bad, it takes brain and body with it. Often, it takes other lives as well; think of suicide bombers.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
Blame goes all the way back to Eden. Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the devil. So it is that it seems natural to blame someone else for how we think and what we do; but God will have none of it. He holds us personally accountable for our actions. Therefore, we are personally accountable for how we think and what we think. It is our mind, our brain and our responsibility. We have choices. Dr. Beverly Smallwood has written an excellent book, “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me”, which deals with our choices.
The Bible often references our responsibility to be self-controlled and how we should think (see Proverbs 25:28; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 5:22, 23; Philippians 2:2-10; 4:4-9; Titus 1:8; 2 Peter 1:5-9). The Sermon on the Mount addresses how to think (see Matthew 5-7).
To give over our minds to someone else or something else is to become a victim. “Victim psychology” has rendered untold numbers of people poor, helpless, hopeless, depressed, sick, or otherwise damaged. In order to avoid those conditions, we must take responsibility for what we allow to inform our mind, enter our brain, or occupy our thoughts. We may be unable to change our circumstances immediately, but we can change how we consider them.
In order to change how we think, we may need help. To change our internal patterns of thought, we need better input, and that is a life-long process if we are going to continue to grow and live life fully.
The Bible tells us that we are overcomers, regardless of the issues (Romans 8:37). We all deal with genetic issues, and we are born with tendencies. We all deal with issues from our formative years, home life, community life, education, and a host of other issues. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world.
In some cases, we must overcome toxic friendships, or a post-trauma from some events. Then there are habits and addictions that have us under control. Unforgiveness and bitterness could be added to
Regardless of our personal list of controlling factors, there is good news: the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. That is what the Gospel is all about: hope, new birth, deliverance, redemption, being set free, and finishing our life well. The Gospel informs and transforms the mind and therefore brain and body as well.
WHAT MUST WE DO?
Note the word “do”. We must be ready to act. When this question was put to Peter and the apostles on the day of Pentecost, the answer was, “repent”. See where we are, be genuinely sorry before God, take responsibility, and turn around. Evidence of repentance would be baptism in the authority of Jesus Christ, and then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the divine power to change our lives and guide our future. That is where it all begins.
But it would be incorrect to say that Christians have solved all of the mind issues; otherwise the Bible would not have continued to address the subject of self-control or how to think. Notice Ephesians 6:10-20 which addresses our on-going battles. We are to arm ourselves with God’s knowledge, truth, righteous living, the Gospel, faith, the Word of God, and praying in the Holy Spirit. We are to be alert, persevere, and pray for others. These are protections and tools for our mastery of self and spiritual warfare. And these instructions are written to Christians.
I am a great admirer of George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery and yet became a famous scientist and inventor. History is full of people who were born with handicaps or disabilities of some kind who made great contributions to humanity. Thomas Edison had dyslexia and other problems but overcame to become a prolific inventor. I could go on, but you get the point. Those who take the “no excuses” mind-set can and will excel. We all have much more potential than we realize.
Here are some things that I suggest even as I say with Paul, “I have not yet apprehended” (see Philippians 3:13). Paul was good at forgetting the past and pressing toward the prize of his high calling. Let us look at what can help us progress.
- Check out your view of God. Whatever you worship will either transform or deform you. Look at the Lord’s attributes as recorded in Scripture. Bad theology is the most detrimental influence on our mind-set.
- If you are a worshiper of God, the God of the Bible and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, fill your mind with His Word. It is the “lamp for our feet and light for our path.”
- Be humble before God and remain open to His correction and counsel. Avoid pride and arrogance, especially when succeeding. Pride is a mind closer.
- Choose what influences you will allow into your mentality. Remember it is your choice and responsibility—not someone else’s.
- Choose friends wisely. You can love someone without allowing their influence. Those you allow to become close will have a major impact.
- Speaking of wisdom, ask God for it; it is the principle thing (see Proverbs 8; James 1:5). Wisdom is the ability to discern issues and apply your knowledge; it is a gift from God.
- Learn to listen, especially to the Holy Spirit. Jesus warns over and over “Be careful how you hear” (see Luke 8:18; Mark 4:24; I John 4:1-2). Those that hear will hear more.
- Learning to listen should proceed talking. Infants learn by listening, but unfortunately, as we grow, we become enamored with talking. We need a course on how to hear; bad experience can painfully provide such a course.
- Watch what you watch. The eye, like the ear is a gift from God (see Proverbs 20:12). We are now in a “visual age”. Television and video have transformed our way of perceiving. For many, what we see overpowers what we have heard. Pornography is a major problem in the United States and contributes to many serious problems such as divorce, trafficking, and even suicide.
- Read often and read good things. My friend Ern Baxter used to say, “My books are my friends.” He had thousands of “friends.” Reading helps to keep the brain sharp and reading good things keeps the mind healthy. Especially the Word of God!
- On the physical side, bear in mind that your body will affect your mind-set. Therefore, eat properly, exercise, keep toxins out, and keep tabs on your heart, blood sugar, blood pressure, and other important information. Be your own case manager.
- Teach your mind to focus on what is happening around you and the priority before you. That is one of my challenges in that I have ADD. Being aware “in the moment” can save us a lot of pain and grief. I try to keep a daily list to help me focus.
- “Don’t waste your failures.” I heard Coach Nick Saban say that. Using failure or short comings to do it better in the future will redeem our failures for useful purposes.
- Give yourself to serve God and others. My Dad used to say that “the happiest people are those who live for a cause beyond themselves.” Dad was a happy man.
- Learn how to handle money. Money problems are the source of anxiety for many people, both for those who have it or don’t have it. I accepted Philippians 4:19 at the age of 18. It changed my life. I try to put God first in my stewardship (see Luke 16:10-12).
- Learn to laugh, especially at yourself. The joy of the Lord is our strength (see Nehemiah 8:10). A merry heart is good medicine (see Proverbs 17:22)!
I am sure that you could add to this list of practical issues to help us control our minds. I would welcome your input.
My purpose is not to bind us with heavy burdens but to keep us free and in self-control and not by some outside force. Our service to Jesus Christ is purely voluntary. “Whosoever will” is His invitation. He Who has all power leaves it to us to decide for ourselves where our minds are influenced. Those who would coerce and rob us of choice are not godly. Good advice always leaves us the option. A good life is more than good luck; it is the consequence of good decisions.
In this letter, I have not dealt with our “spirit” which is a major factor in our mindset, but perhaps I will later. Remember, you and I do have a spirit, a breath of motivation that influences our mind-set and actions. Mentality and intellect are not the entire story; we need God’s Holy Spirit to move upon us and our world.
I join the Apostle Paul in praying, “Now may the God peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful
is He who calls you; He will surely do it” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Scripture reference:1 Thessalonians 5:23; Nehemiah 8:10; Proverbs 17:22Luke 16:10-12; Philippians 4:19;Proverbs 20:12; I John 4:1-2; Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18; James 1:5; Proverbs 8; Philippians 3:13;Ephesians 6:10-20; Matthew 5-7; Titus 1:8;2 Peter 1:5-9;Philippians 2:2-10; Galatians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Proverbs 25:28; Luke 10:27