New Year, New Mind

Welcome to week two of our New Year, New You series. Last week was about the new heart that God offers. Everyone needs the new heart that only Jesus can give. If you missed that talk, you can listen or read it online at y-church.com.

Once you’ve received the new heart, another new thing begins, one that God calls us to daily, actively participate in. And that is, the call to constantly renew your mind. Everyone needs a new heart, and we also all need renewed minds.

The idea that being a Christian means checking your brain at the door couldn’t be further from the truth. This morning I want to give you a brief overview of what God says about your mind. If you’re taking notes, here’s where we begin:

God says your gray matter matters.

Your mind matters to God. More than 160 times throughout the Old and New Testaments, God addresses the mind. One of the most compelling statements about the mind is found in Jesus’ answer to someone trying to trap him with a Bible knowledge question. Good luck with that, trying to stump the Bible’s author. Here’s the passage, Matthew 22:36-40:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

Your mind matters. The greatest commandment; that which God himself says matters most is loving God with all your mind.

Your mind weighs about three and a half pounds. It comprises only about two percent of your body’s mass, but it uses twenty-five per percent of the body’s energy. Your mind is like central command.

Science estimates that the brain receives 100 million bits of information per second. Your brain contains 100 billion cells, many of which are neurons. Neurons can be as short as a millimeter, or as long as a meter! Neurons communicate by sending chemical and electrical signals at 200 miles per hour. When the charge reaches the end of the cell, it leaps the synapse—the gap to the next neuron. Combined, your brain has the possibility of making a million billion synaptic connections—that’s 10 followed by a million zeros! Compare that to the number of particles in the known universe—10 followed by just 80 zeros.

The brain is unfathomably complex. We truly are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139 sings. God says your gray matter matters.

Source: Jeffrey Arthurs, Boston, Massachusetts; source: Greg Boyd and Al Larson, Escaping the Matrix: Setting Your Mind Free to Experience Real Life in Christ (Baker, 2005), page 31

That’s all well and good, except for what comes next. And that is that…

 

History shows how dark our minds can go.

If the passage we just read from Jesus shows how important the mind is to God, the passage we’re about to read shows how dark our minds can go. Romans chapter one begins on the high note that with our minds, everyone knows that God exists and is awesomely powerful. Creation itself testified to God’s existence and power.

But…God created us with the ability to choose. And what both the Bible and history show again and again is our tendency to go to ever-darker places in our minds, which in turn produces ever-darker ways of dealing with one another.

Romans 1:28-32 explains:

“As they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Romans 1:28-32

Put that side by side against what Jesus says is the greatest commandment, and the verdict becomes crystal clear: we desperately need our minds to be renewed, changed, improved, lifted to better places than human history and much of our own personal history shows.

We all have the potential to become like the kids who after a big rainstorm, found a gully filled with water. So they grabbed a football and jumped in. Every tackle would send them sliding for yards on their bellies. One kid tackled his buddy Craig then and watching Craig skim across the water dramatically, thought to himself, “I might be in heaven.”

But when he got up, he noticed something stuck on his friend’s shoulder. He took a close look, then glanced at the big sewage runoff drain right next to where they were playing, and apartment complex looming over them. And it suddenly struck him that they didn’t really pay attention to what was floating in the water they were playing in until he noticed that something on Craig’s shoulder. It was a big, wet run of toilet paper. That realization was immediately followed by a sharpened sense of smell, that this didn’t smell like a mud football game ought to smell. They all bolted for home as fast as they could. True story.

Sometimes we think we’re having a blast, until the realization dawns that in fact we’ve been rolling around in mental sewage. Think about this: no one described in the beginning of Romans chapter one imagined where they would end up in that long, slow slide into mental and spiritual darkness. But this is reality. This is what history demonstrates again and again. No one is immune. We need renewed minds. And information alone won’t do it.

One of the companies founded by Elon Musk is Neuralink. In an IT article last week, Musk explained his that his plan for the company is to “save the human race.” Direct quote. How he intends to save humanity is by way of a microchip implanted in the brain that would give you the digital intelligence needed to progress beyond the limits of our biological intelligence.

[Source: https://itmunch.com/future-elon-musks-neuralink/]

Musk is a brilliant man. But the fatal flaw in that intention is that it fails to take into account humanity’s track record. Knowledge alone never transforms anyone. We need something more, something deeper. And it is to that we now turn. It is for that that Jesus died and rose and reigns and is returning. If you’re taking notes, the third point is that…

God’s mercy toward us ought to prompt a mind dedicated to him.

Open your Bible with me to Romans chapter 12. After taking eleven out of sixteen chapters to lay out in great detail our need for the new heart and renewed minds, this is the hinge, the turning point of the whole letter to the Romans, turning from what God has already done, to what we’re now to do with the Lord’s help. And it all starts with your mind. Romans 12:1-2:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2

JB Phillips NT translation says…

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within.” We desperately need our thought life to be renewed.

Notice the two key words here. The word translated be transformed here is the one from which we get metamorphosis. The classic example of metamorphosis is the dramatic change from caterpillar to butterfly. It’s a transformation.

That’s what God wants to do with your thought life: change it from dark to light, from ignorance to discernment, from foolishness to wisdom. If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, think of it this way: Less Gollum, more Gandalf. That’s the goal. Gollum started out as an ordinary fellow by the name Smeagol. He became something shriveled and self-consumed. Whereas Gandalf also became something over time—only in his case, what he became was admirable and wise, heroic and self-sacrificial. What is God’s intention with regard to our minds? Less Gollum, more Gandalf.

The only way that happens is by actively devoting yourself to renewing your mind. My next-door neighbors are currently in the process of renovating their kitchen. The same word used here for renewing your mind is used elsewhere for…renovation. Making things better, upgrading. That’s what God offers as you devote yourself gratefully to him, every day for as long as you live. This is true Christianity, not merely praying a prayer once and then going on auto-pilot.

There’s a great article in your bulletin today from James Emery White. In his book A Mind for God, he gives this great quote from Os Guiness:
“Thinking Christianly is thinking…about anything and everything in a consistently Christian way – in a manner that is shaped, directed, and restrained by the truth of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.”
[Source: Os Guinness, quoted in A Mind for God by James Emery White, pg 20-21]

Imagine what God could do with us, with this church, if all of us, every day, took a fresh look at the mercies of God. And then freshly struck with his undeserved kindness to us, we then offer ourselves to him and his service, body and mind. Pursue things that make for renewed thinking, thinking more like Jesus, led by the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Can you imagine what God could do among us and through us?

The Holy Spirit offers an awesome renovation, an upgrade from stinking thinking to renewed thinking. And if this sounds too theological, try this:

“The mind is like rice on a stove – it must be stirred constantly.

The mind is like hamburger helper – it thickens upon standing.

The mind is like a burrito – it’s only as good as what you put into it.

The mind is like pizza dough – it needs to be stretched.”

[Source: anonymous, found online]

We need renewed minds. When Dan Meyer was a teenager, he had a friend who had a disturbing way of pointing things out that Dan found downright uncomfortable. In one discussion, John suggested that Dan didn’t know as much about himself as he thought he did and, furthermore, he would probably never change.

Dan hurled back that John was wrong; that he understood himself pretty well; and who was John to tell him that he could never change if he wanted to! Then John said something that shocked Dan into silence. He said, “Dan, there are things about you that you can never change. The reason you can never change them is you can’t see them. The reason you can’t see them is that you are using them to see.”

Over the decades since John said that to Dan, the truth of his challenge has melted deeper and deeper into Dan’s mind. Today Dan says, “I’ve come to realize how hard genuine change of character and behavior is for me, how hard it is for me to discern what needs changing about me, because my perception of myself and the world around me is so distorted.”

That’s offering your mind to the Lord, letting him transform your thinking, from the ways of the world, to the ways of the Lord. It’s a process, a daily, lifelong process of being able to test and approve what God thinks on any given choice.

[Source: Adapted from Dan Meyer, “Love Among the Ruins”]

The Message paraphrase is so clear here. It reads…

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

I want to move to three…

Practical implications

This is so important, that I want to get intensely practical. If you walk out of here with mere information, you will be like the guy described in the book of James who looks in the mirror, but the second he walks away, he forgets what he looks like. If you look in the mirror and see a stalk of hair sticking out at a crazy angle, fix it! Tranform it. Metamorphize! If you look into the mirror of God’s Word this morning and see a thought life that needs to change, start now! Here’s where. Three practical implications. Practical implication number one:

Execute a plan to get God’s Word in your mind.

Right now, I’d like you to take out your phone and open it up to the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. Type in “Read Scripture.” You should find an app that looks like this. It says it’s from Crazy Love Ministries. Download it. It’s free, and it will give you a plan to get through the Bible this year, starting today. Go ahead and download it right now, I urge you.

I started it recently, and it is great. Very creative cartoon videos that introduce each section with very good teaching presented in a fun way. A passage to read for that day, and then a psalm to pray through. We’re going to include this info in the bulletin every week this year, so we can all do this together.

If you want a renewed mind, here’s where to start: start a plan to get God’s Word into your mind. Schedule a 15-minute appointment in your calendar to start today, before kick-off time if you’re watching the games.

The Holy Spirit prompted Paul to urge Christians to offer our minds to God to be renewed, transformed, one day at a time. The best way to do that begins with daily getting God’s Word into your mind.

We’ll talk more about this as we march on through the year. For example, I’m listening to the Bible sometimes while driving, reading it other times (not while driving!). Do what works for you. I can help you with the logistics. We can swap tips and tricks. But ultimately it has to be your choice to pursue a mind that is actively being transformed. That begins with God’s Word.

The second practical implication builds on the first.

Go public with what you’re thinking.

Start this Bible reading or listening plan today yourself. And…let’s get something new started as a church, together. The new year is the best, most natural time to start something together. Most new year commitments are abandoned by February. We’re going to keep this up front and visible all year. Here’s how.

Each day you read the Bible following the plan, post something on social media about it. Share a favorite verse from that day’s reading or a quote from the video. Share how a passage speaks to you. Wonder aloud what a verse means. Share something the Lord is impressing on you. But go public, as a way to keep yourself engaged, and as a way to spur one another on in pursuing renewed minds.

If you will do this, we together will position ourselves to hear what the Spirit is saying to us. The whole point of the seven letters to seven churches in Revelation is that the Holy Spirit has a specific word for each specific church in their specific time and place. Let’s lean in to listen together, by taking in God’s Word. Imagine becoming a church where everyone together is listening for the voice of Jesus speaking through his Word.

One more. The third practical implication of God’s call to be transformed by the renewing of our minds is…

Focus more on what’s to come than on what’s going around.

Fix your focus less on whatever crisis happens to be going on at the moment. Focus more on the hope of how things will be when Christ returns. That’s where the New Testament tells us to put our mental energy. Colossians 3:1-2 say precisely this:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Colossians 3:1-2

Here’s why: if all you ever take in is what’s happening around the world, you’ll get dragged down. Corrie ten Boom, who survived two Nazi concentration camps and witnessed to her sister’s death in one of them, said,

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed.

If you look within, you’ll be depressed.

But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”

It’s all about what you allow your mind to focus on, dwell on, marinade in. Here’s where a mind at peace is found:

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed.

If you look within, you’ll be depressed.

But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”

The Message paraphrase of Colossians 3:1-2 says, “Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.”

Again, the way to be able to do that, the way to see things more from Christ’s perspective, is to get God’s Word into your mind. Get going on a Bible reading or Bible listening plan. It will help you set your mind on things above, so you don’t get consumed by tragedies and heartbreak flying around that extend beyond your ability to influence and your responsibility to carry.

When it all starts to become too much, remind yourself that the way things are is not the way they always will be. When Christ returns, he will complete the transformation he has begun in all who follow him. He will make everything…new.

In chapter 21 of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, the Lord says of that day…

“I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.

Then in the final chapter we hear this:

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

And we, with minds fully devoted to Christ who is returning for us, echo the final words of the Bible, which say:

“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Until that day, hear the Holy Spirit urging you to daily offer yourself to the Lord. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.