Sept. 22nd, 2019 | Series: Transformed

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TRANSFORMED: The Mind & the Heart and Fits & Starts    Pastor Larry Boatright                     (1st Service)  {Manuscript—See video for full content}

We’re in a series called “Transformed” and the last few weeks have been journeying together toward biblical wholeness.   We’ve talked about how the Scriptures call us to be transformed, and that we are being transformed into the wholeness of Jesus.  I love what professor, pastor, and author Robert Mulholland says:  “The Christian journey, therefore, is an intentional and continual commitment to a lifelong process of growth toward wholeness in Christ.”  We put up this slide a couple of weeks ago to show you that our lives are very complex, there’s multiple parts to our lives.  Even though we’re complex and have a lot of different parts, the good news is that the Gospel has the power to impact far more than just our relationship with God or our standing with God.  The Gospel should impact all of our lives.  So in this series, we’re looking at different parts of our lives that should be transformed by the power of the Gospel.  Last week, Dr. Wenig shared with us about transformed relationships as an area God wants to heal.  Relationships are currency of life, aren’t they?  Almost everything you think of that you do involves relationship of some kind.

Today, I want you to turn into your Bibles to Romans 12:1-2, and we’re going to go back to the verse that’s kind of been a keystone verse for us and we’re going to talk a bit about transformation.   1 Therefore, 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. 2 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.  

We talked about how conformed is to shape around something, to take the shape of something, to be patterned after something.  I want to be really clear, the Scripture is not saying don’t be conformed to anything.  We should be conformed into the likeness and image of Jesus.  As we begin to follow Jesus, we should experience some level of starting to bend around Jesus, to start to look like Jesus, but it tells us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world.  The Greek word for “be transformed” is metamorphoo.  We said the definition of transformation was “to change into another form or image.”  Really, we are being transformed from one state, one type of thing, into another.  Why?

If you look a little bit further into that passage, it’s so you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  We should be transformed so we can know what God’s will is, so we can know what He is inviting us into, so we can know how we can best partner with Jesus in His kingdom, for the renewal of all things. We talked about how our process of transformation wasn’t just for us, it was for the sake of others.  {By the way, if you haven’t listened to week one yet, you should definitely go back and check that out, so you know where we’re going in the series.}

So we know that transformation means being changed from one state to another.   We know that it involves being transformed into the image and likeness, or the wholeness, of Jesus.  And we know why….so we can  know God’s will and partner with Jesus.   Today, I want to talk about the HOW… are we transformed into whole human beings by the power of the Gospel?

The mind is a part of who we are, and, from this verse, it seems pretty clear that it is the MECHANISM of transformation—be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Clearly, it’s really important.  Somehow the mind has the ability to impact all the other areas of our life.  That should be the easy part, right?  I just have to transform my mind then I’m fine, right?  I’m renewing my mind and it’s easy.   Maybe you’ve been reading your bible like crazy; maybe you’ve been memorizing a lot of scriptures; maybe you’ve been listening to a ton of sermons; maybe you’ve been faithfully having a “quiet time”; maybe you’re working really hard to avoid letting certain kinds of things into your mind.  But, if you’re honest, even though we’re doing those things, it just doesn’t feel like the Gospel has permeated all areas of our lives.  And maybe it’s left you frustrated, or hurt, or confused, or exhausted. We work pretty hard to emulate Jesus.  Emulation is a part of, but not equal to, transformation.  It’s good to emulate Jesus; as a matter of fact, early on our journey of following Jesus, this might be one of the first things we learn to do—you do these types of things to look like Jesus.  But all too often, we spend our energy learning how to LOOK like Jesus, but I’m convinced Jesus is inviting us to something much deeper.  He’s inviting us to transform from broken, hurting people into whole human beings that spend time with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do as Jesus did, that is a picture of wholeness.  Paul tells us that the way we get there is by the renewing of our mind.

The word for “renewal” is the word anakainōsis (ἀνακαίνωσις).  This word isn’t found outside of Christian literature, but it literally means a renovation or to breathe new life into something.  I think that’s beautiful because it’s a great reminder for us that none of this happens apart from the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing through us.  I’m curious why we’re so exhausted from trying to do all these things apart from the Holy Spirit.  I think we’re not releasing control to the Spirit of God.  What I want to do today is press into this Scripture a little bit, and unpack together what that might mean, and see how, if we were able to experience transformation in our minds, it could transform all of us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s pray, and ask the Spirit to be our guide and to begin to work on renewing our minds, even right now, in this service, or wherever you might be as you listen.  Holy Spirit, you are the One who illuminates all things that are true of you. It’s not by our might or our power that we are transformed, it’s because of you. Help us to partner with you well this morning—open our eyes that we might see, and open our ears that we might hear, and that we might be transformed into the wholeness of Christ, for your glory and for the sake of the world.  In Jesus’ name….AMEN.

If we’re transformed by the renewing of the mind, we should probably talk a little bit about what the mind is. What exactly do we mean by the word “mind”?  In English translations of the Scriptures, the word “mind” is there between 100 and 120 times, and the farther we go into the New Testament, the more it’s used; the frequency increases greatly, especially in the writings of Paul.  In the Old Testament, it’s used sixty-seven times in the NIV.  It uses a variety of words to describe the mind—heart, the spirit, the soul, the thinking self, and more. The Old Testament uses the term “heart” quite often to describe what we mean by the mind.  They believed it was the seat of the emotions, it was the core of who we are.  The concept of the heart and the mind are fairly interchangeable.

In the New Testament, in the NIV, the word “mind” is used fifty-three times.  There’s about twenty words to describe what that is.  In Romans 12:2, it is the Greek word nous (νοῦς – “noose”), and it means “the intellect, that is, mind (divine or human; in thought, feeling, or will).”  It’s interesting as I was studying this, a lot of us have this conception that the mind is thoughts.  That’s true, but it’s just a part of it.  The dictionary definition of mind is: The element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc.  So both Scripture and the psychological understanding of the mind define the mind essentially as the part of our brain that both thinks and feels and has will.  Does that make sense?

It’s kind of cool that modern science affirms what the Scriptures have been saying all along. The field of neuroscience is becoming a hot topic these days.  And part of it is because technology has advanced to the point where scientists and doctors can scan the brain, in real time, and see much of what’s happening.  As a matter of fact, psychiatrists are scanning the brain, in real time, and having people talk about a traumatic event that happened in the past, and they’re able to see exactly what’s happening in their brain—what centers of the brain are being triggered.  They realize that when someone retells a story of trauma, their brain doesn’t know the difference between it happening in real time or if it was long ago.  Isn’t that interesting?  While there’s a lot we don’t know yet about the brain, scientific understanding has advanced to the point where we know a LOT about how our brains physically function, but how it affects our thoughts and feelings as well.

I want to give you a fairly simple way to understand how the parts of our brain works together to make up our mind.  I want you to take your hand and put your palm out flat.  I want you to wiggle your thumb.  This represents your amygdala.  This is the part of the brain that feels and is responsible for safety and survival.  It’s the older part of our brain.  Tuck your thumb in and curl your fingers over your thumb.  The fingers represent the pre-frontal cortex.  The pre-frontal cortex is the part of our brain that thinks, reasons, makes executive decisions, and gives us personality.  It’s the super-intelligent part of us.  The pre-frontal cortex and amygdala work together to reason, to feel, to perceive, and so on.

Here’s how they work together.  If you to the zoo and see a vicious lion, for example…, wait, that’s Mufasa. {Real lion on screen}  Your amygdala, apart from the pre-frontal cortex, might think, “DANGER!! There’s a LION!!” and then release a ton of cortisol and adrenaline (both hormones), and lead to a response of fight—you might want to try to attack that lion.  Or flight—you might want to take off running.  Or freeze—you might stand in place and hope it doesn’t see you.  Or appease—you might try to do something to make peace with this lion.  And those responses are hard-wired into our brains; but if you do those four things at the zoo, you will look like an idiot!  Fortunately, God gives us the pre-frontal cortex that partners with it.  The pre-frontal cortex works to look at your surroundings and reason that there is a fence or a pane of glass between you and you’re safe, so it doesn’t cause the hormones to go crazy.  They work together to allow you to think, feel, and act properly.

Over time, neural pathways form that reinforce the way we think and feel.  They’re sort of tubes that go between parts of the brain and how the different parts talk to one another.    Over time, those things become a well-worn path.  They become consistent.   Have you ever seen a trail worn into a pasture by cows? It’s not always in a perfect straight line, which drives me nuts, but that’s the well-worn path they’ve grown to take.  Our neural pathways are the same way. Over time, we train our brain to function in a specific way, and we become a bit rigid in our patterns of thinking, and our patterns of feeling.  Why am I telling you this?  I want you to grasp the fact that your mind is made up of various parts of the brain that were designed by God to give you a range of human experience, to understand God, the world, others, and yourselves.  And I want you to know that you need to understand that there is more to you than what and how you think, and I want to invite you to look beyond the surface to see what’s really going on inside.

Years ago, I was living in Texas.  It’s really hot in the summer.  One time, my wife and I noticed it was starting to smell like death in our garage. We tore our garage apart looking everywhere for the source of the smell.  It was a relatively new house so we were really confused by this.  We could not find the source of the stink.  I resolved myself to think some animal has climbed into the walls of the home and it died, so we were just going to have to live with it until it fully rots and all the stench goes away.  Fast forward a few weeks—unbearable smell, nasty—-my wife Annette calls me and said she discovered the source of the smell.  She said, “There’s a dead chicken in the garage.”  I thought, “Surely I would have seen this thing, but maybe somehow I missed it.”  She said, “There’s one more thing.  There’s a dead cow in the garage too.”  I couldn’t imagine missing a huge cow.  Then she tells me we forgot to check one place…..our deep freeze.  It was loaded with chicken legs, steaks and roasts.  The GFI plug had gotten tripped and the breaker was off.  Everything in the deep freeze rotted!  So I, being a male who’s an idiot, walk up and I go to investigate for myself.  I open the lid and I take a look and all of a sudden…    I have trauma in my nose hairs still to this day from this thing!!

Here’s the thing, if we try to ignore some of the parts of how God wired us, if we don’t get to the deeper level beyond just thinking, if we simply take in information and think about it, we’ll never be fully formed into the image and likeness of Christ, because there may be parts of us—-in our emotions and feelings—-that stinks.  We can’t figure out where it’s coming from.  Men, look at me, for whatever reason in our culture, there’s this difficulty often for men to be in tune with their emotions.  Females would love nothing more than for you to be in tune with your emotions.  What if you come from a stoic home and you’re taught not to show your emotions?  Why are you crying?  Are you weak?  Are you a wimp?  Are you a big baby?  For some of us, those words cut real deep, because we heard those words.  We were taught that we put on this strong exterior shell.  When we do that and adopt that way of thinking and we start shutting down our emotional selves, neural pathways form that cause us to be stuck and not in tune with this vibrant, vital part of who God created us to be.  If we want to truly experience transformation, if we want the Gospel to change us from the inside out, we have to partner fully with how God has wired us and pursue wholeness in every area.

We talked about how the Scriptures call us to transformation and that we should be transformed from fractured, broken human beings into the wholeness of Christ—whole human beings.  And we talked about how we’re transformed so we can know and partner with the will of God for the renewal of all things. We talked about what the mind was—thoughts, emotions, heart.  And how the renewing of the mind is the key to transforming all of the other areas of our lives.  Now I want to shift gears and talk a bit about how the mind actually plays a part in transformation.  How we move from information to transformation.

The first part is INPUTS.  We all have inputs.  Those are things we see on TV, or reading books or other things, or other people talking to you, or music you listen to, or an email you get.  Or maybe inputs from our family of origin, like don’t feel this, don’t think that, think this, vote this way.  All those things are inputs and those are normal parts of our existence.  We live in a world that has tons and tons of inputs.  I remember back in 2007 when the iPhone came out and I went, “Oh, this is the key to my productivity.  Once I get the iPhone I’ll be so much more productive.”   Twelve years later I’m…..What am I suppose to be doing?  What’s happening? Oh, Facebook!    I’m very distracted.  We all have inputs.

The second part is PROCESSING.  This is what we DO with those inputs.  This is the whole reason I’m getting into this; it’s such an important part of our journey.  This is what we do with what we’ve heard, from the way that we think about it, from the way it affects our emotions, the way we check it against our beliefs.  Our thinking and our emotions are inseparably linked.  We cannot split those out.

So we have inputs and we process those inputs.  Then we have BELIEFS.  I heard someone recently say beliefs were ideas we’ve decided were true.  It’s a set of assumptions that really are thoughts that solidified in our brains as RIGHT or TRUE.  So beliefs work in two ways—they are a database to reference during processing, and the underlying driver of behavior.  Out of your beliefs is what you do.

The next part of this is BEHAVIOR.  This is how we naturally act due to how we think, feel, and believe.  Those things are subconscious as well as intentional.  {Circular cycle:  Inputs —> Processing —> Beliefs —> Behavior —> Inputs —> Processing —> Beliefs —> Behavior….} This is a cycle.  If you think about it, you’re constantly getting inputs, and you’re constantly processing them, and you’re checking them against your beliefs and sometimes you’re shifting those beliefs, and out of those beliefs you’re doing behavior.  Sometimes you consciously choose to behave in a certain way.  I’m not judging this as negative or positive.  This is the mechanism of how transformation can happen.

A negative example—If your mother says you’re lazy.  That’s an input.  It comes into your mind and you start to process that through your thoughts….Huh, she says I’m lazy.  What is laziness?  I’ve made a calculation, I know what it is.  How do I feel that?  I don’t know if I’m lazy.   Then it moves to our beliefs….Well, I should trust mom and she said I’m lazy.  I believe this must be true, because I trust mom.  And then out of that I exhibit lazy behavior.  Now when I do that, other people see that lazy behavior and they become an input….Why are you being so lazy?   And it goes on and on and on like a vicious cycle.  Does that make sense?

The inverse is true.  Something positive—If I really believe that I’m loved by God….If I read the Scriptures and input comes in and I believe I’m loved by God and I process that in.  Then I believe it is true and start acting like someone who’s loved by God.  Make sense?

So, that’s how things that come into our eyes and ears and thoughts are engaged by the mind to create a transformation.  We’re being transformed from one thing to the next, now we have a choice in what exactly it is that we become transformed.  It’s not always a healthy transformation.  You can see how negative inputs, processing, and beliefs can lead to transformation that doesn’t line up with God’s truth.

I want to poke a little at ourselves.  Christianity has a tendency to focus on a carefully constructed system that often bypasses processing, where we talk so much about guarding our inputs.  Don’t listen to secular music.  Don’t watch secular TV.  Be militant about what you let in.  Rank the heart, it’s just trash, it’s flesh.  Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t chew, and don’t hang out with those who do.  In Christianity, we often train people to make it like Fort Knox around the inputs coming in.  Or adopting beliefs—-I’m told to believe a certain thing, so we skip processing and say, “Don’t do all these things, but do believe all these things.”  Then we emulate behavior—do these exact things.

Let me tell you what happens when we exclusively focus on those things, when we make that sort of our mission.  We get caught up in legalism.  We get enslaved.  We get conformed but not transformed.  We’re focusing on things that are oh, have the potential to be powerful, good things, but they’re not always the right things.  Sometimes they put us in bondage for years and years and years.  We read the Bible like crazy and we say we believe all these things and we act just like Jesus, but nothing is changed inside.  We’re very good at compartmentalizing.  We have to look at the whole picture.

So I want to unpack how we do healthy transformation.  How we can look at this cycle and make it whole, complete and transform us from one state to another.  The first part is managing our inputs.  We actually have a lot of control over the inputs into our minds, don’t we? It’s kind of like the choice we have around eating.   This is similar to getting physically healthy.   We can choose to avoid unhealthy things and NOT to allow some kinds of things in.  We really should think about what we’re putting in front of our eyes and ears that could make our mind and heart sick.  I love that in Job 31 it says that Job made a covenant with his eyes.  He was intentional about what he was putting in front of his eyes and what he allowed himself to do with what came in front of his eyes.    Proverbs 4:23 tells us to watch out for things that can hurt you:  Above all else, watch over your heart; diligently guard it because from a sincere and pure heart come the good and noble things of life. If you put healthy, positive things in, you process them in a healthy way, and they go deep into your heart as beliefs, out of that comes behavior for a good and healthy life.

So we might need to limit some things from our inputs, and that might be different from one person to the next.  You need to rely on the Holy Spirit to show you what you should or shouldn’t allow, and don’t be the Holy Spirit for another person.   We also can make sure we’re putting plenty of healthy things into our minds, as well.  Philippians 4:8 is a great example of what we should be putting in:  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.   You might do an inventory and ask yourself, “Self, what am I putting in my brain to think about? What kind of diet am I putting my brain on?”  And if you’re honest, you might have to shift from focusing on some things that aren’t healthy for you, to increasing your diet to more things from God’s truth.  Does that make sense?

But before we move on, I want to make sure we don’t get trapped in the false dichotomy of only allowing “SACRED” things vs. “SECULAR” things into our inputs and our processing.  We can work so hard to keep secular stuff out that we miss an opportunity to think the way Jesus would have us to think. Years ago, we were doing a series and showed a clip from “Lord of the Rings” to make a point. A man was so angry because he had worked to shelter his kids from any kind of secular influence, and he said “In 30 seconds, you undermined it all!” I’m not knocking his desire to raise his kids in a godly way, and I’m not saying you should just be able to do whatever you want with no consequences, either.  But what I am saying is that spending so much energy trying to keep every influence that isn’t labeled “Christian” away from us can rob us of learning how to think well and grow in the world around us.  Imagine if Jesus had done that, avoided all of the things that were messy.  Then we wouldn’t see stories of Him spending time with all kinds of people others might think are shady, like prostitutes, and fisherman, and tax collectors, and US!  I love James Montgomery Boice:  “To think Christianity itself is not a matter of thinking about Christian subjects as opposed to thinking about secular subjects, as we suppose, but rather to think in a Christian way about everything. It means to have a Christian mind.”  If we could internalize this, think of the implication to our formation, friends.  The goal isn’t to avoid everything that isn’t labeled Christian, it’s to learn to think Christianly about everything.

So managing our inputs means to avoid unhealthy things, put in healthy things, and to think Christianly about things.  And that moves us right on into this idea of processing well. Our brain is a very powerful thing, and our thinking and our emotions are powerful parts of us that are designed to work together well.  You might think you lean one way or another—maybe you’re more in tune with your thoughts than your emotions, or maybe it’s the other way around—but the patterns in our brains of how we think and feel have been forming for a long time. You might not process in the healthiest of ways.  Have you ever thought about that fact?  You think in a way that you’re programmed, that you’ve taught yourself to think.  But just because it’s how you think and how you feel, doesn’t mean it’s true.  It doesn’t mean that it’s right.

One way to process in a healthy way is to follow the command of the Scripture to take every thought captive. We have the remarkable ability to examine our thoughts as they come.  2 Corinthians 10:5 says—We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  If we seriously want to follow Jesus and allow Him to be the Lord of our lives, we should take everything and make it obedient to Him.  We should ask ourselves, “Is this pleasing to Him? Is this the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus?  Should this thing coming in be internalized or not?” You need to make it obedient to who Jesus is and what Jesus says.  This is one reason people meditate on Scripture….to learn to slow down and focus their thoughts and observe them as they come.  Does it line up with who Jesus is?  Does it line up with His nature? We think “Christianly” by taking our thoughts captive and not letting them own us and by not dwelling on things that aren’t healthy for us to dwell on, and making them obedient to Christ.

Another thing we might do to process well is to pursue emotional health.  This might be hard for some of us, especially if we haven’t seen it modeled well for us.  Our emotions are very complex. One popular model of emotions says there are eight core emotions:  Fear – Anger – Disgust – Shame – Sadness – Surprise – Joy/Excitement – Love/Trust.   Some of them are SURVIVAL-oriented emotions—Fear, Anger, Disgust, Shame, and Sadness.   Some of them are ATTACHMENT-oriented emotions—Joy, Love.  And Surprise can be either one, depending on what it is.  SURPRISE!! Here’s a new car!  That feels good!  SURPRISE!! The basement is flooded and a bunch of stuff is ruined.  That doesn’t feel so good.

The thing is, the SURVIVAL emotions trigger an onslaught of a chemical hormone called “cortisol.”  It’s a stress hormone that triggers the FIGHT-FLIGHT-FREEZE-APPEASE response.  It’s a powerful hormone. It has an 18-hour half-life, which basically means if you get triggered, hormones are pumping into your system and they’re there for a long, long time!  But the ATTACHMENT emotions release “oxytocin” and “dopamine” and make us feel really good.

Here’s the thing, I spent the first 30 years or so of my life not really being aware of exactly what my emotions were, or how they were influencing my thinking.  Maybe you can relate.  But that sabotaged my ability to move towards wholeness.  If we want to learn to be healthy, if we want to renew our mind, we have to learn the language of our emotions.  We need to understand that each of those eight primary emotions have varying degrees within each emotion.  It’s not just fear, it’s varying shades of fear.  Then, the one-two punch is that some of those emotions happen at the same time and create much deeper, powerful emotions.  See, I told you we were complex!   So many of us have emotional baggage in our lives, and we either don’t recognize it at all, or we choose to ignore or suppress it.  But, not learning how healthy or unhealthy emotions interact our thinking, will impact how we process things, and we’re in danger of hijacking our ability to think well.

Let’s go back to the hand model .  {Put your thumb in and fingers over.}  When people say, “I flipped my lid,” they were triggered by something and then began to be led by their amygdala.  The amygdala is a little bit faster than the pre-frontal cortex, but it’s also kind of dumb.  If you’re just led by the amygdala, you’re only allowing yourself to process halfway using your abilities, and its not healthy.  Pete Scazerro, author of “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” says, ” It’s impossible to be spiritually mature, while remaining emotionally immature.”  It’s impossible, and I think it’s true.  It’s so important to learn an emotional depth and to learn what things trigger an imbalanced emotional response that hijacks our ability to think clearly and to allow the amygdala and prefrontal cortex to work together.

So, we take our thoughts captive, and we learn about how we are wired emotionally, good and bad, and what might disrupt our thinking and feeling; it’s all a critical part of processing well.   And the last part of processing well is to change your thinking.  I was talking to someone recently, and they said, “It’s not possible to change how I think.”  That’s just not scientifically correct.  I mentioned that we form neural pathways, the way that our brain talks to other parts of our brain as we think.  It creates well-worn paths.   When you say, “That’s just how I think,” that’s 100% true.  It is just how you think.   Somewhere along the way, you adopted a mental model of some kind, and it’s incredibly hard to change the way you think about something.   But is it impossible?  No! There is something called neuroplasticity that basically means we can change our patterns of thinking.  I think Jesus and the authors of Scripture were onto this way before this.  We can meditate on a Scripture and over time it begins to rewire how we think about something.  Some studies show we can rewire our thinking in as little as seven days.  Interesting.  That’s why we do practices and habits, to let the Gospel transform all of us. We have to learn to process in a healthy way, to think in a healthy way, to grow in our emotional intelligence, and to change our thinking as Jesus leads.

So we manage our inputs, we process well, and then just two quick other things.  We have to constantly evaluate our beliefs.  As I said earlier, beliefs are thoughts we’ve decided were true.  And when we’re processing through the filter of our thoughts and emotions, we check against our beliefs to see if what we’re thinking and feeling is buried deeper down as a belief. There are good beliefs and there are unhealthy beliefs. The challenge is, if we have unhealthy beliefs—I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve xyz—we will behave out of those beliefs, or we won’t allow ourselves to think differently.  Don’t be afraid to evaluate your beliefs.  So many Christians are afraid to look at the Scriptures with fresh eyes, to ask the Lord to show them who they are, what truths they have that don’t align with God’s truths.  If you hold too firmly to some beliefs that aren’t God’s truth, they could greatly limit your ability to grow and become you Jesus created you to be.  It’s natural, when we hear information that contradicts a belief we have, whether its right or wrong, to feel defensive, to feel stressed.  It’s actually a survival mechanism.  It’s so important that we constantly evaluate our beliefs against the truth of God to make sure there aren’t beliefs that we’re operating out of that align with God’s truth and take root in there and keep us from being healthy.  For most of us, there are even beliefs we have about God that maybe served us for a time, but they don’t reflect who God really is.

So, we manage our inputs, we learn to process in a healthy way, we evaluate our beliefs and allow Jesus to speak into them, and then, finally, take control of your behavior.   Our behavior has two parts to it: Involuntary and voluntary.  Our involuntary behavior is driven by our beliefs.  They are things we just do naturally because we believe something to be true or we hold a deeply held value we’ve internalized over time. If we believe we are lazy, because we were told we were, we are more likely to act in a lazy manner. If we believe God loves us unconditionally, we are more likely to act like someone who is loved. This is why psychologists and counselors don’t just tell you to change your behavior.  They also look at your beliefs and the pattern of thinking that drives that behavior.  Does that make sense?  That’s our behavior coming out of our beliefs, it’s involuntary.  If you don’t like your behavior, you should go back to your beliefs to see what you believe to be true and how that influences what you do.

Voluntary behavior is behavior you choose to do consciously.  This is why we talk so much at South about practices.  Practices are behavior we choose to do in order to shape our lives and our thinking.  For example, you might have a hurried life, and are always in a rush, or might be a bit ADD like me,  but practicing solitude— forcing yourself to slow down and be alone with God—might be hard for some of us and feel so strange at first.  There’s a physiological reason for that—it goes against the well-worn path in our brains.   But, over time, when we practice solitude—getting quiet, going before the Lord and listening—it begins to rewire our brain and becomes a part of who you are.  See, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  Friends, don’t be afraid to evaluate your behavior and to put practices and ways of behaving in place to form you and shape you into the image of the whole human being that Jesus created you to be.

I want to put that cycle up one more time.  Input –> Processing –> Beliefs –> Behavior –>     You DO have the power to control what comes into your mind and heart.  You DO have the power to process well with healthy thinking and feeling.  You DO have the power to evaluate your beliefs and make sure they’re healthy and line up with God’s truth.  You DO have the power to take control of your behavior.  If you do those things, led and fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit, you’ll be on your way to being transformed in all areas of your lives by the renewing of your mind.  If you do this, the Spirit can come into all those areas of your life and shape from the inside out.

I’m going to end with a practice and a prayer.   What is one practice you could put in place to take a step towards renewing your mind?

MEDITATE – Maybe choosing one of God’s truth’s to meditate on over and over this week.  Philippians 4:8 is a great passage to get into your brain to know what to think about.

MEMORIZE – Maybe memorizing 2 Corinthians 10:5—that you take every thought captive.  Memorize that Scripture and work out of that.

MENTOR – Maybe it’s pursuing a mentor to process with, or finding a therapist to work with.   So those things that have been there a long time that are hijacking your formation can be worked through and you learn to think and feel in a healthy way as you manage those inputs, as you process well, as you maintain healthy God-honoring beliefs, and as you behave in a way that looks more and more like Jesus.

We’re going to close with a prayer that we’re going to pray together.  I gave you some practices and I’m going to give you a prayer; chew on it this week.  Let’s read this together, from our hearts, to the Lord:  Gracious and loving God, you know the deep inner patterns of my life that keep me from being totally yours. You know the misformed structures of my being that hold me in bondage to something less than your high purpose for my life. You also know my reluctance to let you have your way with me in these areas. Hear the deeper cry of my heart for wholeness and by your grace enable me to be open to your transforming presence in this reading.  Lord, have mercy.