Next week is December 1st, the first Sunday of Advent and that means that today is the last Sunday in our Surrender Series. And over the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over where I would land for this last message.
Since Thanksgiving we’ve looked at various areas of our lives that we need to surrender to God. Our will, our speech, our anger and our design. And I understand that surrender isn’t always seen as a positive thing, that for some it means giving up or giving in. But as Christ-followers it is essential for us to surrender our lives to the Christ we follow. And not just bits and pieces but all of our lives.
It’s easy to give some parts and hold on to other parts; “Lord you can have my Sunday mornings, but leave my Saturday nights alone.” “Lord you can have the Sunday part of my life, but I want to choose what I read, what I watch, what I listen to and how I spend my money.”
That attitude reminds me of the poem, Three Dollars Worth of God by Wilbur Rees
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
But when that is our philosophy it means that have really haven’t embraced Jesus as Lord, we’re simply using him as a fire escape from Hell.
So, I was wondering where we should land on this last message. I had thought about “Surrender your Appetites” and then thought that with my recent weight loss that people would think that I was pushing a particular agenda. And I know that appetites embrace so much more than simply food, they speak into our lives, but still I decided not to go there.
And then I thought about maybe I could speak about “Surrender Your Jerkiness”. And I would talk about how our negative actions reflect poorly on Christ and his Kingdom. But because I can be a bit of a Jerk sometimes, that seemed to be cutting a little close to home.
And as I pondered both of those options over, I realized that they
shared common roots, that is that they started in the same place. And that is they began with a thought.
Regardless of whether we are talking about our appetites or our jerkiness it begins in our minds.
It was Stephen Covey who wrote, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
We often excuse our bad behaviour by saying, “Sorry, I guess I just wasn’t thinking.” But the reality is, while we may not have thought it through and realized the consequences of our actions or our words, we definitely were thinking.
If you were paying attention over the past few weeks, I’ve ended my messages by saying things like, “If we don’t control our speech, our speech will control us” or “If we don’t control our anger, our anger will control us.”
Let be upfront with this one, if we don’t control our thoughts, our thoughts will control us. Paul told the early church in 2 Corinthians 10:5 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.
We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. That is an interesting concept. Taking our thoughts captive, so they will be obedient to Christ.
Most of us have had the experience of our thoughts wandering to places they shouldn’t go. Sometime hurtful places, or hateful places or lustful places, but places we’d rather they not take us. That’s what happens when we allow our thoughts to control us, not only do they wander to those places, they stay there.
You’ve heard me say before, we can’t keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can stop them from building nests in our hair.
Let’s start with a couple of warnings from Jesus, it was during what we think of as the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus said, Matthew 5:21-23 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”
And then a little further along he adds to this, Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
So let’s begin by realizing that Our Thoughts are Where it Begins Long before something happens, we think about it happening. Again, we’ve all heard the excuse “I just wasn’t thinking.” Really?
What does that say about you as a person if your excuse is that it just happened? That you had no control over your actions or over your words?
“I don’t know why I hit them, I guess I just wasn’t thinking.” “I don’t know why I cheated on my spouse, I guess I just wasn’t thinking.” “I don’t know why I said that hurtful thing, I guess I just wasn’t thinking.”
The thing that is supposed to set us apart from other animals is that we do think.
What Jesus was warning us about in the Sermon on the Mount wasn’t the actions but the beginning of the actions. The thought or thoughts behind the action.
When we think about hurting someone, and I don’t necessarily just mean physically hurting someone, we are starting down a path that will have consequences.
But hate and anger weren’t the only emotions that Jesus was talking about. He also wars us that when you look at someone and think, “I wish they were my spouse, or I wish my spouse was more like them.” You are starting down a path that will have consequences. Jesus tells us that adultery starts in your mind.
And understand, it doesn’t matter if you are thinking in sexual terms or emotional terms.
Once you start thinking how someone who is not your spouse, could meet the needs that your spouse is supposed to meet, you are starting down a path you have no right to be on. And if you feel that those needs, whether sexual or emotional aren’t being met by your spouse, that might be an issue, but it’s not an excuse.
And that holds true across the board, behaviour, whether good or bad, starts here.
Paul gives us advice in the book of Romans when he tells us Romans 8:5-6 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
And so, Paul is telling us that there is a circular nature to our thought lives.
When we are dominated by our sinful nature then we think about sinful things, and thinking about sinful things causes us to be dominated by those things we think about.
It becomes a vicious circle, and one over which we feel we have little or no control.
But now, let’s read Paul’s words in their entirety.
Romans 8:5-6 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
Paul doesn’t just warn us about our thoughts, he offers a solution.
And the bible isn’t the only voice in this conversation, Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” And Willie Nelson said, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.”
And if you’ve ever tried to change your thought life, then you probably are thinking, that’s easier said than done.
So, how do we change our thoughts? And what should we change them to? Paul offers a simple solution in Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
The first thing you need to understand is that Transformation Starts with You
It was Marcus Aurelius who wrote, “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”
There has to be a desire to change your thought life. If you are satisfied with where your thoughts take you then you will never change how you think. It doesn’t matter if the people around you want you to become less negative and more positive, it doesn’t matter if God wants you to move away from sinful thoughts, until you want it to happen, it won’t happen. And Paul tells us we have to let the Spirit have control
Which reminds me of a story, a horse goes into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender pours him a drink and before the evening was over, one drink turned into several and then the horse leaves. The next day, the horse returns and the same thing happens. On the third day the bartender confronts the horse and says, “This is getting to be an issue, do you think you might be an alcoholic?”
To which the horse replies, “No, I don’t think I am” and poof he disappears.
Now that joke only makes sense to those who studied philosophy and remember what Decartes taught, “I think; therefore I am”. I guess it would have made more sense if I had of put the Decartes before the horse.
But I would challenge Decartes here, I know who am I to challenge Decartes? But, it’s not simply a matter of “I am because I think”, but I am what I think.
Like, everything in life, we have to want it to happen if it’s going to happen.
If we are happy with our thought life, if it doesn’t seem to be a problem, then we won’t see a need to change it
But there was a warning in Paul’s words. Romans 8:5-6 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
You see the warning isn’t simply that negative thoughts will make us negative, the warning is that letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. Not physical death, but spiritual death which is a separation from God.
Paul talks about that separation in Colossians 1:21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.
Why are you far away from God? Because you’re his enemies? Why are you his enemies? Because you are separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.
But again, how do we change how we think? How do we get rid of not only our evil actions but our evil thoughts?
So, it starts with us and Paul continues with that thought, with these words in Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world,
That’s where it has to begin, with a conscious decision to not be like the world and that can be tough, if it was easy nobody would struggle with it.
The story is told that two men were talking, and one was describing the challenge he was finding in living the life he wanted to live. He said it was like he was being pulled by two horses, one was pulling him to do what was right and the other was pulling him to do what was wrong. The second man asked, “Which horse wins?” to which the first man said “Whichever one I say giddy up to”
Which horse are you saying giddy up to?
But Paul doesn’t stop with the admonition for us to change, because he knew that we are broken people living in a broken world, and that our natural inclination isn’t to default to what is right but to what is wrong.
So, Paul goes on to say, but 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.
So, while the process begins with us, Transformation Depends on God If it was as easy as simply saying “I’m not going to think about those things anymore.” That would be awesome, Mark Twain wrote, “Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.”
But, we’ve tried that. We’ve tried to change how we think, and we default back to negative, sinful thoughts. And so Paul tells us that we need to let God transform us into new people, different people. The word that Paul used for transform was the word metamorphoō, and it literally meant to be changed to something different.
It was the word that was used to describe what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
If you’ve been around forever then you’ll remember that when Cornerstone started 25 years ago our logo was a butterfly, with the words Life . . . Be In It! And it was a reference to this very scripture. But most people didn’t get it, they just said, Nice Butterfly.
It was what Paul meant when he told the early church in 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
But God won’t simply do that, he won’t make us a new person without our permission. We have to allow God to do that. The scripture says, “Let God Transform you.” The caterpillar has no choice, he must become a butterfly. But we don’t have to. That is the gift of free will, God’s not going to drag you kicking and screaming into his Kingdom.
We need God to transform us and change the way we think. But we need to continue to do our part.
Most of you know that I’ve been on a weight loss journey for the past five years. And in that time, I’ve lost close to eighty pounds. But every day I need to make choices if I’m going to get to my goal. And I’ve said before, weight loss is simple. You just have to eat fewer calories than you need each day. That’s simple, but it’s not easy.
So to say;in order to control of your thought life, you just need to stop thinking about the things we shouldn’t be thinking about. That’s simple but, it’s not easy.
An article in the January 2004 edition of Psychology Today says, “Trying hard not to think about something almost guarantees that it will pop up in your consciousness.”
But we know that. We’ve all tried to not think about something, and we know it doesn’t work. The Psychology Today article explains the science behind that, which is interesting but not helpful.
Mark Twain wrote, “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those other things, are his history.”
So, what is it that is grinding away in our brains? What we put into them of course. So, I guess we are back to that, back to it being our responsibility.
The solution is found in the advice that Paul offers us the advice in the scripture that was read earlier, in Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
It starts with you and it depends on God, but ultimately God Does His Part and Expects Us to do Our Part
Because we all are familiar with computers, most of us are familiar with the concept of garbage in, garbage out. And that simply means that incorrect or poor-quality input will always produce faulty output. And that is true in every area of our lives.
And that can be tough, because everything we watch, everything we listen to, the friends we make, and environments we choose to spend time in, will directly affect our thought life. And so we have to choose what we watch, we have to choose what we are going to listen to, we are going to have choose to change our environment. We have to choose to do better.
Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” And Paul tells us to think about things that true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
And I shouldn’t have to tell you what things are true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable and what things are excellent and worthy of praise.
Are you willing to make that decision? The decision to surrender your thoughts to God? The decision to focus on the things of God?
One author wrote, Wrong thoughts seem to come into our minds like phone calls. So, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, Who’s calling? Your thoughts only come from three places: you, God or the devil. A quick consideration will likely give you the answer. If it isn’t God—hang up!
While we might not feel that it is in our grasp, let me remind you of the words of John in
1 John 4:4 KJV “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world”
And ultimately, if we don’t learn to control our thoughts, our thoughts will control us.