Last Sunday, the pastor of a local church began his sermon with a supposedly true story. “I was on a plane last week, flying from Chicago to California, when we ran into some very severe turbulence. As it got worse, the passengers became more and more alarmed, and finally even the flight attendants began to look concerned. Finally, one of them noticed that I had “REV.” in front of my name on the passenger list came over to me and said, “Sir, this is really frightening. Do you suppose you could… I don’t know … do something religious?”
“I said, ‘Sure.’ So, I took up an offering.”
Not quite what the flight attendant was thinking of.
We don’t always think what we’re supposed to think. Our thinking isn’t always top drawer. We don’t get the point, or we have the wrong opinion, or we don’t get enough information to know more fully, or we hold to wrong ideas, or we focus on the wrong thing or person.
I know it’s not easy to question ourselves. It’s a lot easier just to assume we’re right. But the Bible says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” This absolutely goes for your thoughts and the spirit in which your thoughts arise.
You may have heard of something called “stinkin thinkin.” We do this thinking when we judge too much negative because of one act or word. Never and always are stinkin thinkin words. One person’s critique outweighs five other compliments. Discounting positives is stinkin thinkin.
Jumping to conclusions or believing you know something’s going to go wrong without any evidence or basis in fact, such as doing badly on a test or fearing a first date will turn out poor, is thoughts from our stinkin thinkin mind.
Stinkin thinkin is alive and well when people surround themselves with shoulds, leaving no room for mistakes, leading them to struggle against guilt. When we label ourselves or others with negatives, we’re stinkin thinkin, and not doing ourselves any good. We’re reducing human beings to something they aren’t. Fools, losers and jerks don’t exist, but people do.
Stinkin thinkin alienates us from God. We refuse to let the Lord bring us goodness. We limit God’s reach into our lives.
We need to mind our mind. Thinking matters. As scripture says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your
mind….” The truth is holding on to a positive anything is better than dwelling on a negative nothing. It’s impossible to have a positive, blessed life and be captive to a negative mind.
If you want to have the Lord bring you good thing, then you’ve got to let your mind go good places. Have some faith. Build up your hope. Think better thoughts. I like what someone said, “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” We want to feel more, and think better.
But it’s not easy. We want the whole cob to be good news but sometimes we only get one kernel that’s easy to swallow. Chew on that then. We want all our roads to be congestion-free but if you’re moving forward at all you’re going to get there for sure.
We’re told by an expert in the field of minding your mind, St. Paul, that there’s a way to mind our mind. He says, think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable….” Think these thoughts to mind your mind, and perhaps even to mend your mind.
The Letter to the Ephesians was written to people who used to believe things they no longer believe. They understand differently than they used to understand. They were Gentiles before but now they are Christians. sBecause of this they “must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their mind.”
In Ephesians’ first three chapters, the difference between who these folks were and who they are is spoken about in terms of ideas or doctrine. When you no longer believe something is true, it can change you. If you now believe that in Christ God’s grace saves you from sin and frees you to live a good and righteous life, when you didn’t even know about God before, it can change their outlook. It’s supposed to change their life.
In Ephesians’ last three chapters, this is left behind. The difference is now no longer thinking or believing something true or untrue but thinking morally or emotionally, which is the same thing here.
We tend to think that Bible is full of doctrinal stuff, but the truth is it’s much more filled with moral ideas. And here’s the thing: the moral is based on the emotional. It is God who shows us how this works Exodus 3:7 tells us God listened with the heart and made the decision to free the Hebrew slaves based on it. “The LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings.’” This is the
beginning of their relationship to the Lord God. The rest of the Bible comes from God’s act to tell Moses to free his people.
Talk about things changing! That’s what thinking with your heart does.
Jesus knew all about this; in fact, you can see his whole ministry as heart thinking. Luke tells us this amazing story, “Now as he approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, Jesus felt compassion for her, and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
You can guess what happened next. Christ broke all kinds of boundaries and rules when he followed his heart. He walked to the funeral bier or open casket, touched it—and that made everything stop, because that was for sure prohibited—and told the young man to rise again. Heart thinking tells us how to be act with others. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
But I’m afraid heart thinking doesn’t come that easily. It doesn’t seem to come that easily today for many people. There is a hardening of the heart today. We’re growing callous to violence, insults, disrespect. This is occurring verbally, physically, emotionally, relationally, socially, politically.
Our scripture, Ephesians 4:18, tells us this is dangerous and wrong, just as it was for those back then who were “alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.”
When scripture speaks of the “hardening of their heart,” it means a callousness, a casting off of the ability to feel.
Be careful what you do with your heart. How important is it to “have heart?” Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Our joy, our doing God’s will, our receiving the power of God’s grace, our willingness to grow by the Spirit’s power, our courageous choosing of what is best, our heedful listening to the cries of another can only come about because our heart is soft enough to feel.
We lose our moral compass when we lose our emotional life. When our heart isn’t right, we can’t think right. When our heart is right, then we do right. Those who are emotionally vacant become morally blind and no longer mentally alive to God’s will and to what is good.
Verse 19 doubles down on all of this. “They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Those who are no longer sensitive, will lose their way
morally. The harder we become, the less heart we hold, the more immoral we grow, the less our thinking knows what is right.
When we lose our ability to feel, to be sensitive, we can no longer feel what is right for us. Our right thinking grows out of our right feeling.
In a world in which being tougher and less compassionate is being taught and accepted, we are in danger of losing our way. Don’t let others tell you that you must be tough. Lacking sensitivity toward others doesn’t make you smarter or better off. The opposite is true. We need our feelings to direct our steps on better paths. Guard your heart. Keep it so that it can keep you.
Often, we think we’re helping ourselves when we shut down our feelings. Growing tougher just seems to be required to survive. This is not God’s plan for you.
A woman who was struggling with the relationships in her life went to get some help. She was drawing away from her husband who had become abusive and violent; she was losing her relationship with her son, and the spill over from those two disintegrating bonds was starting to affect the way she communicated and collaborated with the staff and customers in her business.
She told the therapist, “I can’t hold everything in anymore.” She believed the overwhelming force of experiencing everything she was trying not to feel all at once could kill her.
In writing about her, the therapist says, “So we talked about how she could start to … let the emotions out one by one, first by identifying and accepting each of the things that she was feeling.
I asked her to go home and to look herself in the eye, in front of the mirror and say “I feel sad” or “I feel lost” or whatever it was that she was trying to hold down. I asked her to accept what she was feeling and get on board with it and get to know it.”
When we caught up again a few months ago, I asked her how she was, and she told me that she was sad, angry, and bitter about the way her marriage had gone and the way it had taken her son from her. But she was also excited, nervous, enthusiastic and filled with anticipation about what was next. She was listing emotion after emotion, all the things that she had denied feeling or tried to keep controlled and locked away.
Allowing herself to slowly feel these things, for the first time in her life, was completely changing her view of things and life from an endless sea of black and white and gray to a vibrant and colorful new world. She hadn’t
become overwhelmed or obliterated by a bursting of everything, and because of that, she had learned to live inside of what she felt.
Some may find this too simplistic. Others may reject this path because it’s too emotional. But trust scripture. Return to feelings. Practice compassion for someone in need. Drop your critical mind and listen without judgment. Open yourself to being sensitive to yourself and to others.
Don’t listen to those who said emotions lead astray. They weren’t right. Feel yourself feeling. Mind your mind for what it is telling you about yourself. Be compassionate toward what you’re undergoing. Sit awhile with yourself. Be a friend to yourself. How can the Lord’s love for you get through to you if you won’t befriend yourself?
Find a way to be sensitive to yourself, so that you can grow in compassion toward others. As1 Peter 3:8 says, “To sum it up, all of you, be harmonious, sympathetic, have love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
This is how Christ walked. As our scripture says, we are to learn Christ’s way—the way of compassion.
Can the church say Amen?