Attitude Adjustment

It was probably 10 years ago that I was in Kansas City the last weekend in October.  I remember the date so well because I went there directly from CCF’s Fall Retreat at the North GA Christian Camp, where we had about 50 students in attendance.   They were everywhere – on the stage, on the floor,  in the kitchen – for the weekend.   I slept little, left after lunch, and finally made it onto the plane.   As I sat there I thought, “O Lord,  why do I have to go to Kansas City this weekend, I’d rather be at the Retreat.”   I was pouting, actually!   I didn’t want to be bothered with anyone so I used my Bible as a desperate defense.   I pulled it up around my face.   When you’re on a plane and you have your Bible around your face, everybody will leave you alone.   It’s a frightening spectre.   Even the flight attendent won’t ask you if you want peanuts  I said to the Lord, “Lord, please, since I can’t get out of this trip I just want to be alone for 2 or 3 hours before I get there.”

It worked.  NOBODY spoke to me.  So I arrived feeling alone, abused, and forlorn.  No one was at the airport to meet me.   So I sat there seething that I was being treated like this, after all THEY asked me to come.   When the Pastor arrived I was cold and aloof.   He took me to the Hotel where I was to stay.  Again I was alone.  So now the scene was set.  I had all kinds of attitudes in me, I was of several minds, if you will.  The attitude I didn’t have was the attitude of a servant.  The mind I didn’t have was the mind of Christ.

Sunday morning came.  The Pastor picked me up and we went to the church building, along with 2500 others.  I spoke to the 100+ teenagers during Sunday School and then preached during the Morning Worship.  I still was on auto-pilot at the end of the sermon when the Minister of Involvement got up and said, “We have a couple who have just arrived in town.  They are deaf.  They have a 5 year old boy and a 3 year old girl.  Their house burned down in St. Louis and they are looking for work.  If you have clothes for their children or would like to donate money to help them get started over we’ll be at the main entrance to receive them from you.” 

That afternoon I ate lunch with that couple.  As we talked via a deaf interpreter I BECAME AWARE of their pain.  How petty it made me feel!  I repented of my selfish arrogance and thanked God for putting me in Kansas City at that particular time.  I shared with them my story of our theft when we moved to Athens in 1982 and told them I really did know what it was like to have to literally start over.  I said, “I don’t know what you must be feeling, and I don’t know why this happened to you.  I suspect you’ll have to learn to live with an unanswered “WHY?”  Just as I have learned to LIVE WITH THE MYSTERY of the why of our theft, but I know that the only thing that sustained my family and I was clinging to the One who understands it perfectly.”  There at the KC Masterpiece Restaurant I took my Bible and for the first time on that trip used it as God intended, not as a sheild, not as a textbook, but as a means to show these suffering people, the Suffering Servant, Jesus.

But it didn’t end there.  The church responded to this family, who had yet to accept Christ, with an unbelievable outpouring of clothes, money and even a job. 

That night as I began my presentation it was with a different attitude, a different mind.  The mind of Christ was mine.  He spoke through me.  God hadn’t changed, but I had.  Gone was the self-pity.  Gone was the celebrity syndrome.  Present was the mind of Christ.

At the conclusion of my seminar, this lovely couple accepted Jesus as Lord and were baptized along with a family who decided that night to leave the path of Witchcraft to follow Jesus.  I got to be a part of that, I’m convinced, because of a small, significant change in my attitude!  From ME to HIM!

I wish I could say that I never went back to the ME attitude but of course I did.  But I like to think that as I have grown in Jesus He has helped me to make the switch from ME to HIM more quickly.  How about you?

The Mind of a Servant

Phil. 2:3:  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (twin killers of the cause of God), but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 

What I love about our Lord Jesus is that being Very God of Very God, he felt no need to exalt himself or live in arrogance.  Surely if our Lord has modeled this for us, then part of having the mind of Christ means that Jesus is going to move in a mind where we’ve already made place for him.  We have heard Jesus say, “No servant is greater than his Lord.”  and we have thought “If my Lord can die upon a cross, not claiming His prerogatives, maybe I, too, can learn to live in simplicity of spirit and give up selfish ambition and vain conceit. ”

I don’t know about you, but I have always found that when I get conceited, God usually has a way of reducing me.  I don’t usually have to live with that very long.  He forcibly reminds me that I’m not as much as I think I am.  

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 

I know our day is riddled with the philosophy of  Narcissism.  I know it is a me-first proposition culture we live in.  I know it is a time when Stallone in the movie Cobra says to the bad guy, “You’re the disease, and I’m the cure,” and we applaud.  Contrast that to St. Francis saying, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”   Consider others better than yourselves  But we say, “What if I am better than the person I’m considering?”  And Jesus says, in effect, “So what?  No servant is greater than his Lord and I considered you better than myself, didn’t I”  For the Jesus follower this is where it begins or ends. We must see ourselves as the servants of the world.  Collectively it is our world and it’s our calling to care. 

I walked through Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati long ago, and I saw a little baby boy there, below 2 years of age, with tubes running in and out of his body – clearly very, very sick.  I asked the nurse about him, and she said, “I want to thank you for asking about him.  He will die before he is 2 years of age, but the worst part is that his mother died in childbirth and his father’s in the penitentiary.  Nobody comes; nobody asks about him much, and he lays there.  You’re one of the first to even ask about him.”  I walked out of the hospital that day thanking God that my two daughters were well and that it wasn’t MY baby.  Then it seemed like out of the very atmosphere around me, God said, “Yeah, that IS your baby.”  And I was ashamed of my selfishness.

If we’re servants, the world we see and touch is ours.  How often do the Scriptures say of Jesus, “He was moved with compassion”?  The mind of the servant becomes our mind when we take following Jesus seriously. 

Is this as hard for you as it is for me?  I’d like to hear from you.

Living with Mystery

Like it or not we human beings are always forced to live with mystery.  I love the passages and sequences in Jesus’ life when he was so up-front that he said, “I don’t know everything.”  No, I’m not a heretic: this is part of His KENOSIS, based on Phil. 2:5-11 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus EMPTIED himself of many of his divine prerogatives at His incarnation.  Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. 

I love the time when the disciples came to Jesus and said, “When will your 2nd coming be?”   He, not having read The Late Great Planet Earth or The Rapture or 1994, or An Idiots Guide to The End Times was forced to say, “I don’t know when it will be.”   John and James pressed him  for more info (apparently they didn’t believe He was telling all He knew), “Can we sit one on your right hand and one on your left when You establish Your kingdom?”.   He said, “I don’t know, that’s not mine to give.” 

My point is simple: all humans live with mystery so Jesus, who in His incarnation became truly human, even though He was God incarnate,  lived, as we all do, with mystery.  I think living with mystery is a huge component of being human.  We don’t have all the answers to the future, to disease, to death all spelled out, because not knowing all the answers we must become a people of trust.

I love this old fable about a traveler going through the night, seeing up ahead of him in the dim, rainy mist a monastery rising with the lights on.  Cold and inclement was the weather, and he stopped and knocked on the door. When the abbot came, he said, “May I come in?”  The abbot said, “Not only may you come in, but you may eat with us.”   The food was wonderful, the monks were warm; it was a beautiful evening, safe and dry and warm.   Because the weather was so bad, they asked him to stay the night.   He agreed, on the basis that they would supply him with a few things.  “What is it you want?”  they asked.  He said, “If I spend this night with you, I must have in my own room for myself alone this night a pound of butter, a pair of rubber pants, a poker, a cricket bat, and a bass saxophone.”  It was unusual.   They scurried around the monastery and found it all.   The weather continued bad, and as they went to sleep that night, they heard the awfullest progression of halftones and squeaks and squawks coming from his room.   Because the weather continued bad, they invited him to stay another night.   He did do that, and he asked again for that mysterious list of the same things:  a pound of butter, a pair of rubber pants, a poker, a cricket bat, and a bass saxophone.  Each night he requested those things, and each night they heard the awful noises, until finally it was time for him to leave.  The old abbot walked him to the door and said, “We were glad to supply all of those things, but would you mind telling me why you asked for them?”  The traveler said, “Well, it is a family secret.  It has been in our family for years and years, but if you promise not to tell another living soul, I’ll tell you.”  And so he told the old abbot all his heart, and the abbot, being a man of his word, never told another living soul.   And so we shall never know.

 I believe that  illustrates for us what is an indispensable function of our life as Jesus followers living in the world:  we cannot answer it all.  We wait in the darkness and talk of  God giving light where we can’t.   We understand that growing and becoming like Jesus means living with mystery.   There are answers which we have to wait for the Lord to reveal.   Jesus followers don’t have all the answers!   We can’t answer every query anyone has.   But we do know the One who can and will.  But that is His prerogative and function not ours.   Ours is to have His mind in us.   To trust Him implicitly because all the multitude of things He has chosen to reveal to us are true.  So because what He has revealed to us is true we trust God in the mysteries of life that are not revealed to us yet.

Sometimes I am better at living with mystery than I am at other times.  When a good friend dies or is diagnosed with cancer I cry out “Why?”  How about you?  I would love to hear your take on living with mystery.

Becoming

The NIV translates Philippians 2:5  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.  The KJV translates it differently.  Instead of “Your attitude should be…” it says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Now, I realize that ATTITUDE is probably the best translation, but I’ve always liked the idea that our minds ought to indeed be the mind of Christ.

 Minds are incredible things to me.  Minds and brains are clearly different things.  For instance, all of us have known people with brains who didn’t seem to have a mind.  The brain, therefore, is but the vehicle, and the mind is the driver.  The brain is that three-pound organ, that tiny softball of decision, perched on top of the spinal cord, by which we make our way through life.

 It operates at various levels of activity and frenzy.  For instance, if the brain is operating at 0 to 3 cycles per second, it is in a theta stage, a coma kind of a stage, and death is pending.  If the brain speeds up to a delta-wave condition, 4 to 6 cycles per second, it is an occasion mostly of deep sleep common to listening to a sermon series on Leviticus.  If it speeds up to between 7 to 13 cycles per second, it’s in a beta stage, which is a creative, restful stage of mind.  It it speeds up to 14 to 21 cycles per second, it is in the alpha stage, the typical Christian chuch stage that is perfect for baking casseroles and going to meetings.  And at 21+, it is in a gamma stage, which is a hassled, hurried, frenzied state of life.

I believe that brains are put there for a specific reason, and I think Phil. 2:5 encourages us to let it be the dwelling place of God.  Carl Sagan said of the brain that it is “about 3 pounds of a messy substance, shut up in a dark, warm place.  It is a pinkish-gray mass, moist and rubbery to the touch.  About the size of a softball, it perches like a flower on top of the spinal column and is connected by the finest fibers and filaments to every nook and cranny of our bodies.”  I am told that there are an estimated 13 billion nerve cells inside the brain itself, and most of these cells junction with 5,000 other nearby nerve cells.  Some 50,000 of these synapses, or junctions, exist in our bodies. (These numbers are too big for me to even comprehind)

 The word ASTRONOMICAL isn’t big enough to describe this, for the number of known cells in the brain far exceeds the number of stars we know about in all the galaxies.  Just take the nerves that run to the skin, for instance.  There are some 4 million nerve endings sensitive to pain.  Some 500,000 keep track of touch or pressure.   Another 200,000 keep track of temperature.  Add the big ones – the eyes, ears, nose, and tongue – and you begin to get the picture.  The best way to picture a brain’s network is to imagine thousands of telephone exchanges, each one big enough for a city the size of Atlanta, and you begin to get the picture of the marvelous complexity of the human brain.

 Brains are impressive, even in nerds and dorks and television evangelists.  What amazes me about them is that they’re all about the same size.  It amazes me, for instance, that Madame Curie and Sarah Palin have about the same size brain.  Or Stephen Hawkin and David Spade – all about the same size.

But when I read a passage like Phil 2, I become aware that for all its beauty and complexity, the mind, the driver for the brain, is the dwelling place of God.   

The mind of Christ is that which is to inhabit me.  The mind of Christ is that which to inhabit you.  We use the word MIND as an adjective, for instance as being high-minded or low-minded or filthy-minded or empty-minded.  But we also use it as a verb:  to mind your manners or mind your business or “Do you mind?”  or “Don’t mind if I do.”  That active sense is what Paul is talking about.

To understanding Phil. 2:5 ,I think you have to read Phil. 2:8, where it says that And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!  This verse has always troubled me a little, because if there’s any doctrine I personally prize, it is the doctrine of the sinlessness of Jesus.  To speak of Him becoming obedient bothered me a bit.  But I now realize that the emphasis here is on BECOMING, that this Jesus is Lord, who would become my divine mind implant – this Jesus had to learn what it meant to become human.  He was not born as Saint Alphonsis suggested.   Saint Alphonsis wrote that shortly after birth, Jesus sat up in the straw, umbilical still wet, and said, “Hi, Mary, I’m Jesus, the Son of God.”  (That’s my own translation but that is pretty much what Alphonsis taught). I have so much trouble with that.  Jesus wasn’t born anymore fully formed as a human than any of us!  The emphasis in Phil 2:8  is that Jesus, like all of us, had a mind that was in the process of becoming.

Talk about the messianic consciousness – the idea of Jesus’ discovering who he is, the divine Son of God – and that discovery goes on and on and on from His birth to His death.  Just as in our lives our minds change as we become more and more aware of who we really are.   Isn’t it amazing that in our lives we have to stop and say over something we did only a year or so ago?  How many times have I said to myself “Was I really stupid enough to say that last year (or decade)?”  The process of the growing mind moves on and on, and it begins gradually.

My grandsons are a laboratory on becoming!  One of them upon discovering that “Papa” and “Mimi” were their mother’s dad and mom said, “That explains why you come and visit all the time!”  The growing mind becomes and moves on and on.

I remember when I was in the first grade and Mrs. Weaver, my first grade teacher, asked me what my name was.  I knew that. And then she asked me what my mother’s name was.  I said to her, “Mother.”.   She said, “No, that is not her name.”  I said, “Yes it is.  We all call her that.”  She said, No, it’s not ‘Mother’, it’s something else.”  I said, “No, it’s not.”  She said, “Look, Mother is what she is, Mother is what she does, but Mother’s not her name.”  And I said, “Well, I’m sure you’re wrong, but I’ll ask her this afternoon.” (I was a precocious kid)

So when I got home from school that afternoon, I rushed into the kitchen where my Mother and I had our daily debriefing over cookies and milk.  I said, “Mother, do you have another name besides ‘Mother’?”.  She said, “Well, yes, Tim.  My name is Helen.”  Then she said, “And not only that, but I have a middle name, too.  It’s Joyce.”.  And then she said, which was the most astounding revelation of all, “Hudson is my last name.” 

It was the same name as I had!  I have never forgotten that sense of growing awareness that dawned on me.  And now I get to see that same growing awareness in my grandsons!  That’s how the mind is.  It is in the process of becoming.  Phil 2:8 includes the incarnate Jesus in that process.  He “became” obedient.  I am becoming more aware every day.  You are in the lifelong process of becoming.  Change then is the order of the day.  The mind of Christ in us is not static.  We don’t just “get it”, rather “the mind of Christ” is constantly in the process of becoming more aware of who we are in Jesus. 

Spiritually, change still is the order of the day! 

Read Philippians 2  yourself.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the passage.