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Calling…When Fire Wraps Around Mind

January 16, 2013

When fire wraps around mind, mountains move – lives change, cultures convulse and remold to the image of Christ, unreached people groups crack open like eggs, fresh ideas and thought light up new truth in all fields of intellectual endeavor, new beauties spring up in all the arts like spring flowers, churches crackle with life and electricity, the marketplace and the neighborhood clean up. If man stands as the pinnacle of creation, the mind stands as the pinnacle of the creation of man. One of the sad ironies rising out of current brain/mind discussions come in listening to five-star intellects with plutonium strength PhD’s at universities on top of Mt. Olympus say there is no such thing as mind.

Jesus has a different take. He never wrote a Latin footnote, submitted a journal article for peer review or defended a thesis. But He was, and is, brilliant and “the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37) Jesus take on “mind” starts with Matthew 22:37 with “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This means more than stockpiling theological facts in mental filing cabinets. Paul chips in with “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2) “…and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:5) Kneading our faith like bread dough, we press and work it into every crevice of our thoughts, ambitions and dreams, work and recreation, joys and sufferings, grinding and polishing the lenses through which we come to view life and the world through Jesus’ eyes. In short, everything we think of when we think of “calling”. Thinking takes work but it’s work like the vigorous chewing of a good steak (tofu for vegans). It hurts, disturbs, provokes change and stands as one of the most satisfying experiences of the Holy Spirit possible. The history of revivals and spiritual awakenings show that wherever the Holy Spirit embraced mind, the revival cut deeper into the culture, lasted longer and conserved more results. Learning to think Christianly shapes who we are, turns all this “born again” “new creation” talk into something people can read like a billboard beside the interstate. Ignoring it reduces us to shallow living that leaves us empty, fails in the clutches of pain and suffering and repels people on the hunt for meaning and significance…and God.

Mark Noll, in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1995), lamented that people following Christ don’t do much biblical thinking. We’ve improved at least in resources. Integrating faith with learning, discovering the intellectual integrity of the Christian faith, defending it against challengers and commending it to the curious, we have some great helps we didn’t have then. Start with my “Good Reads” page. Then check out the Veritas Forum, Finding God at Harvard, the Emerging Scholars Network and Hearts and Minds Books. Besides dipping into this great stuff, where else can learning to think sharpen us in our fleshing out our callings?

Taking the Bible seriously stands as a good place to start. In the sprawling narcissism infecting everything in our culture, the Bible provides a gravitational center, a starting point outside ourselves. But the Bible is not a buffet, pick and choose. The Holy Spirit subliminally through human personality and individual writing style, authored all of it; it all hangs together in one piece. We should expect to not understand it on occasion. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) But what about when we disagree? A lot of Bible questioning is more underground rebellion than honest inquiry. We just don’t like it. In those moments, it’s like God says, “This is Who I am. I am nothing less or nothing else. Grapple with it (and Me) but you are the one who must make the adjustment.” What about when the text lies flat on the table saying nothing to our lives and situations? Even though a Scripture might not seem relevant to us, why is it important to God? A second consideration when looking at a “flat” passage going nowhere – why did the Holy Spirit include this? Invisible walls sometimes separate the Bible from our praying. Brought up by charismatic Presbyterians, I learned to include Scripture in my praying to squelch the “me” that tends to predominate. A good starting guide comes in “Learning to Pray Through the Psalms” by James Sire.

When the Spirit of God wraps Himself around mind, He makes us better. In Acts 4:13, the authorities who strung up Jesus now try to browbeat His disciples. Peter fires back a broadside rocking them back on their heels. They’re shocked by the boldness, intellectual sharpness, even shrewdness of these uneducated and unlearned men – and this wouldn’t be the last time in Christian history. But this is not an automatic; it takes work. Paul spent some time early in his faith (Gal 1:21) in the wilds of Syria without disclosing why. What if he was led by the Spirit of God out there to reconfigure this massive storehouse of Scripture in his mind, recalibrating it with Jesus Christ as Messiah, Saviour and Lord before launching out on the main thrust of his work? Frances Schaeffer led a powerful revival of mind and Christian thinking based at his ministry center, L’Abri, in Switzerland. A seminary trained pastor, he spent many evenings pacing in his attic in St. Louis before moving overseas. Why? He knew he would be interacting with acid heads, eastern mysticism with its powerful philosophies, burnouts from Jack Kerouac and the heady “beat” culture of the ’50s and every form of mysticism and metaphysics bubbling up in the Hippie culture of the ’60s. He spent those evenings in the attic mentally pushing every truth of Christian theology to its breaking point; he had to know that the faith not only would hold up to the most intense scrutiny but that it could hold the weight of the most extreme disillusionment without disappointing.

Marva Dawn nails it. “The Church cannot completely save the culture – but Christians could be the best thinkers in the world. Because our relationship with God frees us from having to justify our own existence, we do not have to prove our importance, fit in with our peers, mimic the politically correct, or think according to the current ideologies or idolatries. Our minds are captive only to Christ’s lordship; the Holy Spirit empowers us to use the brains Ged created as well as possible…a mind formed by God’s truth comprehends things differently from the contemporary secular mind.”

This holds true for all Christians not just academics and students. It’s good for plumbers, bus drivers, soldiers, anyone anywhere simply because they belong to Jesus Christ and therefore stand indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Carol Wimber, widow of Vineyard founder John Wimber, remembers Lawrence “Gunner” Payne, an elder in the first church they joined after becoming Christians. “Gunner” was a “Merlin” with tools who could not only fix anything but built radically innovative houses and came up with cutting edge inventions as easily as making a sandwich. Carol and John weren’t surprised. “This man knew Jesus, so of course he could do that sort of thing. It was our expectation that our bodies and brains would work all together better now that we were with these people who knew Jesus. We expected creative thoughts to flow and would have been disappointed if our garden didn’t bloom more profusely than before.”

A classic to get us started comes from John Stott, “Your Mind Matters” followed by a newby, “Your Mind’s Mission“, by Greg Jao (both on IVP)

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