Think Great Thoughts

Pastor Craig Carter

I’m happy to report that construction at our Fusion campus is now in full swing after a number of delays. Praise the Lord!

Over the past several months we’ve had work stoppages for a variety of reasons. We’ve had to wait on plans to be drawn and permits to be granted, we’ve had materials backordered, and of course, some days workers simply didn’t show.

But none of the interruptions has been as bizarre as what happened on a huge construction project about a decade ago. New Yankee Stadium in New York City was slated to open in the spring of 2009. But the work came to a screeching halt about halfway through the $2.3 billion project while crews with jackhammers spent nearly a day removing over 2½ feet of concrete. What was the issue? It wasn’t a structural problem and no, there wasn’t a mobster buried there as rumors and legends suggest may sometimes occur.

Instead, they were searching for a David Ortiz baseball jersey that had been placed under a cement walkway by a rabid Red Sox fan. Gino Castignoli, a 46-year-old Bronx resident, who just happens to adore the Boston Red Sox and loathe the NY Yankees, decided that he had a unique opportunity to curse his arch enemies. He was hired to work in the construction effort and, while on site, placed the jersey of the beloved Red Sox player in a location where it was later buried in concrete.

Castignoli hoped it would serve to “jinx” the Yankees for at least 30 years, which he figured would bring him great satisfaction for the remainder of his life.

The plot was discovered when a fellow worker saw him put it there, got worried, and alerted the authorities. He confessed, “I didn’t want to be responsible for sinking the Yankee franchise.” Huh?

When the story surfaced in the NY Post, Yankee officials at first dismissed it. But later, their president, Randy Levine, declared the burial of the jersey to be an “awful, dastardly act” that had to be remedied. So crews spent over five hours, at a cost of more than $50K, searching in the cement. At the end of the day, they recovered a tattered, but otherwise intact, #34 jersey. The story has an even happier final ending because the Yankees gave the jersey to the Red Sox children’s charity where it fetched $175,100 at auction.

Why would folks take such seemingly extreme action? Because they believed in the jinxing power of a piece of cloth submerged in a concrete floor.

Gino Castignoli thought it would help his beloved Red Sox. Yankee officials, while not publicly acknowledging it, were afraid that if they left it there and the team went on a losing streak it would be attributed to a hex that had been placed on them.

It is what psychologists call “magical thinking” and none of us is immune to it. It’s why we don’t step on cracks in the sidewalk or walk under a ladder. It’s why we knock on wood and avoid staying on the 13th floor of a hotel.

It is impossible to underestimate the power of a simple thought.

An old adage says, “You are what you eat.” That may be true to some degree, but it is even more correct to say, “You become what you think.”

The Old Testament writer put it this way: “As a person thinks in their heart, so they are.” (Proverbs 23:7a paraphrased).

The thoughts we entertain in our minds become the thoughts that guide our lives.

The power of our thought-life can be illustrated in this way: Picture a train in which the engine is our thinking. It, in turn, pulls the car of emotions (our feelings), then the car of behavior (our actions), and finally, the car of consequences (the results).

Good thoughts make us feel good, which causes us to act in constructive ways that bring about positive consequences. In contrast, negative thoughts affect us in the opposite sort of ways.

What you thought about as you woke up this morning has a profound impact on the rest of your day. If you woke up thinking, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad it,” you probably feel excited and hopeful about what the day will bring.

On the other hand, if you woke up thinking, “I guess I have to go to church/work/school today,” you’ll probably have a sense of drudgery all day.

Your way of thinking makes all the difference in the world.

Last week I introduced the subject of becoming a great church made up of great Christians. I mentioned that the primary reason for wanting to become great in God’s eyes is so we can bring glory to Him and accomplish the work He has given us to do.

Where do we begin in this journey toward greatness? With our thinking.

First and foremost, great Christians think great thoughts.

A mind that is filled with the deep truths of God is a powerful tool in His hands. Conversely, a mind that is filled with flawed thinking will never bring great glory to His name.

This all sounds simple, but we know from experience it’s not. We may want to think great thoughts, but how do we keep inane, faulty, and sometimes even evil thoughts from entering into our minds?

At all times of the day all sort of thoughts are bombarding our consciousness from all sides. The fact is, because of the way we’re wired, we cannot stop the torrents of thoughts that constantly flood our minds. But that’s where “the law of the 2nd second” comes into play.

You and I cannot control the thoughts that pop into our heads without notice. But once we’re aware of them, we can decide whether or not to entertain them for a longer amount of time. That is, the first second they arrive they’re there. But the second second is up to us whether they stay or go.

That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul is talking about in a familiar passage that is stamped on a host of refrigerator magnets and bumper stickers.  In his letter to Philippians emphasizes the importance of great thoughts. He urges his readers to be joyful, to have an attitude of humility, and not to be intimidated by their adversaries

Then, in chapter four, Paul directly addresses a believer’s thought life. He says that difficulties in life may be accompanied by fear and anxiety, but those feelings should be exchanged for thankful prayer: “Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.”

Having dealt with the negative thoughts that commonly plague us, he takes a more positive, proactive approach and reaches this conclusion:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me — everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9 NLT)

I like the way it’s stated in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on [these] things” (v. 8a MSG)

The word that is translated, meditating, is not a casual term. It means to dwell on something and ponder it deliberately. So thinking great thoughts is a conscious decision we make to fill our minds with those things that are pleasing and acceptable to God.

What we let in and what we choose to focus on determines both how we and where we end up. Imagine a colander as a way to visualize what it means to fill your mind and meditate on certain things instead of others. While many things may be poured in, only certain things are allowed through.

When we do that, Paul suggests, as we’ve already mentioned, wise behavior and beneficial consequences follow.

“Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me…Then the God of peace will be with you.” (v. 9)

The key that sets the whole process into motion is the mind.

Specifically, what we let in and what we choose to focus on determines both how we live (our level of greatness) and where we end up (with or without God’s blessing).

So, what thoughts do we let in? 

The Apostle Paul provides some “filters” that great Christians use in order to think great thoughts.

True

Before we let something into our minds, we need to ask ourselves, “Is it true?”

Much of the information we receive is this world is not. Many times, our minds are the primary “fake news” agency. A lot of us are prone to what’s called “stinking thinking.”

Here are some examples of it: overgeneralization (“I always mess up”), jumping to conclusions (mind-reading, fortune-telling), all or nothing thinking (we eat a spoonful of ice cream and decide, “Now I’ve completely blown my diet,” so we proceed to finish off the rest of the carton of ice cream).

Remember, false ways of thinking lead to negative emotions that result in unwise behavior and oftentimes devastating consequences.

So where do we discover what is true? The best objective source is the Bible.

It’s why the psalmist says, “Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.” (Psalm 119:97 NLT)

Think about God’s Word: love it, learn it, live it        

Honorable

This word literally means “worthy of respect.” The opposite of honorable thinking is having your mind “in the gutter.”

So every thought that crosses our minds should be filtered through the consideration: Does this honor God and reflect His purposes for my life?

Right

This filter is not so much about being correct or incorrect. It’s more about being just and right in God’s eyes.

Throughout the Bible this word commonly refers to the character and actions of God the Father and His Son Jesus.

So every thought is measured by this notion: What Would Jesus Think? (WWJT)

We spend lots of time and money trying to get our feelings and actions right. If we’re depressed, we invest in counseling and medication. If we engage in wrong or sinful behavior, we join accountability groups or take training classes.

There’s nothing wrong with doing those things, but maybe we’d be even better served by giving more attention to right thinking. Then right feelings and right actions will follow and that will make everything right.

Pure

This idea comes from the same root word as “holy.” It means to be free from defilement.

Most of us are very well informed about the food we eat. There are nutritional labels, calorie counts on restaurant menus, FDA regulations, etc. Isn’t it amazing that our culture is so careful and deliberate about physical nutrition but so careless about the ideas we consume with our minds?

Remember: we are what we eat and we become what we think. It’s like the computer programming term, GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

Lovely

This filter only lets in ideas that are attractive, winsome, or beautiful. This kind of thinking calls forth emotional responses that are warm and loving.

One of the ways to cultivate these thoughts is to take in God’s creation in all its splendor. Think about what walking on the beach or sitting by the bay does to our psyche.

We need to remember that the crowning jewel of God’s creation is people. So let’s view others, not just in loving ways, but in lovely ways (seeing the best vs. worst in them). If it’s not a lovely thought about another person, it has no place in our minds.

Admirable

Some translations refer to this filter as “proper.”

Consider it this way: “If my thoughts were put into words, would they be suitable for God’s hearing?”

What if we put the same sort of restraints on our thought life?

As the Psalmist said, “Lord, you have examined me and know all about me…You know my thoughts before I think them.” (Psalm 139:1-2 NCV)

Excellent and Worthy of Praise

We can group these two together because they differ in kind from all the others.

The other six could be found in any self-help book and are considered virtuous by just about any human standard.

But thoughts which are excellent and worthy of praise belong to a higher order. They are directed toward God Himself, the only One who is truly excellent and worthy of praise.

Remember we are to think about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable? Who does that list remind you of? Jesus.

When Christ is the focus of our attention, we get an entirely new way of thinking.

By looking upon the Lord, we come into His presence and He, in turn, comes to us through His Holy Spirit. We are then given the mind of Christ so that our thoughts are longer ours, but His.


That, my friends, is a greater way of thinking. Paul contends that a greater way of thinking leads to godliness and peace (a greater way of living). According to the Bible, we reap what we sow (a principle that applies universally). So the harvest produced by our lives starts with the seeds we plant in our minds.

John Stott puts it this way: “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

As believers, our ultimate destiny is greatness because we have been made in the image of a great and mighty God. The journey to that appointed future begins with the first step of great thinking.

If you and I are serious about becoming great in God’s eyes, we must think great thoughts. We do that by filling our minds and meditating on godly ideas.

If the whole idea of meditation seems foreign to you, consider this: If you can worry, you can meditate.

All of us can mull things over and over in our minds, picking apart every detail, and imagining every possible contingency. That’s called worrying.

Instead of dwelling on negative circumstances, fears, and unknowns, we can choose to use the same amount of time and energy to obsess on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise

That’s called meditating, or great thinking.

But before some of us can fill our minds with those kind of great thoughts, we may need to purge our minds of some “less than good” thoughts.

Back to the story of the buried Red Sox jersey… Yankee officials described the recovery of it an “excavation ceremony.”

Some of us may need an excavation ceremony in which God jackhammers away at our minds to unearth some false and possibly even sinful notions buried there.

Will you give Him permission to do that today?

Then will you allow Him to fill the void with His thoughts?

And once He sets things straight, will you commit to filter your thoughts and only allow in what is pleasing and acceptable to the Lord?