Captivated by God

The Measures  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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What Goes Through Your Mind?
At the very beginning of C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters, the higher level demon, Screwtape, is instructing his mentee, Wormwood, on how to keep his “patient” away from the Enemy, from God.
His very first instructions have to do with the patient’s mind, and keeping him from thinking about certain things, distracting him. Screwtape knows that we are both physical and spiritual beings - and the trick is to keep the patient focused on the purely physical, that this - what we can feel and touch and taste and see - this, and only this, is real life.
As Screwtape writes in his letter, “Your business is to fix his attention on the stream (of immediate sense experiences). Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real.” In other words, don’t let him think about bigger, broader issues, the universal questions. Just keep his attention on immediate sense experiences - whatever is right in front of him then and there.
It raises an interesting question - what goes through your mind? What do you spend most of your thought life directed towards? And conversely, what doesn’t go through your mind - what do you not think about - or very little time thinking about?
If we were to take all the things we spend time thinking about and grouped them into categories and then created a giant pie chart - what would the slices break down to? (can you imagine just trying to track all that?!) What might that reveal about your thought life, and what predominates?
I’m sure a lot of it would be the practical stuff you have to take care of - day-to-day. What do I have to get done (get gas in my car, pick this up from grocery store, get that fixed, time to make the bed). Then there’s the time you spend engaged in work - though some of you don’t have that particular slice anymore.
How big is the slice of entertainment / amusement? Which in a sense is not to think - that’s root meaning of the word, amuse. This has absolutely become a greater chunk for us culturally, with the advent of radio, TV, then cable, internet and now the all-consuming cell phone.
There’s a lot more we could add in - our minds are constantly churning. We could add relationship stuff - what’s going through your mind as you spend time with others, think about them, think about what they may be thinking about you. Struggles you’re facing. Category for weird / random thoughts - that would be bigger for some of us. Our fantasy life - revenge fantasy against someone who’s hurt us or hero fantasy. The list goes on.
What about the things that are not “immediate sense experiences”, those things right in front of us? More specifically, what about God? How much of your thought life is spend reflecting on God himself, and being with him, and things he would have us be about? What might that slice look like?
We’re going to spend some time thinking about that right now, this morning as we begin our new sermon series, The Measures.
But first, what do we mean by The Measures? Two years ago, we began to formulate a vision framework for our church. Idea is to frame the vision, the unique kingdom calling that we believe God has for us, this particular grouping of body of Christ. Vision framework consists of four sides that make up frame - Mission, Values, Strategy and the Measures.
The overarching idea of our vision framework is to move “Into Abundant Life” - life that Jesus came to give. Exemplified by our new logo. Let me take you briefly through the four aspects of PCC’s vision framework:
Mission, this answers question of what we do, what we’re about: To lead others into abundant life of Jesus Christ.
Values, our core convictions, these answer question of why we do what we believe God is calling us to do. The values include being Kingdom First, Lived Obedience to Jesus, Shared Life Together and Heart Transformation.
Then, the Strategy. How will we do these things: Our strategies includes Worship rooted in four practices - teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer (comes from Acts 2:42-47), spiritual formation & spiritual formation groups, (new one) being a neighborhood church and intentional discipling.
My hope is that we would all know these. Idea is that this framework would inform all the decisions we make, ministries we undertake - do they help us move toward this vision, into abundant life?
Final side of the vision framework is what we’re going to cover in this season of Advent, the sermon series we’re beginning this morning, The Measures. This answers question, how do we know when we’re successful? What will it look like to have lived out the vision God has given us? Four measures:
Mind captivated by the reality of God and his kingdom (this morning’s focus)
Heart formed to loving God and loving others
Authentic loving relationships with one another
Actively leading others into the abundant life that comes through Jesus Christ.
Now I think an honest assessment would say we haven’t achieved those yet - but that’s the idea of a vision, it gives us a clear sense of what we’re striving for, what we’re seeking to attain - and how we plan to do it.
This morning’s measure - Mind captivated by the reality of God and his kingdom. What the heck do we mean by that?
In brief, it means that in our day-to-day lives, we are increasingly aware of, and mindful (we’re thinking about), and enthralled by the fact that God is real and present and full of power and might and glory - and that his Kingdom, all that he reigns over, is real and present as well. God is top of mind. He, his kingdom, dominate the pie chart of our thought life.
This was the central focus of Jesus’ ministry - to awaken people to reality of the Kingdom of God in their midst. Listen to what it says in Mark 1:14-15...After John (the Baptist) was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Over and over again, gospels tell us that Jesus and his disciples were proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. And what was the good news about the Kingdom? - it’s come, it’s near. It’s right here in your midst. It’s available to you. You can live with God in his kingdom right now, if you repent and trust in him.
It’s not only what Jesus proclaimed, it was the main focus of his teaching. Jesus taught parables about the kingdom of God to try and help others recognize its reality - because the Kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, it’s not part of our “immediate sense experience”. Consider parable we find in Matthew 13:44 - The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
The Kingdom of God is hidden. Most people walk right by, they never notice it. They don’t give it a second thought. But to those who find it, who recognize the reality of it, boom they’re in - whatever it takes, all I have, absolutely.
This is why one of our core values is “Kingdom First”. As Jesus commands in Matthew 6:33, But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Think for a moment that verse for a moment, it’s pretty incredible, Jesus’ instruction, his teaching is for us to make it the priority of our lives to look for his kingdom, to seek to become more and more aware of the reality of his reign over everything. In the passage he’s teaching about worry, and how much we worry, how much of our thought life is consumed with what we eat and drink, clothes we wear. “Real life” stuff.
But if you follow Jesus’ command and shift your mind’s attention to reality of God, presence of his kingdom, his glory and power, all around you, then you won’t worry anymore. The reality of God and his goodness and how wonderfully he provides for those who love and seek him will overshadow concerns about not having enough or making sure I get kind of food I want or how good I look in my clothing. All these things shall be given to you as well - you’ll get what you truly need.
This is the power of having a mind captivated by God, and things of God - his kingdom.
This is how Jesus lived himself. One of my favorite images of Jesus comes from John 11, when Jesus is at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, about to raise him from the dead. I love the image of Jesus praying here: Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
It’s such a great picture of a mind captivated by reality of God and his Kingdom - Jesus, looking up…I know you’re there. I know you’re listening. You always listen. I’m just saying this so all these other people will know it, too. That you’re here and real and you sent me. It’s so good.
It’s not just Jesus - we quoted Mary in her beautiful Magnificat at the beginning of the worship service, her response to God having chosen her to bear his son…“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant”…that’s a mind captivated by the reality of greatness of God.
We see it in Paul, too. Throughout Paul’s letters, he will erupt in praise. He’s writing all these things about God, who God is, what he’s done - and then boom. Wonderful example is in Romans 11, Paul writing about God’s salvation plan for the Jews, then he breaks into praise...
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Paul is not captivated by idea of God. This isn’t just information, interesting things to think about. He is captivated by God himself, by reality of God - his wisdom, his omniscience (he knows it all) - who can compare? Who’s ever been able to give advice to God, teach him anything? No one. Absolutely no one. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
So, what about us? What does this look like for us? How do we begin to measure when our minds are captivated by the reality of God and his kingdom.
Well, first of all, there’s no set measurement here, no definite line. It’s a gradual progression. What we hope to see is that the imaged pie chart of the thoughts of our minds - that the slice of being mindful of God and the things of God would increase more and more. Bigger and bigger slice - so that in a very real sense, all of our thinking would encompass God, that he would be central in all that we think about.
Let me try to paint a picture of what this might look like in our day to day lives:
As you wake up, your first thoughts go to him, grateful for the day that he’s given, a readiness to live into whatever it is God might have for you that day. Thankful that he will be with you throughout it all. Then, as you go through your morning routine, you might be mindful of the blessings he’s given - clean warm water to shower…whatever you might be enjoying for breakfast…coffee (hmmm)...
Your might start thinking about the things you have planned for that day…so you invite Jesus to be a part of whatever it is that you’re doing, you want him there, guiding, leading - because you want to be a part of what he’s doing. This continues as you do your work - errands you run, your job, childcare - whatever it is.
At some point, you step outside, or you’re driving around - see notice wonder of God’s creation - ominous clouds above, squirrel darting up a tree or Christmas decorations…you’re prompted to praise God for his glory and beauty and power. You read the paper - more political division - but you’re mindful that God is sovereign over all, his Kingdom reigns, not the rulers of the earth, you place your trust in him…you are Lord.
We could go on and on - talking about being with others, asking God to be with you as you seek to listen to and love that person - to see them as Jesus does because you want to love like he does. Or you’re buying gifts, it becomes an opportunity to thank God for blessing of his provision. You’re hurting over something - you remember Jesus’ willing suffering on your behalf - and that even now, in the midst of your pain, he is with you.
A couple of months ago I shared the story of Mabel…I’m not going to go through the whole story again, because it’s long. But it seems so appropriate in context of what we’re talking about this morning, so I want to share it in brief.
Mabel was woman who’d been in a state-run convalescent home for 25 years - bedridden, blind, nearly deaf, alone. Racked with headaches and backaches and stomachaches. Thomas Schmidt, who tells this story, became dear friends with Mabel - because he found her delightful to be with, amazed by the spirit of Christ in her.
One time he thought to ask her what she thinks about as she lies there. Her response reveals so much: I think about my Jesus. I think about how good he’s been to me. He’s been awfully good to me in my life, you know…I’m one of those kind who’s mostly satisfied…lots of folks wouldn’t care much for what I think. Lots of folks would think I’m kind of old-fashioned. But I don’t care. I’d rather have Jesus. He’s all the world to me...
And then Mabel broke out into praise, singing an old hymn: Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all. He is my strength from day to day, without him I would fall. When I am sad, to him I go, no other can cheer me so. When I am sad he makes me glad. He’s my friend. That’s a mind captivated by God.
Soul training exercises are absolutely essential here. We’re trying to break habits of being preoccupied by the physical world only - and be attentive to the spiritual - to reality of God, his Spirit within us, and his Kingdom that has come near - right here in our midst.
Best way to do this is to engage in discipline of solitude. I talk about this one a lot because it’s so essential, to get alone in order to be with God, to seek him.
Because it’s not just about getting to be with God, but getting away from everything else, from society and all things it presses upon us to think about, those distractions. We come with a nothingness - as Henri Nouwen writes, “in solitude, I get rid of my scaffolding.” Scaffolding being all stuff we use to keep ourselves propped up, to convince ourselves that we are important or okay. It is, as the old hymn goes, “just as I am.” I think that’s why it may be unnerving for many of us.
This week, spend time - go on a prayer walk…find a quiet place in the house to sit in quiet prayer with Jesus, just to be with him (put cell phone away, no TV, nothing). Drive time, turn off the radio…and just be with Jesus.
By way, your mind will wander constantly. You’ll think of all sorts of different things - having nothing to do with God. This takes a lot of practice. That’s why we do it as an exercise.
Second exercise you can do is in your daily reading of Scripture - and this should be done in solitude as well. Approach reading Scripture with anticipate that this is God’s word, and through his Spirit, he will speak to you. Ask him to do exactly that.
As you read the passage, ask the question, “what does this tell me about who God is? about what God has done?” As you reflect on what you’re learning about who God is, move into a time of praise and worship - praise God for who he is. Let it burst out!
Move from information to transformation. Move from God as simply an idea to being captivated, absolutely enamored with reality of God - which is what worship is!
There’s a reason why the very first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me.” The reason is that idolatry, giving higher importance to anything or anyone other than God himself, is at the root of every other sin.
Our minds have become captivated by some lesser god. It may be god of wealth. It may be ourselves, our own little kingdoms, we want to be center of our life: we don’t seek first the Kingdom of God, but our own personal happiness and comfort. Or it might be a cause, a political party - it can even be good things God has blessed us with - our families, our pets, our work. But we fallen into trap of disordered loves - gotten order wrong, made them more important than God himself.
Here’s thing. God doesn’t command us to put him first because he’s insecure or an ego-maniac. He commands it because he alone is worthy. There is nothing more glorious and beautiful or good or loving or powerful or wise or majestic or merciful or holy or faithful or joyful as God. Nothing. He alone is worthy of the captivation of our minds, worthy of our loving him with all of our minds (and our hearts and souls and strength). Nothing else comes close.
God’s desire is not to deny us life, but to make sure we don’t deny ourselves the fullness of life. Jesus with nothing else is better than everything and no Jesus. If we want life - real life - then we need look no further than one who is already right here with us, and focus our attention on him. May your minds be captivated by the reality of God himself.
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