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Think Great Thoughts, Part 1

If you’re married, you want a great marriage - not just a good one. Right? If you run a business you want to build a great business. Right? Chip begins this series by sharing ten practices that will help take the guess work out of moving from good to great in the eyes of God.

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I've got a little word association game I'd like to play with you very briefly.  Tell me what these words have in common: Atkins, South Beach, Low Carb, High Carb, High Protein, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers.  Are we there?  It's diets, right?  It's what you put in your body.  Someone has said, "You are and we are what we eat."  And we know it's true physically.  I mean, it's absolutely scientifically proven.  If you want to change your cholesterol you've got to change your diet.  If you want to change your body, if you want to lose weight, if you want your heart, your body, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera to change, you have to change and I have to change what I put in my mouth.

But often what we forget is it's just as true psychologically as it is physically.  University of Tennessee did a study conducted by Dr. Jack Hatkins.  It was a 12 year study trying to measure in some way the impact of what people put into their minds.  They had a control group and a non-control group listen to a five minute daily radio program.  And then they tested them.  The results were if there were four negative items in the five minute radio program, the listeners were 1) more depressed, 2) believed the world was a negative place to live, 3) were less likely to help others, and 4) began to believe that what they heard would actually happen to them.  Empirical research.  Five minutes.  Five little minutes of listening to four negative things impacted them that much.  Imagine what in the average home six to seven hours of not listening to only radio but six to seven hours a day of TV is doing to the average person in America.

You are what you eat.  I am what I eat.  It is true physically.  It is true psychologically.  The scripture says, Proverbs 23, "As a man thinks or as a woman thinks in her heart, so is he."  In fact, Ralph Waldo Emerson even gets it.  He says, "Life consists of what a man is thinking about all day."  Your life consists merely of what you're thinking about all day. 

But it's also true spiritually.  In Romans 8, you might jot this down, verses 5-8 when you have some time are worth looking at.  Talks about this deliverance we have, the Spirit being in us, the law of the spirit of life, the law of the spirit of death.  Then after talking about having been delivered by what God has done, it says, "For the mind set on the flesh is death.  The mind set on the spirit is life and peace.  For the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God and it is not able even to please God."

I'm going to become physically what I put in my body.  I'm going to become psychologically and spiritually what I put into my mind.  I'd suggest that the most important decision you make and the most important decision your children make and your grandchildren make every single day is this: what they allow to go into their mind.  Because you'll notice there's a little graphic on the bottom of your notes.  The idea is wrong thinking leads to negative emotions that leads to unwise behavior that leads to devastating consequences.

Often what happens in our lives when we want to change, we usually start at the wrong place.  We often start with the behavior.  I’m eating too much.  I'm eating too much.  I want to stop eating.  I'm drinking too much.  I’m not doing enough of this.  And we start with the behavior.  We go through cycles and we can't figure out.  Some people get a little smarter and they start with the emotions.  Why am I feeling this way?  I notice that I eat when I feel this way.  I notice I have these outbursts of anger when I feel this way.  That's still not starting far back enough; it all begins with your thinking.  Wrong thinking produces negative emotions.  Negative emotions will produce behavior that is unwise.  And a pattern or unwise behavior, what's the scripture say?  “If you sow to the flesh, you reap corruption.  A man and a woman, don't be deceived my beloved brethren, you're going to reap.” I'm going to reap what I sow.

By contrast, right thinking produces positive emotions.  Positive emotions produce wise behavior.  And wise behavior, sowing over time, produces fruitful consequences.  We are a product of our thought life.  And the point I want to make is change, all change, all lasting change begins with how you think.  And the scripture is filled with it.  I gave you Romans 8:5-8.  Study sometime Ephesians 4:22-24.  Take off the ol;  have your mind renewed;  put on the new.

It's everywhere.  Colossians 3, "Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are earthly.  Set your mind where your life is hidden with Christ."  Just get out your concordance and look up the word "mind" or look up the word "metamorphosis" or "transformation" or "change" and just watch how it is peppered all through scripture.  Change begins with your thinking.

That's why the second practice to go from good to great in God's eyes is to think great thoughts.  We are a product of our thinking.  Our emotions flow from our thoughts.  And what we allow to enter our mind is the most important decision we make every day.  That's the net net.  That's the summary.

Now notice since we're a product of our thought life, God commands us.  I didn't just make this up.  He commands us to think great thoughts.  And you say, "Well, where do you get that?"  Well, follow along.  Let's look together at Philippians 4:8, "Finally brethren, whatever is true –" that means objectively true, conforms to reality, "whatever is honorable –" that has the idea of that which is worthy of respect or dignity, "whatever is right –" has the idea of justice or righteousness, "whatever is pure –" that's the idea of moral purity, "free from defilement, whatever is lovely –" that has the idea of something that is winsome and attractive and beautiful, "or whatever is good –" and the idea here is admirable, or good report, worthy of passing on to another, "and whatever is of any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."

A great little biblical exercise is to go through and circle all of those words and just do a little mini Bible study on what they mean.  And then they can become a little grid for what I allow to come into my mind.  Whatever is true.  Whatever is lovely.  Whatever is honorable.  Whatever is right.  Whatever is pure.  Whatever is of good repute.  And then Paul kind of thinks, "In case I left something out, if there is any excellence, if there's anything worthy of praise –" notice what he says, "dwell on these things."  That's the first command.

Then notice the second command is, "The things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me –" then what do you do?  Those are all recepting type words, aren't they?  Learned, received, heard, seen.  Take all this data, "practice these things –" and what's the promise?  "The God of peace will be with you."

You see, when we're anxious – really, you know what anxiety is?  Anxiety is just dwelling on something.  Anxiety is negative meditation.  I mean, some people say, "Well, I don't know how to meditate on scripture."  Well, just try worrying in reverse it.  It works, right?  I mean, anxiety is, "I wonder what's going to happen?  I don't know.  Well, the economy is going kind of south a little bit and I've got some money put away over here.  And if that doesn't come through then I might have to come out of retirement.  I had planning to do with this and well, one of my grandchildren – and if that happens then they could meet one of those kids at one of those colleges and I wouldn't have enough money.  I wouldn't have enough money.  And one of my kids – I think I'm hyperventilating."  What do you do?  We take one little thing and we dwell on it and then we pull it apart and then we factor out all the possible negative things that could happen.  What happens to your emotions?  Tightening of the chest.  Start to get depressed.  Little panic attack.  Depression.

See, you are a product and I am a product of my thinking.  When my thinking begins to go south, my emotions being to really go in a bad direction.  I'd like to tell you I'm real objective and I make all my decisions just based on good thinking and objective criteria.  I've got news for you; most of us make our decisions in an emotional state.  And we are swayed by how we're feeling and what we do.

What the apostle Paul is saying is that in the area of anxiety, come to God and learn to offer it.  Recognize what's happening.  He uses three or four different words for prayer.  Gives thanksgiving.  Take the specific issue.  Get it before the Lord.  And the promise is that the God of peace will be with you.  And the peace of God will reign in your hearts.  And then he says, "Now, let's get rid of that as a lifestyle.  Finally brethren what I need you to do is I'm going to go back beyond the emotions, beyond the anxiety, beyond the behavior.  I'm going to go back to your thinking.  So finally brethren –" He gives us six or seven things and then scrapes the Milky Way.  Basically, think Godly, pure, righteous, honorable, winsome, lovely, God-honoring thoughts.  And the promise is what?  The God of peace will be with you.

The word "dwell" there, the command is to dwell.  Write that word in, will you?  It's to dwell.  In Greek it means to consider, to think on, to recon, to deduce, to reason, to calculate, to ponder.  To dwell means to deliberate upon through a protracted analysis and thought.  When he says purity, honorable, justice, righteousness, lovely, beauty, he says, "I want you to get your mind focused in and with a protracted, energetic, intentional ability, think on these things.  Meditate on these things.  Analyze these things.  It's not casual thinking.  It's not passive thinking.  It's intentionally focused protractive thought on what is right, pure, good, lovely, and righteous.

Colin Brown's Dictionary of the New Testament of this word says, "It's not an unemotional or an unphilosophical word."  This is not just like an accountant going through.  But by contrast it's the very process of reasoning and deduction that separates good from evil.  So, it's thinking on what is right and pondering what's right and thinking of the implications and looking at situations and looking what's true and then analyzing in such a way and say, "I wonder how that would play out in this relationship?  I wonder how that plays out in how God looks at me?  I wonder if  over time it's an analytical dwelling on truth; on God for who He is; on you for who you are; on other people for who they are.  It is looking at the future, the past, circumstances through the lens of truth of God's word.

And it's powerful.  It's powerful, powerful.  I mean there's a reason why people paid – do you remember what it was for 30 seconds at the Super Bowl?  How many millions, billions of dollars for 30 seconds?  Why would anyone pay that much money to have people's attentions for 30 seconds?  I'll tell you why.  Because whatever they see, whatever they hear, whatever you put in their mind, that's what they go out and buy.  It's to influence you.  Why do companies spend billions in advertisement?  The drug companies recently, I read a statistic, spend billions of dollars in advertisement.  Why?  Because when something hurts and it's not working, I'm going to say, "Hey doc, you know, did you see that commercial?  What about this?  Do you think that would help me?"  We are influenced.  We're a product of our thought life.

Let me show you how powerful this is.  This is not a made up story.  You know sometimes you have one of those illustrations that is so over the top you just think, you know this guy, he makes these up.  His name is George.  In fact, I'll give you his full name George Desendra because he's heard this once before, it'll just encourage him more.  I was involved in campus ministry as a young Christian.  I’m now a couple years old in the Lord.  And this campus goes from 3 or 4 or 5 kids and now we've got about 40, 50, 60, 70 kids and we're meeting in this guy's basement and we're starting to grow.  I'm really a believer and I'm walking with God but I'm also on the basketball team.  And some of the believers really loved God but were very uncool.  You know what I mean?  They didn't dress cool.  They didn't talk cool.  Some of the girls were not the prettiest girls on campus.  But over here on the basketball team they were cool guys.  We had the big hats and platforms and had the full length leather coat, walking in, "Hey what's happening, dude?"  We were cool.

When I went on Thursday night to Bible study I loved being around this group, but when I went on road trips and I was with the basketball team I had to be cool.  I had this bad situation where I would be with the basketball team in the cafeteria when someone from the Thursday night bible study would come up to me.  You know, I'm supposed to love, enjoy, be a friend to…be a Christian.

The situation was with George.  He had a little bit of a lisp.  He had no hair.  He just was not the cool in school person.  I don't know about you and God bless those who have hair, God bless those who do not have hair, but when you're 19 and have no hair, it's not really good in college.  George had like three strands going over to the left.   He came from a Slavic background whose family came over to this country.  He grew up in a hardcore New York City neighbor.  His childhood, basically, was getting up, walking to school, getting beat up on the way, coming home, getting beat up on the way home.  The guy had a self image problem and he had zero confidence.  How he ever made it into college, I'll never know.

The situation with George would go like this: "Hey Chip."  And I'm going, "Augh."  You know what I'm saying?  Now none of you have ever done this because you're spiritual and you love everybody all the time and you can't identify with this.  But maybe on a bad day once, you might. It was like, "Hey George.  Hey, man I've really got to go, all right?"  This guy is socially, mentally, spiritually – I mean you know those extra grace required people?  You those people when you see them coming and there's another stairway, you use it.  This is one of those where you pretend not to see them.  You know, no eye contact.  And you say to the person, "Let's act like we're really talking right now because I do not want to talk to that guy."  Well, the situation with George was he was that kind of guy.

There was a guy named Jerry on our campus and he was a little bit older.  He would come to the ministry to help out.  And Jerry saw something in George.  Jerry allowed him to get involved in an investigative Bible study.  George wasn't a Christian and little by little George got interested and he began to investigate the scriptures.  Are you ready for a thought?  What a thought that someone would love him.  What a thought that he mattered to someone and not just someone, but God.  What an amazing thought that he had value, not because of what he looked like on the outside; not because of what he had done or hadn't done but just because he was George.  He was valued and loved and important.  This message of the grace of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ finally gave birth to a new life in George.

I didn’t see George at the end of the school year and I headed off and he headed off.  We came back and I met George about four or five months later, without exception, he was very different.  He was cogent in his thinking and some of the wackiness was sort of gone.  I was trying to figure out what was going on.  He went somewhere with Jerry and I cannot tell you all the details but he went to some seminar or some conference where someone was teaching about scripture memory.  He went ballistic.  And so by about Christmas time I happened to be talking to George and he had these 3x5 cards about this thick in his pocket.  George had the book of James memorized.  George had the book of John memorized.  George had the book of Colossians memorized.  George was finishing up the book of Matthew.  And it was like, "George what are you doing?"  It was literally, you know those extreme makeover shows?  I mean, it was like is this the same guy?

And you'd talk with him and I could make it a long story and it would really be funny because it is so amazing, but all I can tell you is George ended up on the floor with all the fraternity guys and he was one of those kind of nerdy type guys that everyone would like to make fun on.  George's life changed so much and George had such wisdom and God changed him as he continued to memorize the scripture, that soon the fraternity guys, I mean the super cool dudes, guys going out and doing all this stuff, they were lining up at his door because George had this sense of what God was doing.  He was counseling them about their girlfriends and counseling about issues when your parents break up.  Pretty soon, and this is gospel truth, about another six or eight months I remember talking with George and I was not only not embarrassed it was like, "George, you think you and I could get a little time?  Just hang time, you and me?"  "Sure Chip."  And I would go and I would meet with George and I would just ask him questions.

It was a life transformation like I have never seen  In about a 9 to 18 month period of time, that man’s life was revolutionized.  And he was so, can I say this, beautiful.  He was so beautiful on the inside I no longer saw the features.  I no longer saw the loss of hair or the little accent.  He became attractive and drawing instead of a repellent.  George Desendra became one of the key people in this entire ministry and he became someone that we wanted to be around because he renewed his mind at a level like no one I've ever met.