Loving God With Our Minds

Baptists, throughout their history, have not been a people who value education or intellect. We are a people of emotions. A thoughtful and rational presentation of the gospel was considered to be “old, dry religion.” We would much prefer a sermon that tugged at our hearts and made us tear up a little. That was heart-felt religion and, of course, more real and authentic.

Life is more complicated than that. We are more complicated than that. To live well, the entire person—mind, body, and soul—must be engaged. For instance, a good career involves the total person. A great job challenges the mind, satisfies the soul, and flows from the heart’s passion. A great marriage is a marriage of great love where passions and intellects are engaged and challenged.

Our faith must engage the total person as well. This means loving God with your mind. How do you that? First, this means accepting the challenge to think deeply about our faith.

What does it mean to be a Christ-follower? What does it mean to apply the teachings of Jesus to current issues and challenges? What are the consequences of grace and mercy in a world of terrorism and violence? Most of these questions are hard and require a focus of attention and effort few of us can master so most of us give up.

When we give up, two things happen: 1) The obvious one is that our faith becomes purely emotional. This is great as long as we are “feeling it” but when the feeling leaves, as they always do, so does our faith. 2) Second, because we do commit ourselves to think in a disciplined manner about our faith, we cannot answer the rational questions asked by our world. Neither outcome is desirable.

How then, do we love God with our mind?

First, study His Word. Note, I said study, not read. Spend days with a passage. Understand every word. Read the related passages. Think through the truth God is bringing in this passage.

Second, read the great books of the faith. A lot of religious publishing is cotton candy—very sweet with little substance. Read great writers such as C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and Annie Dillard. I don’t agree with everything I read, but I need to be challenged and pushed. These and other writers push me to think through my assumptions.

This all takes work, but it’s work with a huge payoff. God isn’t honored by lazy minds. He isn’t glorified by stupidity. The kingdom needs great minds thinking hard about the faith. It’s one of the best ways we can love Christ and serve our world. After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

The Truth About Jesus

Why does the world think Jesus is interchangeable with any other religious leader or founder? Why does our culture think Jesus is on par with Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith or…well, you can fill in the blank?

Why do people think Jesus is just another religious teacher whose teachings and insights can be compared, weighed, debated, and graded against the teachings of other religions and the so-called conventional wisdom of the day? Do they not know Jesus? Do they not know His story?

Simple answer—no, they don’t. They only know the story of Jesus we’ve proclaimed to them. Proclamation is more than the sermons we hear on Sunday mornings. Proclamation has to do with the totality of the message the church lives out in the culture around them.

It’s our conversations and the things we buy. It’s what we read and talk with about our friends. It’s how we love each other. It’s how we respond to the broken and wounded around us. It’s everything about us and how everything about us reflects the Lordship of Jesus Christ and our alignment with His teachings and kingdom.

The reason most people only have part of the story is the church, for a variety of reasons, has proclaimed only part of the story about Jesus. Thus, the world around us only knows part of Jesus. We have tried to make Him life-sized—understandable—and this result leaves us with a Jesus who is sympathetic to our struggles, but can’t help us. He’s just like everyone else…but Jesus isn’t just like everyone else.

When you go to court, they will swear you in. You will be asked to place your left hand on the Bible, raise your right hand, and repeat these words, “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

If I could, I would make every Christian swear the same oath in order to testify about Jesus. We would be forced to tell the truth about Jesus—the whole truth and NOTHING but the TRUTH about Jesus. As soon as the church gets it, the world wont’ be far behind.

The Empty Tomb

If you go to the Holy Land and take a tour of Jerusalem, you will be taken to the place that, according to historians and the traditional stories, Jesus was buried. The tour guide will give you a few minutes to step up to the protective gate and look into the empty tomb. Your imagination will not wait long to try and push you back to that first Easter Sunday morning when Mary and the other women approached the tomb.

What did they first see? What would you have seen if you had been there? Would you have believed? Or would you have just walked away with more questions.

This brings us to an interesting point.

For all of our conversations about the empty tomb, the empty tomb itself does not prove the resurrection of Jesus. There are all kinds of reasons the tomb could have been empty. The enemies of Christianity have given us a whole list of possibilities.

For instance, is it possible that Mary and her friends, in their grief and despair, simply went to the wrong tomb? Could the disciples have moved the body of Jesus? Could the religious leaders or the Roman government have moved the body of Jesus? Yes, all of these possibilities are indeed, possibilities! But we do not preach the empty tomb. We preach that Jesus is alive.

He appeared to Peter and James, to other disciples. . .and Mary Magdalene saw Him. Thomas was there, too, and he had said he wouldn’t believe until he saw Jesus for himself. The empty tomb is just one piece of evidence that we point to in trying to grasp the greatest news the world has ever heard. Jesus is alive. Jesus is with His people. Jesus is the Promise of God kept. He is the Promise-Keeper to us now. He conquered death – and every expression of death. He forgives, restores and all in the present tense. The One who died for us is now the One who lives for us. Yes, the tomb is empty. The tomb of Christ is a hollow reminder that nothing—not even death—will keep Jesus from His people.

IF

“If” is a big word in the English language. Should you look this word up (as I just did) you will discover “if” has to do with possibilities, opportunities and the consequences that come when those opportunities are either taken or missed. In our daily conversations we use this word to refer to how the moments in our lives would have taken us different places, or events would have led to different results had another course of action been taken, or if taken, been successful. “If only I had gotten here earlier.” “If only I had known.” “If only I had caught the ball our team would have won.” The word looms large in our everyday language. Many deal with the regret of “ifs” that were not fulfilled. Our entire life, we think, would have been different “if. . .” The word is never larger than when we use it to think about the resurrection of Jesus. Now, the more you study the resurrection, the more you are driven to the reality that what we are dealing with is the greatest mystery of our faith.

No one was there when Jesus was raised from the dead. And who could blame them? No one in their right mind ever expected to see Jesus alive again. But now. . .women are coming back from the garden tomb telling stories of seeing Jesus alive. Soon Simon Peter, Thomas and all of the other disciples would be telling the same story. Jesus is alive. We have seen Him. Now, IF that is true…if Jesus is alive…then everything changes. EVERYTHING CHANGES! Who we understand Jesus to be; who we understand ourselves to be; what we think about death and life and sin and forgiveness. . .all of that changes IF Jesus is alive. IF He is not, well, then nothing at all has changed and we are still stuck in a dead end world. But we believe Jesus has been raised from the dead. That is our message. This is our hope. We believe that the IF of the resurrection has bloomed into the reality of the Risen Christ. Everything has changed. Everything can still change – even us. Even our world. . .that is the IF of our message. And this divine IF opens the way to an eternity of possibilities and hope.