For my entire lifetime, I have been hearing about air pollution. Growing up in suburban Atlanta, we really did not have any major issues with smog but, in sixth grade, I did a report on what we called then “acid rain”. It resulted in me having a slight phobia about the potential to turn into a puddle of goo anytime I found my twelve-year-old self caught caught outside in a summer rainstorm. Clearly, I managed to avoid the haunting specter of melting away on the streets of Lilburn, and somewhere in my late teens and early twenties, I completely forgot about the topic of what humans were doing to the air around us and the ozone above us. I had other pressing issues beyond the environmentalist’s desire to save the cosmos via the disposal of one aerosol can at a time. If that is your calling, have at it – I won’t stand in your way, but I am not personally moved by environmental causes when it comes to the arena of nature. I am, however, deeply concerned about the spiritual smog that we are breathing in as Christians. The current atmosphere in our culture is extremely unhealthy, and I am watching the causalities pile up all around me. There are toxins in the air, and we Jesus-followers need to start prioritizing the need to live out our day-to-day with a filter on our minds and hearts to keep out the nasty. Two millennia ago, the Apostle Paul shared a similar concern when he wrote the following to a group of believers in the area of Philippi:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8
There were plenty of opportunities for early Christians to inhale the cultural pollution all around them. Their generation was grounded in Greco-Roman philosophies that made much of man and little of Jesus. Sexual immorality, vice, greed and violence filled their atmosphere. The active presence of demons had long been strongholds, and some of these Christians in Philippi were once owned by deep spiritual darkness. When Jesus ransomed them, they became new creations. Yet, they were still living in a culture that was in opposition to their new King. Paul, who was a spiritual father to many of them, wrote the words above to remind them that they had a responsibility to guard their minds from the contaminants that were everywhere. In a generation filled with false systems of belief and deceptive religions, Paul told them to fixate their minds on those things that were true. While people all around them gave in to their base natures, living by fleshly instinct and engaging in practices that patently shameful, Paul taught the Christians there to pursue those things that were honorable, suitable for those who were now the children of God. Roman culture exalted the strong over the weak. It was truly the survival of the fittest, wealthiest and empowered. Because of this, injustice abounded. Paul called all Jesus-followers in Philippi to live for that which is just before God. When Paul chooses the words pure, lovely and commendable, he is raising the level of their standards to that which befits a child of God. Philippi had plenty of filth if people wanted to live in it. God calls His children up and away from that and commands us to place our minds and hearts upon the things that reflect purity, beauty and love. With his final statement, he releases the challenge for believers to raise our appetites and aspirations to those things which we could easily commend to others in the presence of Jesus. He calls us to live in growing excellence – separated from the average, status-quo settling of those who do not know eternal life in Jesus. In the end, the wise Apostle commands that we think upon those things that could earn the praise of Heaven. He tells his readers to fixate their thoughts on these types of things.
Saints, this guarding of our minds will never occur accidentally in our lives. We must determine what holds our gaze.
In a world that is, today, filled with unprecedented levels of hostility partnered with ceaseless social media streams that demand that you read, watch and listen, what currently dominates your thought-life? Who are you allowing to flavor your outlook on life? Is it the insane political climate that is daily dividing us? When New York voted last week to approve and then celebrate with glee the most barbaric methods of infanticide, it rocked me in my spirit for a couple of days. I let my mind dwell there and, not surprisingly, found myself in a temporarily dark place. The abyss of American sexual depravity grows deeper, darker and colder. Mark my words: the stage is being set for the normalization of pedophilia which, I predict, will be culturally accepted within twenty years here in the United States. Even my mentioning these things in this blog runs the risk of taking us all in the opposite direction of what Paul commanded us to do. So how do we win the battle of keeping our minds filled with things that breed love, hope and excellence from our lives?
We gaze at Jesus, and we merely glance at the harsh realities all around us.
That’s right, you heard me. We must cultivate our context for life through long, meaningful gazes upon Jesus Christ – His promises, His words, His kingdom and His glory. These things must occupy our minds. Then, when we glance at all that is wrong in this world, we see it in the proper context of Heaven’s light triumphing over Hell’s darkness. What you gaze upon frames up your mindset. We throw down anchors every day in our thought-life. Stare at the nastiness of our culture and you will find yourself fearful, angry and looking for a fight. Yet, when we intentionally fix our minds upon the types of things that Paul mentions in Philippians 4:8 above, they become the greater reality in our minds. I’m not advocating the simplistic power of positive thinking. What I am setting forth here is the reality that God’s word commands Christians to intentionally guard our minds from that which drags us down and away from the glories of the Kingdom. We must place filters upon our hearts so unprofitable things cannot clog our spiritual arteries. Holy Spirit invites us to utilize wisdom and discretion about what we allow to hold our gaze. When we control what we give our minds to, we will experience the peace that is granted us in our Kingdom inheritance. we win the battle of our thought-life and we are empowered to live above the fray. Should we fail to do this, we will soon find ourselves as Kingdom-amnesiacs who forget that we are overcomers who have powerful victory in our spiritual DNA. We cannot afford to lose this precious gift of a Spirit-guided mind.
So, today, what will you allow to receive your glance, and what will you allow to hold your gaze? Your outlook on life rests squarely here.