Further Musings on Toxicity

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be lethal because it is undetectable to the ordinary human. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas which attaches itself to the haemoglobin in the body which usually carry oxygen to cells. Carboxyhaemoglobin is formed as a result and the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen which then causes the body’s cells and tissues to fail and die.

Because the gas is undetectable to human senses, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are not always obvious. Headaches, dizziness, feelings of nausea and tiredness and confusion can all have other causes, and so the problem can remain undetected for a long time. Nowadays, using carbon monoxide alarms in houses helps us to become aware of gas leaks and thus prevents the accidental deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, but there’s no doubt that exposure to this gas can be dangerous to our health.

In the same way that we are unable to detect the presence of carbon monoxide on our own and can often not recognise the symptoms of this poisoning, so we are exposed daily to the toxic influence of the world and the enemy’s fiery darts without always recognising the poisonous effect this has on our lives and on our faith. We ascribe our lack of zeal, prayer and passion for God to the pressures of life, the busyness of the day and the familiarity of relationship, but in truth, anything which pushes God off the throne of our lives is acting as a poison, severing us from the intimate connection required to maintain spiritual health and vigour. We need to be alert to the presence and power of toxic thinking and remove all traces of this from our lives if we are to grow in grace and a knowledge of the Lord.

We need to be ruthless with sin and refuse to settle for justifications for our behaviour which may look plausible but are simply excuses. Anything which nudges you away from God – gradually, inch by inch – needs to be challenged and changed. We fall back from our relationship with God when we allow our hearts to focus on ourselves more than on God and when we allow our eyes to wander onto worthless things. (Ps 119:37) Only by steadfastly committing ourselves to God and to His word can we overcome the toxic effects of the tri-fold poisoning of the flesh, the world and the enemy.

Tackling Toxic Thoughts

Guest speaker Yan Hadley spoke tonight on ‘tackling toxic thoughts.’ Our thoughts are vitally important in believing God can change every situation we face. Joshua and Caleb are examples of what positive confidence in God can achieve. We need our thoughts to be in line with God’s, and as Rom 12:1-2 makes clear, this can only happen as our minds are renewed which leads to our transformation.

The Seriousness of the Condition

Our thoughts essentially control our actions. Anger, selfishness and critical attitudes can affect our physical wellbeing; some estimate 70% of physical ailments are affected by wrong thoughts. So often, we become trapped by ‘could have, should have’ situations and we replay what has gone before, allowing ourselves to become prisoners of toxic thoughts. We can also be paralysed by worry or other people’s opinions of us.

Significant Causes

What are the causes of such toxic thinking? Often, this arises from a shallow relationship with Christ which leaves us vulnerable to such thinking. We need to have our minds set upon spiritual things (see Rom 6:11-14, Rom 8:5) so that we do not get led astray into wrong thinking. Another cause is our upbringing; our past can affect us significantly, causing us to remain entrenched in toxic thoughts. If we feed on godless thoughts (following the world’s opinions and values, for example, rather than God’s), we will become poisoned by these values. The hard knocks of life can also cause difficulties for us; even Paul despaired of life due to the pressures he faced (2 Cor 1:8).

Toxic people around us can pollute our minds; we need to be people who encourage others and who can be encouraged (see Heb 3:13). Disagreements don’t have to divide; we can be strengthened as we learn to work through disagreements and let encouragement sanctify our minds. The enemy loves to infiltrate our minds, causing us to dwell on wrong thoughts, feeding doubt and fear into our lives, but we need to take captive every thought to Christ. (2 Cor 10:5)

The Solution

Rom 12:1-2 urges us to present ourselves to God. He is the One who transforms. As we surrender and yield to Him, He confronts those toxic thoughts and exposes them to the light. For example, He will bring our unforgiveness into the light and remind us of the need to be pro-active in forgiving others (see Mark 11:23, Matt 5:44).

Eph 6:17 urges us to put on the helmet of salvation. This protects our mind and our thoughts. As we dwelll on Christ and His victory, we are reminded of our cleansed past, our changed present and our secured future and can grow in confidence.

We need to persevere, just as Jesus did when faced with temptation in the wilderness. His response to the devil’s toxic thoughts was ‘it is written’; He was grounded in God’s word and this provide solutions to every situation.

We need to be proactive and remove toxic thoughts from our lives. Our minds have to be washed with the word (Eph 5:26) and renewed. Praying in tongues helps us to build ourselves up and when we pray in the Spirit in this way, we are physically strengthened (according to a study by Carl Peterson, this type of prayer releases two chemicals in the body and leads to a 35-40% increase in immunity.) Ultimately, we have to choose what we think about, and Paul makes it clear that our minds must focus on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. (Phil 4:8-9)

 

God’s Plans for the Now

In the trilogy of films ‘Back To The Future’, time travel enables a character to obtain a sports almanac from the future and make bets with certainty on the results of matches. This demonstrates a very human tendency to want to make plans for the future and be in control of what happens in the future, even though this is actually not possible!

From a young age when we’re urged to study hard to look after and plan for our futures, we tend to enjoy planning ahead and so when we read in the Bible that God has good plans for us (Jer 29:11), our tendency is to want God to reveal those plans to us instantaneously. We can be so concerned about the future plans God has for us that we fail to live in the now or understand that His plans also encompass the now. We can become impatient and not understand that God has times and seasons for us all and waiting for Him to reveal His plans is part of the journey of faith.

Jesus reminded us that the birds of the air do not sow or reap or store away in barns; they make no plans for tomorrow and yet are provided for by the Lord. (Matt 6:25-27) In the same way, we need to understand that God looks after us on an everyday basis and is wanting to work out His purposes in the now. Don’t be so concerned about future plans that you fail to appreciate God’s love, care, provision and guidance in the now.

God’s New Thing

God is often doing new things, as Isaiah reminds us (Is 42:9, Is 43:19), something which we generally find rather frightening. Many of us are creatures of habit and we like the familiarity and comfort of routines. It’s this tendency to find change uncomfortable and threatening which explains much of the opposition to the gospel we find in the Bible and in our society today.

Stephen faced opposition because he was accused of speaking blasphemous words against Moses (revered by Jews as the law-giver) and God (Acts 6:11), of speaking against the holy place (the temple) and the law (Acts 6:13). The charges brought against him were false, but it is clear that, through his preaching, he was forcing people to re-think their traditional views on these subjects, something they found infuriating and were unwilling to heed. Jesus Himself had been arrested and tried for these same things (see Mark 14:57-59, Matt 26:60-61) and He had certainly talked in radical terms about the temple (John 2:19-22) and about the law (Matt 5:17-48). Religious leaders had failed to understand what He meant by these things, and this same lack of understanding was present with Stephen.

Jesus taught that the temple and the law would be superseded, meaning not that they had never been divine gifts in the first place, but that they would find their God-intended fulfilment in him, the Messiah. Jesus was and is himself the replacement of the temple and the fulfilment of the law. Both the temple and the law pointed forward to Jesus and are now fulfilled in him, as the book of Hebrews make explicit. (Heb 10:1) It was this resistance to the ‘new thing’ God was doing in Jesus which led to both Jesus’s crucifixion and Stephen’s death by stoning.

We need to be careful not to be just as stiff-necked and resistant to the changes God’s Holy Spirit wants to bring into our lives and into our churches. God’s ‘new thing’ will always stretch our faith, our understanding and our willingness to change, but we must be open to what He is saying and willing to bend with the wind of the Spirit. As Garry’s children’s song puts it, ‘are you a wall or a windmill?’ We need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us and not be like those who opposed Stephen’s challenging ministry.

Dealing With Opposition

Opposition has become a familiar theme in our Bible studies in Acts; this was something the early church had to contend with from the outset, and this is not surprising, given the opposition that Jesus Himself had to face. Jesus warned His disciples frequently about this (e.g. Matt 10:16-20, Matt 24:9-14, Luke 21:12-19) and gave strategies for dealing with opposition which, as Garry recently reminded us, can only be fulfilled as we live in the Spirit (Matt 5:11-12, Matt 5:38-48, Rom 12:17-21), so revolutionary are they!

Stephen faced opposition to his preaching. Initially, his opponents tried to debate with him (as they had with Jesus – see Matt 21:23ff), but when they failed, they resorted to false charges (Acts 6:11, 13; see also Matt 26:59) and personal slander. This is often the way the enemy works; as Tom Wright wryly comments, “People today often find real debate about actual topics difficult, and much prefer the parody of debate which consists of giving a dog a bad name and then beating him for it, and lashing out too at anyone who happens to associates with the dog you happen to be beating at the time.” (Tom Wright, ‘Acts For Everyone Pt 1’, P 103)

Paul tells us that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Tim 3:12), a verse we would prefer to ignore. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, but he shows us how to bear opposition with grace and poise. We are told ‘they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke’ (Acts 6:10), and all through this account, we see the grace of Christ shining through him: his face like an angel (Acts 6:15), his courage when being stoned (Acts 7:55-56) and his ability to forgive others even as they were killing him. (Acts 7:59-60) Stephen, this man of the Spirit, full of faith, wisdom and grace, gives us a living example of how to deal with opposition. We may wonder why God allowed this man to die, why his ministry was cut short, why suffering has to be such an integral part of life, but in living out his faith to the end, Stephen fills us with hope and shows us that God’s plans cannot be thwarted, even by death.