Romans 12:1-2

Our country is in the grips of a disease more deadly than any that has ever gripped us, and I am not thinking about AIDS. At one point, Newsweek magazine gave its front cover to it, without naming it. It said a spiritual malaise of discontent and despair has gripped America. Its symptoms are seen daily in the media and in human relations. There is a growing national sense that America’s best days are history. Worst of all, said Newsweek, this sense of national despondency is incurable.

Now, while I, like you, have seen firsthand evidence of this plague that poisons the soul of America, I do not believe for one minute that it is without cure, for the cure is already in our possession. Indeed, I am so bold as to say that I have a prescription which, if applied, will work every time. That is why I bring you this message. Furthermore, I have given this disease a name: Attitudinosclerosis.
Attitudinosclerosis! You have heard, no doubt, about arteriosclerosis, a chronic disease in which thickening and hardening of arterial walls interferes with blood circulation. It is sometimes called, “hardening of the arteries.”
Attitudinosclerosis is a chronic disease of the human spirit in which thickening and hardening of negative attitudes interferes with the Holy Spirit’s circulation in the life of its victims. That is what makes this malady more deadly than perhaps any other known. One major difference between arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, and attitudinosclerosis, which can be called, “hardening of the categories,” is that the latter is highly contagious.
But it can be cured. You can stop it dead in its tracks. Long ago, God, through the inspired pen of the apostle Paul, told us how to avoid attitudinosclerosis: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
To conquer this disease that eats our national soul we must develop new ways of thinking. Long before the development of the disciplines of mind science, Paul recognizes that everything that enters our mind affects our speech and behavior for good or evil. The Bible repeatedly affirms this.
Paul summons us to make a deliberate and intentional dedication of our lives to God. To do this he resorts to a Greek technical theological term more often used in connection with the temple collection. His Greek word, paristemi, means, “Show your offering.”
A favorite Bible story recalls how Jesus commended a widow for putting her last two mites in the temple offering. Mark says Christ praised her generosity even though, “Many rich people threw in large amounts” (Mark 12:41). What is all the more remarkable for us is that He paid His tribute to the widow in public. Imagine what would happen if someone did that in a congregation in modern day America, where we stress the anonymity of giving!
Obviously Christ was not the temple bookkeeper. How did He know what people gave in church? According to the paristemi principle all church offerings were public worship demonstrations. The New International Version attempts to capture this in the phrase, “your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).
In Africa, a few years ago, I preached at an outdoor service called, in Swahili, Harambee. One of the most powerful services I have ever attended, Christians came from miles away bringing their gifts to help begin a new church. As gifts were given, the minister in charge announced the giver’s name and the amount given. The people applauded with great joy to each gift, no matter what it was.
Paul is calling us to a Harambee of our spirit. He says that how we present ourselves publicly tells a great deal about who we really are. Using another Greek word, logikos, Paul calls this public statement of faith a logical or intelligent response to what God has done.
Allow me to tell you what I believe to be the backdrop to Paul’s inspired thinking:
Our brain consists of two hemispheres, called right and left. Each works differently, and somewhat independently, from the other. The left hemisphere is the brain’s filing cabinet, where a lifetime of gathered information is stored. Indeed, some recent studies indicate we may begin storing information in our brain’s filing cabinet before we are born. The left side of the brain is, therefore, cognitive, analytical, critical. It remembers every experience we ever had. Recently a great deal has been written about recovered memory lapses. Recovered memory lapses result from opening a particular file in the brain’s filing cabinet and finding forgotten or repressed information. Similarly, the left side of the brain may be compared to a computer disk where data is stored for recall.
The right brain hemisphere, on the other hand, is the exploratory, creative, imaginative side of the brain. Left-handed people tend to be oriented towards thinking in the brain’s right hemisphere. Think, for example, about the disproportionate number of brilliant discoveries made by left-handed people.
Like his maternal grandfather, our son, Gary, is left-handed. From time to time Gary reminds us that he is the only member of our family in his right mind!
Most people you and I know are conditioned to think primarily with the brain’s left hemisphere. Growing up we learned certain “rules,” whether times tables, professional codes, or some other set of standards. These are ingrained in our thinking processes. Thus, we struggle with significant changes to our lifestyle. If a new idea is presented our immediate reaction may be, “It will not work!” Why are we prone to believe a new idea is doomed to failure? Often because it does not fit the way we think. Present that new idea to a right-brain oriented person and the response is almost always different: “Why not?” They ask. “Let’s try it.”
Perhaps the widow Jesus observed in the temple was right-brained. She obviously had big faith. She gave away all she had because she expected God to work. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were almost always left-brain oriented. They took life, and all the rules they added to it, very seriously. Jesus, recognizing this, played mind games with them, presenting right-brain ideas that revealed their limited thinking. For example, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago…But I tell you” (see Matthew 5:21, etc.). He challenged them to look at life in new ways, which is what Paul says we should do.
The Pharisees were very serious about life. Paul knew that, for he once had been one. Christ, on the other hand, was serious about living. He knew there is a world of difference between life and living. He came to a world all caught up in itself to demonstrate a wonderful new way of living in which the law frees rather than binds human potential. Jesus calls His way, “life more abundant” (John 10:10).
When Christ’s gift of new life came to us we learned this. And we never want to go back to the former way we lived!
Since Barbara and I became grandparents I have decided that parents are more apt to be left-brained, restrictive people. They frequently wall their kids inside rules that say what children cannot do. Grandparents, on the other hand, are more right-brained in their approach to the same children. If you have not yet experienced this, I hope you will. Basically it means we grandparents tear down the restrictive old walls. We smile and ask, “Why not, sweetheart?” Sometimes we even contradict the rules we once enforced on our own children. Of course, all of this may also be related to the fact that we also are aware our grandchildren are going home in a little bit!
The Greco-Roman world in which Paul grew up programmed people to function in a left-brained, cognitive, legalistic fashion. The people in that world were caught up in keeping the Roman laws. If, like Paul, one was Jewish, he had two sets of laws to keep. When he met Christ, the horizons of Paul’s mind expanded. The old restrictive walls crumbled like the Iron Curtain. Now Paul wants everyone to know this mind expanding gospel. You see, God’s intention is not that we be left-brained or right-brained, but that we use our whole brain, training each side to play off the other. This is the secret to good creative thinking.
Paul tells the Roman Christians, in effect, to think in new ways so that faith and all its glorious possibilities can come alive in them.
Now, look at a problem in your life, anything that concerns you, and cogitate on the prospect of God doing something new and wonderful to resolve it. Can you think of even one concern that God cannot overcome? Of course not! Since He controls the wind and waves, how could there possibly be an issue in your life or mine, or in our society, that is beyond His reach? There are no problems with which Christ has not already reckoned, and which He cannot resolve.
Because we know who Jesus is and that He conquered even a cross, nothing is impossible. That is why Christians are, first and foremost, “Think-Up” people.
The early disciples had a “Think-Up!’ attitude. For example, it was asked of them, “Men of Galilee…why do you stand there looking up into the sky?” (Acts 1:11). They looked up because after the resurrection there would never be incurably bad news again. In short, they were drawn forward by a future hope.
We are too! We know that in Jesus Christ all the answers for every issue we will ever face are found. The world’s way of looking at life is different. See it demonstrated near the start of the Scripture record: “The LORD said to Cain…’Why is your face downcast?”‘ (Genesis 4:6). Why? Because, ignoring God’s power, Cain took matters into his own hand. He was bankrupt of hope.
Cynicism, this spirit that grips America, is like that. It is sin because it is built upon a lack of trust in God and in God’s Son, Jesus.
Which brings us to the question of the hour: How will we who belong to Christ overcome this spirit of our age? What is the prescription for attitudinosclerosis? It contains three simple, guaranteed-to-work components:
First, recognize that even Christians can be caught in this destructive mind-set I call attitudinosclerosis.
We fall into cynical thought patterns every time we lose sight of Jesus. Indeed, if we are not careful, we can even be carriers of attitudinosclerosis. The well intended, but misguided, mind-set that says critical cynicism somehow indicates superior intellect or spirituality simply is not true.
Second, intentionally determine from this moment on to focus your thoughts on Christ and what He might use you to do in the face of this world’s issues.
Choose to be a positive force in this pessimistic age. We are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), Jesus says. We come against darkness with bright, workable solutions. We look for what is good and build upon it.
Third, consciously avoid negative conversation.
There is a wonderful Bible principle rooted in a Hebrew concept called, “Lashon ha-ra.” “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people” (Leviticus 19:16). Knowing that God stamps His image in each person, we refuse to repeat information which lowers another’s esteem. We will not lengthen the life of bad news by repeating it. Lashon ha-ra is one of God’s ways of teaching us that we cannot spread negative news and stay upbeat in our own spirit.
This is not a denial of reality. It is, in fact, an acknowledgment of it coupled with a resolve to focus our attention on issues rather than people. The ultimate reality is that God is, and that He rewards all who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). We look for what is wrong rather than who seems wrong. Then we go about fixing it.
Lashon ha-ra demonstrates our faith in God to do anything needed to transform negative situations into positive ones. The key to Lashon ha-ra is in your mind. Change your thought patterns and you can change anything.
Jesus Christ, God’s bright radiance in the world, is looking for people like us to turn their minds over to Him and become channels of His light and glory in a world made dark by the shadows of cynicism and despair.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely; whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

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