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  • Mark Clarke

Two Levels of Thinking

In all of human history God has been on a quest to redeem us. Our horror began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God (Genesis 3:1-24). Yet, our hope prevailed in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus Christ surrendered to the will of the Father to be sacrificed for man's debilitating sinful condition (Matthew 26:1-56). When we look at the two different events there are really two levels of thinking at work. The first is the low level. This level of thinking always has the immediate wants and desires of an individual or group at its core. Low level thinking pressures us to consume to our satisfaction, have what may seem out of reach or express the slightest discomfort or unhappiness. It is the level of thinking that every person is born with. If you have children this concept may be easier to grasp. The low level mindset is a completely self-centered concept ingrained in humanity. Satan duped us into this way of thinking in the Garden of Eden and it is still headlining worldwide today. We all know the very sad account of the first two humans, dissatisfied with all they had been given by God, consciously deciding to disobey Him and eat from the forbidden tree:

“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.”

"The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too" (Genesis 3:3, 6 NLT).

Low-level thinking says: "I must have everything I want. I must be happy, comfortable and unoffended at any cost."

At the opposite end of the spectrum is God's high-level mindset.

When asked the question, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus summarized the high level mindset with these words:

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 NLT).

God says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT).

Personally, I understand this statement as clear as day. At the same time, when it comes to day to day living I find myself relapsing from time to time into lower level thinking. By that I mean: the type of thinking that puts my will ahead of God's and my own desires ahead of loving other people. These are the two things that Jesus Himself said are the most important commandments. Many of us have read and know this but if we can admit it, we all slip back into low-level thinking from time to time. I see it in myself and my fellow believers. We all slip.

In Matthew chapter 16 Jesus queried his disciples to see how much of His mindset they had acquired from all of His teaching and miraculous works:

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:13-16 NLT).

Peter had spent time with Jesus and somehow the truth was so pervasive that some rubbed off on him! In Matthew chapter 16 we observe how Peter spoke the words of a "high level" mindset. It was the mind of Christ. It was "gold star" gospel truth. Jesus confirms Peter's profound statement by saying to him: “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being” (Matthew 16:17 NLT).

Considering the interchange between Peter and the Son of God that we just read notice how in the following verses, Peter, (like us) caves when the two mindsets clash:

“From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds” (Matthew 16:21-28 NLT).

Jesus blasts Peter and sternly warns the other disciples to beware of "low level" (human) thinking and points them to the "higher level" mission at hand. He says:

"For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds." Jesus is saying (in today's lingo), "There are bigger fish to fry here. This life is but a vapor. You cannot save yourselves. What is your soul worth to you? We are talking eternity here. There is an impending judgment and the very soul of all humanity is at stake!"

The lower level of thinking is what keeps us in a helpless state no matter what we seem to achieve. If Peter had been looking for validation no degree or status given by man could top what Jesus (God) had said to him just a few verses earlier:

“You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19 NLT).

Wow! Talk about getting your card stamped and validated! Just like us, Peter had a "God moment" in one instance and a "self moment" in the next. We all have them!

I see it in myself when I am tempted to put my desires ahead of the Great Commission. Sometimes it happens when all I can see is how much more others are "off the mark" than I am. Still, I hear the voice of Jesus saying to me as He did to the disciples, "If you try to save your own soul you will lose it." In other words, "It is only by My grace that you will be saved, not by your human efforts".

I wonder how Jesus would react to some of the battles we Christians choose to fight in His name. Are Christians supposed to stand up for truth? Yes. Do Christians fight battles here on earth? Of course we do and on many fronts if they line up with our overall goal of spreading the gospel. Even Jesus himself said:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come. ” Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Anyone or anything that becomes a hindrance to spreading the gospel should become an issue for the Church. Paul admonished Timothy with these words:

"Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12 NLT).

Our number one battle, according to the Scriptures is "the good fight. If God says that sharing the Gospel to a lost and dying world is the main goal, then it is the main goal for every Christ follower. When we are "born-again" we become "children of God" (Galatians 3:26). Jesus said I am to "love God" first and secondly, "love my neighbor as my self". If you are a child of God, it does not matter where you are from, what you look like, or what affiliations you had or currently have. Pleasing God should now be your objective in life.

As Paul said, “For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:7-8 NLT).

I recently took a cruise to the Bahamas and was in awe of the beauty of the seas and natural wonders God has made. At the same time I felt a sense of awe at the massive vessel that carried us on the sea to our destinations. On the way home there was a storm and the boat began to rock from side to side to the point that it made me uncomfortable enough to just lie down and calm myself. After doing what I was able to do, I had to trust the Captain, the crew and the ship. Sometimes, we as believers get sidetracked and intimidated by all that is going on in the world. But we are called to continue to be God's salt and light among the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We should be the best citizens and participate in civil duties that do not go against our worship of God. The Bible instructs us to do so (1 Timothy 2:1-5).

When we are tempted to fear or react in an ungodly way, we must remember that God has us! If we continue to follow Jesus' high-level mindset in showing love and spreading the Gospel, God will be pleased. We will face danger and the world's unrest but we have been assured that God is still at the helm of this ship! He says to every believer:

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT).

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