8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Dear Friends in Christ,
It was once called the world’s most unwanted ship. Its name was the Pelicano. Beginning in 1986 it became the hobo of the high seas, turned away from every single port she tried to enter. The Dominican Republic didn’t want her. Neither did Honduras or Haiti, Bermuda or the Bahamas, Indonesia, and many others ports around the world. The problem was not the boat. This 466-foot freighter was definitely seaworthy. The problem was not the crew. They may have had an inferiority complex after all those years of rejection, but they were efficient. The problem was not the owners of the Pelicano. They kept the license current and all the necessary duties paid.
So what was the problem? How do we explain its more than 14 years of rejection? Why was the Pelicano the most unwanted ship in the world? Simple. She was full of trash. 15,000 tons worth of trash! The trash of Philadelphia’s long summer of 1986 when that city’s municipal workers went on strike. Once the strike was finally over, they had a huge problem on their hands. What do you do with all the garbage that had piled up on city streets during the strike? Well, that’s when the Pelicano entered the picture. The trash was burned and the ashes were dumped into the belly of the boat. The owners of the Pelicano thought they could turn a quick profit, but they were sadly mistaken. Their plan backfired and no one would allow them to unload their trash. So for more than 14 years she could be seen sailing the high seas, looking for some place, one place, any place, where she could dump her potentially toxic cargo.
And my friends, if there is one thing we can learn from the plight of the Pelicano it is this: Once you get trash on board a ship, it’s hard to get it off. Likewise, once you get trash in your mind, it’s hard to get rid of it. That’s why Paul tells us in our text for today that we need to be careful about the kinds of thoughts we allow on board our minds. So let’s spend some time this first Sunday of this brand new year talking about what I’ve referred to in my sermon title as “Mental Waste Management.”
And I’d like to begin by talking about the power of thoughts. You see, the Pelicano is not the only vessel full of trash. Life has a way of unloading her rubbish on our decks too. Anger, guilt, pessimism, bitterness, bigotry, anxiety, deceit. They pile up, and if we don’t do anything about them, in time we become like the Pelicano, laden with garbage. So what do we do?
Well, I suppose we could dump it on others. We can blow up, get mad, chew people out. But that’s not a wise idea because in the process kids can get hurt. Wives can get hit. Husbands can get wrongfully blamed for things they did not do.
Well, if we don’t dump it on others then I suppose we can keep it in. That’s what a lot of people do. They just don’t deal with the trash in their mind. The problem with that approach though is that you can’t have trash on board for long without it negatively impacting and affecting you. And pretty soon you begin to feel trashy and you might even act out those trashy thoughts. Is it any wonder then why some people don’t want to be around us at certain times?
So what are we to do? Well, I think we need to first of all recognize a clear principle that we’ve only hinted at thus far this morning. And that is that today’s thoughts become tomorrow’s actions. Need proof of that? Look no farther than the Bible for it is full of examples. Before Cain had the blood of his brother Abel on his hands, he had anger and jealousy in his heart. Before David had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba, he had a mind that was full of lustful thoughts. Before the Pharisees crucified Jesus on the cross, they crucified him first in their minds. You see what I mean? Today’s thoughts become tomorrow’s actions. Today’s jealousy becomes tomorrow’s abuse. Today’s bigotry becomes tomorrow’s hate crime. Today’s bitterness becomes tomorrow’s revenge. Today’s greed becomes tomorrow’s dishonesty.
I’m sure that’s why the Bible has so much to say about our thoughts and our minds. For example, in Rom. 12:2 the Apostle Paul writes: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Elsewhere Paul encourages us in Col. 3:2 to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” The wise man in Prov. 4:23 puts it this way: “Be careful what you think because your thoughts run your life.”
Think of it this way. If you’ve got a tiny computer chip in your mind that is constantly playing negative, grumpy, and sour thoughts, guess what kind of actions you’re going to be producing in your life? Negative, grumpy, and sour ones, right? But if you’ve got a computer chip from God running in your mind saying things like “God is in control. Things are going to work out. He loves you. He’s faithful. He’ll never leave you or forsake you.” Guess what? That’s going to have a profound and positive impact upon your actions and how you handle the challenges of life that come your way.
The question is, what can we do so that we can have those kinds of positive thoughts rather than the negative ones that so often seem to find their way into our minds? Well, one thing we can do is practice a little thought prevention. Getting back to the Pelicano, the problems for it began when? When they let the first shovel-full of trash on board, right? Likewise, problems begin for us when we allow that first bit of trash to enter our minds. But you know what, my friends? You don’t have to allow that trash on board. You do have a choice in the matter. Now I realize there are a lot of things in life that you don’t get to choose like your parents, your siblings, your eye color, your skin color, and so on. But you do get to choose your thoughts.
I’m reminded of this almost everyday when I look on the bulletin board to the right of my desk in my office. For there I have posted right in the center of that board the following quote from Bible scholar and teacher Chuck Swindoll: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. The remarkable thing is – we have a choice every day of our lives regarding the attitude we embrace for the day.”
Interestingly the Apostle Paul expressed a similar thought in 2 Cor. 4:10 when he said: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Do you detect some battlefield jargon there? I sure do. I kind of get the impression from that passage that we’re the soldiers in this battle and our thoughts are our enemies. Or to borrow the analogy we’ve already used today, we’re the sailors and certain thoughts are our enemies and trying to get on board our ship. But we’re not going to let them. When a negative thought comes, we say, “No sir, you’re not coming on.” An anxious thought – “Nope, you’re not getting in here either.” A lustful thought – “Huh uh! You’re not welcome here.”
Thought prevention – that’s what Jesus did. When Satan tempted him in the wilderness with thoughts of power and popularity, material pleasure, and worldly gain and glory, Jesus took those thoughts captive and simply would not allow them on board. Instead he pulled out the mightiest weapon of all – what the Bible calls the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God – and he sliced and diced those thoughts and temptations to pieces. “It is written…It is written…It is written” is how Jesus answered every one of Satan’s attacks. And my friends, it would do us well to so flood our minds with the Word of God that we too can exercise the same kind of thought prevention in our lives.
Let me show you how this would work. Let’s say you’re driving down the road and all of a sudden all those things that you need to get done during the week start flooding into your mind. And anxiety blankets you like a dark cloud. And all these worrisome thoughts are trying to climb on board. But you take those thoughts captive. You pull out the sword of the Spirit, a verse like Phil. 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Or let’s say in the workplace your hand accidentally brushes against the hand of an attractive co-worker and a whole flurry of improper thoughts want on board, but you take those thoughts captive. You say, “No way, Jose. You’re not coming on board because I know what the Bible says: “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.”
Now I know what some of you are thinking: “I’d love to be able to do that, Pastor, but I’m not sure I can. I don’t know if I’m strong enough.” And you know what? In and of ourselves none of us is. That’s where we need to understand that we’re not in this alone. We have a Paraclete to help us out. A Para-what? A Paraclete. By now many of you know that’s one of my favorite words that the Bible uses for the Holy Spirit. It’s a word that literally means “one who comes alongside of another.” So the Holy Spirit comes alongside of you to help you in this whole process. But there’s more. In addition to that, you also have a Savior about whom Paul says in Phil. 4:13: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” And if that’s not enough, you also have a loving Heavenly Father whom Paul says in Eph. 3:20 “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” Put simply, we have all the power of God himself available to us to help us practice the kind of thought prevention we’ve been talking about today.
And that same power can also help us practice proper thought permission. How would you change the plight of the Pelicano that we talked about before? You’d change her cargo, wouldn’t you? Replace all that trash with perfume and flowers and she’d have no problem getting into any port in the world. Likewise, we sometimes need to change our cargo with the kind of freight Paul speaks of in our text when he says: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
You’ve all heard the saying “Garbage in, garbage out”? Well, the same thing holds true with the positive things Paul mentions in that passage. The more we allow those thoughts to infiltrate and penetrate and permeate our minds, the more those types of actions will be seen in our lives.
Kind of like what happened with George. If there was ever a candidate for bitterness and anger and hatred it was George. Abandoned at birth by his mother, he was taken in by a midwife named Mariah Watkins who filled his mind with positive, godly thoughts, in spite of the rejection and prejudice that frequently came his way because of his skin color. She gave him a Bible and taught him to read it everyday. And the phrase she used with him over and over again was “Learn all you can; share all you can.” By the time George left home, his adoptive mother had left her mark on his life. And by the time George left this life, he had left his mark on this world. For you see, George – George Washington Carver – is recognized as the father of American agriculture. Out of the peanut alone he developed 300 products. Every morning when he would walk into his laboratory he would say this prayer to God: “Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy love.” The Lord answered that prayer for George over and over again and did indeed fill his mind with wondrous thoughts. And I guarantee he would love to do the same for you and me, my friends.
So let’s learn the lesson of the Pelicano. If you load yourself with trash, you may carry it around for a long time. But if you load yourself with good thoughts, positive thoughts, godly thoughts, life will be a pretty good sail. Not without problems, but the sailing will definitely be better and you know what? Unlike the Pelicano, you will be welcome in ports wherever you go.