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“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother who has sinned against me? Up to seven times?  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you not just seven times, seventy-seven times.'”  Matthew 18:21,22

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. Matthew 5:28

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent and praiseworthy- think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Why seventy-seven times?  In another translation, it reads that Jesus Christ responds seventy times seven times (I’m running out of finger and toes to get up that high).  Think about how many times Jesus talked about, not only He being a servant, but how important it was that the disciples think of themselves as humble servants as well.

On the sermon on the mount, Jesus Christ warns it not just about committing the actual act, murder or adultery, it about contemplating the act or working up toward the act, in the case of anger, that is an equal danger.  Why?

Throughout the letters that the apostles sent to the early churches and new beginners, they urged thought on things from above and abolish thoughts and acts of earthly or worldly things.  Why pray without ceasing?

I am not one who finds a conflict between thoughts of science and thoughts of spirituality.  Oh sure, there are some within the realm of science who ascribe to the idea that science has disproved the existence of God.  But it’s not science fault that some would use it incorrectly the same way it is not Christ’s fault that some have done unspeakable evil in His name.

We are creations of God, including Jesus Christ so thus, our Creator knows us and how we work intimately.  He knows how our brains function (or dysfunction at least at times in my case).

So why seventy-seven times or 140 times?  Scientists studying the brain have discovered a process in its operation called neural plasticity.  Now please understand, as I am no theologian, I am also not a brain surgeon or scientist.  Yet I’ve always been fascinated about how the brain operates and how amazingly complex it is.  Well in the concept of neural plasticity, with my limited understanding, it is the idea that as we have thoughts, and/or as we take actions; we are producing connections within the brain.  These connections become pathways.  Additionally, these pathways are not destroyed after one thought or action.  As we have the same or very similar thoughts or actions, those pathways get stronger, more easily accessible.

Now here’s the thing, if we deem those thoughts or actions to be positive, helpful or pleasurable, then we are more likely to go back to them over and over again.  Each time we go back, the pathway gets stronger.  Think of it (no pun intended) this way, your brain is like a forest.  Quite often if you’re walking through the woods/forest, you look for a trail that’s been cleared out that makes it easier, more pleasurable to walk.  While overly simplistic, that is an aspect of this concept of neural plasticity and its impact on our thoughts and behavior.

So let’s take forgiveness.  It may not be all that easy or natural of a thing to do.  Someone does us wrong.  Should we think or act on taking revenge or getting even with them, we’re creating a pathway.  If that thought or action feels good, we’ll tend to think or act that way more and that pathway gets strengthened.  Jesus Christ knows this.  Again He is our creator.  So Jesus declares we’re to forgive and keep on forgiving.  It may not feel comfortable or good at first, but as we keep doing it, five times, 10 times, 77 times, 140 times and more, we’re building and strengthening that path.  Before you know it, voila, that path becomes strong enough, that we find ourselves thinking and acting that way.

Additionally, that’s why Jesus Christ and later the Apostles, warn against the underlying thought and not just the action.  Indeed, it truly is the thought that counts.  For it is the looking in lust, the being angry and thinking of harm or killing that starts the pathway.  To the extent we tell ourselves, there’s no harm in looking or only thinking; neural plasticity would say that we’re wrong.  There is a credible harm, a changing of our brain just in the thinking.

Yet, I’ve heard folks tell me:  “Well maybe so for some, but that wouldn’t be me” or “that doesn’t apply to me”.  I’m not wise or omniscient enough to tell anyone that they’re wrong in what they know about themselves.  All I do is point out the real danger in the aspect of thinking:  I’ll try that drug just once, I can quit that website anytime I want, I wouldn’t have done it – I was only thinking it and other justifications we give ourselves for risky and/or destructive behavior.

Thus dear Sisters and Brothers, once again science reinforces a basic concept to positive living that Jesus Christ laid out thousands of years ago.  In the end it is best just not to go there.  Try to keep your brain from building those connections that concern the debasing, destructive aspects to life.  To the extent that the pathways may exist, stop using them.

In the articles that I’ve read about neural plasticity, seldom used pathways, fade in their importance.  New pathways can be forged based upon the thoughts that we have and the subsequent actions we take based on those thoughts.

Finally, we’re not left on our own.  The world has a whole lot of demeaning, destructive pathways it wants to build in our brains.  Jesus Christ instructs us to connect to our Heavenly Father through prayer to Him and study of His word.  In that Heavenly connection, through His power, we can be victorious over the worldly thoughts and pathways which want to lead us to our downfall.  Jesus Christ promises the Holy Spirit will come to us and empower and embolden us to keep us thinking as we should and lead us back should we stray.

Ironically, being on the straight and narrow path is not just a completely allegorical concept.  There are literal brain paths that, if we commit to relying on Jesus Christ to show them to us and empower us to stay on them, then we can live powerful lives of peace and joy that bring praise and honor to our Heavenly Father as well as us.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, if we are open to it, we praise how our understanding of science reveals Your underlying truths to us.  Pour out Your Spirit on us that we would be receptive to Your revelation and obedient to Your instructions for us as given by Your Son Jesus Christ.  Forgive us when, in our arrogance, we believe that we can go our own way and that our power is sufficient to keep us from harm and evil.  Lead us back to Your path, strengthening the correct path and obliterating the wrong path.  That in thinking about and then walking the right path, we might live lives of praise and thanksgiving to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

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