Guard your thoughts

I remember the time when one character on a favorite TV detective show advised another to, “close your eyes and think of all the good things,” whenever he was feeling lost and alone. Although he didn’t cite chapter and verse, this character was echoing sound biblical advice:

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 or praiseworthy, think about such things.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Those of us in the real world of today would do well to take this to heart, memorizing each word, and calling it to mind as we are assaulted by the evil in our culture.

If we dwell overmuch on the horrors of each day’s news, we may succumb to despair and feel truly lost and alone. Keeping in mind those things which are true, pure, right, holy, and proper helps us to strengthen our faith and hopes for tomorrow.

While the TV character I watched didn’t quote the following, he seemed to believe it:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

The days ahead may be filled with turmoil. Let’s set our hearts and minds on truth, so we may overcome.

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Overwhelmed? Feeling helpless?

Fires, floods, massacres, and tragedies of all sorts abound. Like many of you, I find the constant onslaught of bad news overwhelming. How should I respond? How can I help? It’s tempting to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head until it goes away, or until I can make sense of it all.

It makes me feel a bit better to send donations for the victims of various calamities (One Great Hour of Sharing a multi-denominational outreach, gets close to 100% of donations to the needy) , but there is only so much I can give and the tragedies keep coming.

When feeling helpless, it is tempting to misdirect the frustration onto whatever target is closest, but a more productive coping mechanism might be taking one small step at a time within one’s own sphere of influence: do the next right thing you can do. Make a difference where you can make a difference; be kind to people you encounter, offer praise freely when it’s deserved, forgive slights, real or imagined, and most of all, pray for one another and trust God.

In these days of spiritual warfare, stay equipped with the full armor of God.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)

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God's Word: never changing, ever new

I love the Bible. I love it for all the usual reasons Christians love the Word of God, but I also love it because it always shows me something new.

In the Harry Potter books and movies, the people in the paintings hanging on the walls move about, so the pictures are constantly changing.  The Bible never changes, and yet it always offers me something I never saw before.

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

John 13:12-15 (ESV)

The last time I read the above verses, I paused over the words saying Jesus put his outer garment back on after washing His disciples’ feet. It was as if that phrase was highlighted, for the first time.

Jesus put His outer garment back on, because He took it off to do the foot washing, of course. Whenever I read this before, I’d naturally assumed He took it off as a practical matter so He wouldn’t get it wet.

For the first time I saw something new. I saw a previously overlooked part of Christ’s lesson –  for His disciples and for me.

In order to serve, to really serve, we must remove our protective layer, our outer garment, and become vulnerable and genuine.

This truth had been in the Gospel text all the time.

I once was blind, but now I see. Amazing, just amazing.

That’s why I love the Bible.

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Who do you trust?

Constantly bombarded with shocking revelations and accusations, misinformation and half-truths, targeted by scammers and schemers, it is hard to know who we can trust. When even the people considered to be paragons of virtue can be revealed to have committed misdeeds, how do we know who we can rely on?

As always, the Scriptures provide guidance in such a time as this.

When it comes to those we should follow in positions of leadership, we find these words:

But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

Exodus 18:21 (NIV)

In our day-to-day lives, we can judge the character of those in our lives by looking at the the results of their choices, as we are told in Matthew 7:20:  “You can tell who the false prophets are by their deeds.” In this instance we can read “false prophets” to be anyone who would choose to advise us, whether friends or leaders. By their fruits shall we know them. A person whose own life is in a shambles would be the last one we should trust to tell us how to live.

The best advice in today’s confusing times is still these words:

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

Psalm 40:4 (NIV)
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What does meekness get you?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5 (NIV)

Once, when a coworker reported the answer to a knotty problem our team had been wrestling with, I laughed and said, “Oh good… I was right!”

The others teasingly accused me of gloating. When I tried to claim that I was just expressing joy, it was pointed out that the look on my face and the inflection in my voice had more gloating than joy in it.  I had to admit that they were right. Gloating is not an ingredient of meekness, but neither is shyness.

People often confuse meekness with shyness. But shyness is usually the result of being self-conscious and insecure about the impression one is making upon others.  True meekness is other-consciousness; being focused on making others feel comfortable and secure. While gloating does nothing to help others feel good about themselves, neither does being shy and self-conscious.

One of the first attributes of meekness is humility. Genuine humility is a recognition of the self-hood of others, the awareness that each person is as real and as worthy of love and respect as I am. Humility accepts the validity of another person’s thoughts and feelings.

Dickens painted a scathing portrait of false humility in his character, Uriah Heep. In the book, David Copperfield, Heep goes out of his way to imply with his words and body language that he is the meekest and humblest of men, while at the same time showing all too plainly that self-interest is his driving force.

Christians need to be wary about this sort of meekness one-up-manship. When we sing in the old hymns of man’s low stature in relation to our Creator God and our unworthiness of His grace and sacrificial love, we need to balance it with the knowledge of our own preciousness in God’s eyes.  True meekness enters the heart when we see each person we encounter through God’s perspective.

The awe and gratitude you feel when you try to wrap your brain around the magnitude of the love God has for you becomes meekness and humility when extended to others.

God sees me through the filter of Christ when I accept Him as my Savior. That’s huge. It makes me humble and proud at the same time. When I expand that reality to include the people I deal with, it makes me meek, as well.  I no longer feel that I must insist on my “rights” or take offense at slights.

True meekness is the absence of fear and competition in our relationships. It is trusting God to take care of justice and fairness.  Resting on faith in His word and His unchanging love, we are free to live as inheritors of this Earth and citizens of the next.

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An ounce of criticism versus a pound of praise

In college I managed to pick up a smattering of knowledge of how God’s physical laws work, but I am here to tell you,  in spite of anything you may learn about the laws of gravity, velocity, and mass: an ounce of criticism has more impact than a pound of encouragement.

I once participated in a Christian conference where the keynote speaker asserted his belief that we are creatures who take to heart anything negative, while discounting the positive feedback we get.

I had to admit that, in my own experience, he is absolutely right. I can easily have my day switched from sunshine to gloom by an unflattering remark.

We might express the tendency to feel the downward pull of criticism more powerfully than the uplift of encouragement in scientific terms by an equation: criticism is equal to or greater than encouragement squared. OR we could compare the critical comment with an aroma: The  essence of eau de skunk lingers long after the fragrance of the most expensive perfume.

What foolish creatures we are to allow the smallest unflattering comment, no matter where it comes from, to outweigh the encouragement of even our loved ones.

It is important to resist so easily taking casual criticisms to heart, but an even more important consideration is my own responsibility to guard my words. If critical remarks are so powerful and heavy, I must be careful where I use them.  I must not toss them casually, or even humorously, in any direction that may cause damage.

Since we are seldom fully aware of each others’ burdens and heartaches, I can’t always know who might be brought to her knees by the weight of a critical remark thoughtlessly added to her load. Rather than bear the responsibility for causing such pain, I hope I will remember to think twice before adding my teasing or even helpful criticism to someone’s day.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

James 5:9 (NIV)
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Trust God: find peace

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled… —John 14:27

When a dear friend expressed her distress at the current world situation, it reminded me of the words of wisdom from Oswald Chambers quoted below.

(In this instance, I feel the disobedience referred to might be letting ourselves worry. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry”- Matthew 6:25-34 )

Whenever we experience something difficult in our personal life, we are tempted to blame God. But we are the ones in the wrong, not God. Blaming God is evidence that we are refusing to let go of some disobedience somewhere in our lives. But as soon as we let go, everything becomes as clear as daylight to us. …

God’s mark of approval, whenever you obey Him, is peace. He sends an immeasurable, deep peace; not a natural peace, “as the world gives,” but the peace of Jesus. Whenever peace does not come, wait until it does, or seek to find out why it is not coming. …

…When I do obey God, problems come, not between me and God, but as a means to keep my mind examining with amazement the revealed truth of God. But any problem that comes between God and myself is the result of disobedience. Any problem that comes while I obey God (and there will be many), increases my overjoyed delight, because I know that my Father knows and cares, and I can watch and anticipate how He will unravel my problems. [emphasis added]

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

When I read the last sentence above, it seems to be illuminated on the page and I feel a sense of wonder at the joy to be found if I can only trust God’s perfect will for me enough to simply watch with happy anticipation, peacefully intrigued to see what marvelous resolution He has for my difficulties. This is peace beyond understanding, indeed, but it is only achieved through complete trust in God’s perfect will for my life.  I want that.

Seeing is never believing: we interpret what we see in the light of what we believe. Faith is confidence in God before you see God emerging; therefore the nature of faith is that it must be tried.

Wisdom From Oswald Chambers
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Warning: God will not be mocked

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or set foot on the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.

Psalm 1:1

In recent decades Christians have gotten used to being portrayed in entertainment and the media as either comical, bumbling simpletons, or depraved hypocrites.

Throughout history, mockery has been an effective weapon against an enemy. This is even more evident in our age of mass communication when the atheistic progressive left are no longer subtle with the attacks against their perceived enemies, the Christians and Jews.

No longer satisfied to laugh at Judeo-Christian values as naive, out of touch, or repressive, we now have popular media and entertainment figures openly calling God “imaginary” and the Bible a work of fiction.

While Christians and Jews tend toward peacemaking rather than retaliation, I am convinced that these God-mockers will one day answer for their attacks. And not only for the what they’ve said and done, but for the people they have caused to be lost because of their influence.

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.

Galatians 6:7
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Casting the "Name-it-and-claim-it" Spell

A recent tragic episode in the news where a church family attempted to reverse the sudden death of a beloved child illustrates a fundamental misapprehension among some Christians.

Non-believers frequently refer to religion as mere superstition. They see it as an attempt by lesser mortals to attempt to explain and control a random and capricious universe. Setting aside the condescension and blasphemy inherent in that view, I have to admit that, like most people, I have a streak of superstition.

Several verses in the Scriptures, such as Matthew 17:20, can be interpreted in such a way as to play into this tendency. But when Christ says, “…. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” we mustn’t presume to take the power of God into our own hands. Ever since Lucifer’s fall, mankind has struggled with the temptation to insinuate ourselves onto the throne of God.

If we pray sincerely for a miracle, claiming what we see as God’s promise to “move the mountain” and we are disappointed, this does not mean we lacked the sufficient amount of faith (as small as a mustard seed… that’s not much). Reading the totality of Scripture shows us the bigger picture, both of God’s promises and His character.

We are admonished to pray without ceasing, not as a test of our faith or God’s faithfulness. Unceasing prayer is an attitude of mind where one communicates with the Lord constantly, acknowledging His presence and His awareness of our every thought and feeling; it’s a communing spirit, bowing to His omnipotence and unfailing love.

If we begin to feel the power of prayer comes from us or the special words we say, we have moved away from God and His infinite power and love.

In the turmoil of today, sharing our concerns with our Heavenly Father gives us peace of mind and strengthens our confidence that God knows what is going on. He will take care of everything in His way and in His time.

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Have yourself a merry little Christmas

This time of year, we frequently hear people bemoaning a lack of Christmas Spirit and wondering how to make this holiday more special. I believe a sharper focus on the following words goes a long way to resolving the issue:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

Luke 2 New International Version (NIV)

Wishing you a blessed Christmas!

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