Jumbled thoughts?

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

A few years ago, I took our grandson to a petting farm where he could see and touch all kinds of animals. We stopped at the enclosure where baby chickens were chirping excitedly and running around the pen – into and over each other. My grandson said, “I wish they would stand still so I count them.” Even though they were really cute, the chaos was unsettling. But there was no way to control them!

Later I heard God whisper that my thoughts were a lot like those chaotic chicks – noisily bouncing here and there, out of control, without direction, without peace. And, they were. I acknowledged that to be true and then realized he was reminding me that I should put my mind on him alone. I should calmly and confidently look to him and then my thoughts would follow – in a nice, quiet, straight line – just they way I like them.

I understood the problem better when I read this from Paul: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunningyour thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

There is a tempter who wants to create chaos in my thoughts by leading me away from pure devotion to Christ. God, on the other hand, directs me to stay focused on Jesus, promising that peace will follow. We know which of those two we want to listen to, don’t we? As we begin to know Jesus, we realize that he knows the path we need to take. Following him is the only way to peaceful thoughts!

“That which claims the most thorough part of our hearts, minds, and time both reflects and shapes our lives.” – Jill Carinini

Perspective

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” – Romans 14:13

I’m reading a book that talks a lot about perspective: How we think we remember things correctly, when often we don’t. How we think we are paying attention when we’re not. How we see ourselves as better, smarter, more careful, more skillful, kinder, more moral than others. I think the author was describing you, but not me, right?

Let’s face it: We all have a way of rationalizing our point of view and marginalizing the opinions of others. Maybe we would be wise, in this world of extremes, to understand that sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we don’t see things clearly. Or, if we are honest, sometimes we’re strongly opinionated about something that doesn’t really matter.

Don’t get me wrong: We should never compromise on clear biblical teaching on any subject. We should never compromise our morality or character as described in the Bible and as generally considered “orthodox” (right teaching) by the church through the centuries.

But, on things that are not so clear, we may need to take a step back and try to see the perspective of the other side. Paul gives first century examples of eating meat, celebration of feast days, etc. that were causing contention then. Today it might be something far more political in overtone. But let’s realize that it’s not dangerous to try to see another viewpoint. We don’t have to change our minds. But trying to understand what others are thinking and honestly evaluating what is worth fighting for are important steps toward living a life of love.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Augustine of Hippo

Sacred Imagination

“Oh, how I love your law!  I meditate on it all day long.” – Psalm 119:97

Do you sometimes feel there’s more your could get out of reading the Bible, but you just don’t know how? Many have realized through the centuries there are gifts of understanding God wants to give us that we won’t get by reading and study alone. Let me share what may be, for you, a new way of engaging with God through his Word. All you need is some quiet time and your imagination.

We can engage our imaginations by mentally placing ourselves in a biblical story. Recently I read the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet while he was dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-50). Then I decided to relive the story in my imagination. I saw myself in the place of this unnamed woman. She had a tarnished reputation, but she loved Jesus a lot. I imagined what she must have been feeling as the men around the table watched her anoint Jesus’ feet with her tears, knowing many of them were judging her. As I walked through the story in my mind with emotions fully engaged, I began to feel the weight of guilt she must have felt about her past and then the lightness of joy of hearing Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven. . . Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” 

Want to try it? Next time you read a biblical narrative, enter into it, imagining the surroundings, the other people, the smells and sounds, and sensing your own response as the story unfolds. Imagination is a gift from God. If we let him, he can use it to teach and transform us.

Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God, but God’s means of manifesting himself to us.” – Christian Wiman

The Test Question

” . . . whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” – John 3:37b

There is a really scary verse in the Bible.

It’s the one where Jesus says that on the day of judgment many will come telling about all the things they did in his name, “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me . . .” (from Matthew 7:23). Doesn’t that scare you even just a little bit? It did me recently and I wrestled with it off and on all night.

What if I only think I’m a Christian and am deceiving myself? What if I’m doing good things for all the wrong reasons? How would I know? These people thought they were “in”, but they were wrong. Am I wrong, too?

I believe God sent me a message during that night. He said something like this: I am not trying to trick you. Take me at my word when I say, ‘whoever comes to me won’t be cast out’. That was enough to let me sleep, but in my morning prayer time, there was more.

God had a test question for me and this was it: “Would you rather live in a mansion without me or live in a prison and have me come to visit everyday?”

I didn’t even have to think about my answer. I would rather be in prison with Jesus than anywhere else without him. I knew then that I belonged to him.

How would you answer that question?

If you can answer as I did, you know you are his, and that scary verse is no longer a threat. If you can’t, please talk to Jesus now, receive his forgiveness, and commit your life to following him – no matter what. He is enough!

“To know God’s love is, indeed, heaven on earth.” – J. I. Packer

I have a question.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1Corinthians 13:12

I want to ask you “why?”, Lord. Why did my daughter get cancer? Why did you not heal her after the last time? She is a true lover of you, a disciple, growing in her faith over the years. Why would you let this happen?

Then I read a prayer from Carolyn Myss this morning. She said, “I have learned by now that you do not answer questions: You answer prayers.”

That was true of Job, wasn’t it? He wanted to confront God about the disasters that had come into his life. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve this pain. God didn’t answer Job’s questions, but he did reveal himself and his glory to Job. That was enough to quiet Job’s heart and satisfy his questions. He learned he could trust God with the whole story of his life including what he was experiencing that day.

So, Lord, I will change my questions to a prayer instead: May we realize your presence in this journey. Give us courage. Give us hope. May I trust you as the author of my life story and my daughter’s. And, please, reveal to us your glory so our questions become unimportant, and you become all-important. Amen.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal, but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” ~ C.S. Lewis

NOTE: Painting shown is by Bernard Vaillant (Dutch, Lille 1632–1698 Leyden) and is titled “Socrates Looking into Mirror”.

Comfort

For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” – Isaiah 49:13b

A friend called. She knew I was struggling. She encouraged me, assured me of her prayers, and let me know she cared. After her call, I felt stronger, lighter, ready to take the next step God would put in front of me.

What did she do? She comforted me. Not with the kind of “comfort” that pats me on the back and says, “Everything’s going to be OK.” I would have recognized the lie.

The word comfort comes from two roots. The first is com which means with. The second is fortis which means strong. Comfort connotes coming alongside to give strength. If we truly comfort someone, we make them stronger. That’s what my friend did. Her comfort strengthened me.

At the last supper, Jesus told his disciples that, though he was leaving, he would send his Spirit to live in them. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16 KJV). Jesus would no longer be there to help them, but his Spirit would.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have his Spirit living inside you. He is always there, guiding, enlightening, correcting, and, yes, comforting. That’s one of his names – Comforter! And his comfort makes us strong.

I still like it when a friend calls, though. Don’t you?

“You don’t have to be alone in your hurt! Comfort is yours. Joy is an option. And it’s all been made possible by your Savior. He went without comfort so you might have it. He postponed joy so you might share in it. He willingly chose isolation so you might never be alone in your hurt and sorrow.” – Joni Eareckson Tada

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 hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

I was reminded recently of the story of an art contest years ago in which artists were asked to submit paintings depicting perfect peace. There were many entries of quiet rural scenes, reading by the fireplace, mirror-calm waters, and couples hand-in-hand. But one was different. It portrayed a wild storm, winds blowing, trees bending. Almost unseen, near the trunk of a tree with branches swaying, was a tiny bird sitting serenely on her nest with her wings covering her fledglings. That one took the prize.

It’s relatively easy to experience peace when life is going our way, when the days are sunny, and everything is in order. The real test of our peace is when our world seems to be falling apart and the storms rage.

Are you in the middle of a storm right now? I am.

Where do we go when it’s scary, unpredictable, and fierce? We go to God’s promises, like this one: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

We need to intentionally let go of anxiety, pray sincerely (many times a day when the storm is furious), and trust God’s peace will wash over us and fill us as he carries us through.

“If God be our God, He will give us peace in trouble. When there is a storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.” – Thomas Watson

Afraid?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I was anticipating a situation that made me anxious. When that happens, I find it helpful to pray about it. So, I began a prayer telling God all the reasons I had to be stressed about this meeting and then, as it dawned on me who I was talking to, the prayer reverted to something like this:

Me: Are you afraid?
Jesus: No.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you stressed?
Jesus: Nope.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you worried about what happens next?
Jesus: Not a bit.
Me: Then, me either.

That might seem like a silly prayer exercise, but focusing on God’s serenity calmed me. If we believe that God not only knows what will happen in any given situation, but is actively involved in bringing about the consequences he desires, then we can relax. To the extent we are following him, our outcomes will be exactly what he wants them to be.

Sometimes the question for us is this: Are we content with that? Are we willing to accept his will for us as good? Or will we fight against it? When we have a predetermined outcome in mind, we get anxious. When we commit to being happy with what God has designed, we relax into his plan.

God does have a plan. He’s in control of every situation. He’s not anxious. Why should we be?

“If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.” – John Newton

All He Wants You to Have

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” – Philippians 4:11b-12

Remember Joseph? Favored son of Jacob, he was sold by his jealous brothers as a slave and taken to Egypt where he was purchased by an official named Potiphar. Potiphar immediately recognized Joseph’s skills and put him in charge of his household. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39) and he refused her, citing all the responsibilities and all the possessions Potiphar had given him charge of, then stating that it included pretty much everything – except her.

Joseph knew Potiphar had given him everything he wanted him to have – and it didn’t include his wife. Instead of thinking about her all the time and finding ways to rationalize responding to her invitation, he walked away knowing that saying “no” would cost him something.

Think now of all our Master has entrusted into our hands: Possessions, finances, health, relationships, creation, evangelizing, and teaching. He, too, gives us everything he wants us to have. Dallas Willard taught that, as we grow closer to God and experience his many blessings, we “find it possible to take the absence of something from our lives as sufficient proof that we do not need it.”

We must be careful never to step outside the boundaries of God’s commands to go after something he has not given us. Living within God’s boundaries will result in satisfaction, contentment, and peace. And maybe that’s enough. 

“Contentment is one of the most distinguishing traits of the godly person, because a godly person has his heart focused on God rather than on possessions or position or power.” – Jerry Bridges

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin