Stretching Our Minds

“We are in a time when thinking rightly is more important than ever. The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well.” – Dallas Willard

When is the last time you read or watched something that stretched you? That challenged your thinking? Getting out of our comfort zone can be good for us. If we agree with what we read or see, our faith is confirmed. If we disagree, we grow stronger by thinking through the why’s of the beliefs we have.

For example, I’m not Catholic, but I listen to a Catholic radio station. There is much I can learn from my Catholic brothers and sisters. The programming helps me recognize my points of view and, at times, causes me to modify my long-held perspectives.

A couple of years ago my husband read the Koran from cover to cover. He wasn’t thinking about converting to Islam, but he wanted to have a first-hand knowledge of the teachings Muslims believe and follow. His commitment to learning about others’ beliefs opens doors of conversation he hadn’t had before.

Are you stuck in a rut with your thinking? Venture out a bit! Read a book, watch a YouTube video, or follow a blog that comes from a point of view different from yours. Then talk about it with someone else to explore new ideas and see how they fit with your own. If you’re like me, these experiences will drive you to the Bible, our source of truth, and will probably foster new relationships. Our minds are gifts from our Creator are meant to be used for his purposes in this world. He made them stretchable for a reason!

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, “ – 2 Corinthians 10:5

When Discouragement Hits

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” — Corrie ten Boom

I know a lot of people who are discouraged, some even depressed, stressing over financial setbacks, health issues, or relationships. Others have a more general anxiety about the world – political unrest, environmental issues, global conflicts.

Paul’s writings helped me to think more clearly about these things recently.

He begins by warning his spiritual son Timothy that things are going to get difficult, and people are going to continue to behave in sinful, ugly ways (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He then gives Timothy some instruction.

First, he says not to get caught up in the horrible condition of the world around him. Be aware, but not obsessed. Instead, he says Timothy should follow Paul’s example:  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Maybe we all need to look for those who are living God-centered lives in difficult times and follow their examples. They may be people we know personally or authors we read or teachers we listen to. Let’s find people with one foot planted in this world and the other in Scripture and listen to them.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to keep following what he knows to be truth: “. . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Essentially, Paul says, turn your eyes to good role models and your heart to God’s truth. That advice will preserve us from discouragement when times are tough. I’m working on that. You, too?

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:21

Forgetful?

“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. . .” -1 Corinthians 2:7

Poor Jeremiah! He is trying hard to get the attention of the people of Israel to tell them their worship of idols is going to bring God’s judgment. They won’t listen. They seem to have forgotten even the most basic of God’s commands. Here’s how Jeremiah sums it up, “. . . they have rejected the Word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:9b). It’s a blunt way of saying that, without God’s Word, humans are not as smart at they think they are.

Fast forward a few centuries to Jesus’ conversation with the Sadducees. They ask him a question about the afterlife and Jesus, after hearing their theory, says, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29b). He, like Jeremiah, is saying that since they didn’t really know the Scriptures, even though they made a show of their presumed knowledge, they were getting things wrong.

Sometimes we forget our limitations in understanding and knowledge. We make plans assuming we have it all figured out. Then we hit a roadblock we hadn’t anticipated. That’s when the Holy Spirit reminds us (maybe as bluntly as Jeremiah and Jesus did) that we need him and his revealed Word to know the path we should take. Without an ever-growing understanding of the Bible, we’ll keep making mistakes, coming up against the impossible, and working in the dark.

We need to constantly go back to the Book. As one author says, “I need to keep opening my Bible and reading stories about how he operates. I’m a forgetful person.”*

Me, too.

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” – Charles Spurgeon

*Brant Hanson

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

We are what we read.

I will delight in your statutes;
   I will not forget your word.
– Psalm 119:16

Did you ever notice that, if you’re reading a good book, your mind returns to it as you go about your day? You want to know what happens next. You think about ideas the author plants in your mind. A good book affects us.

The same thing happens when we read the Bible with open minds. With purpose, With understanding.

We don’t read the Bible to make us feel good. It might not.

We don’t read it because we are ‘supposed to’. Though the discipline of reading the Bible even when we don’t feel like it is a good one.

We read it to find what it reveals about God and his plan for this earth, for us. 

We sometimes approach the Bible intellectually evaluating whether we think it is true,

deciding whether or not we will accept its directives or explain them away,

judging whether it is outdated or applicable,

concluding whether it is meeting our needs or not.

Or we expect it will give us information or direction or that it will provide inspiration or comfort. 

Maybe the best way is to approach the Bible with curiosity. What does it say? What does it reveal about God? Or the universe? Or relationships? Or success? Or wisdom?

Read humbly,

without judgment,

anticipating that it will have something to say to us personally,

willing to accept whatever message it gives,

willing to submit to its commands,

to claim its promises, and

to absorb its words until it changes us from the inside out.

               

“In our reading of this book we come to realize that what we need is not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves, but formational, shaping us into our true being.” – Eugene Peterson

Expectations!

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, . . . She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” – Proverbs 3:13 and 15

We bought a pail of sand for our grandson from a rock shop in Colorado because we had been told there were stones to be found in the sand if the recipient was willing to dig for them. He was!

One by one a wide variety of rocks were found – everything from tiger eye (his favorite) to obsidian to geodes. Each was greeted with appropriate appreciation and, sometimes, awe. As his treasures were washed and laid out on a towel to dry, I thought of how different the result would be if he had not been willing to take off the cover and begin to dig.

Why did he bother to open it? Because he expected to find something. He believed if he dug deep enough, there would be treasure.

I couldn’t help applying that thought to the Bible that sits next to my chair. Why do I choose to turn the cover and read it every day? Because I expect to find something. Something I will value, something that will please me, something that will correct me, something that will add to my knowledge or will give me direction. And I am never disappointed!

Do you see what I mean? The treasure is there, but we have to be willing to dig for it. So, let’s keep reading God’s Word, believing he has a message for us there every time we open it. Soon we will have a collection of understanding, promises, and encouragement that will make us wise and our lives beautiful!

“Our pursuit of God is successful just because he is forever seeking to manifest himself to us.” A. W. Tozer

What’s on your card?

“It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.” Jeremy Taylor

I have a former colleague who’s caring for his father who suffers from dementia. He describes a recent morning this way:

“I woke up at 4:30 this morning to find Dad already dressed, with his winter coat and gloves on, just standing in the kitchen, staring off into space. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he was ‘ready to go.’ I asked him where, but he had no idea. I told him he didn’t need to be anyplace for another five hours.

“He was clearly distraught, confused, and tense. I got him into his easy chair, gave him a bright green, 3×5 note card and told him to hold onto it. On it, I wrote, ‘Relax, everything is fine,’ then signed my name. He read it, and I watched him smile as the tension melted away, but he still held onto that card. Dad trusts that I’m watching out for him. 

“As I pondered this, now unable to go back to sleep myself, I thought of God’s note to me, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). What a loving Father! God’s got this!”

Do you trust that God is watching out for you? That he gives you messages to hold in your heart to reassure you when you get anxious or distraught? What message do you need to hear today? Ask God to give you a verse for this time in your life, then write it on a 3×5 card and carry it with you. Let his words melt your tension away.

Here’s mine:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.
– 2 Timothy 1:7

Looking for Christmas gifts?

Books are always a sure-to-please gift in our household. Here are a few I have written that you may like for yourself or others:

The GodSense Journey: Exploring Sacred Pathways (April 2016): A year-long interactive devotional covering subjects such as intimacy with God, fruit of the Spirit, spiritual gifts, and relationships. Includes teaching, Bible study, prayers, and personal application. Click here to preview: 

The Bible for Skeptics (June 2017 – Second Edition) An invitation to conversation about the authenticity of the Bible and its revelation of God and His plan for those of us who live on this planet. Click here:

The GodSense Devotional (2004): A year-long devotional study of God’s Word, requiring interaction, meditation, and prayer. Click here to preview:

http://www.amazon.com/GodSense-Devotional-Beverly-Van-Kampen/dp/0972419667/ref=la_B001JOTW1E_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1433859238&sr=1-2

 

The Bible Study Teachers’ Guide (2006): A helpful resource for those who lead small-group Bible studies at home, church, or the marketplace. Click here to preview:

https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Study-Teachers-Guide/dp/1932902635/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1543848641&sr=1-2&keywords=beverly+van+kampen+books

 

God speaks.

 

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” – Joshua 1:8

Do you ever wish God would talk to you? Maybe you should just ask him to. Then listen. When I do that, his answer is often something like this:

“What I have to say to you today I’ve written in my Word. Read it expectantly, believing you will find my message in what you read. Search for it as if you are looking for treasure.”

So what might we find as we read God’s word with anticipation of finding a message just for us, for now?

Wisdom – “. . . from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” – Proverbs 2:6

Confidence “Those who look to him are radiant . .  .” – Psalm 34:5a

Direction – “He guides me in paths of righteousness. . .” – Psalm 23:3

Revelation – “The Lord confides in those who fear him.” – Psalm 25:14

God does talk to us, many times in what he highlights as we read the Bible. I find when I approach his book expectantly, I often receive insight, encouragement, and direction meant especially for me at that moment. It can happen for you, too, but requires reading each passage, then prayerfully mulling it over until he reveals what it is he wants us to know. His message is already written. Our job is to search it out!

“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” – Eugene Peterson

 

 

 

He wears well!

” . . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24b

Some people burst into our lives, make a big splash, and then fade away. There are others who wear well, proving to be consistent, faithful friends. The more we know them, the better we like them. God is like those friends who wear well, making us want to know him better and better over time. How can we do that?

First, we can read and reread the Bible to find out what it reveals about him. This book is the most direct way for us to understand God, his expectations, and his dealings with us and with mankind through history.

Second, we can look at the natural world and discover something about God in what he has created for us to enjoy. I’m not a science person, but when I realized I can know God better if I understand his creation better, I became motivated to read and learn.

Third, we can learn to notice God’s involvement as we look at what’s happening on Planet Earth. The Holy Spirit, living within us, will give us insight. As we become aware of world events and as we face issues in our own lives, he wants us to realize he is in control – nothing happens that takes him by surprise.

Fourth, we can talk to Him constantly. If we just ask, God will reveal his character, his personality, and his will so we can know him better, trust him more, and serve him with commitment.

Let’s keep on getting to know him. He’s a friend who wears well!

 For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” – J.I. Packer

 

This post is adapted from The GodSense Journey: Exploring Sacred Pathways, Week Eighteen

#knowingGod