What Do You Think?

No really, what DO you think? If you look at Philippians 4:8 you will find the standard that we are supposed to have for our thought life. In this passage we are told, “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.”

Advertisers & marketers spend enormous amounts of time, effort & money in an attempt Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 1.33.22 PMto influence what you think about. From billboards & magazine images to radio & television commercials, we are constantly bombarded by their efforts. They understand that in a very real way, what we think about will have a profound affect on our emotions, attitudes, behaviors & even our relationships. But they are not the only ones who are making this type of effort. In 1 Peter 5:8 we are told to be careful & self-controlled, to be alert & vigilant. Why? Because, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He also knows the impact your thought life has and if he can begin to influence your thoughts then he will then be able to influence nearly every other area of your life.

Others are very intentional when it comes to our thoughts and we should be too. You can begin by choosing one or two of the terms from Phil 4:8 to measure every thought with. Start with “true.” Is what you are thinking even true? Or you could start with “lovely.” Are your thoughts lovely? Or are they depressing? Getting our thought life to line up Philippians 4:8 doesn’t happen over night. It takes practice and discipline and a conscious effort but it will be well worth it. You can do it & you can start right now.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

Like a Lion

Many animals will live or die based on their ability to stay within the safety of the herd.  It is when they wander too far from the community, when they are isolated, that they become extremely vulnerable.   Maybe they end up alone because they have sustained some sort of injury and are no longer able to keep up, or maybe they have allowed themselves to become distracted, or maybe they just believe they don’t really need the others.

Whatever the cause, the greater the separation from the herd becomes, the greater the chance of being attacked, and, correspondingly, the lower their chances of survival become as well.  I will venture a guess that this correlation works in reverse as well; the closer one stays to the herd, the more “surrounded” they keep themselves, the less likely they are to be attacked.

God’s Word tells us that this principle is not only applicable on the African grasslands, but in our spiritual lives as well. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (ESV)

It would make your adversary’s job much easier if he could find a way to separate you from the “herd”, or in our case, the community of believers.  Our vulnerability to attack is directly related to this issue and we must “be watchful” for potential causes of separation.

What ways can you more fully engage with the “community of believers?” Church attendance? Participating in small groups? Ministry involvement?

What poses the greatest threat to separate you from the herd? Injury? (hurt feelings, taking offense, etc.) Distractions? Belief you don’t really need others?

Do you know anyone who has wandered that you can reach out to and try to restore?

real faith?

I once heard someone making the case that David’s faith, as he went to fight Goliath, was really not quite as extraordinary as it might initially appear.  “You see,” the argument went, “God told David what was going to happen.  David already knew that he would be Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 1.42.33 PMable to defeat Goliath.” From a human reasoning standpoint, I can understand how any foreknowledge David may have had could make the story less impressive.

If he already knew what would happen, then was he really all that brave? 
 
Did it really take that much faith if God had already tipped David off about what was going to happen?

In reality, however, this is not a good argument against the strength of David’s faith. It is actually closer to the definition of faith.  In fact, having God tell us things is where faith comes from in the first place.

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom 10:17 NKJV)
 
In Genesis 15 God told an elderly, childless man that he would have offspring that would be as numerous as the stars.  In verse 6 we are told that when Abraham (at that point still Abram) heard God tell him these things that he actually “believed God.”  Hebrews 11:11 says that the way Abraham was able to become a father was by faith.  Abraham “considered him faithful who had made the promise.”
 
“By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.”  (Heb 11:11 NIV)

Let’s hear what God has to say about us, stand on His promises & claim by faith what God has provided by grace!

“He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” (1 Thess 5:24)


Silver Lining?

It is easy for Christians, myself included, to justify having things in our lives that we probably ought not have.  There are so many elements of popular culture that we work to find ways to deem acceptable.  What usually happens is a person will find some small “redeeming” quality and will use that as grounds for the justification.  Shows that are full of sexual innuendo are tolerated because they are humorous.  Music with degrading lyrics are considered acceptable because of the beat. On and on it goes…

This is nothing new.

In Deuteronomy 7:25 the Israelites are instructed, “The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned.”

“…you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them.”

As this passage gives instructions on how to properly destroy idols, not even precious metals, like gold and silver, are good enough reasons to keep them around. The primary concern was that they would become “snared” by such items.  There was a possibility that even if an Israelite did not want to keep an idol for worship purposes, he/she might keep it around for other reasons, in this case financial benefits.  We don’t deal with idols as blatantly as the Israelites did but we certainly deal with things that can “snare” us and steal our affections away from the Lord. The Lord takes a pretty hard stance on anything that poses a threat to “snare” us.

“You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned.”

Notice the consequence of allowing a banned item into one’s home; the person would become “like it.”  These things have an infectious quality. When we allow things into our lives/houses that God considers an “abomination” the  characteristic of being “banned”  moves from the item to us. We are told to “utterly detest” and “abhor” anything with that kind of potential.

As we interact with our culture it is important that we do not allow “silver linings” to be the bait that snares us and steals our affections away from the Lord.  What things do you give place to in your life because of the “silver lining”?

the black hole syndrome

A black hole is an area in space from which nothing, not even light, can escape.  A black hole is formed when a star collapses. It has an incredibly strong gravitational pull, and once an object crosses the “event horizon” it is within the black hole’s grasp.  It continues to bring things into itself, nothing escapes and the “hole” is never filled.

Sometimes I can identify all to well with a black hole.  In a strange similarity to the collapse of a star, my collapse happens when my focus turns inward. If I am not careful, I can become very “me” focused.  I want to be happy, I want satisfied, I want attention, I want conversations to center around me…. On and on it goes, I want what I want.  The funny thing is, when I begin to seek my own satisfaction so fervently, it becomes the very thing that eludes me.  Every conversation, every relationship, every attempt to “please me” somehow crosses my own “event horizon” and is sucked into the void.  The more I focus on me, the emptier I feel.

I recently had a bout with my “black hole syndrome.”  For a period of time I allowed myself to become very selfish in my pursuits and desires.  I took extraordinary measures to ensure my own pleasure, satisfaction and gratification.  I was even willing to sacrifice in order to obtain this goal (sacrifice at other’s expense of course).  Ironically, the more diligently I pursue my own fulfillment, the emptier & less fulfilled I become.

When this aching emptiness gets my attention enough to bring me to my senses, I am “re-reminded” of the truth of God’s Word.  1 Corinthian 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” These instructions go beyond living in peaceable community.  When I begin to apply this truth to my life, the black hole closes.  This wisdom does more than benefit my relationships with others, it benefits me.  I no longer watch attempt after attempt to satisfy myself disappear into a bottomless chasm.  Instead, I forget about myself, seek the good of others, & at last, find fulfillment.

growth

Screen shot 2011-03-23 at 9.38.20 AMThis picture was taken in the home of a couple from our church.  It is of the doorway where they have measured their children’s growth over the years. They have two children, both now in college.  Pencil marks record the height of each child. The markings are accompanied by initials and the date, each child proudly logging their most recent evidence of growth.

This doorway is a clear record of progress.  It is measured and marked off.  From year to year, date to date, some spans of time showing more growth than others.  It is a place where they can come and see that they are not the same as they used to be.

Just like a healthy child grows, there is to be growth in our spiritual lives. Colossians 2:6-7  says, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (NLT)

Accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior is just the beginning.  We are called to continue following Him.  Our roots growing deep, our lives being built, our faith growing  strong.  If we are not growing, advancing, maturing spiritually there is a problem.  In fact, in 2 Peter 1 we are given list of advancements to be made in our lives spiritually.  In verse 9 we are told “But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.”  If there is not growth, if we “fail to develop” there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately, a good number of Christians are unaware of whether they are growing or not.  It is important that we monitor our spiritual growth, however, monitoring spiritual growth is not as simple as standing with our back to the wall while someone marks above our head with a pencil.

In the commotion and business of life, our growth in Jesus can become an afterthought.  What ways of monitoring and measuring this growth do you have in place?

I have would like to make two recomendations:

1. Journal.  Over the last 15 years I have journaled with moderate consistency.  It is as close to pencil marks on a door frame as you can get.  After your daily quiet time with the Lord, take a few minutes to journal where you are in your walk, what you are learning or what you are going through at the time.  I am encouraged when I look back through my journal and can see where God has made changes in me.  I would not be able to see that growth if I did not journal.

2. An honest voice. Find someone in your life that you can trust to speak the truth in love. It will need to be someone who is close enough to give you feedback to questions like,  “Are you  seeing growth in me? Am I changing at all? Becoming more Christ like? Less Christ like? In what areas?” Set up a regular time to address these questions and be prepared to deal with the answers.

Our spiritual development is far too important to simply hope that it is occurring. (check out Hebrews 5:11-14)  What steps are you taking to ensure growth is taking place?

bee together

When I was in grade school, I think it was 4th grade, a beekeeper came and talked to our class.  He had recently been out on an emergency call to remove a beehive from a family’s home.  He told us how he had removed the beehive safely and successfully.  The next challenge he faced was merging these “new-bees” into his existing hives at home.  Bees rely on odor and pheromones to identify one another within a bee colony and will fight and kill “outsider” bees that intrude their hive.

A special technique is used when a
beekeeper merges two colonies.   To merge colonies a beekeeper will place the hives together, separated by several layers of paper.  Over a period of several days, the bees will work their way through the paper.  As they take the time to work through the paper, the bees become accustomed to the other colony’s pheromones.  Eventually the bees penetrate the barrier that the beekeeper placed between them.  When they do, they all smell the same, like the paper they’ve all gone through.  Fighting is avoided and the bees are united.

Just recently I had the opportunity to enjoy time with a tight knit group of friends that I do not get to see often.  This close group was completely unacquainted with each other only a couple of years ago.  On the rare occasions we get to be together there is openness, understanding, transparency, deep sharing and encouragement.  This level of closeness is not unique to this group, but this group serves as an example of one of the key ways to obtain this level of intimacy. My group of friends has not given up meeting together.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

There is something about the way bees are unified that I believe holds true in our human relationships.  The bees become unified after they have passed through the layers of paper.  Too often, when we encounter barriers in our relationships it signals the end of the line.  But we are instructed to “ not give up meeting together.” There are levels of knowing and being known that will not be achieved until we have “passed through” some barriers in our relationships.  There are depths of friendship that are not achieved until we have “passed through” some shared experiences.  God has made us for relationship.  He has made us to be part of a family, part of the same body.  We need one another and we need one another in a way that goes beyond the superficial.   If we are to ever move below the surface it is going to take a greater level of commitment to one another in our relationships.

Who are your closest brothers and sisters in Christ?  What is your level of commitment to them?  Some are in the habit of not meeting together, not building relationship, not pressing through barriers, not passing through shared experiences.  What about you?  What habits are you developing when it comes to your relationships?