Prescription for Peace of Mind

If I’ve learned anything at all about the Bible, it is that this is a practical book with real-life answers for real-life needs. The Bible doesn’t just give us wise philosophy – or as my grandmother called it – “pie-in-the-sky thinking.” So when a friend came to me recently to talk about her constant negative, anxious thoughts, I offered her the Bible’s prescription for the mind.

“First, you have to get rid of those negative thoughts,” We talked about 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” “You have authority over what goes on in your head,” I said. “You must claim that authority and banish negative and anxious thoughts.” I showed her how I make a grabbing motion over my head to “take captive” my thoughts, then a motion of flinging them aside – literally casting them at Jesus’ feet. I’ve done this with thoughts of doubt and fear and sin. It may look kinda silly, but the physical acting out of it is powerful. I believe it also puts the devil on notice that I’m taking charge of my mind.

I continued, “Then immediately fill your mind with Philippians 4:8: ‘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.’” “What do you know is true?” I asked her. “God is in control.” “Yes! And God loves you.” “And God is good.” “Exactly! And God has a plan and a purpose.” Her face began to relax. “What do you know that is praiseworthy,” I asked. “Jesus!” she replied. “What can you praise Jesus for?” “He is my Savior. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords.” “What do you know that is lovely?” I said. “My daughter,” she answered with a smile. “And when you memorize scripture,” I reminded her, “you have a ready supply of ‘whatsoever is right.’ For every negative thought satan plants in your mind, you need a positive Word from God to counteract it.”

May I offer the same prescription to you, Beloved? Your thoughts are just that—YOUR thoughts. You have authority over them. You can make them obey you – but it takes effort and repetition. What is the result of this practical exercise? “The God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9b). Do you need some peace of mind?

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.” The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today. What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore? Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins. Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists. But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.” Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible. One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexual promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down. Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.” This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling. Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you.

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing left to forgive. Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

Grace

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Friends, I am not the good girl you think you know. Yesterday I broke the law and had to face the consequences of my actions. I was running behind driving over the speed limit. I topped a hill and there he was. The blue lights came on and I pulled to the side of the road. There was no use in denying it – I was guilty. I told the officer I was running late to a wedding. He took my driver’s license and walked back to his patrol car. A few minutes later he came back and said, “You have a clean driving history, so I’m going to reward your good behavior and let you go with a warning.” I thanked him profusely and then he said, “Please slow down ma’am. The roads are wet, and I want you to arrive safely and enjoy your friend’s wedding.” I thanked him again and carefully pulled away. It all ended well – he gave me leniency because he found no fault in me and I made it to the wedding just before the bride walked down the aisle.

Friends, I am a sinner and I sometimes let my sin-nature drive me into sinful behaviors. But God doesn’t see me that way. He looks at me through eyes of grace because of the work of His Son on the cross. Paul said, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9). My record of wrongdoing is long and ugly and there’s no getting off for good behavior. I am a sinner – but a sinner saved by grace.

God has issued an invitation to the wedding of the universe. He wants you to come and enjoy the eternal celebration, but you can’t get there on your own clean record because you’re a sinner too. You have the same sin-nature and the same tendency to sinful behaviors that I do. But there is grace. There is a cross. There is a Savior. His name is Jesus – the Son of God. He died to take away your sins and make you right before His Father. Your place at the wedding is waiting Beloved, and the path is paved with grace.

Of Black-Eyed-Peas and Forgiveness

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I got up early this morning and put the black-eyed peas on to soak. I remember when Mama gave me the important task of sorting and washing the peas for their overnight soak. “You have to pick out the bad peas (the ones with rusted spots or bug holes) and rinse off the good ones, then I’ll put them on to soak.” An hour later she found me still at the sink with only half the package done. I was taking out each individual pea, inspecting it all over and washing it off – one by one. “You don’t have to do them one-at-time,” she said. “But Mama,” I replied, “what if I miss one?” I thought letting even one bad pea through would be awful.

As a child I was taught 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So when I wanted to ask Jesus to be my Savior, I started thinking and confessing. And confessing. And confessing. Six weeks later the pastor asked if I was ready to be baptized. I said I was still confessing my sins. Knowing that a child couldn’t have much to confess, he asked what was taking me so long. I said I was trying to remember everything I ever did. “What if I miss one?” I asked. I thought I had to remember and confess every single sin or it would not be forgiven and Jesus would not be my Savior.

Paul said that when we receive Jesus as Lord, God “forgives us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13). Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest “offered for all time one sacrifice for sins” (2:12). That means all our sins – the ones we remember to confess and the ones we don’t. That means all the sins of our past, present, and future are under the blood of Jesus. Confession is indeed “good for the soul,” and vital to our relationship with God, but Jesus doesn’t have a tally sheet of your sins to mark off only the ones you confess. He has written “FORGIVEN” in big red letters across your entire life. Confess as the Spirit brings things to mind, and trust in God’s faithfulness.His mercy is a wide, wide ocean Beloved, and all your sins are buried there.

The Real Joy of Christmas

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Christmas isn’t always a Currier and Ives painting. Some Christmases are hard, saturated in grief, exhaustion, disappointment, loneliness, struggle, and family drama. I’ve had some of those Christmases – no doubt you’ve had them too. I remember Christmases when my Dad was stationed far away from us, the first Christmas after my Mom died, and Christmases with no tree and no presents because there were no funds. Those were sad holidays, but they were not joyless. I know – that sounds like a contradiction, but the joy of Christmas is not in trees and presents. And while they are (usually) a blessing and a delight at Christmas, our family is not the heart of our joy. Christmas Joy is not found in stores – you can’t even order it from Amazon. And I can guarantee you that it isn’t in “Christmas” themed movies or T.V. specials or over-produced “Christmas” songs.

The true joy of Christmas is the assurance of God’s faithfulness to redeem His people from their sins. That’s exactly what Matthew said in his gospel. The angel who appeared to Joseph said, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This baby wasn’t just born to be a king who would rule on a throne. He was born to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was born to break the power of death. John said He came to bring light into our darkness (John 1:4-9). Joy at Christmas comes from understanding our desperate situation before God and then recognizing what He did for us. The truest expression of Christmas joy is not a party or a present – it’s worship. That’s how Mary saw it. She said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46). Christmas should be a holy celebration, a time when we put aside the tinsel and trappings and bow low before the Baby in the manger. It may never be as perfect as the picture on your Christmas cards, but Beloved, no matter your circumstances in this season, may your Christmas be full of real joy.

Christmas Hope: Light in the Darkness

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“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

When do we most need hope?  In the darkness, in the season of pain and heartache and despair.  When it is hardest to find.  Our 3rd day of this Advent series focuses on the hope we must have to survive those seasons of darkness.  The hope in the promise of the Light of Jesus Christ.

I recall a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, and a room deep within the caverns where the park guide turned out all the artificial lights – the room was plunged into total darkness.  For a moment I was overcome by a sense of despair and fear.  In that pitch-black darkness, I lost all orientation, had no idea where the exit was, or where anyone else was.  If my friend had not grabbed my hand, I would have thought myself completely alone. There are seasons of our life that are like that cave adventure when it seems that we are lost in a deep, black darkness.  We are overwhelmed with despair, confused and disoriented-not knowing where to turn or how to escape, and we feel completely and utterly alone.

While we stood in the darkness inside that cave, the guide lit one small match.  With that single flickering flame, the darkness was overcome. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light – but where there is even the smallest light, darkness has lost its power.

Adam and Eve plunged this world into the darkness of sin, and so we are disoriented in spiritual darkness.  Rather than the sun and moon and stars, we walk in the distorted light of the world.  And so God sent His Son, Jesus to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12).  His light overcame the darkness of sin and evil; His light can overcome the darkness and despair of living in this world with all its struggles and heartaches and pain.

Paul wrote, “God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).  This Advent season, as you enjoy the lights of Christmas, let the light of the Christ Child come in and dispel the darkness.  Live in the Light of Jesus Christ.

What do a bunch of old laws have to do with me; or why should I read Leviticus?

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I am doing a slow dig through the book of Leviticus – yes Leviticus – the book where most New Year’s resolutions come to die. Why would I spend months studying a hard-to-understand bunch of antiquated laws that don’t apply to me as a New Testament Christian? Because Jesus is found in Leviticus more than any other Old Testament book. He is the fulfillment of every law therein. Three verses into the first chapter and there He is: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male” (Lev. 1:3). That’s Jesus. Unblemished. Perfect. Sinless. Innocent. Pure. The only sacrifice that could atone for your sin and mine – making us acceptable to a holy God.
I look into the next verse and I see, not only Jesus this time but also me. “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4) In the ancient sacrificial system, the person placed his hand on the animal’s head symbolically transferring all of his sins onto it. This innocent animal now bore the guilt for the sinful person; the animal – not the man – died for those sins.
I am the one with my hand on the head of Jesus. Those sins are mine. The guilt is mine. I am shaken by Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse: “If the worshipper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’” Oh, God let me never look at the cross and forget – “That death is mine.”
Beloved, that is your hand on the head of Jesus too. That death is yours. Those sins are yours. The guilt belongs to you. But so does the atonement. The sinless, innocent Son of God graciously received your sins and bore your punishment so that you would be accepted by His Father. May you and I never forget the price that Jesus paid to set us free.

When to Run and When to Stand: How to Fight Spiritual Battles

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We’re working our way through the book of Colossians in our Ladies Bible study group at BCF. Yesterday we looked at Paul’s warning: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). So we posed the question: what are we watching for? Two points stood out from elsewhere in the Scriptures:

When Jesus confronted his three closest disciples who were asleep in the garden, he admonished them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). So the lure of temptation is one area where we need to be watchful.

Then Peter, who was one of the three, gives us another saying, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality and work of the devil is another.

How are we to handle these two?

The conventional wisdom is to resist temptation and flee from the devil; but what does Scripture say?

About temptation, Paul said, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we face temptation, we take the way of escape. We flee. We run. We get away from the source of temptation, be it a place, a person, a website, or the office breakroom.

And when it comes to dealing with the devil, Peter’s warning continued: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter 5:9). We resist the devil, standing firmly and confidently behind our shield of faith in the God of Christ our Lord.

So the conventional wisdom is completely backward – Scripture tells us to resist the devil and flee from temptation. No wonder we’re falling so easily to the enemy.

Why does this matter?

Because as 1 John 4:4 reminds us: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” If you are in Christ Jesus, then Christ Jesus is in you through His Holy Spirit. The very same Christ who has already overcome the devil. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, the devil has no authority over you. None. And you need to stand firm and remind him of that when he comes roaring at you. Because all he can do is roar.

And because, as Jesus admonished his sleepy disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Your flesh, the part of you that responds to temptation, is weak, even as a Christian. Though we are set free from the power of sin, we are still bound to our fleshly nature that desires sin. Paul said, “I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing” (Romans 7:18,19)

Christ has already defeated the devil, but you and I will battle our flesh every day of our earthly lives.

Understanding the enemy and his tactics is vital – not just to surviving – but to thriving and growing and carrying the cross of Christ into a lost and dying world. You need to know your enemy Beloved. But more than that, you need to know your Savior. He has already claimed the victory over the devil. And He will give you strength – to flee when you face temptation and to stand firm when the lion roars.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

What’s Bogging You Down? Part 1


What’s bogging you down friend? What’s slowing your forward progress in your faith?  What keeps you from being all you want to be, all you were created to be? I believe the Scriptures reveals many things that impede our progress – things that are all very much under our control.  We would be wise to pay careful attention to them.

The writer of Hebrews addresses three of these in this verse: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1).  We’re going to look at two of these in this post and unpack more in subsequent posts.

Did you notice that the writer separates “things that hinder” from “sin?” Not everything that bogs us down is sinful. The Greek meaning of the word “hinders” is a weight or burden.  Because the writer uses the image of a race, we can imagine the thoughts of a runner; his goal is to be fast, and so he eliminates everything that might slow him down.  Modern runners search for the lightest shoes and for running garments made from lightweight fabrics.  Everything is evaluated for its weight and how that might affect his time.  A runner would never take his backpack to the track with him.  Yet too many of us are trying to run this race of faith with weights and burdens tied to our backs.  We are still carrying guilt from sins that God has forgiven.  We are carrying pain from old hurts and wounds that God is more than willing to heal.  We are carrying the expectations of others – or ourselves – as so much excess baggage.   As we run this race,everything in our lives should be evaluated for how it can hinder our spiritual progress.  Any weight that is not essential for the race should be eliminated.  Don’t be hindered by excess weight.

The other point that the writer makes is “sin that so easily entangles.”  Continuing with the runner’s example, I Kings 18 has the perfect visual for us.  When God sent rain to end the drought in Israel, King Ahab took off in his chariot to try to beat the storm, leaving Elijah behind.  But “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:46).  Elijah, on foot, outran King Ahab in his chariot pulled by a horse (or horses). You can imagine how Elijah’s long flowing robes would have wrapped around his legs as he ran, causing him to slow down and likely stumble.  So, he took the skirt of his robe and tucked it into his belt to free his legs from becoming entangled.  That is the perfect picture of sin.  It wraps itself around us and makes it impossible to “run the race marked out for us.”  Here’s something powerful I discovered when I researched this passage.  The Greek rendering of the whole phrase “which so easily entangles” is a combination of three things. It means “to skillfully surround,” and “to prevent or retard.” Okay, that fits perfectly with the image we have in our minds.  And of course we know that Satan is the one “skillfully surrounding” us with sin.  But I was very surprised to find it also includes the meaning of “well or much admired.”  Do you see it?  What entangles us so easily is the sin that we cherish.  It’s the sin that we secretly love.  It’s the one we won’t let go of, the one we keep returning to again and again.  It has become entangled around us until it seems a part of us, to the point that cutting it off will seem like cutting off a limb. But it absolutely must go – and it is up to us to do the cutting.  Yes, it will be painful because it will involve something that has become dear and intimate to us.  It may even mean severing a relationship that is built on sin.  The writer of Hebrews says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood (Hebrews 12:4). That is exactly what you and I must do—fight against that sin, even if it feels like it will kill us. But that’s not what we do, is it? The truth is, we don’t really struggle with our sin. Oh, we may give a wimpy word of protest, but we still give in to it. We don’t look for “the way out” that God provides, because we don’t want to escape it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Beloved, it is time to be brutally honest with yourself about your pet sin. It is not your friend. You need to kill it before it kills you.

Weights and sins are very much within our control.  You and I need to shed every weight and burden and entrust them to the Father who loves us.  We need to cut off and kill the sin that has wrapped itself around us and surrender it to the God who calls us to run the race.   The victory tape awaits you – the prize is in the Lord’s hands – eternal life in an eternal place with your eternal Savior.

Run Beloved.  Don’t let anything slow you down.

 

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