Get Out of the Ruts

I am convinced that the biggest detriment to faithful, Joyful, holy living is between our ears.  Our thoughts can make or break us. And here’s what you and I need to grab hold of: our thoughts are just that – ours – we choose what we think about. And whatever we choose to dwell on makes an indelible impression on our hearts. I used to be a very negative person. But God showed me that was because my mind was filled with negative, critical, anxious, and discouraging thoughts. Just as wagon wheels always find their way into the ruts in the trail, my thoughts always found their way back into the ruts I had dug out in my mind. Friend, I’ve seen your posts. We’ve had many conversations. The honest truth is, you’re doing the same thing. And it’s time, for the health of your mind and your heart, to stop digging those ruts.

Paul gave us two prescriptions we would be wise to heed:

“Take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Here’s the root of the issue: we’re not paying attention to what we’re thinking. The enemy is counting on that and the culture feeds it. Like putting our car on cruise control, we let our thoughts run wherever they will. And let’s be honest, our thought default rarely runs to the positive.  We need to reject thoughts that do not follow Paul’s other remedy: “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). We must fill those negative ruts with – not just positive thoughts – but godly thoughts.

It takes discipline, it takes purpose, it takes intention, and it takes practice. But Beloved, nothing has the power to change your heart and your attitude like changing your thoughts. Here’s my challenge: Write these two verses on notecards and put them on your mirror, your fridge, in your workspace, and beside your bed as a continual reminder to take control of your thoughts. Then do it.

The Scripture says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). It’s your choice, Beloved. Wherever your thoughts dwell, your heart goes. Maybe it’s time to take it out of the rut and onto a new, healthy path.

Give Careful Thought

Tucked away in the latter part of the Old Testament is the tiny book of Haggai. It is only two chapters, a total of 38 verses but it has a lot to say. Rather, God has a lot to say in this little book. Haggai prophesied after the Jews were released from Babylonian captivity. They started returning home after Cyrus’ edict around 538 b.c. They came back to a ruined Jerusalem, and most heartbreaking of all – a destroyed temple. At first, they were devoted to rebuilding the temple but neighboring nations and their personal issues interfered so they abandoned that work and settled for building “paneled houses” (1:4) for themselves.

Isn’t this how it happens for you and me? We start this Christian walk with enthusiasm and determination, but “trouble and persecution” and the “worries of this life” (Matt 13:21-22) cause us to lose our motivation and desire for the things of God. Before long we’re sleeping in on Sundays and turning our focus on ourselves.

Haggai exhorts the Jews to finish the temple work more than twenty years after it was begun. And he gives them the Word of the Lord. A repetitive word. Five times God says” “Give careful thought . . .” (1:5, 7; 2:15, and 18 twice). The word combination has the idea of taking hold of one’s thoughts – not gently – but by force. This reminds me of Paul’s message to the Corinthian church: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

There are a lot of things that we cannot control, but you and I can – and must – control our thoughts. That includes everything from the sinful imagery we replay to angry conversations we imagine to self-exaltation, self-condemnation, and self-pity. It’s all in our hands – or rather in our minds. I’m preaching to myself here – this is one of the hardest battles I face. It is so easy to let my thoughts run my mind and thus my heart. The problem is, they always run me into a ditch of apathy, doubt, discouragement, and fear. So, I’m taking my mind – and my heart – back. I’m going to give careful thought to my thoughts and bring them into submission to Christ. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. What about you, Beloved? Are you ready to take your thoughts – and your life – back?

The Week after Covid

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This is a repeat and I apologize for that, but I am tired. Weary-to-my-bones kind of tired. Needing-more-than-a-day-off kind of tired. The tired that drains you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. After a week of battling Covid in my entire family, I’m drained body, mind, and spirit. At times like this, it’s really easy to sink into despair and cry “Woe is me!” and post my feelings all over social media. But how does that serve the cause of Christ?

Paul, who had every right to whine, choose instead to look at his life from a different perspective. “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9). He acknowledged that his circumstances were hard – he was being pressed from many different directions by people who all wanted something from him (boy can I relate). He was perplexed; he couldn’t understand why his own people were rejecting the Messiah they had so long sought. He was persecuted – his life was often in danger, his ministry was detested by the Jewish leaders and even by certain factions of the church. He was struck down – beaten and stoned more than once for his dogged devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Despite all that, he refused to give in to misery. He knew that no human could crush him because he belonged to the Lord. He rejected despair. He reminded himself that his Lord and Savior would never abandon him, and had even come to stand beside him in prison (Acts 23:11). He knew that the Lord he served with all his heart would not allow him to be destroyed.

Beloved – this is YOUR testimony too if you are in Christ. You are not a victim—you are a victor! Yes, life gets very hard sometimes, but you and I need not give in to despair because our Lord will not let us be crushed or destroyed. He has promised to never abandon His own, not even in our darkest, hardest moments. Like Paul, we must learn to hold fast to Jesus and trust Him despite our circumstances or feelings. I am tired, but the Lord promises to give me strength. I am overwhelmed, but He will carry my burdens for me. I am weary, but He will sustain me. I can focus on my fatigue, or on my faithful Father. The choice is mine. The choice is yours too. Where will your thoughts take you today?

How to Battle Negative Thoughts

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

I’ve had several conversations recently with ladies who are struggling with oppressive, negative, angry emotions. They are surprised when I tell them that the key is to learn to take control of their thoughts. We tend to focus on our feelings, but forget that those feelings are fed by our thoughts.  And our thoughts can be controlled. Negative thoughts, depressive thoughts, sinful thoughts, angry thoughts can and must be brought into submission. It’s a matter of paying attention to what’s running around in your head.

Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, one of the Temple priests during the Babylonian captivity. The situation seemed hopeless, and this is reflected in his Psalm. In verses 1-9, Asaph lamented God’s apparent rejection of His people. In verse 2 he says “my soul refused to be comforted.” Ever been there? I know I have. But look at verse 10, Asaph turns his mind and heart on a pivot, like a door on its hinges. “Then I thought, to this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord…I will meditate on all Your words” (vs. 10, 11, 12). Did you catch the keyword? Thought. In that moment of despair, Asaph took control of his thoughts and changed the focus of his heart and mind.  He deliberately remembered and meditated instead on the character and deeds of God. And when he opened that door, hope and peace flooded in.

We see the same change of mind in Lamentations 3, which starts out: “I am the man who has seen affliction,” (v.1) and continues for 20 verses saying “my soul is downcast within me” (v. 20).  And then verse 21 begins with that hinge word: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” There’s the clue again “I call to mind.”  Jeremiah’s whole focus and attitude is transformed. A change in his focus changed everything.

Paul said, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Then we take the Philippians 4:8 prescription – I’ll let you look that up. It’s how we battle mental negativity. Beloved, the only sure way to find peace in seasons of struggle is to intentionally turn your thoughts to God, to wrap His Words around you like a comforter, and trust in His love, faithfulness, and peace to carry you through.

Hebrews: Open Heart Surgery

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“The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Yes, we’re still here – but I have a reason. Last devotional we saw the Word of God as a mighty sword. Today I want you to see it as a surgical scalpel. A surgeon wants to help people get well. But he first has to cut through skin and tissues to get to the problem.

The Word of God penetrates and divides “soul and spirit, joints and marrow . . .” The soul (psyche) is the immaterial and eternal part of the inner person – it is translated in the scriptures by personal pronouns – me, myself, I, mine. The spirit (pneumo) is the immaterial part of the inner person that can respond to God. While the soul is fixed on self, the spirit is the part of man that hears that still, small voice and follows – or turns away. The Word also divides “joints and marrow.” Joints are connective parts of the skeletal system and marrow sits deep within the bones producing blood cells that keep us alive. Consider that the root word for marrow speaks of “hidden or concealed things.” Hang in here with me, this is all going to make sense.

The Word of God also “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It goes right to the heart – the seat of our thoughts and emotions. But not just the random thoughts that flit through our minds. God’s Word is judging our deliberate thoughts – the ones we draw up from those deep places where we think they are safely hidden. But, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (v. 13).

You and I cannot hide our hearts from God. His Word penetrates, divides, and judges the state of our hearts. It digs into the deepest parts of us. It exposes our thoughts, especially the ones we try to hide, the ones that are feeding our emotions. Surgeons go after the things in our bodies that make us sick. The Word of God goes after our thoughts that make us sick. Beloved, God wants you to be well and whole. Will you let His Word do the work of healing your heart?

Hebrews: Awe and Wonder

Quick! What are you thinking about right now? Right now, I’m thinking about the pain in my knee. I’m thinking about my next course coming up in two weeks. I’m thinking about all the things I didn’t get done this weekend added to all the things I need to do this week. I’m thinking about getting Joy to her nanny and me to work on time.  

The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). One of the first things we learn in Bible study is to pay attention to the word, “therefore” and ask ourselves, “what’s it there for?” Therefore always refers us back to the previous text – in this case, the author has just listed eight reasons why God would send His one and only Son from glory to earth. He is saying, in light of all that Jesus is and has done, our natural response is to “fix our thoughts” on Him, meaning to mentally focus with intentional consideration. That sounds a lot like studying algebra to me.  I would stare at my textbook for hours but just could not wrap my mind around those useless equations and formulas. Thankfully, that’s not what’s happening here.

Glance back just a few words, where the author, speaking to his “holy brothers” (and sisters), said that they – and we – “share in the heavenly calling.” That calling is a divine invitation from heaven to consider all that Jesus is. Redeemer. Savior. Brother. Victor. High Priest. Sacrifice. Helper. Apostle. The book of Hebrews is all about discovering Jesus. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, we keep turning the dial and seeing new and wonderful sides to Him.  

Fixing our thoughts on Jesus is more than a mental exercise we have to push ourselves through like my algebra book. It’s lifting our thoughts above the mundane things of this world and filling our minds with awe and wonder at the Son of the Most High God. It’s not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! What a high and holy privilege we’ve been given.

That brings me back to the question we opened with. Beloved, what are you thinking about right now?

A Strong Foundation of Love and Peace

I began praying for my granddaughter before she was born and have prayed every day since. I pray for her health, protection, provision, and growth and I pray Ephesians 3:17-19 over her. “That Joy, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that she may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That part, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” always puzzled me.  It brings to mind Philippians 4:7 that says that “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can you know something that surpasses knowledge and understanding? This is a beautiful expression in both verses and it means to take firm possession of something that has complete authority over you and gives you an assurance that cannot be overridden. Specifically, in the terminology for Philippians 4:7, it means to have a superior hold of the mind in reference to “alarm and agitating emotions.” So I am praying that the love of Christ would rule and reign over her. Yes, she is only 2 years old, but I’m praying a foundation for the rest of her life. And I’m partnering with God in “rooting and establishing” her in love so that one day when she is a little older, she will be able to grasp the immense love God has for her. Is there a more important job for a grandmother?

Beloved, the love and peace of Christ are available to you too – today – right in the midst of anxious, frustrating, heartbreaking circumstances. The key is in the verses that surround these two verses – about living in God’s grace, rejoicing in the Lord always, trusting in His presence, praying about everything with thanksgiving, and keeping your thoughts focused on the good stuff.

I encourage you with all my heart to sit with your Bible and a fresh cup of coffee and meditate on Philippians 4:4-9. Then “the God of peace will be with you” in ways you cannot understand, but you can certainly know and rest in.

No, You’re Not Enough, but You Have All You Need

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The Christian life is not easy. I hear your “Amens.” We have all struggled and stumbled and become weary.  We’ve all felt like giving up. So what would help?  Do you need more faith? Could you use more courage? How about more strength? Patience? Wisdom? Love? Trust? Peace? Self-control? Mercy? Grace? Yeah, me too. To all of the above. And here’s an inside secret: The enemy will constantly reinforce your belief that you are lacking in all these things. Satan wants you and me to be handicapped by worry and fear. Lately, his mantra to me is “You don’t have enough faith for this trial.” And it triggers a spiral of anxiety and fear.

Yesterday a young friend and I talked about how to take our thoughts captive and reject satan’s lies (2 Corinthians 10:5). That’s a powerful lesson – but it’s only half the battle. We then have to fill that empty space with the truth.  So if I reject satan’s lie that I don’t have enough faith, what truth do I need to plug into that space? “God is able to make all grace about to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will about in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8-emphasis added). In one sense satan is right – I do not have enough faith on my own. I am sorely lacking in all the areas above. But we know he is a liar and the father of lies.  – because God said that I have all I need to not only persevere through my trials but to emerge victorious through them. And so do you if you are in Christ. What the enemy doesn’t want you to know is that, because you have the Holy Spirit living in you, He fills in all the gaps in your faith, courage, strength, and all the rest. You and I just have to give Him those places where we feel we’re lacking. My prayer for more faith is met by the Spirit’s abundance.

Beloved, I know you are tired. I know you feel like you’re failing. You’ve told me so. But you have the promise of the Word of God who is ever faithful that He will give you all you need to not just survive this life, but to thrive and to bring Him glory. You have all you need. That’s not spiritual arrogance, that is a promise from God.

The Living Word

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I thought I needed a new Keurig. Every morning it would whirr away but the coffee didn’t come out. I always had to shut it off and do all the steps again before it would work.  But the problem wasn’t with the machine it was with me.  I was trying to be quiet in the morning so I wasn’t pushing the lid down hard enough to piece the top and the bottom of the coffee pod. The pod would fill up with water, but it had no exit hole so it stopped pumping. Duh. I just had to give it a full stab to get my morning cup of life-elixir.

A verse has been bumping around in my head since I solved my Keurig problem. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Now, I am all for getting into the Bible in every possible way, but I’m concerned that when we settle for a five-minute daily devotional we are not letting the Word of God do its full work in us. This is a “living and active,” power-packed Word and its purpose is not just to encourage us – though it does that well. It is meant to penetrate our soul and spirit – the part of us that responds to God. Do you see the reference to “joints and marrow?” Joints are where bones connect. We must let the Word of God connect the truths of Scripture to our lives. Marrow is the spongy center of major bones and it produces blood cells that keep us alive. The Word of God supports life in the believer. And it also “judges the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.” It will tell us if what we are thinking is true or a lie. It will chasten us for unChristlike attitudes. It’s a sharp Word that goes right to the heart.

Oh, brothers and sisters, you and I don’t just need a good word for the day, we need to let the living Word of God pierce deeply and let life flow into – and out of us.  We need to give the Bible full access to our minds and hearts. That’s gonna take more than five minutes a day.

Factory Settings

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My laptop did an automatic update last night. I know it’s necessary, but it is also annoying. Every time my laptop does an update and restarts, it returns to the factory settings and changes the changes I made to help me as I work.  Like all laptops, mine has a touchpad on it which I don’t use because I have better control with a handheld mouse. This thing drives me crazy. I have rather large hands and the touchpad sits right where I rest my hands. When my hands brush it as I’m typing, it moves the pointer so that I am typing in the wrong place on my document. Argh! I have to stop what I’m doing, go to the settings, and deactivate the touchpad. Then try to go back and reclaim my train of thought. So this morning I was typing a verse of Scripture and looking at my Bible, not at my screen. When I lifted my head, I realized my verse what not where it was supposed to be. Then I remembered the restart and had to go back to turn the touchpad off again. I do wish there was a way to permanently deactivate it so it wouldn’t come back on with every restart.

It made me think of our human “factory setting,” of our sinful nature that came with us when we were born. My granddaughter is almost two, and we are dealing with temper tantrums and disobedience and “NO!” At this age, it’s not entirely intentional; she is reacting out of the sinful nature that bedevils every human being. How I wish for her sake and mine there were a way to turn that sin nature off completely.

Unfortunately, it isn’t an automatic adjustment when we are saved.  Rather, it is our daily task to put aside our sinful nature and take up the righteous life of Christ Jesus. It is taking control of our thoughts (1 Cor. 10:5), renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2), “putting to death the misdeed of the body” (Rom 8:13), and “living in accordance with the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). And it’s a lifelong fine-tuning. But the end result will be a beautiful thing because we will become more and more like Jesus, which, by the way, is our original factory setting.