Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

We become what we think about

All of our brains are wired to work without us really telling them to work, though. I mean, how many processes go on inside your body that you don’t have to control? Do you tell your lungs to breathe? Do you tell your eyes to blink or your heart to pump? I hope you don’t. If you do, you might consider talking to a doctor. There are just some things your brain is supposed to do that you don’t have control over, but there is a level of processing that we do control.

Choosing to be happy and choosing to look at life with a perspective that honors God is difficult sometimes, but it’s a lot easier if you’ve already chosen to alter the way you think anyway. Some people operate under the assumption that we can’t choose what we think about. But that’s not true. Just because your brain starts thinking about something, that doesn’t mean you have to think about it.

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:8-9.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

I’ve heard this verse described as a filter on more than one occasion, something to run our thoughts through before we allow ourselves to think them. If it’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and/or excellent, you can think about it. Thinking about things that meet those requirements will encourage you, will enrich you, and will help you be a light to other people who don’t necessarily think the same way.

But does it really matter what we think about? Does our thought life really mean so much to how we live?

Well, I haven’t done any major studying about it. I haven’t researched it. But I know I’ve heard plenty of secular people talk about the power of positive thinking, that if you think positively about something you can overcome it. And from what I know about psychology and mental exercises, I would say that the content of your thought life is a direct reflection of how you live and it has a direct influence on your attitude.

I know personally when I spend a length of time thinking about something that upsets me, I become upset. If I think about the things I don’t have that I still want, I become discontent and unhappy. If my brain wanders down the road of any random topic with a negative bent, it won’t be long before the rest of me follows right along. What I spend my time thinking about shapes my mood and my attitude and my conversation and my choices.

So what do you think about? Are you thinking about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and/or excellent? Or do you think things that are degrading? Do you think things that are bitter and resentful? Do you think things that are hurtful? Do you think in lies? Do you think about things you shouldn’t?

It’s difficult to keep our thoughts true and pure, especially when we’re surrounded by so much garbage that leads us to think things that are the opposite. But the beauty of how God has designed our mind is that we have control over our thoughts. We don’t have to think about things we shouldn’t. We can choose what we think about, and we need to choose to think things that are true and right and good. Each thought we have is a seed, and we need to choose which ones are worthy of nurturing and which ones need to be thrown away.

Don’t misunderstand. A single wrong thought isn’t going to send you toppling out of control. Most of our brains run on overdrive all the time anyway, and in many instances, we can’t control that very first thought. But we can control the choice to keep thinking about it or let it slide away.

So the next thought you have, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it right? Does this thought honor God? Does it honor the people around me? Is it something worthy of praise? Is it something God would have me focus on?

If it is, think about it.

If it isn’t, drop it. And don’t go back to it. Don’t dwell on it at all.

We become what we think about. So it’s a good idea to think about something worth the time.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Something to remember

What’s the big deal about rejoicing anyway? The Bible says over and over again that we need to rejoice, and Philippians is full of instances where Paul says to be joyful, be joyful, be joyful.

And I get that we need to be joyful because it will help our perspective. I get that we need to rejoice in difficult circumstances because it will help other people be encouraged. And deep down inside I understand that difficult circumstances come to help us grow and to remind us that this world isn’t home. But there are days when it still feels like an exercise in futility to continue rejoicing when nothing seems to go right.

So on those days when it’s difficult to find joy in anything, maybe we need to remember one important fact.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:4-5.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Maybe this doesn’t bring comfort to you like it does to me, but the idea that the Lord is coming soon is enough to make me jump for joy.

I’ve read this set of verses many times, and every time before I have split them up into two statements: An admonishment to rejoice always and instructions to be considerate because God will be coming back soon. But when I read it this morning, I read it differently.

I’m not a Bible scholar, so maybe it wasn’t intended this way. But what if it’s three statements on how to live instead of two? Rejoice. Be considerate. Remember.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

What if that little tag on the end of that verse isn’t a warning like I’ve always thought it was? I’ve always read it like Paul is saying we need to be considerate or else. Rejoice and put others first, or else God will get you when He comes back soon.

But this morning that’s not how it sounds.

Rejoice always. Making this choice is great for our focus and our perspective.

Be considerate. Making this choice is great for our relationships with others.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you don’t feel like rejoicing, you still have something to rejoice about. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you’re so bogged down with your own troubles that you can’t invest in others for a time, you still have something to look forward to.

With the pressures of daily life and the stress of just living, it’s so easy to forget that God is going to come back for us. It’s so easy to get buried in this life and think this is all there is. But this isn’t all there is. This world isn’t home. God is preparing a place for us that defies explanation, and we will get to live there with Him for all eternity, along with the others who have gone before us in Christ. No more sickness. No more pain. No more night. No more suffering. No more conflict or stress or tension.

That is our home. Not this broken, worn down shell of a world that we turned over to Satan thousands of years ago.

Yes. Rejoice always. That’s not an option. When everything goes wrong, rejoice. When everything goes right, rejoice. Choose to have an attitude that makes you unsinkable.

And be considerate of other people. Put others first. Help others succeed. Encourage others. Be there for others.

But above all else, remember, the Lord is coming soon. The world won’t go on like this forever, and when the ticking clock of Time itself finally winds down, all of us who know Christ will get to go on living with Him.

The little annoying troubles in life are just pebbles in our shoes as we’re walking home. Yeah, they’re irritating, but they’re just little things. And, yes, little things can add up until the sum of them feels like a big thing, but that’s perspective. Because even a mountain of pebbles is still insignificant compared to what God can do with faith the size of a mustard seed.

The mailbox between the road and the driveway yesterday morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The world is not enough

I get tired of the world. I get tired of living in such a broken place, where what used to be good is now called and what used to be bad is now called good. I get frustrated because I know things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. Marriages aren’t supposed to break up. People aren’t supposed to hurt each other. The things that are broken in the world were never intended to be broken, and it’s easy to get depressed thinking about it.

I hate to see people hurting, and I get so tired of having to overcome obstacle after obstacle in my own life when I don’t feel like I’ve really done anything to deserve it. You know? You live the way you’re supposed to. You read your Bible. You keep the faith. You treat others the way you want to be treated. You love God. You love people. And everything still goes wrong. Why is that? What point could there possibly be to living like that?

I got to thinking this morning that if everything went our way, we could be pretty comfortable down here. Aside from the obvious strengths we gain when we go through struggles, what we need to remember when life falls apart is that we don’t belong here. We weren’t made for this life.

The mailbox between the road and the driveway yesterday morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The mailbox between the road and the driveway yesterday morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:20-21.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Some days it’s easy to remember that this world isn’t home. On those days, I would like nothing more for Christ to descend from the clouds and take us away. But then there are other days when I’m not thinking about that. There are other days when I’m pretty happy just where I am, with no one rocking the boat, with nobody reminding me of any higher purpose, when it’s just me and the world and I’m okay with that. And that’s not a good place to be.

Don’t misunderstand. Being content is important. Being content with what you have is essential. But being content is different than being comfortable. We shouldn’t be comfortable in the world because when you get right down to the heart of the mater, the world isn’t going to agree with people who follow Christ. And while I blogged about agreeing to disagree yesterday and how that’s all right (and it absolutely is), disagreement still causes conflict. It always has; it always will. And if your perspective isn’t shaped by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, many times a disagreement is going to turn to outright anger and resentment. If you know your history, you know it’s true.

The world disagrees with us. Part of the world resents us. And the rest of the world hates us. And, just being real here, the parts of the world that don’t hate Christ followers yet, soon will. Why? Well, the Bible says they will. Because the world hated Jesus, so why would we expect different treatment when we are His followers?

It’s good to be content with what you have, with what God has given you. But that doesn’t give you permission to be comfortable. Being comfortable means you’ve settled in for the long haul. It means you’ve got your head down. It means you’re ignoring the signs around you that are trying to spur you into action. Being comfortable means you’ll stop growing, stop learning, stop seeking, stop trying. Being comfortable means you think the world is enough.

And to quote James Bond, “The world is not enough.”

We aren’t supposed to have a comfortable, easy life on Earth because Earth isn’t our final destination. Christian, do you get that? We aren’t supposed to hoard all our money and resources so we can sit back in our easy chairs with our remote controls and our cups of coffee and watch television all day long. We were designed for more than that.

I get comfortable. I have that dubious gift of being able to block stuff out and power through with my own goals and ignore everything else around me, and it’s not always a good thing. God put me here for a purpose, and as long as the world is broken, He has something for me to do. And if I’m so comfortable in my own little kingdom, I’m never going to venture out into the places where He wants me to go.

So take a good look at your perspective this morning. Are you angry because life isn’t working out the way you thought it would? Are you frustrated because the obstacles in your path seem unfair and inversely proportional to the life you’ve lived?

Good. Because the more uncomfortable we are, the easier it is to remember that this world isn’t our home.

So get your head up. Pay attention. And get uncomfortable.

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Agree or disagree but don’t stop moving forward

We live in a contentious era. It’s favorable and even popular to argue a point where you disagree. The invention of chat rooms and blogs and social media has allowed people from every walk of life all across the world to sound off on each and every topic of discussion that is brought to light in a public forum, and while healthy conversation and discussion is useful, one-sided arguments where others aren’t allowed to disagree never are. But it’s the one-sided arguments that don’t allow discussion that have become more and more prevalent.

In our culture, it is a social norm to immediately think that if someone disagrees with you, they hate you. I’m not quite sure where this concept came from, but we have been inundated with the idea that simple disagreement means a complete inability to live and work together. As far as most people are concerned, we must agree, or we can’t talk to each other.

Why is that? Why must we agree? Why must one person compromise his or her opinions or beliefs to make another person feel better about their own? I think there’s another issue at the heart of that matter. And there’s another issue in the lack of civility that has permeated our culture too. But in reading through Philippians, I realized something about agreeing to disagree: It needs to happen in the Church.

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:15-16.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

I’d never really thought about it. Whenever I think about people having major disagreements, I usually go back to the debates I sat in on when I was in college. I remember having to I listen to one on homosexuality, and all I really took away from that debate was that my whole college despised the biblical view of gender and completely disrespected anyone who followed biblical principles. Of course, it didn’t surprise me, but I was shocked that the presenter onstage wasn’t even allowed to talk about his views because the audience kept shouting angrily at him. The moderator did nothing to stop it.

When I think about disagreements, that’s what I think of.

But you know what? Major disagreements happen in the church all the time. Even if you have an awesome church, disagreements are still going to happen. Why? Because everybody is different. We all look at each other differently. We all look at life differently. And our different experiences in life have shaped the way we live. And these differences extend to our walk with God too.

There are a lot of Christians in the world. Those people who believe that Jesus paid the price for their sins and because of Him alone they are going to heaven and they can have a relationship with God are everywhere, in every country. But if you put them all in the same room, it’s very likely that none of them will agree on anything else. Cultures are different. Personalities are different. Everything is different.

And it’s the same inside a church. A church is a group of people made up of different backgrounds, and if they don’t focus on what matters, if they don’t focus on what is the same, the differences will tear them apart. I’d like to say that disagreements in the church are more civil than disagreements in the world, but it’s not true. Oftentimes disagreements in the church are more vicious than what goes on in the world.

But no matter if your disagreement is with someone who doesn’t believe or with someone who does, the way to deal with it is the same:

Agree on what matters. Let God work everything else out. And keep moving forward.

That’s it.

Yes, sometimes it’s important to debate if everyone is given a voice. Yes, sometimes it’s important to argue as long as emotions stay out of it. Disagreements are healthy because they help us see other people’s points of view, but disagreeing doesn’t mean we hate each other. Disagreeing doesn’t mean you have the right to be vicious and mean to other people. Disagreeing is just someone with a different life experience trying to come to grips with you and your perspective on life. And if you listen to them, you’ll gain valuable insight. You may not agree. You may never agree. But that’s okay.

But you do have to listen. That’s part of a discussion. That’s part of a conversation. Listening. Not sitting still and clinging to your own perspectives, waiting for the opportunity to strike where your opponent is weak. That’s not listening. That’s premeditated attack.

And I can tell you from personal experience, the church excels at premeditated attacks. So do Christians.

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s important to agree. We do have to agree on the things that matter. But even if you get to the place where you can’t agree, that doesn’t mean you can be cruel. And within a church or a family or a business or whatever, when you disagree, let it go. Try to find a solution, but if you can’t, don’t worry about it. Don’t focus on it. Don’t press it. Don’t keep going back to it over and over and over.

Pray that God will make it clear, whether it needs to be clarified to someone else or to you.

But whatever you do, don’t move backward. Don’t turn back. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Hold on to the progress that you have already made because if you take a step back, Satan has won. And that’s what this is really about. That’s where strife and dissention really comes from, a ploy to hurt the cause of Christ.

You won’t agree with everyone. And not everyone will agree with you. Get over it. But you can focus on the perspectives that you share. And even if nobody agrees, you can still be civil. And let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to listen to someone who’s civil than it is to someone who’s rude.

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Get your head out of yesterday

I don’t run. I’m not built for it. My body tends to revolt against me whenever I try, but I have a lot of friends who run. And they don’t just run; they compete. These folks do triathlons and marathons and all sorts of other forms of torture like that. And one thing that I have noticed when you’re running is that you really need to keep your focus on what’s in front of you, otherwise you could run into trouble … literally.

I’ve never seen a runner trying to compete by running forward and looking backward. I’m sure people do it because people are strange, but I’d be willing to bet, they don’t run well. Because even if you find a way to look backward as you’re running forward, your focus won’t be where it needs to be–on the goal.

I’m also reminded of a line from an older movie, Gumball Rally, an old racing movie we used to watch with my dad. It was a movie about racing. All these different people in all kinds of different cars had to race from coast to coast, regardless of the legality of their actions, and one of the racers was this Italian guy who ripped the rearview mirror off the car windshield and tossed it in the backseat, proclaiming: “What’s behind me is not important!”

These people race. They’re moving forward toward a goal. Looking behind and focusing on where they’ve been will only slow them down and make them unhappy in most cases. And in all honesty, following Christ is very much the same.

 

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:12-14.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

We all came from somewhere. Some Christ-followers came from Christian homes; some didn’t. Some have come from a legacy of people who always loved God; some didn’t.  But no matter where we started, God is moving us somewhere else, sometimes physically, always spiritually. We’re all moving forward, and if we look backward, we’re going to slow down or we’re going to hamper the efforts that are going on around us.

Paul was majorly into sports from what we can tell from Scripture. He talks about running and racing and fighting and wrestling, and actually there are a lot of comparisons between the Christian life and sports. Sports require training. They require focus. They require pushing yourself to achieve something you’re pretty sure you aren’t able to achieve. They require teamwork most of the time. The Christian life isn’t a competition, though, but the other similarities are kind of cool.

And in this case, running is a great example because all of us are runners. If you follow Christ, you’re in a race. You’re not competing against anyone. It’s like a marathon or a triathlon, and Christ has already run the race and won. So the rest of us are competing against ourselves really, and it’s our goal to finish. And you can’t finish the race in front of you if you can’t get your eyes of what’s behind you.

The past is important. Don’t get me wrong. In some cases, it is important to remember the past. We need to remember where we’ve been and recognize what God wants us to learn from where we’ve been, but you can’t focus on yesterday. What’s done is done and can’t be changed; what can change is how you react to it.

I know people who bury themselves in the past. They forget about today and don’t even consider tomorrow, and all they can talk about is what happened before. Where they used to be. What they used to do. And living today is torture for them because all their focus is on yesterday, and they can’t handle the stress of right now or the implications of what might happen tomorrow because they can’t get their heads out of yesterday. And they’re miserable for it.

So what does this mean for us in 2013? Stop living life in a rearview mirror. Stop looking backward to find happiness and contentment in yesterday and start looking forward to what’s coming. Yes, what’s coming is unknown. What’s coming might not be fun at all. But it’s very likely that you’re already prepared for what’s coming, whether you know it or not. You probably experienced yesterday what you needed to know for today and for tomorrow. That’s what yesterday is for.

Learning.

You can learn from yesterday. Just don’t live there.

God sets our paths. He doesn’t let us run alone. And He always provides exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

Keep your eyes forward and run. Don’t worry about the other runners; they’ll handle themselves. Don’t worry about the road behind you; it’s past. Don’t worry about the road ahead of you; take it a day at a time.