You don’t have to choose between faith and common sense

I went to the theater yesterday to see the new Star Wars movie (loved it, by the way), but I noticed something. A lot of people didn’t come into the theater until after the previews had started, and there were even some trickling in after the movie had begun. I was close enough to overhear some of them talking, and one particular couple muttered to themselves that they should have come earlier.

That kind of made me chuckle. I mean, it’s only the most anticipated movie of the year–maybe the decade. And, sure, Wichita isn’t like the crazy big cities that sell out movies, but it’s common sense to expect that it’ll be busy.

Just struck me as funny how often we don’t think about a situation before we jump into it and find ourselves over our heads.

night-television-tv-theme-machinesToday’s verse is Romans 12:2.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

I think some people believe that you either think or you live by faith, but I’ve discovered that they aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have faith and still think about a situation.

The movie theater is a lame example, but it works. You can go to a newly released (highly anticipated movie) with a few minutes before it starts and pray that you find a parking place and a seat, but wouldn’t it be better to think about it beforehand and leave a little earlier to get there in time?

God didn’t give us a brain just so we’d have it. We don’t have the ability to think just as some random accident. We’re supposed to use our brains to make wise choices.

Granted, we don’t always do that. Sometimes we do dumb stuff, and it’s those moments where we need to learn how to accept the consequences of our choices.

You don’t have to choose between faith and common sense. Think about your next step before you take it. The key is thinking about life, the universe, and everything the same way that God does. Read the Bible and see how God sees things, and let the truth transform the way you think. That’s when your thinking matches up with God’s wisdom, that’s where faith and common sense intersect.

Trying to make faith make sense outside of God’s way of thinking will bring nothing but confusion and frustration. You can’t make God fit with any religion or set of rules. You can’t explain the Bible using mythology or politically correct idiom.

But even after you’ve let God change the way you think, you still have to choose to think. We’re supposed to live by faith, but that doesn’t mean turning your brain off.

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Why God gave us brains

You have a brain. Did you know? Yes, it’s Monday morning, so it might not have occurred to you. Drink another cup of coffee and it might kick in.

Everybody has a brain. Some of our brains don’t work well in the morning. You might swear some of our brains don’t work well at all. But whether you know you have one or sometimes you aren’t sure, everybody’s got one. So don’t you think we should use them?

Something that’s always baffled me about Christ-followers many times is this concept that if something is wrong, all you need to do is pray about it. That’s it. Just pray about it, and God will take care of it.

Now, that’s not an untrue statement. If something is wrong, the best course of action you can take is to pray about it. But if you’re walking down the street with a sack of groceries and you drop a can of beans, what do you do? Do you stand there and pray and expect that God will appear and put the can of beans back in your sack?

No! You bend over, pick it up, and put it back in the bag. That’s common sense. That’s using the resources God gave you to analyze the problem, come up with a solution, and execute a strategy to fix it.

It’s true God wants us to bring our problems to Him, big or small, but it’s also true He’s given us talents and resources so that we can do things on our own sometimes. He gave us a brain for a reason.

Hadrian's Wall, northern England

Hadrian’s Wall, northern England

Today’s verses are Nehemiah 4:7-9.

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.

The Book of Nehemiah is one of the best books in the Bible for leaders to read. It’s also fascinating for writers to read it too because it’s one of the only books that’s written in first person POV. It’s the story of Nehemiah and how he and a crew of workmen rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem against all odds.

With every great story, there is always a source of antagonism. In this case, it’s these sleazy guys who didn’t want Nehemiah to succeed, Sanballat and Tobiah. And at one point, they were making plans to attack the job site.

Well, what did Nehemiah do? He and his guys prayed.

Yes, they prayed. They prayed to God and just trusted that God would make everything work out without any effort on their part, and they slept through the night without any worries or concerns.

Is that what happened? Read the verse again.

They prayed to God AND guarded the city day and night to protect themselves.

I think there’s a principle in that statement we Christians miss sometimes. Are we supposed to pray and trust that God will take care of our problems? Yes! Absolutely! But does that mean we need to sit back and do nothing when we know there’s a threat to the work God is doing in our lives? Absolutely not.

Every follower of Christ is called to accomplish something incredible for God. It’s different for every person, but we all have a calling on our lives. Every God-calling has similar characteristics, namely that it will always bring God glory, always bring others to Him, and always agree with what the Bible says. And whenever you accept a God-calling in your life, you’re going to face opposition.

We have an enemy out there, folks, and he doesn’t want us to succeed at anything, especially if it’s in the name of Jesus. And he’ll use whatever means necessary to stop us.

So if you know someone is threatening the work you’re doing for Christ, do you just sit back and let them come and tear it all down? No!

Now, you don’t have the right to stoop to their level. As Christ followers, we must always remember who God is and how He has called us to live, even when we’re dealing with people who would destroy us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stand for something. That doesn’t mean we can’t protect what we’ve invested our lives in.

It’s about finding the balance between trusting God and using the resources God has given us. We are to trust God in everything we do, whether we think it’s good or bad. But if you know trouble is coming, if you know something’s not right, God has given you resources and knowledge on how to make sound judgments.

You have a brain. Use it. Do the things you can do, and trust the rest to God.

Sometimes you need a Jedi mind trick

I’m attending a training seminar in Philadelphia this week. So far, it’s great. It’s all about getting organized and learning to make the choices that will help you achieve the most productivity.

The facilitator said something in yesterday’s session that really stood out to me: Ordinary happens. Extraordinary is a choice.

How true is that? I’ve learned it’s very true. The everyday, the normal, the average, the mediocre just happens. It doesn’t require any extra effort. It doesn’t require any sacrifice or commitment. What’s average is going to happen anyway.

But if you want to be extraordinary, if you want to go above and beyond and achieve something great, you have to make a choice. And the first step in making a choice is changing the way you think.

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

If you’re a science fiction movie fan, you probably know all about Jedi mind tricks. And I admit sometimes I wish I could use a Jedi mind trick on myself. It would make thinking about the right things easier.

You know you have control over what you think, right? Sometimes I wonder if people actually grasp that. They don’t have to think about the first things that pop into their heads. They can choose what they think about.

If it’s not a thought that’s useful or productive or a thought that will lead you down a useful or productive road, you don’t have to think about it. No, you can’t control it popping into your brain, but you can decide whether or not to waste time thinking about it.

Few of us really have time to waste. Let’s just be honest about that. Even people who don’t have a lot going on could be using their time better than on things that don’t matter.

It’s difficult to take thoughts captive, though. They’re slippery things. Often it feels like the moment you have them under control, they wriggle out of your grasp. It’s a never-ending battle, and that’s where friends and accountability partners come in. That’s also where it helps to have a Bible close at hand.

Maybe that sounds clichéd but it’s true. If you’re having trouble keeping your thoughts in line, a good place to start is with daily Bible reading. There’s something about the Bible that helps me calm down and focus on things that matter.

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. If I can start my morning off thinking about things that really matter, usually I find my day goes better.

What about you? Do you have trouble caking your thoughts captive? Or have you got it down to a science? If your thoughts are running wild and you’ve never even tried to direct them, you might want to give it a try.

Just because your brain wants to think about something doesn’t mean you have to think about it. You have a choice. You don’t have to let your thoughts control you. The most productive and effective people are the other way around.

Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Old thoughts don’t belong in a new life

The brain is a miracle. Have you ever stopped to marvel at it? It’s the most complex computer ever created, and even though we use it every day (some of us less than others), we still don’t understand why it does what it does most of the time. My brain thinks all the time, and mostly I can keep my mouth shut, though when I’m tired who knows what I’ll say.

Most of the time, my thoughts are positive, constructive, helpful, but on rare occasions, they’re the opposite. Sometimes I just wake up and I’m in a bad mood. Sometimes I crawl out of bed and have to face the world when all I want to do is hide from it. And it’s on those days when it’s important to have some kind of rein on your thoughts, because you live what you think. Your life is a reflection of your thoughts, maybe not immediately. You can have bad thoughts and still keep up the appearance of a good life, but if you have lived a life infused with bad thinking, your actions will reveal it.

Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:1.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

Our busy, crazy, out-of-control lives make it really easy to focus our thoughts on everything that’s going wrong. Even our life circumstances seem to conspire to get us to think about the unfairness or the injustice we face daily. But as followers of Christ, what should we think about? That’s an important question to ask yourself.

The Bible is the ultimate how-to book. It has everything you need to live a life that’s pleasing to God and satisfying for you. It’s not an easy read. It’s painful most of the time, but if you really take it in and build your life on it, not only will you have peace with God, you’ll have peace with yourself.

One of the topics the Bible tackles frequently is our thought life. I love that phrase: thought life. We all have one. We have our life that we live where everyone can see us, and then we have our thought life that we live in silence, in shadow, in secret from everyone but God. Some people’s thoughts would shock you. What people think in the anonymity of their own minds would rock your world. And sometimes I forget that God can hear me, and honestly that’s embarrassing. It’s worse than cussing at a bad driver when I have a guest in my car.

When we choose to follow Christ, He gives us a new life, and part of that new life is having power to make choices like He does. As a follower of Christ, you can choose not to sin. You can know what sin is and choose not to do it. Part of that comes down to what you’re thinking about. You have power over your thoughts. Just because a random spark of an idea pops into your mind, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. That doesn’t mean it’s something you should spend a lot of time focusing on. Just because you thought it doesn’t make it true or real or good, and you can choose whether to keep thinking about it or discard it.

As Christ-followers, our thoughts should reflect Christ. What we focus on should be the things that last forever. We have new life; why should we nurse old thoughts?

So the next time a thought pops into your brain, examine it. Don’t just cling to it because it’s your thought. Don’t mull over it like it’s something precious inherently. Identify it. Compare it to Scripture. Is it something God would think about? Is it something you would be ashamed to tell Jesus you were thinking about (even though He already knows)? Is it helpful? Is it encouraging? Does it make you better for thinking it?

If it’s a thought that tears you down, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that belittles someone’s existence, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that demonstrates rebellion toward God or other authorities, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that in any way contradicts what God says is right in the Bible, don’t think it. You don’t have to. You have power over your thoughts, so exercise it and think about things that will help you.

It starts with your thinking. Letting your thoughts rot with hurtful, hateful, selfish things will make you a hurtful, hateful, selfish person, and no Christ follower should live like that. Set your sights–focus your thoughts–on the things that are real, the things that matter, the things that will last forever. Before you know it, your life will be focused on the things that are real, the things that matter, the things that will last forever.

Stones of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

What we expect determines our focus

My brain is a mess this morning. I’m not exactly sure why. It may be because I had a very pleasant, thoroughly relaxing weekend where I didn’t think about anything and accomplished even less. I woke up this morning, and my brain just simply won’t engage. Have you ever experienced that? Where your brain simply won’t settle on a topic and jumps randomly from distraction to distraction? It happens to me frequently, and sometimes it’s useful. But when I’m trying to get something done, it’s a pain in the neck.

It’s times like those I really pray for focus because there are important things to do, and if I can’t bring my focus in, they won’t get done. When I was thinking about staying focused this morning, today’s verses came to mind.

Stones of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Stones of Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Matthew 24:42-44.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”

This is Jesus talking about the End Days, about watching for the day when He will return to Earth to take His followers home. Most times you’ll hear this referred to as The Rapture. That’s not a term that’s used in Scripture, but it’s what we use to describe what happens.

It’s hard to stay focused on something you’re not expecting. That’s kind of the point of this passage. If you expect that something is going to happen, you’ll be alert. You’ll be watching for it. You’ll be focused on it. If you’re not expecting anything to happen, you’ll be content to sit down, kick up your feet, and chill out. And I don’t suppose there’s any harm in that, but you wouldn’t be doing your job, especially if you’re supposed to be watching.

It’s kind of like this blog, honestly. If I’m not expecting God to do anything with it, it’s easy to get sidetracked in the mornings when I’m writing it, especially when I wake up in such a fog. I don’t really write this blog for anyone else but me, and it’s miraculous that my working through what God is doing in my life out loud actually encourages other people. I don’t take credit for that; that’s all Him. But if I don’t expect that I’m going to see something true or something encouraging out of the Bible in the mornings, it’s easy for me to suddenly want to give up. Or at least go back to bed and sleep for another half hour before I have to go to work.

What we expect determines our focus.

So what do you expect today? And I’m not exactly talking about what you expect to happen today. You can try to plan for what’s going to happen today, and that’s a good idea. It’s a good idea to be prepared if you can be. But what happens to you isn’t as important what you learn from it. So I guess a better question would be what do you expect to learn today? What do you expect to get out of the events of today? What do you expect you will learn about God today?

Do you expect anything at all? If you don’t, your focus is going to suffer. If you’re a guard watching a door, if you don’t expect someone to come out of that door, you won’t be ready when they do. Your focus will fail. It’s the same with life. If you don’t expect to learn something about God today, you won’t. If you don’t expect God to provide you an opportunity to help someone, you won’t see it when it comes. You’ll blow right past it. You’ll miss it.

If that’s what you expect, that’s what you’ll be focused on.

Instead, think about focusing on who God is. Remember, He’s God. He can do anything, and He’s promised that we can do anything through Him. So if you’re in a place where you don’t get to see Him working, or if you’re too busy, or if you’re too stressed, try to expect Him anyway. You never know where He might show up, but if you’re not expecting Him, you’ll miss Him.

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.