Tag Archives: Mind

Placing God Second

I once read a wonderful book by Thomas Jones called “Mind Change.” (2) Having suffered for many years from gradually worsening multiple sclerosis Jones honestly shares the struggles he has just getting out of bed in the morning. But he also shares how he fights to maintain a proper mindset. He proposes that we place God second in our thoughts! At first reading that sounds strange, but here’s how he puts it. We either think “GOD BUT…” OR “…BUT GOD.” “Whenever we use the word ‘but’ in a sentence or in our thoughts, we go away emphasizing and focusing on whatever comes after the word ‘but,’ not what comes before it.”

In other words, when we’re in the middle of a difficult circumstance we have two options. We can say “I know God is loving and kind, but my life – or this problem…” We will then focus on the problem and the circumstance and think less about the rich resources of God. Or we can say “My life…this problem…but God is loving and kind.” We will then focus on the rich resources of God. The equation is either “God’s promises but the problem” or “The problem but God’s promises.” We choose to focus on either our emotions or on God’s resources and faithfulness.

In the same spirit the prophet Jeremiah chose to put God second in his equation. For 2 plus chapters in the Book of Lamentations he laments the desperate and hopeless situation in which he and Israel find themselves. Lamentations 3:19-20 is his summary: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.” Then notice – “Yet this I call to mind…” (literally, “Make return to my heart”) “…and therefore I have hope…” It’s “The problem but God’s promises.”

The reality is the Bible is filled with “…but God” equations. Space doesn’t permit a thorough list, but consider a few examples.

  • Psalm 6: 3, 6-7, 9-10: the problem – “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.” But God – “The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.”
  • Psalm 13: 1-2, 5: the problem – “How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” But God – “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”
  • 2 Corinthians 1:8b-9: the problem – “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.“Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” But God – “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”

Here’s the key to placing God second in our thoughts: Jeremiah makes the good thoughts return to his heart by exercising his faith: “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”

Sometimes we just need to exercise our faith , to get back in the presence of our Father and be quiet so we can focus on Him. When your situation seems hopeless and you’re ready to give up, try putting God second in your thoughts. And let me know what happens. I’d love to rejoice with you!

 

1- This blog is from a sermon by Pastor Curry entitled “Our Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days” (Lamentations 3:1-26). For more information, or to request a copy of the sermon, contact [email protected]. For the audio message click here.

2 – For information on ‘Mind Change’, click here.

Do the Time: It’s Worth the Climb

The dark valley. (1)

We’ve all been there – and most likely will be again. Perhaps it’s your current dwelling place. We may be in the valley because of the circumstances of life. Things happen, difficult things, that we cannot control. Dark times are a fact of life. Or we may be in the valley because our attitude, our mindset takes and holds us there.

Whichever the case, it’s never fun. And climbing out is hard constant work. Sometimes we feel it’s just simpler to stay there and grin and bear it, thinking “This, too, shall pass.” Yet seldom, if ever, does someone swoop down and pull us out.

But we need not give in to that temptation of simple bearing it. In fact, there is a way of thinking and living that not only lifts us out of the valley but can lessen the number of times we’re in the valley. The prophet Ezekiel paints a stirring picture.

“The passageway of the side chambers widened from story to story; for the structure was supplied with a stairway all around the temple. For this reason the structure became wider from story to story. One ascended from the bottom story to the uppermost story by way of the middle one.” (Ezekiel 41:7 New Revised Standard Version)

There is a way to the uppermost story, to the top floor, to the grand, broader and brighter view. There is an uppermost level that changes everything. Just climb the stairs. Do the hard, constant work of climbing the stairs one at a time. (2)

In other words, do the time – it’s worth the climb.

Charles Spurgeon preached it powerfully. (3)

“We ought not to rest content in the mists of the valley when the summit of Tabor awaits us. How pure are the dews of the hills, how fresh is the mountain air, how rich the fare of the dwellers aloft, whose windows look into the New Jerusalem! Many saints are content to live like men in coal mines, who see not the sun. Tears mar their faces when they might anoint them with celestial oil. Satisfied I am that many a believer pines in a dungeon when he might walk on the palace roof, and view the goodly land and Lebanon…Aspire to a higher, a nobler, a fuller life. Upward to heaven! Nearer to God!”

We climb upward through the constant hard work of filling our minds and hearts with thoughts of the higher broader view. It’s daily, sometimes hourly work. It’s focusing all our sight upward. (4)

You’d think that after 45 years of ministry I’d find it easy. Not! I find it harder than ever. At least when I was preaching every week I studied and soaked in the Word. But without that weekly deadline and pressure, it’s way too easy to become lazy. And I begin to lose that higher broader view. And that impacts everything I do.

So I confess – I am working at it. I know what’s needed. More reading and studying the Word. More times of prayer. More Christian media and music. In other words more time set aside and focused. Easy, right? But that means less TV, less IPad word games, less sports talk radio! Ouch – it hurts to think about it.  But I know that if I do the time – it will be worth the climb.

So two points for your thoughts. One – There will be times beyond our control when we’ll be in the valley. Whether or not we stay there will be up to us. Two – Whether or not we slowly lose the higher broader view and slip into the valley at other times is up to us. These words express it more eloquently and pointed than I can.

Not many of us are living at our best. We linger in the lowlands because we are afraid to climb the mountains. The steepness and ruggedness dismay us, and so we stay in the misty valleys and do not learn the mystery of the hills. We do not know what we lose in our self-indulgence, what glory awaits us if only we had courage for the mountain climb, what blessing we should find if only we would move to the uplands of God. (5)

Will you do the time? It’s worth the climb! I’m certain that’s why Jesus spent so much time apart to be in contact with His (and our) Father. If He needed to, surely we do too.

May the words of Jason Oatman, Jr. be your prayer and song (6):

“I want to scale the utmost height,
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray, till heaven I’ve found,
Lord, lead me on to higher ground!”

(7)

(1) Valley Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash
(2) Stairs Photo by Maxime Lebrun on Unsplash
(3) As quoted in Streams in the Desert, January 2, Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, © 1965 Cowman Publications, Inc.
(4) Eyes Upward Photo from Lightstock
(5) As quoted in Streams in the Desert, January 2, Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, © 1965 Cowman Publications, Inc.
(6) Higher Ground
(7) Higher Ground-Photo by Eric Froehling on Unsplash

The Right Altitude Makes All the Difference

I don’t fly on airplanes all that often, but I’ve flown enough to become familiar with the voice of the Pilot: “It’s going to be a bit choppy on our climb-out today, but we’re expecting it to be somewhat smoother when we reach our assigned altitude at 31,000 feet.” These words, of course, are meant to provide comfort and encouragement.

But not until I read a devotional by Norman Shawchuck (1) did a spiritual parallel come to mind: “When the turbulence is choppy, rise to your assigned altitude.” Norman points out that we were never promised a smooth flight through life but always have the option of moving up to our ‘assigned altitude.’

And what is our assigned altitude? Consider Ezekiel’s experience with the valley of dry bones (37:1-14). Here’s how it ends:

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

Our higher assigned altitude is life in the Spirit. Paul later wrote (Rom. 8:4-9 NLT):

“5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.”

Life in the Spirit lifts us to a higher altitude of mind. And this higher assigned altitude is only a few thoughts away.

“4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, 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. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

The next time you hit the turbulence of life remember: “When the turbulence is choppy, rise to  your assigned altitude.”

(1) A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Upper Room Books, 2006, p. 172

Mind Control

Driving through construction zones or around large cities always produces a dilemma for me. I know that if I drive the posted reduced speed limit I will block traffic behind me and be the recipient of some crude gestures or the victim of some impatient driver’s tail riding or lane cutting. So I usually “go with the flow” of traffic around me. Illegal? Yes. Serious? Probably not. Morally wrong? Probably. It demonstrates how easy it is to be squeezed into the world’s mold, whether it be in driving or decision making or morality.

That’s why I’m fascinated by what Paul wrote to the Romans: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) Do not adapt to the whims and wishes of this age. Paul pleads with us to transform our attitudes and the way we live – literally to undergo a metamorphosis. Instead of being thermometers which reflect the temperature of our surroundings, we are to be thermostats and set the temperature. And Paul states that this metamorphosis a two step process.

First, we renew our minds. We are to think differently. Long before science discovered it Paul recognized that what enters the mind radically affects our speech and behavior. As Leslie Holmes suggests (1), we suffer from ATTITUDINOSCLEROSIS. You’ve heard of arteriosclerosis, a chronic disease in which thickening and hardening of the arterial walls interferes with blood circulation. It’s sometimes called “hardening of the arteries.” Attitudinosclerosis is a chronic disease of the human spirit in which the thickening and hardening of our mind interferes with the Holy Spirit’s circulation within us. So Paul wants us to delete the old files within our brain and set up some new ones. Think differently; think like Christ. Fill these new files with Christ’s thoughts and words. Change our attitude about and approach to life. Fill our minds with Christ’s mind, our hearts with Christ’s heart. Be obedient to Him.

And when we do that, the second step in the process happens naturally – we will test and approve God’s will! Ever wonder how to discover God’s will? Living in obedience to Him we discover more of His will and we learn that his will is good and pleasing; it is the best thing for us! Our future provides a proving ground.

A caterpillar knows nothing about the higher regions; but she spins her cocoon anyway; and the butterfly proves the good and pleasing life.

Obeying Christ provides wings for our souls, and sets us free to fly into a whole new life!

So Paul wants us to test God! Prove Him! As an old hymn eloquently states it: “But we never can prove the delights of his love Until all on the alter we lay; For the favor He shows. And the joy He bestows, Are for them who will trust and obey.”

It comes down to obedience. What is your attitude for obedience? Is it, “God, you can have everything but __________.” “God, you can have everything but my anger? My temper? My moodiness? My money? My time? My family? My sex drive? My need to be in control?” What are you still withholding? What decision have you not yet pegged down? What temptation have you not yet fled? “But we never can prove the delights of his love Until all on the alter we lay.” “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

(1) Audio Sermon – http://w.reidchurch.org/look_and_listen/default.asp …         Manuscript -page=sermons&cArchive=2009https://www.preaching.com/sermons/attitudes-attitudinosclerosis/

What I Learned from Our Carpet

It had been a great extended holiday period. 3 weeks in the warm, sunny south – some of it with family which made it even better. The trip home was filled with mixed emotions. Part of me wanted to keep traveling but part of me was anxious to get home. The closer we got to home the more being home became the predominant emotion. So I was glad to pull in the driveway, open the door, and turn off the security alarm. Then I did what I always do first – I headed downstairs to turn the water back on. But this time it was different; this time it was not routine; this time the carpet squished under me feet; this time I heard water running; this time we had a problem.

Long story short – we have a back-up sump pump that is water fed. If the power goes off and the main pump cannot work, the water fed pump kicks in. The pipeline that feeds this pump is the only waterline we leave on when we go away. It’s really a great plan and system. Except this time the gasket connecting the water line and the pump piping sprang a leak – and water was spraying everywhere; and had been for many days. Yep – we had a problem.

But enough about the problem. The whole point of this narrative is that the squishy carpet taught me a lesson. I was amazed at the high saturation level of the carpet – at how much water it soaked up. If it hadn’t soaked up so much water the damage would have been even worse. As I contemplated the saturation level of the carpet, I thought of Scripture verses that talk about saturating our minds and hearts with the Word of God.

Moses told the Israelites (Dt. 11:18) “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Through Jeremiah God promised (Jer. 31:33 NLT) ““But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”” As Paul wrote the Colossians (Col. 3:15), “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Like our carpet soaking up the water we are to soak up – saturate ourselves with – the Word of God.

A while ago I felt a cold coming on – my throat was scratchy and dry, my nose was plugging up. I inundated my body with Echinacea, Vitamin C, and a cold med. I saturated, permeated my body. I wanted to fend off infection. Remember Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness? Each time Satan assaulted Him Jesus saturation of the Word empowered Him. Here are Jesus’ responses. “It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” … It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test … Away from me, Satan!” For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10–11) He was not infected by Satan’s wiles. For Jesus, being squishy with the Word was not all bad.

Paul also knew the power of mind saturation. He said it helped us to know the will of God (Rom. 12:2): “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” What’s in our minds discerns what to do. Being squishy is not all bad.

That’s why a good quarterback spends hours studying the playbook and watching game films. He saturates his mind. He knows that when he is in a game and looks over the defense he needs to know his options, needs to know what is the right play and reaction. During a game there is no time to do more research; he must have enough information stored in his mind that his reactions will enable him to make the right calls and plays.

John Piper put it beautifully: “I spend this much time on Bible memory because I believe in the power of the indwelling Word of God to solve a thousand problems before they happen, and to heal a thousand wounds after they happen, and to kill a thousand sins in the moment of temptation, and to sweeten a thousand days with the ‘drippings of the honeycomb.’”(1)  Saturate yourself, get squishy with the Word. Let it permeate your entire being.

So while it’s been no fun cleaning up the mess in our basement I must admit the squishy carpet had a value the insurance company could never match. It taught me to keep saturating my mind and heart with the Word of God, because being squishy is not all bad. In fact, it can be a good thing. Let’s all get squishy!

(1) When I Don’t Desire God, 123