Let the Fire Fall

FirefallWhen I was five, my folks took me camping in Yosemite National Park. At that time, each evening visitors would gather at Camp Curry in Yosemite Valley and the ranger would call out, “Let the fire fall.” 3,000 feet above the valley on Glacier Point, a huge bonfire had been built and on that signal, bulldozers would begin pushing it over the cliff forming a spectacular fire fall in the darkness. Today if you visit Yosemite and ask the ranger, “When does the fire fall?” he will respond, “I’m sorry, the fire doesn’t fall here anymore.” How often is that a picture of our lives? There was a time when I said, “Lord, come into my life.”, a time when I was full of hope at what God could do in my life, but perhaps today the flame has dwindled and faded and is almost out.

When our children were small we camped frequently and I was always responsible for the campfire. I love the sound of a crackling campfire first thing in the morning, the warmth in my face and hands to chase away the morning chill. Each night we would have a big campfire with roasted marshmallows and s’mores, but in the morning the fire was only embers. I would dig down through the ashes to those embers, add some paper and wood, blow on it and soon the fire would be crackly and warm again. In 2Timothy 1:6 (NIV) Paul says, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God.” Don’t let the flame go out; keep it bright.

I can’t say I ever completely walked away from God, but there were long periods where the fire was down to embers buried under a lot of ash. My 20’s were a particularly cold period with a worldly focus, spiritual stagnation and putting God in a Sunday box. I was the proverbial submarine Christian: I surfaced on Sunday but the rest of the week I spent under the surface. Praise God the last 30 years have been a time of reigniting the fire and moving from glory to glory. Today ministry in our county jail motivates me to keep the fire hot. Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher in the 1800’s, said, “If there is no fire in the sermon, throw the sermon in the fire.”

Matthew 25 tells the story of five foolish young ladies at a wedding feast who did not bring enough oil for their lamps as they waited for the bridegroom to arrive. When he finally arrived they found that their flames were dying. That is a picture of our lives when we let the oil of the Holy Spirit run low and we can no longer burn brightly in a dark world. Stir up the flame. Let the fire fall.

One of my favorite Bible stories is recorded in 1Kings 18. The prophet Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Two sacrifices were prepared, one for the Lord and one for Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to pray to their god to send fire to consume the sacrifice, but they could not. Elijah prayed and God answered with fire. The result was revival within Israel.

The people of Israel made a choice; I must make a choice. I choose my thoughts. 2Corinthians 10:5 (NKJV) tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” What is my self-talk: “I’m a failure. Nobody cares about me. Nothing will improve.” And the flame dies down. “I am the righteousness of God in Christ. I am more than a conqueror. Nothing can separate me from the love of God.” And the flame burns bright. As our late pastor put it: “I cannot consistently act in a way inconsistent with the way I see myself.” I can put up a front for a while but inevitably I will fall back in line with how I think. We need the fire of God. Let the fire fall.

Have you seen the electric fireplaces with fake logs and lights to imitate flames? That is a picture of our spiritual life when we just put on a show. As I described, I was just fake logs for many years. In 2Timothy 3:5 (NLT), Paul warns, “(There will be those in the church who) will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” Only the fire will burn out addictions. Only the fire will heal families. Only the fire will make the snake run. The devil runs from the fire. He knows he will experience the flames soon enough. We are not called to put up with the devil’s oppression, to just hang on till Jesus comes, to live in depression and hopelessness. Instead let the fire fall.

Proverbs 26:20 (NLT) observes, “Fire goes out without wood.” Pretty profound, huh? If my life is in ashes, I need to ask what fuel have I given my spirit? Have I neglected Bible reading, prayer, worship or forgiveness?

I don’t need a fire that only lasts during a Sunday service. I need a fire that comes from the depth of my soul. I can’t afford to depend on someone else to pump me up. It’s got to come from deep within. I need fire in the way I worship, fire in the way I love my wife, fire in the way I do my job, fire in the way I wash the dishes. Fire! The devil comes to steal, kill and destroy: to steal the fire, to kill the flame, to destroy the passion.

Ho hum just doesn’t cut it. Ho hum doesn’t produce victory. Revelations 3:16 (NIV) says, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” In Luke 24, Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He opens the Scriptures about Himself to them and suddenly vanishes. In verse 32 they respond, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” Ever had heartburn? We need our hearts to burn. We need the fire.

Several years ago forest rangers in Redwood National Park became concerned because a new generation of redwoods was not growing. Study showed that the cause was fire control. Redwood seeds have a hard shell that must be burned away in order for the seed to germinate. Years of tight controls on forest fires in the park had prevented the seeds from experiencing the fire they needed for life. We need the fire to burn off the hardness of our hearts.

What have I given up on? Where have I invested more than I got back? When have I been better to people than they have been to me? When have I served others but haven’t received the help I need or sacrificed for a spouse or girlfriend and they have not been faithful? I worked 22 years for the company, faithfully doing my job, making sacrifices, working extra hours when needed, rarely taking a sick day and then one day my boss called me in and told me I was being let go. Short changed. We raised our son, nurtured him, protected him, taught him. We dreamed together with him of a future full of promise until all the dreams were ended in an instant by a drunk driver. Short changed. Life is not fair and I have to deal with the hurt of being short changed. If this hadn’t happened… If that hadn’t happened… I have been short changed and the fire runs low.

In 2Samuel 9, Mephibosheth, grandson of King Saul, son of David’s best friend Jonathan, is living in Lotibar. Wikipedia translates Lotibar as “the place of no pastures.” There is nothing green, nothing growing. It is a place of silent frustration, because I have given up and tried to make the best of a bad situation. The Lord has not forgotten. He has you on His mind. Don’t stay in Lotibar. I don’t care if you have to crawl out. You have been down long enough. You have cried long enough. It is time for the fire to fall again.

A windstorm will blow down trees with weak roots. There will be storms in life that will shake us. Whether we stand depends on our roots. Ephesians 3:16-19 (NKJV) says, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Am I going through things I would rather not go through? Am I stuck in a place I would rather not be? Our suffering doesn’t glorify God but our attitude in suffering does. A tree with deep roots looks the same to our eyes whether rain storm or drought. It is not defined by circumstances.

Trying times are not the times to stop trying. Read that again: Trying times are not the times to stop trying. In Isaiah 48:10 (NIV), God says, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Silver is put into the furnace and melted so the impurities will float to the top and be scraped off. The only way I will know how deeply rooted I am in God is to go through the trials. I want to pass the test so I don’t have to take it over. I can hear the Word, I can jump up and down and shout amen but if I don’t take it in deep, meditate and let it roll around on the inside, squeeze it for all its worth, I won’t have the roots needed to stand.

If my faith level is low it means my Word level is low. If I ate breakfast this morning and fasted until breakfast next week I would drag myself through the day with hallow cheeks and dark circles under my eyes. I do the same for another week and I will be needing a wheel chair because I will be too weak to stand. Another week the same and you won’t see me at all because I’ll be dead. I whine because my faith is weak but I don’t pick up my Bible but once a week? Duh!!

There is lust and there is passion. I might go to a classic car show: “Look at that old caddy! Wow, the ’53 Buick is somethin’ else! Look over here!” That is lust. But say I have a passion for Mustangs I will walk into that show and beeline for the Mustang. I get a new car; I’m out there every weekend washing it. A bird flies over it: “Don’t you dare.” A dog walks by: “Don’t even think about it.” Then pretty soon there are candy wrappers on the floor, the weekly washings become less frequent to the point kids are writing “Wash me” across the trunk. The fire has gone out.

It was Dec. 31, 1964. I was at a New Year’s Eve party not expecting a life changing night when this girl walked in. Ooh eeh! Now if I had just stayed across the room and just looked I would have stayed at the level of lust. But instead I met her, focused on her that night, got her phone number and over the years developed passion. I may have started with lust but it is passion that sustains. We celebrated 46 years of marriage this month.

What puts fire in your belly? What is your passion? Women/men, drugs, money, popularity? Where your passion is, there will be your focus and your direction.  How do I become passionate for God? How do I get on fire for Him? Unless my passion is all consuming, it will not sustain me through difficult times.

Passion for God takes more than a feeling. “I don’t feel like going to church. I don’t feel like reading my Bible.” That is called lazy and Joyce Meyer says, “Lazy Christians are not victorious Christians.” What will it take to move beyond feelings?

  • Get to know God: When I first met that young lady in 1964, I wanted to get to know her: what movies she liked, where she went to school, did she have a boyfriend. Our Father is the God of salvation, healing, wisdom, strength, abundant life. Get to know Him.
  • Communicate: We spent hours talking and talking about family history and future dreams. I speak to God in prayer. I listen to His word in the Bible. If I have passion for God I will spend time with Him. The tragedy of the premarital sex culture is the loss of communication. When the focus is how fast we can get into bed the time for true intimacy (into-me-see) is lost.
  • Walk in unity: A common vision is needed to move forward. If my future wife had wanted 6 kids and I didn’t want any, our future together was in trouble. If a campfire pops an ember out onto the ground, it soon cools, but return it to the fire and it retains its strength. Acts 1:14 (NLT) describes how 120 believers were “united in prayer” for 10 days prior to Pentecost. The birth of the church came from that unity. What does unity look like?
    • Forgiveness. Nothing divides friends faster than unforgiveness.
    • Servant spirit. As long as I look for what’s in it for me, I will bring division but if I live the life of servanthood, placing others before myself, unity will grow.
  • Eliminate the competition: I wear a simple gold band on my left hand. As far as jewelry is concerned, it’s value is pretty low but it represents a marriage covenant. In my relationship with God, there can be no off ramps. If the flame starts to get low I don’t start looking for another campfire to go to; I look for the fuel to build this one back up. I return to the roots of repentance, forgiveness, service and worship.

I don’t want anyone to look at my life and say, “He was on fire once, but the fire doesn’t fall here anymore.” Maintaining the passion, keeping the fire takes a daily decision. I want the fire of the Holy Spirit to be the hallmark of my life. Let the fire fall.

Someday I Will Hear This Heart Again

Heart_Book Cover_PressReadyOn March 4th, 2000 our 22 year old son Paul and his fiancé Amy were struck by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the interstate. Amy was declared dead at the scene. Paul was airlifted to the hospital where he was declared brain-dead 3 days later, and we signed his body over for organ donation. (That was an easy decision because he had made his wished clear at 14 when is older sister was signing up for her driver’s license.)

Fast forward now to November of that year. I answered the phone one evening and I thought I recognized the voice on the other end as a friend who had moved to New Mexico a couple of years earlier. He asked if he and his wife could come over. I said, “Sure, it will be great to see you.” A half hour later the doorbell rang. When I opened it I faced a couple with their 5 children and I had never seen them before in my life. While my wife took the kids downstairs, I brought the couple into the living room and asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?” The wife’s name was Linda and she was Paul’s heart recipient. Recognize that the organ donor organization discourages contact, but a friend of Paul had left the funeral and was driving through the city where Linda lives. He stopped to visit another friend there and mentioned Paul. The friend knew of Linda and put the dates of Paul’s death and her transplant together.

Just before leaving the hospital we had each taken a few minutes to say goodbye to Paul. When I was with him, I put my head to his chest, listened to his heart and declared, “Someday I will hear this heart again.” That night eight months later, I heard Paul’s heart again.

Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT): “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” The first heart transplant by men occurred in 1967; God has been doing them for 2000 years. The recipient of that first heart lived 18 days; God’s transplant brings eternal life. Of course, I’m not talking about the cardiac muscle that pumps blood through our body. God’s transplant affects the essence of who we are, the spirit and the soul.

You may say, “But Gill, I am born again.” The reality is that we each have stony places in our heart. I may come to God and say, “I surrender all… expect the pride. I give you my heart… but I’m not ready to look at the unforgiveness just yet.” Today we might be soft hearted or hard hearted, open and loving or distant and untrusting of God with a heart grown cold. The good news is He loves you just the way you are. But He won’t leave you there.

The cells in my fingers and in my toes receive oxygen and nourishment from the blood pumped from my heart. The old spiritual heart was corrupt. Mark 7:21 warns, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, etc.” What happens to a body that has been in the grave several days? In John 11, Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, has died and been in the grave 4 days. When Jesus asks that the tomb be opened, Martha objected, “There will be a stench.” Decayed, putrid: that is our condition with the old, dead heart. 2Corinthians 5:17 declares that I am a new creation, the old things have passed away. With a new heart I receive life and peace throughout my spirit, soul and body.

Let’s look at some Bible stories where God caused a change of heart:

  • Gideon (Judges 6) was so fearful of the Midianites that he hid his wheat in a winepress. In his heart he was already defeated. He wasn’t just in the pit of a winepress; his heart was in the pit of despair. When an angel showed up and called him a “mighty man of valor” he needed a new heart to believe it.
  • Elijah (1Kings 18) experienced a great victory against the prophets of Baal but when Jezebel threatened to kill him, he lost heart and fled. In his heart he had given up. Despite the victories fear dominated. God ministered to him in the wilderness to restore his heart.
  • Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1) heard about the destroyed city of Jerusalem. The dreams and hopes of the Jewish people lay in ruins, but God gave Nehemiah a heart to work and rebuild.
  • Jesus designated Peter as His right hand man yet when the pressure was on, he caved and denied even knowing Him. (Luke 22) He was consumed by guilt and self-recrimination that overshadowed everything he had experienced in his years with Jesus. His heart had sunk into a pit of failure. And Jesus reached out with forgiveness and restoration.
  • The Apostle Paul had a religious heart that lacked intimacy with God until he had an encounter on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9)

But not everyone will accept a new heart:

  • Cain had a jealous heart that pushed him into a choice to kill his brother Abel. (Genesis 4)
  • Korah and Dathan had rebellious hearts that chose not to accept Moses’s leadership and it resulted in the earth opening and destroying them. (Numbers 16)
  • Saul was selected by God to be the king of Israel but his proud heart lead to his defeat. (1Samuel 31)
  • Judas realized his sin in betraying Jesus but his unrepentant heart resulted in suicide. (Luke 22)

Matthew 22:37 tells us to love the Lord your God with all your heart. That doesn’t leave room for the old man, the old thinking. God does not tolerate competition. Matthew 6:24 (NIV) warns, “No one can serve two masters.” The old heart has to go.

I spoke with your doctor and the prognosis is grim. Your only hope is a new heart. What is required for a heart transplant?

Diagnosis

  • A heart transplant is reserved for the most critical cases.
  • I must recognize the devastation of my life brought by sin. Our original state is that our heart is sick, diseased and filled with sin.
  • I do not need an adjustment but rather a transformation. In Romans 12:2, Paul calls for us to be transformed, metamorphosis. It is the word used to describe the change a caterpillar undergoes to become a butterfly, no small thing.
  • Once the diagnosis was clear, Linda had to be ready at any time. Once the heart is removed from the donor it begins to die so there is no time to lose. She even had once where she was made ready for surgery and then the medical team decided it was not a good match. Am I ready for God to move on my heart?
  • If my physical heart were that diseased, if I was that close to the reality of death would I hesitate to put my name on the transplant list? Why do we draw back from spiritual rebirth? Romans 13:11 (NLT): “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Doctor

  • Transplants are performed only by highly trained and specialized teams.
  • In the 70’s I owned a VW Bug and with it I had The Idiot’s Guide to VW Repair. Today you can get an idiot’s guide to investing, politics, world history, even quantum physics, but there is no idiot’s guide to heart transplants. I can’t perform the surgery on myself. “Nurse, hand me the scalpel.”
  • I can try to change behavior on the outside, but that doesn’t go deep enough and as a result it doesn’t last. That is why in Psalm 51:10 David cries out, “Create in me a clean heart.”
  • God already knows what is inside me. He is looking to do major surgery.

Donor

  • The donor must be carefully matched to the recipient for a transplant to be successful.
  • Jesus the only one with a true heart of flesh. A transplant requires a donor’s death. Our son Paul didn’t die voluntarily but Jesus did.
  • Heart transplants are extremely expensive, over $1 million. (How is your medical insurance?) I am a total charity case. There is nothing I can do to pay for a spiritual heart. I must depend on God’s free gift.

Diligence

  • If your heart fails because of the high fat diet or your lungs are destroyed by smoking or your liver succumbs to chronic alcoholism and you are able to get a transplant but don’t change your lifestyle, the new organ will likely fail as well. Whatever lifestyle choices that led to destroying the first heart will destroy the new one as well. I recently flew to Orlando. I walked down the jet way, into the terminal and who did I find there? Me! Wherever I go there I am. A change of heart without a change in actions will lead back to destruction.
  • Exercise will strengthen the new heart. Spiritual exercise is prayer, worship and meditation. I must develop a hunger for God. That is not a hunger for church, but for the presence of God in my life and for His Word. I attended church for over 30 years but I did it out of duty and social acceptance rather than a true relationship. 2Timothy 3:5 (NIV) says, “Having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” Since I received a new heart, do those around me notice a change in my lifestyle? Would anything change in my life if I truly let Jesus be in control?
  • I had better take my medicine. The transplanted organ faces enemies: infection and rejection. The body will attack the new organ. Our old beliefs will attack the new beliefs. The medicine I need is Gos-pills.
  • Checkups with the medical team will detect problems. Ecclesiastes 4:9 promises, “Two are better than one.” We need others to give us perspective, accountability and correction.

With a new heart I can have peace in spite of circumstances, joy amidst tragedy. With a new heart, His love directs my choices, His priorities control my actions. Philippians 2:5 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ.”

March, 2000 was a time of great loss for our family but we take comfort in the knowledge that out of our loss came life. Before the transplant, Linda was confined to a hospital bed, barely able to get up and walk across the room. Her days were numbered without that heart transplant. If I hadn’t received a spiritual heart transplant, I would be dead spiritually, without hope.

I got to hear Paul’s heart beating inside Linda. God wants to hear the heartbeat of His Son in each and every one of us. What is that area that God wants to revive? Maybe there is a relationship that has been severed by betrayal. God can revive that relationship or entirely new one is on the way. There was a dream of reaching new heights but the dream has fallen to the ground and God wants to breathe new life into it. Perhaps it is the hunger inside to be right with Him but you have never felt a real connection. God can restore a joy of life and a sense of purpose. Listen, listen. Thump thump. Thump thump. That’s the new heart. Are you ready to accept it?

In conclusion, let’s reflect on Psalm 51:1-2 (ESV)

 “Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

The Glass Wall

broken-glassI recently rented the movie Divergent. It takes place in Chicago sometime in the future. The world has been devastated by war. To keep from falling into chaos society has been structured along strict class lines: farmers, factory workers, intellectuals, government officials, warriors. Each youth upon coming of age must declare for a specific class and then go through training. The heroine in the story declares for warriors. Part of her training is to enter a drug induced series of hallucinations where she must face her worst fears. She finds herself in a glass chamber which is filling up with water. (See the clip at https://youtu.be/X70hGbGc2ZM) She pushes against the glass. She kicks and beats on it without success. Finally the chamber is full. She is drowning without hope and suddenly she realizes, “This isn’t real.” Repeating “This isn’t real”, she taps on the glass with her finger. It cracks. As she continues tapping it breaks and collapses, releasing her.

In your Christian walk, have you ever been going along pretty good and suddenly: Wham! You hit a glass wall. Something from your past is stopping you from going forward. Grief can be like that. 15 years ago our son and his fiancé were killed by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the Interstate at 2:00 in the morning. Recently we were driving home from Seattle, a 3 hour drive from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM. My wife was asleep and I was left alone with my thoughts. I found myself studying every pair of lights that came at me to be sure they were on the right side of the highway. I was reliving all of the feelings and memories of that tragedy. Forgiveness is a choice I make to put something behind me, but sometimes a word, a picture, even a sound can trigger a memory and the hurt comes back. Then it is time to choose not to go back there. For me another area is pornography. That material was common in my home growing up and set a hook in a young boy’s mind. It is not nearly as strong now but still a book passage, a TV ad, a movie image will try to pull me back. For many smoking can be that wall. The physical need may be broken but the mental bondage is still there pulling them back over and over.

2Corinthians 10:4 (NIV) promises, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” The prison of the mind is self-created. In god we have the weapons we need to break out of that prison. “This isn’t real.”

I could get my dream job but with the wrong thinking it will be a disaster. I could marry my dream girl (and I did) but with the wrong thinking it will be misery. Matthew 12:33 warns us to make the tree good and the fruit will be good. Look at the root rather than the fruit. If my heart is broken, weak, confused, the fruit of my life will be bad. “Why does bad stuff keep happening to me?” Maybe it is the fruit of what is inside. Change the root and change the fruit. Change the thinking and change the outcome. If I change everything changes. I like the promise from Leviticus 26:13 (NLT), “I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high.”

Romans 12:2 commands me to be transformed by the renewal of my mind. The battle is in my mind. The more I change my mind for the better, the more my life will also change for the better. The devil wants my thoughts. Why? Thoughts product actions, actions develop habits, habits determine character, character establishes destiny. Romans 8:6 (NLT) tells us, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

Stuff happens. Events occur in our life and we create a story to explain them. Being the oldest child is an event; feeling responsible for others in the family is the story. Abused is an event; seeing myself as unworthy or unwanted is the story created to explain it. The death of loved one may be seen as abandonment. The good news is I made up the story; I can change the story. The bad news is I tend to look for more evidence that I was right in my story.

D. L. Moody, a famous evangelist of the late 1800’s said, “I have never met a man who gave me more trouble than myself.” I will talk to a lot of people today but the most important person I will talk to today is me. What am I saying?

Repetition changes subconscious thinking. The key to change is to stick with it until the instinctive reaction changes. I drop a dish: “Oh, sh**.” I make a wrong turn: “What an idiot!” That is instinctive reaction. I will only change that instinctive reaction through repetition of truth.

There will always be resistance between me and breakthrough. It is easier to go back to where I am comfortable. The Israelite nation was delivered from slavery in Egypt by great miracles, yet they repeatedly complained about how good they had it in the “good ol’ days”. Well, let me tell you about the “good ol’ days.” They weren’t that great. I know because I was there and I would much rather be here.

Philippians 3:13 (NIV) tells us we should be, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” In other words, don’t be looking at behinds. The past never sees the future. If I keep speaking my past I have not forgotten it.

Old habits will not see me through a crisis. As forces increase on the outside, I need to increase the force on the inside. Crisis is the opportunity to grow, to excel, to shine. Think about it: If David had not faced Goliath he would have remained a shepherd.

In Luke 7:36-38, when the prostitute broke the jar of perfume, that represented her earnings from her profession. Breaking the jar represented her break from her past, turned it into worship. I will not leave the presence of Jesus the same. In the presence of Jesus is the power to break the bottle of my past. Religious people will see my worth based on my past performance. Jesus sees my worth based on future potential.

If I didn’t drop nothin’ when I met Jesus, I didn’t get nothin’. Still got your stash of weed? Still got the numbers of your suppliers? Still got a condom in your wallet? What do you need to drop? John 8:36 promises, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” It’s time to experience that freedom through new thinking.

There is power for transformation in the Word. I was taught to have a Scripture verse for each finger. When someone flips me off I will know what verse goes with that. Individually a finger is weak but all together they have a special strength.

What is that wall for you? Smoking or alcohol? Meth or cocaine or prescription drugs? Pornography or adultery or fornication? Anger, pride, unforgiveness, jealousy? There is no shortage of areas where we can hit that wall. Let me help you get started. You need your own Scripture verses for the wall you face, but let me give you a starter kit. Stand up. Picture that glass wall in front of you. (Whoa, are you still sitting down? What’s with that? Let’s get with the program.) Here we go:

  • Hold up your right thumb: “I am the righteousness of God in Christ.” (2Cor 5:21)
  • Hold up your pointer: “Forgetting those things that are behind I press toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)
  • Hold up your middle finger (carefully): “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” (Rom 8:1)
  • Hold up your ring finger: “I am a new creation in Christ.” (2Cor 5:17)
  • Hold up your pinkie: “Nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:39)
  • Put your left hand on the glass wall.
  • “This isn’t real. Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. (1John 4:4) By the power of God’s Word.”
  • Now make a fist. POW!!

The Father Ran

hugging-571076_1280How do you picture God the Father? Long white hair, golden crown, sitting on a heavenly throne? Calm, in control? Do you picture Him running? The Bible does not describe the Father as being in a hurry at any time except once: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the father sees his son at a distance, he can’t wait to embrace him so he runs. That was very undignified for a family patriarch to hitch up his robes and run down the street, yet that is the picture Jesus gives us of the emotion of our heavenly Father in welcoming us back. God meets us more than half way. He is not holding a grudge for all the dumb things I have done. Coming to God does not mean condemnation but rather celebration.

When our children were small we took them camping frequently. Once when our youngest daughter was about 5, she went to the restroom and came out a different door than she had gone in. She became disoriented and couldn’t find her way back to our campsite. After half an hour we became concerned. We started searching and soon had other campers and the park rangers involved in the search. Do you think after 15 minutes, I would turn to my wife and say, “Don’t you think we’ve looked long enough?” Imagine a child getting lost in the mall while Christmas shopping. Even if her parents had to search for hours and hours, would they give up on trying to find her?

I’ve messed up big time. I’ve failed over and over and over. So God is really angry with me, right? Wrong. My failure is not bigger than God’s grace. Romans 8:31 (NIV) says: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Isn’t that something to get excited about?

Despite my failures, God invites me into relationship. Who am I in Christ? I am forgiven, loved, righteous and chosen. Being right on the inside empowers me to be right on the outside. I am a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17) but with the same thinking I will not see the newness in my spirit express itself in my life.

Winston Churchill said in the darkest days of World War II, “Never, never, never give up.” It’s easy to give up. That takes no anointing or empowerment by the Holy Spirit. John 10:10 tells us Jesus came to give abundant life. What is stealing that abundant life from me? I don’t have to be talented. I don’t have to be smart. I do have to not give up.

What is my level of obedience? “I know I shouldn’t watch that on TV but…” “I know I shouldn’t go there, but…” “I know those friends are bad for me but…” It’s not that I don’t hear from God.  I just want my own way and I will have to live with the consequence of that choice. I go to church, but what do I do the rest of the week? This is not about being weird. It’s about making choices that will bring good fruit in my life. God meets me where I am but He doesn’t leave me where I am. God loves me too much for that.

I have plenty of opportunities to feel sorry for myself, but where will that get me? I was laid off at 54. It is tough to find a good job at that age. God opened new doors for me. It is never too late to begin again. I count these as the best years of my life.

My future has no room for my past. Samuel anointed Saul as king, mentored him yet he was a failure as king. He became haughty and proud. God spoke to Samuel and told him not to mourn the failure but get a new vision for David as king. That choice was a historic success. God is never without a plan. That includes my future as long as I don’t adopt a bad attitude. How long will I live in regret? God is not the Great I Was or the Great I Will Be. He is the Great I Am, the God of now. Everything will change the moment I head in the right direction.

Philippians 3:14 tells us to forget what lies behind. Instead we are to be reaching, straining toward our future. I will not stroll into God’s destiny for me. I will not slide into it. Press! The past is trying to pull me back. It takes a strong effort to reach for that future that God has for me.

“I’m going through hell!” No you’re not. Sure there are hard times but this is not hell. And if you are going through difficult times, don’t pitch a tent and camp there. Get up and move forward.  I may wonder if this season will ever end. The answer is to keep moving forward.

When our son was killed, we faced a choice to focus on his death or move into a new beginning. When Moses died, the nation mourned his loss, but at the end of the mourning period God challenged Joshua to move forward. “I need a miracle, I need a miracle.” Get up and move forward. Too much of society today has a welfare mentality, dependent on the government, dependent on others. “Somebody feed me. Somebody house me. Somebody take care of me.” God says, “Get up and move forward.” That is when God will move.

Am I going to live cowering in the corner, hiding from the devil? “Oh, don’t talk about the devil. I don’t want him to notice me.” If I am a Christian he notices me, be assured.

A lion tamer uses a chair when he enters the cage with the big cats. Why is that? The four legs make it difficult for the lion to focus on one thing, particularly on the man. What is the devil waving in front of me? Sex, drugs, power, acceptance. I need to look at who is really behind those.

Is Satan putting a lot of temptations in front of you? That is a good sign. If I don’t come face to face with the devil, it means I’m going the same direction he is. The closer I get to God the more Satan will fight. Before I came to God I was doing a great job of messing up my own life, Satan didn’t need to help out. Now he is coming at me to trip me up. He wants to make an example of me. “You remember Joe, the guy who was always talking about God? He just got picked up for meth.” Satan has a victory.

The devil doesn’t want me to connect with God’s love because that is where my strength is. “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17 NLT)

Years of hearing negative voices, and years of replaying negative events have placed deep in my mind a negative view of myself. My mind replays these voices and events without consciously thinking about them. It replays them automatically.

I have to cut the umbilical cord, cut ties with the old life. My father spoke negative words over me: “You just don’t follow through.” “You’re weak.” “You won’t follow instructions.” Will I still be a prisoner to those hurtful words? Just as the doctor cut the cord to my mother at birth, I also need to cut the cord to those hurtful words. Otherwise negative power will continue to flow into my life today.

In Papua New Guinea, monkey meat is a staple of their diet. When the natives hunt, they place a banana in a narrow mouthed jar. The monkey will reach into the jar and grab the banana, but he cannot get his hand back out while holding the banana. The hunter can come right up to the monkey and club him but he will not let go of the banana. Am I holding onto something from my past that is bringing me death?

The more I face struggles in this life, the more my perseverance, character, and hope grows. Like the baby learning to crawl, I must to move forward with the hope that God is using my challenges to prepare me for bigger things to come. Dissatisfaction is the first step for transformation. Difficult times have a purpose: they push me into my destiny, shape my character, move me out of my comfort zone, made me trust God.

1Corinthians 2:9 (NLT): “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” The blessing is already prepared. God has to prepare me so when I get there I am ready to handle it. I can ask for a good wife but if I am not ready to be a good husband, what happens? A blessing given too soon is not a blessing at all. Give car keys to a 10 year old and what happens? The prodigal son received his inheritance but he didn’t have the character to handle it. We need to stop being angry and instead give thanks in all things. In the challenges I learn what I could not learn any other way. I press through rejection, I press through fear, I press through loneliness. When the devil thinks he has me down, I press. The devil wants me to sit down and shut up, but I will press.

I might not be able to change my circumstances but I can change how I think about them. God is more interested in changing my mind than He is in changing my circumstances. Change my circumstances without changing my mind and I will soon find myself back in the same place with the same problems and the same defeat. With too many lottery winners its “Easy come, easy go.” 70 percent of them lose or spend all their money in five years or less. My thoughts control my life. A thought doesn’t have to be true to direct my life. The mind is the battleground. Romans 8:6 (NLT) tells us, “Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

In Philippians 1:6 (NLT), Paul encourages us with: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” What God starts He finishes. I may feel discouraged and want to give up. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NIV)

The world has its value system promoted by advertisers that say life is all about me. The transformation we seek is from Self-centered to God-centered, from “Give me my stuff” to serving God and others. 2Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) describes it this way: “We are being transformed into His image with ever increasing glory.” It doesn’t happen overnight. Psalm 37:23 (NKJV) says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” “Steps” means it is a process.

Change is a process. Shortcuts are the devil trying to get me to take the easy way. What is the Lottery but a tempting shortcut to prosperity that is only an empty promise? Help a chick break through its shell and it will die. Why? The struggle strengthens him. A withdrawal first requires a deposit. Otherwise it is called bank robbery. The struggle is the deposit I make to qualify for the victory.

God hasn’t given up on me. I am not so far away that His arms can’t reach me. If I am willing to step away from the pigpen, to humbly seek Him, He will be running with His arms outstretched. I don’t have to run to God. I only need to turn toward Him and He will run to embrace me.

Time to Roar

lion-343387_1920Do I believe everything I read in the paper or see on TV? Do I believe what I read in the Bible? So why do I spend more time reading what I don’t believe than what I do believe? “But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out – he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25 NET) I want to fill my mind with the word of God.

When negative thoughts outweigh positive thoughts it’s called depression. Where do negative thoughts come from? Most of them come from within my mind: “I’m no good. I’m a failure. I’ll never change.” I talk to myself all the time. I am my own biggest critic.  In addition, I have all of the negative from the world. TV: bad news. Radio: bad news. Talk to your buddies: bad news. Where is the scale tipping? “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NIV) Freedom does not come from my own thoughts or from the world. The truth of God’s Word brings freedom.

A thought is an electrical impulse flowing through my brain.  If I think a thought often enough and it forms a rut in my brain. It is called being stuck in a rut. Romans 12:2 NKJV tells us not to get stuck in the world’s rut but “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Psalm 40:2 NLT promises, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” The Lord is with me. God is on my side. He is my rock and my salvation. Right thinking tips the scales from depression to blah and ultimately to joy.

Our life is determined by what is called the Law of Dominant Image. Whatever I focus on attracts and pulls me toward it. When I entered college, I had the image of becoming an engineer, so I took courses in basket weaving. No, engineering! I had the image of being married to this one girl. That image dominated my thinking, my dreams, my actions until I could see that image become a reality. I took her to the movies. I bought her flowers. I wrote letters. (That was before email.) All in pursuit of that dominant image. 49 years later she is still the dominant image in my life.

Race car drivers are trained when approaching a wreck to not focus on the wreck but on where they want their car to go. Why? Where I focus will draw me toward it. I need to change my focus from bad things to good things. I might be trying to resist looking at a pornographic magazine. “I’m not going to pick up that magazine; I’m not going to pick up that magazine. Oooh, isn’t she somethin’.” When I am on a diet I focus on food more than usual and the result is I want to eat.

I am not already as God wants me to be. Who is? Paul puts it this way in Phillipians 3:12 (NLT): “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.” I choose not focus on what has happened but rather on what I want to see happen. No matter how long I focus on the past it will not change. To change my thinking I must focus on the future.

“I wish I hadn’t…” That focus keeps me in a rut and stuck in the past. If I am imprisoned by my past, my future is the victim. I must focus my mind on my goal, what I want to achieve. Change doesn’t happen by accident, it is my choice. If I wait around for God to change me, I will just stay the same: the same habits, the same failings, the same consequences. I must cooperate with God in that change.

This is not positive thinking or simple optimism. That can be a denial of reality. Hope acknowledges my situation is bad but still I trust in God. David exemplified this in the 23rd Psalm, verse 4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (NKJV)

My desire to change must become stronger than my desire to stay where I am. Two things are needed: vision and action. I must see where I want to go and then consciously move toward it. Vision without action is wishful thinking. Action without vision is chaos, going in every direction without purpose or progress.

First let’s look at vision. My life will be pulled not in the direction of my desires or intentions but in the direction of the dominant image I allow in my thoughts. Is the dominant image in my mind one that pulls me back to the past or one that takes me forward into my future? Vision is needed before change. God gave Abraham images of stars of the sky and sand of the seashore show he could visualize his children rather than focusing on his being old and childless.

For many years an island just a half mile from Nassau, Bahamas was called Hog Island, an area limited to wild hogs and a garbage dump for the city. In 1959, investors purchased the island and renamed it Paradise Island. Today it is some of the most expensive real estate in the world with the Atlantis Hotel and other high end resorts. Bottom line: I treat something as I see it. An elephant is 80 times bigger than a lion but what does a lion see when he looks at an elephant – Lunch. Dominant image!

I formed the rut in my thinking by repetition, I will break out of that rut by repetition. If I repeatedly hear negative I will go in that direction. The Israelite army had listened to Goliath for 40 days. David came in and focused on the rewards. If I look at a problem too long it looks insurmountable. I won’t focus on debt but where I want to go. I won’t focus on cigarettes or addiction or pornography or dieting. I can change the image before me.

Our son and his fiancé were driving from North Dakota to Washington State. At 3:00 in the morning on the interstate in Montana he approached a curve and went to past a slow moving truck. He was hit head on by a drunk driver going eastbound in the westbound lanes. No one survived. For many weeks after Paul’s death I battled a stronghold every time I got behind the wheel of a car. I found myself looking way ahead to spot the car coming on the wrong side. If I had to pass a truck, my knuckles went white from the tight grip on the wheel. Driving at night was an ordeal. I had to make the decision to change the thinking, change the vision. I went to Psalm 91: 1-4 (NKJV) to renew my thoughts:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;

My God, in Him I will trust.”

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler

And from the perilous pestilence.

He shall cover you with His feathers,

And under His wings you shall take refuge;

His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

If I bring the old thinking into the new opportunity, that stronghold will dominate the conditions, stifle the progress that is possible and ultimately pull me back to the old life. I need to examine the thoughts. Does this help me at my new level or does it pull me back? “I’m a failure.” Get rid of it! “I’m not good enough.” That doesn’t belong to me. “God is on my side.” That’s more like it. “I am victorious.” That’s what I’m takin’ about!

The lion is called the king of the jungle. We go to see him in the zoo. To us it is entertainment. To him it is forced captivity. What does he do? He paces back and forth, back and forth. He senses that he was meant for something greater. Even if he was born in captivity that sense is not squelched. It is time I rise up to the person God has called me to be. Everything in that lion’s life may contradict his kingship but it doesn’t change his true identity. Am I locked in a cage the devil has trapped me in, built bar by bar from the poor choices and sins of my past? Am I going to just make do in the cage? Not me! I am going to rise up with a mighty roar. I will no longer settle for the way my life has been. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1John 4:4 KJV)

I can decide to break out of the cage where the enemy has entrapped me. Blind Bartimaeus threw aside his beggar’s coat (Mark 10:46-52) because he had a new vision. That coat was his license to beg, but he threw it aside because he had a new vision. He did not yet have sight but he had vision. I must throw off that which makes up the bars for the cage of old vision and move toward the freedom of the new vision. Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV) says, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The devil goes about like a roaring lion to bring fear and intimidation, but there is another lion described in the Bible: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus who comes to bring life and peace. What is our response to the devil? Submit to God, to the truth and power of His Word. Then we are empowered to resist the enemy, to roar right back even louder. It is time to roar!

Zombies

tree-66465_1280We have seen it on the hospital dramas: “He’s going into cardiac arrest! Give me the paddles. Clear!” Zap. Beep…beep…beep. “He’s back.” We were all dead in sin: drug dealers, pimps, sex offenders, gossips, unforgiving or prideful. All equally dead. Just another cold corpse in the spiritual morgue that stretches for miles. But God… I call it the divine hinge on which everything turns. Here comes the power. We were flat lined spiritually and He put the paddles to our chest, “Clear!” and gave us a good zap. Beep…beep…beep.  God didn’t just bring us back to life. That would ultimately lead to death again. Jesus raised Lazarus but what eventually happened to him? He died. When God made us alive He went a step further and seated us in heaven in Christ so that sin and death have no more power over us.

Let’s read together Ephesians 2:1-10 NKJV: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We were dead in our sin, helpless and hopeless, but God… But God…

Zombies are a popular subject today in movies and television. If we could look into the spiritual world around us, what would we see? There are a lot of spiritual zombies walking around today; they just don’t know they’re dead. A person doesn’t sin and then die spiritually. He is born dead and so sin is just the natural outcome. Romans 3:20 in the Phillips translation puts it this way, “No man can justify himself before God by a perfect performance of the Law’s demands – indeed it is the straightedge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.” The do’s and don’ts of the Bible aren’t there to make us better but so we can see our sin clearly. We chose sin, we chose the world, we chose death. But God, despite that, chose us.

Why would God do such a thing? Because of His great love. I may see God as cold or stern or angry. That could be based on what I learned in Sunday School or from equating God with an angry, earthly father. God IS love. It is not that God is showing love, not that God is loving. His very nature is summed up in one word: love. Rick Warren, author of Purpose Driven Life: “God didn’t choose you because of something you’ve done. It’s all because of who He is. You weren’t good enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough for Him to save you. He saved you because He loves you.”

Look at surveys and we will see that most people believe God exists. That doesn’t make them spiritually alive. James 2:19 (NLT) warns, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” I know a lot of people who do good things but they are still spiritually dead. Many religions, some that even call themselves Christian, place their focus on good deeds rather and the redemption that is ours through the cross. We can dress a zombie up in a nice suit, comb his hair just right but he is still a zombie.

Israel was in a drought and God directed the prophet Elijah to a certain brook. As he stayed there he watched the brook dwindle and finally dry up. (1Kings 17:7) But even then God continued to provide for him miraculously. We can spend our lives worrying about our various predicaments. When we are down here facing the daily battles, mucking our way through the trenches of daily life, it is easy to forget that we are seated in heavenly places. I only have a limited amount of energy. That’s why I get tired and worn out. As a result, I need to not waste any of that limited energy on the past. Every day, I want to choose to focus my energy on what is in front of me and what lies ahead. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Before I was born again, I was a good person. I considered myself a Christian. I just kind of did things my own way, mixing in a little Bible truth with worldly wisdom and my own motivations. I went to church most Sundays, but God was someone I went to when I was in trouble, when I was hurting, when I had a need. I treated Him like a vending machine: put in a few prayers and out pops His favor. When the crisis was over I took the attitude, “Thanks God. I’ll take it from here.” The rest of the time I gave Him very little thought. Then one night I attended an Easter service that included a reenactment of the crucifixion. As I looked on a bloodied and beaten Jesus, I realized I only wanted God on my terms. Now He was calling me to surrender. I took that step and now live a life that has been changed by the redeeming power of the cross. This life goes beyond forgiveness of sin. It brings empowerment by the Holy Spirit. It brings focus to living.

Once I was dead spiritually; now my heart, mind and spirit are set free. Once my life was hopeless; now I have hope and security in God. Once my life was empty and void; now I can enter into the joy of the Lord.

All that we have, all that we are, all that God has done for and in and through us is IN CHRIST. What the devil wants to do is to get me to focus on my condition instead of my position in Christ. I am an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17) Once I focus on my position in Christ, it gives me the power to change my condition and circumstances.

The Israelites spent 400 years as slaves in Egypt. They walked away from the Red Sea but they didn’t walk away from the slave mentality. Just like the Israelites’ enemies and their accusations were drowned in the Red Sea, the shaming, condemning words of my past life of slavery to sin have been silenced in the death and resurrection of Christ.

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT) All this wide and long and high and deep made my head spin until I read what Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, Seattle wrote, “Paul wanted the love of God, like a plant rooted deeply in nourishment and able to flourish, to be a deep root in people’s souls. He wanted the church to know that God’s love is wide enough to welcome anyone, long enough to stretch from the beginning to the end of time, deep enough to reach down to the worst of sinners, and high enough to transport us to God’s heavenly kingdom.”

God commanded the Israelites to march around Jericho every day for seven days. In the natural that seemed like a really dumb plan. Why did God require that? Could it be so the people saw how hopeless their situation was without God? “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2Corinthians 4:7 NIV) When we are poor in spirit, we will recognize our need for God and we will have hands open to heaven.

In Matthew 19:16-22 NKJV, a young man approached Jesus and asked, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Notice that he was looking for good works to save him. Jesus called him to break from the world’s standard regarding money. “Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The young man turned away. He kept his money, he kept his pride…and he kept his emptiness. We have traveled to Europe, Israel, Turkey, Mexico, Columbia, the Caribbean and Central American. Money can buy a passport to anywhere…but heaven.

Hey, I just want to do what I want to do!” But in truth we are doing what the world dictates. We chase after cars and houses and fame and acceptance. The world says, “Have it your way. Go for the gusto.” And in the end it is empty, spiritually dead, the path of the zombie.

The zombie is defined by the defeat and regret of past mistakes, but God… He can set our feet on the new path. “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” (Isaiah 61:1-4 NIV) Many come from families which have experienced division and devastation for generations. God breaks that curse and brings restoration. Because of Christ I am at peace with God. (Romans 5:1) I am a new creation in Christ (2Corinthinas 5:17). He has called me out of darkness into His marvelous light (1Peter 2:9). I am His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). I am to be living advertisement for the blessing and power of God.

Faith is not complicated. It is simply believing. I show faith when I pop open a can of Pepsi and drink it down. I believe there is nothing harmful in there. I show faith when I drive over a bridge. I believe I will reach the other side safely. Salvation doesn’t come by baptism or by church attendance or even living a good life. Salvation comes when the light bulb of faith turns on and I say, “I believe. I recognize I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I accept that Jesus shed His blood and died to pay for my sins. I acknowledge He rose again and gave me new life.”

Jacob Marley in Dickens’ Christmas Carol wore a chain he had forged link by link through his deeds and choices. I carried the chains of my past choices and sin but Jesus removed the locks. Will I continue to carry them?

John Newton was involved in the slave trade in the mid-1700’s, until he recognized that apart from faith in Christ he had “no hope and [was] without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 NKJV). But God… That was when Newton penned the famous words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Today I invite you to reflect on those words and, as you do, shake off the chains of the past and walk into freedom.

In the Middle of the Storm

lightning-232516_1920I read about a group of men who went out on this lake. Their boat was small but they were experienced fishermen. Nothing to worry about, they thought. Then the sky grew dark, the wind became strong and the waves were too high for their boat. They were going under! “We’re gonna’ drown! Jesus, help us!” Fortunately for them, Jesus was in the boat. He stood, the wind whipping His hair, the spray soaking His clothes, and He spoke, “Peace, be still.” And there was silence. (Mark 4:35-39)

Do you feel like you are in a storm? Do you feel buffeted by the waves of circumstances and the wind of trials? You are in good company. Noah escaped a flood that destroyed the earth and then spent over a year on the Ark with the cows and horses and elephants, feeding them, shoveling the… never mind. King David was running from his son Absalom who wanted to kill him and take the throne of Israel when he wrote Psalm 3, “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” (Psalm 3:3 NIV) Paul’s ministry was a story of stonings, shipwrecks, and persecution. As he approached Jerusalem he faced imprisonment and death, yet his statement was, “None of these things move me.” (Acts 20:24 NKJV)

In March, 2000 our 22 year old son was declared brain dead following a collision with a drunk driver. We gave his body to the organ transplant team. Paul told us at 14 that he wanted to be an organ donor. His older sister was getting her license and struggling with her decision about organ donation when he said, “Give it up, sis. You aren’t going to need them.” Fast forward to November, 2000. The phone rang and the person on the other end I recognized as friends who had moved to New Mexico a couple of years prior. He asked if they could come over and I said, “Sure, we would love to see you.” A half hour later the doorbell rang. It wasn’t our friends from New Mexico but a couple I had never seen before with 5 kids in tow. I invited them in and asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?” The wife was Paul’s heart recipient.

Before leaving the hospital each member of our family took a few minutes privately with Paul to say goodbye. Knowing Paul’s heart was to be donated, I put my ear to his chest and declared, “Someday I’ll hear this heart again.” That night 8 months later, I heard Paul’s heart again.

Faith means finding hope even in the midst of despair. Storms will come. No one is exempt. The question is, “How will I respond?” Victor Frankl was a prisoner in a Nazi death camp. His family and friends were all dead. As he stood naked before his tormentors, he realized, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

God promised Abraham He would make his descendants a great nation. He even changed his name from Abram to Abraham which means father of many nations. That was an awesome promise but Abraham and Sarah were well past childbearing age. Abraham had no hope so God took him outside under the night sky. He told Abraham to count the stars. “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5 NIV) Astronomers tell us there are over 8,000 stars visible in the night sky. God painted a picture in Abraham’s heart to stir up hope. As a result, “even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping.” (Romans 4:18 NLT)

Dog – we each see a picture in our mind. It might be anything from a Chihuahua to a Great Dane. Tree – a pine or an oak or perhaps a Christmas tree. Video games, movies, books all develop mental pictures. Satan is after my hope, my image of where my life is going. The battle zone is my thinking, that which is playing on the screen of my imagination. My future begins as the seed of an image. It can be an image of failure that leads to destruction or an image of overcoming that leads to fulfillment of God’s plan.

Jesus didn’t bring hope for the sweet bye and bye. He brought sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf. He demonstrated a physical manifestation of spiritual victory. John the Baptist warned, “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2 NLT) That changed when Jesus declared, “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21 KJV) The Kingdom of God is Christ in me.

Paul wrote, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” (Ephesians 1:18 NIV) What is your hope? Picture it. Only then can you press into it.

1Corinthians 13:13 (NLT) says, “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love.” We are always doing things to build our faith. We are constantly singing and writing about love. Why don’t we talk about hope? Christian hope is not a weak “I hope so.” It is confident, firm expectation. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Thessalonians 1:3 NIV) Hope produces endurance. Am I lacking endurance for the storms of life? Then I need hope. How do I pray? Is it pleading or thanksgiving? Pleading shows that I have lost hope. Thanksgiving shows confidence in the vision and promise that God has given me. I don’t plead for God’s blessing on my life; I declare it:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

The Lord make His face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,

And give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26 NKJV)

Have you ever asked someone how they are doing and gotten the response, “I’m doing OK under the circumstances.” As Christians why would we be “under the circumstances?” According to Deuteronomy 28:13 (NKJV), “The Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath.” How will I live above my circumstances? By knowing who I am in Christ, by knowing God’s power working in me. “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1:19-20 NLT)

I’m considered a pretty conservative guy, but I used to have a wild side. I loved to race up twisting mountain roads on my motorcycle, the wind rushing through my hair, the bike leaning low into the curves. One day the rear tire hit a patch of grave and the bike went down. I could see I was headed for the guardrail when everything went dark. The next thing I knew I was clinging to a tree root suspended above a 100 foot drop. Far below I could see the flaming wreckage of my bike. Above me the edge of the road was far out of reach.

“Help! Help! Is anybody up there?”

“I am here.”

“Who is it?”

“I am the Lord. I will help you. Do you trust me?”

“Oh, yes Lord!”

“First you must let go.”

I looked down at the drop below me and then back up. “Is anybody else up there?”

OK, it didn’t really happen, but you get the point. Why do we wait until we are at the end of ourselves before we turn to God? Christian maturity is developing the willingness to hope and trust in God sooner rather than later.

Moses encountered God in a burning bush (Exodus 3). When Moses asked God’s name, He responded, “I AM”, not “I am your deliverer” even though He is; Not “I am your protector” even though He is. Just “I AM”, I am whatever you need. I am your everything. The Lord says to you today:

I am your victory.

I am your provider.

I am your healer.

I am your redeemer.

I am your strength.

I am your hope.

In the middle of the storm, I AM

Mind Renewal

bible-85815_1280You may heard it quoted that we only retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we see, 30% of what we hear.  I don’t think I come anywhere close to that. I can’t remember what pastor said a month ago. So was it a waste of time? No, hearing his teaching is part of my mind renewal. What am I filling my mind with? 1Corinthians 10:5 commands me to “take every thought captive.” What does that really mean? What does that look like in everyday life? I compare it to sorting a deck of cards. Heart-Out. Diamond-Out. Spade-Keep. Diamond-Out. In my thoughts it’s: Bitterness-Out. Lust-Out. Kindness-Keep. Hope-Keep. Fear-Out.

If I want to take thoughts captive, I need to examine the books I read, the TV programs I watch, and the music I listen to. Each of those is planting thoughts in the soil of my mind. What I sow I will reap. (Galatians 6:7-8) The more I consistently sow the right thoughts, the faster I will experience change in my thinking. I remember cramming for history tests. I could cram all sorts of facts into short term memory for the purposes of the test, but it had little long term impact.  One summer I took a Western Civilization class. I can only remember one question from that entire semester: What was the name of Alexander the Great’s horse? The answer: I have no idea! It is what I focus on consistently every day over a long period that will make a lasting change.

Mind renewal happens through diligence. I tried to learn Spanish but I didn’t have the diligence needed.  I tried to learn cha-cha but I lacked diligence. Lasting change only happens when I am fully committed to do whatever it takes.

In college, a group of guys and I decided it would be fun to go up the down escalator. I could make some progress for a while but as soon as I stopped I quickly lost everything I had gained. Mind renewal takes continuous effort. Just like salmon swimming upstream, if I let up on my efforts I will tend to slide right back into old patterns of thinking and reacting. Laziness doesn’t hack it. Renewal is a continuous effort. Whatever family environment I grew up in becomes my “normal”. Even if intellectually I now see that it was dysfunctional, I will gravitate back to that familiar way of living unless I make a concerted effort to reprogram my thinking.

There is a constant battle going on for who will control my mind. Satan is not a gentleman. He will use every trick and deceit he can to win the fight. There is more to this battle than just sin. There is depression, fear, insecurity and false beliefs.

Romans 12:2 warns don’t be conformed to the world. That deals with thoughts. The more I fill my mind with Scripture, the more I listen to Godly music and conversation the more likely I am to react in a Godly way when the pressure is applied. My actions when I encounter hard times show what I truly believe.  My attitudes and behavior are just a reflection of what goes into my mind! My goal is to no longer being conformed to the world but to be conformed to the Word. Transformation as a Christian is not about how I dress or how I comb my hair. Transformation must be about what is on the inside. Without the inner transformation I cannot be a light to a dark world because I am spiritually still just like the world. If I am conformed I have nothing different to offer.

Psalms 1:1-3 (NKJV) – “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” This describes the one who has decided to control his thoughts, to meditate on the Word of God and break from the patterns of the world.

If I am going to put on a new way of thinking, I must first put off the old (Ephesians 4:22-24). I must let go of old ways of acting – “Everything . . . connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it!” (Ephesians 4:22 MSG)  What is the old way? Hurt, lust, fear, pride, doubt, bitterness, or any barrier that would keep the fruit of the Sprit from shining forth in my life. It includes the victim mentality that wants to blame others for the crummy life I find myself in. I can’t change the old man, I must get rid of him. I spent years developing the worldly life style. Now, with God’s help, I must work to put that off so that putting on the new man is possible.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1Corinthians 2:16 (NIV)) What does it mean to have the mind of Christ?  I am choosing to exchange my thoughts for God’s thoughts. It does not happen without surrender to God’s will and His truth, without the constant decision to let go of those old thought patterns and instead make the choice to think differently.

The Israelites left the bondage of Egypt but they still had a slave mindset, a grasshopper mentality that prevented them from entering the Promised Land. I can get buried in my own hurts, and the result is broken relationships, rejection, betrayal, and addiction. Sure it is easier to just let my thoughts rule, to let them take me captive, but freedom comes when I take my thoughts captive. When I allow negative thoughts to rule, I have given in to the principalities and powers of the kingdom of darkness.

When I was reborn as a Christian, my spirit experienced a transformation. Some day at the last trumpet my body will experience a transformation.  Today in this day to day life it is my mind that is undergoing transformation. It is a process that will last a lifetime. Mind renewal empowers me to live as He intended my life to be, to experience His power in my life and to be the light He has called me to be. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 (NIV)). I am free not because I have to follow a bunch of rules but because I experience His love and I can respond to that love by loving others.

Education was a god in my family growing up.  Both my parents were educators.  My sister has a doctorate in microbiology and a career in teaching as did my brother.  I was under a lot of pressure to complete a doctorate (although I never did). Our problem is not that we do not have enough education, our mind is fallen. It is hostile to the lordship of God.  Pride wants to elevate my thinking above God’s truth.

When driving my VW bug as a teenager, I turned too soon and hit the curb pretty hard.  After that the car pulled to the right to the point that it was tiring to drive until I got an alignment. If I “just let go” of the wheel in my life, where will my mind and my heart take me? What forces are tugging on me trying to take my attention off Christ, and His love for me, His plan for my life, His forgiveness, mercy, and grace? Relationship troubles, health concerns, finances, a sin I refuse to acknowledge as sin, something from my past that won’t let me rest?

Ultimately I am the one who must decide if I am willing to do the hard work of mind renewal. Sorry to break the news but it is hard work. I have built ruts in my thinking that, even though contrary to truth, I accept those habits of thought as truth and they lead me to wrong choices.

When my family traveled in a motor home, the furnace and air conditioner allowed us to keep the same temperature regardless of the outside. The oven, stove and microwave enabled us to cook the same meals we cooked at home. The beds were comfortable and the bathroom convenient.  We could watch the scenery outside change but it really didn’t need to affect us. I don’t want to live my Christian life from the motor home of isolation but rather I choose to allow transformation of my heart and mind take place that will allow me to be truly free. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 (NLT)) Truth in my thoughts results in freedom in my life.

From Quarks to Galaxies

gallaxyThe ancient Greeks believed that there were only four elements that made up everything: earthwater, air, and fire. When I was in school, our microscopic world consisted of cells, molecules, atoms, neutrons and protons. Today scientists have discovered neutrinos and bosons, leptons and quarks. What will be discovered tomorrow? Every time man makes a new discovery he gets puffed up with pride but God just sits back and says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

We turn our eyes to the sky to see moons, comets, planets, stars, black holes and galaxies. The Hubble Space Telescope has photographed an area of the sky less than 10% the size of the moon and discovered over 6,000 galaxies. Imagine if our eyes were opened to the entire sphere of the heavens. Our mind staggers before the complexity and enormity of creation yet man declares there is no God. What a joke!

A single fertilized human egg divides and divides again until, from only the blueprint in that single cell, every muscle, every nerve, every organ is formed. Under a microscope we could probably not distinguish it from the first cell of any other animal. And yet never once has a human egg produced a canary or an alligator. Only a human with every blood vessel and gland duplicated to such perfection that my doctor knows exactly where to find every bone and how my body will react to a catalog of medications. Bacteria may try to invade my body, but it will automatically fight to repel them. If I am injured, this body has mechanisms that begin the healing process. There are seven billion people on this planet each with unique fingerprints, unique DNA profile and unique facial characteristics. I think to hold there is no creator defies logic. It’s a hypocritical choice to ignore the evidence of nature. Hold a newborn baby and tell me that life is not a miracle.

All of Psalm 139 is excellent, but let’s focus on verses 13-16 (NIV), “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” These are probably the strongest verses in the Bible on the evil of abortion but that is not the point here. The world may say I am an accident; God says I am special to Him.

My sin separated me from Father God. Nothing I could do would satisfy the righteous justice of a holy God. Yet, the One who speaks stars into existence, who breathes and galaxies appear, the creator of it all came down to earth to suffer and die as a substitutionary sacrifice for me so that I can stand before God’s throne forgiven and justified.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11, NKJV) What is my response? If I don’t stand in absolute awe of the majesty of God, I simply haven’t understood His nature and power.

An earthly king depends on pomp and fancy clothes to impress those that come before him, because underneath he is just another man. Jesus didn’t need any of those trappings because He knew who He was. Do I know who I am? I am a carpenter. I am a nurse. I am an engineer. I am a housewife. Strip away the job and the doing, who am I on the inside? I am a child of the King. Apart from Christ, the world clings to the doing and the title because they have nothing else. They are afraid to look at the emptiness apart from the job. I have read that many will die shortly after retirement because they no longer find meaning in their lives. In Christ I am loved, forgiven, victorious and chosen. I have an eternal destiny plus my life here has meaning in Christ.

The prodigal son (Luke 15) returned from the pig pen with a servant mindset but his father still saw a son. A servant mindset says I need to earn approval and love. A son relationship is not based on performance but on position. Even the servant mindset was a step up for him.  He was stuck in the pigpen until he made a change.  The change didn’t happen when he changed his clothes or changed his job. No, he changed his mind, his thinking. Verse 17 says, “He came to his senses.” As long as I hold onto the old thinking, I will stay in the pigpen. To experience a new destiny I need new thinking.

Deep down I know I am a sinner unable to stand before the creator. Since the beginning of history, man has created religious rituals and rules to placate the justice we inherently know is demanded. Baal worship, Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism all have one thing in common: How can I do enough good things to counter the sin and tip the scales of justice in my favor? The simple truth is I can’t. No amount of prayer or fasting or feeding the poor or killing the infidel is enough. Only one thing can satisfy God’s justice: the blood of Jesus.

The Everlasting God is supreme over the past, the present and the future. By Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice 2000 years ago, we were redeemed from slavery to sin. Medicines have expiration dates; medical isotopes have half-lives; milk will sour if kept too long. The Blood of Jesus never loses its power.

The Old Testament prescribed animal sacrifices for sin. These offerings were made over and over. Jesus once and for all entered the heavenly Holy of Holies to place His own blood on the mercy seat for our justification (Hebrews 9:12). God’s people in the Old Testament brought their offerings to the priest. The priest examined the animal sacrifice to ensure that it was without blemish. The priest did not examine the sinner. If the animal was without blemish, God accepted the animal sacrifice as well as the one bringing it. When I approach God, it is not based on my good works, but on the sacrifice Jesus made in my place. His sacrifice was without blemish.

Early in my Christian walk I prayed to better understand the Father’s heart. In reply God showed me a picture of my mother. My older brother Gene died of polio before I was born. This was an insidious killer that brought tragedy to many families in the first half of the twentieth century. When I was in 5th grade the Salk polio vaccine was released. Since we lived in a rural area all the children in our school were bussed to a central location for the vaccine. The picture I saw was returning on the bus after the injections, my mother went done the aisle of the bus checking on each child. What was going through her mind? I think it was something like, “Thank God these children are protected, but why couldn’t it have come soon enough to save Gene?” In that picture I saw Father God. I think the Father looked down with tears in His eyes on Calvary, at the broken body of His Son and thought, “My children are redeemed, but at such a great price!”

The spotless Lamb of God, the One who created the galaxies and set the stars in place, the one who created atoms and electrons and quarks, took my sin to the cross. Now because of the divine exchange, I can stand before the Father accepted and forgiven. Jesus is the One who came down to this infinitesimal dot in the vast universe. He died a shameful death in my place to pay a debt I could not. To the world it looked like the end, a promise that fell short. But three days later He shook the foundations of hell. He ripped the keys to death and the grave out of the devil’s hands and strode triumphant out of the tomb.  Today, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). He is our eternal intercessor (Romans 8:34). Because of Jesus’ victory we now declare Him Lord of all.  From quarks to galaxies, Lord of all.

What I Learned From Rocky, Part 2

boxingIn 1976, a low budget film starring an unknown actor was released that immediately became a classic: Rocky. We experienced the exhilaration of his dancing at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We experienced his pain in the grueling training. We experienced the satisfaction of a goal met. We felt his pain and his joy because he was no superhero. He was just one of us.

There are a number of life lessons conveyed in this movie. Last time we looked at “Don’t let the world define what success looks like” and “Believe in yourself.” Let’s continue on:

#3 Don’t give up

Rocky faced setbacks, ridicule and obstacles that should have ended his dream, but he refused to give up. From the minute we are born life is a struggle, it always was and always will be. We are reminded as we watch our newest grandchild, Caleb. He started life by struggling to breath, to roll over and then to crawl. He would try to stand up but fall down time and time again until he learned to balance. Then came walking and running along with its scrapes and bruises. Did he stop? No, in spite of the struggles, in spite of the falls, he pressed through. Now mom has to run to keep up with him! Ahead is still bicycle and baseball, grades and graduation. Still further is job, marriage, children, aging, loss of loved ones. Reality is life is going to knock him down.

We can rest assured we will encounter pain and struggle. Everyone does. But it is the one who gets up before they are counted out who has a chance at seeing victory. These people look toward the prize. They know that failure is not about getting hit and knocked down; that is to be expected when you are in a fight. Failure is when you stay down. One of my favorite toys when the kids were small was an inflatable punching bag that was weighted at the bottom. When you hit it, it would fall over but then pop right back up. Down and back up, down and back up. The bottom line is: we get knocked down and we get back up.

There will be times when we try hard, give it all we’ve got and still get beat up by life. Rocky Balboa tells us: “It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…that’s how winning is done.” That goes along with the Bible in Philippians 3:14 (NKJV); “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

#4 Use what I have

Rocky didn’t have it all growing up in a troubled Philadelphia neighborhood. He trained by running the trash strewn streets. Who could forget the classic scene of Rocky pounding a side of beef in a meat locker? While his opponent trained with the finest equipment and latest technology, Rocky used what he had. I can’t expect to always have the best tools at work, so I must learn to work with –and appreciate – what I have and trust God to do what I can’t.

Paul said in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” My strength comes from God but it is still up to me to step out and put action to my faith. If I don’t have the desire to make something happen, then it’s not going to happen. Success comes when preparation meets opportunity. Rocky was fortunate in that his opportunity allowed him plenty of time for training, for preparation. Most of the opportunities we encounter will require advance preparation.

You have probably never heard of Shamgar. He only gets one verse in the Bible: Judges 3:31. One day he was attacked by the enemy Philistines. All he had to defend himself with was an ox goad, a pointy wooden stick, but with it he killed 600 Philistines. That happened not because he was highly skilled at using a pointy stick as a weapon but because he depended on God and used what he had.

Samson picked up the jawbone of an ass. David had just a sling and 5 stones when he faced Goliath. A young boy had a lunch of 5 loves and 2 fish that he gave to Jesus. Each used what he had and great things resulted. Their obedience allowed God to put His super on their natural.

Everything I hold in my hand is either a burden or a blessing depending on what I do with it. When I hold on, it becomes a problem. When I yield it to the Lord, He is able to release its potential for blessing in my life.

#5 People matter

According to Rocky, “You hang around coconuts you get nowhere…. You hang out with nice people you get nice friends. You hang out with smart people you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo people you end up with yo-yo friends. You see? It’s simple mathematics.” That goes along with Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV), “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Imagine yourself standing on a chair surrounded by four friends. Your job is to lift all four up onto the chair while their job is to pull you off of the chair. Who is most likely to succeed? It is impossible to associate regularly with evil people and not be contaminated by their ideas and habits. 1Corinthians 15:33 (NKJV) warns, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” When someone influences us to make a choice we know is wrong, we have, in effect, decided that their approval is more important to us than God’s.

We constantly face the temptation to follow the crowd, but not all who smile at us are going in the same direction. We need discernment and a willingness to distance ourselves when needed. That is when unity with other believes is so important. Being in relationship with like-minded friends shields us from that pressure. We need to choose a few fellow disciples to be with us. You might call them “lifeboat buddies”. Eccl 4:9-12 Proverbs 18:24 (NIV) tells us, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

I don’t live in a vacuum. I need to ask myself who is influencing me. Are they moving me closer to the cross or further away?

Finally, we need to allow the Word of God to transform our thinking. That is where our guidance, our strength and our hope comes from. Psalm 118:6 promises, “The LORD is on my side.” Perhaps in a boxing match we cannot expect that but certainly in the battles of life we can depend on that promise. Paul, in 1Corinthians 5:59a (NIV) admonishes, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” Sounds like Rocky read that verse.