Mind Your Mind

I wanted to share some quick thoughts about an area of our lives we disregard quite foolishly most of the time: our minds. I say that we disregard our mind because we do very little in our daily lives to guard it from the attacks of Satan.

It is like we are at war. Our mind in the headquarters where all the important directives are sent out from. If the enemy knows the location of our stronghold he will stop at nothing to destroy it. So in war, the headquarters is well guarded and protected from the enemy. Satan is our enemy and he knows the location of our headquarters. He knows our weak spots and how to attack and how to exploit them.

So if the enemy knows where to attack, shouldn’t we be prepared and have extra defense at that location? Here is our problem and this is why I say we disregard our minds. We basically allow Satan a free pass to tempt us. Sometimes, we even bring the temptation upon ourselves.

I want to suggest two fairly easy and practical ways in which you can guard your mind. If you are struggling with any particular sin, (and we all are), I believe this is often where that temptation first takes root. So hopefully these suggestions will help, with the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit, combat sin struggles in your life.

The first is guard what comes into your mind. The White House does not just allow anyone to walk in and talk with the President. They tightly guard and control who enters so that the President remains safe. We can do the exact same thing with our minds. Psalm 101:3 says “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.”

I had a basketball coach in college who always told us to guard our “eargates and eyegates.” I always thought it was a strange thing to say, but as I have grown and matured I now see the incredible advise in these words. What we allow into our eyes and ears directly affects our mind. So if I am listening to music that degrades women and watching movies that show improper relationships then my mind will start to fall for the temptation and sin of lust. If I listen to people always being rude and watch TV shows where rudeness is celebrated then I will most likely treat others poorly.

We are foolish to think that what we watch and listen to on a daily basis does not directly affect our sin struggles. It is most likely that whatever sin you are struggling with can be traced back to what you are allowing into your “eargates and eyegates.”

So my first suggestion is to guard these valuable gates to your mind. Don’t watch movies that put bad thoughts in your head. Don’t listen to music with constant negative overtones. Don’t always hang around people who are rude, condescending or mean. Don’t watch shows which portray selfishness as freedom, (which is pretty much everything shown on American television these days). Figure out what sin you struggle with, (that shouldn’t be too hard, you probably already know what sin you struggle with but if not ask a close friend), and try to figure out what things cause that sin to be more difficult to fight. My guess is it will relate to what you are letting in your ears or eyes. So guard your gates!

Second, allow the right things in. While the White House doesn’t allow everyone in, they do allow the right people in. We cannot just try to block out everything, but rather allow the right things into our minds. Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Instead of filling your mind with garbage, (TV, movies, negative people and music), why not fill your mind with what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent? If we put garbage in, garbage will come out. If we put excellent in then excellent will come out. Fill your mind with good things.

What are these good things? Read your Bible. Memorize verses. Listen to Christian music. Hang around uplifting and encouraging people. I can tell the difference in my attitude when I have been listening to secular music and when I have been listening to Christian music. Secular music focuses on self, Christian music focuses on God. So when I only listen to secular music I tend to focus more on myself, (selfishness), but when I listen to Christian music I tend to focus more on God. Psalm 119:9 teaches us “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word.”

You can never put too much Bible or God in your brain. He is inexhaustible. The more you learn and grow the more you want. And as we fill our brains with the things of God our lives are transformed. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As we dwell on the things of God, our mind is transformed and we are actually able to discern God’s will. That is amazing!

I hope these two quick, practical steps will help you as you learn to guard a valuable place at the front of our spiritual warfare. May we not be so foolish as to think we need not protect our headquarters. Instead, may we build in practices of keeping the temptations out and allowing the heavenly in. May we stop feeling helpless in our fight against sin, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, fight the battle of our minds so that what we take in and what comes out may glorify our Father who is in Heaven.

Unknowable Mysteries

We live in a day and age when almost everything that is can be known or found out. For example, if you are curious who won the Super Bowl in 1976, how many countries there are in the world or the distance between earth and mars a quick trip to Google will provide you thousands of answers. We love to be informed.

But we also love to figure out and discover. Many of us love when we get the chance to solve some difficult problem that stumps others. This is also why many of us love the mystery genre of movies these days. I particularly love movies that keep you guessing the entire time. I sit in my seat and continually attempt to analyze and discover who did it and what will happen next. I don’t love the mystery, but rather I love solving the mystery.

The problem is when we take our desire for mystery solving to God. While God does reveal much about Himself to us, (“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13), He still leaves much about Himself shrouded in mystery. He gives us glimpses, (like when he lets Moses see His back but not His face in Exodus 33:20-23), but often doesn’t give us the whole picture.

And while many of us who love to know and be informed cringe at the idea of an unknowable mystery, I believe that this stance by God is good and is overall in the best interests of Him and His creation. So I wanted to share a couple points with you all today about why we should appreciate the mystery surrounding God and why, in some instances, rather than seeking to solve the mystery we need to just appreciate it.

First, because it shows the distinction between us and God. We are all born with a God-complex. We desire to be the god of our own universe. So we seek information and knowledge to have more control over our situation. That way we can pretend like we are actually in control of our life. The Greek mythologies were all about humans overcoming the gods. This was what happened to Job as well. He had some terrible things happen and he decided that he was entitled to some answers. He felt that God owed him an answer because it was his life that God had disrupted.

God answers in Job 38-41, but not how we would like Him to. He doesn’t provide all the answers to the mysteries that have been plaguing Job. Rather, He calls Job out for questioning God. He shows Job that there is a giant chasm between us and God and for us to call into question what He does is complete and utter folly. God is so beyond our comprehension that for us to question Him is basically like a pot questioning the person making it, (Romans 9:20-24). There are some things that remain mystery because God is God and we are not.

Second, mystery is good because it humbles us. We are such prideful and arrogant people. Go to a party and watch how everyone attempts to one up everyone else by showing their knowledge about something. We are constantly learning, (which is a good thing), but then taking our knowledge and instead of using it to bring glory to our King we use it to glorify ourselves. This is why Paul writes that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

When we don’t have the answer or can’t explain every situation something happens in our hearts. It causes us to realize that no matter how smart we are we can’t ever possibly know it all. It makes us realize there is and always will be someone smarter and even that smarter person can’t possibly know it all. It forces us to trust in God more because we can’t just trust in ourselves for every answer to the universe and that in turn brings us to praise God and to humble ourselves. Mystery keeps us trusting in Him who alone has all answers rather than in ourselves who only can see a tiny speck of the big picture.

Third, mystery helps us because we couldn’t possibly comprehend if we understood everything. Let me explain that a bit. I talk to many people who say they would believe God if He just showed Himself to them or if He just answered all their questions about every life mystery right now. The problem with that is that our feeble, sinful and finite minds cannot fathom this knowledge. We are so arrogant as to think that God could speak with us and that we would actually debate, argue or question Him in the process. The truth is we would either literally die from just gazing upon Him, (again see Exodus 33:20-23), or we would be so lost in His perfectness we would fall on our knees to shield our eyes, (Isaiah 6:5).

We are not meant to know every mystery because we cannot even began to comprehend the mysteries of God. It is an amazing miracle that He does communicate with us through the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that we can fully understand God. God reveals as much about Himself as we can handle. If you feel God has only revealed a little to you then that is you problem, not a God problem.

Now just because mystery is a good thing doesn’t mean we should not pursue wisdom. God commends Solomon for asking God for wisdom in 1 Kings 3. We are to spend our lives growing and learning so as to better understand God. But, this knowledge will never be complete. We cannot attempt to answer every question because it will always lead to complacency. Complacency because you figure you can’t fully know God so why even try to know Him a little or complacency because you feel you know enough and don’t need to learn anything else about Him.

So I hope that we can all learn to appreciate the mysteries of God and the universe He created more. Yes seek to grow and learn but also understand that there will always be some things you cannot possibly understand. And may that drive you to worship and praise our great God who is so far above and beyond us. May we thank Him for what He has revealed and that we can know Him personally, but may we also appreciate that we don’t worship a God who can be completely understood by us.

The Power of Prayer

Prayer is an interesting thing. If you really think about it, it is a created being talking to The Creator. That makes it interesting enough, but what I find really interesting is what we pray for and how we pray. I find it interesting that people who are atheist or agnostic pray, (this always astounded me because how can you pray to something or someone you don’t believe or know exists?). I find it interesting that as Christians, we rarely follow Jesus’ teachings on prayer, (See Matthew 6:5-15, Luke 22:39-46 and John 17). But the most interesting thing to me is that after we pray, we do nothing.

Right now, all of us have things we are praying for. It could be a loved one’s health, a new job, guidance with the future or for an opportunity to share the Gospel. When we pray we are asking for God to move. But what if God is asking you to move? What if your prayer is the way God is trying to speak to you?

The problem we have today is that our prayers are filled with talking, but little listening. We have forgotten that prayer is not about me and telling God all my needs and wants, but is ultimately about God and having a closer relationship with Him. Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” When we pray, the Spirit is at work and if we actually stop and listen for a minute, we may get some answers.

But we don’t listen. We go to God and tell Him what we think is best. We go and make suggestions as if God needs our help in ruling the universe. We act like a father telling our child what’s best. And this is the first mistake. When you pray, you need to think of it as if you are a child asking your Father for help or guidance. In humility, we need to learn to ask and thank our Father rather than try to direct.

And just like a Father will act, so does God. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11. So when we pray for something and God doesn’t do what we ask, is he being a bad Father? If every time I went to my Dad and told him I wanted candy for dinner, would he be a good Father if he gave it to me? Just as a Father will listen to His child but ultimately do what is best for his child, so God listens and ultimately does what is best for us, even if we see it differently.

And this brings me to the point of this whole post, (kind of a long introduction eh?). I believe that often, God wants us to be the answer to our own prayers. A good Father does not just do or give everything to his children, but rather instructs, encourages and provides the opportunities for them to do it for themselves. But for some reason, we have this strange idea that once we pray we are just to sit and wait for God to give us some sign.

Now I do want to clarify a few things. First, there are certain things that we need to lay down to God in prayer and not pick up again. If there is something you have no control over, (the weather, your loved one’s health, the stock market, etc…), and you are worried about it, you need to leave that with God and trust that He will do what is best. Secondly, I am not saying that we are the answer to our prayers. I believe I could do very little without the help of God, especially through prayer. I believe that we are tools and that God is ultimately the master Craftsman. We may be the tool that helps answer a prayer, but we must give all glory, praise and honor to the Craftsman, not the tool.

That being said, I believe we Christians have fallen short in our prayer lives, and this is evidenced by our lack of zeal, motivation and courage to help answer prayer. Let me give you an example. In Matthew 14:13-21, the disciples come to Jesus and ask Him to send the crowds away. This would be similar to us asking Jesus to take some burden away from us. Jesus doesn’t do what they ask though. Instead Jesus says, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16. This doesn’t sound like an answer to pray. This doesn’t sound like Jesus being very helpful.

But what happens next? Jesus does a miracle, and gives the food to the disciples to give to the people. The disciples did the work, Jesus did the miracle. My favorite part of this story though is at the end, there are 12 baskets full of bread left over, just enough for the 12 apostles, (coincidence right?). Jesus could have just had manna rain down from heaven. He could have made fish appear in front of each person. But what Jesus does here is what Jesus is doing with us. Jesus provides the means, opportunity and even a miracle sometimes, and then uses us to do the work. We are the tools.

So if you are praying for a job, get out there and look, even if it is below you. If you are trying to figure out your future, go talk to people in your Church who have some life experience. If you are praying for chances to share the Gospel, then open your mouth and share. If you are praying to lose weight, then go on a diet and workout. If you are praying for a loved one’s salvation, go share the Gospel with them. If you are praying for the poor or orphans or widows, go do something to serve and help them. If you are praying about your finances, go seek Godly advice and counsel. If you are praying for the nations, go to the ends of the earth to tell them about Jesus. But remember that it is Jesus giving you the strength, courage, opportunity, or miracle needed for you to do it.

May we know that when we pray our Heavenly Father hears us and will do what is best. May we learn to humbly listen to our Father in prayer rather than demand. Let us follow our prayer with action and know that we are the tool that Jesus is using to answer prayers. Let us give glory to the Craftsman not the tool. But may we be readily available tools for whatever work God would have us do.

The Purpose of Pain

Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Where are you God? I imagine some if not most of us have asked these questions before. Whether it is because we are hurting physically or emotionally, we do not enjoy pain. In fact, I would say that most of our lives are spent trying to avoid pain or suffering. We have insurance for anything that can possibly suffer harm. And when we don’t have something insured, we worry. We constantly worry about any possible pain or inconvenience that may enter our lives. The truth is, no one likes pain or suffering.

With that in mind, read your Bible. Read about Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:25-29. Or read about the early Christians in the book of Acts. Or read any of the Gospels about our Lord and Savior who died a painful death, (I do find it interesting we worship a suffering servant not a comfortable king, yet most of our lives don’t reflect that). The Bible is a book full of suffering. As Christians, I think we often forget this point. We love to read about grace, hope, love, peace, and all the great things Jesus promises His followers which are all amazing and necessary to the Gospel. But it is like we have omitted John 15:18-25, 16:1-4 and Matthew 10:16-25. Jesus promises suffering.

Why would I want to follow a man who promises I will suffer? Wouldn’t we all rather find a religion that promotes a smooth and comfortable life free of pain and suffering? Well that is the lie of atheism and humanism. It is a deception that says do whatever you please in order to alleviate suffering and increase pleasure. Thus, people often make their decisions based on what produces the least amount of suffering and most amount of pleasure. But that is not what Jesus does. Jesus willing suffers for us, and then asks us to be willing to do the same for others.

But why? If it is human nature to avoid suffering and pain, why does Jesus tell us to expect it? If God is so good, why do we suffer? In order to understanding God as good in the light of suffering and pain, we need to look deeper at the purpose of pain.

First, we need to remember that pain and suffering are a result of sin. Jesus suffered not because He sinned but because we did, (2 Corinthians 5:21). If you look at any pain you have suffered in your life, I can guarantee it is the result of someone’s sin. Even natural disasters and illnesses were born from sin. Death exists only because sin entered the world, (Romans 6:23). Whether it is my own sin or the sin of someone else, pain and suffering only exist with sin. So if sin is the cause of pain and suffering, why would a good God allow that?

In order to understand this, we first need to remember that while sin does influence and scar this world, that God is ultimately in control. This is one I often forget or struggle with. It is easy for me to love Jesus as a great teacher and as my savior, but I often forget that HE is in charge of everything. Instead, I try to control situations that are not meant for me to control. And when something doesn’t follow my plan, I start questioning God.

But I am not God, Jesus is. And I need to remember that HE is in control. “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Once I remember that God is in control, I have to remember that God is good and loves me. John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-12 and Romans 5:5 are just a few of several hundred verses that speaks of God’s love for us in the Bible. If the God who is in control of everything loves me, then there is always a purpose to my pain.

One purpose is that God has a plan. While I only see the isolated incident of my pain, God sees the big picture. It is like we are looking at a puzzle. We only see one small piece, and by itself, the piece looks pretty messed up. But God sees the whole picture. God knows that even though that piece looks messed up, it is necessary to the big picture. If any piece were missing, the picture would be incomplete. Every pain and suffering in this life is just one piece of the puzzle. We must remember that God has an amazing plan and that momentary suffering is only one small piece of God’s bigger picture.

Another purpose of pain in our lives is for our sanctification. That is a nice Churchy word that basically means the process of becoming more like Christ. Have you ever noticed that people change the most following some kind of pain or suffering? People who are comfortable feel no need to change. Thus, God allows some kinds of sufferings for us to become more Christlike. Read Hebrews 12:7-11. Verse 11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

This happened to me about a year ago. My friend had just had his apartment broken into. I thought to myself, “Self, if someone broke into my apartment I wouldn’t want them to steal my computer or PlayStation 3.” (I know I am still a kid, but those were my most expensive possessions!). Well within six months I had my computer stolen and my PlayStation broke! I had told God that these material goods were holding a very important position in my heart. God decided they were too important to me, so HE took them away. In the midst of those situations I was suffering pain. But, once I saw what God was doing and His purpose behind it, I was thankful. I have been a lot less materialistic since then. The fruit that God wanted in my life was only achieved through a painful experience.

I don’t know what kind of pain and suffering you are in the midst of today. My prayer is that whatever it is, you would seek to glorify and know God more from it. I believe that the more we understand the purpose behind our pain the easier it will be for us to endure it. Remember that God is in control, that HE loves you and that HE has a plan for each and every thing you may be suffering.

What’s next?

Working with young people I am often asked questions about making decisions for the future. Things like what job to take, where to live and who or when to marry all come up pretty frequently. These are some pretty important questions! We usually don’t sit and contemplate what we will eat for breakfast tomorrow morning, (sometimes I do just because I love food so much), but rather questions that will profoundly impact our lives.

Because of the seriousness of these questions I think we are all interested in what’s next. We all believe the future will in some way be better, brighter or more fulfilling than today, (even if today was great!). We even fear the future because we can’t completely control it or fully know it until it’s the present. The future is inevitable, so figuring out what’s next in life is pretty important.

So how do we really know what we should do? How can we know the answer to those difficult future oriented questions? Well for non-Christians out there I am sorry to say I don’t really know what to tell you. If our universe is based on randomness, chaos and chance like atheism wants to claim, then my best advise for you when you encounter these difficult life decisions is just to roll a dice or flip a coin. If our existence is only based on chance, then our decisions should be as well. With no God, we should make the decision that brings the most gain or pleasure, (sounds a lot like the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), or just leave it up to chance.

But for Christians, we know the universe did not just randomly happen. We know there is a loving, personal Creator who holds everything in place. And we know He has a plan for each of our lives. But what is it? While God did not speak to me and tell me the specific plan He has for each of you, He did give us His Word which provides a lot of good advise for us as we seek to answer these difficult questions.

First, we need to understand we CANNOT earn or lose God’s favor based on a decision we make. Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear that we are saved by grace alone. If you think God loves you more or less based on what you decide, (even sinful decisions!), then you don’t understand Jesus or His Gospel of Grace. Likewise, we must remember that nothing we do will shock God. We sometimes think we will make the wrong decision and God will be astounded by it. It’s not like God is up in heaven saying, “No way! I had no idea Dustin would actually move to China.” If you think your decisions surprise or influence God’s love for you then you either think too highly of yourself or too lowly of God.

Secondly, God has given us lots of useful resources in order to make these decisions. Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” and Proverbs 13:20 says “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.” Also check out Matthew 7:7-11 and John 14:26. God has given us His Word, a fellowship of believers in His Church, His Holy Spirit to live in us and the ability to speak to Him directly through prayer. Each of these resources guides us as we make important decisions.

Finally, Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This is probably the most quoted verse on knowing God’s will in all Scripture. But what does it tell us? Plain and simple, knowing God’s will is knowing, loving and serving God. Terms like “living sacrifices” and “do not be conformed to this world” show us that if we want to know how to answer important life questions, we need not look at them as the world does but rather as unto the Lord. We do not try and make the right decisions in order to know and love Jesus but rather we know and love Jesus in order to make the right decisions! When Jesus is your ultimate joy and purpose in deciding what job, where to live and who or when to get married then you are seeking and knowing God’s will for your life!

So I challenge you all in the midst of whatever large looming life decision awaits to remember that your decision does not define you, Jesus does. Remember that Jesus can love you no more or no less because He already perfectly loves you. May you use the plethora of resources God has laid at your disposal to seek after Him and His plans. And finally, may you all remember that the right decision isn’t based on which is right but rather on who’s glory you are seeking. May we all know God’s perfect will for our lives as we find our joy in seeking to glorify Jesus Christ.