Framing Our Experiences

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.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.”- Ephesians 1:18-19. 

Sometimes things won’t make sense no matter how much we read, pray and discuss it with others. There are things in life that just happen that are simply not our fault.  There is a randomness, an arbitrariness associated with these random experiences that seem to give them no inherent value whatsoever. And then there are cases where we discover they have value. It depends on how you pre-frame and ultimately frame the issue: or how you choose to look at or make sense of the event or circumstance.  

Maybe you discovered a friend that you thought you could trust let you down. It could be an illness, a broken relationship. The list of possibilities is limitless. The question is how do we cope. How will we make it through to the other side?  Much of coming out on the other side depends on how we frame our experiences. 

Framing your experiences means that you choose to look at them differently. Do not view specific challenges and setbacks in isolation, as we tend to do. When we look at this as an ad hoc singular event, it is difficult to frame the issue in a way that it has meaning. In addition, we run the risk of growing discouraged, and ultimately walking away. The better way is to frame your present circumstances in the context of your whole life. We often see God in the bigger picture. In the life of a Christian, God’s hand is not only always moving, but is always moving for the believer’s ultimate good. This does not mean that all things that happen to a believer are good in themselves, but that God works them all together for good (Romans 8:28). This can be difficult to understand until one realizes that the ultimate good for a believer is not external earthly comfort but internal conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). When we place that same experience in the larger framework of our whole life, a picture can begin to take shape and we can begin to see the redemptive possibilities? 

Pre-frame what you are facing or may face in the future by asking yourself: Is this setback really a setback after all? Or, is it possible that what I’m going through could actually prove to be part of a much larger framework? That is, can God use even “this” to mold, shape and prepare me for those things He has in mind for me to do in the future. 

I don’t know what issue you are trying to frame, but if you ask God to help you to begin to see things from within a larger context, through the lens of your whole life and His goals for you, the bigger picture may become a little clearer. Things may begin to take shape and your vision may refocus and framing will become a lot easier.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you look at events in isolation or frame them in the context of your whole life?  Whichever one, why?  
  2. What can we do this week to become better pre-framers when we face tough circumstances? 

Thank God For What Did Not Happen

“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” – C.S. Lewis

The sky outside was a dense, soaked gray the last few days. It reminds me of October 2018 when those who chose to ride out Hurricane Michael watched from windows as menacing clouds rose up in the distance then stretched their fingers tentatively toward the ground. Before the power went out, weather experts told us to find a safe place as he pointed to a huge circle on the radar that was dangerously close to the Florida Panhandle. The people who stayed went to the safest spot in the house and took a moment to pray as tree limbs first started to sway and then to crack under the hurricane force winds. 

Hurricane Michael, a “monstrous” storm churning with 155 mph winds, came ashore on the Florida Panhandle as the most powerful storm on record. The storm, described by forecasters as “unprecedented,” shattered people’s lives up and down the Emerald Coast of Florida. Much of the area looks like London after the Blitz.  But amidst all the destruction, we should pause and thank God for what didn’t happen. We could have lost so much more than roofs, houses and businesses. We tend to think on the bad that happens – and there is plenty of bad in Hurricane Michael, but we should also focus on the worse things that could’ve happen, which didn’t. It is important to be grateful to God about what he protected us from. 

If we think about it, we can come up with examples of incidents or circumstances and thank God for what didn’t happen that day. The suspicious test results that worried the doctor but turned out to be nothing at all.  A door that never opened. A relationship that never took place.
A threat that never materialized. A virus that was fought off. An accident He prevented. A need He met beforehand. A mistake He kept me from. A path He blocked. 

And, yes, I understand that even if the storm wreaks havoc, the unwelcome diagnosis comes or the heart gets broken, we are still to say thanks because God invites us to say thanks then, too. Why? Because He is worthy of it. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 106:1). The place where we seem to most often miss an opportunity to be grateful is when everything turns out fine and we just go on our merry way. We should be grateful in those circumstances because what God prevents in our lives is just as full of grace and gifts as what He allows.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we thank God for what did not happen? How is it different than thanking God for what did happen?  

Life Filtered

“Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.”  – Psalm 34:12-16

In the United States we don’t think too much about water. There is not that much to think about. You turn on the faucet, and voila, clean clear water. It is something we should not take for granted because the value of water is unquestionable. But in order for us to consume it, it usually needs to be filtered.  Water can contain dirt, minerals, chemicals and other impurities that make it potentially dangerous to your health. Microscopic organisms and bacteria can cause serious illness. Filtering water can help purify water, removing these impurities and making it safe to drink.

Followers of Jesus Christ need filters as well. We live in a pretty polluted world. You don’t have to look too far or too hard to find impurities. As followers of Jesus Christ, we face the challenge of living in it, without being a part of it. “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:14-16). But how is that even possible? Well, in simplest terms: a filter. 

We need filters for what we say, what we see, and most importantly what we are thinking. And God describes this filter in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  This verse will help filter what comes into your mind, and will also help filter what you choose to think about, filter how you look at people and interpret events. 

The Bible is filled with all the information we need to construct the perfect filter in our lives, keeping sin away from us and allowing the good in life to come through untainted. That filter requires continued maintenance, meaning we need to look at it every day. We need to compare our lives to what God recorded for us and make sure the two match up.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can filters impact our thinking and our actions?  
  2. What’s one change you could make this week to put effective filters in place?

A Negative Mind Does Not Lead To A Positive Life

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NCV)

Negative thoughts are much like a needle in a groove. As the groove gets deeper and deeper, the needle has a harder time getting out of the grooves. In the same way negative issues become magnified in our mind. They control how we feel in the morning and at night. They dictate how we react to situations or conversations. They constantly drift toward focusing on our unhappy circumstances. reminding us of our shortcomings and flaws and stealing our peace and joy. Negative thoughts can weigh down not only our emotions, but our outlook on life, including spiritually.

Proverbs 4:23 give us wise advice on dealing with thoughts: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” This passage was written by King Solomon. Solomon didn’t focus on advising about royal matters like how to handle money, job responsibilities or best tips for leading the kingdom. Instead, he spoke of more important things such as the value of controlling their thoughts, which determine how they felt and how they lived. Solomon teaches us to be careful how we think, because the quality of our thoughts will always determine the quality of our life.

Whatever our minds focus on is what will play out in our lives and eventually shape who we are. Our thoughts turn into feelings that have the power to control our lives, gradually steering us and possibly our faith, in a direction we do not want to go. King Solomon knew this to be true, and counsels us to be careful about what we think and feel. He knew it’s often our thoughts, not our circumstances, which cause us to falter. And that is especially true of negative thoughts.

When we face disappointment, when people offend us, when problems seem to multiply, negative thoughts can create a stronghold.  When we think negative thoughts, we feel negative feelings, leading to believing life is negative overall. The  truth is that when we intentionally change our thoughts, our life changes as well.  It is times like this when we need to embrace God’s truth and keep our mind fixed on Him. God can fill our minds with optimism and help us learn to transform our thoughts, heart and life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so easy for negative thoughts to find a stronghold in our mind? 
  2. What can we do this week to challenge negative thoughts?

An Exercise In Decluttering

“…Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” ― Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG). 

Mental clutter is something that most people work on for most of their lives. That is because there is something usually going on in our minds.  If it wasn’t something new causing that anxious, chaotic feeling, it was something from the past creeping back into the present to haunt us. Then there are all the voices; your boss telling you to have those reports complete by Friday, or your daughter reminding you there’s cheerleading practice this Saturday, or your dad reminding you that he needs help painting the garage this week. And that clutter can overlap into our spiritual life, resulting in a kind of spiritual ADD. 

Decluttering or training our mind is a good idea. Paul tells the church at Corinth: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2 ESV) Paul is telling us to train our mind by exchanging our earthly way of thinking for Christ-centered thinking. 

While reading this, you might be recognizing some of these things in your own life. Do you ever feel overwhelmed and so torn between all the people and things on your to-do list that you can barely get to the things the Lord has been nudging you to do? The solution is to learn the truth. 

1 Timothy 4:7 says, “Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly.” There is no substitute knowing the truth and that requires an ongoing effort to read, study, meditate upon and then put into practice God’s teachings for daily living. Many people are happy to let others such as pastors and Biblical scholars read, study and mediate on spiritual matters and then tells us what they have discovered and how to best apply Biblical truths. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not a substitute for studying for ourselves to see what truths the Bible is speaking into our lives. 

Imagine your mind as a filing cabinet. Are your files in order, or is everything chaotic? Are there things in the files that need to be brought into the light? Are there things in those files that should not even have a space in there anymore? The truth is what enables you to manage the mind. The Holy Spirit has really assisted me in discerning which things to keep, which to let go of, and which to add to the file cabinet over the years. He will give you the wisdom, truth, and the courage you need to effectively declutter your life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you rate the file cabinet in your mind? 
  2. How can we do this week to declutter our minds? 

Be Diligent

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:10-11 (ESV)

Everyone wants to be considered diligent. Who wouldn’t want to be known as being conscientious in whatever they do. The synonyms for diligence paint a clear picture: industrious, hard-working, particular, meticulous, painstaking, rigorous, careful, and thorough. Our mind is the place of our intellect, reasoning, and intentions; our behavior begins in our mind. And it is in our minds where spiritual transformation happens. Spiritual diligence means we give our full attention to what God has called us to do.

Given that our behavior begins in our mind, and our mind is where spiritual transformation happens, it won’t surprise anyone that our adversary wants to mess with our thinking?  It is a favorite spot for building strongholds from which to distract and disarm Christians. Our thoughts have power and can easily begin to ruin our lives, controlling our words and actions, feelings and emotions — even our peace and happiness. When disappointment crushes our dreams, when people hurt or anger us, or when problems seem overwhelming, it’s easy to get caught in the rip-current of negative thoughts. And when we think negative thoughts, we feel negative feelings, leading to believing life is negative overall.

We realize that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, but it is more difficult to free yourself once Satan has established a beachhead in your mind. We try to talk ourselves out of it, but that doesn’t always work. We know who the enemy is, and we also know the only One who can defeat him.

When we are seriously pursuing what God has told us to do, we won’t have time for wrong attitudes and wrong thinking. To remain diligent, we must be engrossed, totally absorbed, and fully engaged. We must immerse ourselves in faith, prayer, and meditation regarding God’s call in our lives. All of this takes 100 percent of our focus and effort for us to accomplish what God has placed in our hearts. Being diligent means we recognize the enemy, and fight him with God’s power and with Scriptural truth.

We have the power to choose whose voice we listen to, this week and every week. No matter what darkness and turmoil the world seems to face right now, we don’t have to let the enemy win in our lives. We can live aware, stand strong, and believe in the One who holds the final victory over evil. The One who conquered death.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define diligence? Do you consider yourself an industrious person, even if no one is watching? 
  2. What issue is in your life that would improve with more diligence?
  3. Think through the steps you need to take to put diligence into action. How could you be more spiritually diligent this week?   

Be observant – What is the stronghold I need to break?

Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”- Luke 21:36.

When a soldier falls asleep on guard duty, the solider and his or her colleagues are vulnerable to the enemy. Bad things can and do happen. As Christians, we are soldiers in a different kind of war so we cannot afford to fall asleep either. Too much is at risk. That may sound overly dramatic but if we fail to be watchful, we can find things slipping spiritually as Satan works to make inroads into our thinking and action. Jesus warns us in Mark 13:36-37:“Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”

Being watchful means being spiritually awake and focused on spiritual priorities. Scripture says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2). If this is your Godly strength, God has equipped you generously with wisdom of spiritual warfare. We have to be watchful for strongholds the devil is building in our minds. We want to lose some weight but oh those Krispy Creme donuts. Our practical side says, don’t eat those donuts. But then we look at them and then look at them again. Pretty soon we are eating them. Being watchful means we don’t just resist we change the channel. We refocus. We turn our mind away from the things that the Devil wants you to focus on to the things that God wants you to focus on. But in order for that to happen we need to be watchful.

The Bible has a lot to say about the subject. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.” And 1 Corinthians 16:13 says, “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.” And finally Acts 20:31 says, “Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.”

The apostle Peter was not watchful after Jesus told him to be watchful; instead, Peter fell asleep as Jesus fervently prayed for the strength to face theatricals ahead (Matthew 26:36-46). As Peter progressed in his faith, he clearly began to better understand the role of being watchful played in a Christian’s spiritual walk. So late in his life, Peter warned believers to be watchful of the devil: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”

We are in battle, and like any good soldier let us keep a diligent watch over the ramparts of the city that we may see the enemy’s approach from any direction and guard against its fierce and subtle attacks on our hearts and minds.

Discussion Questions:
1. What does being observant mean to you?
2. What can we do to be more watchful as we train our minds?

The Fix For Life

Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” ― Proverbs 24:24-27 (NIV).  

Several times in Scriptures the word “fix” is used by God to give us direction. God gives us a clear direction to keep our focus fixed firmly on Him.  Deuteronomy 11:18 (NIV) says, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”  The Proverbs 4 passage cautions us to fix our gaze before us, to follow only His ways, to not be side-tracked by distractions.  2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV) says, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Hebrews 3:1 (NIV), “Fix your thoughts on Jesus.” And Hebrews 12:2 (NIV), “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

So, the call now is to “fix our thoughts on Jesus”. The word that is translated “fix your thoughts” is one word that means “consider or contemplate”. Sometimes, we just don’t take enough time to think, to consider, to meditate on who Jesus is, what He has done for us, and what He asks us to be in response. When it comes to renewing our mind, God has already done His part. And it is clear that He will not do your part. Consequently, we have a part to play in fixing our thoughts and renewing our mind. It is our mind. We need to learn to think like God thinks.

Fixing our eyes and thoughts on God does not mean we can stop certain thoughts from entering our mind. But what we do with that thought clearly shows where we are fixing our eyes and thoughts. Fixing our thoughts on Jesus means we consciously turn our attention to Jesus. This is voluntary. We often think our thoughts can just pop into our minds, and thus we have no control over them so they are involuntary. That is simply not true. We fix our thoughts on things. And while it would make sense to fix our thoughts on Jesus, it is not always easy. Sometimes we are faced with difficult problems and confusion. The pain and frustration can drive us to the point of despair. The problem simply does not go away. What can we do in these situations that do not seem to have a solution? The solution is to keep our focus on God by remembering that God became man. 

Jesus Christ became human in order to provide forgiveness for the sins of humanity. He tasted death for everyone so we can have life. Because Jesus walked this planet He understands our weaknesses. He understands the temptations we face and the trials we endure. He is uniquely equipped to help us. The all-powerful, exalted Christ who has authority over all things, can completely empathize with His people. Because of these wonderful truths, the author of Hebrews encourages his readers – and us – to dwell on the person of Jesus Christ. Fixing our thoughts on Jesus gives us the strength to stand firm in our faith and not waver. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do our thoughts impact our actions?  
  2. What’s one change you could make this week to secure your mind more?

Streams of Conscience

“Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can’t really get rid of it.” ― C.S.Lewis. 

In cartoons, the conscience is often portrayed as an angel on someone’s shoulder trying to steer a character away from temptation, which was represented by a small devil on the other shoulder. When you think about it, it is not an entirely inaccurate representation. 

In reality, the conscience is a universal gift of God. It distinguishes between right and wrong and urges us to do that which we recognize to be right. It also restrains us from doing what we recognize to be wrong. God has given every person a conscience to guard and guide them. This is not the same as the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit only dwells in those who have believed in Jesus Christ for salvation. 

However, once we are followers of Christ, the Spirit then works through the conscience to remind us that some attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions don’t fit our new identity in Christ. The more committed we are to Him, the stronger and louder our conscience will be. The conscience is a powerful weapon in the battle for our minds. It is also an effective tool to prevent strongholds from taking hold. 

When Paul wrote to Timothy, who was the pastor of the church in Ephesus, he told him to “…fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Timothy 1:18-19 NASB). This is a warning to us that spiritual harm befalls those who are convicted by their conscience and reject its prompting. God gave us the conscience for our help and protection, but if you ignore it all the time, eventually it will become so hardened that it no longer works.  

The conscience is an awesome thing that God put within us to help us live a holy and righteous life. It, along with the Holy Spirit, identifies whatever is wrong and should be avoided. Knowing that God loves us, is always working on our behalf, and has our best interests at heart should motivate us to listen and obey the promptings of our conscience. We may not always understand why the Lord is forbidding us to go a certain direction, but we can trust Him and His Word as the final authority for our lives because He is always right about every situation we encounter.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you see your conscience as an effective tool?
  2. How can we ensure our conscience is working as God intended it to work?

Looking At Our Default Settings

“One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” – Luke 17:20-21.

Computers can be fickle. Over time, the accumulation of files misconfigured settings, and other factors slow down performance and impact programs. Other times the computer is infected by a virus that affects our operating system and causes our computer to crash. The remedy to returning your computer to optimal performance is to reset it to factory defaults. 

When your computer has a failure, you might lose your personal settings and even valued material, but at least you still retain the basic framework that allows you to rebuild. That is what the default does. We, as humans, can be infected with a virus in our mind that is skewing our operating (belief)  system and causing us to operate outside of God’s intended design. In those cases, we need to reset to our default. You and I also have a default mode for processing life. We have certain ways of responding to people, circumstances, difficulties, surprises, disappointments, etc. When faced with bad news or even just the unknown, we tend to worry, to fear the worst and doubt God’s goodness.

If we do nothing to change, we’ll most likely continue to respond the way we always have. He is always there waiting for us to return to Him in our thoughts and actions. Even when we don’t see Him doing anything, He is still good and He still cares. We can never escape His grasp. We will never be forgotten. We will never have to go it alone. Our default settings should be God’s settings.  

The goal is not to let our thoughts define us.  If feelings are at the front, they will drive you wherever they feel like going. You’ve heard it said, “If it feels this good, it must be the right thing to do.” That is a trap. Your emotions will take you into all kinds of confusion. “Right thinking” guides us in responding with “right actions.” Right feelings may not come immediately, but they will come eventually.

Stay near to God. Focus on Him in your mind. Invite Him to change your default settings one by one, day by day. Every day of your life deserves the compassionate, love and grace of Christ.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your default mode for handling life? Does it need to be reset?
  2. How can we ensure our default matches God’s settings today and in the future?