Living Out The Living Word

As we are going through our series Saints Together, we will be learning six spiritual disciplines. Pastor Craig shared discipline #1 with us on Sunday. Here is the recap of his sermon that he shared on his blog. Be sure to scroll down to find the link to watch the video of the full message.

Last week I challenged you to free up some time in your schedule so that you could begin to apply these six spiritual disciplines we are going to discuss. 

Let’s keep in mind why we are learning and working on these disciplines. The key phrase is “so that”: I’m going to get stronger so that I have something to give to others, so that they will have something to give to others (and to me), and on and on it goes. Each of us needs all of us, and all of us need each of us!  

I love to read. In fact, I’m usually reading several books at the same time. Without a close second, my favorite book is my Bible. I say “my Bible” because I’ve made it mine—it’s underlined, circled, notated, and marked. It’s the Book I’m in every day, and it’s the Book that helps me glean the best knowledge from all the other books I read. 

G.K. Chesterton, the famous British writer, was once invited to a meeting of the leading intellectuals in England. They were discussing what one book they would want to have with them if they were shipwrecked on an island. Everybody expected Chesterton to say, “My Bible.” But when it came to his turn to speak, Chesterton said, “If I were shipwrecked on a desert island, I’d like to have Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”

Chesterton wasn’t saying the Bible wouldn’t have been of benefit to him on that island, but he was saying that those who study the Bible have the most practical insights! The Bible doesn’t just have lofty ideas, but it gives us heavenly wisdom that is highly practical to our everyday lives. 

The first spiritual discipline we are considering in our series Saints Together is: Studying our Bible. Notice I didn’t say just to read the Bible, but to really study the Book of books. 

The apostle Paul wrote, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). How do we know our faith is growing? It must be tested. Look at what James had to say about growing our faith—“the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:3). 

Testing really comes down to this: Does what I believe work in my everyday life? Can I truly put what the Bible teaches me into action? James went a little deeper with this in James 2:17-19

Allow me to share four indispensable components of our Bible study time. You will notice that for all of these components, I am giving you verses from the 119th chapter of the Psalms. This single chapter mentions God’s Word in every single one of its 176 verses. As an added bonus, this chapter is divided into twenty-two 8-verse sections. Scientists tell us that if you do anything for twenty-one days in a row, you will have gone a long way toward making it a permanent habit. So reading one section of Psalm 119 every day is a great place to start on this spiritual discipline of studying your Bible. 

Here are the four components:

(1) Read the Word. You cannot study something you haven’t read. I would suggest you pray before reading (Psalm 119:18, 33). I’d also suggest you leverage the power of your brain using a well-worn path by setting aside the same time, same place, and same method of study every day. 

(2) Pray the Word. The Bible is not just a Book to study, it’s a Book to pray too (Psalm 119:41-48). So pray for insight before you read, then turn what you have read into a personalized prayer.  

(3) Meditate on the Word. Take time to mull over what you have just read and prayed (Psalm 119:15, 99). This allows the Holy Spirit to bring it back to your mind. 

(4) Live out the Word. Apply it by allowing it to make a change in your life. Notice the action words in Psalm 119:1-4: walk … keep … walk … fully obey…. Or as God said to Joshua—

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8) 

This is how Jesus lived His life and it’s also how He said the Holy Spirit would help us live our lives in a God-glorifying way (John 12:49-50, 14:26).

Every day we should be living out the living Word of God! 

I invite you to follow along as we continue learning all six of these important spiritual disciplines. You can find them all by clicking here.

It Takes All Of Us

We kicked off our brand new series called Saints Together this Sunday, and Pastor Craig shared the overview of what we will be learning. Here is the recap of his sermon that Pastor Craig posted on his blog. Be sure to scroll down to find the link to watch the full sermon.

In my book Shepherd Leadership I talk about some strong, godly men who gave into temptation at a moment of weakness—David who behaved so poorly toward Bathsheba and Uriah, Elijah who got depressed and suicidal, and Peter who denied knowing Jesus. 

One common factor for all of these guys is that their moment of giving in came when they were alone. They were isolated from others who may have been able to help them overcome the temptations that tripped them up. 

The principle is clear: Christians are stronger when they are with other Christians.  

Have you ever heard of the law of the weakest link? 

If I have a chain with links that can handle 400, 300, 250, 175, and 500 pounds, how much weight can the chain hold? You don’t really need a calculator for this one because the answer is the capacity of the weakest link: 175 pounds. This is why it’s to my advantage to not only strengthen myself, but to help others grow their strength as well. 

In Galatians 6:2-5, the apostle Paul talks about the strength we need for ourselves and our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. First, he says that each of us should test our own actions. I can only know my breaking point if I’m tested, and the Holy Spirit knows how to do this perfectly. After this testing, Paul says then I can take pride in myself without saying, “Well, at least I’m better than him!” 

Quite simply, Paul tells each of us that we must be able to carry our own loads. Why? Because only a strong Christian can help someone else with their load. We each have to get stronger individually so that we have strength for others! 

This is just like what we’ve been learning in our look at the Songs of Ascent: the goal is for all of the pilgrims to get to Zion together!

In this series, we are going to learn about six spiritual disciplines. Much like a physical workout, the Holy Spirit will start with us where we are. Not everyone will be at the same level nor will everyone progress at the same rate. But all of us will need these four things.

(1) Discipline. This is saying no to the easy thing or the thing that brings only fleeting happiness so that I can say yes to the things that bring eternal joy. 

(2) Stick-to-it-iveness. I have to be committed to this process for a lifetime. 

(3) Grace for yourself. There are going to be moments of struggles, plateaus, and even stumbles. Those are all a part of the journey, so we must extend grace to ourselves to learn, repent, and move forward. 

(4) Patience for others. As I just mentioned, we are all on our own journey and we all process at different rates. Let’s be patient with each other. 

All of these spiritual disciplines are to strengthen us individually so that we have something to share with other saints (2 Corinthians 1:3-6). 

These spiritual disciplines shouldn’t become legalistic. Don’t make the way you do it the way everyone has to do it. After all, a 175-pound link will be different than a 250-pound link. 

What I am calling spiritual disciplines, C.S. Lewis called religious practices. In a letter to a friend, he wrote about the safety and beauty that result from these pursuits—

“I think about the practices what a wise old priest said to me about a ‘rule of life’ in general—‘It is not a stair but a bannister’…i.e. it is, not the thing you ascend by but it is a protective against falling off and a help-up. I think thus we ascend. The stair is God’s grace. One’s climb from step to step is obedience. Many different kinds of bannisters exist, all legitimate. It is possible to get up without any bannisters, if need be: but no one would willingly build a staircase without them because it would be less safe, more laborious, and a little lacking in beauty.” (C.S. Lewis)

The New Testament always has the words “saints” in the plural, so these disciplines will help us grow from strong individual saints to a healthy and effective collection of saints. 

Each of us needs all of us, and all of us need each of us! It does, indeed, take all of us.  

If you would like to follow along as we learn about these six spiritual disciplines, you can find all of the messages by clicking here

Saints Together

Throughout the New Testament the word “saints” is always in the plural form. This is a clear indication that none of us can develop into the full-fledged Christians we were meant to be on our own. 

We all need each other. More specifically, we all need the most mature version of each other. 

A key component of an individual saint’s development is the time spent alone being forged by the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Maturing saints then come together with each other to continue to strengthen and sharpen everyone in the church. Strong individual saints make a strong church, and a strong church makes strong individual saints! 

Join us this Sunday for our new series called Saints Together. We will be studying the spiritual disciplines that each individual saint must put into practice so that they can use their newly developed strengths to help other saints in their own development. 

Flatten The Rollercoaster

Pastor Craig led us through the seventh strategy in our series on a Christian’s mental health. Here is the recap he shared on his blog, and be sure to scroll down to watch the video of the full message.

I’m not a fan of rollercoasters, but I know a lot of people who really like them. Some even travel all over the world to experience unique rollercoasters. The anticipation as the cars climb slowly up the big hill, knowing that there’s no stopping this thing now! Then the rush of emotions, a deep breath and a laugh at the end (usually laughing at our friends’ responses while on the ride), and then we just walk away. The moment of anticipation leading up to the big drop was usually longer and more intense than the ride itself. 

Not only do people travel all over to find rollercoasters, some people seem to have their emotions perpetually on rollercoasters. 

One of the telltale signs of someone with an immature mental health is the way every situation gets blown out of proportion before anything even happens. Then as an event unfolds, their exaggerations continue: the molehills are mountains, every valley is the valley of the shadow of death, the night is a nightmare, the “crisis” is lasting forever, no one has ever gone through what they’re going through, and the list goes on. 

To break out of this habit requires us developing emotional capacity. John Maxwell describes it like this: “Emotional capacity is the ability to handle adversity, failure, criticism, change, and pressure in a positive way.” Just as athletes have to develop lung capacity or muscle capacity, developing emotional capacity takes time, patience, and diligence. 

Increased emotional capacity is not escaping from our problems or even learning coping skill. Escapism never allows us to confront the things that are keeping our emotional capacity immature. On the other hand, maturing emotional capacity is learning to pause to get perspective so that we can avoid turning every mountain into a molehill, and every challenge into a do-or-die battle.  

Mentally healthy people don’t try to escape, but they learn how to de-escalate by getting a new perspective. Or to use the language of our first mental health strategy, they get off their old, well-worn paths. 

Let me illustrate this by looking at two emotions which seem to be the most rollercoaster-ish. 

(1) The first rollercoaster emotion is anger 

Out-of-proportion anger can either burn everyone around us when we explode, or it can eat away inside us if we hold it in. Neither of these are healthy emotional responses. Jesus got angry at the religious crowd that was keeping people away from God’s kingdom, but He didn’t ride the rollercoaster that led to a sinful expression of His anger. 

God asked Jonah a very helpful question: Have you any right to be angry? (Jonah 4:4). When we feel the Holy Spirit asking us this question, our defiant first response is almost always, “Yes! I didn’t do anything wrong! It was all him!” Solomon would counsel us to cross-examine that thought (Proverbs 18:17). 

Sometimes God will bring someone else across our path to help us pause to get perspective—to flatten the rollercoaster. For instance, God used Abigail to help David (see the story in 1 Samuel 25). However the Holy Spirit cross-examines us, we need to learn to truly listen. James told us: 

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

(2) The second rollercoaster emotion is fear 

Fear usually causes us to fight or flight. Those are the natural responses, but the supernatural response is to pause to evaluate. I love the reminder that F.E.A.R. means false evidence appearing real

As with anger, our first pause to get perspective on this potential rollercoaster that can plunge us into a deep, dark valley should be to cross-examine the false evidence of fear. 

When the group of ladies came to the tomb of Jesus on the Sunday following His crucifixion, they were already battered and bruised in their emotions. Finding an empty tomb brought even more fear in their hearts. But there is a keyword in this account that will help us: 

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men [angels] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered His words. (Luke 24:5-8)

The Holy Spirit can help us remember the truth in God’s Word to counteract the fear-inducing false evidence (2 Timothy 1:7; John 14:26), but we must pause to listen to this evidence before this rollercoaster emotion picks up speed. 

The bottom line: Don’t try to escape your strong emotions. Pause. Cross-examine the evidence with the help of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and a friend to get a healthy perspective. This can help you flatten the rollercoaster before your emotions run away with you. 

If you’ve missed any of the other mental health strategies we’ve already covered in this series, you can find the full list by clicking here

Focus On Today

Pastor Craig took us back to our series on mental health. This is the short recap he shared on his blog. Please scroll down to find the link to watch the video of the full message.

Without a doubt, Jesus had the most robust mental health of anyone who has ever walked planet Earth! Dr. Luke, a trained physician, captures this in just one verse (Luke 2:52) where he talks about how Jesus grew in a wholly healthy way, and Luke lists Christ’s mental health as the first priority. 

I’ve already shared five strategies that Christians can employ to enhance their mental health, and I encourage you to check them out here

Let me share a sixth strategy with you. 

I’m sure there have been plenty of times when someone asks you about something you like or dislike or why you do something the way you do, you probably don’t tell them the facts but you tell them a story. We have a story for everything we like, everything we do, and everything we avoid. 

It’s good to rehearse these stories and to really listen to them. If we don’t really listen to them, we cannot learn from them; if we don’t learn from them, we rob ourselves of robust mental health. 

From some of our stories, there is a regret that comes from three enemies. These enemies are all tied to our stories about our past and they are would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve—“If only I would’ve…” and “Things would be different today if I could’ve…” and “I should’ve known….”

One of the ways we need to talk back to those thoughts is like this, “I only know the would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve now because I’m older and more experienced. I didn’t know those things in the past so it was impossible for me to have done something differently.” Even the apostle Paul noted, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). 

If we don’t talk back to those regrets of yesterday, we will have doubts about today: Will I make another mistake today? Do I have what it takes to meet today’s challenges? What will others think of me if I mess up? If we don’t address those doubts we have today, that will cause us worry and stress about tomorrow. 

Regret … doubt … worry … stress. Those don’t really sound like words that contribute to positive mental health, do they? 

Here’s the thing we need to remember—Learning from our yesterdays is healthy, but trying to relive our yesterdays is both unhealthy and unproductive! 

Dr. William Osler said, “If the load of tomorrow is added to that of yesterday and carried today, it will make the strongest falter.” 

Four times in just ten verses, Jesus told His followers not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34). He ties that worry about tomorrow to having little faith. That lack of faith comes from our doubts, and those doubts come from our past regrets. 

T.G.I.F.—thank God it’s Friday!—is an escapism. It’s not wanting to deal with the regrets, doubts, and worry by trying to push them to some distant time. It doesn’t allow us to really concentrate on today. The Bible constantly brings us back to the present. 

  • Today is used 203 times in the NIV Bible 
  • Tomorrow is mentioned 56 times
  • Yesterday is only used 8 times 

Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) so that we won’t let past regrets spiral downward into daily doubts and then anxiety about tomorrow. Elizabeth Elliot wisely counseled, “One reason we are so harried and hurried is that we make yesterday and tomorrow our business, when all that legitimately concerns us is today.” 

Christians that want to be mentally healthy should continually replace a T.G.I.F. mindset with T.G.I.T.—thank God it’s today! 

Taking a line from Joshua who said, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15), here are four things we need to choose to remember each day. 

  1. Choose to remember that God uses all things—even our would’ve, could’ve, and should’ves—for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). 
  2. Choose to forget those old, self-limiting, stress-causing stories (Philippians 3:13). 
  3. Choose to believe that God is doing something new—something I never could have planned (Isaiah 43:18-19). 
  4. Choose to believe that God can help you tell a new story about your past (Genesis 41:51). 

(Check out all of these verses here.) 

You have to choose each day to say “Thank God it’s today! Thank God that I’m not who I was yesterday! Thank God that He is using my would’ve-could’ve-should’ve moments from yesterday to prepare me for today! Thank God that He is teaching me a new story!” 

If you’ve missed any of the previous messages in our series on a Christian’s mental health, you can find them all here

Check Your Inputs

Pastor Craig shared the next installment in our ongoing series on mental health. Please check out this short recap he shared on his blog, and scroll down to watch the video of his full sermon.

Jesus was the healthiest Person to ever walk planet Earth. When Luke, a physician, tells us about the growth of Jesus, he says first that “Jesus grew in wisdom.” (Luke 2:52). That is our indication that a healthy mind is at the foundation for every other aspect of health. 

But mental health doesn’t stay in your mind—it affects every other part of your life. Likewise, all of the other parts of your life can enhance or drain your mental health. We are created as interconnected beings. For instance, it’s hard to think correctly when you’re physically tired, spiritually drained, or involved in an unhealthy relationship. It’s also true that it’s hard to make good decisions about your physical health, stay focused on God, or handle your relationships successfully if you aren’t thinking correctly. 

We see the apostles writing about our wholly healthiness

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (3 John 2) 

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT) 

When my laptop is disconnected from the monitors I use at our church building, the message on the screen tells me to “check your inputs.” That’s not just for inanimate technology, but for us too: To maintain good overall health, we need to check our physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional inputs. 

Let’s start with the physical inputs. When we are active during the day our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol. Stress is not a bad thing—it’s a normal thing. A body that isn’t stressed will atrophy and become susceptible to disease. Balanced, healthy stress is called eustress, and unbalanced, unhealthy stress is called distress. 

Cortisol is naturally flushed from the body in two ways: exercise and sleep. Exercise is important to keep our bodies moving effectively, and sleep helps us recover and helps our brains catalogue our memories (see 1 Timothy 4:8; Psalm 3:5). To fuel our exercise and our sleep requires the energy which we get from a healthy diet. 

So if you’re not thinking healthy thoughts, check your physical inputs: Am I getting the proper amount of sleep? Am I exercising regularly? Am I eating properly? Do I see a doctor for a checkup? 

How about spiritual inputs? Somewhat surprisingly, our spirits are kept healthy very much along the same lines as our physical bodies—proper food, appropriate exercise, and a time of rest. Our spiritual food is God’s Word, our exercise is working out what we’ve studied in the Bible, and our rest is called sabbathing (Jeremiah 15:16; Matthew 7:24-27; James 2:17). Jesus demonstrated all of these in His life and we, too, should follow His example. 

If you’re not thinking healthy thoughts, check your spiritual inputs: Am I reading the Bible regularly? Am I putting what I learn into practice? Am I sabbathing properly?  

Then there our emotional inputs, or the relationships that build us and relationships that drain us. You are always going to encounter people in need, and ministering to those needs is draining (Luke 8:45-46). We also need to be alert to those antagonistic people who purposely drain us (2 Timothy 4:14-15). We can make decisions to place people in our lives who build us up and be cautious of those who drain us (Proverbs 27:3, 5-6, 9, 17). 

Once again, if you’re not thinking healthy thoughts, check your emotional inputs: Do I have healthy people investing in my life? Am I sharpening the iron of others? 

Finally, let’s not forget the mental inputs. Computer programmers are well aware of the acronym GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t like the results that are coming out, check what is going in. The apostle Paul gives us an outstanding checklist in Philippians 4:8

If your mental health isn’t as healthy as you would like it to be, perhaps you need to talk to your doctor about your physical health, or a mature spiritual friend about your spiritual health, or a Christian counselor about your emotional health. As you consult with these wise people, continue to pray for God’s help. As your Creator, He knows you better than anyone else could and He can give you the wisdom you need as you check your inputs. 

This is part 5 in our series on a Christian’s mental health. If you’ve missed any of the other messages I’ve shared, you can find them all by clicking here

Jesus In The Seven Feasts

We had a special guest speaker on Sunday. Here is the recap Pastor Craig shared on his blog.

Douglas Carmel from Rock Of Israel ministries shared an amazing overview of the seven Jewish feasts that are listed in the Book of Leviticus, and how Jesus is the fulfillment of all of these feasts. Doug was born into a Jewish family and became a Christian in his late teens, so he has firsthand knowledge of both the traditional celebrations and the Christian understanding of these feasts. 

One of the things I appreciated was Doug’s explanation that the feasts were merely a shadow of the reality—Jesus is the Reality! 

Please check out the message he shared at Calvary Assembly of God. I encourage you to visit his website to get more information on all of the ministries Rock Of Israel.

Passover—celebrated on the 14th day of the first month 

  • Leviticus 23:4-5
  • Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-20
  • Jesus was crucified on the same day that the Passover lamb was being sacrificed 

Unleavened Bread—celebrated on the 15th day of the first month

  • Leviticus 23:6
  • 1 Corinthians 5:6-9

Firstfruits—celebrated on the 16th day of the first month (or the day after the Sabbath) 

  • Leviticus 23:9-14 
  • 1 Corinthians 15:12-26 

Seven Weeks—celebrated 50 days after Firstfruits 

  • Leviticus 23:15-21 
  • Also known as Pentecost 
  • Acts 2:1-41

Doug called our attention to the calendar on which these feasts appeared. Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Seven Weeks all happen in the spring. All four of these feasts have already been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

There are no feasts in the summer months, as these are the months of field work (Leviticus 23:22). This is where we are now, which is why Jesus told us, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). This is the time for us to tell others about Jesus the Messiah! 

The final three feasts appear in the autumn—Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. These are feasts that are still to be fulfilled at Christ’s Second Advent. 

Trumpets—celebrated on the 1st day of the seventh month

  • Leviticus 23:23-25 
  • This is also known as Rosh Hashanah when the shofar is blown 
  • 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

Atonement—celebrated on the 10th day of the seventh month

  • Leviticus 23:26-32 
  • This is also known as Yom Kippur—the one day of the year the high priest goes into the Holy of Holies 
  • Romans 11:25-32; Matthew 23:39 

Tabernacles—celebrated on the 15th through the 21st days of the seventh month

Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). Jesus is THE Reality and THE Fulfillment of all of these celebrations! 

Talk Back To Your Thoughts

Pastor Craig continued our series on a Christian’s mental health on Sunday. Here is the recap he posted on his blog, and you can scroll down to find the video of the full message.

Do you talk to yourself? 

Of course you do. We all talk to ourselves: it’s called “thinking.” 

But do you talk out loud when you talk to yourself? 

An unhealthy habit for most of us is that our thoughts are only a one-way monologue. That is, we are listening to our thoughts but we are not talking back to them. As a result, everything negative we’ve heard from our enemies is bouncing around in our heads. The more we hear it, the more likely we are to believe it. 

In Psalm 42, we hear from a psalmist who is longing to experience God’s presence but at the same time there’s a nagging thought implanted by skeptics: “Where is your God?” The psalmist reminisces how it used to be, which means there is a nagging doubt in his mind that it may never be like that again. 

But finally, the psalmist does the mentally healthy thing: he talks back to his thoughts. He asks himself a question and then he gives a new response—a response that is hope-filled instead of doubt-plagued. 

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember You. (Psalm 42:5-6) 

When the nagging thought of “Where is your God?” comes up again just a couple of verses later, he doesn’t linger or brood over this doubt-inducing thought but immediately talks back to that negative voice with hope-filled words (vv. 10-11). 

The devil has a singular agenda: to separate you from God. He does this through lies and doubts. Jesus told us the devil’s native language is lies: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). 

The Bible tells us that the devil can also put thoughts and desires in our hearts, but they are all lies (see John 13:2; Acts 5:3). 

We cannot let these lies go unchallenged, so here’s our battle strategy: 

For the weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons of flesh and blood, but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds, inasmuch as we refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the true knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 AMP) 

There are five questions we need to use to talk to ourselves about the thoughts we hear: 

  1. Is this thought unbiblical? (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  2. Does this thought rob God of the glory due His name (Psalm 29:1-11)? 
  3. Does this thought stifle my love for God or others (Mark 12:28-31)? 
  4. If I linger on this thought, does it rob me of peace (Isaiah 26:3-4)? 
  5. Does this thought make me apathetic toward sin (Genesis 4:7)? 

(Check out all of the above verses by clicking here.)

If we answer “yes” to any of these questions, we must capture that thought and put it to death, which requires the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Because of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, every promise in God’s Word is “yes and amen” in Jesus, and therefore is an invincible weapon against lying thoughts (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

Here’s how we use those promises: 

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb AND by the word of their testimony. (Revelation 12:10-11)

Listen to your thoughts, but don’t listen too long before you start to challenge them with these five questions. Then demolish those lies—triumph over them by the blood of the Lamb and your spoken testimony. Speak the truth out loud for all to hear. 

This is part 4 in our series on a Christian’s mental health. If you’ve missed any of the other messages I’ve shared, you can find them all by clicking here

Pull The Weeds

Pastor Craig shared the second mental health strategy for us in our series A Christian’s Mental Health. Here is the recap he shared on his blog. You may also scroll down to watch the video of the full message.

When looking at the growth of Jesus, Luke says first that “Jesus grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52), which is our indication that a healthy mind is the foundation for every other aspect of health

The first mental health strategy we learned was asking the Holy Spirit to help us see a new path. Instead of thoughtlessly, automatically allowing our minds to go down the well-worn paths they have always gone down before, the Spirit of Truth can help us see a new path. Let me share our second strategy with you. 

My wife and I had traveled to a neighboring community and when we got out of our car we saw an unusual sight. First of all, there was dirt and a few weeds where there used to be grass, and then there was this sign in the middle of that dirt field: Keep off the grass. That seemed like really wishful thinking to me! I may not have a green thumb—truthfully I probably have a “black thumb” when it comes to keeping plants alive—but I know enough to say that their grass wasn’t going to grow without a lot of effort. 

Weeds grow by apathy, they are removed with continual effort. Fruit-bearing plants grow by careful attention, fertilization, and pruning. So if we don’t put in any effort at all, it’s the same thing as fertilizing the weeds. 

Solomon made this observation: I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds and the stone wall was in ruins (Proverbs 24:30-31). 

Without effort on our part, weeds take over, sap the nutrients, and take up the space that could be used for fruit-bearing plants. 

Jesus talked about this in His parable of the sower

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:3-8)

When Jesus says that the thorns grew up and choked the plants, He uses a Greek word that means overwhelmed or suffocated. It’s the same word that is translated as drowning (see Luke 8:33). What weeds do to our gardens, weed thoughts do to our minds. 

We all know that when we see a weed pop up above the ground, there is a root below the ground that is supporting it. The sooner we pull that weed, the more likely we are to remove the troublesome root as well. 

What about our minds? What are the roots? Jesus identified the roots this way: For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15:19). Jesus taught that we murder, commit adultery, lust, and slander in our hearts long before it ever happens in our words or physical actions. 

So when a “weed word” pops out, what do we do? If we do nothing, we fertilize that weed. If we ignore it, we allow that weed to strengthen its hold and begin to choke out the fruitful plants. If we simply say, “Oops, that was a slip of the tongue; I’ll do better to control it next time,” we haven’t pulled the weed, but we’ve fertilized it. 

Remember that weeds flourish by apathy, but fruitfulness requires effort.

Back in the parable of the sower, what is the difference between the seed among weeds and the seed in fertile soil? It’s simply the presence of weeds or thorns! If we allow the Holy Spirit to help us pull the weeds, we’ve increased the amount of ground that can be fruitful and produce a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 

Jesus concludes by reminding us that our ears need to hear—we need to hear His words, and we need to hear our own weed words that don’t align with His words. Then we have a choice: apathetically let the weeds remain, or allow them to be pulled up. 

Allow me to share my paraphrase of a passage in Hebrews 12—

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s pruning, and do not lose heart when He weeds your mind, because the Lord prunes the one He loves, and He weeds the garden of everyone He accepts as His son so they can be more fruitful. (my paraphrase of Hebrews 12:5-6)

Our mental health matures when we acknowledge the word weeds we are shown, and then quickly allow the Father to prune those. The Holy Spirit can continue to help us weed the soil of our minds so that it remains a fertile growing place for the seed of God’s Word. By doing this, we will grow in God-pleasing fruitfulness. 

If you would like to download the graphic of this reminder for your phone, simply leave me a comment with the model of the phone, and I’ll get the right-sized graphic right out to you. And if you missed the first message in this series, you can review that lesson by clicking here

Well-Worn Paths

Pastor Craig shared the first message in our series that will continue once per month throughout 2023 about a Christian’s mental health. This is the short recap he shared on his blog. You can also scroll down to watch the video of the full message.

I don’t think there’s any arguing that Jesus must have been the healthiest Person to ever live. Dr. Luke records His growth in just one succinct verse: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Every word of Scripture is inspired, right down to the order the words are penned. So when Luke says first that “Jesus grew in wisdom,” that is our indication that a healthy mind is the foundation for every other aspect of health. 

I recently received an email from a Christian brother asking for prayer and counseling in overcoming lust and pornography. I naturally agreed to pray with him, but I also said, “Before I offer you any strategies to try, let me ask you a quick question: What have you already tried to get victory over this?” 

He replied, “I’ve tried praying, watching videos on it, and basically saying no to the devil. But the temptation comes when I am weak and I think, ‘I can just try again tomorrow!’ And then I fall into it. I am just tempted at times throughout the day, and sometimes I fight it with prayer, but other times I just fall right into it basically without even trying.” 

What my friend is dealing with here is a natural, unconscious response. Our brains like well-worn paths because it’s very easy and comfortable for our minds to automatically respond as they have responded before. As in the case of my friend, it may be heading down a path of lust that leads to pornography. For others, it may be unhealthy choices made in response to certain triggers, or it may be the anger that flares up into biting words when a certain someone pushes your buttons. 

We head down that well-worn path unconsciously and automatically. Our immediate response might bring some temporary relief, but usually, we’re not very happy with where we’ve ended up once again. 

If we are going to make a new path—or a new, healthier response—we first need to become aware of the well-worn path we automatically go to. So my counsel to my friend who emailed me for help was to start keeping a journal. I wrote back:

Your willpower alone isn’t going to cut it (as you’ve probably realized). Here’s the first step I would suggest: keep a journal of every time you are tempted to lust or porn. Write down what you were feeling, was it day or evening, what was happening just before that, did you have time in prayer and Bible reading that day or not, how did you fight the temptation, were you successful or not? I think as you keep track of these things you will begin to see some triggers and some patterns. Maybe you were physically tired, or lonely, or hungry. Maybe it was a certain person you talked with or a show you watched. Maybe it was after checking your social medias or after a super-hard day at work. When you start to see patterns of what is causing you to go to porn for relief, you can recognize them earlier and head them off before they grip your mind so strongly. 

Psychologists call it metacognition when we think about what we’re thinking about—when we think about why we are taking a certain well-worn path again. 

We don’t think about our thinking very frequently. We keep thinking along those well-worn paths out of habit, not because we want to go down those paths. This is where the Holy Spirit is invaluable: He helps us see those well-worn paths, identify which paths are unhealthy or unproductive, and then help us begin to carve out a new path. 

It’s not just thinking about right things, but thinking rightly about all things—even the painful things or the triggering things. 

In Ephesians 4:22-25, Paul counsels us to take off the “old self” and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore” (and this is an important conclusion) “each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor.” 

Do you remember that Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31)? Paul says we are to speak truthfully to our neighbor, so doesn’t that mean that we have to first speak truthfully to ourselves? Yes, we do! If we are going to make new paths for our mind, we are going to have to talk to ourselves differently. 

My cousin Dick Brogden wrote, “A primary theater of spiritual warfare is in our heads and thoughts. The primary weapon of the enemy is deceit. He starts with attractive little lies and half-truths, and works his way up to blatant, ridiculous, perverted nonsense. Winning the battle for truth in the mind is critical to winning the war. If we lose enough of the little skirmishes, we can believe and do any wicked thing. If we daily combat lies with light and truth, we will stand firm.” 

The “little lies and half-truths” will keep us trapped on our old, well-worn paths. But identifying those lies, and speaking the truth to them, will help us travel down new paths that lead to health and freedom. 

Let the Holy Spirit be your Counselor. Let the Holy Spirit help you think about what you’re thinking about when you’re triggered to unconsciously head down the unhealthy well-worn path. Let the Holy Spirit help you see a new path. And then let the Holy Spirit empower you to stick with it—to keep doing the hard work of blazing a new path. 

I am going to build on this series of messages about a Christian’s mental health, but let’s start with this simple prayer: 

Holy Spirit, help me make new paths. 

As you pray this, listen to how the Holy Spirit will guide you away from the unhealthy, unconscious, well-worn paths, and will then lead you into the new, healthy path that brings you freedom. 

If you would like to download the graphic of this prayer for your phone, simply leave me a comment with the model of the phone, and I’ll get the right-sized graphic right out to you. And you can also follow along with all of the messages in this series by clicking here