Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Set the Mind on the Spirit

Because emotions are such an integral part of our lives, it is easy to assume that they are the correct response to any given situation. We think our anger is always justified, and our anxiety is for a good reason. It rarely occurs to us that we need to evaluate what we are feeling.

The truth is that emotions are chosen by the brain to suit a purpose. Sometimes the brain is wrong in its choice. That the brain could be wrong should not come as a surprise, and this happens often.  Emotions are chosen in a split second as a reaction to sensory information. Feelings do not come out of a situation but are applied to a situation for purposes of motivation. In other words, fear draws us away from danger, surprise draws us closer to potential learning, and disgust keeps us from eating something dangerous.

Oh, how I wish I could feel a bit of disgust about sugar and less disgust about cooked spinach. However, these are the mistakes my brain makes. Over the long term, good choices happen just often enough to keep us alive and learning.

While we cannot edit the work of our brain and replace an unhelpful emotion with a helpful one, we can influence what emotions our brains choose.

We can set our minds. We do this by practicing the things that give us better emotions. For instance, when we answer our anxiety by reading the Psalms, the Spirit feeds our faith. This practice of reading God’s Word strengthens the neural pathways that support emotions of calm and peace because we continually realize the power, glory, and love of our Heavenly Father. When these pathways are more robust, the brain is more likely to choose the emotions connected to them. It is a poignant illustration of how God uses His creation, and His Spirit, to assist those He created.

As people of the world, we want everything we do to be about us, about our decision, about our strength, and our desires. Fortunately, life, as a child of God, does not work that way. Take trust, for example. The world wants us to believe that trust is our power, and we can wield it when we need it. We are told to “have faith and trust,” while the object of that faith is conveniently left out. Am I better off trusting myself? Certainly not, as that kind of faith just sets me up for failure.

My faith and trust should be in God. Yet, there is still something wrong with that statement. Is it truly MY faith or MY trust? If it is, I am again setting myself up for failure. I cannot be trusted.

The ability to trust comes from God. Trust has been won for us. Jesus already defeated all enemies to our life and safety. There is nothing we can do to make that victory any sweeter. We trust God because of God. We trust God because of what He has done for us and what He continues to do for us. We trust God because we feel His love, and that is the perfect emotional response.

In these strange times of challenges we to be encouraged to trust God, because, well . . . God. 

God is strong. God is steadfast. God is in control.

To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

Set your mind on the Spirit, on God’s demonstration of love, on forgiveness and mercy. Set your minds on His Word, and His Spirit will fill your heart with life and peace.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Fear Boldly

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, Saturday, March 4, 1933

Fear is a complicated emotion. While we slip into it effortlessly we struggle to leave it behind. It is an emotion that protects us as much as it causes us harm. We need fear to be safe, yet when we allow fear to dominate, we create a new danger.
Fear changes our brain; it opens sensory memory and floods the workbench, impeding learning. When the brain is in this state it gives the body signals that heighten our awareness and make us feel nervous and jumpy. When we are in this state, we are good at making quick life-saving decisions, but not carefully thought out judgements. This mental state hinders our ability to trust in God because we are focused on ourselves. Oddly enough, our fear turns our trust in the wrong direction and fools us into thinking we can handle things on our own.

Fear is a useful emotion that turns bad when mixed with sin.The only way to tackle a mixture of fear and sin is to fear boldly.

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You and worked for those who take refuge in You, in the sight of the children of mankind! Psalm 31:19
To fear boldly is to fear God. We have seen His power and know that God is infinitely bigger than anything we might fear. The remedy for fear is to direct our thoughts to the One who deserves to be feared; the One who turns fear into peace.

You who fear the Lord, praise Him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify Him,
and stand in awe of Him, all you offspring of Israel! Psalm 22:23
To fear boldly is to praise God. Read scriptures and be reminded of all that God has done for His people. Sing your favorite hymns and let the gospel message work its way into your heart, nudging fear out of the seat it occupies.

 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, Psalm 33:18
To fear boldly is to look toward God. We do not need to deny what is causing us to fear because that is only a different kind of fear. When we see God behind that fear, we remember God’s power, steadfast love, and mercy. This gives us the courage to do what keeps us safe, and to refrain from dwelling in our fear.

 Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will He instruct in the way that he should choose. Psalm 25:12

To fear boldly is to ask God what He would have you do. Read through the Psalms. Study one a day, reading it over several times. God will work lessons into your being that will drive out fear and encourage you to serve. 

Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling. Psalm 2:11
To fear boldly is to serve God. Turn your heart away from fear and toward the people God has placed in your life. Can you offer comfort? Is there a way to provide help? When we serve others, we reduce our anxiety because our focus is in the direction away from our fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. I John 4:8a
To fear boldly is to know God’s perfect love. God’s power, like His plan for our Salvation, never fades. Fear grabs hold of us and tries to turn our trust in God into a makeshift belief in ourselves. The truth is that we are never able to save ourselves – not from the fears of the world and certainly not from our sin. God is perfect love that casts out fear, casts out worry, casts out the sin. And there is no fear found in that perfect love.

Take the outstretched hand of your Abba Father. You are loved and protected by an awesome God.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Church and Covid 19

One by one, the local universities are moving to online classes. My husband works for one of them, and he will still be at work, there just won’t be many students. I am watching my conference speaking schedule dwindle, and businesses, churches, and schools all over the country have difficult decisions to make.

Please keep these decision-makers and leaders in your prayers.

I believe it is time for Christians to take action. I beg you to stop arguing about whether or not covid 19 little more than a media frenzy. Instead, look around you at the people who have already been impacted – even in ways beyond illness. Please stop posting that covid 19 is not as fatal as other illnesses and instead say a prayer of thanks that it is not. Move away from the abstract crowd of social media and, instead, look toward your neighbor.

If you find yourself stressed over the events surrounding this illness, take time to pray, thank God for your blessings, ask for His protection, and ask what He would have you do. When we focus on others, we find our purpose and anxiety diminishes. Anxiety has no ground to stand on when we are thinking of others, and when we see evidence of how God uses each of us to care for each other.

The Church is in a unique position to serve during an event such as this. We have a distinctive kind of fellowship, which means we gather together to worship a shared God and to care for each other. We have a structure in place that allows us to serve with little cost or preparation.  We are at least somewhat aware of people’s needs for their work and family situations. We can begin to predict who could benefit from a phone call, someone to run errands, or meals brought in.

Here are some situations to consider:

Check on caregivers. This situation includes two people who are likely more susceptible to the effects of this illness. A phone call a few times a week would provide a brief respite for the caregiver, and an offer to run errands will give the assurance that someone who cares knows their needs.

Check on your elderly who live alone.  They may have questions about what is safe. They may put off getting groceries or going to doctor appointments in order to avoid contamination.

Check on the types of employment people have. Those who work low wage jobs are at risk of losing work. They often do not have sick leave and will not be able to work from home. When people live from paycheck to paycheck, even a week off of work can be devastating. Churches can support the local food pantry as these organizations will be taxed beyond capacity.

Check on single-parent families. They may have no options for childcare when schools close. Perhaps some of these families can be matched with others who can provide care.

Check on people who work in the healthcare industry. They will likely bear the burden of extra work. We are used to doing meals for people who are ill, but those who work long hours to make up for shortages may need this kind of help, too.

Take a look at the neighborhood of your church. How can your membership reach out and care for those who live near? Encourage each member to check their block for people who might need help.

Each of these actions is an opportunity to share the Gospel, with or without words. We are being asked to isolate ourselves to reduce the spread of the virus, but we need not isolate ourselves from caring for others. Our God is an all-powerful, all-loving God. He has this situation in hand. Focus on Him and the work He sets before us.

We do God’s work because of the faith He has placed in our hearts.  May the grace of a God-given faith bless you in ways you cannot imagine.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. Acts 20:24

Weary Joy: The Caregiver's Journey  

by Kim Marxhausen

and Amazon


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Repaying evil with blessing

I am blessed to meet with a beautiful group of ladies weekly. I love how we can be vulnerable with each other. I love how we can encourage and pray for each other. I especially love how God moves us to apply our faith to our life situations.

 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. I Peter 3: 8-9

My friends and I were studying I & II Peter and spent a fair amount of time on these two verses. It was easy to apply them to work and family situations. When we are in the middle of a sympathetic, like-minded relationship, we feel not only joy but comfort, safety, and security. 

Likewise, when confronted with evil or insult, we quickly realize that our sense of security has dissipated; we instantly feel alone. For me, this kind of situation brings on a sense of panic. I don’t necessarily panic because I experience with evil. I panic because I don’t know how to respond with effective emotions. I don’t know what to do. I default to the horribly misguided notion that this is a problem for me to fix.

I panic because when I face evil actions, I lose trust in God.

The casual reading of these verses leads me to think of evil in more abstract terms. We see evidence of evil every day in hungry children, parents struggling to raise a family under dangerous conditions, people needlessly sick because of lack of access to healthcare, political goals that reduce entire populations to something less than human. We see evidence of unnatural death, violence, oppression, and we thank God that it is not a part of our story. 

As long as these things aren’t happening to me, I can trust in God.

We identify evil when people we love suffer, and that makes evil a little bit less abstract. We see evil when loved ones suffer from illness, when marriages fall apart, or when children walk away from their faith. Hopefully, these examples of evil draw us to God in prayer and to our loved ones with the offer of care. 

It’s harder to trust when evil comes closer to us, but prayer and care are comfortable answers to our need to fix things.

But, how do we respond when evil attacks us personally? What if evil actions hurt? What if we are stunned when a situation blows up when assumptions lead to gossip, and gossip leads to retaliation with no recourse or defense? What about when evil causes a relationship to shatter – even when you were trying hard to develop and protect that relationship? When this kind of evil happens, comfort and security are replaced with panic. Can God really protect me when someone hurts me? 

It sounds kinda silly when I put it that way.

I suppose it is the difference between being protected from hurt and being protected from the impact of hurt. We don’t want pain in our life, and God’s answer to the request of a pain-free life is to produce character and growth instead. It’s a great response to evil, but not what we want. 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. I Peter 1:6-7

Really God? Seriously?

Wouldn’t it be easier to give me genuine faith without all of the refining? Given that evil impacts relationships and ministry, wouldn’t it be a better plan to prevent it? I mean, aren’t relationships and ministry of primary importance here? 

The simple answer is “no.” Indeed, God blesses our relationships, and He is pleased to allow us to do ministry, but every inch of the Bible tells us that the primary importance is Salvation. The most important relationship is His relationship with us. The most important ministry is what Jesus did for each of us. Salvation is the relationship that makes everything else have importance. Genuine, refined faith is a part of what is essential because it connects us to Salvation.

I have some serious problems with this line of thinking when evil happens to me personally when evil causes me to hurt. And, when evil destroys a relationship and negatively impacts my ability to do ministry. The world tells me to be assertive and to stand up for myself. The world says we invite more abuse unless we respond with strength. 

But we can’t fix it. Furthermore, we know it will happen again. This is the nature of evil, is it not? This nature is the veritable description of being sinners in a sinful world. Some of the evil we fear originates with us. What response would make a difference to you? If people engage in the reciprocal slinging of evil what stops the momentum? 

The answer is grace. We are to respond with blessing a person in a way that they need but do not deserve.

 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. I Peter 3:9

 Grace is behind any real change. For us, grace begins by repaying evil with blessing.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. I Peter4:8

This past week my lovely group of ladies discussed this verse. How do we love someone who impacts our relationship with evil? How do we cover sin with love? Is love enough to forgive sins?

The answer, again, is grace, beautiful, undeserved, hard-to-believe grace. 

We cannot fight evil, especially when we are standing in the middle of it and participating in the process. Sometimes it is tough to forgive when we experience hurt when relationships fall apart, and when ministry stumbles as a result. It is oh so very hard.

But, God asks us to bless. He asks us to love in a way that covers sin. He asks us to trust Him that He knows what is important and what good can come out of pain and brokenness. 

May it be true that when God helps us to respond to evil with blessing the blessing that results will belong to us, too. 

Weary Joy: The Caregiver's Journey  

by Kim Marxhausen

and Amazon