WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT?

Most of us have at times when we seem to be daydreaming been asked the question, “What are you thinking about?” A common answer is “nothing,” but my sense is that thinking about nothing is probably rare.

I just finished a book by Hannah Anderson entitled ALL THAT’S GOOD: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment. While she does write about discernment, six of the eleven chapters are about the six things the Apostle Paul suggests Christians should think about 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” (NIV).

The New Living Translation renders Paul’s challenge “Fix your thoughts and think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” In the Message Eugene Peterson paraphrases, “you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on . . . the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not to curse.”

Comparing these three translations gives us insight into the six specific areas Paul encourages us to focus on: what is true, what is noble (honorable), what is right (reputable), what is pure (authentic), what is lovely (compelling), and what is admirable (gracious).

Here are a few selections from Hannah Anderson’s explanations of things we are to think about: “honorable carries the idea that something has weight or gravity” (p. 81), “something is just (or right) when if fulfills what it is supposed to do” (p. 97), “being pure is the condition of being whole and untainted” (p. 114), “to describe something as lovely is to describe both the thing itself as well as the response it produces in us” (p. 128), and “seeking whatever is commendable means giving attention to both what we talk about and how we talk about it” (p.141).

The importance of what we think about should not be understated. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Apostle Paul gives us six suggestions for what we should consider and focus on.  If as believers we give much thought to the opposite of these six, let’s be challenged to replace them with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

To conclude this post I share Hannah Anderson’s observation: “discernment simply means developing a taste for what is good” (p.13). Perhaps we need to work on being more discerning about what we think about and fully enjoy what we do think about.

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SOME THOUGHTS ON FRIENDSHIPS

Two weeks ago I learned that one of my childhood friends died and I wrote a blog about him to honor him. I concluded my thoughts about Bruce Edgecomb and another childhood friend, Charlie Bailey who passed away a couple of years earlier, with the closing line of the narrator in the movie Stand by Me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12.”

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about friends and friendships. I’m now 70 and agree with the narrator that neither have I had any friends later on like Chuck and Bruce. That is not to suggest, however, that I have not had close, supportive, fun, caring, and wonderful friends.

Somewhat surprising to me in thinking back is the number of friends I had who were older than me during my years in youth ministry. Most of them (called youth sponsors in those days) contributed in vital ways to our youth ministry and we became friends. What is also meaningful to me is the number of friends I have had and still have from among those young people who were participants in our youth ministry.

I was privileged to serve as the preaching pastor of two churches following my five years as a youth pastor. I served 10 years as the minister of a small congregation in the Philadelphia area from 1975 to 1984. My best and most helpful friends during my tenure there were men who were older and more mature than me who invested in my life by supporting me, advising me, challenging me, and loving me.

At the age of 33 our family moved to Southern California where we planted a church in a rapidly growing area of mostly young families. Jan and I stayed there for 30 years until we thought it was time to step down and move to Texas to be closer to our children and grandchildren.

One of the most difficult things about stepping down from Discovery Christian Church after 30 years and moving to Texas was leaving the many friends we had made and with whom we had shared life. It has not been easy to keep in touch, but we have remained in contact with several and quite a few have visited us in Amarillo.

The past four years we have become involved with a church and I am elated to have a part time position as Pastor of Senior Adult Ministry. Jan and I are certainly loved and appreciated, but we have not yet cultivated many friendships as we are busy with our grandsons. I’m hoping to nurture some more meaningful friendships both giving and receiving as real friends do.

We all need friends, don’t we? Friends make a difference in our lives. No two friendships are exactly the same, and my sense is that’s the way it should be. The loss of a friend or a friendship can be painful. I thank God for my many friendships from growing up, during high school, while in college, in the churches I’ve served, and those with whom I have connected. Friends have enriched my life in many ways and I hope that as a friend I have also enriched their lives in many ways as well. Sometimes I think back over the years and become nostalgic remembering those friends and the times we shared.

Friends and friendships are a gift from God.

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BURDENS AND CARES

I’m not sure what the difference is between a burden and a care, but I’m pretty sure over the past few weeks cares and burdens have been piling up on a lot of us. Some of them are heavier than others; but light or heavy, burdens and cares impact us and weigh us down.

Think about some of the different issues and problems people of all stations of life are facing. As a nation we continue to deal with the Covid pandemic, the situation in Afghanistan, and political problems from local through national happenings. And as families and individuals we are dealing with a variety of challenges.

The last couple of weeks I have noted more and more stress and anxiety in my life as I interact with others as well as watch and read the news. As unsettling as it is, for some reason I continue to follow the news and lament much of what I see and read.

Earlier today I was thinking about all of this and a couple of words came to mind that give me some direction of what I might do. I remembered Bible usage of the words cares (sometimes a verb and sometimes a noun) and burdens.

I am encouraged by Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I am also affirmed by two similar verses:

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).

I am also challenged by Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It seems to me also that as we put the Apostle Paul’s instruction into practice we will be blessed.

The Bible does not promise that children of God and followers of Jesus will live care and burden free lives – we know that from our own experience. Yet there is some comfort in being reminded that God cares for us and we can cast our cares on him.

We might also keep in mind Solomon’s encouragement that we “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

I like Dane Ortlund’s question and answer, “What does it really mean to trust God? To trust God means to live your life as if God actually exists and is who he says he is.” That is something for us to keep in mind as we deal with our burdens and cares.

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SAD NEWS, SHEDDING TEARS, AND REGRETS

Earlier today I received news that my best friend growing up in our grade school and junior high years passed away. Bruce and I lived across the street from each other and played together pretty much every day.

There was a vacant lot next to Bruce’s house that his family owned. We played all kinds of baseball and football games in that lot. We also slept out often in the summer among the trees at the back of the yard. During the summer we went on long bicycle rides that if our parents knew how far we went we would have lost our bicycle privileges.

Bruce and his family had a couple of horses kept some 20 minutes away and I remember his mom regularly taking us to the barn to feed the horses. I wasn’t as interested in horses as Bruce and his family were, but I went with them often. I only remember riding one of the horses one time.

During winter and rainy days Bruce and I were always in his house doing both things we were allowed to do as well as some that his parents would not have approved. Bruce’s parents and grandma welcomed and treated me like I was also their son.

After high school Bruce and I had very little contact, but we were always glad to see each other when I was home for holidays. As time passed we lost all contact as we each went our separate ways establishing our own families away from where we grew up in Springdale.

When I got the news of his death today I was on the golf course and could not hold back my tears. Very little was said, but my golf partners seemed to understand the depth of my loss. When I got home and told my wife my tears flowed more freely than on the golf course. Jan had met Bruce several times and at least knew him.

Even though I haven’t seen Bruce in person for some time, I have seen notifications and pictures he posted from time to time on Facebook. I regret not commenting and communicating with him more on Facebook. Most of all I regret not finding and visiting with him when Jan and went back for my 50th high school reunion in 2019.

Bruce is the second of my best childhood friends in Springdale, Ohio, who have passed on. Chuck Bailey was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2019. And now my friend who lived across the street all those years of growing up is also gone.

I agree with the closing line of the narrator in the movie Stand by Me – “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12.” Both Bruce Edgecomb and Charlie Bailey were great friends of mine during grade school, junior school, and high school. I am thankful for them and hope they are honored by my appreciation for them.

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WHY READ THE BIBLE?

Different people have a variety of reasons for reading the Bible. The same is no doubt also true for those who do not read the Bible. Some have no interest in the Bible and others have a great deal of interest. While they all do not follow the same practice, most Christians have at least some interest in reading the Bible.

I recently finished a new book that not only reinforced a lot of what I already believed about the Bible, but also reminded me why believers benefit so much from reading it. The title of author Michael F. Bird’s latest book for the Christian community is SEVEN THINGS I WISH CHRISTIANS KNEW ABOUT THE BIBLE.

On the surface the title may seem a little pompous and demeaning, but the content is informative and instructive for those who have been Christians for a long time as well as newer Christians and all those in between. The book is neither overly academic nor overly simplistic.

While I enjoyed all seven of the chapters and appreciated the content, I was most struck by three affirmations Bird made in chapter 6 about “The Purpose of Scripture Is Knowledge, Faith, Love, and Hope.” His three observations on pp. 150 and 151 provide a great deal of encouragement and challenge for all of us when it comes to Bible reading:

“The purpose and power of Scripture are experienced in the discipline of immersing oneself daily into the mystery of God as he reveals himself in his word.”

“If we engage in consistent and wise readings of the Bible, individually and communally, then hopefully we will reap many of the benefits of marinating our minds in Scripture.”

“To put it briefly, I like to say that the purpose of Scripture is that God’s people would attain the knowledge of God, deepen their faith, abound in love for God and love for others, and enjoy the assurance of hope—these are things we get from Scripture!”

Those three statements Bird wrote rang my bell with regard to reminding believers why we should read the Bible.

I certainly don’t know what your practice is or isn’t when it comes to reading the Bible, but Bird gives us a lot to think about. If you are a regular reader of the Bible I affirm you and hope you find Bird’s observations meaningful. If you are not a regular reader of the Bible and think you might want to get started again or give it a try, I would suggest the Gospel of John as a good place to begin.   

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ON TRUST AND BEING TRUSTWORTHY

Yesterday and today I had a two day incident that was both somewhat embarrassing and also fulfilling. 

On my way home from golfing yesterday I went thru a drive-thru restaurant only to realize I didn’t have enough money to pay for my order. I had a gift card that I thought still had $4.62 on it, but my server informed me she could not get the card to work.

My order was already in the car and I had to tell her I had given her all the change I had. I was too embarrassed to tell her I had no money left because I had lost a few dollars to the other three guys with whom I had played golf.

I told her I was playing golf again tomorrow and would come through the drive-thru on my way home and pay off the $4.00 I owed. She told me she would be working and that would be fine. I promised her I would keep my word and that she could trust me.

As promised, after golf today I went to the drive-thru and when I was asked what I wanted I replied I was there to pay yesterday’s debt. I stayed in the line and when I got close to the window she came out and affirmed she remembered me and that I owed her $4. I gave her a $5 dollar bill and she went back inside.

When I pulled up to the window she gave me my $1 dollar bill change and I asked her if she was surprised that I had returned. Without thinking about it she assured me that she had not doubted from the beginning that I would return today.

Both yesterday and today I’ve been thinking about trust and being trustworthy. Even though she had no choice yesterday, I was honored that she trusted me. And I was pleased to have the opportunity to keep my word and show myself to be trustworthy.

One dictionary definition of trustworthy is “able to be relied on as honest or truthful.” Some selected antonyms of trustworthy are undependable, unreliable, false, and unfaithful. This two day incident is nothing that I am ashamed of or anything I am boastful or proud of. Had I not had the gift card I wouldn’t have gone into the drive-thru, but once I had the food and the card didn’t work I knew the right thing to do was to return with the $4.

It’s not always easy to trust someone, especially when they have not been trustworthy in the past. On the other hand, when someone has shown themselves to be trustworthy it is easy to trust them.

All of us will have to decide in specific situations if we are going to trust someone or not, but hopefully all of us will be committed to showing ourselves as someone who is trustworthy and can be trusted. In Luke 16:10 Jesus made an important observation about this subject: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

What is most important for Christians is our faith and trust in our Heavenly Father and Lord and Savior Jesus.

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AN ASPECT OF PRAYER TO CONSIDER

Through the years I’ve read a lot about prayer and have written several blogs about prayer the last few years. This past week I came across an aspect of prayer that was new to me and got my attention. I’m planning to include this aspect in my practice of prayer and I encourage you to give it some consideration yourself.

In his book The Art of Prayer author Timothy Jones entitles his next to last chapter (15) “Letting Go.” Jones uses the same designation others do calling this new aspect of prayer for me “The Prayer of Relinquishment.” Jones tells his readers he has found the prayer of relinquishment “to be an essential part of the spiritual life” (p. 184). I’m a rookie when it comes to this aspect of prayer, but after reading Jones’ chapter and what others have written about the practice I’m thinking Jones is probably right.

One of Jones’ most powerful observations is obvious to most Christians, but is something many of us may need to be reminded of. He explains, “Relinquishment begins with acknowledging that much in life lies beyond our control” (p. 185). Most of us know from our own experience that Jones is right.

As I looked at some search results of the prayer of relinquishment I came across a twofold observation with which I partially agreed and I partially disagreed: “When you relinquish everything, you stop commanding and demanding God to do things for you. God will be silent until you turn everything over to Him and allow Him to handle your situation His way.”

Jones gives us some important direction when he suggests, “Our prayers of relief and acceptance need not be elaborate. We need not worry much about the words. More than anything, a prayer of letting go means coming into God’s presence with our agendas quieted. It means reverently opening our lives and hearts to a God of infinite possibilities” (p. 191).

More than one writer I read on the subject suggested “The ‘prayer of relinquishment’ is the prayer of surrender.” My sense is that surrender does not mean we give up, but rather that we submit to God’s will and God’s way. The challenge of course is accepting God’s way and will because of our faith and trust in Him.

Clearly the Bible teaches we are to go to our Heavenly Father in prayer with our requests. However, not every request we make is granted. I like Jones’ report that a friend of his came to the realization that sometimes rather than telling God what she wanted, she needed to ask God what he wants (p. 187). That seems to me something you and I might consider as well.

One perceptive commentator pointed out “There is the example of the prayer [of relinquishment] Jesus prayed in the garden: “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:41‑42).

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ARE WE ALMOST THERE?

Most of us probably remember traveling by car with our family when we were children and asking our parents, “Are we almost there?” We were not only looking forward to getting to where we were going, but also were tired of riding, hungry, and needed to use the restroom. Our question was both an expression of anticipation as well as notification that we were getting tired.

I think a lot of us who have been Christians for some time periodically ask ourselves, “Am I almost there?” That question reminds us that living the Christian life is a journey in which we make progress and look forward to eventually arriving at our destination.

From time to time I am reminded that after all the years I have been traveling the journey of a Christian, I am not there yet—as a matter of fact, I am not even almost there. When I realize I have said or done something I should not have done or said I am reminded that I am not there yet, or even almost there. The same is true when I realize I have not done or said something that I should have said or done. I like to warn believers that the Christian life is a dynamic life in which no one can say in this life “I have arrived.”

There are a variety of texts in the New Testament that reinforce the premise that the Christian life is a journey of progress in which Christians become more and more the person God has called us to be. Two of my favorites are from the best known apostles Paul and Peter.

In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul reminds his readers that he has not arrived at his goal, but that he is pressing on. He tells these Christians (as well as us) that he is forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. He is pressing on toward the goal.

In II Peter 1:3-9 Peter reminds his readers that God has given us everything we need for a godly life. In verses 5-9 he challenges them (and us), “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”

These two passages give us a lot to think about as well as challenge and encourage us. The reality is that we are not there yet or even almost there, but hopefully we are continuing to make progress. One final thought: we are not loved, forgiven, or saved because of our progress. We make progress because we are saved, forgiven, and loved.

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HOW CAN WE CULTIVATE THE FRUIT OF LOVE?

A few weeks ago my Sunday Bible class unanimously agreed that we would study “The Fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5:22 and 23. After a general introduction to the context and the nine fruit Paul lists we moved to the first quality.

Probably no one is surprised that the fruit of Love is first in the Apostle Paul’s list of the nine fruits God wants and expects will be produced with the help of the Holy Spirit in Christians. In his book Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit author Christopher Wright observes, “In putting love first, Paul is echoing Jesus.” You probably remember Jesus’ response to the question about the greatest commandment that it is to completely love God. And he went on to say the second one is “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40).

While I sat in our worship service before our class on love I began to wonder why many Christians are not more loving. Why aren’t we giving more attention to cultivating the fruit of love for others? As our pastor wrapped up his sermon four things came to mind that struck me as possible reasons why some of us are not more loving. I pulled an offering envelope from the pew and jotted down the four reasons.

As I made my way to our classroom I thought about the reasons I jotted down and realized the four were two pairs that are related. I think some of us don’t cultivate the fruit of love because we take others for granted and are perhaps even selfish. Others of us aren’t giving attention to cultivating the fruit of love because we are disengaged and aloof.

I was not totally sure of the meaning of the four things I mentioned that get in the way of cultivating love for others and so I looked up some definitions. To take others for granted “means to take advantage of, show no appreciation for, or undervalue them.” To be selfish is to be “concerned excessively or exclusively for oneself.” To be disengaged it to “release or detach oneself (withdraw).” Finally, to be “aloof is not to be friendly or forthcoming, but rather to be cool and distant.”

Is it possible that because some are selfish and take some people for granted that the fruit of love is not growing? And could it be that because some are aloof and don’t want to be engaged with some that the fruit of love is not growing? There are many reasons we could give for not being more loving. It seems to me that we need to be aware and careful as we consider how to express and show love to others.

While we may wish it were automatic that as Christians we would produce the fruit of love, we know it isn’t. To produce the fruit of the Spirit we need to invite the Holy Spirit to help us and cooperate with Him as He helps us grow and mature in all the fruits. Perhaps a beginning point is to remind ourselves that Jesus instructed his followers to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

I think we all know people who are easy to love and others who are hard to love, but that does not exempt us from loving them. As we make the effort to grow in our love for others we must be wise. We also need to be on guard and not allow those we love to become dependent upon us as that would not be healthy for them or us.

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FREEDOM IN CHRIST

Rather than write a blog from my sermon this past Sunday (July 4th) I thought some readers might enjoy listening to and watching it. Here’s the link if you are interested in listening, feel free to delete if you are not.

https://wacconline.org/media/freedom-in-christ-bob-mink

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