The Thought Train

Have you ever said, “Wow, what was I thinking?” You know the routine. You’re in the middle of a personal rock slide or organizational crash and wonder, “How’d I get here?” Well, since transporters only exist in science fiction, we can retrace our steps and get an idea. At that point we have to choose what to do next; learn from it, or simply keep going…bound to repeat the process.

Part of growing as a disciple of Christ is becoming like Him. Over the years, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and often wondered why. Of course, one reason is because I’m still in a fleshly body and far from perfect, but the other is best described by something Chip Ingram wrote in his book Good to Great in God’s Eyes. Look at this brief excerpt:    

“Picture a train if you will. The engine is our thinking, and it pulls the first car of emotions, then the car of behavior, and then the car of consequences. Good thoughts will influence our emotions for good, which in turn will influence our behavior and produce positive consequences. Negative thoughts have the same influence in the opposite direction. What we think will determine the course of our life.” – page 15

Now before you think I’ve been hit over head with some guru’s power-of-positive-thinking textbook, let me clarify. He’s talking about a biblical principle based on passages like this:

8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthymeditate on these things.”  – Phil. 4:8 NKJV

2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-His good, pleasing and perfect will.”Romans 12:2 TNIV

Meditating on such passages will directly affect daily life. Unlike eastern style meditation, which empties the mind, the Bible tells us to think deeply on scripture and be filled with the Holy Spirit (Psalm 119:15-16 & Eph. 5:18). Our thought life matters. It’s really that simple. I often talk to people who want their life to be different, but they’re not willing to think different.

In a recent discussion with some ministry leaders in our church, we identified several practical benefits to the right thinking:

  • Family Life – As the spiritual leader in our home, the right thinking positions me to see my role in the proper perspective. The weight of the responsibility is still there, but what I’m trying to be looks different. It’s not a performance measurement, it’s a character measurement.  
  • Goal Setting – In the process of reading, praying, and contemplating, the Holy Spirit can align my thinking with His. I must give up my way of thinking, and pray for His. It’s not complicated, but it does cost and the currency is self-centered, me-oriented pursuits.
  • Protection – The right thinking through Christ brings the peace of God (Phil. 4:7) which guards our hearts from the many pitfalls waiting for restless, anxious attitudes (Phil.4:7). When my mind is busy thinking on the right things, it’s not free to entertain the wrong things.

So I encourage you to find a few minutes today and pray for God’s leadership in your thinking…it sets the tone for everything else.

Below are printable Thought Train Worksheets for personal reflection or group discussion:

Click here for a version of the worksheet to the left (PDF format): http://bit.ly/NnZovA

Click here for a version including Phil. 4:8 (PDF format): http://bit.ly/N4Te8X

Click here for a version including Rom. 12:2 (PDF format): http://bit.ly/OOjjrs

When Jesus asks, “What do you wish?”

Describing my heart’s desire has changed over the years. As a kid it revolved around my dirt bike, baseball, or adventure. As a young adult, it shifted to marriage, family and career. Studying Matthew 20 recently prompted a fresh look at the question. Jesus asks in verse 21, “What do you wish?” Take a look:

20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” 22But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.”Matthew 20:20-22 NKJV

Before we’re too hard on James and John, let’s remember, they were part of the inner circle along with Peter, invited to witness the magnificent transfiguration earlier. So to them this thing was headed in a direction needing some hierarchy. I probably would have fell into the same thinking. At this point, Jesus steps in and provides job descriptions for Kingdom workers. As a matter of fact, He did several times. So, on one side I have my hopes and dreams…on the other I have what Jesus described as worthy pursuits. Do they match?

Let’s look at three pictures He painted:

The Cross

In Matthew 16:23 (in response to Peter’s urging that Christ would not be killed) He says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” The cross was not yet a religious symbol. It represented painful death to powerless non-Roman citizens. In other words, shame was inextricably tied to the cross. It was a constant reminder that Rome was in charge. It was not uncommon when approaching a city to see people on crosses for various crimes and rebellion. What does that mean for us now? 

  • We give up our “rights”
  • We identify with Him
  • We choose to glory in Him alone
  • We let go of pride

The Life of a Servant

In Matthew 20:26 after the above conversation, Jesus goes on to say, …whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. The Greek word Matthew used was “diakonos” (the word we get deacon from). As a servant I should aspire to serve. Jesus not only said it, but He modeled it. So what does that mean practically? 

  • It’s considering others better than myself
  • It’s less interest in power & position
  • It’s giving up the pursuit of worldly wealth

The Position of a Steward

Jesus also gives us a contrasting picture in Luke 12 of faithful and unfaithful stewards. In the overall discourse He talks about a different mindset than the world. He said to avoid hypocrisy, worry, trust in wealth, and fear of men. Then He went on to describe the faithful steward (verses 35-48). One who knows his position and thrives in it. The faithful steward is: 

  • Ready for what each day may bring (girded v.35)
  • Anticipating the Masters return (v.37)
  • Diligent in daily tasks (lamps burning v.35)
  • Willing to follow the Master’s plan (v.47)

So, do our dreams match? That’s a tough question. I can honestly say, I’m praying that mine do, but at the same time I confess to being a little fearful while praying. However, it’s what we must pray. As a follower of Christ, I have been charged to do so, and in His strength I can (Phil. 4:13, Gal. 2:20)!

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

Series: Questions of Jesus – Lesson IX

Divorcing “Gay” from “Marriage”

Kirk Cameron is drawing fierce criticism for his statements concerning “Gay Marriage” during a Piers Morgan interview on CNN. He said, “Marriage was defined by God a long time ago…and it was defined in the garden between Adam and Eve.” Of course, all of the expected insults are being hurled at him for being “intolerant” and “out-of-step with the culture”.

There is much debate about it, but it’s really not a complicated issue, because the term “Gay Marriage” is an oxymoron…like trying to discuss “dry water”. To let it be framed as a right or wrong question is to agree with the premise that it’s an equal option. It’s not. Kirk was right, we don’t have the privilege to define marriage, God does. He made us “male and female” (Genesis 2:27), and He also pronounced; “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24).

As a Christian, you may be thinking, “OK, I get that, but how do I share it and demonstrate the love of Christ too?” I’ve found it helpful to focus on the clear picture described in God’s Word, instead of what it isn’t. In other words, the main point is the beautiful picture of what it can be. God formed Eve specifically to complete Adam. A man and woman fit together in every way. Physically, emotionally, and psychologically, God designed us to compliment each other. It doesn’t take much observation to see how boys and girls are wired different. We augment each other’s weaknesses, and keep one another’s extremes in check. What an amazing process to see two lives merge together into something greater than the sum of two parts.

At the end of the day, the gift of Biblical marriage is far superior to any counterfeit models. Whether it’s same-sex arrangements or “open marriages”, the proven historical value of a traditional home trumps all others. It’s not always easy, but it’s still the best, and worth defending. Thanks Kirk for speaking the truth.

The Christian SWOT Diagram

The original S-W-O-T analysis has been used for years by organizations to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Credited to Albert Humphrey, it’s a great tool for assessment and planning.

As followers of Christ, we can personally benefit too from identifying these four areas in our life. Through personal inventory, reflection, and/or group discussion, we can discover what the Bible teaches. There are many verses applicable for each section, but I’ve limited mine to four in each. Here’s what a personal grid may look like (click to enlarge):

 

 The four sections are:

Strengths

I Corinthians 1:4-9, Philippians 1:6, Galatians 2:20, Hebrews 4:14

What are they? How do we maximize them?

Weaknesses (Internal)

James 1:12-18, Matthew 26:41, I Corinthians 3:1-3, Galatians 4:8-9

What are they? How do we minimize them?

Opportunities

Matthew 9:35-38, II Corinthians 5:17-21, Matthew 28:16-20, Hebrews 12:1-2

What are they? How do we capitalize on them?

Threats (External)

Ephesians 6:10-18, I John 2:15-17, Galatians 1:6-10, II Corinthians 11:2-4

What are they? How do we reduce them?

One last note, it’s important to answer the second part. Just like in business, listing the “what” is only valuable when we complete the next step by answering the “how”. How do we maximize…minimize…capitalize and reduce? I encourage you to give it a try and let me know what you think. Below is a black & white version for easy printing:

-ADDITIONAL RESOURCES-

Click here for sample grid (color PDF version):

http://bit.ly/QLephM

Click here for sample grid (black & white PDF version):

http://bit.ly/MuWHrk

“The Thought Train” is another group discussion/personal reflection tool that may be of interest. Click here to read about it: http://bit.ly/OLYrhK

Here’s a fantastic book for personal development or those in your organization:

0801014271

“Good to Great in God’s Eyes” by Chip Ingram – Click here for more info at Amazon

Updated 1/21/13

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