Think on These Things…

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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV via biblegateway.com)

Sometimes I have to ask if I have a “Hollywood Musical” kind of faith: the kind that breaks into song and dance in the face of trouble, and expects all of life’s problems to be solved by sheer optimism and a catchy tune. But life is full of real problems– ones that cannot be “solved” by putting on a determined smile and skipping down a Yellow Brick Road or twirling through the Alps. In fact, most of life’s problems are bigger and darker than my ability to sing or dance or even think away. I can’t sing away cancer. I can’t end injustice just by whistling a happy tune. I can’t dance my way through mass shootings, economic downturns, famines, or war.

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But I CAN choose my attitude– every day, no matter what my circumstances. I cannot ignore realities around me, but I can control HOW I view them: I can choose how much of my attention and energy I spend on negative things, and the perspective from which I view the world around me. Positive thinking won’t make problems disappear, but it will determine my response to circumstances– even unexpected ones.

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The Apostle Paul wrote of this to the church in Philippi. Paul himself was facing very difficult circumstances– imprisoned, awaiting a sentence of death, in poor health–circumstances that would cause most people to be depressed. But Paul was sending encouragement and hope and words of joy and peace to his friends.

Notice the difference, though, between the “power of positive thinking” espoused by Hollywood, and the Power of Faith that Paul practiced. Hollywood tells us to think of our “favorite” things–kittens and mittens and snowflakes and schnitzel. Such thoughts can bring us a temporary measure of comfort and reassurance, but they cannot give us the power to endure a constant onslaught of negative viewpoints and bad news. Paul, in contrast, asks us to think of higher and bigger things– GOD’S favorite things! And he gives us the imperative–this isn’t just a “helpful hint,” meant to make us feel better for a moment. This is a consistent practice; whether the sun shines and the birds sing, or the “dog barks” and the “bee stings.” And, though they are divided into two separate verses, there is a second part of the imperative–we are to put into practice what we have learned. We need to be positively active, as well. We need to BE true and noble and pure; we need to share and promote all that is lovely, admirable, and praise-worthy.

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Just thinking about “nice” things won’t change the world. Just thinking positive thoughts about ourselves or reciting positive thoughts to ourselves won’t necessarily lead to positive results. But training ourselves to think “above and beyond” our circumstances; to think about the positive ways we can respond to them; and preparing to actively pursue positive actions, no matter what– these steps put us in a position to be used by God to create positive change.

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Praying the attributes of God will automatically help us to think of all that is true and noble and pure– because God IS all that is true, and majestic, and holy. Remembering all that God has done– throughout history and in our own lives–will remind us how even small acts of faith can make a difference in a cold, dark world.

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And let’s not forget the end of verse 9– “And the God of peace will be with you.” Never forget the positive promise of God’s abiding presence in all of our circumstances. Not only will he give us joy and peace, he will give us the power to endure and prevail!

Author and Perfecter…

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

Hebrews 12:1-2 (The Amplified Bible, via biblegateway.com)
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My first job out of college was in an advertising/public relations firm. I was not a copywriter or an executive. I was a proofreader. It was not my job to write ad copy, or even edit it. But it was my job to see that the end product was perfect– no spelling or typographical errors, no missing punctuation or wrong spacing, no missing or “covered” text near the graphics.

Most publishers don’t use proofreaders anymore. In this age of spellcheck and computer grammar programs, they no longer feel the need to hire a person to do such a mundane job. And it wasn’t a thrilling job. It was boring and repetitive to look over the same copy several times to make corrections or to sign off on corrected copy. Sometimes, I would look at the same few lines of text five or six times–a misspelling here, a missed comma there, or a client wanted to change the word order or the font, so I had to check if the typography matched the written specifications, and if the font change made any difference in the spacing and word divisions at the ends of lines.

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There was one time that the job wasn’t mundane or boring. Somehow, a mistake got by me, and made it into the final product. It was a “small job,” one that I had looked at near the end of a busy day. I was distracted, and I signed off on it without giving it a thorough study. The client caught it, and brought it to my boss’s attention. Suddenly, my obscure little corner of the office was a hot spot. The initial mistake wasn’t mine, but because I had not caught it, the print run would have to be destroyed and a new print run ordered at the company’s expense– a $14,000 mistake! I was not fired, but I was given a chewing-out, and I lost my chance at a raise and a promotion.

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In Hebrews 12:2, we are told to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (emphasis added) Instead of fixing our eyes on imperfect text, or being distracted by what we see going on around us, we are to study the life and words of Jesus– to be “proofreaders” of His perfection. As we listen to, and read, and live out His words and follow His example, we will see– and become– “proof” of His wisdom and righteousness.

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Jesus is the author of our faith– not us. We cannot write our own story of obedience and faithfulness. We cannot live a perfect life; nor can we “perfect” the life we have already lived. We cannot undo our own mistakes; nor can we undo the wrongs that have been done to us. Jesus writes the story; Jesus, by His blood and power, edits our story.

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Jesus is also the perfecter of our faith– He gives us wisdom, and helps us build self-control, perseverance, goodness, patience, and love for others. He brings us through trials and sufferings, and allows us to see His faithfulness in the midst of even our worst pain. He not only saves us, He sanctifies us and transforms us. We can’t do any of this in our own power or strength of will.

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God doesn’t make mistakes. God never needs an editor. God sent His WORD to live among us– that is what we celebrate throughout this Advent season– God’s WORD is sufficient; it is perfect; it is true. And it is for ALL who believe!

Death Cannot Stop True Love

I’ve spent the past few days revisiting one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. The movie is based on a “fractured” fairy tale, written by William Goldman. In it, a spoiled young farm girl falls in love with a lowly farm hand. When he leaves to make his fortune, the girl promises to wait for his return. When word comes back that he has been killed, she swears that she will never love again, and becomes a pawn of a wicked prince.

** SPOILER ALERT**

Of course, her true love, Westley, has not been killed, and when he finally finds Buttercup, she has agreed to marry the wicked prince, who has had her kidnapped and plans to kill her. “Why didn’t you wait for me?, ” Westley asks. “Well..you were dead,” replies Buttercup. “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it a while, ” says the intrepid Westley, to which Buttercup replies, “I will never doubt again.”

In true fairy-tale fashion, Westley and Buttercup must face many obstacles, including all the dangers of the “fire swamp,”capture, torture, a fake marriage ceremony, and Westley being “mostly dead”– again– before they can have their happy ending. But in the end, “true love” wins over all trials and obstacles, and Westley and Buttercup “live happily ever after.”

We live in a post-modern age, where people tend to sneer at notions like fairy tales, true love, and “happily ever after.” We are more likely to echo the words of the bitter Dread Pirate Roberts, who tells Princess Buttercup that “life is pain, highness, and anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” Ironically, the Dread Pirate Roberts is really Westley in disguise. His life is filled with painful trials, and “inconceivable” obstacles, but he perseveres, and his “happily ever after” makes all that came before fade from memory. Because, in the end, death CANNOT stop true love. It may take a few miracles, and lots of patience, forgiveness, and faith, but true love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV)

God’s love is true– it is sure and enduring. God’s presence goes with us even into the valley of the shadow of death–even if the shadows and darkness block our sight; even if death seems sure to win. His rod and staff are not tools of torture and dread, but reminders that He is there to guide us, even if we cannot see His face in the gloom.

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Life is filled with pain–and Westley was right; anyone who tells you differently is selling you something. God doesn’t promise that our path will always be on smooth ground in sunny pastures. We may face separation from loved ones, flame spurts and quicksand, betrayal by friends, battles with giants, wicked rulers, even rodents of unusual size. But in each of these situations, we have God’s very presence to comfort us and help us endure to the end. And the “happily ever after?” It is eternal and glorious like nothing we have ever known or even imagined.

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Fairy tales are not real– but God’s word is. The very reason such tales and myths and legends endure is because they echo what we know to be true– Truth, and Love, and Justice, and Honor, and Hope, and Faith–they are eternally enduring and strong. We recognize the truth that “Death cannot stop true love– all it can do is delay it for a while.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A31-39&version=ESV

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