Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

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HOW OUR THOUGHTS HOLD US CAPTIVE

I was recently troubled by some things at my job. (Who isn’t, right?) Untruths being spoken and shared. Judgment being questioned. It happens. But it bothered me more than usual. I kept replaying the scenes and the words in my head. The more it repeated in my mind, the more worked up I got. It drove me kinda crazy actually. I was trying to let it go, but it just wasn’t working. The more I thought, the more I was ready to put the hammer down on everyone involved!

Because I felt like my thoughts were consuming me, I literally had to tell myself out loud, “Okay…stop thinking about that. Just stop! Be done! Let it go!”

And in my mind, I’m sure the scenes I recreated over and over again, got a little more intense and a little further from the truth each time. My reactions were probably overreactions. It happens.

I recalled the verse from 2 Corinthians 10:5 “…take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (I do love when God’s Word pops up in our minds at the right time and in the right space.) This one was timely for me. In all reality, however, we probably take it a bit out of context from what the Apostle Paul was talking about in the passage. But the application of this verse certainly doesn’t lead us astray.

So, as I was replaying these scenes and words from work in my head, and this verse was brought to my mind, I decided to look it up in the Message Translation. Check this out…“fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” 

Hmm…

Loose thought…

Emotion…

Impulse…

Yep, those three things described exactly what was happening to me as I churned over and over the events from work. Ugh! My thoughts of anger, irritation, uneasiness, indignation, being undermined, etc. All of them fit right into that verse.

metal-structure

But Paul encourages us to fit those things–our loose thoughts, our emotions, our impulses–into the “structure of life shaped by Jesus.” I love that phrase! I had to quickly measure my consuming thoughts, emotions, and impulses against the “structure of life shaped by Jesus.” Structure of life…shaped by Jesus. (Let that phrase marinate for a while…)

Jesus who said:

  • “Don’t worry.”
  • “Take heart.”
  • “Have faith.”
  • “Follow Me.”
  • “Trust Me.”

The scenes I created in my mind didn’t fit with the “structure of life shaped by Jesus.” Not even close!

Here’s the thing…the words and actions of others can, in a way, hold us in bondage. By dwelling on them over and over again, they can enslave us. But Paul exhorts us to “take captive every thought” we have. The Greek word there actually means to “lead away captive.” So in essence, we are to bind, gag, and lead these unproductive, acetic thoughts away from us. Rather than be held captive by our thoughts, we are to take them captive. And we have the powerful God-tools to do so. It’s just a matter of recalling them, grabbing them, and putting them to use. Not necessarily a walk in the park to accomplish, but available and powerful.

That’s how I’d describe our great big God!

WHY I SHOT JESUS IN THE HEAD

I accidentally shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer. I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened.

We have new hand sanitizers everywhere at work. The ones you mount on the wall. And they squirt out purifying, decontaminating foam. I don’t like the foam. I prefer the goo. In my expert hand sanitizing opinion, the goo does a better job of fully cleansing each and every part of my hands. The foam, on the other hand, seems like it evaporates into nothingness as I attempt to spread it around. To each her own, I suppose.

I digress…

Back to Jesus…

I didn’t want to get rid of the monster-sized goo pump sanitizer we previously had, so I moved it over on top of the piano. I don’t know if you have a gallon jug of hand sanitizer goo on top of your piano or not, but we do. Hand sanitizer on one end…Jesus bust on the other. The Jesus bust is a whole other issue, but for now I’ll let that one go.

Because I have quite a bit of physical contact with elderly people at my job, I feel the need to either wash my hands a lot or at least sanitize them. (I hope that doesn’t sound too weird or rude.) So I headed over to the piano, passing up not one but two foam sanitizers, so I could fill my hands with the goo. One pump usually does it for me, but if I’ve touched several “yucky” people—I’m just keeping it real, y’all—I’ll go for two.

So, one hand on the pump apparatus, one hand down below to catch all the disinfecting, sterilizing goo. Apparently because of the angle of the dried-on goo from its previous use, instead of squirting downward as gravity might have it, it shot out sideways…three feet to the left…right onto Jesus’ head. Bless Him!

For a hot second I was confused because my hand was not filled with the goo. But then I laughed. Out loud. Hard. Because I just shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer. This was funny to me. And oh-so-ironic. Here I was, standing over the purifying goo and Jesus. Jesus now having cleansing goo running down from the crown of His head, over His face. Jesus being cleansed. Purified. Yeah…AS IF!

This is the irony.

Jesus isn’t in need of cleansing. I am. Jesus isn’t in need of purifying. I am. And it takes a whole lot more than a monster-sized jug of hand sanitizer to disinfect, and sterilize, and purify this sinful, unrighteous self of mine.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

I still chuckle each time I head over to the piano to get sanitized. I see the Jesus bust and am reminded that it’s all because of Him I can stand forgiven…cleansed…and purified.

Thanks be to God that He doesn’t get tired of me coming to Him for forgiveness. For a “do over.” For a clean, fresh start. That’s the kind of faithful God we have. And because He created humor, I’m sure He doesn’t mind that I shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer.

 

COME IN…WE ARE AWESOME!

I know a gal who talks about herself constantly. It’s weird. I’m not exaggerating, but in every conversation I have with her—and I see her a couple times a week—she tells me in an indirect way how awesome she is. She invites me in to different stories of her past (or present) greatness. In every conversation she tells me stories of how she was the only one in the group who knew the answer. She was the only one in the family who could calm the crying baby. She was the only one at her job who could find a solution. She was the only one who knew where to find the lost item. She was the only one with the best and brightest idea. She was the one who was the crowd favorite. She was the only one the mean dog didn’t bark at. She was the only one the shy cat paid attention to. She was the employee of the month more than anyone else. She was the volunteer of the year more than anyone else. Over and over again, she paints herself as the problem solver, rescuer, hero, solution guru, deliverer, and #1 everything to everyone else. She’s apparently awesome…just ask her.

Like I said, it’s weird.

To look at her, however, you’d think everything BUT. She doesn’t look like anything special. She doesn’t act like anything special. She’s not outspoken. She’s actually rather quiet. But give her a little time, and she’ll let you know in her own subtle way just how awesome she is.

Again, weird. Weird, but fairly common. I read an article lately that said in 60% of our conversations with others, we talk about ourselves. Sixty percent! That’s over half the time we spend talking to someone, it’s centered on US. Apparently WE are our favorite subject.

But, there’s something I’ve observed about people over the last several years. What’s really interesting to me is that those who tell you how awesome they are, usually aren’t. The ones who feel the need to brag about some area of their life, job, parenting, ministry, skill, or hobby, or talent, usually aren’t as great as they tell you they are. And there’s usually plenty of evidence stacked against them.

Come In...We Are AwesomeI went into the DMV a couple weeks ago to get our tags renewed. I got a number, sat down, and waited like the rest of the poor souls in there who wished they were anywhere else but there. Bored, I looked around at the “interesting” décor of the place. On the wall, I saw a sign I won’t soon forget. It looked like a homemade sign to tell the truth. But there it was in big, bold letters, “COME IN…WE are awesome!” I had to look at it again…and again. I smirked, shook my head, and took a picture. My guess is that if I spent the day surveying the customers at the DMV and asked them if they felt their experience was “awesome,” very few of them would say yes.

You see, if you have to tell someone how great you are, you’re usually hiding the fact that you really aren’t. You’re probably covering up your weaknesses, crying out for attention, fishing for compliments, or very, very arrogant. In my opinion, the tellers of their own greatness need to tell themselves to begin living out their own greatness—that way people would SEE greatness rather than just hear about it. I guess my Missouri roots come into play far too often in these situations, for I’d rather you “show me” how awesome you are than hear your own stories about it.

In this narcissistic age we live in, if those of us who like to talk about our greatness would actually go out and accomplish a fraction of it (without bragging later), wouldn’t the world be a tiny bit better?

If you wanna be great, that’s great. Go for it. But, let me give you some advice:  do more, talk less. Don’t just talk about it, be about it. Go be great in an honest, genuine, authentic, others-centered, servant-like, honorable, ethical, moral, humble, and upstanding way.

In the words of that great, and possibly arrogant, Apostle Paul, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…” (Romans 12:3).

So let’s sober up, y’all! Stop talking…and start doing!

CHRISTIANITY IS A CRUTCH

Gravity.

It’s a force that gives weight to objects. It’s sinking or falling. It’s heaviness or pressure. It’s that thing that causes objects on earth to fall straight down to the ground.

Reality.

It’s the state of things as they are or appear to be, rather than as one might wish them to be. It is that which exists. It’s actual. It’s that thing we experience, we see, we live.

Sometimes the gravity (the weightiness) of our reality (what we live) is overwhelming.

For me, I go through seasons of my life when I sense the gravity of my reality up close and personal. And truthfully, it is downright depressing. I struggle. The things I want to have happen don’t. The things I expect to happen don’t. The things I long for don’t surface. The things I work hard for bear no fruit. Joy comes few and far between. Struggle comes all too often. And that’s what I call the gravity of reality.

When the gravity of our reality gets heavy, weighs us down, seems unbearable, we all have different ways of dealing with it. Some ways are more admirable than others. Some of our solutions we’ll admit out loud, some we’ll keep hidden…very hidden. I can’t say that I have the perfect solutions every time. I can’t say that I respond in the most godly, positive, honorable ways either. But lately, I’ve been trying to respond to the gravity of my reality by breathing deep the self-talk of God’s Word.

For instance…

When the gravity of reality says, “No you can’t”—I will choose to say, “Yes I can.” (Philippians 4:13)

When the gravity of reality says, “This mountain is too big”—I will choose to say to this mountain, “Move from here to there.” (Matthew 17:20)

When the gravity of reality says, “You’re sinking in the pit”—I will choose to say, “No, my feet are on a rock, on a firm foundation.” (Psalm 40:2).

When the gravity of reality says, “Your future is bleak at best”—I will choose to say, “God plans to give me a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

When the gravity of reality says, “Give up, quit trying”—I will choose to say, “I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 62:6)

When the gravity of reality says, “You’re just stumbling around in the darkness with no real direction”—I will choose to say, “God’s Word will light my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

crutches

You know…some people have the idea that Christianity is just a crutch for those people who can’t handle the gravity of their reality. They think that Christianity is for the weak, the ones who aren’t strong enough to live life without some sort of crutch.

Well if this is the case, then I’ll take my crutch any day.

SLOW ME DOWN, LORD!

The following is a prayer written by Orin L. Crain in 1957. I happened upon it this week as I was glancing through a book at my in-laws. I’d say Mr. Crain thought rather profoundly in the 1950’s. In a crazy, mixed-up, warp-speed, lost world with all kinds of misplaced priorities, we all need a dose of what Mr. Crain prayed.

I would invite you to sit back, relax for a moment, and read his prayer slowly. Let it soak in. Let it permeate the busyness of your mind, heart, and soul. Read it, then pray it. Pray it, then believe it. Believe it, then live it.

“Slow me down, Lord!
Ease the pounding of my heart
By the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace
With a vision of the eternal reach of time.
Give me,
Amidst the confusion of my day,
The calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tensions of my nerves
With the soothing music of the singing streams
That live in my memory.
Help me to know
The magical restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art
Of taking minute vacations of slowing down
to look at a flower;
to chat with an old friend or make a new one;
to pat a stray dog;
to watch a spider build a web;
to smile at a child;
or to read a few lines from a good book.
Remind me each day
That the race is not always to the swift;
That there is more to life than increasing its speed.
Let me look upward
Into the branches of the towering oak
And know that it grew great and strong
Because it grew slowly and well.
Slow me down, Lord,
And inspire me to send my roots deep
Into the soil of life’s enduring values
That I may grow toward the stars
Of my greater destiny.”

Oh, that God would slow us all down…at least a little bit. 🙂

WHAT DO YOU SHARE “WITH JOYFUL URGENCY”?

Joyful urgency. Don’t you just love that phrase? Not just urgency, but joyful urgency. What in the world could be so thrilling that you would proclaim it with “joyful urgency”?

It snowed in Kansas City this week. Only briefly, but there were big flakes coming from the sky for about 20-30 minutes. It was kinda exciting. So I immediately texted my husband and shared this good news with him. Granted it wasn’t earth shattering. But it was exciting enough for me to want to immediately communicate it “with joyful urgency.” (I almost put it on Twitter, but since it wasn’t that thrilling, I stopped short of that international broadcast.)

Over Thanksgiving, a young couple I know got engaged. Now that’s exciting! So as soon as Kelsie texted me with the good news, I immediately shared it with my family “with joyful urgency.”

My oldest son told me “with joyful urgency” that there was over 1100 yards of total offense in the OSU Cowboys/OU Sooners game recently. Now that’s impressive.

So, what was the last thing you told someone “with joyful urgency”?

When Jesus called His 12 disciples together, He gave them a few brief instructions and sent them out in pairs. They hit the road and “preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different…” (Mark 6:12, MSG).

Did you catch that? They preached with “joyful urgency.” And what was it that they shared with people? That life can be radically different. And friends, this is exciting. This is good news. This is thrilling. Life doesn’t have to be meaningless. Life doesn’t have to feel like a constant dead-end. Life can be radically different. Notice…I didn’t say life can be perfect. I said life can be radically different. And the disciples couldn’t wait to share this truth with other folks.

Is this the kind of message we are sharing with others? And do we share it “with joyful urgency”? Or are we more apt to share the good news of snow, engagements, and football statistics?

I challenge you this week to share with someone “with joyful urgency” some of these exciting, life-changing truths:

  • For God so loved (insert their name), that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
  • Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
  • For in Him we live and move and have our being… (Acts 17:28)

Life can be radically different. For some, life needs to be radically different. But if we don’t share “with joyful urgency,” they just might never know…

AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE…

It hung in one of the spare bedrooms in my grandmother’s house. As kids, we thought it was sacred. It was old and fancy and I knew it meant a lot to my grandmother.

The story pasted on the back is this: Abraham Eitzen and Susana Isaac were married on August 30, 1856 and settled in the village of her parents in South Russia. In the early years of their married life, they (along with some others) became deeply aware of the superficiality of the spiritual lives of the members of the Mennonite church as it was at the time. Their observation was that those attending Sunday morning services seemingly “fulfilled” their entire Christian obligation and hardly embraced it in their every day activities. They began to sense there was something more. So this group of “seekers,” through Bible study, prayer, and the help of an evangelist, found new life in Jesus Christ. When they became fervent in their newly found faith, the church labeled them as fanatics. Susana’s father had no interest or patience with this new “movement” so he offered Abraham and Susana the best farm in the village if they would abandon this group. If they didn’t, the relationship between Susana and her parents would cease to exist. One could only imagine how difficult this decision was to make for this young couple. But their convictions could not be sold for a farm. They chose to zealously pursue their faith in Jesus Christ.

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

“Ich aber und mein haus, wollen dem Herrn deinen.” In English that means, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It’s taken from Joshua 24:15 which states, “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

I love this verse. I love this picture. I love the history attached with it. I love knowing that these ancestors of mine zealously chose to pursue their faith in Jesus Christ. I now know why it meant a lot to my grandmother.

It now hangs in my bedroom. And no…it’s not sacred, but it’s powerful. You see, I believe we all need to stand firm in our convictions about whom we will serve. Serving the Lord might be undesirable for some, but as Bob Dylan sang in 1979, “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” No matter what walk of life you’re from, no matter what race, age, social background, nationality, what name you’re called, where you work, etc., you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

So the question is: As for you and your house…whom will you serve?

WHO YOU GONNA CALL? (Weighing options when making decisions)

Remember the movie Ghostbusters? And the hit song that went with it?

“If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? If there’s something weird and it don’t look good, who you gonna call?”

When you’re in a predicament, what do you do? How do you make the “right” decision? More importantly, how do you figure out what God wants you to do in a given situation…especially when you’re on a short timeline?

Occasionally we find ourselves faced with the need to make a decision in a short period of time. We don’t have the luxury of waiting, praying, pouring over Scripture, weighing pros and cons, waiting some more, praying some more, and trying to hear from God. Sometimes we must act quickly. Ideally, we’d love to dial God directly (call, text, or email) and say, “Hey God, what do I do?” And ideally, we’d love for God to answer us immediately with said call, text, or email. But unfortunately, God doesn’t always work within our demands & time constraints.

Some decisions we need to make are too close to us and we can’t be objective. Decisions involving relationships or family members also involve emotions. We often get cloudy and foggy here and can’t think objectively to make right or clear decisions. Some decisions we face are just over our heads—beyond our skill or knowledge set. So in order to make wise decisions, in order to hear from God we need to get help from outsiders. We need to invite other people into our world.

But, here’s the thing…Where most people fail in the decision making process isn’t in seeking the counsel of others. We frequently ask for advice or wisdom from others. Where most of us fail, however, is who we seek it from and what we do with the advice we’re given.

I think any time we are in a predicament, when we need help, when we need to make a decision ASAP, I think there are 2 key questions we must ask:

QUESTION #1: WHO YOU GONNA CALL?

Answer #1: GODLY PEOPLE solid in their faith and knowledge of Scripture. Seek out people with the gifts of wisdom, discernment, and knowledge. It’s almost as if these people have their hand of the pulse of God Himself. The guidance they offer is laden with the fingerprints of God. Don’t walk, but run to meet with these folks.

Answer #2: GODLY PEOPLE willing to challenge your perspective. It’s important to understand that more often than not we will receive the kind of counsel we want to hear, not necessarily the kind of counsel we need to hear. Usually when we seek advice we often turn to friends and family who are like-minded and generally agree with whatever we say. We describe our situation in such a way (perhaps leaving out key facts or circumstances) that their only option is to agree with us. And heaven forbid they disagree with us or give an opposing view! But we have to be willing to not only accept, but embrace opposing views and different perspectives from our godly friends. God puts these people in our lives for a reason. It’s good to be challenged. It’s healthy to have people push back on our perspectives. As I said earlier, sometimes we lack objectivity because the decisions we need to make are too close and we get foggy or cloudy. It’s so valuable to see our situation in a different light. So seek people willing to challenge your perspective.

Answer #3: GODLY PEOPLE who are willing to walk with you. It isn’t very comforting to have folks in your life who say “Here’s my advice…see you later.” How much better it is to seek out people who will periodically check in with you and the decision you made. These folks are valuable because they will continue to offer counsel in a week, month, or year…perhaps even a lifetime!

QUESTION #2: WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HEAR?

Answer #1: Take it? Will you receive, seize, grab hold of, embrace, incorporate, welcome, and adopt their counsel?

Answer #2: Trash it? Will you completely ignore the wisdom, advice, and counsel given you? Will you lay aside the guidance that godly people have given you, thus diving headlong into what could be a selfishly driven, disastrous decision?

Ultimately, the decision does rest with you. It’s up to you how you will respond. But in closing, listen to the wise counsel of Scripture: 

  • “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15).
  • “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14).
  • “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but w/ many counselors they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).

So, in your next decision, predicament, dilemma, or quandary…Who you gonna call? And what will you do w/ what you hear?

“A wise man is he who listens to counsel.”

How do you go about making decisions? (Please share a thought or comment below…)

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