Let The Future In

Letting The Future In

“There is always one moment…when the door opens and lets the future in.”

Graham Green

Jesus had habits such as revealed in Mark 1:35:

“In the morning before the sun was up, Jesus went to a place where he could be alone. He prayed there.”

He opened the door to let the future in. God has set in you a future that is seeking to emerge.

At a lunchtime during one of our JourneyBend Weekends, a lady at our table talked about a family member whose life was out of control. She said, “I came to the realization that I couldn’t fix him, or bail him out one more time, or solve his problem and addiction. It’s up to him.”

She wasn’t giving up on him. We really can’t fix it for other people no matter how much we care or love them. And no one can fix it for us. God is in a want-to mood. Always. When we are ready to join Him in the healing and repairing, that commitment opens a door that lets the future in. The journey to that new future is through, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Every time I listen to the news, financial experts, politicians, or read about education and students, I realize everyone who is listening and paying attention has good reason to be anxious, depressed, distressed and at least a little out of control.

I do not understand why D. C. bureaucrats don’t call me more often to ask my opinion. I did conclude that if they are not going to benefit from my wisdom and strategies, I’m going to have to increase my anti-anxiety meds and get a grip on where the anxiety comes from and how to erect better mental-health self-care techniques.

You may have different presenting issues and symptoms. I decided I had (or have) four primary mismanaged mental pillars:

  • Anticipation
  • Expectations
  • Imagination
  • Memories

I connected with Romans 12:1-3 and the phrase, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Renewing meant I would have to redesign the way I think and react to those triggers.

It was up to me, and I committed to opening the door to a different mental future. Romans 12:1-2, I was convinced, was the template I was to use, and Holy Spirit wanted to be my director. I have used Dr. Mark Virkler’s “How to hear from God,” platform in other settings and adopted and adapted his teaching to my personal battle with anxiety. So, I established time and plans to talk this over with God.

You may have a platform that has been helpful for you. Please use whatever works for you, but I want you to know about this framework. It has four steps. Ready?

QUIET SETTING

Dr. Virkler and all the others I’ve read and heard instruct us to find a quiet place where we will be comfortable and relaxed. Place both feet squarely on the floor. Begin each session with deep breathing and an invitation to God to join you and to contribute. This is not a monologue; it is a conversation. I talk, You listen. Then You talk and I listen—and I ask questions.

I was reading a magazine interview featuring country music star Miranda Lambert. We went to one of her concerts at the Iowa State Fair and I’ve been interested in her career since—not so much her love life—but her opinions and career choices. The interviewer asked a question to which Ms. Lambert responded, “I’ve seen a lot of parking lots.” I identified.

One of the neat things while on the road is to see a tour bus sitting on a parking lot. Not many have the names painted on the side. It is fun to search for clues whose bus it might be.

I too have seen a lot of parking lots while waiting for my people to finish shopping or searching for supper. But parking lots have also been a place where I’ve been invited to hang out to read, think and pray.

For me, the setting is important. Just find a place where you are comfortable, feel safe and sense it is a place where Jesus would hang out. Just make sure to take pen and paper, a book to read, good coffee or a favorite soft drink.

Just this week I sensed God wanted to meet me at a big box parking lot. Carole asked me when I returned what she often does: “Was He there?” Oh! He was! He was!

My current favorite places to talk, think and read is Carole’s front porch and the lawn swing in the back yard.

The problem with quiet is the voices in our heads fill the quiet with racket—the inner critic, and looping narratives. We need healing for the wounds that gave a platform for the harassment or lies. Tell negative or dark spirits the truth and demand they be silent. Place boundaries—say out loud that only Holy Spirit is allowed, and He alone has permission to speak.

Some folks choose worship music as an advantageous benefit to the quiet. You do what is beneficial to your two-way conversation. Vocal music doesn’t work for me. I join in the singing or search for a harmony part and then move away from the purpose of the conversation.

ASK

You will ask Holy Spirit questions about Anticipation, Expectation, Imagination and Memories. Anxiety grows as we anticipate what may happen—“What if…?” Change the questions and assumptions. Change your mind’s rapid jump assumptions and you will defang anxiety.

Perhaps the barrier to this conversation will be about whether Holy Spirit even has this kind of chat or the raw information to reply.

“Oh Lord, if it is your will…Lord, if this is really your voice, please send three camels to walk through my living room…and then I’ll know for sure”

Jesus is always in the mood to talk, listen and say yes. In simplistic terms, to believe that is an act of faith. Jesus is not about scolding. He never says, “You can’t be serious!” He is for you. He wants the best for you; therefore, He will walk with you in this diagnosis and healing. He places visions and dreams and desires in us that we might act on them to glorify the Father. He wants us to be obedient, but if we don’t know what He is asking of us, how can we be obedient?

“Anyone who comes to Him must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

In 2006 we watched and heard Allison Porter sing “Blue Bayou” on Voice. Wow! To the 8th power! The judges remarked about her “most perfect pitch.” We learned this great singer is the child actress grown up who starred as Curley Sue in the movie by the same name. After years of abuse and addictions, she in 2006 was in her eighth year of sobriety. Mother of two and at that time in a good marriage. She was the winner of Voice 10th season. She said she is “thankful that the universe had given her this chance.” I am appreciative of her gratitude. If the impersonal universe wants what is good for us, how much more our personal savior wants the best for us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKKIHuieD8Q

We are asking for God’s input, wisdom, guidance. We will ask about voting, what product to bring to market, how to deal with difficult situations and people at work, what classes to take, how to invest money, what to do for a troubled child, a proper response to a hurting relative. It is the ask, seek, knock process. It is to bring every detail of life to the Lord. Here we are asking why anxiety affects and infects us the way it does and what are His suggested strategies.

Sometimes God will tell us we are asking the wrong question and He will help us to find the better questions.

Arthur Guinness prayed, “God, do something about the drunkenness on the streets.” The response seemed to be, “You do something about it! What could you do?”

“…the second Arthur Guinness was a man of deep faith. His father’s unswerving piety took root in his soul, where it merged with an evangelical fire.” That motivated asking God about business questions and decisions.

Guinness Beer was an answer to hard liquor, like gin, that was destroying their country.

Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about” (Jeremiah 33:3).

Remember we are seeking to renew our minds—change our inevitable automatic negative thinking. You might ask, “Why do I always anticipate the worst?” Or when you have a doctor’s appointment, “Why do I always anticipate this appointment will end in me going to the hospital? Or the doctor finding something terrible wrong with me?”

LISTEN

Virkler says immediately after asking the question, listen for the next words that come to your mind. God will answer questions in your spontaneous thoughts. Does the Bible speak directly to this? If God doesn’t send three camels to traipse through your living room, how else but through your normal thinking process will He speak to you? Holy Spirit will speak to your mind. Jot down shorthand notes. Do not dismiss any idea no matter how strange. It may lead to an answer.

In addition to the spontaneous words, listen or see the images and visions that come to your consciousness. (Apostle Paul asks God to “open the eyes of our hearts,” Ephesians 1:18-20).

It is in the “Listening” stage that all the voices you told to be quiet will attempt to get your attention, suggest reasons to question the “answers” or try to divert your thinking. Discernment is beneficial. Decree the boundaries and request Holy Spirit discernment.

Assume those initial spontaneous answers to your questions are a possibility. Pursue that possibility by asking friends or relatives who knew you during the period of your life when the event occurred if it connects or makes sense. In spite of what others say, you need to know your own perception. What do you feel about what you heard? You have been explaining your depression, anxiety and mental habits to yourself for a while. A legitimate and non-doubting question is, “What is different this time?”

When we seek God in this way, we are asking for a revelation, an insight. Since you will generally process the revelation through the same mind that vocalized earlier explanations, a second opinion would be helpful. Spiritual revelations are also sent to our spirit—from Spirit to spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 14:14)

Holy Spirit is not limited to giving you information about your past or inadequate responses. You will listen for an alternative way to respond to any triggers.

WRITE

The Bible base for this practice is Habakkuk 2:1-2.

Professional writers know and tell enquiring novices two things: One, the most important rule to get writing done is to habitually sit your butt on the chair in front of the word processor. Two, expect the first draft to be crappy. You are the primary audience for what you write. Edit what you have heard only to make it clear to you.

Holy Spirit wants to give you direction, guidance, correction, revelation and show you any barriers to His full blessing and fulfillment of your call and potential. He wants you to know His plan and how to attain the goals and dreams He planted in you. Jesus calls your product, “fruit that honors God.”

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Say it this way:        God has given us power, love and a sound mind.

Let’s do this!

©2022 D. Dean Benton

4 Keys to Hearing God’s Voice,  Mark Virkler, 2010 (Destiny Image)

Mind Mending-4

My youth was spent on a block of retail stores. A grocer that became a TV repair shop was on one corner next to a drug store that connected to Mom’s café which was under the same roof as Frank’s Shoe Shop. Next door was a lumber yard and then at the end of that block was a gas station/auto repair shop. That was my neighborhood. I hung out in those businesses listening to adult conversations, helping if I could and generally staying out of the way. Frank, the shoe man, wasn’t glad to have me. He thought I needed a second job walking beans or sweeping the street.

One day (I was 12-13) while walking across the driveway of the gas station I heard a conversation about a young employee whom I knew and admired. The owner of the gas station said, “He is a good worker, until he is corrected, or I try to teach him something new. He receives that as criticism—it’s like correction disqualifies him.”

Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., wrote Mindset—The New Psychology of Success, (Ballantine Books, 2016). She teaches there are two basic types of mindsets: Fixed Mindsets and Growth Mindsets. A “fixed mindset” is the foundation of the belief that we are born with abilities, talents, gifts. You either “got it” or you don’t. A “growth mindset” is a belief that abilities can be learned.

This explains my understanding of spiritual gifts. God plants desires and dreams in our spirits and assumes we will develop the embryo equipping abilities He gives through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes all we are aware is a passion and vision of a specific problem being met.

Dr. Caroline Leaf teaches in her book, Think, Learn, Succeed, about fifteen mindsets as Growth Mindsets. As an aside, here, all the writers I’ve been studying in relationship to mental health, anxiety, depression, burnout talk about mindsets and mindfulness as determining.

Dr. Dweck tells the story of Billy Beane who “…was a natural. Everyone agreed he was the next Babe Ruth.” He is the athlete about whom the movie Moneyball is written. He lacked one thing. The mindset of a champion.

“But the minute things went wrong, Beane searched for something to break. ‘It wasn’t merely that he didn’t like to fail; it was if he didn’t know how to fail.’

“As he moved up in baseball from the minor leagues to the majors, things got worse and worse. Each at-bat became a nightmare, another opportunity for humiliation, and with every botched at-bat, he went to pieces. As one scout said, ‘Billy was of the opinion that he should never make an out.’

“Did Beane try to fix his problems in constructive ways? No, of course not, because this is a story of a fixed mindset. Natural talent should not need help. Effort is for others, the less endowed. Natural talent does ask for help. It is an admission of weakness. In short, the natural does not analyze his deficiencies and coach or practice them away. The very idea of deficiencies is terrifying.

“Being so imbued with the fixed mindset, Beane was trapped. Trapped by his huge talent. Beane the player never recovered from the fixed mindset, but Beane the incredibly successful major-league executive did.

“There was another player who lived and played side by side with Beane in the minors and the majors, Lenny Dykstra. Dykstra did not have a fraction of Beane’s endowment of ‘natural ability,’ but Beane watched him in awe. As Beane later described, ‘He had no concept of failure…. And I was the opposite.’

“Beane continues, ‘I started to get a sense of what a baseball player was and I could see it wasn’t me. It was Lenny.’

“As he watched, listened, and mulled it over, it dawned on Beane that mindset was more important than talent. …scoring runs—the whole point of baseball—was more about process than talent.

“…as general manager of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, Beane led his team to a season of 103 victories—winning the division championship and almost breaking the American League record for consecutive wins. The team had the second-lowest payroll in baseball! They didn’t buy talent, they bought mindset.” (Mindset, Carol Dweck, Ballantine Books, 2016, Pages 82-83)

Lenny Dykstra keeps himself in the news with opinions and observations on politics and culture. I’ll let someone else explain that behavior. I loved to watch him play ball. When I think of him, it is usually a memory of him stealing second base or catching a fly in center field.

That gas station operator was on the money when he thought his employee felt disqualified when he didn’t know everything or that he didn’t get everything automatically correct.

When we renew our minds as directed in Romans 12:1-2, we exchange closed mindsets to growth mindsets; from toxic to healthy.

More about this in the next two Benton Blogs.

Thank you.

©2022 D. Dean Benton

Mind On The Mend

MIND  ON THE MEND

Chapter Three–3 of 5

“…be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Romans 12:2b

The first thing to learn about anxiety or panic or any raging emotion is that they come from within. We are the source. They do not fall on us like pollen or come invisibly attached to the mail. We produce them. Since they originate with us, they should be easily managed by us. For those who are not afflicted it may seem simple. They say, “Get over it! Stop it! Pull yourself together.” If we could, if we knew how, we would! Managing our own emotions is not so easy.

The admonition to renew your mind is not about expanding your intellect. Reading this through the filter of mental health it means to renovate the process that triggers toxic mind activity. “Transform” is a heavy-duty word. It is the word that is used to describe Jesus on the Mt. of Transfiguration.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports 90% of Gen Z experienced psychological or physical symptoms as a result of stress in the last year. Gen Z has been named the most anxious generation in history

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I am not a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. I am not licensed or trained to give mental or medical advice. I have studied emotions and taught from my research and personal experience and that is the platform I share with you. This series of blogs focus on the biblical teachings of Romans 12:1-2. I am a pastor/teacher with a vulnerability to anxiety. I’m sharing what I am learning, what I am experiencing and resources that are beneficial to me.

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A black and white-Water Spaniel dog came into our neighborhood. We saw that he was troubled, panicky, frantic, and not wanting to talk to us. He appeared to be lost or had been tossed. I knew almost immediately what he was feeling. He was feeling separation anxiety and feared he would not find his way home.

Not all kids suffer from separation-anxiety. One of the first fears for some young kids is that he or she will come home and mom and/or dad will not be there. Fear of abandonment. And then! What will I do?

Some of us carry agoraphobia. In our dark times, we feel best if we have our “safe person” with us so if we have a panic or anxiety attack or if we “lose control” that person will be there to drive us home or reassure us that we will be okay—“Don’t forget to breathe!”

What is the plan to renew your mind? If you want to embrace rather than avoid the feelings of anxiety in a crisis time, what will you train yourself to do when the dreaded begins to rachet up? A physician in one of our anger-management seminars told me I was talking about the people he sees every day. (It has been projected that 80% of doctor’s office visits can be traced to some form of anxiety.) The physician said, “People want something that can be done to them—some pill.” I am glad there are pills, meds, drugs, but they are not solutions. Drugs deal with symptoms so we can do the internal work to bring insight that empowers new habits and corrects negative mental habits.

I reference the conversation between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler from Mark 10:17-34:

“‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Jesus did not attempt to convince him. He let him go. I mention this because there is no bait and switch in the Kingdom. Jesus honors our decisions. That is why Apostle Paul is adamant about the “pattern of this world,” and telling us that we are to “renew our minds.”

From my experience there are several basic pillars in our pre-renewed mind:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Expectation
  3. Imagination

ANTICIPATION

We are told to take control of our thoughts and train our minds/brains to think well. That is not instruction to think of one word and exchange it for a better one. The problem is that one word becomes a photo and a story that ignites our brain to nudge our body to prepare for fight-flight-freeze. Automatic-negative-thoughts come with a video and story line.

What are the automatic narratives that strike fear in you? Our mind/brain has a serious habit of following the signposts of former narratives. That is precisely why the mind needs to be renewed which means editing the stories our minds tell us. Psychologists call the editing “reframing.”

Holy Spirit is our paraclete—the helper who walks beside us to reveal the triggers that lead us into fear or negative thinking. He shows us how to replace narratives and then heals us of memories that led to the corrupt narrative, so that tormenting story and video can be renamed. The experience can be called “Restoring the Christian Soul.”

Leanne Payne, who wrote a book by that name, says,

“We need to recognize when this outward focus on Christ has been seriously blocked by our failure to accept ourselves. We need to recognize and do something about the diseased attitudinal patterns toward the self, those formed in the crucible of the various accidents and deprivations of our past.” (Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul, Baker Books, 1991) Page 27

Ms. Payne names three “Barriers to Wholeness in Christ.”

  1. Failure to accept oneself
  2. Failure to forgive others
  3. Failure to receive forgiveness

What is refused or buried may come out from the subterranean mind in the form of emotional explosions. If we have unforgiveness, or resentment something in us anticipates bad road ahead.

Dr. Tim Elmore says, “…remind you of the power of your personal narrative.” Dr. Brené Brown talks about “the story we are telling ourselves.” These reminders push us to examine our personal narratives with the question, “Is this true?” Or if it cannot be known whether true or not, we must reframe the stories. What is liable to happen? What do you anticipate happening if you do the dreaded?

EXPECTATIONS

If your parents were/are afflicted with anxiety or depression, you are more apt to be also than someone whose parents or caregivers are not. I was surprised to learn that we adopt the worldviews of our parents and only a few people ever examine those views. We tend to “learn” reactions by observing the important people in our young lives. They need examination.

Our society has been berated, scolded, and alerted to impending doom. Many have been fired from jobs for disagreeing with the regime’s warnings. We have been told there are soon to come catastrophes if we did not stop raising beef and sheep—we are within minutes of the earth ceasing to exist because of Global Warning. That may or may not be true, but the prospects of any of that happening has stoked fear, angst and anxiety in millions. Expectations of entire nations have become dark. Those who print the warnings and cancel people who like hotdogs and filet have become The New Puritans.

Jeremiah Burroughs lived in Europe in the 1600s. He became the ultimate Puritan, that is, he filled the stereotype of the worst form. His theology was:

“I am nothing, and I deserve nothing.”

“I can do nothing.”

“I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good.”

“I am not only an empty vessel but a corrupt and unclean vessel.”

And: “If we perish, we will be no loss.”

“There will be no laughing and enjoyment is frowned upon—perhaps forbidden.”

To live in that atmosphere or in the fumes of that worldview teaches us to expect only the worst. Expectations inform our mind of reasons to hunker down physically and emotionally or saddle up for our next adventure.

IMAGINATION

Having a creative, sanctified imagination is an asset.

…although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defense that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Where do satanic or demonic attacks and harassments fit in the battle for our minds? How is the tormenter recognized?

Someone I’ve read or listened to says if you want to get rid of rats, get rid of the garbage. Rats are attracted to garbage as a food source. No garbage—no interest. Negative spirits utilize negative thoughts, memories, hatreds, narratives. Dr. Charles Kraft says from his experiences of casting out demons or breaking down strongholds is first “battled” by ministering to the negative memories, thoughts and narratives which can be welcoming portals for dark spirits intent on harassing or controlling. Get rid of the garbage.

It seems to me—in our mind renewing—we are to scan our souls and minds: anticipation, expectations, imagination for the automatic triggers. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.

Even though the emotions belong to us, therefore we control them, we cannot ignore or diminish satan’s work. Recently, I was anxious and recognized it as “egged on” by a dark spirit. I vocally told the entity or atmosphere to take a hike and then did what needed to be done. But what if the looped thoughts are accusations? Blaming? Scolding? Questioning about competence or a “You’ve always been like this…?” The Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit never blame, scold or accuse. God’s correction does not leave us diminished or shaking. Jesus calls us Friends. Jesus does not treat his friends that way. Therefore, rake through the stories that lead to serious negative feelings. If they suggest anything but growth toward maturity, question the source.

# # # #

John Eldridge said recently, “The world is in transition.” That word registered differently than it has before. Does that mean what used to be normal never will be again? Dutch Sheet’s “Give Him Fifteen” post today shook me. “Transition.” Is that what is happening? Can the 1984 trend be changed or averted?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXTqIIB5gdc

A psychologist says that the world has been in trauma approaching three years. The physical, mental, emotional, spiritual reserves, and the margins of the American population have been spent. They are empty. We need RECOVERY—RESTORATION. Not for just a few anxious folks, but for most of us. We are in a season to “renew our minds” to repair and to prepare.

REPAIR AND PREPARE

Dr. Leaf and the majority of my resources are talking about two weight-bearing pillars to renew the mind:

MINDFULNESS.

MINDSETS

We will look at these tools and resources in the next chapter. How are we to visualize “renewing the mind.”?  Do we run our minds through a wood planner to carve off the top layer? Do we plunge our minds like a door into an acid to burn off the old paint?  Do we pluck memories  as if they are disliked spices in lunchmeat?  Or delete, delete?  Mindfulness and mindsets offer a process of healing and change.

©2022 D. Dean Benton

Primary resources for this chapter:

Think, Learn, Succeed, Carolyn Leaf, (Baker Books, 2018).

The Pandemic Population, Tim Elmore, (Poet Gardener Publishers, 2020)

Generation Z Unfiltered, Tim Elmore & Andrew McPeak, (Poet Gardener, 2019)

PATTERNS

Renew Your Mind–2 of 4 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world

Romans 12:2

PATTERN OF THE WORLD

John French gives us a definition of the world pattern:

“…a floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations…which constitute a most real and effective power, being the moral or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale.”

Pastor Greg Boyd and Psychologist, Al Larson put it more concisely:

The world is a structure of presuppositions and values that work at cross-purposes with the plans and values of the all-good Creator” as defined in John 10:10.”

In research for my book about worldviews, Mining Reality and Truth, I found Boyd and Larson’s book Escaping the Matrix (Baker Books, 2005) very helpful in defining world patterns.

“The total packages of lies (and deceptions) that infiltrate our brains is ‘the pattern of this world—what we are calling The Matrix.” (Boyd & Larson, page 31)

“Christians sometimes think the pattern of the world is just about morally significant things—our problems with lust, greed, and the like. But the Matrix is about anything and everything that to any degree keeps the quality of our lives beneath the abundant life God created us to have and Jesus died for us to have.” (Boyd & Larson, page 39).

I was traveling and ministering alone on a Sunday morning in western Iowa. As I unloaded sound equipment my heart started pounding. It felt like my head was filling up with out-of-control thoughts, feelings, and foreign substance. My mind began to explain to me what was happening, but it was lying to me. Months of stress caught up with me. I was scheduled for a Sunday school seminar. I explained to the packed room full of people what was happening to me. I was attempting to protect myself from embarrassment and to put the folks at ease. A lady said, “I have anxiety and panic attacks, also. What is your usual reaction?” Wanting to get the class to laugh and put myself at ease I said, “I begin to take my clothes off.” No one laughed!

Someone in the room finally said, “Please don’t do that!” (Then! Laughter.)

While a person is in a panic attack or anxiety overload is not the time to attempt to teach them new patterns of thinking! All that person wants is relief or reassurance that they are not dying or about to totally lose control of bodily functions. The best thing for that person is to take control of their breathing and physical movement which will dispel adrenalin and the effects of cortisol. Breathing deeply will send messages to the brain—“Stand down. Calm is returning. Cancel firetrucks and ambulances.” The feeling of unreality will dissipate and connection to reality and truth will slowly be reestablished.

Lying down to breathe deeply is not an option in front of a class. The people will freak out! They will call for EMT help. That is exactly what I feared would happen and my mind developed and expanded that story going on in my head. I feared I would not be able to continue or would do something crazy and other possibilities my mind was lying to me about—in detail. So, I just kept talking and switched seminar topics to “Attacking Anxiety.”

“Anything and everything that to any degree keeps the quality of our lives beneath the abundant life…,” certainly describes what was happening and what I was thinking and feeling. The disturbing element is to realize that life can be hijacked by our patterns of avoidance and preoccupation, so we never have to feel that again. Fear of a specific fear will seek to control every piece of life. The ability to fight back or use spiritual armor must be learned prior to the crisis.

PATTERNS OF YOUR MIND

Do you recognize thinking patterns signaling that depression or anxiety is about to consume you like a wildfire? There is a gap between stimuli and reaction that may be small but is large enough for you to intercept the pattern. It is a learned skill.

I was able to tell that seminar group that I was having an anxiety issue because I examined my usual thinking and what my life had been for several months. I was traveling alone which usually makes me vulnerable to aggressive toxic emotions. No one is close to ask me questions. The day before, my granddaughter and daughter-in-law were in a car accident that did not look to them like an accident. No one was hurt, but I ruminated on the event and possibilities.

Where does your mind automatically go? Death? Illness? Failure? Incompetence? Guilt? Shame? Freaking out while shopping? Losing your self during a public appearance? When satan or demons come after you, what is their usual tactic? Is it fear, accusation, patterns of failure? Reminders of erroneous thinking? What did I miss?

Renewing your mind includes reframing the familiar patterns during your prayer and training sessions. Some of us have strong automatic negative thoughts and need meds to help break that automatic response until positive automatic reaction and thought patterns are practiced into habits. Two golden habits: Self-awareness and Self-care.

PATTERNS FOR MIND RENEWAL

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, (Romans 12:2 J. B. Phillips).

“Embrace, don’t avoid anxiety.”

If we are not to allow the world to “squeeze us into its mold,” what “mold” are we to allow to shape us? Whatever pattern we embrace will become our automatic reaction and response. I will include St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Examen here as an example how we can renew our minds.

The Examen: A Daily Prayer

(From Google:)  St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen is an opportunity for peaceful daily reflective prayer. It invites us to find the movement of God in all the people and events of our day. The Examen is simply a set of introspective prompts for you to follow or adapt to your own character and spirit.

(You will want  to use a journal or notebook to write your responses to these prompts to track your plans and monitor your progress.)

Begin with a pause and a slow, deep breath or two; become aware that you are in the presence of the Holy.

Thanksgiving

What am I especially grateful for in the past day . . .

The gift of another day…
The love and support I have received…
The courage I have mustered…
An event that took place today…

Petition

I am about to review my day; I ask for the light to know God and to know myself as God sees me.

You may want to pray “consolation” and “desolation” here.

Review

Where have I felt true joy today?

Did I Laugh today?
What has troubled me today?
What has challenged me today?
Where and when did I pause today?
Have I noticed God’s presence in any of this?

Response

In light of my review, what is my response to the God of my life?

A Look Ahead

As I look ahead, what comes to mind?
With what spirit (attitude) do I want to enter tomorrow?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Examen adapted by Baylor University

Traditionally, there are five movements or steps in the Examen. The following steps outlined below are adapted from the technique outlined in the Spiritual Exercises developed by Ignatius Loyola in the 16th century. St. Ignatius required his companions, the Jesuits, to practice the Examen daily at noon and before turning in for sleep.

Instruction:

  1. Acknowledge an awareness of God’s Presence.
  2. Review the day in a posture of gratitude.
  3. Recognize a “Consolation” and a “Desolation” from the day.
  4. Choose a “Desolation” to pray into.
  5. Look with hope for new tomorrow.

A consolation is an experience that causes you to feel fully alive, at peace, joyful, happy, comforted, whole, connected, your best self, etc. and could be understood as an experience in which you feel close God.

A desolation is an experience that causes you to feel drained of energy, frustrated, irritated, angry, sad, sorrowful, alone, isolated, unaccepted, fragmented, less than your best self, etc. and could be understood as an experience in which you feel far away from God

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I have come to see that the normal Christian life means miracles, spiritual intervention, and revelation. It means peace, joy, love, a sense of well-being and purpose…”

Bill Johnson, The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind,” (Destiny Image, 2014).

©2022 D. Dean Benton

Cucumbers–Passion, Panic, Purpose

Cucumbers, Passion, Panic, and Purpose (1 of 4)

A warning to gardeners. You can kill a cucumber plant with one erroneous act. A cucumber plant has one life-objective and that is to produce cucumber seeds. Its life purpose is reproducing its seed. A master gardener knows that the moment the plant produces a cucumber, and it begins to turn yellow, you must—I repeat—you must! pick that veggie. If that cucumber reaches maturity the plant will begin to die for it believes it has accomplished its purpose. When you pick that first growing cuke, the plant has a panic attack—“I’m going to fail my purpose!”  and will go into production mode—growing as many as possible. The plant’s purpose is in full attempt to reproduce.

I didn’t make that up. A professional gardener told that story with documentation.

Passion and purpose are central to life, physical health, and mental health. To abandon one’s purpose does ill to our deepest core. A mid-life crisis is ignited when a person begins to wonder if it has gotten too late to accomplish dreams or to do what is sensed to be the very reason they were placed on the earth.

I am going to work my way through Romans 12:1-2 with four pieces:

  1. Your Body
  2. Your Pattern
  3. Your Mind
  4. Your Self

These articles are not to refute all you’ve heard about Romans 12, but to share with you a teaching that applies to this season of our lives. It seems to me that this paragraph leads to two objectives: We are to do what is taught here that the Follower of Jesus will grow to maturity and that the will of God will be known—the Follower will be convinced and satisfied.

A friend asked a question in response to my last blog:

“Is being transformed an ongoing process towards what we are to become? Do we ever make it or is that the Perfection we will one day achieve?”

Transformation and “renewing your mind” in Romans 12:1-2 is do-able, reachable, and essential to mental health, learning and success. Again, renewal of the mind changes the brain and brings healing and homeostasis to the mind. We do not wait until reaching heaven for this. The resurrected body will have a mind that is always on the same page as God. It is this body of clay/dirt that can drift from eternal and heathy reality. It is not about perfection; it is about thinking from God’s perspective. Using another biblical phrase—We have the mind of Christ. Here. Now.

YOUR BODY—Living Sacrifice

“Give your body to God….” Romans 12:1 TLT

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does tor you is the best thing you can do for Him” (

(Romans 12:1, Message).

This application of Apostle Paul’s instruction became real to me as I calculated Gen Z’s battle with anxiety and my own. Is paralyzing or tormenting anxiety, depression, burnout an example of a body being offered as a living sacrifice? It indeed could be seen as a contradiction.

Is anxiety, failure, viewing self as a victim or failure the will of God for any of His children? No! Regardless of how we learn the symptoms, whether from self-hatred, lack of sufficient nurturing or sufficient learning of essentials or abuse or abandonment it is not God’s will for us. God desires to heal the wounds or our personal neglect, so the Apostle tells us how to cooperate with The Healer: renew our minds: Build new mental habits, traits, and patterns.

An “offered body” is demonstrative. It shows what heart, mind and will are committed to. How we use our body as worship depends on our personal passion and purpose.

Dan Buettner talked to top scientists around the globe and then visited nations and communities where people live who have lived the longest. Buettner found several common traits, habits, patterns, and practices that connect to their long lives. These healthy regions are now called Blue Zones. Dan Buettner lists five lessons and one of them is…

“Okinawans call it ikigai, and Nicoyans call it plan de vida, but in both cultures the phrase essentially translates to ‘why I wake up in the morning.’ The strong sense of purpose possessed by older Okinawans may act as a buffer against stress and reduce their chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and stroke.”

Dr. Robert Butler and collaborators researched highly functioning people between ages of 55-92 and found that those expressing a “clear goal in life—something to get up for in the morning, something that made a difference”—lived longer and were sharper than those who did not.

A friend has been listening to me preach for 4-5 decades about the value of a “vision” to which we give our commitment and energy. She responded to one of my newsletters to ask, “Is it enough for me to teach my grandchildren and teach them ways of the Lord?” I thought of her when I read this from Dan Buettner’s analysis:

“A sense of purpose may come from something as simple as seeing that children or grandchildren grow up well.” The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner, National Geographic, ©2012).

I’ve been thinking about Caleb who at 85 told Joshua he was as capable at 85 as he was at 40-45. (Joshua 15:12-14). One of my next books should be titled, “Value of a Geezer with a Vision.”

Caleb positively proved his point. The people in the Blue Zones do also. I’ve also been listening to those who teach high school and college. In my study of anxiety, stress, depression and giving up, there are scary studies about the impact of Covid lockdown: “The world is suffering from a trauma—many are afflicted by PTSD.” I believe God heals. To maintain that healing we find His plan to change thinking habits. Somewhere in the healing sequence is adopting of our innate passion and purpose—the passion and purpose residing at our core.

Perhaps a case can be made that “the patterns of this world” is the greatest threat to the health and well-being of the person at mid-life. We become vulnerable at any age when our path to life-fulfillment, therefore satisfaction, is blocked.

Victor Davis Hansen, Professor at Hoover Institute at Stanford, says that the past three years has stripped this culture of wisdom. (Knowledge gives us a grip on data, Wisdom is the gift, skill, ability to know how to effectively apply that knowledge.) With a lack of wisdom, the ability to maintain hope or solve problems at the family or government level is extremely thin. The natural response is depression, anxiety, stress, and burnout, and movement toward giving up.

Dr. Daniel Amen teaches “Change your brain, change your life.” He means it literally. Neuroplasticity describes the ability and the fact that the brain can be changed. In fact, it changes in response to your choices and thinking. To neglect or lose our purpose can lead to fraying of love, joy, peace.

“Having a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer…,” Daniel Amen. He asks, “What is important to you? What do you care deeply about? What makes your brain sing? Answering these questions can help your mood; they can also help you live a longer, fuller life.” (Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Page 131).

He says a person must care for his/her brain to do that. Commitment to God demands that we care for our brain and care for our mind. “It is just reasonable,” Apostle Paul says. Changing our brain—renewing of our mind—benefits us to “Conquer anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, lack of focus, anger and memory problems.”

The first step to renewing the mind is our commitment to God and invitation to Holy Spirit (Paraclete) to walk with us to succeed in renewal and mind transformation. The second step is to define our purpose.

Pastor Rick Warren says, “Write out your major goals and purpose.” He suggests we use the five essentials to guide us: Faith, Food, Fitness, Focus, Friends. Those frame our goals; I think our purpose answers why we are concerned about goals.

One of the most important books I have ever read is In Pursuit of Purpose by Myles Munroe.

Purpose is the master of motivation and the mother of commitment. It is the source of enthusiasm and the womb of perseverance. Purpose gives birth to hope and instills the passion to act. (Destiny Image ©1992.)

We met a lady in western Texas who had moved there from Boston. She had left all her friends, vocation, and church. She drifted into depression. She was physically weak and psychologically weak. She began to fight back. She recalculated her gifts and rediscovered her passions. She determined to find people to interact with. She scheduled Tuesdays and Thursdays to call on the sick and those needing attention. When she transferred self-concentration to others she began to heal.

When our life-purpose is thwarted, our bodies and mind sense something is out of kilter. At any age, offering your body to God—in this life season—is imperative and reasonable. To grasp what Myles Munroe says is restorative and rejuvenating.

“God created you with a definite purpose in mind. Your existence is evidence that this generation needs something that your life contains. You are the creation that can meet God’s desired result.”

“We must ask the primary question—‘Why am I here?’—and reply with an unqualified answer—‘To be myself and to express myself fully.’” (Page 8)

Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice,” for our discussion here, is also agreement that God’s plan is best and one we choose to adopt and engage. Whatever the process.  With the intent of renewing my mind and managing disruptive, destructive negative emotions.

©2022 D. Dean Benton

Calming Tools for a Jittery Time

Tim Elmore in his book Generation Z Unfiltered, says Generation Z is the most anxious population in American history.

Does anything that Apostle Paul wrote and talked about feel more important to discipleship and successful life than Romans 12:1-3? Verse two in that paragraph keeps nudging at me:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,

but be transformed

by the renewing of your mind.”

As I recall my young-adult spiritual formation time, I don’t remember thinking the words “mental health,” or “self-care” when reading Romans 12:2b. I assumed “renewing your mind” was about Bible interpretation, spirit discernment, and “godly” behavior. Given the prognosis of the current earth population and my own self-questioning, I am wondering if Apostle Paul knew the concept of toxic thoughts.

What does “renewing of your mind” mean? Pastor Bill Johnson in his book, The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind, (Destiny Image (©2014) says, “view reality from God’s perspective.” That’s the short version. Johnson adds,

“The renewed mind, then, reflects the reality of another world…. It’s not just that our thoughts are different, but that our way of thinking is transformed because we think from a different reality—from heaven to earth” (Page 35).

How are we to renew our minds? That’s not a rhetorical question. I sense Holy Spirit saying to me He wants me to renew my mind. I’m in! Cleansing my mind of toxic thoughts and patterns of thinking that lead to negative evaluation, self-doubt and rumination over every mistake, bad choice and immature mindset, personal inadequacy, and ignorance—just not knowing—since I was sucking my thumb, has to be part of the renewal.

I have two favorite brain specialists who I’m reading in pursuit of mind-renewal strategies. Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Caroline Leaf. I have added to their stack of books in recent days.

I listed three of Amen’s books in my last blog that are currently helpful to me. We have read Dr. Leaf’s material and used them in small group studies and conversations. Her book, Think, Learn, Succeed, (Baker Books, ©2018) is stimulating and resourceful as I “renew my mind.”

Dr. Leaf recommends we spend 16 minutes per day thinking about what we are thinking about. She says those minutes can be broken into 2-3 segments or one 16-minute span. (I don’t know how she came up with 16 minutes rather than 15 or 12.) John Maxwell and several U.S. Presidents have or had a specific chair in which they sat only to think. That chair was not to be used for anything else.

An average human looks with seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.” Leonardo da Vinci

We have instructions to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”… (2 Corinthians 10:5). What do you think—can you do it in 16 minutes? Romans

It would be to my benefit to do this conversation in a face-to-face group. I do not have a firm grip on everything Dr. Leaf is saying which means I’m not teaching; I am sharing what I’m reading that is useful in mind renewing. These are some of the things I’m grasping so far. I’ll quote from the book:

“It is so important to understand the creative power of our ability to choose. Mind-body research points to the fact that consciously controlling your thoughts is one of the best ways, if not the best way of detoxing your brain and body.” (Page 55)

That could make me nervous. Mind-control is not something a creative person wants. I found this process depends upon monitoring each thought and classifying it. I wrote on the top of my journal page: THOUGHT—-FEELING—-ACTION. I ask myself what thoughts are invading my mind that are making me feel guilt, shame, anger, wounded, hopeless? If the thought wasn’t causing me discomfort, anxiety, paralyzed, doomed, depressed or powerless, it would not be on this list. I call your attention to the four questions Bryon Katie suggests we apply to each nagging thought:

  1. Is your thought true? (Will you really throw up? Pass out? Make a fool of yourself? Go crazy in front of everyone? Have an unprovoked attack?)

  2. Can you absolutely know whether it is true?

  3. How do you react, what happens when you believe it to be true?

  4. Who would you be without that thought? (How does believing this thought change you and your activity?)

“…our thoughts can heal or harm the body….”

“The process of self-reflection is not only possible it is essential.” (Page 55)

“To control your thought life, you have to activate and continually make use of the quantum principle of superimposition, which is the ability to focus on incoming information and on upcoming memories from your unconscious mind. As you think about these thoughts, your need to analyze them in an objective way…before you choose which to believe and which to reject.”

“It is almost as if you are watching yourself, becoming aware of what you are thinking, feeling, and focusing on in as much detail as you can in this now moment.”

As “the thinker” is contemplating thoughts from an objective distance, it seems to me discernment is a good idea. To bring Holy Spirit in on this mental reconnaissance to help us sort out the source of the thought(s) is what paraclete implies. (Holy Spirit actively walks beside us. Let us not forget that we also have an enemy who is an accuser and deceiver. Well-placed suggestions is how he does that. Our own mental distortion can misinterpret incoming thoughts as can be unresolved angers or hurts. To allow any of those to remain unchallenged and not reframed does not lead to a renewed mind. Thoughts may come through the filter of our misinterpretations or unhealed wounds or expressions of self-dislike. Maybe a curse intended to disrupt, confuse or harm.

Ask yourelf, Why is this thought in your mind at this moment? Will it benefit you? Talk to the non-acceptable thought aloud—it is not quite enough to tell it to get lost, that assaulting thought needs to be reconceptualized or reframed.

“In this objective state, you are capturing and reconceptualizing toxic and chaotic thoughts and building healthy, organized thoughts.” (Page 57)

“…if you do not capture thoughts and monitor incoming information, it is hard to change toxic and chaotic thoughts, which will steal your mental peace and your ability to build useful memory and learning. As humans, we are designed to engage with information; we are designed to build our brains.” (Page 57)

Assuming that Romans 12:2 is talking as much about mental health as it is doctrinal correctness, what do you look like with a renewed mind? “The pattern of this world” is anything that is different than the plan, character and will of God in any sphere of life and any dimension of your life that contradicts biblical evidence of how The Father sees and loves His children.

There is no gauge that says, “Fully charged,” or “Totally renewed,” so you may not know except if your stomach no longer hurts, or anxiety/depression is not bending your face to the ground or if what you’ve been called to accomplish is starting to move forward and you can think clearly about strategies. Those could be clues as to a renewing mind. Add another clue: if your anticipations and expectations are more positive.

What do you think?

©2022 D. Dean Benton

One in a series about renewing minds for healing of anxiety, depression, burnout.

Cut The Chaos

I may be as normal as I’ll ever be.

A friend in the health-care industry responded to my comment that I needed to see my physician about my anxiety with: “If so, you are normal. Everyone is overwhelmed and needing help.” She reminded me that anxiety and depression have experienced an increase for the first time in 80 years. It has become serious!

Me? Normal? If that is true, the general population is in big trouble. I’m not surprised that the population of the Western Hemisphere is needing help with depression, burnout and anxiety. What is surprising is that I’m in that group.

This week I ran across a series of booklets I wrote to provide at our seminars in the 80s:

  • Please Pass the Valium—Stress
  • View From the Fetal Position—Depression & Anxiety
  • Learning to Hate Natives—Burnout
  • But the Cubs Still Need Me!—Mid-life Crisis

My research for those subjects was extensive and personal. But what is torching our culture in 2022 surpasses what I thought would guard and fortify me and my readers. We are confronted with dimensions of mental health (and lack of) and spiritual battle not generally experienced in our lifetimes. Panic and anxiety attacks are rife with demonic attacks. If I were to update those booklets, they would have a section on The Armor of God—Ephesians 6:10-18 in 2022 words and modes of attacks. Evil has been unleashed and in some places invited, welcomed and enthroned.

One thing that seems different in this season is that The “Armor” used to seem static. You put it on with Velcro and it stayed there. It felt like a flannel graph truth. Now it is not a defensive agent. It has become lke Ukraine-level combat. We must learn how the Armor can be active and learn how to use it aggressively.

One of my favorite brain specialists is Dr. Daniel Amen. You may have seen one of his events on PBS television. He is a man of faith and teaches and practices from that base while being widely respected in the psychiatric community. We watched one of his YouTube interviews you might find helpful:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=tom+ferry+%26+daniel+amen

I am reading three of Dr. Amen’s books:

The Daniel Plan with Pastor Rick Warren

The End of Mental Illness, Dr. Daniel Amen, MD, (Tyndale 2020)

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Dr. Daniel Amen, MD (Harmony Books, 1998 2015)

“Change Your Brain…” has been Revised and Expanded. I read the first edition (1998) and have returned to this edition and finding it very helpful—practical. Guided directions to Cut The Chaos.

John Eldredge has a new book: Resilient—Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times. (Nelson Books, 2022)

How to:  From Relevant Magazine, January 12, 2022

  • Remember where your roots are—connections, interaction, support.
  • Work out—exercise till you sweat.
  • Journal
  • Practice self-care
  • Pray

Dealing with Automatic Negative Thoughts. (ANTs)  When you are having a panic or anxiety attack, your mind will lie to you. It will tell you all the possibilities of what could happen if you don’t run, hide, or excuse yourself. None of which will ordinarily happen.

The Four Questions from Byron Katie to deal with  the “lies.”

https://thework.com/instruction-the-work-byron-katie/

  1. Is your thought true? (Will you really throw up? Pass out? Make a fool of yourself? Go crazy in front of everyone? Have an unprovoked attack?)
  2. Can you absolutely know whether it is true?
  3. How do you react, what happens when you believe it to be true?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

My current journey

  1. What uniquely triggers my reaction that becomes anxiety, stress and/or depression?
  2. What am I still doing that increases the chaos?
  3. What drains my emotional/spiritual resources?
  4. What are my ANTs? (Automatic Negative Thoughts)
  5. What replenishes my soul? Mind? Brain? Mental health Reservoir?

Psychology Today says:

“The most mentally healthy people you know remain steady and calm no matter what’s going on around them because they’ve developed some key habits and traits….”

Rick Warren’s book The Daniel Plan (Zondervan 2013) promises, 40 Days to a Healthier Life.

Pastor Warren pulled together the team—Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D and Dr. Mark Hyman, MD. Their program wraps around five dedicated practices—key habits and traits—which give tools and containers that can fill our reservoir from which mental and soul health and resilience comes:

  • Faith
  • Food
  • Fitness
  • Focus
  • Friends

(If you don’t want to buy the book, go to Amazon to check on the Table of Contents and see how the spiritual leader and medical doctors define each of the five.)

When Jesse Watters was selected to anchor and host “Prime Time,” he talked to colleagues and mentors for wisdom. Brit Hume said, “Listen when your guests talk.” Tucker Carlson recommended Jesse to routinely plot time to declutter his mind—choose self-care. Whatever works for you to cut the chaos. I think it will include the Daniel Plan listed above.

Thank you

I’m changing habits and working on some different traits.

©2022 D. Dean Benton

The Lost is Found

A handicapped lady approached us after concert with a handful of pictures.

“Want to see my son?”

There were sixteen pictures. She laughed and explained each picture:

“This is MY son. He is 23 years old. He is bowling.”

“This is MY son. He is reading.”

Sixteen pictures. Sixteen claims of relationship and sixteen delighted explanations. I asked if her son lived with her.

“No. I just found him.”

When she gave birth people around her decided it would be best if the child were adopted. She lived with him in her heart, but not in her life. She didn’t tell us details, just that she had found him. The empty chair in her heart now was occupied with her son.

God wants His lost children found! MY son. MY daughter.

“I have come to seek and save those who are lost.” Jesus.

©2018, 2022 D. Dean Benton

From Meanderings  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/889323/

The Alledged Doubter

From John 20:

19-20 Later on that Resurrection day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.

20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were awestruck. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

24-25 But Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing” (John 20:19-29 Message).

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

This Easter—just a few days ago—I became fascinated with a phrase from this narrative.

“But Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.”

Where Was He?

Maybe he had momentarily run to get a cup of coffee. Or perhaps he needed to check on his family. Could it be he just needed to get away—maybe go to that place in mountains where Jesus had taken His disciple on retreat. It couldn’t have been too far—there had not been time to travel any distance.

Twenty-four hours before this gathering of the disciples, they had all fled—scattered from the authorities and killers of Jesus and scattered from each other. There is the possibility that Thomas didn’t get the memo that a get together was scheduled. Wherever he was, “he was not with them.”

What Was He Doing?

The truth would sink in:  My world has changed, and there is no repair shop that can make it like it was.  

Wherever Thomas was and whatever else he was doing he was doing what you are doing—grieving, mourning and…

WONDERING

Wherever he went, would you guess he just needed to sort things out? Grieve privately? Try to figure out what he was to do, now? Now that his life had upended and the One to whom he had given his allegiance, future and dreams was gone? He was wondering what was left.

REGRETTING

Did I do something wrong? Did I miss clues and red flags? Could I have done things differently?

REMEMBERING

Having spent 2-3 years with Jesus, what would he be remembering? He surely would remember the trip to Lazarus’ funeral. All the other disciples had tried to talk Jesus out of going. Thomas had been the one to encourage him—“We’ll go and face down your enemies or we will die with you,” he had said.

He would have remembered when Jesus had told them he was going away. We have the story in John 14:1-6

14 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

What Caused Him to Return?

I don’t think this disciple had walked away from faith. As far as he knew, the reason for and the center of his faith had left—there was nothing left. It had vanished when Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Some Bible scholars say the other disciples knew where Thomas was hanging out and went to check on him. I heard a man tell his story the other day as he celebrated a family who came looking for him when he was trying to find his way from addiction. Thank God for those who come looking for us.

During that visit, the Bible Writer says the visitors said, “We saw the Master.”

Those words sound so academic, sterile. “Oh, by the way, The Master stopped by.” There isn’t even an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence in John 20—“We saw the Master.” I doubt it was like that at all. It would have been the first thing out of their mouths. It would have been loud and packed with emotion—lots of exclamation marks!

Don’t you think Thomas would have done a confused and dazed “Say what?” It would have taken a minute to assess that news. “What did he say? What did he do? From the beginning—tell me everything!”

“He said ‘Peace be to you…twice. He gave us His peace—twice.”

PEACE

Jesus’ “Peace to you,” was not a unique way of saying, “Hi, Guys.” He was giving them peace to replace their present fear. They were hiding in fear. Jesus said, “Peace.” He may have been saying “shalom” with a specific application to the moment and their state of mind.

The Greek word Jesus uses means, quietness, rest, + set at one again—it is designated as God’s gift of wholeness—“when all essential parts are joined together.”

Turmoil, mental and emotional fragmentation can be a natural part of fear, mourning, grieving, stress. Nothing fits, all the old patterns and templates that had worked are questionable. Upheaval threatens to become the new norm. But God’s gift is wholeness. He puts the pieces together.

Apostle John tells us that Jesus was preaching a hard message and the crowd started walking out. Not just one here and there, but hundreds or thousands at a time.

“So Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘Do you want to leave too?’  Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go. You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:68).

Occasionally God zaps us with Peace or floods us with peace, but usually it comes to us in seed-like words or events.

I was told this story by the main characters. Grandmother knew how to bake desserts and sweets which made going to her house a great adventure. The grandkids don’t get many sweets at home, but it’s a different story at the Grandparent’s house. A few days ago, Grandmother died. This time going to her house was different, no cookies or cakes, but lots of questions. “How come Grandma is not here? Why did she get sick?” For starters.

A couple of days ago, the grandmother’s son, his wife and their young children went into a convenience store and while there, the little boy acquired a snack. They took it to the counter—the young clerk came around the counter knelt to look the boy in the eye and talk to him. As the clerk placed the snack into a sack, he told the little boy his own story of his age.

When in the car, they opened the sack and found not only the sack of snacks but suckers. Six big, extraordinary suckers. The Mom asked where the suckers came from. Since no one knew, Daddy thought they should be paid for. He took them back into the store and told the clerk about the mysterious suckers. No one in the store knew anything about them. None had placed them in the sack. There were no winks—every clerk claimed total ignorance of where they came from including the young fellow who shared his own story.

There were 6 of those super suckers.

The young father and mother immediately knew where they came from! They were the kind of sucker that Grandma would buy. And there was one for her grandson, one for her granddaughter, one for Mom, one for Daddy, one for Grandpa and one for an important Uncle.

They may have been super suckers, but they mostly were peace seeds—words of eternal life—to speak to the grieving hearts and fragmented minds. A message from Grandma and a gift of wholeness from God.

Apostle Paul describes the peace—God’s gift of wholeness when nothing fits together:

And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus….” (Philippians 4:6).

QUESTIONS

The disciples described that evening and that Jesus suddenly appeared in the room, one of the disciples said to Thomas, “Then he showed us his hands and his side.” (20:21)

It was not a doubting or impudent Thomas, but a stunned Thomas who said something like, “Well, if he showed you his hands and side, I should see them also.”

It was 2000 plus years ago last Sunday night—

26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” 27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

“This time Thomas was with them”

I wonder if Jesus was looking at Thomas when He said, “Peace to you.” Did Jesus repeat the ordination and promises and authorization?

Thomas had questions; Jesus had answers. There was no ridicule or judging or eye-rolling. Jesus made room and opportunity for questions and wonderings—the “Why’s” and “Howcomes?” And he still does! And that is the most important point of this narrative. Jesus gave Thomas His presence and attention, not just answers. That brought peace, joy, hope, direction. Presence!

We have no video evidence that Thomas took Jesus up on the offer to touch his hands and side. We do know what he said…

“My Lord, my God.”

That was not a cognitive declaration. Thomas was not saying, “You’ve convinced me.” It was not just mental assent. We have no description of this disciple falling onto his knees before Jesus, but it seems probable.

For a couple of weeks, I have tried to ascertain what all Thomas meant with his proclamation. I have a clue. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy met Soviet Leader Khrushchev for the Vienna Summit. Kennedy wanted to challenge the Russians to a “Peace Race” rather than an “Arms Race.” Khrushchev was impressed with Kennedy’s preparation for their talks but had no interest in the proposal. He seemed to be committed to a nuclear subjugation of the USA. Given the President’s goals and hopes, the Vienna Summit had been a failure. President Kennedy was described as despondent.

On the long flight home, JFK wrote a paraphrase of a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

“I know there is a God. I can see the storm is coming. If He has a plan for me, and I think He has, I believe I am ready.”

The Sunday night altar surrenders, and dedications are so important. This goes beyond. At some point we must establish the pattern of “My Lord, my God—whatever your plan for me, I am ready.” For Thomas the frequent “My Lord, My Master, My God” led to India.

The next step, next season, next “next” depends on the response–“My Master,  my God.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

(c)2022 D. Dean Benton –A specialist in wondering.

Blessed & A Blessing

I’ve been re-reading my ebook Meanderings to prepare it for marketing on another digital outlet. The book is a substantive look at Abram/Abraham, his family, and his journey of faith and into Canaan. The covenant and promise God spoke to Abram is:
“I will bless you…and you will be a blessing to others” (Genesis 12:3).
Before I quote a couple of paragraphs from Chapter 22 in Meanderings, I am wondering how much time you have thought about God’s blessing this morning. We have listened to a daily devotion which didn’t exactly speak to me. We listened to an hour of news and commentary. My mind is filled with abortion, baby formula, inflation, and distorted “fact”-speaking. Not much about God’s blessing. I blessed my wife. This is an important day for her, and I would be pleased if God would bless her in ways meaningful to her. I firmly believe God spoke to her the words he gave to Abram. “Blessing” is not just academic—it is about life lived and shared.
“How would Abram know that he was blessed? How would he bless others? How would nations be blessed through him? God promised him a son, a heritage, and a land.
“The arrival of a boy child and possession of a land. The child arrived, but Abram did not. He owned a burial plot. A small part of the inheritance. Is half of the promise adequate? Hebrews 11:8-10 gives external clues. Abraham was a curious seeker who maintained an atmosphere of encounter for his family.
     “The Abrahamic walk of faith for us is to stimulate curiosity in yourself and create atmospheres where the diminished can encounter the Lord that ignites their own curiosity and vision.”
     “Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city…designed and build by God.” Hebrews 11:10 (The Message)
(c) Copyright 2022 D. Dean Benton