Category Archives: Uncategorized

My Church Softball Career

Git’R Done

(This article popped up on the computer screen when I brought it home from the repair shop. Don’t know the date it was written. I can’t get last week’s thoughts to display, but the decade-old drama is available? Odd.)

When Coach Justin ran out of girls to ask to play, he wanted to know if I wanted to play softball with the blue team. Strange that my name has never come up while he put together the roster of the red team.

It has been a long time since I hit a ball and then ran. I’ve been to the batting cages, but there is no running in batting cage baseball. I run on the treadmill almost every day. But hitting a ball and then running is not just about eye-hand coordination. Add another component. I was swinging, hitting and running in front of people to whom I want to look moderately capable—No! That’s wrong. My real goal was not to look like a doofus. A solid grounder to the pitcher doesn’t send the center fielder back while looking over his shoulder.

The pitcher is a lady who I’m sure is a grandmother. Steve, who was drafted to pitch for us, contends she is a great-grandmother.

I can hear my grandson saying, “You gotta be so proud! You got a hit off a grandma. You hit it all the way back to the mound? Papa, was she throwing heat?”

Amanda can stand at the plate, never take the bat off her shoulder and she looks good. But “cute” isn’t going to get it done for me—even if I could! Several thoughts raced through my mind as I was not racing toward second base: Will they bring the oxygen tank out to me? What if I have to slide? Am I going to break an ankle, or even worse: start my slide too soon and stop three feet short of the bag?

I think it was Snoopy who said, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose…until you’ve lost.”

To this point, my Church softball career has centered on cheering for the good guys, making sure no one drops over from dehydration and praying after the game. After the team high-fives the other team, Justin motions for me—like a manager motioning for the relief pitcher. “Now, coach?” (Pray-ers don’t get to spit or scratch.)

Praying after a game is not as easy as you might think. If we have lost, God knows I don’t really want him to bless that other team, but I don’t want to sound ungracious! If we win, I don’t want to sound patronizing. I appreciate a good play regardless of who performs it. I just appreciate it more when the right guys make it. I want my prayer to be uplifting to the losers and say words that celebrate fine playing while resisting calling fire down on an umpire who made some really bad calls.

One Tuesday when we had lost by a football score margin, I walked onto the field to pray. I stepped onto the field and felt something I wish I knew a sports psychologist, so he/she could explain it to me. That feeling compares to stepping out of an air-conditioned room into 90% humidity. The feeling was palpable. Until someone explains that to me, I’m thinking that winning and losing has an energy component.

I was in the dugout one evening when that heaviness was pervasive. We were behind a couple of runs and everything our team hit, regardless how far or how hard, seemed to be laser-guided to a defensive player. Then someone got a hit and the energy polarity changed. The atmosphere in the dugout changed. The spirit of losing left. Everyone began to hit. Our team won big.

Winning matters! Even after all those well-meaning clichés: “It is all about having fun.” “You have to learn to lose gracefully.” It matters! It isn’t all that matters, but it matters. A winning spirit does not mean winning every game. It does mean that losing doesn’t threaten your sense of self or measure your value as a person.

How do we build a winning spirit in our young? How do we maintain the winning spirit in ourselves? How do we Git’ r Done?

BE OBSERVANT

Check out the bridge connecting Barcelona and Paris. Bridges are structures that connect the spots. Winners continue to ask, “What’s going on here?”

Dr. Will Miller says in his Refrigerator Rights book,

“Helping ‘stuck’ people to change is slow and tedious work because too often they cannot or will not make the necessary connection between their personal wallpaper—assumptions, expectations, and experience—and the problems in their lives. They don’t, and often don’t want to, understand where they are and how they got there. Without that understanding, they can’t make the changes they need to live happier and more fulfilling lives. (24)

A double play is one of the prettiest plays in baseball. A grounder fielded by the second baseman to the shortstop covering second base to first. Fluid, seamless, effective. Dane and Justin can turn a double play nicely. One of the threats with bang-bang plays is starting to throw the ball before you catch it.

My grandson is playing a baseball tournament this weekend. He plays several positions. He is catching this weekend. Too many balls are getting past him. He is asking, “What’s going on here?” He is learning how to shift his weight to block a ball in the dirt rather than reaching or lunging for it.

Winners spend a lot of time learning correct footwork, how to shift your weight, how to offset weaknesses and watching game films with someone who knows how to do it right. Several years ago, the Cubs had a good-looking center fielder who struggled, got hurt and didn’t measure up to his obvious potential. A reporter asked manager Dusty Baker if the player was going to play winter ball to correct some bad habits. Dusty said, “It’s his career. He is responsible for his talent. It is up to him.”

An important realization:  It’s up to me.

ASK QUESTIONS

Two questions dominate the Day of Pentecost and the entire book of Acts.

  • What does this mean?
  • What shall we do?

If you’ve been around young Blake you know that his favorite word is “Why?”

MAKE DECISIONS–ACT ACCORDING TO TREASURES

What do you know?

What do you love?

Grant Wood left Iowa for Paris to make a name as a painter. One historian says “Wood’s separation from his native landscape was a shearing of his soul.” (Sweet) William Shirer was in Paris working as a journalist. Shirer from Cedar Rapids and Grant Wood knew each other from school days. Later Shirer would broadcast from Berlin and then write Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. But in 1926 in Paris, the two were unknowns.

(I don’t remember where I was going with this.)

In 1971 Bill Joy was voted most apt to wear a plastic pocket protector. He describes himself as a “no-date nerd.” He knew math, and biology. At the age of sixteen and a college freshman, he stumbled into a new building in Lansing where the University of Michigan housed its computer. Computers not as powerful as your laptop required full rooms to house them. Bill Joy was hooked. He programmed until he fell asleep at the keyboard.

Many of the basic programs that allow you to email your friends or search the internet were written by Bill Joy. He didn’t know what he loved until it was invented.

The Proverb says, “Teach a child the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” A literal paraphrase is, “Find the way a child is bent and help him go there.”

SET GOALS-MAKE PLANS

Malcom Gladwell says of Outliers like Bill Gates, The Beetles, Bill Joy, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and fourteen Americans of the seventy-five wealthiest people ever to live, “Those are stories of how the outliers reached lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity and utterly arbitrary advantage.”

If you want to git r done, find an atmosphere framed by YES! where people living in Kingdom life set goals, make plans with men and women who look for reasons to say “Yes! Go for it!”

  • People who know you well enough to evoke your abilities that grow out of what you love.
  • An environment where people will give you opportunity.

“I’m ready, coach.”

©2022 D. Dean Benton

The Mute Button

A post from a ministry partner: “I had a dream that may involve you and your world: something is not right.”

Of course! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! I’ve been using lag screws and an impact wrench and still nothing feels secure or stable. Any instructions beyond, ‘ice it?’

When instability is everywhere around us, where shall our mental stability come from?

I don’t know the difference between worldview and mindset. Maybe it is macro and micro or one informs the other. Over several weeks I’ve been wondering what pillars we need upon which mindsets can be built.

MINDSETS

Carol S. Dweck whose research on mindsets reignited interest in the power of mindsets, says “…the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you live your life.” Your mindsets and worldviews will determine what you anticipate, expect, seek and reject.

She teaches that there are two kinds of mindsets.

  • Fixed Mindset. This mindset assumes we enter the world with all the skills we will ever have.

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you better prove that you have a healthy dose of them.”  Mindset, Carol S. Dweck, (Ballantine Books, 2016), Page 6

  • Growth Mindset. Mindsets are similar to worldviews: what we believe determines outcomes. If you believe that God does not work miracles, you will not recognize one even if it arrives at your front door via Fed Ex. If you check “Mindsets” at Amazon, you’ll find most titles include the word Reset. Ms. Dweck’s research shows mindsets can be changed. 

“The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents, aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience. …it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.” (Mindsets, Page 7)

A mindset is what we habitually look to for our assumed thought pattern or action to take when confronted with instability, lack of clarity, or shortages—or abundance. A mindset determines our life-energy commitments and what we need to learn to prepare us for our goals, callings, visions.

“Take your son, your only son—yes Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering…” (Genesis 22:2).  

I don’t remember the town or church. I do remember the single mother who told me after the event that she was ready to take her young son and leave when I announced I was going to talk about Patriarch Abraham’s fatherhood vision and practice. She was geared to run if I started talking about God testing Abraham’s faith. She didn’t want her son to hear the story and jump to any conclusions.

And Abraham set out to do just that! Not exactly the model and design for parenting. Except what Abraham said to his son, Isaac sets the tone for healthy thought and “mulling” things over.

I was directed to Watchman Nee’s  Changed Into His Likeness. The pages are falling apart, but Nee speaks to me as he talks about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am sometimes attracted to Ishmael rather than Isaac. While Ishmael was an adventurer, Isaac appears to be placid, acquiescent, passive. And in that life approach he seldom asked questions or questioned anyone or anything.

“The only question Isaac asked was, ‘Where is the lamb?” The answer is full of meaning: ‘God will provide himself the lamb.’ That is the life of Isaac. We ask, and the answer is always the same: ‘God himself will provide.’” (Nee)

God will provide!

Diesel? Peanut Butter? Direction? Stability? Heat? Essential groceries? Pepsi?

And Abraham picked up the knife…At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven… ‘Don’t lay a hand on the boy!’ Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by his horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means the Lord will provide) (Geneses 22:10-14).

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

Knowing that mindsets and worldviews either determine or reflect depression, anxiety, burnout, and a list of defeats or errors, I am increasingly thinking that Abraham’s answer is the essential word of faith: God will provide!

Abraham was not passive about anything. Isaac was not neglectful, but he was passive. So, how does this providing work? Is God a partner or patron?

Have you ever wondered what Abraham did first after hearing instruction from the angel? Did he cut Isaac loose first, or did he get the animal? God provided the lamb, but Abraham (with Isaac’s help?) got the ram out of the thicket and prepared it for sacrifice and then wielded the knife.

Are you hearing Holy Spirit suggesting something? What change in your thinking is required to change automatic response to stimuli or what added knowledge will you need? There is the ram (Provision) caught in the thicket which will remain there unless we move it to an altar. That altar will look like study, classroom, talking to people who know. It may have worked for Isaac to not ask questions, but it will not work for us. The more questions you ask (of the right sources) the larger the provision path grows.

Most people do not examine or question their worldviews. Mindsets can be changed. Think how changing a mindset will impact other thinking patterns. A mindset or a load-bearing pillar that is trending in my soul is “God Will Provide.”

We worked in a Nebraska church for a couple of one-niters and a weekend event. The weekend was scheduled during a difficult farm growing season. The scuttlebutt in that small town was about a Pentecostal farmer who had placed a bushel of corn in the corn bin as a faith offering. Church people who did not understand “faith offerings” ran the gamut from making fun to charging the farmer with magic practices and belonging to a cult.

Anytime a Jesus follower chooses to stretch the acceptable norm, we risk being misunderstood, or worse. God will provide, as an approach to life has to be defined. So here is how I define “God will provide”:

  • Direct deposit, which would include things like a ram caught in a thicket.
  • Insight/eyes opened to a provision that has been available, but just not seen.
  • Opportunity: A door opens.
  • Meeting or interaction with someone who makes an observation or suggestion or affirmation that leads to resources.
  • Instruction to search something out, or read a specific book or article, perhaps listen to a podcast or program which trips the switch. Holy Spirit may nudge us to talk to someone or to ask a specific question.

All these things, and more, can be the action of God in provision. Provision is about outcome. Watchman Nee makes a couple curious comments:

“…That is the life of Isaac. We ask, and the answer is always the same: ‘God himself will provide.’ Everything that is demanded, God Himself gives: that is the experience of Isaac. In Abraham God sets up the standard; in Isaac, He shows us His storehouse.” (Changed into His Likeness, Watchman Nee ©1967 Christian Literature Crusade page 75. Now published in Collections—The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, ©1993, Living Stream Ministries).

A neighbor brought us fresh cookies she had baked. Talk about provision! She texted us to tell us about cookies and that the doorbell didn’t work. She had to be wrong about that—the doorbell is relatively new. I removed it and changed electric outlets. Nothing helped. Then I saw the “mute” button. Other than at Halloween, when would we need to mute a doorbell? Muting a doorbell contradicts the whole purpose. I turned off the mute button and it now rings loud enough for the neighbor to hear. Let the cookies come forth!

Speaking “God will provide” is not a magic formula. Making it a primary mindset turns on “the eyes of my heart,” “the ears of my heart,” and Kingdom energy—creativity. Such a positive mindset is your faith-statement of how you see God, and how you believe He functions as Father. How He does it is not my concern. If there is no thicket near-by, God is not stymied.

Turning the Mute Button off

Questions?

©2022 D. Dean Benton,   Wonderer & Meanderer


	

The Quest

I’m a gentleman homesteader. That means I don’t want to pull a calf, muck a stable or harvest a duck or chicken. I lived with my grandmother several times. I collected eggs, ate tomatoes in the garden and wondered about the storm cellar. I tried to talk her into opening a restaurant called, “The House of Grits and Gravy.” I have never been or do I want to be a farm boy. There is something inviting to me about a farm or homestead. An empty commercial building or house is painful—I usually calculate what kind of business will fit in the building and neighborhood. On a Monday morning in Indiana, Isaiah 58:12 demanded attention. “That’s you!”
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins      and will raise up the age-old foundations;  you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,      Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 
I’ve dug and framed footings, roughed in houses and laid sod. Still, that doesn’t qualify me for 58:12. Following that Monday morning, I searched for land, staked out buildings downtown and parked in front of old mansions that reminded me of Ante-bellum construction. All I lacked was about a million dollars more than I had. One day I was standing in my office when urged to grab a legal pad and two pens and go to a coffee shop. (Two pens in case one went dry.) “I will…tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). Before I left the coffee shop that day, I had outlined “Gone To Southwood,” and was instructed to build with words and stories what I had seen and people I would meet on a land-based Conference grounds named Southwood. We lived on a Bible Conference Grounds when our kids were preschoolers. What we experienced during the summer camping seasons ignited visions. Nothing occupied our dreams more than a Retreat Center. We sang, preached and seminared at Bible Conference facilities in Michigan, Florida, New York, Connecticut. We saw what God did and we wanted in on it. I studied historical camp revivals in Kentucky and New York. Whenever we sang “Impossible Dream” or put a cross-stitched plaque “The Quest” on a wall in our tour vehicle it always included visions and prayers about a retreat center. Over 40-50 years in a progressive revelation, Southwood Conference Center grew. It has been populated with stories we heard across the country and put legs under our various burdens, visions, and callings. One evening in a Bible study at church, I drew the acres of property and buildings of Southwood. Even I was surprised at the construction styles, detail and planned building and ministries. With the late fall 2022 publication of The Carafe Conspiracy, the 5th ebook in the Southwood series, it would be a good time to “visit” Southwood and meet the staff, team and guests.
“It had been a plantation with no name. Now the acres house a faux antebellum mansion, a glass and steel seminar structure, Bethany Lodge houses court appointed kids and pieces of families in healing mode and a fine coffee shop. Populating other buildings is a core of teachers, therapists, pastors, healers, builders and those with day jobs like Sally who is a UPS driver, a native of Sudan. The TV-Internet visibility draws clients and conferences. This tribe authentically live their faith to embrace, equip, encourage and empower each other and those who visit for a weekend and those who stay until they are well.”

The Southwood ebook Collection

Gone to Southwood The Whales are Singing Pillars & Porches Depot—On Track Carafe Conspiracy These books and other non-fiction books by Dean can be reviewed at: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/DDeanBenton

Dissecting Dragons

Chapter 6

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3).

The question remains. How do we renew our minds? Someone said…

“Don’t just kill your dragons dissect them and see what they’ve been feeding on.”

Renewing the mind is exactly dissecting what we feed the dragons who try to hide in our personal strongholds.

Let’s tweak our perception. “Renewing the mind” can automatically put us on a religious sidetrack where the emotional and mental aspect of “renewing” is diminished or lost. Let us think in terms of “Redesigning the mind.” That is how radical the brain specialists are about neuroplasticity.

Apostle Paul says, “Don’t think of yourself more highly—but make sure you think of yourself! But not a lot.” The purpose of self-awareness and renewing is also clear. Notice the movement through these verses to the reason for mind renewal: “towards the goal of true maturity.”

“…that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” (Romans 2:2b J. B. Phillips)

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind

A podcaster talked about “Take control of your thoughts.” I’ve heard that preaching/teaching many times. It really is the key to mind-renewing and mind-mending, but I don’t remember ever being given a step-by-step guide how to. Not too long-ago advertising/marketing writers talked about each of us receiving 3000 ads per day. I heard this week that the average American receives up to 10,000 messages a day from devices, ads and requests for time, money, energy. How can we sort through thoughts numbering in the thousands? All of the resources I’m studying talk about mindfulness and mindsets.

MINDFULNESS

Dr. Caroline Leaf’s definition:

“The ability to bring attention to our self-awareness, to recognize how we are thinking or feeling at any one moment.” (Think, Learn, Succeed, Baker Books, 2018.) Page 173

The Google Definition:

“A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

             That sounds exactly like Emotional Intelligence.

If you are struggling with depression, burnout, or anxiety, please find a group or class. You can read Ms. Leaf’s book. The Mindset Activation Tips at the chapter ends are helpful. Here are a couple of things she says about mindfulness:

“Allocate time, at least sixteen minutes a day, to just thinking and allowing your mind to wander.” (P.52)

“…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 learn.” (Page 57).

I am using the Ignatius Examen reminders and questions. Remember our purpose for all these words and building self-awareness is to:

  1. Offer our bodies as living sacrifices,
  2. Monitor how incoming ideas, thoughts, appeals for our time, money, energy are affecting our body, soul, and spirit,
  3. Ask if our thoughts and new memories are moving us toward maturity. If not, then we can reset our mindsets.
  4. Manage our Minds and relieve the anguish of anxiety and despair of depression.

Reset our mindsets—Reset our thinking—Reset our Perception, Perspectives, Plans.

I want to share a few more words about Mindset in the next Quest and then a chapter on how Holy Spirit heals and resets our thinking.

©2022 D. Dean Benton,    Wonderer & Meanderer,

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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.