Do You Think Like a Criminal?

I recently attended a mandatory training for prison ministry in the State of Florida. It’s an annual requirement for all volunteers. It’s a rather routine session reviewing the rules for those entering a prison compound. We definitely went over the rules and there are many of them! The rules are for the safety of the volunteers as well as the staff and inmates. And as often happens, I found something that has application in our Christian walk.

I learned a new phrase. Criminogenic thinking. It means exactly what it sounds like. Thinking like a criminal. We could get into a detailed discussion about what that means, and how they measure it. There are studies done to evaluate how much a person thinks like a criminal and the likelihood of them actually committing a crime.

After the meeting, I began thinking about what the presenter had said. She summed up the concept like this:

“Criminogenic thinking means going around the rules to get what you want.”

How many of us are guilty of bending the rules from time to time? Of justifying our actions as “not that bad’, or” not hurting anyone.”

I did a little research on my own and found some additional ways that criminals think. And after studying these a bit, I came up with some Christian behaviors that sound pretty similar.

Closed Channel Thinking – “Good at pointing out the faults of others.” This is what we call judging!

Victimstance – “Blaming others for our circumstances.” How about “my church isn’t feeding me so I’m not growing.”

Views self as a good person – “When we refuse to acknowledge our own faults.” Or, refuse to acknowledge our own SIN. “At least we don’t do (fill in the blank).”

Lack of effort – “Unwilling to do anything they find boring or disagreeable.” This is the avoidance of suffering and a lack of obedience.

So I ask you, do you think like a criminal? Perhaps you find this offensive. Perhaps it’s uncomfortable seeing yourself in that light. But look at it from God’s perspective. We all have sinned. We all think like sinners. The criminal justice system didn’t come up with these defining behaviors on their own. Their list is based on moral principles that, whether they admit it or not, came from God’s standards.

Just as those working in corrections try to retrain the thought patterns of offenders to keep them from being repeat-offenders, God gave us His Word to retrain the thought patterns of sinners (us) so we would not repeat our sinful behavior. His “rules” are for our good. We must allow God’s Word to change the way we think. We need to stop going around the rules, thinking they apply to others but not to us. Scripture is full of encouragement that will transform us if we allow it.

Here are a few verses to get you started.

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV)

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 (ESV)

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”– Romans 8:6 (ESV)

Why Are You Waiting?

A couple of years ago I wrote a post called, What Are You Waiting For? It was about how God had already given us the command to go tell others about Him but we often don’t.

Lately, God has been talking to me about a different kind of waiting. This time it’s more about seizing the day. We often have an opportunity to do something that brings glory to God and it isn’t necessarily talking about the Gospel. Now don’t get me wrong, sharing the Gospel is the primary activity we have here on earth, but sometimes God directs us to do other things and we procrastinate.

Have you ever heard yourself say, “one of these days I need to…” What keeps you from following through and actually making a plan to DO it? We could be talking about things like washing the windows or cleaning the garage. But it could be something much bigger. How about visiting that elderly neighbor to see if they need any work done around their home? Or perhaps you know a single mom who would appreciate an evening to herself while you entertain her children.

How many times have you had good intentions to make a difference in someone else’s life but you allow yourself to say, “one of these days I need to…” and then get busy and forget about it.

I know of an older, childless couple who regularly volunteers to entertain more than a dozen young children while their single moms enjoy bible study together. And there is the young man who mows and trims for his elderly neighbor at no charge. I’m sure you know of other examples of people going out of their way to serve others.

It may take a little effort to search out these opportunities to serve, but then again, maybe you could just ask God. I’m sure He has some great ideas!

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. – Hebrews 13:16 (ESV)

You Are Never Alone, Even in the Storm

God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. That’s easy to remember when we’re in the midst of blessings. When we see God’s hand moving on our behalf and things are looking up, we’re quick to recognize that He’s the one working things out in our lives.

But what about when things are difficult? What about when we’re struggling? How often have we wondered if God has forgotten us? If He has stopped caring about what happens to us? We may know in our heads that God will never leave us but in times of trial, it’s harder to convince our hearts. When the storm is raging we can forget His promise to always be with us.

As a parent, would you allow your small child to wander around outside in the middle of the night? What about during a dangerous storm? Of course not.

And neither would God. He would never send you out alone in a storm. He would be right there with you as the winds were blowing and the rain pouring down.

There is a story in the Bible where the disciples are in a boat on the sea and a storm comes up. Jesus is in the stern asleep.  He didn’t fear the darkness or the storm. Why?

Jesus was able to sleep because he knew that his Father never sleeps. He knew they were perfectly safe in his Father’s care.

God doesn’t get distracted. He is always alert and watching out for us in whatever situation we find ourselves. Trust Him to be with you always. He promised he would be.

“He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber.”Psalm 121:3 (CSV)

 “For the LORD loves justice and will not abandon his faithful ones. They are kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked will be destroyed.”Psalm 37:28 (CSV)

Out for a Walk

“Have you ever taken a walk with a friend? What happens while you walk? Are you both silent, lost in your own thought? Not likely! Most of us talk as fast as we walk when we are out for a stroll with a good friend. We share all kinds of things, our hopes and dreams, our concerns and fears.

The Old Testament contains passages that say, “Enoch walked with God.” “Noah walked with God.” and “Abraham walked with God.”  Can’t you just see those men walking down the dusty road with their hands clasped behind their backs, talking with God as they move along?

Of course, the Bible uses the word walk in a different sense, to mean more than just the physical action of walking one foot in front of the other. It really means to live life on every level with God as your companion. It means to consider God’s instruction and direction in every decision. But I think there is something to the act of physically walking.

In Genesis it says, “God walked in the garden.” He was looking for Adam to walk with Him, but Adam had sinned and was hiding. God wanted Adam’s company. He wanted to talk with Adam as they walked along.

In Deuteronomy 6:7 and again in 11:19 the scripture says we are to talk to our children about the Lord’s ways as we walk along the road. In those days people traveled by foot most of the time and it was a very natural setting to teach God’s principles to their families.

While Jesus was on the earth, He physically walked almost everywhere He went. Once He had a donkey and a few times He went by boat, but mostly He walked from village to village. Can you imagine how much He taught His disciples while they walked?

Now for us, while I’m sure God knows walking is good for our health and He’s glad that we do it, He’s thinking more about the opportunity for conversation; the companionship we feel with a friend when we’re out for a walk on a lovely day. He wants us to invite Him along; he wants to talk with us and He wants us to share with Him those things we share so easily with a friend.

Listen closely, don’t you hear your Father saying, “Come on, let’s go for a walk?”

“Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” – Deuteronomy 11:18-19 (CSB)

 

 

Keeping up with the Traffic

When I was a girl I remember hearing a story about my grandfather’s driving habits. He worked hard all of his life and one day he bought the car of his dreams. A brand new Cadillac. After he retired, he moved to Florida but continued to make trips back to Ohio at least once a year. Driving a car with that much power would tempt anyone to drive a little too fast and Grandpa was no exception. On one trip north, he was pulled over by a Georgia State Trooper who had clocked him going 80 in a 55 mph zone. When the officer told him what his speed had been, my Grandpa said he was just keeping up with the traffic.

“Sir,” said the officer, “no one was passing you!” They both had a laugh, but Grandpa got a ticket anyway. And I’m sorry to say it really didn’t have much impact on his driving! People often justify their actions by comparing themselves to others. With speeding, I’ve even heard people say that it’s safer to keep with the traffic than to drive the speed limit. Whether statistics prove this to be true or not, it’s a dangerous premise to base your actions on.

What if we apply the same theory to other areas of our lives? We can know God’s commands, just like we know the speed limits, but we can choose to ignore them. We use excuses like “everyone else is doing it anyway so what’s the difference?” Like somehow there’s safety in numbers and God won’t notice our sin.

Perhaps we ignore the Sabbath because it’s bad for our business, we can’t let the competition get ahead. Or we ignore God’s command to always tell the truth by saying, “everyone else tells ‘little white lies’ so why does it matter?”

When we compromise what we believe to be true because it makes our lives easier, we are believing a lie. We can be tricked into following man’s principles instead of God’s by allowing ourselves to be led by someone else’s behavior. Like my grandfather, we’re just trying to keep up with the traffic, just going with the flow. It seems harmless.

God has given us the scriptures to guide us and train us for eternity. He tells us clearly, that we will not understand His ways. We have to trust that He is good and that He has set parameters in this life for our benefit.

We need to boldly choose to follow God’s principles and not be influenced by the ways of the world. It’s where we will find God’s blessing.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” – Proverbs 14:12

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

Dump Truck or Wheelbarrow?

When I was a little girl, I remember watching a television show where housewives would win a chance to enter a store with an empty grocery cart and have a certain amount of time to put whatever they wanted in the cart. I remember watching them run up and down the aisles throwing things in the cart as fast as they could. I imagined how much fun it would be to fill my cart with anything I wanted and as much as the cart would hold.

Of course, you were limited by the size of the cart. But imagine if you could bring your own container and fill it as full as you wanted with things from whatever store you chose. Or maybe you could fill it with money. Now wouldn’t that be nice!

What size container would you bring? A grocery sack? A wheelbarrow?  A dump truck?  You’d be crazy to choose a small container when there was no limit. Maybe you could bring a double-trailer semi truck. Now that would hold a lot!

The thing is—in the end, you would just have stuff. I think there would be a sort of letdown after it was all over. Sure, you now have a ton of stuff but when it’s gone, it’s still gone. When you’ve used it up, when you’ve spent the money, when you’ve exhausted your supply, it’s all over.

Now think about a different kind of opportunity.

God says that he has all that we need, all we have to do is ask. Now I’m not talking about tangible “stuff”, I’m talking about all the things God has promised to give us if we ask. There is a bounty of things God will give us if we will only allow the Holy Spirit to work in us. He promises to meet our physical needs but he also promises things like love, joy, and peace.

He waits for us to come to him and when we do, he fills our lives to overflowing with wonderful blessings. When you think about it, if the blessings of God are limitless we should bring the largest container we can find! When we go to God, why just bring a wheelbarrow?

You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.”Psalm 65:11

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”Romans 15:13

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22-23 

Are You a Person of Influence?

What does it mean to be a person of influence?

I recently read an article that listed ten steps in a strategy to becoming a person of influence. Among the suggestions listed were to become more visible on social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Also suggested was writing a blog or e-books and seeking out speaking engagements.

These suggestions might work fine in the business world. But how can you become a person of influence where spiritual matters are concerned? What suggestions might work to influence the world for Christ? How can an average person ever hope to have influence that changes the world for the better?

Farther down the list I found a couple more suggestions. One was to start a movement around something you are passionate about. Well, this one is an easy one. We don’t have to start a movement, we’re already involved in one with firm foundations that began with twelve passionate men who took Jesus at His word and were faithful to share it.

Another useful recommendation said to become a subject matter expert. In the business world, that means to learn all you can about the subject you care about. Isn’t that what we’re called to do with the gospel? The purpose of God’s Word is to make us experts on the subject of His gift to humanity. We’re called to learn all we can about Jesus and His kingdom.

Finally, it was suggested we become super connectors. The article went on to explain that there is always someone we can introduce our friends and colleagues to in order to create a greater network. Business people are always looking for new contacts that will advance their business. This is a suggestion that rings true to the believer. We were created and commissioned to be super connectors! What better goal in life than to connect all of our friends to the one person who matters most to us? Jesus is waiting to be introduced to everyone you know.

What does it require to become a person of influence where Christ is concerned? Become a follower of Jesus, learn all you can about His plan and purpose by reading His Word and then determine to look for every opportunity to connect everyone you know to the One who already knows them by name.

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”Matthew 16:24

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”2 Timothy 3:16

Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3 

God Never Says “I’ll Be Right Back”

How many times have you been in a situation where something you need or someone else needs is in another room? Or how about when you’re cooking and suddenly realize you’re missing an ingredient and need to run to the store? Or what about when someone you love is sick or injured and they need your comfort but also need someone to go get something they need? And often, you may hear yourself say, “I’ll be right back.”

All these situations require you to leave where you are to go somewhere else. If your child is ill and wants you to hold them but needs medicine that is in another room, what do you do? If you’ve seen the children’s movie called The Incredibles, you will remember Elastigirl. She could sit with a sick child in their bed and stretch her arm all the way to the kitchen to get the medicine. Most mothers would love to have that ability.

Just because we can’t do anything like that, we make the mistake of believing no one can… including God. But unlike us, God can be in more than one place at a time. He is able to stay right there by your side and work in your circumstances at the same time.

God’s Word says, “The LORD is the one who will go before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” – (CSV)

God is with you always. He will never say, “hold on, I’ll be right back.”

A Plan Half-baked

One day when my boys were young, we were making banana bread. Since it’s one of their favorite treats, they were having a hard time waiting the hour it took to bake. Their conversation went something like this.

Son #1: “Why does it take so long? Can’t we turn up the heat and make it cook faster?”

Son #2: “Hey! if we changed it from 350 to 700 it would cook in half the time.”

Son #1: (getting excited) “If we turned it up to 1000 degrees it would cook in only 20 minutes, right?”

Of course, we all got a good laugh out of it as we thought about this weird logic. We talked about how the bread would only be half-baked.  How the inside would be mush and the outside would be crispy and probably not an appetizing color. We talked about how it has to bake at the right temperature for the right amount of time if we want it to turn out perfect.

I think this is exactly what James is talking about when he says, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” –  James 1:2-4 (CSB)

If endurance means patience, we can see how the banana bread story really conveys what we do with God all the time. We can get impatient and want to speed things up. Learn the lessons faster so we can get on with it. But God knows exactly what conditions are best to bring us to that perfect result, lacking in nothing.

This same concept can be seen in so many other examples. Consider the amount of pressure needed to produce a diamond, or the temperature needed to refine gold, or even the time needed for paint to dry. The perfect result of all of those things depends on the correct conditions and time. There are no shortcuts.

Sometimes we really just want God to hurry up and finish. But if we follow the logic of the banana bread, do we really want Him to turn up the heat? And will we be thankful for the final product if we take short cuts?

Allow God to set the conditions that James talks about. The trials and the testing are God’s perfect recipe that if followed, will cause you to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Where is God testing your faith in order to produce endurance in your life?

 

 

God’s Way or the Highway

When my husband and I take a road trip by ourselves we like to take the back roads, avoiding the interstates as much as possible. We meander through the countryside and are in no hurry to arrive at our destination. We enjoy the interesting scenery that isn’t visible from the freeway.

When we go to visit our grandchildren it’s a different story. We have no time for meandering, we have an agenda.  We are interested in only one thing and that’s seeing those adorable little faces that greet us after a full day of driving. We get there as quickly as we can, stopping only when absolutely necessary and then it’s a quick, no-nonsense stop and back in the car again.

Why do most people choose the interstates to get around? It’s because we have an agenda and we need to get there in a hurry. No time for delays of any kind. We hop on the freeway, set the cruise control, and zoom along. Sometimes when we go through large cities there can be eight or more lanes of traffic in each direction.  Everyone is on autopilot, getting in the zone, and flowing mindlessly with the traffic.

Have you ever taken a narrow, winding mountain road? There’s no zoning out or cruise control on this trip! You have to focus on the road as well as keep a close watch on the steep drop off on the side of the pavement. There isn’t much room to maneuver and little margin for error. But there are times when the road evens out and the scenery is breathtaking. And the little towns that come along every once in a while are often worth a stop to explore for a little while.

Matthew speaks of another narrow road.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14

The freeway is plenty wide and you have lots of company. The narrow way can be lonely and difficult at times. But how much you miss if you take the freeway with everyone else, all of them locked in with their cruise control and moving along without any concern for their surroundings.

The narrow road is more difficult to manage, it has ups and downs, it has tight, blind curves that make you slow down. But if you manage to stay on the road, you’ll have a much richer experience.

And isn’t it that way with life? God’s road may be narrow, and the gate a tight fit but the things He’ll show you will leave you speechless. And the people you’ll meet will change you forever. So slow down and take the byway instead of the highway. The scenery is worth it and the destination is beyond imagination.