Choose the right path each day

This summer, after completing a sermon series called “Living Deep,” my pastor gave the congregation a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. He called step twelve, “Choose a new direction, and start on it again each day.” I like the idea that every day is another chance to change your life. But instead of choosing a new direction, I prefer the path metaphor that appears so often in scripture.

In Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, he wrote about the choice he made between two roads in a wood. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We all get to choose between completely different paths in life. Our choices make all the difference.

Joshua told the people of Israel to fear the Lord and follow him faithfully. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” God doesn’t force anyone to follow him; we get to choose. Moses told the people of Israel, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses..” In other words, you have a choice between two very different paths. Listen to the Lord. Choose life.

Jesus said that there is a wide road that many people follow. Unfortunately, the wide, well-traveled road leads to destruction. Fewer people find the narrow road that leads to life.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

One day when I was hiking with a group, two of us went the wrong way at a trail junction. There were signs that we weren’t going the right way; the trail wasn’t as worn or maintained as the trail we had been on. A large tree had fallen across the path. We should have turned around but we continued on even though it didn’t seem right. The path we were on did eventually take us to a trail head but we went miles out of our way, ran out of water, and worried the other hikers.

It is not always easy to follow a path in the wilderness. I have been led astray by other hikers – people who confidently went the wrong way. I’ve relied on my own faulty sense of direction and had to backtrack when I realized my mistake. When the trail is not clearly marked, it is easy to miss a switch back or lose sight of the trail completely. Every year, I hear about someone getting lost and not being as fortunate as I was.

Jesus is the new direction. If you want to find the narrow road that leads to life, you have to follow him. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Following Jesus isn’t a walk in the park. People will ridicule you for believing in him. People will automatically assume that you are a hypocrite because they have seen so many “Christians” talk the talk without walking the walk.

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. –  1 John 1:6-7

The word of God is the trail map to living a deeper life of faith. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105). Show me your ways Lord, teach me your paths (Psalms 25:4). Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

Let God be your compass. Walk with him faithfully each day. He will make your paths straight. He will keep your feet from stumbling. He will guide you along the right paths. Even when you walk through the darkest valleys, he will walk beside you.

Reading List

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Joshua 24:15
Psalm 18:2; 28:7; 118:24; 119:11
Proverbs 3:5
Romans 8:31-31; 12:1-2
Acts 17:28
2 Corinthians 5:16-20
Ephesians 1:11; 2:10
1 John 3:1-10; 5:1-4




Replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones

This summer, my pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith. The eleventh step on his list is “replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones.” What kinds of thoughts are spiritually unhealthy? How do you replace them with healthy thoughts?

Before considering thoughts that are unhealthy, I thought about the interplay of thoughts and feelings. Do thoughts and beliefs influence feelings or do our feelings drive our thoughts? I think the answer is both. I also think that both thoughts and feelings influence behavior but feelings are harder to control. If I am angry, rational thoughts fly out the window and I am more likely to say something I should not say.

❤ The Voice of Authority 

Before you can replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones, you have to recognize that your thoughts are unhealthy. Consider this list of negative emotions: hate, fear, anger, jealousy, guilt, shame, blame, anguish, pity, despair, sorrow. Negative emotions are not necessarily unhealthy. It’s healthy to feel sorrow when you experience a loss or to be afraid when you are in danger. Does the negative emotion help you process and accept an event that you cannot change? Does it motivate you to change things you can realistically change?

I think it is important to recognize that unhealthy thoughts may fit a pattern. We may be in the habit of reacting in a way that is not healthy. Blaming other people for our problems. Blowing things out of proportion. Jumping to conclusions. Making everything personal. Healthy emotions match the situation. Healthy thoughts are constructive.

But now, I’ll get to the heart of why it is important for a Christian to recognize and deal with unhealthy thoughts.

Last week, I listened to a sermon on the Hebrew word for heart, leb, לֵב. Pastor Bruce explained the meaning of the letters. The first letter (read from the right to the left) looks like a staff or cane and the other represents a tent. The staff symbolizes authority and the tent symbolizes being in the tent or home. Taken together, the heart is the voice of authority within the human body. It is what we know as the conscience.

The heart is the home for thoughts and emotions. A Christian’s heart belongs to God. We are commanded to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Any thought that keeps me from loving God with all my heart or from loving other people as I love myself is not spiritually healthy. Bad thoughts do not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Our actions reveal what is in our hearts. As Jesus pointed out, hypocrites, though they may act righteous, neglect matters that are important to God – justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus compared the heart to a cup or dish that hypocrites clean on the outside, while inside, the cup is filthy with greed and self-indulgence (Matthew 23). Unhealthy thoughts of anger and resentment keep followers of Jesus from being the light of the world. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness (1 John 2:9).

Our words often reveal the unhealthy thoughts in our hearts. “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

Think about good things

I made a list of healthy, positive thoughts: love, trust, gratitude, peace, joy, hope, mercy, comfort, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Even making a list of healthy thoughts is good for my heart! There is no shortage of healthy thoughts to replace unhealthy ones.

In reality, I know that I can’t flip a switch to replace my unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones. I have to consciously think about what is good and right and admirable. I have to remind myself to not lean on my own limited understanding. I have to remind myself to trust in the Lord with all my heart because he is the source of all that is good. I have to intentionally put bad experiences in perspective and to remind myself why I have hope.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

We all have unhealthy thoughts that are replaceable with healthy ones. At times, I have struggled with fear, anger, impatience, envy, and despair. Fear can be replaced with love, anger with compassion, impatience with patience, envy with gratitude, despair with hope.

Reading List:

Psalm 138:8
Proverbs 3:5-6
Philippians 4:8
John 15:9; 16:33
Romans 12:1-2
1 Corinthians 10:31
2 Timothy 2:15
Hebrews 13:14
James 1:12-21
1 Peter 5:7
1 John 4:18

A Bright Sadness

The next topic in my diving deep blog series is replacing unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones. Before I write about healthy thoughts, I am pausing to reflect on the unhealthy events of the past two weeks. Today my thoughts are dark and sad.

I believe her. It took a lot of courage to come forward. She had no reason to lie about what happened at a party 36 years ago. It saddens me that people ridicule and vilify her when she tried to do the right thing for the country.

Sometimes it seems like the wicked always win. When you believe in truth, it’s discouraging to see powerful men bury it. When you love justice, it’s discouraging to see powerful people thwart it. When you love mercy, it’s painful to see fellow citizens mercilessly attack a woman who made herself vulnerable.

The man chosen to sit on the highest court is already drunk with power. The ends do not justify the means. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?

I lift my eyes to the Higher Court, to the arbiter of justice and mercy. Every person who perverts truth and justice in the pursuit of power will be held accountable to God.

So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. – Matthew 10:26

When I read Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, I was intrigued by his chapter on A Bright Sadness. A bright sadness is Rohr’s description of the quality of delightful older people who have the capacity to hold both the good and the bad “creatively and with less anxiety” than those who have not reached that level of spiritual maturity.

I am trying desperately in these dark times to achieve that bright sadness. Deep pain and intense joy can coexist. I feel them both: sorrow for the broken world I live in and the joy and hope of the Lord.

I take refuge in the Lord, the one who examines each of us and knows what’s in our hearts. For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice. Someday I will see his face.

Psalm 11

In the Lord I take refuge.
    How then can you say to me:
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
    they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
    at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
    his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
    but the wicked, those who love violence,
    he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
    fiery coals and burning sulfur;
    a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the Lord is righteous,
    he loves justice;
    the upright will see his face.