Capture Your Thoughts

robot head

I’ve never been captured by enemy soldiers or handcuffed by deputy sheriffs—but I was once surrounded and held at gun-point by eight Marines—after unintentionally driving down a restricted road on Camp Pendleton.

I climbed into my Toyota with three buddies, after shooting hoops at the gym. We headed for the guard gate—but I got turned around in the thick fog and went the wrong way.

I couldn’t see the large Restricted Area signs.

Suddenly, four military police trucks converged on my car. The Marines jumped out, raised their M16 rifles and ordered us to get down on the ground. They padded us down and searched the car for weapons. Then, they called my Dad.

Once I knew the Marines weren’t going to arrest and throw us into the brig, my heart stopped pounding. I relaxed. But I got anxious again when I realized Dad would probably get chewed out by his boss for my mistake—and then he’d probably ground me and take away the car keys.

My thoughts ran wild.

The Bible says, “Take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Not some thoughts. Not most thoughts. We’re commanded to capture every thought—immediately and decisively.

We must stop and arrest every thought. Handcuff it. Put it in leg-irons. Why? We capture every thought so we can examine it—and determine if we should keep or escort it from our mind.

We must interrogate every thought within the search light of God’s Word—before we continue to think or decide to act on it. We square it with what the Bible says. Then, we identify it as a friend or foe and handle it appropriately.

That’s God’s strategy for guarding our minds. Thinking true thoughts. Keeping good attitudes. Choosing wholesome words. Tossing junky thoughts.

It’s what I call “first-frame” thinking. It’s like reading a comic strip in the newspaper. We look at the first frame before moving to the second. Maybe we choose to read the entire cartoon. Maybe we don’t. But along the way, we make a decision on our next move.

That’s also how we choose to think correctly or corruptly—and why it’s so strategic for us to capture every thought in the first frame and hang onto only what’s true and pure.

Philippians 4:8 says, “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

That’s a time-tested Biblical grid through which we can evaluate our thoughts and guard our minds. That’s also the sure foundation of “first-frame” thinking.

Let’s toss the junk—and think only the good stuff!

 

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Rotten Words Stink

words 2

Growing up, I went over to the Gilsons’ fruit ranch, where I’d hang out with Craig and my other buddies. Sometimes, we got into mischief—but usually we just had old-fashioned fun.

We kicked cans and shot crows. Gigged frogs and hunted lizards. Chased and teased Craig’s little sister. Started and put out fires. Went skinny-dipping in the neighbor’s reservoir. Built forts and hideouts. Did flips off the diving board. Ate stolen watermelons.

We also threw rotten fruit!

We’d run through the trees on that large ranch, throwing moldy avocados and mushy oranges at each other. We’d hide out. Sneak round. Stockpile ammo. Ambush and chase each other.

Craig’s mother knew when we’d been throwing rotten fruit—because the stinky stuff made our shirts and jeans reek. We smelled like rotten fruit.

I can think of several offensive odors I’d rather not smell again.

Dirty socks. Sweaty armpits. Forgotten gym clothes. Chicken ranches. Dairy farm dogs. Rotten eggs. Sour milk. Soiled diapers.

In God’s book—or I should say God’s nostrils—unwholesome words stink to high heaven!

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome [rotten] talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up …”

Rotten words are offensive to God—and hurtful to others. They’re putrid, foul and repulsive—and reek in the nostrils of God. They’re hurtful, reckless and impulsive—and wreck our relationships and reputations.

That’s why it’s foolish to say unwholesome words.

That’s why every kind of trash talk must go. Inappropriate thoughts must be swept out of your mind—and replaced with wholesome thoughts—so you can encourage and help others.

Did you know you can win the battle for your mind and mouth? Here’s how:

Capture every thought. Handcuff the wrong thoughts. Escort them out of your mind before they escape your mouth as words. Guard your mouth from saying rotten words. Speak wholesomely.

Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). That’s a sure-fire way to evaluate every thought.

David prayed, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3-4). That’s a straight-forward commitment to guard every word.

Let’s guard our thoughts and mouths—and say only words that have a fragrant aroma!

 

 

 

Trusting God’s Harness

Oxen yoke

At Hume Lake Christian Camp—I wore a safety climbing harness when I climbed their famous Pamper Poles about 20 years ago.

Got any idea why they’re nicknamed Pamper Poles? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

These tall poles are part of Hume’s challenging outdoor survival course. They’re old telephone poles, anchored in the ground—with climbing holds securely fastened into the wood, all the way to the top. Both poles are intimidating—and especially so, just before you start climbing.

But hundreds of campers climb these poles every summer. Some climbers are confident. Others are fearful. Many attempt the climb but don’t make it. Still others refuse to even try.

If you’re gutsy enough, you strap on a safety climbing harness with the help of a mountaineering expert. Then, you start climbing your first pole.

If you’re able to step up and stand on top of the first Pamper Pole, you’re supposed to get your balance—as the 40-foot pole sways—and then jump out and grab hold of a trapeze bar—before you’re safely belayed to the ground.

The second pole is a lot more challenging—partly because it stands and sways about 15 feet higher than the first.

I climbed and stood on top of both poles—and grabbed and held onto both trapeze bars. The secret is to stay focused, climb confidently and step up quickly. Then—get your balance, jump as far you can and trust your safety harness!

Our great Savior provides an amazing harness for us to wear. It’s called a yoke.

Before the tractor was invented, farmers used a wooden yoke with leather straps to join two animals (usually oxen or horses) so they could work side by side—and pull a plough through the farmer’s field. Today, many farmers around the world still plough with yoked animals.

Farmers usually yoke an older ox with a younger ox. Do you know why? The more experienced ox knows what to do and pulls most of the plough’s weight. That allows the younger ox to learn while pulling less weight. In a way, he’s also able to rest because he’s pulling a lighter load.

Long ago, Jesus promised, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Like the younger animal, we’re yoked to our strong Savior. We’re walking through life with him.

He shoulders and pulls our heavy burdens and overwhelming loads—but only if we stay at his side. He teaches us—but only if we listen. He gives us rest—but only if we walk with him.

Are you exhausted, fearful or anxious? Remember, Jesus walks with you. Will you trust him, wear his harness and stay by his side? That’s the only way you’ll enjoy the rest he promises!

Stop Fights Before They Start

Fire Storm

Today, I enjoy barbecuing on our gas grill—but I used to like firing up my old Weber. I’d get some hickory-chip briquettes, pile them up just right, douse them with lighter fluid and strike a match. Suddenly, I had a fire going. Then, after a few minutes—I’d fan the coals.

Gradually, the burning charcoal went from black to gray—and eventually I had a layer of red-hot embers. I was finally ready to barbecue!

Proverbs 26:21 says, “As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”

Quarreling is a lot like igniting charcoal with lighter fluid or stoking a fire with kindling—and then walking away, leaving it to burn on its own.

Left unattended, a small fire can get out of control in a hurry. It can escalate and erupt into a big firestorm that causes a lot of hurt and heartache—and before long, the firefighters are battling a full-scale disaster that probably could’ve been avoided.

That’s also what happens when we choose to quarrel or argue. We disrupt and damage our relationships. We cause disunity and discord. We start fires that hurt people.

Quarreling ignites the embers of anger that fuel the flames of hurt, bitterness and resentment.

If those flames are left unchecked, an emotional inferno can erupt and rage out of control. That disastrous decision to do nothing can cause a number of very painful consequences: rejection, hurt, loss, grief, distrust, broken relationships, bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness and more.

Awful stuff happens when angry people attack and argue with others.

So, what can we do to prevent a verbal fire from breaking out? Stop blowing on the embers. Stop fanning the flames. Stop pouring kerosene on the fire.

If we stop saying words and doing things that fuel an emotional fire, we won’t need to grab a fire hose and run like crazy to try and save a burning relationship.

Long ago, David prayed: “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). That’s a great prayer—and the secret to capturing angry thoughts before they become hurtful words.

We can also make peace, not war—just as the Bible says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). That’s an awesome commitment.

Do you want to live peacefully with others—even when they attack and antagonize you?

Then, stop thinking like a crazy arsonist who ignites fires—and start living like a compassionate firefighter who extinguishes fires!

 

Why Do You Pray?

praying boy

One day, I walked past our living room, where Mom was hosting a group of ladies. They were talking about the importance of prayer.

I was on my way outside to play—but Mom called and motioned for me to come over to where they were sitting. Then, out of the blue, she asked, “Son, who taught you how to pray?”

Mom says I looked at the ladies, grinned and replied, “Captain Kangaroo!” The ladies laughed—but Mom was embarrassed and disappointed by what I said because it wasn’t true. I didn’t learn to pray from Captain Kangaroo. My mother taught me how to pray!

Every night, Mom and I knelt and talked with God. We prayed for my dog. Cat. Turtle. Scrapes. School. Family. Friends. We prayed about everything.

Many years later—after Dad trusted Christ as his Savior, he taught and influenced me to pray. I’m especially thankful for his consistent example.

Almost every morning, Dad got up early to read his Bible and pray. He knelt near his desk—and prayed for every person and item on the handwritten prayer list he kept inside his worn Bible.

My parents recognized the importance of prayer—and they taught and modeled it.

James 5:16-18 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

The prophet Elijah was an ordinary guy who prayed to an extraordinary God.

Elijah talked with God—and he saw and heard God’s answers. Elijah knew he could talk with God about anything—anywhere—at any time. He knew God listens and answers—in his way and timing. He knew God says yes, no or wait.

That’s why Elijah prayed persistently and purposefully.

Today, God invites us to cry out to him. He listens for our prayers. It’s as if he bends low to the earth, cups his ear and listens intently. As God responds to our prayers, he reveals his sovereign plan and displays his awesome power. In his perfect way and timing.

God says, “Call unto me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things” (Jeremiah 33:3).

God still answers prayer. He isn’t too busy for us. He isn’t bored, distracted or preoccupied. God sees and cares about everything. He listens and responds to everyone.

And somehow—our puny, persistent prayers move the powerful hand of God.

Have you talked with God today?

 

Got Integrity?

Billy Graham

Billy Graham was an evangelist to the world and a confidant to our Presidents for six decades.

He’s famous for his large evangelistic crusades—but more importantly, he’s respected for his untarnished reputation and unswerving integrity. No scandals. No affairs. No fiascos.

The 97-year-old evangelist knows why character matters. He once said, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”

Character is what fuels integrity—and that’s something you don’t want to tarnish or lose.

Integrity is who you are when nobody’s looking. It’s who you are on the inside, where only God can see. It’s being above reproach—but not perfect.

Do you have integrity? In the marketplace. In the public square. In your private world.

I didn’t ask if you’re perfect—without flaws. Perfection isn’t possible—and it isn’t our objective.

Only God’s Son is forever perfect. He lived a totally blameless life on Planet Earth. He never sinned. He never compromised. He never lost his integrity. Not once.

But sometimes, you and I lack integrity. We come up short. Miss the mark. Rebel and sin. Go our own way. Do our own thing. We have little and long lapses of integrity.

King David had a particularly painful lapse of integrity. Instead of going to war with his warriors, as kings did in those days, David stayed home. That poor decision put him in the wrong place at the wrong time. He should’ve been out with his army, not at his palace.

One day, David saw Bathsheba bathing on a nearby roof top—and he lusted after her body. That prolonged look led to brazen adultery—and then to deliberate deception, murder and cover-up.

After David confessed his sins, he faced a long string of awful consequences: death, rejection, loss, rebellion, family chaos and more. One poor decision erupted into a full-blown disaster.

Years later, Solomon wrote, “For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths” (Proverbs 5:21). Solomon knew all about his father’s sins—and recognized his own shortcomings. That’s why he warned us to watch our steps.

Solomon also wrote, “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9). God values integrity and exposes crooked living. He knows and sees everything—the good and the bad.

Staying on the straight paths of integrity is never easy. We must turn from twisted thinking and loose living. Walk wholesomely in a warped world. Honor God in what we think, say and do.

Will you choose the high road of integrity?

 

When We Drop the Ball

Bob Brenly March 1982

Bob Brenly caught for the San Francisco Giants for nine years.

Game after game, Brenly crouched behind home plate, catching fastballs, sliders and curves. He threw out base runners with ease. He wasn’t an all-star catcher—but he was Mr. Reliable.

On September 14, 1986, Brenly played third base because of a change in the line-up. He fielded and threw well at the hot corner against the Atlanta Braves—until the 4th inning when he bobbled the ball on several routine plays.

Bob Brenly committed four errors in the 4th inning—including two errors on the same play. He also almost got tagged with a fifth error in the same inning. He felt like crawling into a hole.

His teammates encouraged him to shake it off—and Manager Roger Craig left him in the game, not knowing how things would play out.

Brenly went on to beat the Braves with his bat. He smashed a solo home-run in the 5th inning. He hit a two-run single in the 7th to tie the game. Then, he belted the game-winning homer.

Just think—if Roger Craig hadn’t left Bob Brenly in the game, he wouldn’t have smashed the two homers or lined the two-run single in the 9th inning that won the game for the Giants!

What do you do when someone blows it? Boo and jeer. Glare and walk away. Mutter something they can’t hear. Pretend it didn’t happen. Give them a hand. Brush the dirt off

Nobody likes mistakes—especially if you’re the one who dropped the ball. But mistakes are part of life—and failure is often the back door to success.

Honestly, I see mistakes as risky but rewarding opportunities to encourage and help the one who dropped the ball. Why? Everyone deserves a second chance—and not just once.

Joseph forgave his older brothers even though they’d sold him to some slave-traders. Joshua followed Moses and wandered through the desert with 3 million people for 40 years.

David led a rag-tag band of ruffians and misfits before they became warriors. Jonathan risked his life to protect David from his angry father. Hosea pursued and forgave his unfaithful wife.

Bloopers embarrass us. Gaffes humiliate us. Sins haunt us. For a few hours—or a long time.

We’re going to drop the ball, wreck the car and flunk the exam. The bottom is going to drop out—and the bridge is going to blow up. It’s just a matter of time.

But God is faithful and gracious—even if we drop the ball repeatedly. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.”

When we admit our shortcomings and confess our sins, God always forgives and restores!

 

Father Knows Best

Father Son Reading

Like school-yard bullies and selfish brats, we grab for power and jockey for position. We push, shove and elbow through the crowd. We knock others down and boost ourselves up.

We use and try to control people to get what we want. But if you stop and think about it, we really can’t control anyone (except for ourselves) in the grand scheme of things.

God is our all-knowing, all-wise and all-powerful Father. He’s sovereign over all. That’s why he calls the shots—not us. That’s why he allows or causes the stuff of life to happen, as he sees fit.

So much of life is out of our control. We can’t change or stop a lot of things. Time flies. Cancer kills. Cars crash. Dollars dwindle. Bosses fire. Friends move away. Children grow up.

But God remains the same. He’s eternal and unchanging. He stays sovereign and controls all things—even when it doesn’t look or feel like it to us.

Long ago, King Solomon wrote, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1).

The wisest man who ever lived and ruled on Planet Earth humbly acknowledged God as sovereign over himself. It’s no different for you and me today.

God pilots the ship, turns the rudder and charts the course. He wears the badge, blows the whistle and directs traffic. We may not like it, but he’s in charge—not us.

God referees the game, owns the team and coaches the players. He writes the score, tunes the instruments and conducts the orchestra. There is no one like him. Nobody.

One day, after Daniel had prayed and received wisdom from God concerning a matter for King Nebuchadnezzar, he declared: “Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning” (Daniel 2:20-21).

Later, King Nebuchadnezzar declared: “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”… Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right” (Daniel 4:35, 37).

God reigns, exalted over all. He controls all things and does what is right and good. He allows or causes the stuff of life to happen, as he works his plan and cares for us.

Romans 8:28 ways, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Our awesome Father knows best. He’s great, gracious and good. He’s trustworthy. He loves you. Always and forever. Do you love and trust him?

 

Got Needs?

Steak

I eat to live—I don’t live to eat. But I still enjoy eating good portions of what I like. Zesty appetizers. Hearty home-cooked meals. Decadent desserts. Tasty snacks.

I love avocado-bacon omelets and blueberry-banana pancakes. Thick BLT sandwiches and spicy hot burritos. Santa Maria tri-tip and grilled chicken. Juicy cheese hamburgers and sweet potato fries. Vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. And that’s just for starters!

Hey, is that my stomach growling? I wonder what’s in the refrigerator …

Our Savior attracted hungry and needy people everywhere he went. Some were desperate and poor, barely hanging on. Others were haughty and wealthy, lacking nothing. Few understood what they needed—but everyone knew what they wanted.

That’s why large crowds gathered everywhere Jesus went.

They’d hang out with Jesus for hours—and after a while, they’d get hungry and thirsty. There weren’t any fast food restaurants. No McDonalds. No Taco Bell. Most people weren’t able to run home, grab a bite and come back. Very few packed lunches or brought snacks.

One day, Jesus told his disciples to feed an enormous crowd—over 5,000 people—that had gathered while he was teaching. They’d been there for a long time.

The puzzled disciples probably scratched their heads and stared incredulously at Jesus—before they said, “Lord, wait a minute. How are we going to do that? We don’t have enough food to feed everyone. Let’s just send them away!”

Jesus replied, “Guys, I want you to discover how we’re going to feed them.”

So, they went out into the crowd, found a boy who’d brought seven loaves of bread and some fish and asked him to share his lunch. He gladly gave it to them—and they took it to Jesus.

Holding the boy’s lunch—Jesus thanked his Father, miraculously multiplied it and asked his disciples to serve everyone. Then, “the people ate and were satisfied” (Mark 8:8).

After the entire crowd had eaten, the wide-eyed disciples couldn’t believe what happened after lunch. They picked up all the leftovers—seven full baskets of broken pieces of bread and fish!

Years ago, Jesus fed a huge crowd with one boy’s lunch. He took care of their immediate need. Today, he promises to take care of all our needs (Philippians 4:19). Our daily needs—not our selfish wants.

God knows all about your circumstances—and he cares about you. That’s why he declares, “I am the LORD your God … open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10).

Paraphrased, God says, “Open your heart to me. I’ll satisfy and care for you. I’ll handle all of your needs!”

 

Never Give Up

Soldier Tyler

An Army unit known as Baker Company got separated from its regiment, as a large number of North Koreans advanced rapidly toward their position.

Cut off and isolated from reinforcements, they were “sitting ducks”—with no help in sight.

Within minutes, the soldiers were surrounded. Outnumbered and outgunned. Pinned down between a rock and a hard place. The enemy was everywhere.

Baker Company was led by a young, battle-savvy lieutenant. He quickly sized up their situation—and maintained strict radio silence for several minutes before radioing his unit’s position and reporting their predicament.

Meanwhile, back at the command post—the field commander waited nervously for a dispatch from Baker Company. He didn’t know if his troops were under heavy fire, captured or killed.

Suddenly, the radioman heard a crackle on his receiver—and then the voice of Baker Company’s lieutenant was heard over the com inside the war room.

Calmly, the young officer reported, “General, the enemy is to the east, the west, the north and the south of us. We’re totally surrounded.”

Then, after a short pause, the lieutenant confidently continued, “But sir—this time, we’re not going to let them escape!”

Baker Company was surrounded, but refused to surrender. They didn’t drop their weapons. They didn’t raise a white flag. They didn’t stay hunkered down. Instead, they attacked.

How do you respond when you’re in a tight spot?

Maybe your back is against the wall today. You’re feeling surrounded. Caught off guard. Alone. Overwhelmed. Outnumbered. Discouraged. Afraid.

Maybe you want to toss in the towel. Give up and quit. Raise the white flag. Run away.

If you’re fighting discouragement, fear or something else—you can still take your stand, move ahead and win the battle—even if you don’t feel like it. God is with you.

The Bible says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). “Be strong in the Lord … put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

God stays with you. He’ll empower and encourage you. God stands with you. He’ll strengthen and guide you.

God is for you—no matter who’s against you. Will you trust him?