What in the world goes on inside our brains any way? Could there possibly be anything more complex on the Earth than the human brain? It controls our breathing and bodily systems without us even being aware or focusing on those things. The brain is where we process numbers, letters, language, emotions, theories, philosophies, and ideas. It is where we ponder purpose, meaning, and God. We talk about the "heart" and "matters of the soul and spirit" but all of these are processed in the brain - as far as I know there is nothing in my chest or abdominal cavity that is contemplating love, friendship, hatred, sin, or sacrifice... nope, just oxygen, blood, and the Nutter Butter I just snacked on.
I was recently doing some research on the work of the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of the brain, specifically looking at scientists' observations of the threat/reward impulse and what some call the "Amygdala Hijack." Fascinating dinner conversation, I can assure you. As scientists observe the brain's activity during different scenarios, they have noticed several consistent patterns:
Here's the deal, the amygdala gets hijacked, and rightfully so, when someone cuts us off in traffic and we are afraid we are going to crash, when we slip near the edge of a cliff and nearly fall, etc. Basically when our lives are at risk. Here's the deeper deal, the limbic system is also subconsciously creating physical reactions in us for social survival too. It reacts strongly when things like: our status, our ability to predict the future, our sense of being in control, our ability to feel relationally close to others, or our sense of fairness are threatened. Before we can ever have a rational thought about these things, our brain has established pathways for classifying something as good or bad in relation to these areas.
This is fascinating to me. Science is great! Observing the world around us and even our own bodies and functioning is worthwhile, however, observation of what has been created alone, cannot bring full understanding - in fact it can lead us astray unless we seek the wisdom of the creator to temper it with.
1. Science observes: Status is important to people's happiness. If the brain perceives that social status is being threatened, it reacts strongly. If the brain perceives an increase in social status, being elevated above others, this is desirable. Brain scientist's answer: Elevate yourself. Seek ways to minimize the threats to your status and maximize the opportunities to get ahead of others.
The Bible says: Status belongs to God alone. We are to reject impulses to elevate ourselves and rather humble ourselves and allow God to exalt us in due time as He sees fit. (James 4:10, Psalm 145:3, Philippians 2:3)
2. Science says: Knowing the future and living in certainty brings feelings of comfort and security (increases in dopamine). Brain scientist's answer: Proactively organize your life to reduce uncertainty, plan, plan, plan.
The Bible says: The future belongs to God alone. He alone knows what it holds and He alone is the source of lasting comfort and security. We are to trust him and release our claims to knowing the future. (James 4:13-17, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
3. Science observes: Having choices and a sense of control is vital to mental health.
The Bible says: Releasing control and choosing God's will is vital to spiritual health. The most important choice is choosing God and that choice leads to relinquishing control, not grasping on to it. (Joshua 24:15, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 4:1-2, 1 John 2:17)
4. Science observes: Being in relationship with other people and having safety in those relationships frees you to think freely.
The Bible says: Offer your friendship to those who may have nothing to give you in return. Relationships are important and safety in relationships is good, but they aren't all about what's in it for us. (Ephesians 5:21, Romans 12:13-16)
5. Science observes: Do what you can to pursue fairness in your world to reduce your feelings of threat.
The Bible says: Life isn't fair because sin is a part of our world. We need not feel threatened by a lack of fairness because we serve a just God who will right wrongs perfectly in time. We pursue justice, not to make our own path easier or straighter, but to aid those who cannot help themselves. We do not demand fairness for ourselves because we know that if we were treated fairly, ultimately we deserve death. (Deuteronomy 32:4, Romans 12:17-21)
At the end of the day, we are not bound to the inevitable chemical reactions of our brains. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV says, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgement. 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ." One of the ways scientists have observed to avoid the long lasting effects of a hijacked amygdala is to reframe your reality and experience. As Christians - God has given us a frame for our worldview with which to talk ourselves off the ledges of life. It is given in His Word. Let's fill our minds with the truth of scripture and in doing so re-train our brains to perceive what true threats and rewards really are. Then we will be ready to take risks, look outside ourselves for fulfillment, sacrifice freely, and basically have a life that counts for something, not just a life that is comfortable.
That's all I have to say about that.
"Mom, sometimes I have thoughts like, 'Is God really real?'"
This statement is part of a conversation I almost didn't have with my 11 year old son, Timothy, yesterday in the car on the way home from Wal-Mart. Once I had time to process that entire conversation and the events of that day, I knew that I would need to share it here. Some things are just too important NOT to share.
Earlier this week, Hurricane Sandy brought rain, snow, flooding, power outages, and havoc all throughout the northeastern United States. My husband, who has been gifted with a heart that longs to serve others in tangible ways, immediately sensed that he was meant to help those who were affected in some way by the flooding and devastation that the storm caused. He knew he had to go. We have been out on a limb (where God has called us to be) in so many ways, over so many years, that I didn't even bat an eye at this. Could we afford for him to go? No. Did we know how it would happen or where he would stay? No. Did that matter? No.
Jason pulled $500 out of our emergency fund, packed his duffel bag, pillow and sleeping bag, borrowed a church van (loaded with bottled water donated by church members), and I prayed over him and kissed him goodbye at 8:30am on Wednesday morning. Sometime before lunchtime that very same day, I got a phone call from someone we dearly love. He had been planning to make a donation to a disaster relief organization to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts and heard that Jason was going. He asked how we were paying for the trip and I told him that God would provide. He said he was standing at his bank counter and wanted to wire money into our account to help out, and could I please give him our routing number and account number! Guess how much he gave, without me ever telling him what we needed. $500 exactly. That money, combined with the $120 that various people from Grace Baptist of Cedarville had pushed into our hands/pockets as they dropped off bottled water, will no doubt meet whatever needs come up in the days ahead as Jason offers a cup of cold water, a hot meal, the gospel of Christ, and his physical labor to those who need it most.
Wednesday afternoon, as Timothy and I were driving back from Wal-Mart, I hesitated to tell him that story. I didn't know if he was old enough to really understand the process of trusting God in that way. I didn't want to give him a false impression that you could just run out and do whatever you wanted for God and that he would throw money at you to cover the cost. Still, something in my spirit told me it was worth the risk that he might learn the "wrong lesson" in order to share what God had done and give Him glory. When I relayed the story, Timmy had the biggest smile. He said, "Mom, sometimes I have thoughts like, 'Is God really real?' Then I hear stories like that and I KNOW. I KNOW HE IS REAL and I think how stupid it is to think He isn't."
I am so glad I shared that story with my son. Just in case someone who is reading this is wondering, "Is God really real?" I thought I should share it with you as well. Two questions for you today:
1. What spiritual conversation have you not had with a young person in your life because you aren't sure he/she is ready for it? May I venture to suggest you give it a try? Children and young adults are far more spiritually attuned than we give them credit for!
2. What has God done in your life lately that you need to share with someone else? I know how much that story encouraged my son, and I am hoping it encourages you as well. What stories of His goodness have you not shared with others? We need to hear them!
Hebrews 10:25 NLT "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near."
"You and I are in little (our sins excepted) what God is in large." - A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
I am pondering this quote today. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we were made in God's image. With the exception of our sin nature, the stuff that makes us up is a minute version of the stuff that makes up God. That is worth a few moments of reflection, and could even change the way we view ourselves and others forever if pondered with the proper weight!
If you are single, you have probably been asked what you look for in a potential date/spouse. If you are married, chances are you've had a single friend ask you what they should look for in a mate. How do you answer? Our laundry list of desirable traits might read like this:
- a sense of humor
- good with children
- spiritually mature
- attractive (to you)
- a good communicator
The list could go on and on. Look back over the list for a moment. Is there any trait that does not apply to God? God embodies the most complete, perfect, holy version of every trait that is attractive to us in another human being. The qualities in others that draw us to them, are the very qualities of God; the qualities that God himself possesses in FULL MEASURE.
The challenge that comes with this knowledge is three fold:
1 - To view God accurately - not to withhold from him in our minds the very characteristics that we admire in others, not to downplay His perfection or His ability, not to make Him something that He is not in our thoughts - something that is on the same level as what we have observed here on earth. He is entirely other, beyond what we can fathom in His perfection.
2 - To view ourselves accurately - not to beat ourselves up for having emotions (our God experiences emotions), not to accept a lower standard when a higher one has been set by our Creator, not to see ourselves as greater than we are - no matter how much we excel in a given trait, God is greater still to the nth degree.
3 - To view others accurately - to admire their positive qualities without elevating them to the place of demi-god in our minds, to expect and hope for the best in others because we know they are made of "god-stuff," just as we are (even if they aren't demonstrating it for a season), to refrain from judging them for the qualities that are lesser developed in them than in ourselves - to quote a former Sunday School teacher of mine: "Comparing my vertical leap with my neighbor's is pretty foolish if the moon is the goal." No one can can jump to the moon and the few inches that I may have over my neighbor in my vertical leap is a pretty ridiculous comparison when I consider the actual goal. (Thanks for the illustration, Doug Bridges, I've never forgotten it.)
The lyrics to this song say perfectly some of what I have just stumbled through trying to explain, I hope it blesses you and increases your scope of who our God is and how great He is:
Well they say it's your birthday! Well it's my birthday too!
We are getting ready to head out on a hike to Cedar Falls in a little while, but I wanted to write down some thoughts that are on my mind before we head out and I get busy with the plans of the day. I hope these reflections will be a blessing to you as they have been to me today.
In church this morning, we read a portion of the account of the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Here are the notes I wrote as I listened and pondered God's goodness in the life of Joseph even as things around him were less than idyllic:
The applause of men can be enticing, especially when we are feeling low or needy, but accepting it is dishonest and settling for it is foolish when the God of the universe deserves the credit and the God of the universe is the true lifter of your head.
Psalm 3:3 (NLT) "But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high."
On my birthday today, I praise the One who knit me together in my mother's womb and who, in His great mercy, has saved my soul and given me a life filled with meaning and purpose! He has repeatedly lifted my head in due time and been my source of greatest joy and greatest satisfaction in life. May I serve him well with as many more days/weeks/years as He gives me!
Qualifier: I am not currently particularly hormonal... let me just say that up front. I just finished watching episode 9 of season 3 of Fox's cooking competition, MasterChef and I can honestly say I teared up at the end like I was watching a Hallmark tear-jerker. "Seriously?" You might say. "You cried watching a Gordon Ramsay show?" Yes. Yes I did.
This episode was the last episode before the finale and in it the three finalists would be narrowed down to the final two who would compete for the title. Becky, who had been a major front-runner throughout the competition ended up falling short (having to cook frog's legs, no less). She was completely devastated. That in and of itself might have made someone get misty-eyed, but that is not what made me cry. Once the final two were announced and Becky was left as the odd man out, Gordon Ramsay asked her what would come next for her. Feebly she answered that she would go home and see if she could find a restaurant kitchen to sneak into and work for awhile. Here is how he responded:
"I've got a few restaurants. Trust me, each one of those doors are open, whether it is in the center of Europe, Paris, New York, I don't care; the door is open. Any time you wish. You have a gift."
Okay. That's where I lost it. So did she. Gordon Ramsay has worked very hard over many years to get to a place where he can now, not just give others a leg up or a helping hand, but catapult them into the stuff dreams are made of. He put in the blood, sweat and tears to realize the dream and now he can "open the doors" of that realized dream for others to enjoy and benefit from. That is a beautiful picture to me. That is why I strive to do things with excellence and why I am disappointed in myself when I fall short, because it isn't just about me! The more I learn and grow, the more I have to offer the world around me.
When my friend Katie and I started a children's drama and choir troupe in a church in a small town in rural California many years ago, it wasn't to make a name for ourselves... that is laughable to even consider. We wanted to serve our church. We could have just gotten kids together and sung a few songs and taught them about music and it would have served a purpose, but instead, we both felt compelled to offer the children and the church the very best we could, with God's blessing and strength and grace along the way. In the end, I look back on those years with such joy. Because of that commitment and God's favor, we were able to offer the church, the children and parents, and the community an experience they wouldn't have had otherwise, one that the children in particular (who are all grown-up now) will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives. We did full fledged musicals with 2nd through 6th graders! There were dance routines, competitive auditions, full sets, choreographic elements, costumes, and high expectations for memorization and performance. We taught them that "they had a gift" and then we gave them a chance to put that gift to use in a wonderful way.
Do you know who was most blessed during that MasterChef episode? Gordon Ramsay. No matter how blessed Becky felt, her joy couldn't have possibly paralleled Gordon's. Do you know who was most blessed at the end of each and every children's musical? Katie and I, no doubt about it.
What a privilege it is to work hard and in gratitude offer up what God has allowed us to attain to the building up of others. What are you working hard for right now? What possible ways can you imagine that God could use the fruit of your labors to bless others?
Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."
When I was a college student, I had two amazing jobs. One was serving as the front desk clerk at the dorm I lived at all four years, and the other was as a note taker for the Department of Student Services. Hmmm, perhaps "Amazing" isn't the word you would use to describe these jobs of mine. I get it. Neither was glamorous and neither paid particularly well. The jobs were (and still are) amazing to me because of what they allowed me to do. Working at the front desk enabled me to get paid while I did my homework and socialized with the other girls in my dorm, and it didn't require me getting dressed up or spending any money on gas to get there! As a note taker, I would go to the Student Services Department at the beginning of every semester and show them my class schedule. They would then let me know which classes I was already taking that they could use my services in. You see, there were other students attending my school who dealt with learning disabilities, and one way that the University made sure these classmates had equal opportunity to learn and achieve was to pay students with good note taking skills to share their notes from each lecture. It was a major win-win scenario. 1. I got paid to take notes in classes that I already needed to go to and take notes for. 2. I took better notes than I normally would because I knew that someone else was relying on me to communicate clearly. 3. A fellow student got the extra help they needed to succeed. Maybe now you'll agree, those were pretty amazing jobs!
As I was reading the book, "Radical - Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream" by David Platt, I read this profound section which made me think back to my days as a note taker:
"Imagine being in the Sudan. You walk into a thatched hut with a small group of Sudanese church leaders, and you sit down to teach them God's Word. As soon as you start, you lose eye contact with all of them. No one is looking at you, and you hardly see their eyes the rest of the time. The reason is because they're writing down every word you say. They come up to you afterward and say, 'Teacher, we are going to take everything we have learned from God's Word, translate it into our languages, and teach it in our tribes.' They were not listening to receive but to reproduce. Now journey to a contemporary worship service in the United States. Some people have their Bibles open, while others don't have a Bible with them. A few people are taking notes, but for the most part they are passively sitting in the audience. While some are probably disengaged, others are intently focused on what the preacher is saying, listening to God's Word to hear how it applies to their lives. But the reality is, few are listening to reproduce."
God's Word is not meant to stop with us, it is meant to flow through us. I am challenged by reading Platt's book and by remembering my college note-taking job to remember that everything I receive can be used to bless others, teach others, encourage others, remind others, and point others to the glory of God - and that doing so should be a very natural thing, a real win-win scenario.
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASB
Our church has a group that meets regularly called Women's Missionary Fellowship. This week, I was privileged to attend and hear from Rachel Chambers who is preparing to return with her husband to Zambia and the work and people she loves and is called to.
Rachel shared from her heart, comparing our training in righteousness as Christians to an Olympic athlete's training to win the gold medal. Here are the four qualities she described as being needed by both in order to train well:
1. Discipline (2 Timothy 2:3-5, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
2. Courage (Matthew 25:14-28)
3. An Unwillingness to Quit (Hebrews 12:1-3)
4. Clarity (Philippians 3:13-14)
Our prize is not a gold medal, nor is our training about beating the competition like the Olympian's is, (Rachel was quick to point this out) but the qualities needed are very similar:
Discipline to reject that which weighs us down, misdirects us, derails us, and in any way keeps us from doing what it takes to continue becoming all that God has intended us to be.
Courage to take risks as needed, in faith.
Unwillingness to quit when things are hard, uncomfortable, painful, or difficult to understand, maintaining long-haul commitment through it all, problem-solving and trusting instead of throwing in the towel.
Clarity of purpose. A clear view of the reason we are training in the first place. The glory that is to come - HIS.
True victory, as a Christian, is about standing before Christ one day, hearing "Well done," and receiving a reward (Crowns/Jewels) that we can turn around and lay at his feet, getting the greatest joy from finally having something of worth to give back to Him to honor Him for all that He is, and all that He has done.
Thank you, Rachel!
*If you want to read more about Rachel's story and be inspired by all God has taught this dear sister, you can get her book, The Summons To Become through Amazon at this link.
GLIMMER: A dim perception or inkling. To appear faintly or dimly.
A glimmer is a powerful thing. In and of itself, it isn't much, but what it alludes to, the hope that it holds out - that is powerful.
We can go through times of intense difficulty, sorrow, heartache, and hardship if we have a glimmer of something better in the future to hold on to. The truly hard times come when we have put our hope in a glimmer of something that turns out to be artificial and doesn't pan out. The glimmer of a potential relationship that might alleviate loneliness. The glimmer of a potential windfall that will cushion a financial blow. The glimmer of a better job that will provide improved working conditions and a good income. The glimmer of a change of scenery and a fresh start to be provided by a move to new place. What is the saying? "All that glitters is not gold." We could substitute "glimmer" for "glitter" quite easily.
Thankfully, God provides many glimmers here on earth worth holding on to. Examples of his grace and mercy and ultimate deity that will not disappoint us. If we open our eyes to perceive the glimmers of eternal hope that God casts upon the waters of our lives, we will gain strength and courage to continue on the journey. Sometimes we need others to point out the these sparkling reflections when we fail to see them. Sometimes we need to be the ones pointing them out to others.
There is a song by Addison Road entitled, What Do I Know of Holy, that contains a line that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it or sing it: "Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be. The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees." God has given me many hints of who He is throughout the pages scripture and of my life story, and in nature. What I need to remember and grasp onto is that the reality of who God is (all powerful, all loving, all knowing, ever present, perfectly holy and just) is magnified a million times over from the glimpses of Him I have perceived. He loves me with absolute purity. He protects me with absolute surety. He knows me with absolute clarity. He is in complete control. When we see glimmers of the eternal attributes of the one true God in our lives and in the world around us, they should bring us to our knees, and we should gain strength and hope no matter what our circumstances. The glimmers of God reflect a perfection we can't even begin to imagine.
So when we are tempted to hang our hats on glimmers of things like relationships, jobs, money or greener pastures, let us learn to quickly reject putting the full weight of our hope on them, and instead refuse to settle for a glimmers of anything less than God's perfect will for our lives and the world. He is the only source of light that endures.
1 Corinthians 13:12 "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." NLT
"God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called." Perhaps you've heard this catchy statement before. I know I have heard it several times, and I always agree with it wholeheartedly when I do. I have certainly found myself in a variety of places in life where I felt completely inept and God used those times to humble me and show me what He can do in and through me with no "help" from me at all. Those are always the sweetest times, and yet I tend to avoid them whenever possible! I don't like feeling inept. I REALLY don't. I like being able to say things like, "I've got this," "No problem," and "I'll take it from here, don't worry about a thing!" I hate having to say, "I have no idea," or "I wish I could help you, but I just don't know where to begin," or "I'm horrible at that."
What if, when the disciples had been called to follow Christ, when He told them He would make them fishers of men, what if they claimed their ignorance and ineptitude and insisted that he had the wrong guys. Think about all they would have missed out on! Equally as misguided though would have been if they said, "Sure, I'll follow you. That is exactly the kind of thing I am good at. No problem!" When Christ called them, they experienced God and were used by God uniquely and powerfully, not because of their many gifts, but because of His; not despite their lowly estate but as a result of it. Pride could have easily robbed them of the opportunity to be used by God just as easily as false humility could have. Appropriate humility is being aware of your lowly estate, but not believing that it defines what God is capable of doing through you. Appropriate pride is not being impressed with our own abilities or accomplishments, but being in awe of God's and boasting in what He is capable of in our lives and in the world.
"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'" - 1 Corinthians 26-31 (NIV)
If we take these verses to heart, then when we feel lacking in wisdom, when we feel foolish, when we feel weak, when we see ourselves as lowly or despised - it is time to thank Him and look for ways He might be using us or preparing to use us in the world. These are the types of vessels He uses. When we do not see ourselves in this light; when we think we've got what it takes - it may be time to step down and ask God to humble us before we walk down a path where He is not leading.
"This is what God the Lord says - he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people and life to those who walk on it: 'I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.'" - Isaiah 42:5-8 (NIV)
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!