Tag Archives: thoughts

Cookies and Mangers

Perfection… the bar was set pretty low, I thought. I was making Christmas cookies. I don’t bother with fancy-decorated ones, but when I roll them out and cut the little shapes, I do like them to be intact and to look like they should.

The cookies weren’t cooperating. Some tore, but mostly they just clung to the countertop when I tried to lift them to the baking sheet, compressing their crisp shapes into long, thin caricatures.

All I wanted was to bake something nice for my family, and suddenly I was dealing with a “take every thought captive and don’t feel sorry for yourself” moment.

The moment passed, the cookies went in the oven, and look what came out. Don’t say God doesn’t have a sense of humour. Would it have mattered if they’d gone on the tray perfectly?

Christmas cookies

Can you tell what they’re supposed to be? Guess I didn’t get the recipe quite right — they swelled up and lost their sharp edges. If you squint a bit, you can find trees, stars and teapots.

But it got me thinking about how we want everything perfect. And about how messy, dusty, smelly and just plain unsuitable the Bethlehem stable was as the birthplace of the Saviour of the world.

Some suggest the stable was a blessing to Mary and Joseph, a haven from the noise, overcrowding and general mayhem of the guestrooms. Maybe so. It definitely made the shepherds’ visit easier.  But it was hardly “perfect”.

Look at what was perfect, though: the timing, the fulfillment of the Bethlehem prophecy, the willing mother and surrogate father, God Himself in human form. The symbolism: the Divine in a humble, earthly mess.

So maybe the lesson from my cookies is to discern which elements need my best efforts at excellence and which are “optional extras”. And to trust God’s perfect working even when I don’t meet my own expectations.

Thoughts and Attitudes

God has encouraged me through a few different writers recently, and I thought I’d share the highlights:

At Everydays, Ashley Clark posted about God Moments, and about how our thoughts and attitudes are a choice. The highlight for me:

God is present in every situation, so there is always a reason to rejoice. We have a choice in every moment. (Read the whole post: God Moments)

Jeff Goins’ most recent weekly e-newsletter built on the attitudes-as-choice theme:

“Our attitudes are habits, so why not practice the ones we’d prefer?” (Read the whole post: One Simple Idea that Makes Life an Exciting Adventure)

My biggest takeaway from Jeff’s post? He challenged us to intentionally smile. Know what? When I do that, my body believes my face and I feel happier.

At Hearing the Heartbeat, Carolyn Watts asks:

How might seeing life as an invitation to oneness rather than as an exam change our days? (Read the whole post: Life is not an Exam)

And at Chatting at the Sky, Emily Freeman offers both optimists and pessimists a different way. My favourite line:

Let the believers consider Immanuel, the with-ness of God, right where we are, not where we wish we were instead. (Read the whole post: One Alternative to Pessimism and Optimism)

Heart-shaped puddle

Will we see the scarred pavement, muddy marks and old leaves, or will we see the heart in the puddle? [Photo credit: Janet Sketchley]

Obedient Thoughts

We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5b, NIV*

As I’ve been praying for grace to bring my thoughts under Christ’s authority, I’ve realized there’s more to this verse than avoiding sinful or tempting thoughts, as important as that is. There are at least three other types of thoughts that need to be kept in line:

Thoughts of self-focus, self-centredness or self-pity. When we’re preoccupied with our own opinions, choices and preferences, we can’t hear His.

Thoughts that ramble instead of being attuned to God’s leading. When we let our minds wander, even in safe places, we’ve lost focus and aren’t following our Shepherd.

Thoughts that yammer on and distract us from His voice. We need to still our thoughts and listen to God.

The other day at work I was tired and achy and tasked with moving boxes. Where ordinarily I’d be focused on muscle pain and “poor me,” I caught myself singing the same song over and over: “Hallelujah to My King.”

The Holy Spirit planted the song, but my moment of choice came when I recognized it: keep singing, or start complaining? For all the tests I (we all) fail, I’m glad this one I passed.

God our Maker, You know our weakness and how easily our thoughts slip away from the paths You’d like them to be in. Without Your Spirit to remind and guide us we don’t have a chance of keeping our thoughts obedient. Thank You for Your grace that helps us. Give us teachable minds and attitudes of obedient perseverance, and grow us in Your ways.

Hallelujah to My King,” by Paul Baloche, is a good song for us all today.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Masquerade: Am I a Fraud? Guest Post by Deb Elkink



Guest Post by Deb Elkink

My character Ebenezer MacAdam owns Incognito Costume Shop and individually recommends rentals based on a client’s personal character. He says,

I’d like to think the purpose of my costumes has been to reveal the real in this masked and disguised generation. But on a grander scale, I myself am being unmasked and my failure laid open to my own view. So many of my years I spent fearing to be discovered for the fraud I really am. Yet here it is the autumn of my life and I stand naked, as it were, before a Judge more kindly than myself. (The Third Grace, p. 74)

Eb’s words issue from a conflicted spot in my own soul. I’d like to think the purpose of my writing is to speak a message of truth to this generation and yet—like him—the very act of my service exposes me to the truth of my own shortcomings. Doesn’t my choice of words (like his choice of costumes) say more about my own heart attitude than that of the reader whose heart I’m judging?

Masked woman

  • I, too, fear being found out for the fraud I really am.

It started early in my life—this suspicion that I wasn’t all that I wished I were or that I portrayed myself to be. When I memorized my spelling list and won the elementary bee, I was self-satisfied but suspected the triumph was a fluke. When I earned honours in graduate school, I delighted in the accomplishment but credited grade inflation. Innately knowing that proficiency can become the breeding ground of pride, I tend to demur: “Oh no, I’m not that talented. It was luck. I don’t deserve the praise.”

There’s actually a psychological label slapped on this condition when it’s pathological: “Imposter Syndrome.” I rush to say that I’ve not been diagnosed; most healthy people to some degree attribute success to luck, reject compliments, or think, “Anyone could have done this.” I suspect it’s a well-intentioned attempt at humility.

  • What’s the line between humility and hypocrisy?

Jesus denounced as hypocrites those who ostentatiously fulfilled religious responsibility for public applause, describing the sanctimonious Pharisees with hearts full of greed and self-indulgence as whitewashed tombs and dirty cups (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 23:25-28). The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek stage, where an actor would hold up a mask indicating one emotion while displaying a juxtaposing facial expression revealing his true feelings. “These people honour me with their lips,” Jesus said, “but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8 NIV). Hypocrites receive their reward in this life; no reward awaits them in Heaven.

The deciding factor between true humility and the falseness of hypocrisy, then, seems to be the heart intention of the worshipper/writer; honouring the Lord with my lips/keyboard for temporal reward isn’t synonymous with bringing my heart close to Him. The very public nature of writing for reader feedback (comment on a blog, payment for an article, placement in a competition) forces me to investigate my motives.

Lacy Mask

  • Does my façade match my heart attitude?

The sixteenth-century Reformer John Calvin wrote in his Institutes (1.1.1-2),

Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God . . . Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.

The only way to know God is through His Word (Living via Written). Humility is seeing myself as I really am, in light of God’s gifting. When I look clearly and honestly at my own heart, I am driven back into the Bible, where I must face my motivation and ask myself truly:

  • Do I write for recognition by my readers or for reward by my Creator?

The stardust of long-awaited, hard-won, now-realized publication threatens to blind me. The only way I see to avoid hypocrisy—that veneer of false humility—is to face the “shaming nakedness” (as Calvin put it) of my own insufficient human efforts. This readies me for the revelation of the righteousness that exists in God alone, the thrill of embracing His gifts to me. I can see myself in perspective not as I measure up to my idea of authorial success but only as I see God’s flawless provision for my imperfection. On this basis I take joy in unearned grace (of salvation, of course, but also of ongoing achievements) while simultaneously facing my fear of exposure without hiding behind a mask of self-effacement. God is the ground of my humility, the Giver of all gifts for the purpose of His glory.

  • I find writing to be a humbling and unmasking experience.

Deb ElkinkDeb Elkink, recipient of the 2012 Grace Irwin Award (sponsored by The Word Guild) for her debut novel, The Third Grace, writes from her cottage on the banks of a creek in southern Alberta. Visit her sometime: www.debelkink.com.

The Third Grace book coverWatch the book trailer for The Third Grace, and read a review of The Third Grace. Check out all the stops on Deb’s blog tour, and maybe win a Kindle Fire HD.

Photo credits: Colourful window of masks: Deb Elkink; Lacy black masks: Lorenda Harder. Photos used by permission.

Thoughts that Sting


which thoughts to

dwell on,


agree with,


Choose life.

God has been reclaiming the garden of my heart from an infestation of negative thoughts. I had no idea how many of the enemy’s lies I’d bought, nor how deeply they’d rooted. I’m so grateful that He loves me enough to confront me with the problem, and to forgive me when I acknowledged my part in letting them take hold.

Listen to the father of lies? Believe what he says? Why in the world would a person do that?

But he makes them sound so reasonable, and they attach to our fears and masquerade as truth. Maybe that’s how to discern the difference: does the thought seem to confirm my fears, stir my anxiety? Or does it resonate with my spirit? I really need to check each thought at the mental garden gate and ask for ID. Friend, or foe? Prove it. 

Wasps in a nest

Wasps’ nest. Photo credit: Janet Sketchley

Not long ago, I was outside in a quiet spot, pondering what I’m (still) learning. A wasp flew into my space, September-stupid and slow. Instead of retreating like I’d do in with an aggressive summer wasp, I shooed it away with my hand.

It came back; I shooed it again. After a few times, it went away.

In the stillness, it seemed like God was asking, “Did you get that?”

I think I did.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8, NLT*

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Bible Verses that Make a Difference

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible ...

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible (cropped version) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On Wednesday I mentioned some of the verses I’m using these days to keep my thoughts and emotions aligned with God.

In various stages of my life, I’ve clung to different verses.

Here are some that have meant a lot to me over the years:

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.”   ‑ Isaiah 50:10b NIV

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”         ‑ Isaiah 40:31 NIV

“The Lord is faithful to all His promises, and loving toward all He has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.”    ‑ Psalm 145:13b,14 NIV

“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”    ‑ Isaiah 40:11 NIV

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out.” – Isaiah 42:3a NIV

What are some verses that have meant the most to you?

Because God Said So

For you have rescued me from death;
you have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in your presence, O God,
in your life-giving light.
Psalm 56:13, NLT*

In this psalm David declares his trust in God and praises God for His promise. Twice he asks “What can men do to me?”

The first time, he follows with a list of what his enemies want to do to him. The danger is real. He asks God to prevent them from harming him. He reminds himself of how intimately God cares for him, and then he reaffirms his choice to trust in God.

Three times in the psalm, he praises God for “His promise” and I think that’s the promise that David would be king. At this point he’s still on the run from King Saul and is in the hands of the Philistines.

Logic and faith say he can’t be killed before God accomplishes His purpose, so David has confidence that his enemies won’t be allowed to kill him.

Most of us don’t have a specific, personal promise from God guaranteeing we won’t be harmed. We do have lots of promises, though. And if we don’t have physical enemies, we still have spiritual ones that would bind or hamper us and keep us from the life God promises.

One of the “enemies” stalking me is anxiety. Today’s verse is one I’m using as a prayer-promise. Another is “who the Son sets free is free indeed.”

Perhaps my favourite “weapon” this year is “I have a Good Shepherd.”

Father, Saviour, show us the individual promises to cling to for protection from the unseen forces, thoughts and behaviour patterns that want to deny the new life You’ve promised to grow in us. Yes, they could do it – if not for Your promises. Help us be confident in You, help us walk in Your presence and in Your life-giving light.

Here’s Carolyn Arends singing “I’ve Got a Hope.”

*New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Saviour and my God!
Psalm 43:5, NLT*

King David is discouraged. He has real, physical enemies oppressing him and bringing down his spirit.

Sometimes our troubles are solid like that, but often they’re not.

Usually I just have my feelings and the “voices in my head.” Circumstances can be fine but some worry or perceived threat will set up in my mind and steal my joy.

I had a weekend like that recently, moping around carrying a load that probably won’t become real and certainly wasn’t then. Saying “it’s been a bit of a struggle.” That’s what I believed because that’s how it felt. And it was a struggle.

Finally the sensible portion of my brain reminded me, “I have a good Shepherd.”

The rest of me said “oh, yeah” like I’d forgotten. Again. But choosing to believe and rely on that fact ended the struggle with my intangible but real feelings.

Shepherd of our souls, You are strong and kind. Whatever circumstances come, You will still be God, still sufficient for our needs. Forgive us when we entertain thoughts that bring us down. And please train us to hear Your truths faster and more clearly so we can learn to walk in Your freedom instead of our former bondage.

Here’s Josh Bates singing David’s psalm in “The Altar of God,” from the first Glory Revealed album.

*New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

What’s On Your Mind?

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14, NLT*

This is a familiar passage often prayed before meetings or in other gatherings where we desire God to be honoured. I always took it to mean “what we discuss and decide or plan here”

But what about all the other things in our hearts when we’re alone?

Isn’t that what meditation means, to focus on or rehearse? To dwell on? To, perhaps, stew over?

How many times do we let our thoughts swim with negatives and complaints? We wish a conversation could have gone differently, we pick at what we didn’t like about Sunday service, we fret over grievances.

Not exactly the “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” that we’re called to do.

Holy and good God, who searches our thoughts and knows our hearts, forgive our sins and retrain us in Your ways. May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing to You. And when they’re not, please get our attention and bring us back on track. Don’t let anything pull us away from nearness to You.

Let Kathryn Scott’s song, “Search Me, Know Me,” be our prayer today:

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Good Grip on the Truth

[A church leader must] have a good grip on himself, and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it.
Titus 1:8-9, MSG*

The Spirit caught my attention with “have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth.” That expanded to include “have a good grip on yourself.”

For me, the reminder is to get and keep a good grip on myself—take troubling thoughts captive to Christ, use the armour of God, keep repeating the words He gives me about His shepherding and my freedom. Hold tightly to Scripture and use it wisely.

The challenge in the verse is to do this in cooperation with Him for my own healing and growth, and at the same time to keep alert to the wider picture to see where and how He wants to use me in others’ lives.

God my Shepherd, Healer and King, Your Word is the sword of truth. Help me use it wisely, in battle for myself and for others, as You equip and direct.  

Here’s a classic hymn that has blessed me a few times this week (most notably at the close of this year’s Write! Canada conference… over 200 voices, singing exuberantly): “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” sung here by Chris Rice.

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson