Don’t Think Too Much About Pink Elephants. Think About the Right Things.

The best part of any good heist/prison break-out/escape movie is the planning stage. In the planning stage, you get to see how the crooks plan to execute the heist/escape and get away with it. That last part is huge. They don’t just plan the actual job/escape, they plan how they’re going to deal with the ramifications of it.

In the television show Prison Break, Michael Scofield intentionally gets arrested so he can break his wrongfully-accused brother out of prison and get out of the country. Not only does Michael have a plan to break out of prison, he has a plan for afterwards. He’s set the necessary implements in place so he and his brother Lincoln can get away safely.

(I’m not spoiling anything – the show is called Prison Break, you think they’re not going to get out?)

These characters spend a lot of time focusing on the aftermath of their actions. I think we can take a lesson in the Christian community and learn to do the same thing.

We spend a lot of time as a Church telling each other and the world what not to do. We spend a lot of time saying, “No.” And there’s good to that. We need to be speaking truth about things we should not do. We should not look at pornography. We should not gossip about others in the church or in the workplace. We should not lie. We should not physically attack someone unprovoked. We should not hold bitterness in our hearts towards other people, Christian or not.

However, with this focus on what we’re not supposed to do, we miss out on two very important facets.

First, how do we respond if we do these things?

Growing up in the church, you’re told to not do a lot of things. I can look back and remember things I was told not to do. Don’t have sex before you’re married. Don’t cuss. Don’t drink. Don’t hang out with the “bad crowd.” Don’t this, don’t that. What happens if you do? Most of the time we don’t talk about this part. We’ll be hesitant to approach it or we’ll simply say, “Pray and ask God for forgiveness and don’t do it again.” Isn’t there more?

Shouldn’t we spend more time talking about what to do after we sin? We’re going to sin. It’s a proven fact. In those situations, there’s only so much good that comes from saying, “Don’t do ________.” In those situations, we need to learn how to approach the aftermath, how to work through the “getaway,” if you will. We need to be teaching people how to deal with their sin, what to believe about themselves, what to believe about God, how to deal with the guilt and shame that comes from it.

I’m not saying we don’t tell people what not to do. Knowing what is sin is huge. In Romans 7:7, Paul says, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'” But the focus needs to be on what to do in response to the inevitable: us sinning.

Second, what can we do instead of these things?

You know the whole idea where someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant and all you can think of is a pink elephant? It’s called the “ironic process theory.” I think we can subconsciously encourage this in Christian culture when we overload on what not to do. We think so much about not doing something that we end up thinking about it and doing it anyways.

Instead, why don’t we focus more on what we could do? We’re losing our minds trying so hard not to sin that we can easily forget what we can do instead. If I’m trying so hard not to look at porn, it would be easy for me to just slip right into it. If instead I focus on what I can do, psychologically I’m more likely to do it. The difficulty is learning to focus on what I can do instead.

And then comes the Gospel. When we don’t do the things we’re supposed to, which is going to happen, we remember the grace of the Gospel, that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t change our eternal state, it doesn’t change God’s love for us, it doesn’t change His loyalty and devotion to us, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still His adopted son/daughter.

I think thinking about the right things is something the Christian culture could be doing a lot better job of, and it’s an idea that runs through a lot of my blog posts. Instead of speaking out constantly about how bad Planned Parenthood is, we should be helping those who want to get abortions find a different way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Instead of bashing the Supreme Court for their decision on gay marriage, we should be speaking about how doing things God’s way is 10 million times more satisfying. Instead of getting all worked up over Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, we should be doing life with those struggling with their gender identity. This is very conceptual and doesn’t always translate to practicals easily. It depends on the situation. But it’s vital.

I could be wrong, as always, and I could be missing something huge. The cool thing is the grace of the Gospel covers me in that too.


God Feels, But Commits. We Feel, And De-Commit.

I’ve got a confession to make, and perhaps it makes me un-American. And I’m OK with that.

I can’t stand Top Gun. I like Tom Cruise about 75 percent of the time, and I love America, but I can’t stand the movie. I don’t see what’s so fantastic about it. Along with Forrest GumpTop Gun is one of the “American movie classics” I don’t like and would never choose to watch.

One of the trademark scenes in Top Gun is when Tom Cruise’s character sings the song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” to Kelly McGillis’ character in a bar. The song was ranked No. 34 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone in December 2004. The second verse goes:

Now there’s no welcome look in your eyes when I reach for you
And now you’re starting to criticize the things I do
It makes me just feel like crying (baby)
‘Cause baby, something beautiful’s dying

Maybe it’s my cynicism, maybe it’s my maturity, but I find the premise of this song to be rather childish. And maybe that response is too harsh. Let me explain.

Real love can never be about the feeling. It should never be about the feeling. When you’ve lost that “lovin’ feelin’,” there’s no need for the relationship to die. And we see the perfect example of that in the God of the Bible.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God’s displeasure with the people of Israel, but also His passion for sticking with them. In Jeremiah 3, God is speaking to the prophet about the unfaithfulness of His people and we see an interesting juxtaposition. Verse 10 says that Judah returned to God but not “with her whole heart, but in pretense.”

In verses 11-14, God says:

Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD, I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD. I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God, and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORD. Return, O faithless children, declares the LORD; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.

God sees His people being faithless to Him. He says He is angry, but He will not hold His anger forever. There is a sense where He’s not letting His anger, the feeling, the state of mind, be the driving force behind His decision-making.

An article on (admittedly not the greatest source and I couldn’t find the survey they cited) listed the top eight most common reasons for divorce. Among the top reasons were lack of commitment (73 percent of those surveyed), infidelity (55 percent) and unrealistic expectations (45 percent). Each of those things, as well as the rest of the list, involve a great deal of submission to feelings.

How many times have you heard in TV shows or movies the sentence “I don’t love you anymore”? Have you said that to someone? Has someone said that to you?

We are a very emotional people. We have been and we always will be. We can’t escape the fact that we are guided by emotions and feelings, particularly females. But there are also dudes (like me) who let their emotions get the best of them and submit to them. The thing about our feelings is that they come and go, sometimes by the second. We can be totally on board with something like marriage, but then a few feelings later be questioning our commitment and then breaking it.

I’m afraid that often we are addicted to happiness, constantly seeking after things that will make us happy and forget about the cares of the world. This is prevalent in Christians. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to church and hoped that I would get emotionally psyched about following God. But if I’m honest, those times are few and far between. There’s little to no consistency about it. In fact, I’m often the opposite of emotionally psyched. I’m either emotionally drained, emotionally bored or emotionally vacant. No feeling. But I can’t let that keep me from pursuing Christ. I can’t let that keep me from loving God or loving anyone else.

I think the biggest cause of church-raised college kids dropping out from following Christ is the loss of the emotional high they get from being in a church environment every week. They get busy and miss church, and they weren’t raised to think properly above everything else. So when they get to college and their emotions are dragged about by the temptations at hand, they go to what makes them feel happy, what makes them feel good. They get tired of the rules and religion associated with Christianity and they ditch it, looking for that emotional high. They didn’t learn – perhaps weren’t taught – that what’s truly important in life is thinking the right way. And when two things happen – their emotions captured by the college lifestyle and their thinking challenged by academia – they lose their faith. No shock, because there wasn’t much of a foundation to begin with.

Just some thoughts I’ve had kicking around. If you take anything from this post, take this:

Following Jesus is much more about how you think. How you feel plays a very small part.