Stop Bad Habits, Start Needing God

Just about everybody has a quirk or flaw about themselves they don’t like. If you’re like me, you have a couple of really bad habits you want to change, but it’s hard. It’s maybe impossible to, and sometimes, you know God wouldn’t approve of the bad habit since the Bible calls it sin.

So the other day, I tried to find a brain hack for my bad habit. Literally. I was emerging out of dreamland that morning, and something made me roll over in bed and punch the ‘Home’ button on my Ipad to wake it up before even I was awake.  I went to Google and searched what part of the brain’s functions governs habits, such as over-eating, smoking, lying, etc.  In a nutshell, this is the facts research tells us:

There is a place where cells are located, at the center of your brain, called the bed nucleus. That cell group sends signals through the stria terminalis, which looks like a cable connecting and transmitting info from part to part. Also, the amygdala (another part) is connected to the stria terminalis, and it releases emotions. If you have a craving that says “I want a hot dog”, emotion is sent from the amygdala to the bed nucleus, where the nuclei send the reply, “Go to Sonic and buy one!”

(Disclaimer: my research is only from scouring various medical writings, and is not doctoral advice.)

I sat up from bed as I rubbed my eyes, wondering how I could stop my bad habit after learning the facts. There’s gotta be SOME way to apply the knowledge and stop sinning, I thought to myself. How?  I pondered throughout the day, but sheesh, I’m no neurologist! I can’t engineer a new way to cure cravings (can I?)! So I gave up on that idea of solving the problem, until late the next night…

…I was going to bed and got that bad-habit-craving again. My thoughts were filled. It was impossible to not think about the craving…

….That’s when a new character entered the scene for the first time ever: RATIONALITY. If my brain was a movie script and there were three characters, RATIONALITY was the new guy in town, breaking the endless cycle. The thought process went like this:

CRAVING: You want it! Get it. Let’s move it, move it.

SELF: I shouldn’t! God says I shouldn’t, so I shouldn’t.

CRAVING: Ok, yeah you’re right... NOT! (shoves SELF) Let’s move it, move it.

SELF: No! I want to please God, not you. You’re not my boss!

CRAVING:  Oh yeah? (scoffs) I won’t let you go to sleep until I’m happy. You will have insomnia, stress, anxiety, and depression.

SELF: ...you’re blackmailing me?

CRAVING: (shrugs) Uh... yeah! That’s what people call it, but why be so technical? Come on! It’ll be fun. Let’s move it, move it. You like it.

SELF: (follows CRAVING)

RATIONALITY enters and stands protectively between CRAVING and SELF, defending SELF.

RATIONALITY: I couldn’t help but overhear. CRAVING is pressuring you right now, SELF; if you give in, you will only regret it later and wish you had avoided it. So you might as well not temporarily reward yourself when the guilt lasts a lot longer than the pleasure. What is there to gain in a reward that you’ve already experienced and know, when you could gain so much more by denying CRAVING and doing what you want – what God wants you to want – instead. CRAVING will always pester you, but you have the power to look into the future, see the consequences, and choose to say ‘NO’.

That was the moment in Wizard of Oz when Scarecrow got an honorary degree of T.H.D. from Oz, and started reciting a complicated equation! It was the moment in Labyrinth when Sarah told Jareth, “You have no power over me”. It was the moment in Anastasia when Anya said “Dasvidanya!” to Rasputin and angrily crunched his glowing vile of life-giving energy under her shoe, breaking it and ending the demon. It was the moment my brain got itself in order, and I could think straight long enough for the craving to fade away. Rationality entered the scene, and Self had the chance to decide before Craving dominated.

I don’t consider what happened a cure for my bad habit, or something that can be engineered to work for everyone, but the neurological research helped me, in that moment, rationalize my brain’s activity, the sending of signals back and forth. That gave me a chance to think about the pros and cons of my craving. Sometimes, a chance to wait out the storm is all you need to say ‘NO’.

Unfortunately for our souls, we live in a world where Craving is the hero instead of Rationality; sexuality is exploited and honored, money is power, and addictions are legal. Love is skewed to mean pleasure not sacrifice; virtual reality governs actions; phones feed our cravings and keep us empty of affection; brains therefore develop into a complicated system of iniquity and we no longer recognize who God is or if he even exists. We live in a world where skeptics doubt a God they can’t see, while sending messages to friends 4,000 miles away in 5 seconds which is easy to grasp because it’s somehow normal and explainable.

Well, I’m here to explain God for 100 more words of your time:

Jeremiah 23:5 says, “I will raise unto David a righteous Branch” which is Jesus Christ, the Messiah we now have access to through the historically proven Bible and prayer. To be right with God, to be righteous, we must program our brains to need Christ (1 Peter 2:2, Psalm 37:7). In the Bible it’s known as being thirsty. Read the story about Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4:4-42) for understanding. If you become thirsty for righteousness, Christ will bring you contentment.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s approval.
They will be satisfied.”  -Matthew 5:6

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Puppet Skit: “Finding the Characterprints of Jesus” Part 3

COCOA: Detective Snowy, Detective Snowy, where are you?  (sniff, sniff) I smell trouble.  (sniff, sniff) Something is wrong.

(HAPPY and FABLE enter)

COCOA: Has anyone seen Detective Snowy? We need to make tracks and find the last clue. I can’t find my detective.

HAPPY: No, Cocoa. I haven’t seen her anywhere.  It’s not like Snowball to be late for VBS. Something must have happened.

FABLE: She was going to the mouse alley earlier this morning to visit her friends.  But she should be back by now.

COCOA: Detective Snowy is not here. I’ve sniffed everywhere. I’ve got to get busy and find her.

HAPPY: I’ll help you find Snowball. She might need some help.

FABLE: Yes. Let’s go to the mouse alley and find her.

(SNOWBALL enters “mewing”, without her spy glass and hat.)

COCOA: Detective Snowy. There you are! But, what happened to you? You look like you’ve been in a cat fight!

SNOWBALL: Cocoa, don’t call me Detective Snowy. I’m just plain old Snowball.

COCOA: Snowball, what happened?

SNOWBALL: I went to the mouse alley this morning. I was with my friends Stuart and Fival, telling them about VBS, when the mean cats showed up.  The cats started chasing all the mice in the alley.

FABLE: It’s not nice to bother the little guys.

SNOWBALL: Those mean cats hurt Stuart and Fival. I got really mad. I tried to hold on to my temper like Jesus would, but I got so mad.  I started yelling at those other cats.  They had no reason to be mean to my friends. And I got madder because they wouldn’t stop it when I told them to. They started calling me names and THAT did it! I started throwing things around. I scared all the ugly old cats away, and I don’t think they’ll be coming back; but I broke my spyglass and lost my cap.

COCOA: Wow, you’ve had a rough time!

HAPPY: We should have been there to help you defend the mice.

FABLE: Are you okay, Snowball?

AllFour

SNOWBALL: I’m okay, Fable.  You all are such great friends.  You are loving and caring, and so faithful. You’ve got the characterprints of Jesus. I wish I had found the last characterprint before I got so angry. I don’t feel like I’m very much like Jesus. I didn’t find anybody who was brave and courageous.

COCOA: Snowball, Jesus did act like that in the temple. You missed our Bible story today. The Bible says that Jesus got angry with the ones who were being mean to others.  God doesn’t like it when someone hurts others. Jesus showed us how mad God gets.  He threw the table down and ran the mean people out of the temple.

HAPPY: That’s right. God gets very angry at evil.

SNOWBALL: Yeah. But I still didn’t find the last character print. I’m not good enough to be a detective.  I needed to find someone who is brave and courageous.

FABLE: Snowball, I think we know who is brave and courageous.

SNOWBALL: Really? Who? Please tell me. Who is it?

HAPPY: It’s you, Snowball. You defended those poor little mice from the mean old cats, even when they insulted you.

FABLE: Jesus did the same thing.

COCOA: You are very brave, Snowball. Just like Jesus.

SNOWBALL: You guys can’t be serious! I can’t believe this. I have a characterprint like Jesus? Are you guys playing a joke on me?

HAPPY: No, Snowball. We really mean it.

SNOWBALL: Wow! I never thought I’d find any characterprints in me. I was surprised to find Cocoa was humble and loving, but me!? This is more than I ever expected! Are you guys positive I’m like Jesus?

FABLE: Yes, Snowball. We’re positive.

COCOA: So, Snowball. How do you feel now that you’ve found all the characterprints of Jesus? Are you proud of yourself?

SNOWBALL: Well, yeah. But not as much as I thought I would be. You all get the credit, too. A little. I did do most of it myself.

COCOA: What!?

SNOWBALL: Let’s review the character prints we found. Cocoa, you were humble when you took a flea bath, and you were loving when you let me change your name. Okay, it was ridiculous to change our names.

FABLE: Happy was faithful. He didn’t stop liking you when  you changed your names. He didn’t make fun of you either.

HAPPY: Fable was forgiving. He forgave Cocoa for what Cocoa said to him.

COCOA: You don’t have to  bring that up, do you?

FABLE: Don’t worry, Cocoa. I forgive you.

SNOWBALL: And I was brave and courageous. I saved the poor lSnowball-ENDittle mice from the mean cats.

COCOA: Yeah! You’re not Detective Snowy – you’re Catgirl, champion of mice!

SNOWBALL: Catgirl?

COCOA: Yes, you can be a super hero….and….I’ll be your dog!

SNOWBALL: No, Cocoa. Let’s just be friends.  Let’s help each other be like Jesus. He’s the real super hero. Jesus Christ is the champion of the whole world.

COCOA: That’s right! Jesus loves everyone!

FABLE: And Jesus is forgiving.

HAPPY: Jesus is faithful.

SNOWBALL: Jesus is brave and courageous! He helps everyone who needs his help. He saves us all!

HAPPY: I hope everyone enjoyed VBS.

FABLE: I sure did.

SNOWBALL: So did I. I learned a lot and I hope I can come back next summer!

HAPPY: Well, bye everyone!

SNOWBALL: Yeah, bye everyone!

FABLE: I hope you continue to have the character prints of Jesus all your life.

SNOWBALL: Cocoa, why aren’t you saying goodbye to everyone?

COCOA: I’m thinking about changing my name to Champion.

SNOWBALL: Cocoa, say good-bye to the audience.

COCOA: Good-bye to the audience. Oh! Bye everyone. I hope you will go into all the world and make tracks for Jesus!

SNOWBALL: Hey, Cocoa, Fable, Happy, let’s go eat! I’m starving!

COCOA: Yeah! Let’s make tracks to my house! I’ve got some mice in the freezer!

SNOWBALL: Cocoa! Don’t make me mad!

COCOA: I’m just kidding, Snowball.

(All puppets leave stage.)

(Behind curtain) COCOA: Ow! I’m just kidding Snowball.

THE END

Puppet Skit: “Finding the Characterprints of Jesus” Part 2

(SNOWBALL and COCOA enter)

SNOWBALL: I was thinking, Cocoa. Do you think I should change my name?

COCOA: Uh, I don’t know. Snowball sounds “cool” to me.

SNOWBALL: I think I need to change my name to Detective Snowy.  How does that sound?

COCOA: Snowball, I think your name is just fine like it is. Come on, make tracks! Let’s find some more characterprints!

SNOWBALL: WAIT a minute! I’m the detective! I decide what to do! And I say I’m going to change my name. I’m Detective Snowy. And I’ll change your name to….um….YES! Your name is Sir Chocolate.

CCocoaOCOA: Sir Chocolate?

SNOWBALL: Yes, Sir Chocolate. It’s so much more sophisticated and mature. After all, it’s European.

COCOA: You mean I’m foreign? Do I lose my character prints if I’m foreign?

SNOWBALL: No, Cocoa, uh, I mean, Sir Chocolate.  You’ll be the same no matter what name you have.  Jesus had a human name but he’s still our Lord and Savior.  And he loves the whole world, not only one nation.

COCOA: Well, uh, I don’t want to change my name.

SNOWBALL: Oh, come on. Just for the next two days.  Then you can change it back to Cocoa.

COCOA: Okay. You can call me Sir Chocolate.  But you’re the only one.

SNOWBALL: Okay! Thanks! You’re a good dog.

(HAPPY enters)

HAPPY: Hiya, Snowball. Hey, Cocoa.

SNOWBALL: Hi, Happy.

HAPPY: Fable told me you’re a detective now. Where’s your detective’s coat?  All detectives have cool trench coats.

SNOWBALL: I don’t need a trench coat. I have my own coat of fur, thank you very much.  A beautiful coat of fur if I might add. And my name is Detective Snowy, NOT Snowball.

HAPPY: Oh. Well, Detective Snowy, I still love you no matter what you change your name to. And Jesus loves you, no matter how much you change.

SNOWBALL: How come everyone is being so loving and faithful today?

HAPPY: Well, Snowball, I mean, Detective Snowy, those are two of the characterprints of Jesus.

SNOWBALL: Oh, YES! I forgot all about the clues! What are the next two clues, Sir Chocolate? Get busy and sniff out our next two clues!

COCOA: (sniff, sniff loudly) I smell……sniff, sniff…..um……I smell something.

SNOWBALL: What do you smell, Sir Chocolate?  Tell me.

COCOA: I smell you, Detective Snowy.  You smell sweet.Snowball

SNOWBALL: Oh, Sir Chocolate…..you’re…..you’re so European.

HAPPY: Hey, Snowy and Chocolate, why the new names? I thought you were finding characterprints for VBS?

SNOWBALL: We’re looking for someone who is loving and faithful.

COCOA: Hey, Detective Snowy! I think we’ve found someone. Happy! He is faithful; he’s our friend even when we change our names.

HAPPY: That’s right. You can change your name all you want, and I still like you.  It’s not your name, or your parents, or your friends that makes me like you. It’s who you are. Sure, you have some flaws, but we all do. Jesus doesn’t just look at what you do wrong; he looks at what you do right. And there are lots of things you do right.

SNOWBALL: Absolutely! You’re right, Sir Chocolate. We have found a character print in Happy.  He is very faithful. But, what about loving?  Let’s keep looking….

(SNOWBALL wanders away, looking for clues)

HAPPY: Cocoa, why is she calling you Sir Chocolate?

COCOA: Oh, she wanted me to have a foreign name, but she’s just calling me Sir Chocolate for the next two days.  I finally agreed after I found out I wouldn’t lose my characterprints.

HAPPY: Detective Snowy, I think you need to look a little closer than that.  Cocoa is very loving, and his love for you allows him to be your dog, and lets you change his name.

COCOA: Do you mean I’m humble – and now – I’m also loving?  Bow WOW, I thought I was just being nice to my friend!

HAPPY: You were, Cocoa. That’s exactly right. When you’re nice to your friends, that shows that you have character prints like Jesus.  You’re loving and humble.

SNOWBALL: I thought you had to be nice to your enemies, and all that stuff, before you could be loving like Jesus.

HAPPY: Well, that’s true, too, Detective Snowy.  Jesus says to be nice to everyone. But if you think about it – Cocoa would be considered as the enemy to most cats! You’re very lucky to have him as your friend.

SNOWBALL: You’re right, Happy! Thanks for helping me see that. Who would have thought? Sir Chocolate is loving! Meow! I solved the next two clues. Happy is faithful, and Sir Chocolate is loving.

HAPPY: Come on, Detective Snowy.  You, too, Sir Chocolate. Let’s go get a banana split.  I’ll make the best one you’ve ever tasted!

COCOA: All right! Make tracks!  Find me some pineapple topping!

SNOWBALL: I get the strawberry topping!

HAPPY: And I like the chocolate! But most of all, I like my friends!

(HAPPY, SNOWBALL and COCOA exit)

 

Puppet Skit: “Finding the Characterprints of Jesus” Part 1

SNOWBALL: Hello, I’m detective Snowball, and I’m here to see if anyone in this room has characterprints like Jesus.

(COCOA enters)

COCOA: Hey Snowball. Whatcha doing?

SNOWBALL: Well, if you weren’t late, you would have heard me the first time.  I’m a detective, and I’m going to find out if anyone in this room has the characterprints like Jesus.

COCOA: Hah! Hah! That’s funny Snowball.  You can’t be a detective.

SNOWBALL: Why not?

COCOA: You can’t even sniff out your own litter box! You can’t find any clues.

SNOWBALL: I can too!

COCOA: Can not!

SNOWBALL: Can too!

COCOA: Can not!

SNOWBALL: Fine. If you really want to help, you can be my dog.

COCOA: All right!  I’ll sniff out any clues there are! I’ll be the best dog detective anyone’s ever seen!

SNOWBALL: Cocoa?

COCOA: Yes?

SNOWBALL: You are NOT a dog detective.  I’m the detective. You are just the detective’s dog. Okay?

COCOA: Oh, okay.  Sorry. What clues do we look for first?

SNOWBALL: First, we’re looking for the meek and humble characterprints.  Also, the forgiving and merciful prints.

COCOA: Oh, yeah!  That should be easy!  Wait! (sniff, sniff loudly) I think I smell something! It’s… it’s… (sniff more, then pause)… IT STINKS! Who’s wearing dirty socks? Yuck!

SNOWBALL: Cocoa?  I think you’re smelling yourself now.  Which reminds me. Before we get started, you need to take a flea bath and get a leash.  After all, I think ALL dogs need to be on leashes.

COCOA: WHAT!?  No way! I can’t do that! That goes against my dog instincts!

SNOWBALL: Cocoa, even your instinct STINKS! If you don’t go get a flea bath right now, I’ll…..

(FABLE-enter-interrupts)

FABLE: Hi Snowball. Hey Cocoa. Um, Snowball, what are you doing?

COCOA: She’s Detective Snowball, and I’m her dog!  We’re trying to find someone with the characterprints of Jesus.  We don’t waste time sitting around writing silly fables!

SNOWBALL: Cocoa! You’re terrible.  Now I’m convinced you don’t have any characterprints.  That was a very rude thing to say to Fable! If you keep that up, I will have to disown you.  I do not want such a stinky animal for MY dog!

FABLE: That’s okay, Snowball. Don’t be mad at Cocoa.  I know he didn’t mean it.  Not everyone enjoys writing stories like I do. To Cocoa, writing fables might be wasting time, and I respect his opinion.  I don’t expect him to like everything I do. After all, none of us are ever exactly alike.  We can be totally different, yet we can still be very good friends.  We can still like each other.  Jesus wants us to be different, and he wants us to be very good friends to everyone.

SNOWBALL: Fable, that was such a forgiving thing to say. After all, Cocoa is only a DOG, and dogs don’t know anything when it comes to being polite.

FABLE: Well, Snowball, that wasn’t a very nice thing to say about Cocoa.  Do you realize that Cocoa is actually very humble by being your dog? He is trying to help you.

SNOWBALL: I guess you’re right, Fable.  Everything I said was true, but I guess I shouldn’t have said it.  Sorry Cocoa. I do thank you for your help.

COCOA: That’s okay! I forgive you, Snowball. Fable, could you do me a favor?

FABLE: What is it, Cocoa?

COCOA: Well, I sorta was just thinking….could you help me, um, take a flea bath?

FABLE: Oh, sure, Cocoa.  Come on. Let’s take a bubble bath!

(COCOA and FABLE leave)

SNOWBALL: Well, I guess I solved the first two clues.  Fable is forgiving. He could have gotten really mad at Cocoa, but he didn’t.  He didn’t yell; he didn’t throw things around, or anything.  Just like Jesus at the cross.  Jesus could have gotten really, really mad, and called the angels to help him get off the cross, but he didn’t.  He died because he loved his friends and his enemies.  And Cocoa, that silly dog, didn’t have to take a flea bath, but he did it for me, so I would be happy.  What a friend!  He’s a good dog.

(COCOA comes back)

COCOA: Okay, let’s make tracks!  I’m ready to find the next two clues! What do we look for next?SnowCocoa

SNOWBALL: Cocoa, we can’t look for any more character prints today.  VBS is over and the kids are going  home.  But we’ll look for more tomorrow.  Come on, let’s go eat lunch.  I’m starving.  Let’s go get some hot dogs!

COCOA: Um, Snowball? Can we eat pizza?  I don’t like to eat hot dogs.

SNOWBALL: Okay, Cocoa. Hey! You look great! You’re really a “hot” dog!  And humble too.

(COCOA and SNOWBALL exit)

 

VBS & Puppet Skit Fun

As a kid, I loved playing with puppets.  I would always write my own puppet plays and play them out for Lacy or for my stuffed animals or parents (depending on if Lacy wanted to play puppets with me or if she wanted to just watch.)  In 6th grade my best friend and I were the puppeteers for the school counselor, although that wasn’t much fun because the voices were pre-taped and we just moved the puppets’ arms around and their mouths according to the voices talking.

In Sunday school, I was a puppeteer when my parents taught the children’s Bible hour.  It was loads of fun, and I loved helping my mom write the plays that would speak to the younger kids each Sunday.  I would have even more fun playing the voice of one or two of the puppets.

In the summer of 2000, my church was holding a 3 day VBS, “Finding the Characterprints of Jesus”.  There were 5 lessons:

Lesson 1 – Jesus was humble.

Lesson 2 – Jesus was forgiving.

Lesson 3 – Jesus was faithful.

Lesson 4 – Jesus was loving.

Lesson 5 – Jesus was brave.

The point of the VBS was to encourage the kids to be detectives and find out ways to be like Jesus Christ.  I remember, the instigator of the VBS was trying to come up with a fun way to close out each day’s activities, and so my mom offered us to make a puppet skit and put it on for the rest of the kids (and adults, too).  I had so much fun with VBS that year.  Mom played the cheery Happy the bear, Lacy played the lighthearted Cocoa the dog, I played the sassy Snowball the cat, and we got another gentle-voiced woman from church to play the amiable Fable the panda.  Needless to say, our skits were a hit.

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Self Control is a Pineapple

“You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep in the night, and those who are drunk are drunk in the night. But let us, since we belong to the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and, for a helmet, the hope of salvation.” 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 (WEB)

If you’ve ever brought a whole pineapple home, you might have wondered how to peel the fruit and eat it.  With the hard spiky skin and the tough leaves on top, it might be intimidating to sink your teeth into. And the truth is, you don’t just bring it home and eat it like you do an apple or a pear.  You have to cut the top and outer skin off before slicing the pineapple into pieces you can eat. The meat of the fruit is protected, and if you’ve ever tried to grow a pineapple plant from the top part that you cut off, then you’ll know that the leaves of the plant are razor sharp and painful to brush against.

Mastering the art of self control will give you a suit of armor that can withstand any temptation.  But today, self control is a foreign concept.  People think they have to have what they want when they want it.

Have you ever seen cartoons or old movies where the character would have an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other?  Each would whisper into the character’s ear, argue with each other, and try to win the person to their side.  Good versus evil.  The character had a choice.

But as Christians we can’t afford to have a choice: we need to be holy.  Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:13-21 that we need to “prepare our minds for action, be sober, and set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ- as children of obedience, not conforming yourselves according to your former lusts as in your ignorance, but just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior…”  Because we weren’t bought with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Jesus, the Son of God.

Like the armor on a pineapple, self control can be a complicated fruit to enjoy; but it is not impossible to achieve.  In Christ, we are new creations, and our old selves are dead. (2 Corinthians 5:17) After baptism, our sinful desires and habits should be cut away and discarded.  We should have no part in sin anymore.  But like the rotting corpse zombies that break out of their graves in modern fiction, the dead sin will fight to come back to life and govern our lives.  Sin does not want to let us go!

Sin changes the way our brain works; it puts us into a completely different paradigm of thought. Christians will never be understood by people in sin.  Titus 1:15 tells us that “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.”  That is why self control is so important in our lives.

But don’t lose hope, if you have a friend who is in sin. Remember Ephesians 5:8-16 when it says “…you were once darkness,  but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, proving what is well pleasing to the Lord. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather even reprove them. For the things which are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of. But all things, when they are reproved, are revealed by the light, for everything that reveals is light. Therefore he says, “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise,  but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  With God’s grace, your friend can still be pulled out of the paradigm of sin and be saved.  Pray for them!

Self control is best achieved when the trait is developed as a child. Joseph was taught self control when his father Jacob rebuked him for telling his prophetic dreams to his father and brothers (Genesis 37:5-11), and because of the discipline that he received as a child, he later was able to flee the evil of Potiphar’s wife and also hide his true identity to his brothers despite the strong emotion that welled within his spirit.  That’s why it’s so important to discipline your child with punishment when respect is not given or a wrong deed is done.

But what about those of us now, as adults, wish to master the art of self control? The book of Titus explains what is expected of us as Christians, but we can also learn valuable lessons from Joseph and other key figures in the Bible.

Flee From Evil: The Story of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-45)

Joseph always kept his words, his thoughts, and his actions focused on God. This allowed him to flee the evil that confronted him. He also saved many people with self control, and had the wisdom to deal with his brothers when he saw them again.  If Joseph had given into his lusts or temptations even once, it would have weakened his self control.

Before acting, always ask yourself this question: “Can I dedicate this to God?”  If the answer is no, think again before you do it.  Does the Bible speak against it? If so, don’t do it!

For example, if you’d like to watch a movie, then that may be fine; but if the movie has nudity or bad language then it would be better to spend your time doing something else.

Listen to godly advice: The Story of Boy Samuel (1 Samuel 3)

Samuel was ready to minister to Eli, but he didn’t think it was God Almighty who would call him.  When the priest Eli realized what was happening, he advised the boy on how to respond if called again.  Samuel followed the advice, and it opened a life of service to God.  Samuel was respected as a great prophet of God, and followed His commands faithfully.

If you don’t know whether God would approve of what you want to do, then seek advice.  Ask a godly friend or a church elder or deacon what the Bible says on the issue at hand, and ask them if they think it’s a good thing to do. Even if the issue is embarrassing or something you’d rather not confess, you need to find someone to ask advice from.  Don’t try to work it out yourself.

For example, if your work group is going on a skiing retreat and they’ve asked you to come;  Men and women will be occupying the cabins and alcohol will be served, though it is optional… You’d like to go, but you may need to seek advice if you don’t know what God would think.

Live for God: The Story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1, 3)

Daniel and his 3 friends begin their story as they are taken from Judah and placed in the king’s palace to work.  They honored God by refraining from eating the royal food and wine, instead eating only vegetables and drinking only water.  The self control that these men showed in chapter 1 of Daniel is tested severely in chapter 3. When the king Nebuchadnezzar called for everyone to bow down to the great golden statue, it would have been easy for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to bow down along with everyone else- but they didn’t. Instead, they had already dedicated their entire lives to God, so they were able to stand firm on their belief and as a result, God’s greatness was glorified.

Know what’s expected of you.  Read the Bible daily and learn the laws of Christ. Study with a church family. Memorize scripture so that you can combat against the sinful habits that try to ensnare you.

For example, it may not be a sin to eat an extra piece of pie at dinner, but if you’re trying not to eat so much then remember Matthew 5:33-37, which says “…But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’…” and keep your word, even to yourself.

Live in prayer: The Story of Daniel (Daniel 1, 6)

We already know Daniel dedicated his life to God along with his 3 friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  While the others found themselves in a fiery furnace after Nebuchadnezzar’s decree, Daniel found himself facing a sentence in a lion’s den because he would not give up his relationship with God.   King Darius’s decree was for no one to pray to anyone but him, and Daniel could have simply prayed quietly for no one to see. But Daniel’s public prayers to God were too important to him.  His self control wouldn’t allow his faith in God to be hidden.

Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Have a personal relationship with God.  Talk to Him, and allow yourself to open the Bible so that He can respond back.  Seek His will for you, and strive to live it.  If you’re always in prayer with God, then sin has a hard time sneaking back into your life.

For example, you’ve got a juicy bit of gossip that you know your neighbor would love to hear, but the gossip will hurt the local celebrity’s reputation if the word gets out.  Next time you greet your neighbor across the fence, be sure to ask God to give you the wisdom to speak only words that will edify the neighbor and glorify God- not words that will slander anyone else.

Admit When You Do Wrong: The Story of Eve (Genesis 3)

Eve is often criticized for eating the forbidden fruit of Eden and then passing the blame off to the serpent.  And although that could be true, we cannot ignore the fact that she did admit her fault.  “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” God punished her for eating the fruit, not for playing the blame game.

Admit when you’ve done something wrong.  You can keep a prayer journal where you write down your prayers to God- write in your pages that you’ve done wrong and you need forgiveness.  Or find a godly friend that you can trust, and tell that friend whenever you do something against God.  Have your friend pray for you, right there on the spot if he or she is willing.

For example, if someone has done something against you and you feel hatred towards them for what they’ve done, then go to that person and tell them what you feel about what they’ve done.  If the person is unapproachable, then confess to a godly friend or church elder or deacon and ask them to pray for you.

Recognize Your Demons and Rebuke Them: The Story of Jesus Rebuking Satan (Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 16:22-24)

When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to have to die, Peter was quick to reply by saying “Far be it from you, Lord! This will never be done to you.”  After all, Jesus is the son of God, so Peter couldn’t dream that He could have such a tragic fate.  This is the Lord who can call angels from heaven!  Death would never come to Him!

But Jesus recognized Peter’s words as from Satan himself- perhaps it reminded him too much of the temptations He had met with in the desert, when Satan told Jesus that he would give the Son of Man all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if He would just fall down and worship him.  The temptation in the desert received the response: “Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only.”  Just like the response which Peter now received: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.”

Jesus wasn’t afraid to call the demon for what it was; He wasn’t just responding to his friend Peter,  He was responding to Satan speaking through Peter. Satan was telling Jesus that ‘You don’t really have to die.  You have the power to stay alive. Don’t leave your friends here on earth.  They need you.’

Split your mind into two personalities.  The demon on one shoulder and the angel on the other.  There’s a difference between your mind and sin’s thoughts.  Learn –through knowledge of the laws of Christ- what sin’s thoughts sound like.  Once you can hear the demon’s voice for what it really is, you can argue and fight for God’s truth instead.

For example, when you’ve got a moment to spare and you decide to pass the time, you may automatically move to enjoy some indecent pictures.  Catch yourself in the act and ask yourself, “What are you doing?” Your brain will surely try to justify your actions and give you good reasons for why you’re doing it, but if you know Matthew 5:28 (CEB) which says “But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart,”  (Don’t be fooled by sin my friends, this applies to men as well as women) and Romans 7:5 (ERV) which says “In the past we were ruled by our sinful selves. The law made us want to do sinful things. And those sinful desires controlled our bodies, so that what we did only brought us spiritual death,” then you’ll be on your way to arguing your demon’s voice in the same way Jesus did in the desert.  (Also, read 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Peter 4:1-6, and Colossians 3:5-8 for more arguments against your demon of lust.)

“Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings. But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.”  1 Peter 5:8-11 (WEB)

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Crazy Like a Fox

A warm ray of sunlight shone brightly into the open-air window, almost like the sun was smiling upon a magical spot in a teenager’s room. The room was a young girl’s fantasy, with pink sheets and curtains, and small angel trinkets on display. On the shelves was a small assortment of books, and around the room were display dolls of all shapes and sizes. A woolly gray teddy, with round spectacles balanced upon his nose, sat on a corner table studying a chessboard. A small pocket watch was sewed to his vest, and he looked quite intelligent.

The cheery, warm sunshine peeked in among the row of potted plants on the windowsill. It spied a small beanbag fox, lying lazily among the plants. It almost seemed as if the small fox had been lost among the plants, and forgotten since childhood. He sat there staring intently at the blue jays and sparrows flittering around the yard with a dreamy, yearning sparkle in his marble eyes.

“I want to go outside!” Foxxie called out. “I’m gonna run away, and have an adventure!”

Professor Marble looked up from the chessboard, and gazed skeptically at Foxxie. Foxxie watched the teddy bear closely, to see how he would react. The small bear just kept gazing at his worn-out beanbag friend.

“Well, aren’t you going to say something?” Foxxie questioned. “I’m telling you that I’m running away!”

Professor Marble cocked his head. “Will you enjoy yourself?”

“Dah!” Foxxie shot back, nodding his head happily. He was proud to use his wonderful Russian word. He used the word with the Professor so that he would sound more intelligent, just like his friend. Foxxie thought the word sounded smarter, anyway. It was his way of saying “Yes!”

Professor Marble gazed at Foxxie before speaking to correct his friend. “The word is da, Fox. It’s said with an aw, as in paw.”

“Oh…” Foxxie mused. “Well, ‘dah’ is my own word. I made it up.” It wasn’t smarter, after all, but at least he was unique.

“Well then, bon voyage. Have fun.” Professor Marble took one last glance at Foxxie, and then went back to his game.

“Oh.” Foxxie let out an exasperated sigh. He was disappointed that Professor Marble didn’t try to stop him. “Well, goodbye!”

Foxxie hopped out the window, into the thick carpet grass. A cool breeze blew, wiggling his whiskers. “Dah, that feels so good. It feels good to be outside! Free and wild! Free to be me!”

Foxxie looked around at his new surroundings. There were lots of beautiful flowers scattered around the yard, but Foxxie especially liked the exotic red flower growing in the flowerbed. He felt that he just had to get that beautiful hibiscus flower for his favorite person, Jackie Jackson, the young girl who had grown into a lovely young woman. Foxxie could imagine the lush red flower in Jackie’s thick golden hair. Foxxie suddenly felt forgotten and lost to his only love.

“I have to get her that flower.” Foxxie said to himself. “My future with Jackie depends on it!” He ran over to the flower and tried to break off the stem, but it was too tough. He tugged at it again, when he noticed a large bumblebee buzzing around the flower.

“Stay away from the flower, you bee!” Foxxie yelled. He glared at it, ready to attack if it came too near the flower. “You can’t have the flower! It’s mine. I’m gonna give it to Jackie, and you can’t have it! Go find your own!” The bee buzzed around a few seconds longer, then flew off to another flower. “Dah! I scared it away!” Foxxie said proudly. Then he looked back at the flower. “Now, how am I gonna get it? Hmm… I know! I’ll go ask the Professor!” He climbed up an old lattice next to the window and stumbled back onto the windowsill. “Professor Marble, how can I get a flower out there? I can’t get it off the stem.”

Professor Marble gazed patiently at the worn little fox, and gently shook his head. “My friend, you’ve got to think wild when you’re an adventurer. Would Christopher Columbus have discovered America if he hadn’t dared to imagine that the world was round? Of course not. As an adventurer, he dreamed something different and made it happen. How do you suppose Thomas Edison, a great adventurer into science, created the light bulb, or Alexander Graham Bell the telephone? They imagined. You, too, must use your imagination. Imagine some very sharp teeth in that soft little mouth of yours, and that flower will be yours in one bite. Imagination can get you anything.”

“Oh, dah!” Foxxie replied, a little embarrassed that he didn’t think as wildly as that. Then he cheered up. “I just thought! I need to add a note to go with the flower!” Foxxie dashed to Jackie’s desktop and rummaged around in her letterbox until he found a small piece of paper. On it was scribbled the words: “To the beautiful Jackie Jackson; the angel of my life. From your secret admirer.”

“Dah, this is perfect! It doesn’t even have a name.” Foxxie looked around, but couldn’t find a pencil small enough for him to use. He walked over to Professor Marble and held up the paper for him to see. “How can I write my name on this?”

Professor Marble glanced down at the small note and chuckled. “Fox, I believe a secret admirer’s name is to remain a secret, isn’t it?”

“But how would she know it’s from me if I don’t put my name?” Foxxie shot back.

Professor Marble let out a small sigh. “Well, if you want your name on the note, why don’t you imagine? Before people had pencils, they used feather tips dipped in ink. They used their imaginations. Why don’t you use yours?”

“Dah! That’s a good idea!” Foxxie shot out the window and landed on the soft grass. He frantically looked around, but to his dismay he didn’t see any feathers. But he did notice that the bumblebee was back.

“Hey, bee? What are you doing back?” Foxxie shouted. That’s when he saw the point at the end of the bee. “Hey! I got an idea! Hey bee! Come here!” The bee seemed to ignore Foxxie. It seemed preoccupied with the flower. “Hey Mr. Bee! Don’t ignore me! I need your help!” He ran up to the bee and watched as it landed on the flower and turned to look at him. “Please bee, I need to use your stinger! I need to write my name on this note, and I was wondering if you could help me.”

The bee looked at Foxxie for several minutes. Then it spoke up in a small voice. “I’d like to help you, little fox. But how will you be able to use my stinger?”

Foxxie looked thoughtfully at it, then said, “We’ll use our imagination. I’ll imagine you are a pen. You’ll go dip your stinger into one of those berries on that bush over there, and then I’ll write with the berry juice as the ink.”

The bee thought for a minute. “Alright, but be careful. My stinger is fragile, and can break.”

The bee buzzed off to the blackberry bush and stabbed a small berry cluster. When Foxxie pulled it off the stinger, he noticed a little bit of juice on the tip. “Dah! You got some!” Excitement was in the air.

Foxxie gently guided the bee over the notepaper and started to write his name on the note. He soon ran out of his ink though. He was about to need more berry juice when he heard some voices on the porch. “Oh no, Jackie’s coming. I need to hurry and get the flower!” He glanced down at the note. All he had written was the ‘F’ and half of the ‘o’. “There’s not enough time!” Foxxie loosened his grasp on the bee and watched as it flew up into the air. “Thank you, bee!” He yelled. Then he turned and dashed over to the flower. He closed his eyes, breathed a deep breath, and took a big bite off the stem. It snapped in two, and Foxxie grabbed the flower.

Just then, a girl in her late teens walked up. Foxxie watched as she brushed a bang out of her beautiful blue eyes. Her shoulder length blonde hair was tied back into a large pink ribbon. She held a badminton racket in her hand.

“Where did that birdie go this time?” The girl looked around, and noticed Foxxie. “Foxxie, what are you doing out here?”

“Jackie!” Someone called out from the other side of the yard. “Come on! We’re waiting!”

“Hold on a second. I can’t find the birdie!” Jackie called back. She picked up Foxxie and glanced at her open window. She gently picked up the flower and read the small note with it. She noticed the letters “Fo” scratched out at the bottom of the note. She looked back at Foxxie with a puzzled look on her face.

Later, after Jackie had taken Foxxie back to her room and placed the flower in a vase on her desk, Foxxie was on Jackie’s bed examining a scrapbook she had out. The bee had buzzed in to hear the ending results of Foxxie’s quest. Foxxie had just finished reporting to Professor Marble and Mr. Bee all that had happened.

“What happened to your great adventure you had planned?” Professor Marble asked. “I thought you wanted to become an explorer, like Lewis and Clark? Didn’t you want to go out and find something great?”

“Dah.” Foxxie quietly said. “It wasn’t all that I expected it to be. It wasn’t as great as I thought.”

“Well, perhaps you shouldn’t let your emotions control your actions.” Professor Marble scolded softly. “You can’t lose control of your feelings like that. You need to keep your mind on your mission.”

“Dah, you’re right.” Foxxie agreed. “I totally lost control. Maybe I’m not cut out to be an adventurer. I’m not the right kind of person to be an adventurer. I’m more of the romantic type. I’m more ‘go for the girl you love’ rather than ‘go for the adventure’. I’m in love! I want to be Jackie’s Prince Charming. I will be the next Don Juan!”

The bee buzzed around the room with delight, obviously picking up on the excitement of the moment. “Yes, yes! You can star in the movie Gone with the Wind! You can play Rhett Butler and your friend Jackie can star as Scarlett O’Hara! You two can fall madly in love!”

“Or I could write letters to her!” Foxxie cried happily. “We could write to each other, and she’ll never know it’s me! Then we could meet sometime, and she’ll discover that I was the one writing the letters all along! She’ll realize that I’m the one she loved all this time!”

“Oh, what fun that sounds.” The bee exclaimed, then settled down and sighed a happy sigh. “Wow. What a romance story that would make.”

Professor Marble smiled kindly at Foxxie. “So, my little Romeo, have you learned anything new today?”

“Dah.” Foxxie said. “I didn’t impress Jackie by getting that big beautiful flower. She couldn’t read my whole name. She must not have known it was from me.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear that you have learned a lesson today.” Professor Marble gave a small sigh of relief and nodded. “Now maybe you’ll think twice before going out and trying to impress Jackie. After all, she’s grown up and doesn’t have time to play with small toys like us anymore. We are only for display now.”

Foxxie shook his head quickly. “Oh, no! That’s not what I learned. I learned that one flower wasn’t enough, and that berries don’t give enough ink.” Foxxie exclaimed. “I’ll have to use my imagination to think even wilder next time. I’ll have to think of something better to write my name with. And, I’ll just have to get her lots of flowers!”