Study

This week we go deep as God urges us through His word to embrace the transformative power of renewing our minds, shaping not only the life we lead but also the people we are becoming.

We’re in a series we’re calling “Practicing The Way of Jesus.”

Last week we started with our need to confess our powerlessness and surrender. We practiced saying to God, “Your will be done.”

That’s the foundation for this whole series. — I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.

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What matters in this series way more than what you hear in the sermon is what you do in between the sermons. How did that go this week?

I hope you’re in a small group or have someone you’re going through this with so you can discuss what you’re experiencing and learning.

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Alright, today we’re going to learn how God wants to begin to change the automatic flow of our thoughts, and desires, and emotions, and perceptions that are always running through our minds.

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It’s a strange thing about how we treat our minds.

If someone has a high-performance car, they never fuel it with cheap, low-octane gasoline.

I met a veterinarian recently who said there are 50 key ingredients you need to give your pet and there are certain antioxidants that are good brain food for aging pets.

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In the United States alone, we will spend $60 billion on carefully selected pet food this year.

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Here’s what’s remarkable. We can be unbelievably careful about what we put in our cars or our bodies or our pets and remarkably careless about what we put into our one and only mind.

Whatever kind of junk may be floating around on social media or absurd click-bait headlines or non-edifying material on TV or in movies or in magazines or conversations that are full of gossip or crassness or envy will be things we end up feeding our minds.

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Yet, to a very large extent the kind of mind I cultivate determines the kind of life I live and the kind of person I become.

What’s more, people don’t talk about this much, but you and you alone are in charge of what you put into your mind. You are responsible for the quality of the mind you steward.

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Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and profound thinker and author and concentration camp survivor wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning” that the ultimate freedom in human life is freedom not of the body (they might do anything to your body) but freedom of the mind.

Your ability to think and to choose your attitude or to set your mind wherever you want in any given set of circumstances is the ultimate human freedom.

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The great art of life is learning to direct your conscious thought.

You have an unceasing stream of thoughts, perceptions, desires, and emotions going on in your mind. That is your life, and the ability to direct it well is the ultimate art of living.

I can have a mindset directed toward a vision of God and his goodness and presence and love that can inspire me, or I can have a mindset weighed down by worry, chronic discontent, ego, anger, and fear.

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A great student of the mind by the name of Csikszentmihalyi said:

At certain times in history, cultures have taken it for granted that a person wasn’t fully human unless he or she learned to master thoughts and feelings.

One of those times was Jesus’ time. One of those cultures was Jesus’ culture. One of those teachers was the Master.

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Today, we’re going to talk about reading the Bible for spiritual growth in order to be changed so we can live Christ-centered, fully surrendered lives.

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A classic statement about this comes from Paul to his young friend Timothy.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

No person can have a great life without a great mind. I don’t mean a high-IQ mind; I mean a peace-filled, surrendered, joyful mind.

No one can have a great mind unless they feed it great thoughts, and there’s no greater source of great thoughts in human history than the Bible.

So this practice is incredibly simple and can be summarized in three words:

Read the Bible.

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If you’re worried, discouraged, tempted, confused, curious about God, feeling alone, need wisdom, or want to feed your mind something better than all of the junk around us, what should you do?

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After the service, if someone asks you, “What was the message about?” what will you tell them?

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It might not be a good message, but I promise — you will know what it’s about.

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This leads to the next question — why should I read the Bible?

It’s a common question in our day. Why should I read a 2,000-year-old book from a different culture. It seems odd.

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For one thing, you might go to heaven, and if you do, you might run into one of the people who wrote one of the books in the Bible, and he might ask you, “What did you think of my book?”

And you don’t want to have to say, “Mister Malachi, I never got around to reading it. It was in a bad location. I’m sure it was fine.”

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I should read the Bible because in Paul’s word it is God-breathed.

This is a unique thing about this book. While fully honoring the humanity and culture of every author of the 66 books in the Bible, God uniquely inspired the Scriptures to allow us to learn there is a great story of human existence and to reveal himself and his character.

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Why read the Bible? What does reading it do?

It generates life.
It creates faith.
It provides guidance.
It makes the foolish wise.
It makes the faltering strong.
It makes the discouraged hopeful.
It’s the first book to read to a little child.
It’s the last best book to read to a dying man.
It’s so simple and yet so deep that the early church fathers and mothers used to say, “A gnat could swim in it, but an elephant could drown in it.”
It corrects the erring.
It inspires the daring.
It encourages the despairing.
It humbles those who are overbearing.
Reading the Bible honors God and worries the Devil.
It reminds the lonely they have love for this life and heaven in the next.

I promise you. I promise you. On your deathbed there is no book that will speak to you the way this book will.

In this book we discover not so much how the world got made as by whom and what for.

From this book you will learn your identity, and your family, and your Enemy, and the awful calamity of your sin, and the royal pedigree of your life as a child of the King, and your eternal destiny as a citizen of heaven.

If that were not enough, in this book you will meet Jesus who alone mastered life and conquered death.

The story of his actions, the unmatched brilliance of his teachings, the eyewitness account of his death on a cross and his resurrection are simply found nowhere else but this book.

Is it any wonder that people like William Tyndale, John Rogers, and others sacrificed their lives to make it available and that across the centuries countless others have toiled in anonymity and great poverty and suffering to translate the Scripture into unknown languages with such diligence that now over 95 percent of the world’s population has the message of Jesus available to them in their language?

No other book comes close to that.

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It’s an amazing book.

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Here’s the question — how often do you read it?

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A survey by an American research group found 94 percent of Americans own a Bible. No other book comes close. 94 percent of us own it. Most homes have multiple copies.

90 percent believe it applies to today, 86 percent believe it’s holy, and yet less than 30 percent read it even weekly outside of church if they read it there.

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Biblical literacy is at an all-time low.

In one survey, 30 percent of the people who responded believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. I’m not making that up. You have to think about that for a moment.

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We’re going to turn that around based on today’s message, which if anyone asks you, is about what three words?

Read the Bible.

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In this series about practicing the way of Jesus, the first practice is surrender —

I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.

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The second practice is study — Read the Bible. Have a renewed mind, primarily by engaging regularly with the Bible.

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I want to give you the simplest framework for engaging the Bible that I know. I don’t know where it began, but it just uses a little acronym called S-O-A-P.

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Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus to be washed in the water of the Word.

Like soap goes through the fibers of a dirty fabric, the Word of God can go through the thoughts and desires in my mind and cleanse them.

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Alright, so the S is for Scripture.

Make a commitment to read the Bible on a regular basis. I recommend daily, not a mechanical thing and not a legalistic thing but just whatever it takes to renew my mind.

You don’t have to be heroic. Just study.

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Ironically, does anyone want to guess the number one reason people give for not reading the Bible?

“I don’t have enough time.”

Lack of time was cited four times more often than any other reason for not reading the Bible.

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Now, a big part of this series is we’re all coming out of denial together in all areas of our lives.

We’re just admitting we’re messed up, we’re powerless, and we’re rejecting the lame excuses we tell ourselves. So let’s come out of denial on this “time” thing.

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A recent survey found the average American spends eight hours a day on digital media.

Of course, no one in here, but for the average American — TV is number one at five hours a day.

The more we depend on screens to guide our thoughts the weaker our ability to direct the flow of thoughts and feelings in our minds because we’ve outsourced that muscle.

We have access to more great thoughts than anyone in history, but our ability to direct our thoughts is weaker than ever before because we’ve outsourced that muscle.

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Not only do we watch, we binge watch.

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Well Jesus was a binge reader of the Bible, and we know this, because at the beginning of his ministry he quotes Scripture three times to defeat temptation.

At the very end of his life, he quotes Scripture on the cross to express his heart to his Father.

In between, everything he did and everything he taught flowed out of his profound understanding and knowledge of the Scriptures.

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You can make time. You can make time.

You can do it first thing.
You can do it last thing.
You can do it middle thing.
You can make time for it after work.
You can make time for it on the weekend.
You can listen to it in your car.
You can listen while you get ready in the morning.
You can read with a friend.
You could read in line at the grocery store or in line at the airport or in line while you’re waiting for coffee. It might make you be nicer to other people.

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Let’s say you pick a time of day. What else do you need?

I would say get a Bible that you like.

There are different translations. You might know the Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew and the New Testament basically in Greek. There are a lot of different translations. I often use the New International Version when I’m working on a sermon.

In my own private devotional time I use the New Living Translation Study Bible.

Get the Bible app on your phone and you’ll have access to a lot of different translations. Find one you like.

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And then pick a passage in the Bible.

I recommend one of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Make your way through a bit each day and see how it goes.

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That’s all you need. Don’t complicate it.

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Some people wonder, “Do I have to keep a journal?”

How many people here do not like to journal? Just raise your hand.

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Here’s something that might be of interest to you. Jesus never kept a journal.

Mary, Peter, Moses, Gideon, Elijah, Abraham, and all kinds of people in the Bible loved God and lived in faith, but they never went to the stationary store and bought a little leather-bound book with blank pages and wrote in it every day.

If it helps you, do it.

If you’re an introvert, you probably process internally. You may find that writing will help you.

I’m guessing extroverts may not like to journal.

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The book that matters is the book God wrote, so just read the Bible.

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Do this in a relaxed spirit.

You might start with just 15 minutes or maybe just 10 if that gets you into it. Don’t rush it.

Just do it in a relaxed, unhurried spirit.

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Alright, the letter O is for Observe.

Be curious about what you read.

Notice. We go on auto-pilot so much through life.

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One myth about the Bible is it’s a book only scholars can really understand.

Scholarship is a good thing. We value theological education. There are certainly many very complex issues in the Bible as there are in every domain of knowledge, but any thoughtful person can come to understand and be shaped by the Bible.

This has happened in every century on every continent.

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Read through a passage slowly.

A good idea is to read the Bible out loud.

When the Bible was written most people were illiterate, so they heard it read out loud. It was written for that.

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There’s a passage in Augustine where he visited his friend, Ambrose, and was amazed Ambrose could read the Bible without his lips moving or saying the words.

It may be that in the ancient world even most people who could read would normally read out loud.

Of course, that will slow you down, but that’s the point.

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Read the passage more than once.

It’s not about how much you cover.

Be curious about what it says.

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For example, Paul says to Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned… (2 Timothy 3:14)

Now, we know from this letter that from infancy Timothy learned the Scriptures from his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois — so I reflect on what a good thing it is to “continue in what you have learned from the time when you were a child,” and what a good thing it is to pass on to a child knowledge and love of Scripture.

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Aren’t you glad for all of the people who volunteer week after week in our Kids Ministry to help our children know the Scriptures and love God?

Aren’t you glad for all of the people at Blue Oaks who help our kids love Scripture and know God?

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“Continue in,” of course can also mean you don’t just read a passage and then go off and forget it. Let it remain in your mind as you go through your day.

Continue in what you have learned. Reflect on it. Absorb it. Meditate on it.

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For many people, meditation can be an intimidating word that they think requires special training, but it doesn’t.

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How many of you know how to worry?

If you can worry, you can meditate. Meditation is just positive worry.

It’s part of how a mind gets transformed.

In worry, thoughts repeat in your mind over and over and over, but they drag you down.

In meditation, I allow thoughts to repeat over and over, but they elevate me.

You will worry by default, but you will not meditate by default. You have to surrender.

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When you’re observing, don’t stop in the middle to chase down some question. If there’s something that puzzles you or troubles you in the Scripture, make a note of it.

All questions and doubts are welcome to God, and they’re welcome in our church. They’re an important part of being a disciple.

You’ll want to study more later or ask a friend or do some research, but the kind of reading we’re talking about for this practice is reading for spiritual growth where I’m simply seeking help and guidance from God for my everyday life.

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Keep a pen in your hand, and underline certain phrases that are helpful to you or that you want to return to. Circle a word that means something to you. Write something in the margin of the passage.

Then, when you look back through my Bible, you’ll be able to remember what you learned or what was happening in your life when that word or that image or that thought was just what you needed. It will help to make the Bible very personal for you.

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Alright, the letter A stands for Application.

Apply.

The primary purpose of a book in the ancient world was not to provide information; it was to produce excellent people.

This was especially true of the Bible.

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Paul goes on to tell Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

That happens mostly in your mind. You live from your mind and from those thoughts and feelings.

“So that you may be thoroughly equipped for not just a good work now and then but every good work.”

In other words, the idea is so that everything I think and desire and feel and want and perceive and understand and, therefore, everything I naturally say and naturally do flowing out of that from one moment to the next, will honor God and bless people.

In other words, Jesus did not teach to increase people’s knowledge but to change people’s lives.

Sometimes people confuse knowing the Bible with being spiritually mature, but they’re often two different things.

We all know people who know 10 times more about the Bible than other people but are not 10 times more loving than other people.

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Jesus’ brother James put it like this.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

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Let me give you something that’s just bonus material.

If someone asks you what the sermon was about, tell them, “Read the Bible,” but if they say, “That sounds kind of basic and kind of simple. I already know that. Was there anything else?”

Tell them, “Do what it says.”

Read the Bible. Do what it says. It’s not rocket science.

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There’s a great summary of this often used in AA — “Do the next right thing.”

Really, if you want to follow Jesus by surrendering your will, a really good thing is just doing the next right thing.

Read the Bible. Do what it says.

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The average person makes 35,000 decisions a day. We’re often overwhelmed by them.

When Jesus would intervene in someone’s life he usually gave them one simple next thing to do:

He cleansed the leper and said, “Go show yourself to the priest.”
He healed a paralytic and said, “Take up your mat, and walk.”
He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead and said, “Fix her something to eat.”

Instead of some big life plan or mission statement, he just gives instructions — “Do this next thing.”

Not the next big thing. Not the next dramatic thing. Not the next impressive thing. Just the next right thing.

Write someone a note.
Give someone a gift.
Serve someone.
Notice someone.
Relax.
Forgive.
Laugh.
This will come to you as you read the Word. Go outside and look at the world and say, “Thank you, God.”
Be kind.
Drive slower.
Mention to someone you believe in God even if it’s scary.
Volunteer.
Don’t take yourself so seriously.
Think about something noble, beautiful, or good.
Ask for help.
Give someone an unexpected compliment.
Look in the mirror, and instead of being discontented or disappointed, say, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, you good-looking thing!”
Take a deep breath.
Smile.
If I forget and if I mess up and if I do the wrong thing, then I remember the Scripture where God says, “My grace is sufficient for you,” and I confess, and I repent and receive mercy and ask for help, and I do the next right thing.

I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.

It isn’t brain surgery. Read the book. Do what it says. Do the next right thing.

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Alright, the letter P is for Prayer.

Pray.

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You have to understand — the Bible is not merely a human book. Therefore, reading it does not have to be merely a human act.

It’s something uniquely we do with God.

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As I’m reading, and particularly at the end, I just talk with God honestly, simply, and briefly about what I’ve read.

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For centuries, people have met God in unique ways through his Word.

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The first Christian in Africa (we’re told about this in Acts) was an Ethiopian government official who met Jesus through reading the book of Isaiah.

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Augustine, a great church leader in the early centuries, was leading a troubled and confused life when one day he heard an inner voice simply say, “Take up and read,” and he did, and he met Jesus in the Gospels.

Down through the centuries this happens.

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There’s a book by an author named Chirgwin who tells story after story about this.

In Brazil, a man named Antonio of Minas bought a New Testament. He took it home to burn because he was mad at religion and mad at the idea of God.

He threw it in the fire, but it wouldn’t burn easily, so he took it out and started reading at the Sermon on the Mount, and he read all night.

By the morning, he said, “I believe.”

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In Chile, a man named Vincent found a few pages of a Bible washed up on a seashore, and he read them. He had never read the Bible, and he was so moved that he went and found a whole Bible and ended up devoting his life to distributing the Scriptures to people like him in villages in Chile.

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In Sicily, a thug accosted a book dealer who sold devotional books from Scripture. This thug lit a fire to burn the man’s books, but he paused to read a little first.

He read Psalm 23. Then, he read the story of the Good Samaritan and then 1 Corinthians 13 about love.

Each time, he would say, “That’s good. We won’t burn that. That’s good. We won’t burn that.”

He stole all of the books and took them with him. Years later, he turned up again, but he had become a minister of the gospel.

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People meet God in the Bible.

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I’ll tell you one more story. This one I know personally.

A woman had a daughter who had been to a backyard Bible study and came home talking about God, and that made her mad because they were a very irreligious family, but she realized she had never tried to learn about God.

She woke up at midnight and found a Bible in the house. Most homes have one. She realized she had never read it. She had never cracked a Bible, so she opened it up. She saw there was an Old Testament and there was a New Testament. She didn’t know what that was about. She figured the New Testament was an upgrade like a more current version, so she started there, and she read through Matthew and Mark and Luke. At 3:00 in the morning in the gospel of John, she fell in love with Jesus on her living room floor and gave him her life.

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Then, her husband was mad. He was a successful lawyer, but it turns out he liked to drink, and he went on one bender too many and ended up being hospitalized and threatened with the loss of his very nice job and told he had to go to AA.

He said, “I’m not meeting with a bunch of drunks at 6:30 in the morning!”

His sponsor said, “Not only are you going to meet with that bunch of drunks, but you are going to fix coffee for that bunch of drunks,” and he did, and he met God, and he started doing the steps we’re talking about.

Their lives were saved. Their marriage was saved. He was saved from alcohol.

Their family was saved because she picked up the Bible, God’s Word, and it changed everything.

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It’s an amazing book.

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And you have an amazing mind.

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In my prayer, I don’t make demands of God. I don’t say I have to have some dramatic experience or learn some profound insight or be given some life-altering guidance. It might happen. It’s a gift if it comes.

What I do is just offer him my mind, and I ask him, because I can’t, but he can, “God, take away all of the fear (I have so much), and all of the worry (I have so much), and all of the dishonesty, and all of the greed, and all of the self-preoccupation, and all of the resentment, and replace those thoughts and feelings with confidence and love and peace and trust and hope and humility.” Who wouldn’t want that?

Gradually, step by step along the way, I learn from him to take every thought captive to Christ.

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And I get to have the peace of Christ guard my mind.
To be transformed by the renewing of my mind.
To have the same mind in me that was also in Christ Jesus.
To have the mind of Christ.
To set my mind on things above.
To have a mind governed by the Spirit that is life and peace.
To be anxious for nothing.
To be grateful in everything.
To love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength and all my mind.
To have his joy in me and my joy complete.

Alright, let me pray for you and then the team will lead us in a closing song.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA

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