don't believe everything you think

There’s a bumper sticker out there that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

I had an anxiety attack last week - something unlike anything I’ve experienced before, despite having more than my share of chronic anxiety in my lifetime. This was the first time it really felt like that long-unwanted companion was actually attacking me.

It came with the shakes, nausea, and a sense of terror and impending doom - my mind screaming at me, “RUN! FIGHT! SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!”

The irony was, of course, that it was those very thoughts that kept me frozen, paralyzed, capable only of crumpling up on my bed and trying to remember how to breathe. Something terrible was about to happen, but I was utterly helpless to stop it or to save myself.

There’s no fear quite like that one.

And yet, ten minutes later, nothing terrible had happened. My raging adrenaline began to recede and my mind began to clear and before too long, the whole episode seemed almost silly somehow, even though the panic had been all too real.

My mind had lied to me.

This is not the first time I’ve been faced by my brain’s pathological dishonesty, and it won’t be the last, but it was a stark reminder of how much fear and freedom come with the discovery that our brains can be liars. Fear - because it suddenly feels like the enemy himself holds territory inside us, and so he does in a way; Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) and any lie that takes us into its grip must be a victory for him. And freedom - because at last we realize that we don’t have to be helplessly battered by every cruel, critical, or anxious thought. At last we can build a strategy for our defense.

But as anyone who has ever been lied to from within can tell you (and that’s all of us), it’s rarely as simple as it would seem.

Jesus said, only a couple of paragraphs before the words I just quoted from John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Clearly the strategy to get free from the choking grip of falsehood is the same one Jesus Himself used when He was tested by Satan in the wilderness: We must cut through the lies’ noose using the sharp blade of Truth.

But there’s a step that comes before that. Before we can do any heroic sword-wielding, we must know the truth.

And this, I think, is where so many of us get stuck.

Jesus said, only a couple of paragraphs before the words I just quoted from John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Clearly the strategy to get free from the choking grip of falsehood is the same one Jesus Himself used when He was tested by Satan in the wilderness: We must cut through the lies’ noose using the sharp blade of Truth.

In our age of technology where almost every claim can be backed up by measurable evidence, it seems we’ve developed an assumption that believing what is true instead of what is false will be easy. Truth is objectively confirmed, and stands resolute regardless of subjective measures like individual feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. So it shouldn’t be that hard to identify and take hold of. A sword looks much different from a noose.

And yet Jesus also said, “But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:45).

We may think ourselves to be rational and objective and intelligent beings, but when there’s a voice inside our heads that says “You are worthless” and a voice outside of ourselves saying “You are inestimably valuable,” we will invariably choose to believe the subjective voice within us. It doesn’t matter that all evidence points the other way - that every other human being is clearly inestimably valuable, or that God Himself is the one who says it, or that Jesus Christ shed His blood for us. We still trust our own minds above all.

So we will catch a glimpse of the very sword that could set us free, but then decide that we’d rather remain suffocated by the noose than risk falling on a sword. It’s not that we want to believe lies - it’s that we can’t even identify which is the method of execution and which is the way of escape: the noose, or the sword? The long-held beliefs of the mind, or the objectively-validated statements of God’s Word? The Father of Lies, or the One who is called Faithful and True?

Yes, the truth has the power to set us free. But first we have to know the truth. We have to be able to identify it when we hear it, to differentiate between what is familiar and what is freedom.

Huge leaps have been made in the last few decades in the understanding of the human brain. We know that the brain is highly malleable, especially when we are young (which is when most of us first accept lies into our patterns of thinking). We also know that the brain is made to be efficient to the point of laziness. It will always choose the path of least resistance - it will always choose what is familiar, even when what’s familiar is harmful.

It will always follow the same old pathways that the lies have entrenched in it unless we make the daily, concerted effort to alter those pathways.

For me, it takes only a small trigger to set off a chain reaction of anxiety in my brain, following the lead of very familiar lies such as, “It’s your fault.” “You’re not safe.” “God can’t be trusted.” “If you don’t fix it, no one will.” “This happened because you’re not good enough.”

These statements sound very, very true to me even though they’re very, very false. They are so deeply wired into my brain that even when I manage to recognize the tightening of the noose, it still takes immense effort for me to grab hold of the sword and cut myself free. But I am, at least, beginning to recognize the sword as my weapon of defense, not as another threat to my safety.

Let’s do away with the assumption that the truth is easy to believe. Even when we can see all the evidence before us, it’s nearly always easier to trust the comfortable lies. Rebuking Satan is hard. Reaching for freedom is hard. Allowing Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to define our reality is hard.

But God put the most magnificent piece of all His creation right between your ears. The human brain is not static. It molds and shapes and responds to the input it receives and the habits it forms, and it is empowered even further by the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We do not have to live in captivity to lies - our minds can be made new!

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

The first step is to know the truth.

And then the truth can set you free.


But what do I do if I don’t know the truth?

Most of us formulated a mix of truth and lies as the basis of our understanding of the world when we were growing up. The exact recipe is different for each of us, depending on what our parents taught us, patterns of emphasis in our homes, our unique personalities, and our encounters with God.

The first thing we can do to find out what is true is, of course, to know God’s Word. The Bible is our ultimate source for truth, and it speaks directly to questions of human value, responsibility, shame, worthiness, love, sin, and the character of God. This will be your foundation.

But many of the lies we believe are highly specific to ourselves and difficult to rebuke with a generalized verse alone. Often, one of the keys to rejecting the lies we’ve held close is understanding where they came from and why we believe them in the first place. This is where the community of believers can be a vital resource in the battle. It’s usually much easier for someone else to see the falsehoods in your mind’s narrative than it is for you, and an outside party can often help you work through some of the experiences and relationships that have reinforced those beliefs. I love this saying: “You were wounded in community and you must be healed in community.” We don’t get hurt in a vacuum - usually, someone else hurts us. But we don’t get healed in a vacuum either. We need each other.

So get in the Word (I’ve got a reading plan for you right here). And get in community - whether you seek out a small group, a friend, a family member, a counselor, a mentor, or a psychotherapist, don’t try to do this work by yourself. The lion always preys on the one who walks alone.

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

this is God's will

God has been working in me.

It's always interesting to watch Him, because so often, His shaping touch is so gentle that I don't even feel it until I notice its tangible effects on my life months or years later. He works slowly, deliberately, never hurried or pushy, and why not? He has all the time in the world. I am learning, the longer I watch Him, that the aggressive, domineering, hurry-up-or-you'll-regret-it messages I sometimes hear in my heart and mind are never from Him - they are just my Enemy's strategy to distract me from the loving and teaching voice of my Father.

Today I noticed that my prayers have changed in the last year, maybe two. It was such a gradual shift that it didn't occur to me that anything was happening at the time, but now I can see it: Where I once asked for miracles, I've begun to ask for the revelation of God's character. Where I once asked for changed circumstances, I've begun to ask for changed hearts. Where I once asked God to step in and do blatant divine work in my life (and others'), I've begun to ask Him to lead His children to be His hands and feet toward one another.

I've asked God to miraculously heal the pain and suffering of a family member (well, let's face it... more than one family member), and I don't think that's wrong - but the beauty I have found in "Thy will be done" is that He often wills to do far deeper and greater work than simple healing of a physical problem. He shows us who He is - and there is no greater miracle than that.

The gloriously inefficient plan

But He doesn't necessarily show us who He is the way that I have often expected or desired, either. Looking back, I see that I wanted Him to sweep in in a grand vision, in an incredible event that no one could possibly doubt was an act of God - that would force us to turn our hearts toward Him more. But He has very rarely done so. Instead, He seems to prefer to work small... gentle... slow. He seems to prefer inefficiency. He seems to prefer to involve us, not to force us.

And I am coming to see that His favorite inefficiency is to reveal Himself chiefly in the small, Spirit-led voices and actions of His children. He shows us who He is in the unconditional love, the bottomless forgiveness, the open-hearted welcome of people who are just like us, people who are broken, but have been saved by the blood of Christ and transformed by the Holy Spirit.

So instead of asking Him to put on a huge show of power to remind me of His worthiness, His faithfulness, or His love, I have begun to ask Him to send someone - one of His small, saved people - who can gently, slowly, inefficiently live out His character before me in the humblest of ways. I am learning that He wants to do His deepest work through us, the Church. He wants me to hear His voice from the mouths of His children and see His love through their sacrificial actions and invite His grace into my life in the form of these genuine and difficult relationships.

And He wants me to do the same for them.

We, the Church of Christ, are intended to be His will. His voice. His hands. His arms. His feet. His heart.

The call to imitate Christ has never been more vital.

Now is not the time to wait for miracles to rain down from heaven. If God chooses to do that, then hallelujah, but here is the truth: we are the miracle. The God of all Creation has spared no expense to purchase a relationship with us, and to offer Himself fully to every living soul. That is a miracle. Every day that we walk with Christ as the active manifestation of His love, His grace, His power, His mercy, His unity, and His forgiveness for others is a miracle - and it's the miracle that will save the world, that will bring life to those who are dying in darkness.

God isn't showy or controlling or in a rush. He's not even all that efficient at times. But He is working - and He wants to work in me, and in you, and through us all. Broken and hurting people in our sanctuaries and our world are praying for a vision of what God's heart really looks like. What if we - the Church, the body of Christ - are the answer to that prayer? Am I ready to step in and live it? Are you?

This is your calling and mine - God wants to do His deepest work in us and through us. His Church is called to be His love to the world.

The hard, healing work

This is hard work. The hardest work. It means that instead of burying our brokenness, we re-open the old wounds to the community of Christ - to be healed and, equally importantly, to provide an opportunity for His Church to practice its lofty call. It means that instead of pretending we're all okay, we build relationships based on the assumption that we are all not okay - and that no matter what your pet sin or your coping mechanism or your personal trauma, I've got my own pet sin or coping mechanism or personal trauma that really isn't much different, except maybe by name.

It means I am not just climbing to get myself to the top, but I'm choosing to throw my weight into these burdens in perfect sync with those who are climbing beside me, so that together we can lift up those who are too wounded to make the trek on their own.

And it's risky, because without exception, all of our deepest wounds came from other people to begin with - often the people closest to us. It seems counter-intuitive that we'd need to look for healing in the same position of vulnerability that hurt us, or that we'd ever trust someone other than ourselves to pull us up the treacherous mountainside to victory. But this is the plan.

The gloriously inefficient and hazardously optimistic plan.

Disorders. Addictions. Emptiness. Trauma. Sin. Pain. Abandonment. Disease. Not a single one of us is not suffering somehow from the wounds of a broken world. But until we stop pretending otherwise, until we stop hiding from each other - which can only mean we are hiding from the healing hand of God - the destructive cycle will go on.

God has been working in me. Slowly, gently, He has been clearing my vision to see what my true vocation as a servant of Christ is. It's not to preach the Gospel to a certain number of people or to write a particular book or to revolutionize the way we learn Scripture. Even if any of these things did happen, my real, bottom-line vocation would still be exactly the same as yours: To imitate Christ, who lived unapologetically real, fearlessly vulnerable, and inexhaustibly loving.

He laid His life down for His friends - not just literally, but also daily, entering into other people's muck and empathizing with their pain and loving them all the way to healing. And all this He did fearlessly, freely, even at the risk of unimaginable betrayal.

Now He has passed the baton to me. To you. To His Church.

This is God's will. We are God's plan.

Will we obey?

Jude 17-25 - a call to fight back

Welcome to Part Three of our in-depth study of the book of Jude. We've covered Jude's call to vigilance (in Part One) and his call to discernment (in Part Two) - now, we learn how to respond, how to fight back against the threat of the enemy and the deceptions of "these men."

A study in Jude - part three

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
— Jude 18-25

Our battle plan

In the beginning of his letter, Jude urgently called the Church to vigilance, because deception was creeping in and going unaddressed. Godless men disguised as believers - wolves in sheep's clothing - were perverting God's grace and denying Christ's mastery in a way that imperiled souls.

Then he told the Church what traits to watch for in order to pick these men out from the crowd: they would be revealed by their disdain for authority, their reckless reliance on feelings above the truth, and their ultimate fruitlessness for the kingdom of God.

This letter is no less important for us today than it was for the churches of Jude's era. It may even be more so, because the wolves we are dealing with now have the ability to take their deception to a far higher platform - a worldwide audience. They are turning the grace of God into licentiousness by misusing sacred words like love, grace, and judgment; they are teaching, more loudly every day, that "it doesn't matter" what you do or what name you use for God or how you choose to identify yourself.

Now we know we must be watchful. We know what to be watching for. But what's the battle plan?

Remember the truth

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

If we are to have victory in this war, if we are to fight the good fight of the faith in a way that honors our Lord and Master, then a firm knowledge of and reliance on the truth of His Word is a nonnegotiable. If we have that, then we will not be surprised by the brutality of the fight, by the shrewdness of the enemy, or by the vileness of the worldly and Spiritless. We'll see it coming and we'll be able to make ourselves ready.

The truth will also help us to come into the battle from a right perspective, knowing that it is the mockers who cause the divisions, not we who fight back. So many times we back down from the battle in the name of preserving unity, but all we achieve is unification around the wrong thing. Going to war for the truth is not what divides us - the deceivers are already doing that. Yes, the call to war will inevitably divide the disciples from the deceivers, but that is the nature of truth - that's truth doing its job, and we can't be afraid of it.

Remember the truth. Remember who you are. Remember who you were. And remember who He is.  That's the battle plan. That's the strategy that has already changed the world, and will continue to do so until the day that the King Himself returns to claim the victory.

Remember who you are

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

Jude started his letter with a reminder of our true identities if we are followers of Christ, and he makes it part of his concluding call, too - because this matters. It is vitally important that we remember who we are, and our rightful role in the war.

But you, beloved: Jude just finished describing the mockers as those who are "devoid of the Spirit," and then says the word but. But you, beloved. Some are Spiritless, but we are loved - there is something different about who we are because we are in Christ, and beloved. That is powerful.

Building yourselves up on your most holy faith: Our foundation is faith - but it's not static. We are building on it. If we're good soldiers, we are growing, day in and day out, in our faith - in the ability to see things (including ourselves) the way God says they are, not the way our eyes see them.

Praying in the Holy Spirit: We have a weapon in hand that the Spirit-devoid mockers do not: access to God Himself in prayer. When the war is overwhelming and we are weak, do we remember that we are those with the unique privilege of access to God's throne?

Keep yourselves in the love of God: In verse one, Jude called us "the called, beloved, and kept." Here it is again: We have the opportunity to be kept (watched over, guarded) in God's love. Regardless of what is going on around us, we are safe.

Waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life: I love that phrase "waiting anxiously." In the Greek it communicates not just of waiting, but of expecting, and of opening oneself to eagerly receive. We have already benefited so much from God's grace, but there is more to come - and we are the recipients of mercy as vast as eternity!

We're loved, firmly founded, privileged with God's presence. We are carefully guarded by God's love and we are still waiting for the rest of His mercy to be showered on us. When we remember that this is who we are, and that this is how He has transformed us, we can do battle well - not because we need the affirmation or revel in the bloodshed, but because we see the value of what we have in Christ, and feel honored to contend earnestly for it.

Remember who you were

And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

But we were not always whole in Christ. We were once lost just as these deceivers and their prey are lost, and we don't fight them ruthlessly, but compassionately - because we know what it is to stand exactly where they are. We need to remember who we were, and thereby remember who to look out for:

The doubting: Those who doubt don't need to be bludgeoned by our sense of certainty or self-righteousness, they need our mercy. Doubt is a very desperate place, because it becomes difficult to tell what is true from what is false, and our fears often muddy the waters and leave us feeling alone, unsure, and terrified. As we do battle compassionately, we need to reach out to the doubting not with a stack of Scripture verses to convince them of the truth, but with a mercy that actively demonstrates the truth of God's mercy toward us.

The lost: The lost, meanwhile, need straight-up saving. They are already in hell's clutches and it is imperative that we have the boldness and courage to run into the burning building and rescue them. It's dangerous and it's not pretty, but it is a crisis. These people don't need to be sermonized on how much better their lives will be with Jesus, they need to be snatched from the sinking talons of hell itself! 

The unwise: These are the people who play perilously close to the cobra's den. They indulge the flesh and make poor choices, and every day they become more vulnerable and more deeply entrenched in the bondage of sin. Like the doubters, these souls need our mercy - but with fear, which is actually closer to the word "terror," and with a hatred for the flesh. Why? Because they are not the only ones who are tempted by the flesh. We all are. Even we who are new creations carry around the "old man" with us, and if we don't tread carefully as we offer mercy to the unwise, we too can get trapped in its grip. When we try to strip the "garment polluted by the flesh" away from someone else, we must hate it so much - and fear our God even more - that we fling it away before it can defile us, too.

If we want to fight this fight with the compassion it demands, we have to remember where we came from. We need to be able to empathize with the doubting. We need to recognize what's really at stake for the lost. And we need to know ourselves and our weaknesses, so that we don't track the same muck we were saved from back into the Church after trying to pull out someone else.

The book of Jude - a three-part study

Remember who our God is

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Finally, and most importantly, Jude's battle plan against deception ends with a simple picture: This is who God is. This is who we have on our side, fighting with us and for us.

He is able. When we don't have the strength to carry on, He can keep us from stumbling and make us stand firm. When we keep screwing up and feel lost in our shame, He still welcomes us into His presence, sees us as blameless, and offers us His joy. When we forget who we are in Him, we can look to who He is, because He is always the same - the only God, our Savior.

To Him be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever.

He will be glorified. He will be King. He will dominate and rule over everything we are battling against - we cannot lose this war, because He is on our side. We need only to contend earnestly for the faith.

Remember the truth. Remember who you are. Remember who you were. And remember who He is.

That's the battle plan. That's the strategy that has already changed the world, and will continue to do so until the day that the King Himself returns to claim the victory.

Are you ready?

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.