Let’s Choose the Right Thoughts!
September 28, 2008
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our topic and our title for this morning is “Let’s Choose the Right Thoughts.”
In the Epistle reading this morning, from the Epistle of St. Paul to the church at Philippi, Paul was pleading for something. He was asking the people, with heartfelt urgency, to have a certain frame of mind. Now, I don’t know what was going on in the church there at the time, but it seems that there was some friction, just as there was friction in the Jewish community that Moses was trying to lead, in this morning’s Old Testament reading.
So, what St. Paul was pleading was to think the right thoughts. “Let’s choose the right thoughts, everybody.” And he said it this way: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion, any sympathy” – make my day! – “make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” That’s what he was saying – come on, everybody, let’s choose the right thoughts.
One of the great joys of living in New Jersey in the summertime is this – as you go down the country roads, every so often, you’ll see springing up a farm stand. We’ve got a farm stand not too far from here that uses the honor system. We’ve got farm stands springing up all over the state. There is one that I like in particular, out on Route 33. When I take my godson Dylan to the shore in the summer, we always stop there and they recognize us; it’s a good meeting.
But when you go to a farm stand, isn’t it true that you get to choose what you’re going to buy? There are wonderful cases of tomatoes and cucumbers and onions and corn and peaches and plums and apples. You go looking around and you select. Maybe if a tomato has a couple of bruises and looks a bit cut up, not too appetizing, we’ll pass by that one and we’ll choose one that has just the right redness. It may have some imperfections, but we know it will be right for our family. We choose that one. We put it in a bag and buy it. We choose those vegetables from the stand.
In the same way, we’ve got to choose our thoughts, friends. Isn’t it true that every hour of every day we’re bombarded with all kinds of thoughts? We have to be careful which ones we believe, which ones we choose to put in the bag, which ones we choose to act on. Let’s choose the right thoughts.
What’s the temptation? Sometimes we’re tempted to be fearful, to be frozen with fear, and that’s the thought we choose. Sometimes, aren’t we tempted to be a bit cynical? Or judgmental? Or harsh? Are we tempted to be negative? Well, my friends, God wants us not to choose those thoughts. God wants us to choose the thoughts that are positive and kind, thoughts that are gentle and creative, thoughts that are loving and hopeful.
Oh, friends, as you go into this week, I pray that you will make a commitment in your heart to choose the right thoughts.
We’re constantly bombarded by all kinds of thoughts. And I tell you what I think – maybe it’s true for you as well as for me – we are most likely to choose negative thoughts when we are stressed. When we feel a lot of pressure and a lot of stress, that’s when it’s most tempting to choose those less than worthy thoughts. But let’s choose the right ones.
Here’s an idea for you – I say we all build two rubber stamps in our lives. One rubber stamp has the words “WORTHY THOUGHT”; when you’re going to praise somebody, when you’re going to reinforce a good action, when you’re going to ignore a bad action and praise the right one, that’s a worthy thought. I invite you to see that thought written up on a piece of paper. You ink up the stamp with bright red ink, and you put the stamp to the paper. WORTHY THOUGHT. Yes, I’m going to keep that one, put it on the “keep” pile.
But when you’re tempted to think a fearsome thought or a negative thought, we’re going to build another rubber stamp. In the middle of that rubber stamp is a circle with a line through it, and on the top is written the word “UNWORTHY”, and under the circle is the word “THOUGHT”. So when you come upon an idea that says you can’t do something, or that is harsh or judgmental toward another person, or an idea that is a downer in any way, ink up that stamp and stamp that thought! Label it
and shift it off to the other side. I know that I have to use that image every day. And I want to keep on using it to get those unworthy thoughts out of the way, and to keep the ‘worthy thought’ pile growing. I invite you to do this, too, because God gives us this excellent opportunity. The greatest power we have is to choose the thoughts that we think.
Friends, I don’t usually read to you, but I have something in my hand that I think is very important and very precious. It’s the story of someone who has chosen the right thought. And even more powerfully, she is one of our own. It’s a person who is connected with our congregation. This reading is from the blog site of Kathy Brantley. Kathy lives with her husband and her two dogs in Colorado. She is the daughter of Laurie Scott, the editor of Visions of Hope. Kathy has been through a lot, but she is a triumphant spirit, and I’d like to read this essay that she’s written on her blog site for you. It’s called “Three Years Ago.” It was written on September 18, 2008.
Perhaps you remember my definition of a frozen moment from a couple of posts ago. If not, let me refresh your memory: I get these moments burned into my mind, as if I have a photographic memory but only for a moment, and I can go back and look at the picture later. The one from the recent post was the Ferris wheel at the county fair that I went to with Ben. I’ve got that permanently stuck in my memory. It’ll be there when I’m 97 and can’t remember my own name. When I can’t walk or read or dress myself. It’s better than a camera — it’s like I have the picture with me, forever.
I have lots of these “frozen moments.” The first one I remember is of sitting on a stool in our kitchen in Oak Ridge, TN, eating a marshmallow and pretending it was a garbage can. I’d bitten the top of the marshmallow off almost all of the way so that it could ‘open’ like a trash can with a lid. I was so proud of myself!
But the reason I’m bringing this up is because three years ago, *exactly*, I had another one. Ben was travelling — he was in Massachusetts — and I was home alone. However, making the best of my isolation, I packed up the pups and drove out to the Peak-to-Peak highway to watch its slow conversion from a dying green forest to a yellow majesty. There’s a spot up there, about three miles north of town, where the colors are simply *amazing*. The highway overlooks a grove of aspen measured in hundreds of acres. At this time, the trees are beginning to turn, and the mountain looks as if it’s on fire. I felt very secure; sure, we were living in strange new town, with strange new people, and a strange new job, but life felt very good. I had Chaco (… and Bonzo), my husband loved me, we’d found a church in which we felt at home, a beautiful house … what else could I possibly need?
I remember wondering why I was cherishing that feeling. The next day, my world changed. Forever.
I had my first stroke. (Or my second, depending on if you count my “TIA” as a stroke.)
I would not feel awake again … ever? (Please, please, let the exhaustion pass. Please.) I would never again enjoy noisy places. Parties are a thing of the past. Concerts? Thanks, but no thanks. Being outside in the sunshine? Goodness, no. The sun is too strong, and my eyes are too weak. Writing anything by hand? Not unless you’ve got very good close-up vision.
But what do I have now? Well …
I’ve calmed down. A LOT. Before my strokes, I was an “orga-nazi”, Ben’s term for “organized like a nazi.” By nazi, I mean … well, nazi. I’d take the books out of my bookshelf and reorganize them so that they were NEAT. I’d clean out files on my computer in the same fashion. Even my PICTURES were organized: some on the computer, some in books of slides that I culled through. I’m pleased to be less nazi now than I was back then (though I’d take ~10% of it back if I had the choice).
Furthermore, now that I’ve calmed down, our marriage is way better! This must seem counter-intuitive to most of you chronic-illness / caretakers in relationships out there; I know that it doesn’t usually help to get sick. For us, though, my “condition” (because the word “illness” doesn’t really fit) has been a blessing.
Finally, I’ve got a job that I love. Teaching is something that I’ve always enjoyed, but I didn’t know how much until today. I was explaining the slope-intercept form (y = mx + b) of linear equations to my three students, and they not only got it, they loved it. They enjoyed it! They asked questions! They stayed after class was over to finish up the problem we were working on — voluntarily! I don’t know that I would’ve had the guts to go into teaching if I hadn’t been forced out of my previous position by the strokes.
So, in summary, when you’re faced with winter and everything green around you is dying, remember that you’ve got a sunny day with the leaves on fire to enjoy, and take heart: the world isn’t ending. For in a couple of months (or seven, if you live up here like we do), spring will dawn and everything will wake up again. Grass will sprout, trees will bud, flowers will bloom, birds will sing, bears will awake from their hibernations, and life will continue.
Let’s thank God for someone like Kathy Brantley. And let’s choose the right thoughts. Choose the right thoughts, and we’ll be walking in the path of God. God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week, friends. Amen.
© 2008 Anthony J. Godlefski