I know it’s Memorial Day Weekend, but I would like to get us thinking right off the bat here today.  What do you think influences your life the most?  What do you think is directing your life and impacting your life experiences more than anything else?  Now, we are in church, so we may say God, and yeah, that is a good answer.  Some might say it’s my family and loved ones.  Some might say their job or the life circumstances that they find themselves in.  And some may look back over their lives and see pivotal moments that went good or bad that led them to where they are today.  What is that for you?  I want you to track with me here because, at the deepest level, there is one thing that directs and impacts our lives, our beliefs, our choices, and the way we view this world we live in…do you know what it is?  It’s our thoughts.  Our thoughts are so powerful that they literally create the reality we live in.  Your thoughts are so powerful that they are translating every word that comes out of my mouth right now into your brain in a way that makes sense to you!  The way you translate my words may open you up to my words or close you down, but your thoughts explain my words to you in a way that makes sense to you, right down to telling you my motivation for saying them!  Your thoughts shape how you view everything in this world, creating what you believe to be truth or reality…they make a world that makes sense to you.  Our thoughts are powerful and create our reality.  It’s how we make sense of this world and the people of it.  Our thoughts create how we view life and experience this world.  And I want you to see this on the front end of today’s discussion.  Our thoughts are so powerful, and because they are so powerful, we have to be very aware of them.  If we aren’t, life, relationships, and our life experiences may not lead us to our best lives possible.  Now, you may be thinking in your mind, Sam must have lost his mind this week!  Well, let me point out just a few Scriptures that explain how powerful our thoughts are…

Proverbs 4:23 Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life. NCV

Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. NKJV

Our thoughts are powerful things.  They create the reality we live in and interpret our interactions with people.  They are directing the course of our lives.  But let’s take it a step further now.  Our thoughts come from somewhere; our life experiences shape them, upbrings, and the people around us…and this means that our thoughts that run our lives come from somewhere, and let’s throw this into the mix: if those thoughts aren’t coming from God, then our thoughts which run our lives and create our life experience could be leading us places that never allow us to experience health, freedom, and the life Jesus came to provide.  Our thoughts create our reality, which means our thinking is a very important part of our lives, yet for many of us, because we accept our version of reality as the only way life could be…well, we never grow and develop into the people we could be, and what we don’t see is while our thoughts are running our lives, there is so much more for us in life, but we get stuck and never really notice because our thoughts are running our lives, creating the world we live in.  Just as the wisest man not named Jesus said, as we think in our hearts, so are we…we must be careful what we think because our thoughts run our lives.  Let me show you how powerful our thoughts are and how they control our lives and shape the reality we live in before we jump into today’s question from Jesus.

Let’s start with how we perceive this world, something I like to call the reality we live in.  So, think with me!  If someone is a gossip and they talk about people behind their backs, what do they think everyone else is doing?  They think everyone is doing what they are doing, don’t they?  True or not, from the way they view life they think everyone is like them, this is their reality.  Let’s say someone lies and is dishonest; what do they think about everyone else?  They can’t trust anyone because everyone around them lies and is dishonest.  True or not, it’s what they think and those thoughts have created their reality.  If someone leverages people to get things they want, always after something from people rather than walking in genuine relationships with people, well, they walk through life thinking everyone is doing what they would do!  Why?  Because the way they think creates their reality.  Do you see it?  My favorite story of this in Scripture is Cain, who kills his brother Abel and then is terrified to walk through life…why?  Because in his reality, everyone is a killer…no, just you, Cain, but God was kind enough to give him a mark to ensure some peace in his reality.  This is a major issue and causes so many of the challenges we humans face with each other because if we aren’t focused and centered on God’s true reality, our thoughts are directing all kinds of false worlds and realities, and that is how we all look at and interpret each other.  Think about it: we can be sitting in a room with hundreds of different realities all playing out at once, and we wonder why church life can be so messy!  Some realities center around religion, some center around money and greed, some center around hurts and wounds, some center around politics, and on and on; I could go!  But, every word spoken, every Scripture read, every worship song sung, every human interaction is going through our own reality and is translated to what we think is right! Let’s keep going with this and move into how our thinking affects our lives individually.

Have you ever noticed that what someone thinks about themselves keeps happening to them?  If someone thinks they are a failure, believing that about themselves, what keeps happening to them?  They keep failing.  If someone thinks they are less important or valued than others, a lie that has been hitting them repeatedly in life, guess what happens to them as they talk with people?  They hear that message in every word spoken to them and walk away from people who may love them feeling devalued.  It goes through their reality and translates exactly how they feel about themselves back to themselves…it’s incredible how powerful our thoughts are.   Our thoughts create our reality, and we walk away from everyone and everything, feeling exactly the way our thoughts have directed us to feel.  Our thoughts are powerful things, and whatever that thought is that we accept it interprets life to us, and we end up living that life out.  We could do countless examples of this, but what Solomon says is so true: as we think, so we are…our thoughts control our lives.  Now I also want you to understand there is one true reality, and that is God’s, which really is an opposing thought to culture today which encourages us to find and live in “Our Truth.” The problem is, we already are living in Our Truth, what we need to do is find God’s Truth and live in that!  We don’t need to drift further into false reality; we need to be anchored to God’s true reality.

Matthew 6:33 Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. MSG (seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, in the NIV)

Our thoughts are so powerful.  It’s amazing, but if you think you can’t, you probably won’t. If you go through life believing that your best days are behind you, they probably are.  If you think that your marriage won’t get better, it probably won’t.  If you think you’ll never experience victory over that sin you struggle with in life, you probably stay stuck in it.  If you think your life is what it is, well, you probably won’t ever achieve your potential. On the other hand, if you think you can, you probably will.  It is amazing, but as a person thinks in their heart, so they become.

Now, one last question: this is the big question we must ask today.  If our thoughts are this powerful, literally creating the reality we live in, keeping us from our best lives or leading us to it.  If it is our thoughts that are interpreting life to us, making sense of our conversations, interactions, and all of life to us, literally running our lives…what do you think is at the very center of The Spiritual War?  Could it be the thoughts we think and believe in our hearts?  Keep processing this as we dive into today’s study.

So, the last time I was with you, we kicked off the big summer bible study called The Simple Questions of Jesus.  I think we already see just how impactful slowing down and looking at the questions of Jesus can be, and it didn’t take us long to understand that while His questions can sound so simple, the answers to these questions are not!  Simple doesn’t mean easy!  Today, we continue this exercise of slowing down and personalizing these life-changing questions of Jesus, looking at an important question that we find in another popular moment in Jesus’ life.  Answering this question can change our entire life experience because of what we spoke of earlier and how powerful our thoughts are.  And I would add to that it is a question that very few people ever ask or answer in their lives…most never even realize the question needs to be asked because what they think is what they believe and what their reality tells them is right about life, so they get comfortable with what they have accepted in their hearts and minds, but wow, if we could slow down in this question, it has the potential to change our lives!   Are you ready for today’s question?

Why are you thinking these things in your heart?

Jesus asks this question to the religious leaders, during a beautiful moment from God’s perspective, and an incredibly controversial moment from the religious leaders’ vantage point but before we read the story, we must look at the two verses before the story, because as subtle as they are, they are a really big deal.

Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. NLT

So, we need to see this: Jesus’ ministry is starting to catch on, and he is growing more popular every day. People are coming from everywhere to hear Him preach and to be healed.  And what do we see in verse 16?  Jesus “often” withdrew to be alone with His Heavenly Father.  This is such a big deal; everyone wants something from Him now, and it could be very easy for Him to slide into the popularity contests and do what everyone wants…but His job (and the job He is modeling for all of us who follow Him) is to stay true to what God desires for Him!  This can not happen if He is not centered on God.  Many Christians will hear me say this and agree that this is the thing to do while not engaging God in a way that will keep them lined up with God’s plan for their lives.  It’s important because this world, and the people of it, will derail you if you are not focused and aligned with God, and so many of us aren’t engaging God the way Jesus did!  And our lives get rerouted often.  Remember Jesus doesn’t do anything by mistake, he is modeling for us how to live.  Jesus never wavered from God’s plan because of these crucial times when He would get alone with God!  We are about to see how critical that time was because things are about to get more intense because the religious leaders, the “fun police,” are about to show up, and from this point on, Jesus will be under constant scrutiny from them.

Luke 5:17 One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus. NLT

Now, I always like reminding you who these religious leaders are.  They are the most devout.  They have memorized the most Scripture.  They know the law inside and out, and a major part of their job was identifying The Savior when He came to this Earth!  That irony should not be lost on us, that those who knew the prophecies and scriptures and were considered the most Godly and were paid to identify Jesus when He came couldn’t see Jesus and were so closed off to Him that they eventually killed Him.  So, we see that Jesus spent time alone with God right before this moment, and this is important because the religious leaders are now on the scene doing what religion does, judging, hating, criticizing, and just sucking the life out of beautiful moments like the one we are about to study.  Jesus was very aware that this confrontational time was coming, and he spent time preparing his heart for it.  He is showing us how to align our lives with God, and we need to see that and follow His example!  With all of that said, let’s get into our story.  We will read to the question Jesus asks and stop and talk.

Luke 5:18 Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?

This is a beautiful story, and I want you to picture this.  Jesus’ popularity is growing, and people are clamoring to get near Him.  The healing power of God is strongly on Him, so the sick are coming in droves.  Everyone wants something from Him!  If that isn’t enough, the religious leaders are now there to scrutinize, evaluate, confront, and eventually rid the world of a person they think is a threat to their power and prominence.  So, this is an intense time, and Jesus is teaching in this home.  I want you to picture the scene…crowd of people and, of course, the religious leaders sitting front and center, keeping an eye on Him, and this beautiful moment unfolds.

Luke 5:18 Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. NIV

The first thing I want you to see is the beauty of the moment.  Jesus is talking, and these four friends of the paralytic man start tearing the roof off the home to get their friend to Jesus.  These roofs were made with beams, then mud and sticks were jammed between the beams to keep the weather out.  So, this isn’t a clean job!  The mud, dirt, and sticks would have been falling all over Jesus and those around him inside the home.  It would have been messy and a bit chaotic, but Jesus sees the beauty of it!  I’m sure many wanted to send a cleaning bill to these four guys, and the owner of the home was probably thinking great, I wasn’t looking for a skylight. Can you replace my roof for me now?  Now, why would this moment seem so beautiful to Jesus and not to some others?  Remember, Jesus was off praying, alone with God, preparing his heart before this.  Jesus is so aligned with God that what matters to God matters to Him, so He sees beauty in what others, I’m sure, couldn’t.  This happens in churches and life, all the time doesn’t it?  At church, we want things to look a certain way; we focus on things we humans see as successful or valuable, attendance, who is doing what, while never aligning to what truly matters to God…so often, because we aren’t centered and engaging God, we don’t come in with the right heart, we can’t see the awesome moments that are unfolding.  When we don’t prepare our hearts, we can’t love or value what God does as well as when we are walking with Him.  We also allow people and life and this world to redirect us away from God’s plan and purposes because we aren’t aligned with God.  Jesus was.  And Jesus looks up at those four smiling faces lowering their friend down to Him…and is touched and says something wild.

Luke 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” NLT

Jesus sees the love and belief of his friends and their effort to get their buddy to Him and heals him…well, eventually, he heals him, but he starts by saying your sins are forgiven.  This is interesting and very intentional and gives us two more things to talk about.  First, this has always struck me: isn’t it ironic that those in need of Jesus can’t get to Jesus because the good, important, Godly people are blocking the way?  You would think someone knowing the Scriptures who loves God would see the need around them and stand in the back, allowing or even helping people to their healing…This guy should have been escorted right to Jesus, but nope, these guys take the best seats in the house.  Wild, but they do this everywhere they go, which is amazing to me and such a contradiction to the life of love we are called to live…but there is something else done here that we must see!  Jesus was very intentional here…he didn’t just heal the guy right away; he told him his sins are forgiven.  We just saw that, right?

Luke 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?

This is a big moment because Jesus knows that when the religious see an invalid or paralytic person, they believe that person was in that condition because of sin in their life.  These guys weren’t empathetic or worried about people like this paralytic; in their minds, this guy is a sinner…and only God can forgive sins, so Jesus is playing a little chess here.  If He can do something only God can do, He must be God.  He is setting them up here, to see the truth, the problem is their thinking.  They aren’t open to Jesus, and who He is, and they aren’t there to see God in the skin; they are there to rid the world of this blasphemer.  But the problem is Jesus is about to heal this guy.  Which by their own beliefs, would mean that He did have the ability to forgive sins, which would make Him God.  You would think this would place them on Jesus’ side moving forward. but it doesn’t, they already have decided who He is, so it would never matter what He said or did because their thoughts are that powerful.

Luke 5:23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. NIV

This is a massive moment where Jesus used their beliefs to show them the truth, but they cannot accept it. And they will continue to press in harder and harder, looking for a way to kill him until they finally do.  This is fascinating and leads us back to the power of our thinking.  There is nothing Jesus could say or do, no miracle big enough, no teaching clear enough to get through to the religious leaders because they already think what they think about Him.  When you think about it, this clears up the mystery of why Jesus didn’t call the best and brightest of His time and why He invested in people the religious never would.  It’s the very next moment when Jesus is at Matthew, the Tax Collector’s home, offending the religious and explaining this to us.

Luke 5:29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” NLT

I have not come to call those who THINK they are righteous but those who KNOW they are sinners…it’s amazing how powerful our thoughts are.  Those who think they are righteous are closed off, and unleadable while those who deeply understand their need of Jesus, knowing they are sinners (which we all are) have an opportunity to learn from Jesus and allow Him to shape their lives.  This question Jesus asked is so profound, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?”  Imagine if they could have just slowed down, heard the question, and been able to personalize it.  Imagine if they could have heard Him and asked themselves, “Why do I think these things in my heart?”  This question is so big, but I told you, it’s rare for someone to see and hear this question, let alone ask it of themselves.  Because what we think in our hearts creates what we believe to be right…and we tend to lock in on that as reality, even if it isn’t true.  What we think has so much power in our lives, and we need to understand that and we must be sure that what we are thinking is steeped in God’s reality.

Let’s stop picking on the religious leaders of that time, and let’s turn this question to ourselves.  Picture Jesus standing here with you, asking you this question.  Why are you thinking these things in your heart?  How would you answer that?  Have you ever thought about it?  This is a big deal.  It can help you so much, but so few slow down to ask it or ever see the need to think about where their thoughts are coming from, let alone why they think them!  We often accept our reality and don’t realize or even think there is a better or healthier way to think because how we view life makes sense to us!  If you don’t answer this question, you won’t move towards the true reality, God’s reality.  You stay stuck and continue to live in a false reality, not realizing there is more out there for you.  That is why I asked you that big question at the beginning of this talk today that I said we would return to. Do you remember that? If our thoughts are this powerful, creating the reality we live in, translating life to us, keeping us from our best lives, or leading us to it.  Our thoughts interpret life to us, and interactions literally run our lives…what do you think is at the very center of The Spiritual War?  Could it be the thoughts we think and believe in our hearts?  Well, when we stop and process our question from Jesus today, we find many things influence our thoughts. They aren’t coming from nowhere!  They have a source. The why question gets us to it!  How we are raised, our pasts, and our life experiences can influence our thinking, but we must see and accept the reality of the spiritual war we all face daily.  Paul often points out the power of thoughts and mindset and how central our mind is to the enemy’s tactics…

2 Corinthians 10:3 We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5 We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. NLT

The spiritual war is not like war as we humans know it and Paul is helping us see what is central in the fight, strongholds of human reasoning, false arguments, proud obstacles that block us from God, rebellious thoughts…do you see it?  Our lives are opposed.  We do have an enemy and we know that the enemy is doing his best to keep us from our best lives possible, the very life that Jesus explains that He came to give us is the life the enemy tries to take from us.

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV

Jesus has come to give us our best lives possible, that full life we all desire, and the enemy has come to take that from us, to steal, kill, and destroy your soul, and the best way to do that is to plant thoughts and lies and inaccurate thinking in your mind and to get you to believe in them as truth.  Because once you do, your reality and direction in life can change because our thoughts are so powerful.  Paul tells us the spiritual war is not fought the way we humans fight, but we use the weapons God gives us to knock down what?  Strongholds of human reasoning and false arguments.  Do you see what that is?  It’s your way of thinking.  Your thoughts are powerful.  We must capture those rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ…and it starts with us slowing down and engaging this question that Jesus asked.  “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?”  That is hard to do when we have accepted our way of thinking as reality.  It feels right, and we get comfortable in it, but so often we are being deceived, it’s what the enemy does, and he is good at it.  This question pierces through that if we let it! There is a reason that you are thinking these things in your heart…this question gets us to the source!

There is a reason that you think what you think about yourself.  There is a reason that you think people view you the way you think they do.  There is a reason that you walk through life thinking what you think about people, and there is a reason the same things keep happening to you repeatedly.  The problem is so few people slow down and focus on this question from Jesus.  And that is why we can be blocked from experiencing our best lives possible in our time here on this Earth.

So, let’s picture it—it’s just you and Jesus. This exercise is so important that I would encourage you to get alone with God often and do this. Maybe even write this in a journal and begin praying and processing your answer to this question.

“Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?” 

For some of us, this may mean getting very honest about the world we grew up in.  For some of us, it may mean slowing down and facing some hurts and wounds that we have never taken the time to face and deal with.  For others, it may be a chance to get honest and humble themselves enough to see growth opportunities.  For others, it may be an opportunity to see life and people in a new way…but it starts by leaning into this question and then spending real, intentional time with God to begin to walk into a brand new reality, the true life Jesus told us He came to give us.  The very life the enemy tries to keep you from experiencing.  So much of your life experience comes down to what you are thinking in your heart…because “your truth”, may not be The Truth.  “Your truth” may be leading you away from The Truth and all that could be in your life.  The scary part is that most of us don’t see it, never realize how essential this question is, and feel no need to investigate or answer it.  Just like the religious leaders on that day, as Jesus proved He was God to them…they missed Him because they were locked into their thinking, and we don’t want that for you.  So please take the time, slow down, get alone with God, and sit in this question from Jesus because it truly can be a game-changer.  It can free you and allow you to see people and life for the first time.

“Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?”  

There is a reason you walk away from every interaction with people, feeling like less.  There is a reason that your fears keep becoming a reality.  There is a reason why you think everyone around you is leveraging, manipulating, lying, gossiping, and on and on, I could go.  There is a reason you are or are not open to God or new thoughts or Biblical teachings that could challenge or interrupt your thinking.  There is a reason why you can or can’t hear what I’m saying today.  Our thoughts are powerful, and they come from somewhere.  So many never dive into the “Why question” to understand the source of their thinking, but it’s so important because as we think, so are we; our thoughts run our lives…making this question incredibly important.  Please take some time and engage this question for yourself this week, journal, pray, and think through it because your answer can change your life.

“Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?”