Think Outside the Box

January 30th, 2015

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV.

Judging others assumes you are correct in your assumptions.

My thoughts and comments today suggest that you “think outside the box.”

EDL Box glassMaybe you have heard the phrase, “Think outside the box.” The phrase comes from our common tendency to design “boxes” – intentionally or unintentionally – into which we assign ourselves or other people. Literally, a box imposes certain limits; it may feel a safe place temporarily but is always a confining space. A “box” contains a person to only what they have been or have been assumed to be. We sometimes even do that to ourselves. Once believed, even a mistaken opinion is difficult to change or ignore. Do not allow others’ opinions to confine you in any kind of “box,” accepting the irrational inevitability of the limits their opinions impose. You are a new creature in Christ.

Even Jesus was misjudged. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Read Matthew 13:54-58 NIV. He was that, but so much more. The Apostle Paul was often misunderstood by those he sought to serve. “For some say, ‘[Paul’s] letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’” 2 Corinthians 10:10 NIV. Paul would not be put into a “box” of others’ opinions. Does your initial opinion of people or situations too quickly become a judgment about them and expectation of them? Judging presumes you know what and why another has acted as they did, and that you are correct in your assumptions.

“Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?” 2 Corinthians 10:7. Appearances are more often misleading than accurate. People, as well as circumstances, are rarely as they first appear. An inaccurate impression possesses the power to either enhance or diminish your initial assumption. An assumption separated from reliable facts results in a faulty interpretation. By outward appearances alone, you will incorrectly evaluate circumstances as either beneficial or detrimental, and react accordingly. Reactions are the fruit of faulty estimations; responses are the product of thoughtful decisions. You cannot live wisely until you learn to distinguish between natural reactions and spiritual responses. Such an obstinate, natural tendency requires a redemptive, spiritual solution.

As always, you can find practical counsel and wisdom in God’s Word. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 NIV. Avoid a worldly point of view – about yourself and about others. Paul is plainly saying, “Think outside the box.”

Rest your history in God’s redeeming love. Release others’ future into the caring, healing hands of a Savior. Outside the box of your habits, negative feelings, misconceptions, assumptions, labels by others, past hurts and failures, old mistakes, painful memories, bad choices, and sins forgiven but not forgotten, you can be “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Think of yourself as the new creation in Christ that you are. You are not what you were; you can be more than you are. Of this truth, I am grateful, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV. Therefore, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Read Proverbs 4:20-23.

Today, my prayer for you is that you are free to become all that God believes you to be.

A Sobering Truth

January 28th, 2015

“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12 NIV.

Never exchange the permanence of eternity for the transience of a lifetime.

My thoughts and comments today are about “a sobering truth.”

There are times when life finds you unprepared. Sometimes you don’t know how or when to be prepared. Sometimes you know when you should, but just fail to prepare. The latter can result in lost opportunities, rude awakenings, or maybe costly oversights.

In college, I learned a valuable lesson about being prepared and personal accountability. After consecutive absences, I deigned to attend class only to discover that a major exam impacting my semester grade would occur that morning. My negligence and too frequent absences had left me unaware and unprepared. In spite of my surprising performance on the exam, my semester grade was reduced to “Incomplete” because of excessive absences. My professor held me accountable for my choices and decisions, in spite of my sincere pleading and abject apology.

There is accountability in life. Every choice has consequence – for benefit or loss. Reproof is a fact of life and faith. “There will be trouble and distress for every person who does evil . . but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good.” Read Romans 2:6-11 NIV. See Galatians 6:7-10. Jesus said, “Whatever is covered up will be uncovered . . whatever you have whispered in private will be shouted from the housetops.” Matthew 10:2-3 TEV.

There will be accountability in eternity. Daniel Webster, a respected Senator of the early 19th century, was asked, “What is the most sobering thought a man could have?” Mr. Webster answered, “His accountability to God.” Reflect on his answer for a moment. Paul cautioned the Christians in the Imperial capital of the Roman Empire, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ . . So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Romans 14:10 NKJV/12 NIV. On that day, no exception will be granted, no extension given, no excuse accepted.

BOOKMy friend, Rick, wrote a significant book I recommend to you, The Judgment Seat of Christ, which has impacted my life. The Bible says, “If any man builds on this foundation [of Jesus Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NIV.

There is a day of ultimate accountability when your values, choices, and expenditures of time, talents, and treasures will be assessed by God. Your lifetime will be evaluated according to your eternal investment to the purposes of the Kingdom of God, in your life and the lives of others. What is noble and sacrificial will eternally endure; what is incidental and of self-interest will be consumed, with only ashes remaining, “. . the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”

My thoughts today were prompted by awakening Sunday with the poignant melody of an old hymn: “Remember; only what you do for Christ will last. Only what you do for Him, will be counted at the end. Remember; only what you do for Christ will last.” (Raymond Rasberry © 1963, Pronto Music and Simco Music Co.) Long after my life is spent, I want what I have said and done to be of enduring value. Read Hebrews 4:12-16 NIV. Never exchange the permanence of eternity for the transience of a lifetime.

Today, my prayer for you is to live each day aware of the unparalleled importance of eternity.

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Moral Excellence

January 24th, 2015

“Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue [moral excellence].” 2 Peter 1:5 NKJV.

open Bible EDL

Moral excellence is non-negotiable with God.

My thoughts and comments today are about “moral excellence.”

Morality touches every area of your life, expressing both your public and private life and evidencing who you are as well as what you say or do. The roots of personal morality are the invaluable qualities of integrity, such as exemplary character and chaste conduct – being truthful, generous, unselfish, trustworthy, just, and other such uncommon qualities. For every Christ-follower, those must be non-negotiable. See Ephesians 5:3-6 NIV. Paul was clear, “That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness.” Read Philippians 1:9-11. Moral excellence is the normal standard for the Kingdom of God and its citizens.

In one practical area of moral excellence, the more prominent majority neither aligns itself with God’s Word nor acknowledges the evident debris of hearts and homes such disregard produces. The Bible is explicit, ”It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable . . For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”  Read 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 NIV. This is one of those sections of Scripture that some prefer to rationalize, or dismiss all together.

There are unscrupulous profiteers who pander to an appetite for sexual stimulation, ambiguity, and exploitation. God is not against sexuality, nor afraid of yours. It was His creation, not Adam’s. Therefore, God knows best how it works to bless and enrich lives with profound pleasure rather than pain, and bind hearts together not break them carelessly. “Now the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord . . flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against their own body . . . or do you not know that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you . . . you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which is God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:13/18-20.

The record plainly shows that sexual involvement before the bonds of marriage or outside the bounds of marriage weakens the fabric of mutual commitment and increases the likelihood of later unfaithfulness, or even divorce. When a person chooses to exempt themselves from God’s intent and design for physical intimacy, there are inevitable consequences. When God’s Word is ignored, He is dishonored, His heart broken, and your future is diminished.

The sum of the matter is this: in love, God established both clear boundaries for moral purity and strong bonds for moral excellence. “Be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust . . giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue [moral excellence] . . self-control . . Godliness . . For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted. . and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” Read 2 Peter 1:4-11.

Anyone at any time can settle for something less than excellence in any area of life, but not without personal expenditure. Moral excellence is non-negotiable with God. Indulging yourself and involving another in something other than moral excellence comes at a terrible price, both to the human heart naturally and to one’s soul spiritually. See Galatians 6:7-9 NIV.

Today, my prayer for you is that a momentary indulgence not be your disregard of an eternal reality.

(Bible verses are NKJV unless noted)

Questions and Doubts

January 21st, 2015

“None of these things move me.” Acts 20:24.

Having questions is not the same as having doubt.

Q and A graphic C

My thoughts and comments today are about “questions and doubts.”

Questions are natural and normal; asking the right questions often plays a vital role in discovery and learning. Questions can push you beyond the known and previously understood to what was not formerly considered. Medical and scientific discoveries happen because someone asked questions no one had bothered to consider. But to any honest heart, life can also present questions that trouble. Life introduces situations that make you ask, “Why?” With our imperfect knowledge and limited perspective, there are things that won’t make sense at the moment.

Questions arise in everyone. If you never ask why, then you just have not lived long enough or faced anything tough enough to leave you puzzled or struggling. Read David’s painful questions in Psalm 71:2-17. There is a time and place – “in the sanctuary of God” - where God, Who “declares the end from the beginning,” makes everything make sense. See Isaiah 46:10. Some questions are discomfiting. But God is neither nervous nor threatened about sincere inquiry. In your spiritual life, questions do not have to be the precursor of nagging doubt. Nor do questions have to be an opponent to faith. Faith can look at the hardest questions and though without every answer, simply trust God’s character, love, and wisdom. Read Hebrews 11:1,3,6.

Questions are not particularly unspiritual, unless they begin and end with doubt. Doubt can be different than questions, or doubt can easily become a belief of the heart rather than a question in the mind. You can be without doubts even while wrestling with the toughest questions, maybe even unanswerable ones – unanswerable except for God. Paul did not say that was easy to do, but he does evidence that it is possible to do. Chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me.” Acts 20:22-24. Paul did not have all the answers about his future, but he knew jail and suffering were ahead for him. Acts 21:10-14 NIV. He had questions. I would; you would. But he rested assured in the purposes of God for his life and ministry.

When you are uncertain and questions trouble your mind and steal your peace, shift your focus to what is certain and unchanging; rest your questions there. Paul wrote, “Now we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when that which is complete comes, what is partial will be done away  . . now I know partially, then I will know fully just as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:9-13 NIV. When there is much that you do not know, be sure in what you can know. Dwell on what you know; let God deal with what you don’t.

After Paul’s expansive defense of the Resurrection, he summarizes this way, “Therefore, [in light of the Resurrection], be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:58. Those character qualities – “steadfast, immovable, and always abounding” – are the marks of a mature Christian who has asked their questions then trusted their doubts to God. Even with sincere questions, you can still trust with no doubts about God or His truth. Paul found a safe place to surrender his ill-founded questions and affirm his well-founded convictions. “I am suffering . . but I know Whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him [until the day of His return].” 2 Timothy 1:12 NIV.

Today, my prayer for you is that you surrender your questions to God, and be steadfast in faith.

Content or Coveting

January 17th, 2015

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6 NIV.

EDL Contentment graphic

Coveting is the enemy of contentment.

My thoughts and comments today are about being “content or coveting.”

The world surrounding you is incurably materialistic yet increasingly discontented. Commercial advertising fosters discontent, until you not only want more, you think you actually need more. Never confuse luxuries with necessities or desires with needs. Your Father promises to supply all your needs, but not all your wants. Paul was clear, “My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 NIV. Of that you can be absolutely sure.

The complication comes when you covet what you see others have. Coveting is a wicked thing, causing you to envy others to the extent that you would prefer you were so fortunate, and ultimately that they were not. The Bible speaks wisely and practically, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with what you have.” Hebrews 13:5 NKJV. Coveting is the enemy of contentment. Contentment is the cure for coveting.

The Bible states a sure and simple truth, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6 NIV. Paul’s reasoning is also simple; “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Timothy 6:7-8 NIV. Know when enough is enough. Discontentment leaves you vulnerable to covetous desires, insatiably wanting what you do not have and begrudging what others enjoy. “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10 NIV.

That is the reality that corrupted the bliss of the Garden of Eden, “When Eve saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eye, and desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” Genesis 3:6. She saw; she desired; she took. That is a formula for a spiraling regression to discontent. Instead, may your heart pray, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your Word.” Psalm 119:37 NIV.

Years earlier, my friend, Campbell, shared a wise and invaluable lesson with me: the heart cannot desire what the eye has not seen. Looking produces longing; longing creates a need to possess. Having too little money is not your biggest problem; the real dilemma and one that touches every soul is when you covet what others have, thereby loving money as a necessity for supplying your desires without reliance on God.

When you covet what others have, you will eventually doubt God’s willingness and ability to provide your needs. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV. It is simple; present every need to God in prayer, trusting Him to give you whatever is wise for you, consistent with His will, and in His time and manner. Paul found contentment to be a lesson learned, ”. . in any and every situation . . whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Read Philippians 4:6-7, 11-13 NIV. Imagine your life satisfied and content.

Today, my prayer for you is that you avoid struggling to have things you don’t need.