The Capacity to Regress

July 28th, 2014

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do.” Romans 7:15 NIV.

Your capacity to regress to unprofitable behaviors is a besetting temptation.

My thoughts and comments today are about “the capacity to regress.”

At times, I am bewildered by how little I really understand about myself. While feeling proud of my progress, I am puzzled by the ease with which I revert to ways and habits I previously found unworthy. As old as I am, that still perplexes me, as it did Paul, “I do not understand what I do.” Romans 7:15 NIV. I surrender progress achieved with much effort and diligence, and find myself closer to where I was than where I need to be. My capacity to regress to unprofitable behaviors is a besetting temptation.

When where you have been still holds attraction, the path of progress can be challenging. Read James 1:12-15. Temptation alone is not sin, but spiritual maturity and Godliness are measured by your recognition and rejection of any temptation to regress to familiar yet ineffective ways of coping with everyday life.

You will never find confidence or growth by returning to options once familiar and places formerly comfortable. As danger threatened or opposition arose, Israel looked over their collective shoulder with misplaced fondness for what they left behind in Egypt. “In their hearts they turned back to Egypt.” Acts 7:39. Read Nehemiah 9:9-17.

Before judging Israel harshly, consider your own temptation to return to negative emotions, old prejudices, wrong attitudes, unworthy appetites, unholy ambitions, or unhealthy habits. Paul encouraged and warned the Galatians, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1.

Let me suggest some Biblical examples of regression and suggest their causes, (1) Complicated discipleship, “From that time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.” John 6:66-69. (2) Competitive affections,Demas has forsaken me having loved this present world.” 2 Timothy 4:10. (3) Confusing circumstances, After Jesus’ death and reports of His resurrection, Peter and other disciples returned to fishing. See John 21:1-5. A vulnerable time is when disappointment in people or situations and the resulting discouragement dissuade you.

Maybe today you identify with the Apostle Paul in his struggle with bewilderment. Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I allow . . for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” Romans 7:15-21 NIV.

In the succeeding verses, Paul confessed his despair over his spiritual frailty.  “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:24-25 NLT. I suggest three spiritual practices that bring clarity during bewildering times: God’s Word, (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV), Jesus’ example, (Hebrews 4:14-16), and the Holy Spirit’s empowering, (Acts 1:8/Romans 15:13). In your panic, the answer may first appear to be running back to your weaknesses; God’s answer is fleeing to a safe refuge – into the arms of God. See Proverbs 18:10/Psalm 27:5/91:1-2.

Today, my prayer for you is to set progress as your highest, spiritual priority.

Limits and Liberties

July 25th, 2014

“Our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God’s plan for us.”  2 Corinthians 10:13 NLT.

True success and happiness in life is to know and fulfill God’s boundaries.

Lauren, my thoughts and comments today are about “limits and liberties.”

“Fences make good neighbors.” (Mending Wall/ Robert Frost). Fences clarify both a person’s liberties as well as their limits, designating where you have free access and where others do not. In relationships, such fences are called boundaries. Some are determined by you; others are determined for you. People have boundaries that distinguish the public from the private, or should have.

Yours as well as others’ boundaries should be respected, but that doesn’t always happen. When someone pushes too closely into your personal space, or either shares or inquires about matters more personal than you prefer to discuss, their presumption of liberty intrudes beyond your limits. When that happens, you feel a measure of discomfort.

Almost twenty years ago, our family bought rural acreage where we would build our homes. Until then, I had been content to have my home nestled among others. But those acres soon gave me a sense of security and liberty I had not anticipated. The precisely measured survey and the visible fence line marked exactly where our boundaries were. This place was ours. Gayle named it “Heritage Place,” because we believe God provided it for our family.

God’s plan for your life is your “Heritage Place.” God said, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans to prosper and not harm you, to give you a future and a hope.’” Jeremiah 29:11 NLT. True happiness, contentment, and even success is to know and fulfill the boundaries of God’s plan for your life. Accept nothing less than the liberties God provides; require nothing more than the limits God sets. See Galatians 5:13 NKJV. Your appreciation of Godly boundaries has everything to do with your knowledge and trust of the One who sets them. Your joyful acceptance depends on understanding their purpose is for your good not harm.

Inside God’s limits and liberties, life is expansive; outside of those, the consequence can be expensive. From painful experience, David learned the limits within God’s plan were better than the ill-conceived liberties of his own plans. David learned God’s ways are always best, “The boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Psalm 16:5-6 NIV. To that, I say a hearty, “Amen!”

Paul’s objective should be ours, Our goal is to stay within the boundaries [proper limits] of God’s plan for us.2 Corinthians 10:13 NLT/NIV. Paul was committed to fulfill all God intended, while content not to reach beyond. Paul discovered that within God’s “proper limits,” he found confidence instead of confusion, fruitfulness rather than frustration, and anointing beyond his abilities and efforts. And so will you.

Today, my prayer for you is to rejoice in liberties God affords and respect limits He requires.

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Trust and Confidence

July 22nd, 2014

“He who began a good work in you will complete it.” Philippians 1:6 NKJV.

Self-confidence will fail but confidence in God is well placed.

My thoughts and comments today are about “trust and confidence.”

Confidence is essential for happiness and success. It is easy to admire those folk who seemingly go through life with calm self-assurance, having neither hesitation nor doubt. In reality, they are more like you and me than they may at first appear. They may have learned to manage emotions and measure responses, or have not yet faced serious challenges to their self-reliance. The Bible gives you wise counsel, “And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” 2 Corinthians 3:4-5 NKJV. Self-confidence will fail at inopportune times.

Some people, even the best of them, may disappoint you – some unintentionally, a few others even intentionally upon occasion. “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:8 NKJV. Trust conveys the idea: “to put your weight upon.” See Proverbs 25:19 NLT. You would not rest your weight upon a broken cane; you would not sit upon a broken chair. Your confidence is no stronger than the foundation upon which it trusts.

Be prepared; there will be times and things in life that rattle your confidence. Confidence is rightly placed on a sure and always trustworthy foundation. Your confidence can rest assured on this unfailing foundation: the Word of God and the character of God.

One of my favorite hymns confesses, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” (The Solid Rock/Edward Mote and William B. Bradbury). “Blessed are all those who put their trust in [God] . . Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” Psalm 2:12 NKJV/Jeremiah 17:7 NIV. Whatever the test or circumstance of the moment, you can be confident when you place your trust in God and His Word. They are unchanging.

The Apostle Paul knew where his confidence could rest securely, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 NKJV. I love that Jesus is identified as, “The Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV), and “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 21:6 NKJV). You and I begin much more than we conclude successfully, growing weary in the process or simply finding we do not possess the resources, experience, knowledge, abilities, or determination. What God begins, He completes. On Him you can depend. See 1 John 5:14-15 NAS.

Confidence in God is well placed. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” Hebrews 10:35-36 NKJV. See also Hebrews 4:16 NIV.

Today, my prayer for you is that you trust completely and rest securely in God.

Reflections on a Birthday

July 18th, 2014

“The Gospel . . is power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16 NIV.

You are not born into your family’s faith; you are born into the Kingdom of God.

My thoughts and comments today are about, “reflections on a birthday.”

Birthdays mark the journey of one’s life and are due cause for proper celebration. Today is my birthday. As many as I have had, I should be good at them by this time. I have much to celebrate in my journey – a strong beginning in a home and family that I would hope for every child, Godly parents and grandparents who loved and taught me good habits and God’s ways; a happy childhood, a healthy adolescence, a helpful education with life-long friends and wonderful memories, an incredible, creative, and loving wife and life-partner, better kids than my parenting skills ever warranted; grandkids and now great grandkids beyond anything I could have hoped. All this is wrapped in a lifetime of serving people who modeled the Gospel and lavishly opened their love and lives to us.

But let me tell you about another more important “birth-day” that really made the journey what it has been. The story originates where my new life truly began and from which it is still being written. When I was six years old, at a service with a children’s evangelist, Ray Ton, I responded to his invitation for salvation – to invite Jesus into my heart. As much as I could understand at the time, I sincerely committed my life to the Lord, and a new and eternal life began. In the simplicity and sincerity of a child’s heart, I experienced this truth, “The Gospel . . is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16 NIV.

When I was ten, on a Sunday night in my father’s church in North Venice, Illinois, a Sunday School teacher, Betty Rice, knelt at my side on the last row of that little church during an evangelist’s prayer, to invite me to the altar to pray. Imagine asking the pastor’s son! But boldly yet kindly she did, and at her invitation I knelt in the front left corner of that humble building to know Jesus in ways that I never had before. I learned that evening that you are not born into your family’s faith; you have to be individually and personally born into the Kingdom of God. “You must be born again.” See John 3:1-21 NIV. I cannot describe the inexpressible joy I experienced that night in the realization of one truth, “The Gospel . . is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

As a teen, fifteen years old in Granite City, Illinois, when an evangelist invited the church to the altars in the former City Theater that my Dad had consecrated as a revival center, I knelt at an altar where I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s call upon my life for the vocation of ministry. I saw a world in desperate need of a Savior; I felt God’s broken heart for people lost and powerless to find their way. The call was to share one message, “The Gospel . . is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” 

When I was seventeen, newly graduated from High School and accepted for architectural studies at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, God again spoke to my heart about ministry. I had other plans for my life; so did God. I chose His plans over my own, and the rest is history – fifty-one years of the greatest privilege I could ever have dreamed, still telling a simple story, “The Gospel . . is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” And still the journey continues . .

Today, my prayer is for you to believe and know the power of His salvation.

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Stress and Stillness

July 15th, 2014

“Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.” Job 37:14 NKJV.

The pace of schedules and noise of surroundings generate stress.

My thoughts and comments today are about “stress and stillness.”

Stress is your body’s reaction to challenges, the impulse of “fight or flight.” Hurry, worry and weariness will leave you vulnerable to stress. Its negative and debilitating effects are cumulative, diminishing your joy and optimism and even damaging health. Stress can result from concerns about health, relationships, pressures, finances, past mistakes, or future fears.

In daily life, stress is heightened by the frantic pace of our schedules and the deafening noise of our surroundings. Prolonged, those are wearying to body, soul, and spirit. The effects manifest interpersonally in relationships, marriages, or families, as well as intrapersonally, affecting yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and most importantly, spiritually. Your spiritual life and personal relationship with God is diminished and less satisfying.

Isaiah discovered, “Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength . . they will run and not get tired; they will walk and not became weary.” Read Isaiah 40:28-31 NAS. There is so much that you miss when you fail to take the necessary time to be quiet before God. Job, in the midst of the whirlwind of experiences and the confusion he felt, received wise counsel, “Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.” Job 37:14 NKJV. Life makes better sense when you place God at the center of it all.

There are two concerns that I have. First, the pace of your schedule compromises the priority of God’s voice. See Exodus 3:1-10 NKJV. You will not hear the voice of God in your heart without quieting your spirit to wait and listen. Secondly, the noise of your surroundings competes with the clarity of God’s voice. See 1 Samuel 3:1-11 NKJV. Any time but especially when life is unclear and uncertain, spend time with God’s Word, quietly in His presence.

The Psalmist David was deliberate, I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother. Yes, like a small child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:2 NLT. At all times, you need to learn this truth, “Be still and know that I am God.” Read Psalm 46. Be intentional; it is important.

Some years ago, a book, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion (Gordon MacDonald, author) influenced my spiritual disciplines. MacDonald named three things essential to recovering passion when experiencing lost purpose, clouded vision, or confused direction: an address book with the names of “special friends who encourage you to obey God,” a map indicating the location of “safe places where you rediscover who God is,” and a calendar marking “still times when you hear what God says.” Respectively, each corresponds to three vital, Biblical principles of Fellowship, Sanctuary, and Sabbath.

For your personal study, I suggest consideration of events in the lives of Elijah, Jehoshaphat, and Moses. (1) “Be still when you need to hear a word from God.” Read 1 Kings 19:7-16 KJV. (2) “Be still when you need to know the plans of God.” Read 2 Chronicles 20:10-22 NKJV. (3) “Be still when you need to see the power of God.” Exodus 14:10-16/30-31 NKJV.

Today, my prayer for you is to truly know God in a deep and personal way.