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Rules and Standards

April 12th, 2018

God’s wisdom is the path to His richest blessings.

 “[God’s] discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace

for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 NIV.

My thoughts and comments today are about, “rules and standards.”

Life is better with rules. Rules are essential, establishing boundaries and measuring achievement. Yet, very few of us appreciate rules in the way we should. People seem to bristle when too many rules seem restrictive and imposed. We all tend to resist when we feel less free to do as we want to do. Consider this. Without rules, athletic competition would be havoc. That’s why there are rules and referees, grades and graduation requirements, right and wrong, rewards and penalties.

I can’t imagine a world without rules. With no rules of the road, driving would be dangerous. In daily interactions, the bold would overpower the timid. The strong would take advantage of the weak. The wealthy would neglect the poor. For a clear reason, the Ten Commandments were not called the, “Ten Recommendations.” Nor were they meant to be. Out of His love for you, not His love for law, God commanded those rules to live by.

Marriages are best with mutually understood rules. Families need clearly stated rules. Friendships succeed with mutually accepted rules. Employers and employees require agreement on rules. Individuals need to establish standards by which they are willing to be evaluated. I am grateful that my Dad believed in rules. Admittedly, I didn’t appreciate those as much while a teen. But Dad’s rules were always clear and fair – and enforced or rewarded. They made me wiser and better than I would otherwise have been. Rules establish safe boundaries for your benefit, not to limit or restrict you, except for your guidance and protection. Rules can protect and keep you safe. Maybe it would help to think of standards rather than rules. I see three occasions for rules and standards.

You need people in your life who help you learn and establish Godly standards. That is the value of parents, teachers, friends, civil and governmental authorities, God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit. They establish rules that benefit all. The Bible reminds us that, “The authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.” Read Romans 13.3-6 NIV. Respect rules, embrace appropriate boundaries, and appreciate their practical need for making your life better, measuring your achievements, rewarding your efforts, and keeping you safer.

The rule of law protects the lawful and restrains the lawless. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Hebrews 13:17 NKJV. In your life, whose opinion and counsel offer you trusted guidance, Godly wisdom, and a spiritual haven in uncertain times?

True liberty is not without restraints, and never without limits. I had a fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Cook, who taught our class a simple principle about boundaries and liberties, “Your liberty to swing your fist without restraint ends at the tip of another’s nose.” What a great rule for fourth graders, as well as kids, teens, and adults of all ages. Friends and family help set standards of behavior for one another. Often it is more kind than cruel to say no. Choose wisely the bounds you will honor, and associate with friends who respect them, and thereby respect you.

At all times, you must require and embrace boundaries for yourself. The best decisions you make were made before any situation needing rules presented itself. The right decision is never too late, but it’s best when made early. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. Everything is permissible, but not everything is edifying.” I Corinthians 10:23 NAS. Choose what is profitable, in order to edify others and glorify God. God’s Word marks the places where you will find your greatest liberties, and where you and others find safety.

When I was first preparing for ministry, my Dad taught me a very practical and valuable lesson about establishing non-negotiable, personal boundaries, for success in pastoral ministry. My Dad’s advice was invaluable, “Many who look to you for leadership will likely exceed the liberties you permit yourself; so be wise and measured in all you allow yourself to say and do. And others who follow you may stop short of your disciplines, so be careful, always seeking to excel.”

There will always be others observing and following you. Jesus was clear, “I have set before you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13:15 NIV. You are always safe when following Jesus’ example. Paul was clear as well with his instruction to young Timothy. ”Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 NKJV. Be sure that the rules you expect others to observe are a priority in your own life and relational interactions.

Even when you do not think so, someone is always following you, Many years ago, a man made this observation of me, “Pastor, you are not hard to follow because you do not make sudden turns.” I am not sure whether he meant that as a compliment, but I accepted it as one. I want to be easy to follow for my family and for those who trust my leadership. My objective is simple. I want my family and friends to know what my values are, where I am going, Who I am following, and how to get where God is leading.

“God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later, however, [His] discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:10-11 NIV. I like that. In your life, His rules produce a, “harvest of righteousness and peace,” for those who accept and follow the Father’s instruction and disciplines. Anything that God requires of you is for your benefit, not His. Embracing God’s wisdom is the path to His richest blessings.

Today I pray for you to establish Godly standards. His rules are given to protect, not confine you.

Christian Communications 2018

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An Inviolable Law

October 1st, 2014

“Help carry one another’s burdens . . you will obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 NLT.

Changing the focus from yourself to others can change your life.

My thoughts and comments today are about “an inviolable law.”

The posted speed limit is not a suggestion for drivers; it’s a protection. The Federal income tax is not a recommended contribution; it’s a requirement. Gravity is not an optional reality; it is a law of nature, just as aerodynamics governs flight. You ignore those to your own loss and harm. Similarly, there are inviolable laws in the Kingdom of God.

The Ten Commandments are not ten suggestions; God established the Law, inviolable and eternal. When God said, “the tithe belonged to the Lord,” He did not request your benevolence; it’s a law that releases the inviolable principle of sowing and reaping. Malachi 3:8-12/2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NIV. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” John 13:34. He was not requesting your best effort; love is the law of life and relationships within the Kingdom of God. Your obedience to the Laws of God is where God releases His blessings.

We live on a few acres of Texas Mesquite, with three dogs, cows, horses, and miniature donkeys – all within perimeter fences and plenty of room. Within the safety of those fences, they have freedom to enjoy and explore. On our property they are safe, fed, and protected. Beyond those fences, they could be harmed or become a hazard to others. Only bad things will happen to them outside those fences.

Freedom to do whatever you choose is not all that your heart tells you it would be. Liberty without law becomes license, not liberty. Galatians 5:13-14 NLT. God’s laws mark boundaries that are safe and beneficial. His law is not to confine and limit you; His law is to train and direct your will. God’s law protects you from straying beyond the bounds of what would be best for you and others. Paul instructed young Timothy, “We know these laws are good when they are used as God intended.” 1 Timothy 1:8 NLT.

As Joshua prepared to enter Canaan, the land of promise and plenty, God directed him to the Law and its promised blessings, “Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left that you may prosper wherever you go. This book of the Law . . you shall meditate in it day and night that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success . . for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” See Joshua 1:7-9.

“Help carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 NLT. That is much more than the nice thing to do; it is the right thing to do. Love, practical and observable, obeys, “the law of Christ.” If you want life to be blessed and rich with fulfillment and happiness, watch for chances to serve others, sharing their troubles and cares even when you have problems of your own.

When you lift others’ burdens, making their way a little lighter, God will lift yours. Changing the focus from yourself to others can change your life. “And God turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends.” Job 42:10. My friend, Harold, said it this way, “What you make happen for others; God will make happen for you.” I have found that true in my life. From your generosity and kindness toward others, you enjoy the greater benefit. “The law of Christ” is an inviolable law. Obey it and you will succeed and prosper. “Oh, how I love Your Law.” See Psalm 119:97-106 NIV.

Today, my prayer for you is that you learn to love God’s Law and respect all laws.

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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.

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Attachments

October 29th, 2012

“Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.” Acts 28:5 NIV.

Habits are attachments you held too long and a little too closely.

My thoughts and comments today are about “attachments.”

Along the journey, we all accumulate attachments, not all of which are beneficial. It seems that we hold too tightly to so much we ought to release, and hold too lightly to things irreplaceable. Habits are attachments you held too long and a little too closely. When you find yourself unwilling to relinquish something you know is bad for you, you have allowed an attachment that takes value from you and adds nothing useful to you.

The Apostle Paul was gathering wood for a fire when a snake “fastened itself on his hand.” Read Acts 28:1-6 NIV. Your harm is the stated intent of the enemy of your soul. See John 10:10 NIV. Something harmful attached itself to him, certainly without his intent. What did Paul do? He could have “thrown a pity party,” but he didn’t. He could have assumed there was “nothing he could do about it.” He could have even blamed God for “letting it happen to him.” If any of those were his reaction that snake would caused pain and harm.

Attachments occur that you may not anticipate, not always being things you can prevent or explain. In the process of life hurts happen, some self-inflicted, some imposed on you. An attachment can be an unchecked temptation, or a besetting sin, or unforgiven hurts, or unhealthy attitudes, or unforgotten grudges, or unholy thoughts, or unwholesome relationships – anything that draws you in a direction contrary to spiritual growth. The Bible gives strong, clear counsel, “Casting down every . . high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NKJV. Memory can be a blessing or a source of needless pain, depending on what you hold there.

When the serpent fastened itself to Paul, he did the simplest, smartest thing, “Paul shook the snake off into the fire.” Acts 28:5 NIV. And the result? Paul “suffered no ill effects.” Imagine if Adam and Eve had done the same. No ill effects! Take deliberate and immediate action. Paul warns about such entanglements, “Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1 NKJV. Detach yourself from any unholy, unhealthy attachment as soon as possible; that is the wisest thing to do. Read Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV.

Sometimes you can become attached to people or things that are unprofitable; at other times, they become wrongly attached to you. Read Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV. To their harm, people often seem determined to hold on to things that hurt them or others. Just let it go! Whatever it is, don’t excuse it; don’t assign blame for it; don’t give room or time for it to grow and strengthen. See 2 Peter 2:20 NLT.

Don’t indulge even the smallest attraction to wrong. Don’t excuse thoughts or feelings that harm you and hurt others. On a positive note, here’s something you can hold tightly and confidently, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful . . Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” Hebrews 10:23-24/1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 NIV.

My prayer for you today is that you keep a tight grip on your faith and faithfulness.

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Rights and Restraints

February 8th, 2012

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Corinthians 3:17 NKJV

“Liberty is your right in Jesus Christ; loving and serving one another is your responsibility.”

My thoughts today are about “rights and restraints.”

Freedom unrestrained by concern for others’ best is not freedom at all; freedom without restraint is freedom abused. I remember my fourth grade teacher describing for our class the difference between freedom to do whatever you want and the restraint of doing only what is beneficial to others as well as yourself. She spoke of personal rights and interpersonal responsibilities. She said that every person has the right to swing their arm as they please, but one person’s freedom to do so “stops at the end of another person’s nose.” I think the fourth graders understood the concept that day. One’s personal freedom should never be imposed at another’s expense. Why do many adults not understand what was obvious to those fourth graders – the simple concept of rights and restraints?

Some impulses are best restrained. You have a right to your opinion; you should restrain yourself from imposing your opinion on others when unwanted. You have a right to enjoy yourself, but not when doing so imposes on someone else’s enjoyment. You have the right to do what is best for you, when that is coupled with a regard for what is good for others as well. On a recent, full flight, I was seated on the aisle with an empty middle seat. When a man asked if the middle seat was taken, I offered to move over and allow him the aisle seat. My feelings of generosity lasted only until he commandeered the arm rest for the duration of the flight while I sat uncomfortably with arms folded, admittedly displeased at his lack of sharing such limited space. He assumed a right without similar restraint.

Let’s be real; self-interest is your first instinct, but it should not also be your last as well as everything in between. When liberty is only self-serving, it is something less than love and gives occasion for the flesh to exalt itself to the harm of others as well as your own detriment. Liberty is the fruit of love, the means by which you serve others. The Apostle Paul loved and taught spiritual liberty but he also qualified true liberty. “You have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an occasion for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:13-16 NKJV.

Are we capable of setting aside our prevailing self-interest – the idea of “myself above and before all others?” Probably not on your own nor in your own strength. Here’s the good news: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. We all . . are being transformed into the same image [of the Lord] from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NKJV. The Spirit’s work of liberty is the freeing of one’s selfish, sinful self to be who you were created to be and were redeemed to become. See John 8:31-32/36 NIV.

In the context of his instruction, Paul distinguishes between the ugly “works of the flesh – expressing sexual immorality, impure thoughts, lustful pleasure, idolatry, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions,” in stark contrast to the lovely “fruit of the Spirit – producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” Read Galatians 5:17-26. NLT. Liberty is your right in Jesus Christ; loving and serving one another is our mutual responsibility. You serve best when you pick up your responsibilities and lay down your rights, as Jesus did. See Philippians 2:3-11 NLT.

My prayer for you today is that you practice restraint in everything except love.

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