Category Archives: obedience

Inside-Out


My youngest son often puts his shirts on inside-out. Not a big deal. I’ve done it when I was in a rush to get somewhere. But even when I tell him he is inside-out, he doesn’t care. He’s content to go around all day with his shirt tag announcing that he can’t dress himself.

I was thinking about my son as I read Matthew 23 this morning, because Jesus also liked to turn things inside-out. In the passage, He is dealing out the “seven woes” to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, and He criticizes them for “cleaning the outside of the cup or dish” while the inside is full of nastiness. To drive home His point, He compares them to freshly painted tombs filled with dead men’s bones. They look good on the outside, but they reek of death inside.

He challenges them to clean up their insides first, because when the inside is clean, the outside will become clean, too. Jesus is saying that if they will change their character, their behavior will follow. If they change their WHO, their DO will soon match.

I’m guilty of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees sometimes. I clean up my behaviors, because I want to be seen as a godly Christian. I want people to think highly of me for the way I follow God. But the problem is that it’s difficult to keep the act going when I’m not on stage. Behind the curtains with my family and even more in private moments or times of stress, I step out of character, and I find myself leading two lives. A “hypocrite” (the Greek word for “actor” that Jesus used to label false spiritual leaders) like the Pharisees.

I’ve tried outside-in for years, and it doesn’t work. Who I am has to change first, and this means changing my heart. It’s got to happen from the inside-out.

I find this clean-up project to be exhausting, but the great news is that I don’t have to do it alone. Jesus is ready to roll-up His sleeves if I invite Him to join me. And honestly, I can’t do it without Him. Jesus is the Project Manager. He plans the work and works the plan. I’m just the assistant, and I have two main roles: invite Him onto the worksite each day and follow His directions.

Inside-out work is exceedingly slow and exceedingly difficult. It never goes as fast as I want it to, and it always requires lots of challenging situations that Jesus uses as a tool to shape my character and a test to reveal the quality of my heart. It’s a project that won’t be done until I join the Project Manager in heaven, but I’m encouraged by this Scripture:

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Maybe my son is the one who has got it right. Pay less attention to how you look on the outside and more attention to being the right person on the inside. Wear your shirt inside-out every once in awhile, and you will find that life is a lot more fun when you don’t pretend to be someone you are not.

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Filed under Attitude, Authenticity, Change, character, Christ, christianity, comfort zone, comparison, deception, discipleship, discipline, growth, heart, Jesus, modeling, obedience, performance, Religion, righteousness, rules, sanctification, spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Growth

Building to Code


When deadly Hurricane Andrew hit Florida  years ago, it destroyed most everything in its path.  But when the winds and rain died down, TV networks used their cameras to capture the image of a lone house standing firmly in place amidst an entire neighborhood of debris.  When asked why his house was the only one in the neighborhood still standing, the owner replied:

“I built this house myself.  I built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for 2″ x 6″ roof trusses, I used 2″ x 6″ roof trusses. When it called for screws, I used screws. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane. I did, and it did. I suppose no one else around here followed the code.”

Now, this man might have said to himself at the time he built his house, “Gee, I sure feel silly spending all this extra time, money and effort on precautions that might never be needed.  Everyone else in the neighborhood is cutting corners.  I think I even heard them laughing at me for adhering to all these unnecessary requirements.  I wonder if it’s really worth it.”  But in the end, he followed the code and was rewarded with the last house standing after the storm.

Of course, this story reminds me of the story Jesus told about the wise and foolish builders.  You can find it in Matthew 7:24-27. Two builders built – one on sand and one on rock.  When the storms came, the house on the rock withstood the wind and the rains.  Jesus said that the builders represented two types of people – those who build their lives on Jesus (the Rock, the solid foundation) and those who build their lives on anything else (the wisdom of this world, other religions, etc.)

Taking the metaphor a little further, “building to code” means living our life based on what we read in our Bible.  It may not always make sense to us at the time what God asks us to do, but if we will follow Him obediently, we will find that we can weather the storms of this life.  So, build on the Rock and follow the Code.  It will keep you out of the rain.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, Compromise, Convenience, delayed gratification, determination, God's Will, Hardship, Instant Gratification, obedience, submission

Taking a Stand


I’m an expat living in Thailand, and I believe that this requires me to change certain behaviors that are normal and comfortable to me in order to be culturally sensitive.  When the Thai national anthem or the king’s song plays, everyone is supposed to stand (including foreigners) out of respect.  If I hear either song, I stand.  It’s a sign of respect to the country that is allowing my family to live on its soil.

In the mornings when I’m in town, I walk the kids to school, and my habit has become that I sit for half an hour or so doing my quiet time in the school’s courtyard.  At 8:00a, the large Thai school across the street from our school plays the national anthem.  I always stand, but many times, I’m the only one.  The other foreigners typically continue their conversations, and even the Thais working at our school only stop what they are doing occasionally.

Standing is a simple gesture, but when you are the only one doing it, it’s easy to feel foolish.  I look around at everyone doing their own thing, and I wonder, “Am I over-doing this respect thing?”  “If no one else is doing it, maybe it’s not really expected.”  “I wonder if they are laughing at me.”  “Maybe they are thinking that I’m being pretentious.” “Does it really even matter if I stand or not?”

After all, there are plenty of excuses for not standing.  The music is a little hard to hear.  It’s not  playing at our school.  We aren’t Thai.  The Thais don’t even stand sometimes.  No one seems to care.  I’m having a conversation.  I’m tired.  My leg hurts…

I had an experience like this today, and I spent some time thinking afterward.  Being a Christian is a little like standing for the Thai national anthem.  When you take a stand for God, you will often look foolish to the world around you.  You are standing for music they may not even be able to hear and for reasons that they don’t particularly understand.  Even some of the Christians around you aren’t taking a stand for God.

It’s easy to second-guess yourself. “Am I being too strict about the movies my kids watch and the music they listen to?”  “Am I naive to think my kids could possibly make it to marriage without having sex?”  “Am I throwing my money away when I tithe to the church?”  “Am I being pretentious by claiming that there is only one Way into heaven, and His name is Jesus Christ?”

These doubts and questions are part of the cost of taking a stand for God.  If it were easy, everyone would do it, right?  Of course, God could strike down anyone who didn’t take a stand, but He doesn’t.  He doesn’t, because then EVERYONE would stand.  They wouldn’t be standing because they loved the Lord; they would be standing out of fear and compliance.  Those aren’t the types of followers God is looking for.  He loves us too much to force us to “love” Him back.

When you take a stand for something, you have to be willing to pay the price.  Without cost, there is no sacrifice.  As King David said when Araunah offered him his threshing floor, oxen, wood and wheat for free in order to make an offering, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” (1 Chronicles 21:24)  The value of the sacrifice is tied to how much it costs you.

The foolishness you sometimes feel when taking a stand for God is part of your sacrifice.  But you can take comfort in this Scripture:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

(1 Corinthians 1:25)

One day, every stand you took for the Lord will be seen for what it was –  wisdom, love, honor, respect, readiness, strength, adoration, devotion, courage, faith…  Insist on paying the full price.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.

(1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

 

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Filed under Authenticity, christianity, comfort zone, commitment, Compromise, culture, faith, obedience, parenting, priorities, sacrifice

Unforgiveness


The letter that Paul wrote to Philemon is a strange inclusion in the New Testament.  It’s short.  Just one chapter and 25 verses.  It seems to simply be Paul intervening on behalf of a new friend who has had a conflict with his master (Onesimus was Philemon’s slave).

But try reading it as if it were Jesus’ letter to you personally, and it takes on new meaning:

Therefore, although in I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.  I appeal to you for my son/daughter who became my child as a result of their trust in my death and resurrection. Formerly (s)he was not much use to you, but now (s)he has become useful both to you and to me.

So if you consider me as a partner, welcome him/her as you would welcome me.  If (s)he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me…I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart as you show your faith in me.  Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

I think Philemon was included in the Bible to remind us of our need to forgive our Christian brothers and sisters.  Jesus is reminding us that we have been forgiven of so much more than we will ever need to forgive someone else.  He admonishes us that we owe Him our very lives and suggests that until we forgive, we are not much benefit to Him.  The parable of the unmerciful servant comes to mind.

Unforgiveness breaks our fellowship with God.  At the end of the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35), the man who wouldn’t forgive is released to the jailers (tormentors) to be tortured until he has paid back everything he owed.  That sounds like hell, but it can’t be, because the unmerciful servant is a picture of a believer, who has been forgiven for all his sins.

The torture that Jesus is talking about in this parable is the torture we go through when we have unforgiveness in our hearts.  We are separated from God and lack His protection and His favor.  We suffer from stewing anger and resentment, jealousy and sometimes hatred.  The good news is that it’s so easy to pay back everything we owe and get out of this prison.  All we have to do is forgive.  That’s what we were given.  That’s what we owe.

Jesus ends his letter to us in Philemon asking us to prepare a room for Him (in our hearts).  He wants to restore the relationship we’ve lost in our unforgiveness.  He’s ready to return His protection and His favor to our lives.  All we have to do is pay what we owe, and it’s no more than we’ve been given.  

Remember when Peter was asked about paying the temple tax?  He didn’t have the money to pay, but when he went to Jesus about it, Jesus sent him fishing.  The first fish Peter caught had a four-drachma coin inside – enough to pay the tax for both of them.  God won’t ask us to give more than we have.  He will supply everything we need.  We just have to be willing to be obedient.  If you are struggling to forgive someone, don’t try to find it in yourself.  Ask God to supply what you need.  You are just moments away from restoration.

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Filed under agape love, blame, christianity, forgiveness, grace, mercy, obedience, Relationships, Suffering, Unforgiveness