Category Archives: sanctification

Rule for Life

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As New Year’s approaches, many of us will be establishing New Year’s resolutions.  These often help us to direct our lives in a more positive direction.  Sometimes, they come from a healthy desire to grow, and sometimes they come from guilt and shame over how we have managed our lives up to this point.  Oftentimes, we abandon our resolutions after a short time, adding to the guilt and shame that might have motivated them in the first place.  Maybe a better approach to this practice would be to establish Rules for Life.

A Rule for Life establishes a rhythm in your life.  (In fact, you could call it a “Rhythm for Life” if the word “rule” seems too legalistic.)  It is a spiritual discipline that invites the Holy Spirit to partner with you as you practice Romans 12:1-2.  A Rule for Life “[offers] your [body] as a living sacrifice” so that you can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It puts you in the right place at the right time with the right heart for God to do transformation work.  Your part of the partnership is showing up with the right heart.  God does the rest.

Sometimes, we try to rush God into the few minutes that we have available for Him in our busy schedules, but my experience is that God rarely shows up when I summon Him.  He is unlikely to give in to my need for Him to be present just when I have the time.  He is a jealous God who won’t compete with the idols of work and entertainment that I choose to worship with my time.  Instead, He requires that I make Him a priority both in my time and in my behaviors.  He wants me to schedule Him into my calendar and show up ready to spend time with Him.  He wants me to choose Him in moments when I’m tempted to choose my sinful nature. God wants me to prioritize Him even when I don’t see the benefit. I am often impatient for the proof that my behaviors are making things better, but much of God’s work in my life is way below the surface.  It’s inner transformation.  If I show up regularly and choose God over evil when I am tempted, God will be faithful to reorient my soul towards Him.

Some examples of Rules for Life are:

  • Begin every day with prayer.
  • Meet with my accountability partner each week.
  • Practice a Sabbath rest.
  • Tell God thank you.
  • Stop eating before I’m full.
  • Let each person be my teacher.
  • Visit God’s creation.
  • Bounce my eyes when I feel tempted to look.
  • Spend time journaling each day.
  • Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit with each person I meet.
  • Keep Christ on the throne of my heart.

Notice that these are not SMART goals.  Making them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound can lead to legalistic observance.  Instead of worrying about whether you met the specific criteria of a Rule for Life, allow God to speak to you about them.  Practice the spiritual discipline of Examen at the end of each day by asking, “How did I do with my Rules for Life today?  What pleased you?  What would you have me do differently tomorrow?”  God won’t beat you up over what you didn’t do, but He will redirect where necessary and encourage you so that you have the strength and motivation to keep going.

Rules for Life can sound a lot like New Year’s resolutions, but they shouldn’t come with emotional baggage.  A Rule for Life should help you love God more.  If it makes you feel guilty because you aren’t doing it, let it go.  It shouldn’t be a legalistic practice to “earn God’s love.”  If it becomes one, you know that Satan has gotten ahold of your Rule for Life and twisted it for his purposes.  As long as you cling to it, Satan will have the power to accuse you for not living up to your commitment.  Just release it, and try to find a different Rule for Life that gives life to you. When you think about your Rule for Life, it should bring peace into your soul.  It should be time that you long for or practices that resonate with you.  Keep experimenting with different Rules for Life until you find ones that uniquely fit who you are and where you are in life.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions this year, try establishing some new rhythms.  Make yourself more accessible to God’s good work of transformation in you.


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Filed under Daily walk, discipline, habits, sanctification, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines, Substitution


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


A man walked into a pawnshop and went straight to a worn down piece of furniture hidden in the back of the store.  He moved several other items that had been stacked against it and stepped back to take a look.

The piece of furniture was once a beautiful writing desk made with fine craftsmanship, but the former beauty had been worn away through years of use as it served first one family and then another.  These years were followed by even more years of disuse after it had been left out on the curb and salvaged by the pawnshop owner.

It was no longer beautiful.  Its drawers were broken, its roll-top in splinters, its feet uneven and wobbly, its stain faded and surface scratched and dented.  Looking at it, it was hard to imagine what the piece had looked originally.  You certainly wouldn’t want it in your home.  It was a real eyesore.

Even so, the man pulled out the desk and told the shop owner that he wanted to buy it.  The shop owner named a price – a surprisingly high price considering the condition of the desk – but the man was willing to pay it, and the transaction was made.

The man loaded the desk in his truck and took it home, where he placed it in his garage.  He turned on the overhead light and gave the desk a thorough inspection.  He took note of the broken drawers, the splintered roll-top, the wobbly feet and the scarred surface.  Nothing escaped his trained eye.

Having completed his assessment, he mentally planned what repairs and improvements would need to be done.  Then, he turned off the light and headed to bed.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin the work.

The next day, the man arrived late in the afternoon with new lumber and a collection of well-worn tools.  He was a carpenter, and these were the tools of his trade.  He had begun and finished many projects before this one, and he would begin and finish many more.  The work thrilled him.  It was a labor of love, and he thoroughly enjoyed taking something discarded and bringing out its true value.

With a smile of anticipation and a clear vision of the finished product, the man turned the desk on its side and sawed a heart-shaped piece from the bottom panel.  He then replaced it with a custom-made heart piece – golden in color with intricate etchings and made from a fine wood.  It was on the bottom panel, where it was unlikely that anyone would see it but him, but it was his trademark and showed the love and care he put into refurbishing the piece.  Those familiar with his work knew where to look for his signature.

He turned the desk back up and began with structural repairs.  He replaced one of the feet, repaired the broken drawers and built a new roll-top.   Before long, evening arrived.  The man put away his tools and retired for the night.

The next day, he returned to his work.  Using a sanding block, he began working on the inner parts of the desk that no one typically saw.  This might have seemed like a waste to most, but again, this was his trademark.  He always began from the inside and worked his way out.

After a week, an observer might not have seen much difference, but the man knew how smooth the inner boards had become, how silently the drawers slid in and out, how strong the joints and the frame had become.  It was a work of quality he was engaged in – not a work of speed.  He was not concerned about turning a quick profit; he wanted the finished product to be a blessing to some family who needed it.  He wanted it to bring them joy for years and years to come.  He thought about the children and the grandchildren who would live life around this desk, and he wanted the changes he made to bless generations.

And so, he worked, slowly but deliberately – never leaving off a task until it was done to his exacting standards.  Then, he moved on to the next area that needed repair, and then the next…

When he was done with the inner parts, he began work on the outer, and the piece began to really transform.  Each board was smoothed to take away the abuses of the past.  But he didn’t remove every dent or every scar.  Some, he knew, added value to the piece and gave it character.  Still, even these blemishes received his painstaking attention.  In fact, he spent more time on them than he did on the smoother parts, and when he was done, they became the most interesting parts of the whole piece.  What was ugly became beautiful and interesting, and those who saw them would want to know more.

When everything was prepared and the dust and grit and stains of past years had been removed, the man applied a covering.  It was a deep, reddish stain that soaked into the wood and provided a protective finish.  It was such a unique color that those who knew recognized it as the work of the man whenever they saw it.

The man then sealed the piece with a clear, protective coat, installed new hardware to the drawers and roll-top and finally stood back to admire his work.  The piece was impressive and made you want to come closer to look.  Its wood was so smooth that the man could literally see his reflection in it.  He smiled and said a quick, “well done!” to himself.  It was good.

In fact, it looked even better now than the day he originally created it.  You see, the pawnshop owner thought he was taking advantage of the man when he sold the desk at such a high price, but the man always knew the quality of the workmanship, because he had made it himself many years before.  Years of abuse and neglect had all but ruined the desk, but the man trusted in his own unique ability to restore the piece – even to make it better than before.  So he paid the high price, and he had no regrets.

Looking at the restored work, he knew exactly who he was going to give it to – a gift for a family that he dearly loved.


Filed under Christ, christianity, Covering, grace, Jesus, mercy, Protection, sacrifice, Salvation, sanctification, Savior, self-image, self-worth, unconditional love

Take Your Cross

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

(Mark 8:34)

“We all have our cross to bear,” says the popular proverb, but most who say so have no idea of the meaning of Jesus’ words.  He spoke them right after rebuking Peter, who thought that he knew better than Jesus how to accomplish God’s purposes.

Jesus had been explaining that He must suffer many things and even die before He would rise again, but Peter thought there must be a shortcut.  Jesus replied (if I may summarize Mark 8:33-38), “Get behind me, Satan!  There are no shortcuts!  The cross must do its work.”

The work of a cross was to shame, to make the offender suffer, to kill him and to give warning to others about the consequences of crossing the authorities.  But these aren’t the purposes Jesus has in mind.  God’s perspective on the cross is very different from Satan’s.

Both have death in mind, but Satan used the cross to kill the person; God uses it to kill the self.  When Jesus says to “take up (your) cross,” He means that we should willingly carry the tool that God will use to kill our sinful nature and make us more like Christ.

What the “cross” looks like is different for every person.  For some, it’s a challenging circumstance that brings them to the end of their own resources or abilities. For some, it’s something difficult and painful from their past.  For others, it’s a disability, a limitation, a weakness, a failure…  It could even be a persistent struggle with sin.  It’s whatever God uses to bring us into complete dependence upon Him.

Too often, we give Satan power to use these things to shame us, to make us suffer and to destroy us.  Instead, we should turn them over to God, who makes ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him.  God is not the author or creator of the cross, but He will use it to put to death anything that is not like His Son.

Where Satan intends shame, God develops humility.  Where Satan intends suffering, God develops dependence.  Where Satan intends death, God gives life.  Where Satan intends a warning, God provides a testimony.

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Filed under Change, character, christianity, comfort zone, Daily walk, failure, Hardship, sacrifice, sanctification, Spiritual Growth, spiritual warfare, temptation

On Solid Rock

I have a friend who once had his house jacked so that it was supported by bedrock rather than clay.  He shared with me that his house is now all “womperjawed” (yes, he’s from Texas).  Not a thing in the house is square – but it’s solid.  His house had been founded on clay so long that everything had shifted over time.  In fact, much of it was square before he jacked it, because it had all shifted together.  It looked good and felt comfortable, but it wasn’t solid.

When my friend made the decision to jack the house to found it on bedrock, he gave up the comfort and aesthetics he had before.  His house doesn’t look as good as it once did, but now it’s solid and will stand the test of time.

What a great analogy for what happens to our lives when we accept Christ and anchor our lives to the Rock.  When we accept Christ, the people around us  start to realize that we don’t have it all together like we used to pretend that we did.  Our flaws begin to show, but we can rejoice in that!  God doesn’t waste anything.  He uses our flaws as much or more than He uses our strengths to accomplish His purposes.  We can afford to be vulnerable with people and let them see how “womperjawed” we are, because we’ve got a solid foundation.

“Square” is overrated.  It’s better to be a mess with a message than to be “perfect” without a prayer.

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Filed under Authenticity, belief, Change, christianity, Salvation, sanctification


Many of us live in time compartments. We think in terms of years or months or weeks. It helps us to slice up the time, so that we can plan and set goals. When that period of time is done, we box up the compartment and set it aside as part of the past. “Last year, this happened to me…” or “Last week, I did such and such.”

When we are struggling to get rid of sin in our lives, we use the time compartments as a way to measure our success. “If I can just control my anger this week on the drive to work…” or “I’m going to try to give up donuts for an entire month…” The time compartment helps us to set our expectations so that we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

But sometimes they work against us. I’ve got a friend who struggles to live in weekly compartments, because if he messes up early, he feels the entire week is shot. Having lost the battle on Tuesday, he cedes the rest of the week to the enemy. For example, if he gives in to the temptation to smoke a cigarette by Tuesday (he’s trying to quit), he feels defeated. In his thinking, the entire week is ruined, so he might as well keep smoking and start fresh on Sunday.

This is a common trick of Satan’s – getting us to think in terms of “all or nothing.” He knows that some of us only have to lose the battle with the temptation to sin once before we give up the fight. How long we give up depends upon how big our compartments are.

Some of us think year-by-year.

“I had a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, but I gained several pounds on my vacation. Guess I’ll try again next year.”

Some of us think month-by-month.

“I was trying to keep within a budget, but I blew it again. Guess I’ll try again next month.”

Some of us think week-by-week.

“I promised my wife I would start coming home on time for dinner, but I’ve just got too much work to do this week. Guess I’ll try again next week.”

Some of us think day-by-day.

“I made a commitment in my quiet time to control my lustful thoughts, but that didn’t last past the gym this morning. Guess I’ll try again tomorrow.”

It’s a dangerous rationalization for sin, but it’s surprising how convincing it sounds to the person who is struggling to get rid of bad habits. It takes so much energy and effort to change our behavior patterns that we are relieved in a way when we mess up. We feel like we are off the hook until our next time compartment starts up.

But what if we lived minute-by-minute instead of day-by-day or week-by-week or month-by-month? Then, if we gave in to temptation one minute, we could start over in the next. Right after we sinned, we could repent, ask for forgiveness and then box up the minute of our failure as part of the past. Immediately, we would have a fresh, new minute to use! A minute where our relationship to God had been completely restored because of our repentance and His forgiveness!

When we are struggling with persistent sin, we probably can’t be trusted with time compartments larger than a minute or two. We have to take away the excuse (and Satan’s lie) that we’ve ruined a whole day, week, month or year. Nothing is ruined. Each minute stands on its own. Every moment, we can make a new choice to follow God, and what is in our past (even just a minute ago) doesn’t have to infect our future.

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Filed under accountability, Challenges, Daily walk, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, repentance, righteousness, sanctification, sin, spiritual disciplines

Parable of the Hearts


We almost always call it “The Parable of the Sower,” but the Sower isn’t the key focus of the lesson.  The Sower (or farmer) is Jesus in each telling (Mathew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8), and His role doesn’t change.  Likewise, the seed he sows/plants doesn’t change.  It represents the Word of God in each story.  The key focus of the lesson is the soil, and the soil represents our hearts.

So, “The Parable of the Hearts” goes like this.  Jesus entered His field (the world) and scattered His Word.  Literally, He “broadcasted” it (a method of sowing seed), meaning that He sent it out into all directions, so that everything was covered.  He didn’t discriminate about where the truth went; He just allowed it to fall where it landed.

Those who hear it have four types of hearts:

  • Hard Hearts – Those who have hearts so hard that nothing could grow in them.
  • Shallow Hearts – Those who have hearts where truth can grow but not flourish, because it can’t go deep.  Difficult times make it wither.
  • Choked Hearts – Those who have hearts where truth can grow but not flourish, because worry, fear, comfort, wealth, and desire choke it out.
  • Fertile Hearts – Those who have hearts where truth can grow and flourish.

Luke makes it clear that those with Hard Hearts are not saved, but I think a strong case can be made that we will see the rest in heaven.  Shallow hearts and Choked Hearts don’t realize their true potential, but the seeds of truth do grow in them for a short period of time.  They are like Christians who allow themselves to be deceived by Satan and settle for less than the abundant fruit that Jesus said was possible.

Now look at the parable from a different angle.  The four types of hearts can really be used to describe just one Christian heart in its different patches of soil.

  • Hard Heart – There are places in my heart that are hard to God’s truth.  Like the pathway in the parable, these places have been trampled down by the world.  These are the places I’m not yet willing to trust to His care – places of hurt and fear.  The seeds of His truth can’t even break the surface, so Satan comes and snatches them away.
  • Shallow Heart – Other places are quick to receive the seed.  For example, I may fully agree with my pastor that I should love my neighbor…in principle.  As long as I’m not tested in this area, I may seem very godly to those around me.  But if my neighbor mistreats me or fails to meet my expectations, God’s truth will wither in the heat of my anger.
  • Choked Heart – Some parts of my heart are choked with a desire for comfort and safety.  I know I should trust God to use me however He sees best, but “please don’t make me a missionary to Africa, Lord!”
  • Fertile Heart – Thank goodness there are also places in my heart where I’ve learned to trust God completely, where He is working to produce an incredible harvest.  I’ve got to work hard to keep the weeds out, but if I’ll acknowledge a young weed to the Lord, He will remove it for me.

Our hearts are a garden full of different kinds of soil, and daily we are presented with opportunities to let the great Gardener go to work in them.  If we will let Him, He will break up the hard soil, clear up the rocks that make the shallow soil shallow, pull the choking weeds and continue to fertilize the areas where the soil is rich and deep.

It’s hard work that never ends this side of heaven, but each day, the great Gardener shows up ready to work.  All we have to do is to invite Him into the garden.

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Filed under belief, christianity, faith, growth, heart, righteousness, sanctification, Spiritual Growth, trust