3 Questions to Ask Before You Act

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

  1. Will this help the other person? Will what you are about to do satisfy a need (not necessarily a want) of the person for whom you plan to do it? Meeting every “want” someone has ultimately ends up hurting, not helping. Helping requires discernment. Sometimes people around you view wants as needs. Your “no’s” may be as critical as your “yeses.”
  2. Will the other person be better because of what I am about to do? To build up literally means to “build a house.” Will what you are doing add to the other person? This requires having a vision for the other person that sees them not only as they are but as who they can be. In parenting, Smalley and Trent call this “picturing a special future.” If you’re a leader at work, you see your staff member as a supervisor, shift leader, or vice-president. If you’re a teacher, you see your student walking across the stage and graduating one day.
  3. Will this glorify God? A simple non-theological way to approach this question is: will God’s reputation be enhanced because of what you are about to do or say? Will your actions make his name greater? When all is said and done, will people talk more about you or about God?

You’d Better Run!

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

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Dictionary.com defines flee as to run away, as from danger or pursuers. Idolatry is dangerous. Fleeing is the only sane response. Making it practical, here are five ways to flee idolatry:

  1. End ungodly relationships. The right relationship with the wrong person is still the wrong relationship.  Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20 ESV)
  2. End ungodly habits. Stephen Covey said, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) What you do today will determine who you are tomorrow.
  3. Don’t just run from–run to. If you flee idolatry without running to God, you will replace your old idol with another one.  The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10 ESV)
  4. Begin godly relationships. You are not designed to walk alone. From the beginning, God knew Adam should not be alone so he made a helper for him. John called this walking in the light:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 ESV)
  5. If you fall down, don’t freak out, ‘fess up.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 ESV) God is faithful when you fail. Run to him.

A Long, Slow, Steady March

On January 28, 1945, as World War II was groaning to a close, 121 elite Army Rangers liberated over 500 POWs, mostly Americans, from a Japanese prisoner of war camp near Cabanatuan in the Philippines.

The prisoners, many of whom were survivors of the infamous Bataan death march, were in awful condition, physically and emotionally. Before the Rangers arrived, the primary Japanese guard unit had left the camp because of Japan’s massive retreat from the Philippines. The new situation was precarious. Japanese troops were still around and in the camp, but they kept their distance from the prisoners. The men of Cabanatuan didn’t quite know what to make of their new freedom—if freedom was in fact what it was. And then, without warning, the American Rangers swept upon the camp in furious force.

But one of one of the most interesting facets of the story was the reaction of many of the prisoners. They were so defeated, diseased, and familiar with deceit that many needed to be convinced they were actually free. Was it a trick? A trap? Was this real? One prisoner, Captain Bert Bank, struggling with blindness caused by a vitamin deficiency, couldn’t clearly make out his would-be rescuers. He refused to budge. Finally, a soldier walked up to him, tugged his arm, and said, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to be free?” Bank, from Alabama, recognized the familiar southern accent of his questioner. A smile formed on his lips, and he willingly and thankfully began his journey to freedom.

Finally, well away from what had been, for years, the site of an ongoing, horrific assault on their humanity, the newly freed prisoners began their march home. In the description of one prisoner, contrasting it with the Bataan nightmare years earlier, “It was a long, slow, steady march …but this was a life march, a march of freedom.”

A Done Deal and a Daily Walk

There is therefore now no condemnation for those Finish Linewho are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 ESV)

Freedom is a done deal and a daily walk. Don’t miss the tenses of the verbs…

  • “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free”—vs. 2
  • “what the law could not do, God did
  • “sending His own son”
  • “He condemned sin in the flesh”
  • “so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”

Our freedom was granted through Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. Did you know that all your sins have been forgiven–sins past, present and future. David Jeremiah once said that most people don’t struggle with the sins they committed before coming to Christ. They know that God has forgiven them. However, they struggle with the sins they committed after coming to Christ. I love his response. “I can illustrate that all your sins have been forgiven. How is that? Because Jesus took all your sins on the cross. And every sin you have ever committed was committed after Jesus died on the cross.”

You only need accept that forgiveness. That’s what coming to Christ is all about. Will you accept the forgiveness available through Christ? And for those of you who already know Christ, will you accept His forgiveness for the wrong you did this week. Freedom is a done deal. You are free.

Freedom is also a daily walk. Remember, freedom is an inside job that works out in our lives.   Notice Paul’s next phrase (vs. 4b) “who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Walk is simply defined as “to move over a surface by taking steps with the feet at a pace slower than a run.”

Freedom is a walk. We take one step toward freedom and then another…and another. Walking is a one-step-at-a-time experience. And one step leads to another, and another, and another. Aren’t you glad God said, “walk” instead of running. Be patient with yourselves.

Here’s where the rub comes. We have a choice. Who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. The flesh will always be the flesh. The question is, “Will we walk as free people, bound no longer by our sin nature?” That is the question of the daily walk. I am not talking about having a quiet time, although that is very valuable. I’m speaking of a daily walk according to God’s Spirit.

How do we do this? I am convinced, first of all, that it isn’t easy. To walk by the Spirit is a moment-by-moment attitude of surrender. It is living your life, not for yourself, but for God. What are the fruits of the life of one who walks by the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

If freedom had not been a desperate need, Jesus would not have died.

If the regiment of the law had worked, Jesus would not have come as God in human flesh.

If life had been intended to be miserable, Jesus would not have undergone the misery of your sin in your place.

If freedom were not a daily walk, Jesus never would have said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

A Prayer and a Practice

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV)

When you come to know Christ, you are given the Holy Spirit who lives inside of you. As He resides within you, He gives you the views, the feelings, and the temperament of Christ. You are able to think like Jesus Christ. You are able to make decisions like Christ would make. You are able to respond to situations as Jesus Christ would.

“How can I do this?” you may ask. “How can I reinforce this ally that fights against my old sinful nature?”

I want to be very practical here. I want to suggest a prayer and a practice. The prayer comes from Robert McGhee’s work, Search for Freedom.

Dear Lord, I have believed the wrong thought of (name the thought). I hate thinking this thought. This thought is not a healthy one for me. It is against what you want me to think. I want to bring my thoughts into obedience to your thoughts. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). I also want to think about things that are worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8) Thank you for forgiving me, for accepting this thought that has affected my life so negatively. I now, by my own free will, choose to replace the wrong thought of (name the thought) with what you want me to think. The next time I think that wrong thought, help me to tell you and change it. Thank you for the truth that sets me free.

The practice: memorize Bible verses. Scripture is the most powerful tool used by the Holy Spirit to renew the mind. Scripture verses, when applied to your heart, can change your life. The Spirit uses the Word. And when the Word is in our hearts, we will advance—not retreat.

Walk Down a Different Street

This is my version of a poem originally written by Portia Nelson. I didn’t agree completely with some of her statements, so I adjusted them. Some of you need to walk down a different street today. Not tomorrow…today.

Day 1: Today I walked down a street. I fell into a hole. I did not see the hole until I had fallen in. I climbed out.

Day 2: Today I walked down the same street. I saw the hole. I knew it was there all along. I got caught up in the crowd and fell into the hole again. I climbed out.

Day 3: Today I walked down the street. I knew right where the hole was. All of a sudden, my attention was drawn to an accident. And before I had realized it, I had fallen into the hole again. I climbed out.

Day 4: Today I walked down the street. I saw the hole ahead of time and I walked on the other side of the street.

Day 5: Today I walked down a different street.

A Prayer for Mundane Devotion

O Lord,
Whose power is infinite and wisdom infallible,
Order things that they may neither hinder, nor discourage me,
nor prove obstacles to the progress of thy cause;
Stand between me and all strife, that no evil befall,
no sin corrupt my gifts, zeal, attainments.

May I follow duty and not any foolish device of my own;
Permit me not to labour at work which thou wilt not bless,
that I may serve thee without disgrace or debt;
Let me dwell in thy most secret place under thy shadow,
where is safe impenetrable protection from
the arrow that flieth by day,
the pestilence that walketh in darkness,
the strife of tongues,
the malice of ill-will,
the hurt of unkind talk,
the snares of company,
the perils of youth,
the temptations of middle life,
the mournings of old age,
the fear of death.

I am entirely depended upon thee for support, counsel, consolation.
Uphold me by thy free Spirit,
and may I not think it enough to be preserved from falling,
but may I always go forward, always abounding in the work which thou gives me to do.
Strengthen me by thy Spirit in my inner self
for every purpose of my Christian life.

All my jewels I give to the shadow of the safety that is in thee–
my name anew in Christ,
my body, soul, talents, character,
my success, wife, children friends, work,
my present, my future, my end.
Take them, they are thine, and I am thine, now and forever.

From The Valley of Vision (page 244)

Who’s Your Boss?

And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” (Ruth 2:4-7 ESV)

We infer from the opening lines that the field was outside Bethlehem. Boaz, a wealthy landowner, came to check on his reapers. He happened to come the very day that Ruth arrived. Immediately we see Boaz’s character. His first words to the reapers have nothing to do with how much grain they have harvested. Rather He blesses them. The LORD be with you.

Second, his workers weren’t surprised by his greeting. They knew exactly how to answer him: The LORD bless you. Not often in Boaz’s day (nor today) do bosses interact with their employees like Boaz does with his field workers. The socioeconomic distance between Boaz and his field workers was normally insurmountable!

Then Boaz saw Ruth. He didn’t hire her so he naturally inquired about her. Whose young woman is this? Don’t miss how the servant described her: She is the young Moabite woman. Ruth must have been shaking in her sandals. She knew she would never rid herself of this title. Who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. Her plight isn’t getting any better. She’s a foreigner who came with the bitter woman back–to the bitter woman’s home turf.

How could this turn out for Ruth’s good? One way: end up in Boaz’s field. And work hard. She did both. So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest. Yesterday we defined faithfulness as doing what you know to do–and doing it now. Ruth did what she knew to do. She worked hard and when Boaz came to the field he recognized her diligence.

Long before Paul penned these words to the Colossians, Ruth practiced them:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV)

Who are you working for? Who’s your boss?

I Will

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” (Ruth 1:6-15 ESV)

Naomi was determined to dissuade Ruth from coming to Bethlehem. Four times in this soliloquy she demands that Ruth return. Her words are forceful: return, turn back, turn back, return. She’s angry at God. She’s mad at the world. Life has dealt her an ugly blow and she’s looking for someone to blame. She feels she has already put Ruth and Orpah through enough. You can hear it in her language: No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me. In other words, “It’s my fault you’re where you are–widowed and following a bitter old woman to her homeland.  Turn back!”

One must wonder why Ruth would ever want to continue the long trek from Moab to Bethlehem with a woman compelling her to go home. Ruth has no intentions of caving to Naomi’s pressure. Notice her answer:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17 ESV)

Her language is anything but that of a quitter. She answers Naomi’s repeated commands to turn back with her own mantra: I will.

  • For where you go, I will go.
  • And where you lodge, I will lodge.
  • Where you die, I will die.
  • And there will I be buried.

Ruth’s language is the language of determination.

Some of you are staring down a road you’ve never traveled down before. You have no idea where it will lead, what you will find or even who you will be at the end of the road. In those times, focusing on what you don’t know will stop you dead in your tracks. Yours must be the language of “I will.”

I will trust God…no matter what.

I will pray….no matter what.

I will worship…no matter what.

I will.

I will.

The Ripple Effect

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:24-25 ESV)

Early decisions can have a lasting impact. Moses grew up in the lap of luxury. He was prince of the most powerful country in his day. Servants did his bidding, women swooned when he entered a room, leaders wanted his attention. He was the Prince of Egypt. He wore the latest styles, rode the newest model camel, and ate the finest food.

Then one day he made a decision. He had no idea the ripple effect this one decision would have on his life. Decisions are like that. They are the proverbial pebble thrown in the pond of life, creating a ripple that becomes a tidal wave. These decisions don’t seem significant when they’re made–but their ramifications are far reaching.

Decisions like this are seldom made under pleasant circumstances. Moses’ decision forced him to the backside of the desert for 40 years. A fugitive, he wandered into obscurity. He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He had a mother–her name was Jochebed. When Moses was a helpless newborn, she trusted God with his little life. Now he had learned to trust God with his grown up life.

Moses chose to say no to the fleeting pleasures of sin. It’s sometimes hard for us to believe that decisions we make today will impact five or especially twenty years from now. The teenage girl who says “no” to the repeated sexual advances of the boy in her Algebra class is grateful on her honeymoon night. So is her new husband. The young professional who refused to participate in the shady business deal–and faced ridicule from his fellow employees–is thankful when he is promoted. The college student who decided not to go to the party is relieved when he hears of the arrests of several students and their subsequent dismissal from school. Graduation is a sweet day for him.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”

What one decision will you make today that will change your tomorrow forever?