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Archive for August, 2014

Residents in the Middle East 2,000 years ago lived in cities surrounded by a wall which gave them protection from enemies. Christians also have a wall of defense against the sinful desires that wage war against them – the Bible defines that wall as self-control.” Proverbs 25:28 says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Proverbs 16:32 expresses the same thought, “Better is he who controls his temper than he who takes a city.”

Christians who lack self-control are as vulnerable as ancient cities were that had no surrounding wall. We yield easily to ungoverned passions, offering little or no resistance. Dishonesty can lead to lying. Greed can lead to stealing what belongs to others. Anger can lead to murder. Opening the door to lust quickly leads to adultery.

Self-control is defined as “the governing of one’s own desires, the ability to avoid excesses, to stay within reasonable bounds.” But self-control for the Christian is much more than the ability to control our bodily appetites and desires. It also involves the control of our thoughts, emotions, and speech. It involves saying yes to what we should do – such as Bible study, prayer, stewardship of time, talent and resources, serving others. it also involves saying no to what we should not do. “If anyone would come after me,” said Jesus, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

The translators of the New International Version use the expression self-control to translate two different words from the original language. The first word refers primarily to moderation or temperance in the gratification of our desires and appetites. The second is a word that conveys the idea of allowing sound judgment to control our desires and appetites, our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Sound judgment is critical to the exercise of self-control, for it enables the believer to not only distinguish the good from the evil, but also to choose that which is best above that which is good.

But sound judgment is not enough to enable us to practice self-control. Inner strength is also essential. All too often we know very well what we ought to do, but we do not do it. We allow feelings or circumstances to overrule our judgment. Ultimately, self-control is the exercise of inner strength under the direction of sound judgment that enables us to do, think, and say the things that are pleasing to God.

The best guideline for evaluating the control of our thoughts is found in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” What we think about is very likely what we will do. In other words, our minds are mental greenhouses where unlawful thoughts, once planted, are nurtured and watered before being transplanted into the real world where unlawful and/or immoral actions take place.

The gates to what controls our thoughts are our eyes and ears. What we see or read or hear largely determines what we think and ultimately do. The thought life, then, is our first line of defense in the battle of self-control. It is why the psalmist prayed, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, My Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

The way to have self-control begins with having a thorough knowledge of God’s standard as revealed in the Bible. True spiritual self-discipline holds believers in bounds but never in bonds. Its effect on our lives is to enlarge, expand, and liberate. It is why James describes God’s Word as “the perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25).

 

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Problems come in all sizes, and everybody has them – some even have lots of them. The reason we have problems is that we know more ways to get into trouble than to get out of it. It would be wonderful if all of our problems could happen when we are eighteen years of age, for that is when we know everything.

According to the Bureau of Standards in Washington, a dense fog covering seven city blocks to a depth of 100 feet is composed of less than one glass of water. That amount of water is divided into about 60 billion tiny droplets. Yet when those minute particles settle over a city or the countryside, they can almost blot out everything from your sight.

Many Christians today live their lives in a fog. They allow a cupful of troubles to cloud their vision and dampen their spirit. Anxiety, turmoil and defeat strangle their thoughts. Their lives are being “choked by the cares of this world” (Luke 8:14). But “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (II Timothy 1:7). Why be fogged in when you can live in the sunshine?

Dr. William Mitchell, in his helpful book, Winning in the Land of Giants, mentions five possible ways of thinking about a problem:

Curse it. Those who do this dwell constantly on the negative aspects of their situation. In other words, they make it worse, perhaps even many times worse, than it was originally.

Nurse it. There is an old Ozark story about a hound sitting in a country store that constantly howled. A stranger who came into the store asked the store owner why the dog was howling. “He is sitting on cocklebur.” “Then why doesn’t he get up?” “He’d rather holler.” Some people are like that hound. They constantly focus time and attention on the problem itself rather than trying to find a solution.

Rehearse it. By replaying the problem over and over in their mind, they find it increasingly more difficult to think about anything else. Dark clouds are always on their horizon. They wallow in their chosen misery daily, and in so doing they make everybody around them as miserable as they are.

Disperse it. A technique used in tackling scientific problems is to break them down into their component parts, and then to work at each part until an answer is reached. Solving the component parts of a problem one after another can, and often does, lead to solving the problem as a whole. This principle will also help us to solve the problems we face in life. If you are facing a problem, maybe even a major problem, why not break it down into smaller parts and deal with each part one at a time?

Reverse it. Accentuate the positive. No problem or circumstance is one hundred percent bad. There is always a glimmer of hope, some ray of light. Recognize the negative aspects of the problem for what they are – distractions that keep you from finding a solution. Dismiss the negativity. To ignore a problem in the hopes that it will go away only makes finding a solution even more difficult. Throwing negative thoughts in the trash can and facing the problem honestly and forthrightly always leads upward, not downward.

To Dr. Mitchell’s suggestions, which I find very helpful, I would add one more resource for solving life’s problems. Why not carry any and every problem to God in prayer, knowing that He loves you and stands ready to guide and strengthen you? King David knew what to do when he found his back squarely up against some wall of difficulty, and he faced lots of them. He cried out to God in prayer, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings, O God, until the disaster is passed” (Psalm 57:1, NIV).

 

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In the twenty-first century people are regularly indoctrinated with the secular definitions of self-esteem, self-image, self-realization, and self-actualization. The ideas and principles of psychologists Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Eric Fromm, Sigmund Freud, and other psychologists are being taught on America’s college and university campuses. As a result, the dominant fascination in public life is with pleasure, emotional and sexual stimulation, and what is called “personal fulfillment.” This produces the lifestyle that ignores the needs of others and asks, “What’s in it for me?” It is, in reality, “living life by the cafeteria plan” – self service only!

Millions of people need to hear these words found in the book of Ecclesiastes: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NIV). Is there a more accurate definition of the culture in which we currently live?

In the re-release of his book, Storm Warning, Dr. Billy Graham states that millions of Americans today are obsessed with the personal pronouns, Me, Myself, and I – three words he calls “the trendy trinity.” During past generations both tradition and religion made it clear that self-centeredness was antisocial and unacceptable. Parents and schoolteachers alike taught that “rights” were always accompanied by “responsibilities.” Millions of people have forgotten the wisdom of the apostle Paul’s words, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

The legacy of the free-thinking 1960’s convinced an entire generation that “turning off and spacing out” was a legitimate lifestyle option. The “yuppies” and “uppies” (those obsessed with climbing the ladder) in the 1980’s and 90’s were captured by the idea of accumulating more and more possessions on the way to the top. Music lyrics became increasingly self-centered, erotic, and antisocial. The vulgarity that was widely common in movies found its way into books, magazines, and later onto the Internet. Yet, even into this kind of world there are signs of a moral groundswell. Dr. James Dobson and Gary Bauer’s Children at Risk describes America’s moral crisis in great depth, calling it a civil war of values.

How can this trend toward modernity be countered? The answer is clear. Christians must re-dedicate themselves to the goal of saturating their minds, hearts, and souls with the Word of God. We must become dedicated anew to the challenge of living God’s truth in our daily lives. God has said, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47).

In today’s world Christians need to strongly distinguish themselves as followers of Christ, not as persons who meld into any group. We are commanded and expected by our Creator to carry the marks of the Lord Jesus, not adapt to the fashionable counterculture of the day. Most of all we are commanded to “set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1-2). This is the only lifestyle that will reflect honor upon Christ’s church and give glory to Him.

Those who hope to stand with Christ in heaven at a time of God’s own choosing must be willing to stand up for Him in the world today. If you keep your Bible open you will never find the door of heaven shut.

 

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Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, spent a lifetime in search of honesty. He finally concluded that an honest man could not be found. Totally honest men are perhaps not easy to find in any age, but they can be found. Honesty is not just the best policy; it is the only policy if you would live life with meaning and purpose.

So, I ask myself: Am I trustworthy and honorable in all my affairs? Do my words ring true? Do I speak the truth in love? Or do I fudge and fade the facts now and then to gain a personal advantage? Do I exaggerate for emphasis? Have I ever stolen something that did not belong to me?

Uh Oh! It was when I asked myself these six questions that I began to understand why Diogenes had a hard time finding an honest man. I remembered the day I stole a lead pencil from a store in my home town. At the time I was ten years old. The pencil cost twenty cents. My problem? I didn’t have twenty cents.

I slipped the pencil into my pocket and left the store. I couldn’t tell anyone I had stolen it – especially my father who would have punished me. He knew I didn’t have twenty cents, so I told him I found it. The next day Leo Jessup, the boy who sat in front of me in school, saw the pencil and asked where I had gotten it. When I told him I had found it, he claimed he had lost it. I knew he was lying, but I couldn’t tell him how I knew he was lying. We were both lying. Dishonesty always has to be propped up with more dishonesty.

  1. Hinson, the store owner, died not long after that. Before I realized how important it was that I go to see him, admit my dishonesty, and ask for his forgiveness, I no longer had the opportunity. When I get to heaven I plan to look him up and admit having stolen his lead pencil on that day in 1941. I admitted my mistake to God a long time ago and have been forgiven by Him. I learned a lesson I have never forgotten.

Honesty is vitally important in every area of our lives. This is true, first of all, because dishonesty short-circuits worship. The psalmist reminds us of this in one of his prayers when he asks, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?” I can picture David pausing to hear God’s answer: “He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart” (Psalm 15:1-2 NIV).

Worship, you see, is like a mirror – it reflects our relationship with God. It does not matter whether we are participating in corporate or private worship, how we worship is an accurate thermometer that will demonstrate the depth and passion of our relationship with God. When we have an open, honest heart, we can approach God’s throne with boldness and total freedom.

The book of Psalms was the hymn book of the Hebrew faith. King David, who wrote many of the psalms, learned by acknowledging his sins, and by receiving God’s forgiveness for them, that he could be totally honest with God. He didn’t try to hide anything. It is why you will find every emotion from anger and confusion to trust and love only a sentence or two apart, and all of it was expressed directly to God. It is one reason the Bible describes David as “a man after God’s own heart.”

Don’t try to cover or hide what you are feeling from God. It is in learning that we can be entirely open and honest with Him that we begin to learn the value of being open and honest with each other.

So live your life that your autograph will be wanted instead of your fingerprints. “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked” (I Timothy 1:19 NLT).

 

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