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In Search of Certainty
Posted by Clare

One of the primary reasons why most of us don’t get better at following Jesus more spontaneously is uncertainty.  We’re just not certain what the will of God is for us and for heaven’s sake, we wouldn’t want to make a decision that was out of the will of God, would we?  So, Christians have developed some interesting methods for finding the will of God.  They almost always center around asking God for a SIGN.

Ken Davis, a Christian comedian tells the humorous story of a Christian who gets on an empty city bus, walks to the rear and sits down.  “Lord,” he prays, “If you want me to speak to someone about you, please give me a sign.”  At the next stop a passenger gets on and goes right to the back of the bus and sits next to the Christian.  “Do you know anything about Jesus?” the passenger asks.

The Christian excuses himself for a moment and slowly bows his head once again and prays, “Lord, if you really want me to talk to this stranger, I need just one more sign.  Please turn the bus driver into an armadillo.”

Have you been praying for armadillos?

I have a theory on why we want signs from God.  Here goes!  I think, subconsciously, we’re really hoping God never calls us to do some outrageously bold thing for him, so we ask him for a big sign – one we really don’t ever expect him to give.  That way we can go on with our lives pretty much as we like, all the while feeling pretty good about ourselves because we believe we are open to “the call”.

Maybe one of the reasons we are not more open to obeying God in the big things is that we’ve not been more faithful in answering the “small signs from God’ he gives us far more often.

Learning to be faithful in small things.

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10)

Therefore consider carefully how you listen.  Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. (Luke 8:18)

If you are faithful in small things, Jesus was telling us in those passages, you will be entrusted with even greater things. But the inverse of that statement is also true:  If you are not faithful in the little things, you will not be entrusted with greater things.

The 10 Second Rule, just do the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do, is simply a way to train yourself to be faithful to Jesus in the little things of life.  Think of it as a training exercise.  I put it this way in chapter five,

“The purpose of obeying the 10 Second Rule is to help us develop these habits of obedience, beginning with the small things.  Like Bill Murray’s hypochondriac character in the movie What About Bob?, significant change takes place one baby step at a time.  That’s how we develop good habits.  It’s also how we break bad ones.

Frankly, I’m a couch potato.  But, if I was serious about running in the Boston Marathon, and it wasn’t just wishful thinking, I would start small.  A half mile the first day or two, adding mileage and speed with every week.  For the first week or two, every morning, my body would scream:  Who cares if you’re in the marathon?  Give yourself a break today.  Sleep in! But I know if I stay with it, each day it will get easier.  I’ll get stronger – and so will the habit of regular exercise.

Reading this book won’t make you obedient, any more than reading a book on running will make you a runner.  There’s only one way to become obedient – and that’s to obey!

Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

That’s exactly what Paul is telling Timothy, his apprentice, about the spiritual life in I Timothy 4:7-8:  “Train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Many dream of doing great things for God, half hoping he won’t ask.  Fewer wake each day longing to be used by him – that day.”

The 10 Second Rule, Chapter Five

I’d like to hear from you, if you’ve been practicing The 10 Second Rule.

My question for you:  Has it made you more bold as a follower of Jesus, or have you gotten burned and as a result, more cautious?

If you’re not sure about your answer, try living by the Rule seriously for the next 30 days and see the experiences and thrill of being in the will of God and truly living the adventure of authentically following Jesus!

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Pre-Decisions
Posted by Clare

I used to get caught flat-footed all the time whenever I saw men standing on street corners, or by the highway with “need work” signs.  I’d instantly go through all kinds of emotions ranging from guilt, to asking the, “What am I supposed to do?” questions, and oddly enough, even getting angry at them for making me feel guilty!  So, I’d stop for some and others I’d just avoid direct eye contact.  Obviously, I couldn’t stop for all of them, but I was sure there had to be a better way than my hit-or-miss method.

Living Intentionally

I love the word intentional.  It helps me draw a clearer distinction between a theoretical openness to follow Jesus and a carefully thought-out decision to obey.  A family therapist once gave me this wise advice when I was reluctant to change something I was doing:  “If nothing changes – nothing changes.”  Meaning that, unless I have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered how I ought to live and act differently, I’m likely to make the very same mistakes again.

One of the best ways I know to overcome indecision and prepare myself to obey Jesus more biblically, spontaneously and intentionally, in addition to Scripture and prayer, is to make what a friend of mine calls a pre-decision.  Simply put a pre-decision is a choice to formulate a specific plan of action for next time I’m faced with a temptation or an opportunity to do good, especially if I’ve failed in the past.

So, here are some pre-decisions I’ve made for, “men by the side of the road”, kinds of situations.

1. Unless there’s clearly an emergency, I’ll rarely stop if I have our young grandchildren with me.  I haven’t the right to put them at risk without the permission of their parents.

2. I’ll always identify myself as a follower of Jesus by telling them I stopped, because I felt God asking me to do so.  That gives God, and not my personal virtue, the credit for my obedience.  I then simply ask them what they need.  The most common response is food (or cash for food), or a job.

3. I have friends who keep $10-$25 gift cards in their car for just those kinds of need.  It’s a great idea!  Personally, I think it’s best if I can take them shopping for groceries.  Why?  It gives me time to hear their story, get to know them as a real person, and better determine what they really need.

  • I like to give them a dollar amount and suggest healthy foods, but I try to shut up about some of their choices except for alcohol.
  • I’ll generally ask them if they’d prefer I stay with them while they shop, or “Is it OK for me to get a cup of coffee?”  (I don’t want them feeling “big brother” is looking over their shoulder.)
  • I drive them home if possible, but I rarely go in with them.  (Can you imagine the indignity they must feel in front of their family, showing up with groceries paid for by this rich, yuppie-type guy?)  I generally suggest that they simply tell their families, “God provided for us today.”  Simple as that.
  • I’ll always ask if they have a Bible.  (I keep extras in my trunk.)
  • Finally, I ask how I can pray for them and do it right then, in the car with them.

4. Every now and then I feel prompted to invite these men to have a good meal, out of the cold, or rain.  Every man (or woman) has a God-given need for respect and having a meal to get to know them shows that someone cares.

5. If he needs a job, I’ll try to get some contact information, so I can make a few calls to see if I can find anything.  I’ve had a few men do some odd jobs for me at some properties I own.  If they don’t have a phone, I’ll give them my cell number and tell them to call me in a few days.  I’ve only rarely had anyone abuse that offer and call repeatedly.

6. I never invite a woman to have a meal, or ride in my car without another person present, unless it’s a real emergency.

7. I will occasionally give cash, if I really can’t take the time to help them in any other way.  Or I’ll ask them if I can return after my meeting to pick them up and take them grocery shopping.  I then set a time to return.  (About 1/3 disappear and are not there when I return.  But, I try not to let myself get jaded by that.)

8. I’ve made the pre-decision that I can’t be responsible for exactly how they will use, or misuse the funds I’ve given them.  My responsibility is to be generous, kind, respectful and leave the rest up to God.  “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” Proverbs 3:37

9. Finally, I generally ask them what they believe spiritually.  (I rarely ask if they’re a Christian, because they’ll almost always say “yes”.)  By asking the question as I do, it helps me better assess what they really believe.  The small paperback Bibles I give out have a 6-8 page summary of the basic gospel message in the front and I try to point that out to them.  But, really what I want, is to leave them with a good taste in their mouth for both Christ and Christians.

So, those are a few pre-decisions I’ve made that have helped me meet the needs of people, preserve their dignity, keep my family safe and leave them thankful to God for whatever I did for them.  Chapter four in The 10 Second Rule, book has many other pre-decision ideas for all kinds of obedience opportunities and we’ll talk about other pre-decisions in the weeks ahead.

My question for you:  Would you please share with us your ideas for how you’ve been Jesus to homeless people or “guys with a sign”?

(Eventually, I’d like to write a pre-decision guide to help others obey Jesus more faithfully and wisely, in a variety of obedience opportunities.  Thanks!)

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Believers continue to sin because we’ve not decided to stop
Posted by Clare

It’s tough to hear it said that bluntly, isn’t it?  We’d prefer to think we’re just victims of forces more powerful than ourselves and while we know we probably could do better, here’s where I think most of have landed.

Most Christians have come to terms with an acceptable level of sin in their lives and feel it is either unnecessary, too difficult or too costly to do much better.

And we often find it much easier to substitute religious activities and services to others, to assuage our guilt and balance the scales we feel ourselves standing on before God.  If, intuitively you know this is true in your life, then where do you go from here?

Your life and mine organizes itself around our heart.  This is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

Our “heart” is the control center of our will – it is what gives orientation to everything we do.  If our heart wants something or, someone bad enough, whether good or evil, it will compel us to make choices which help us get that which we want and reject choices which hinder us in that quest.  But here’s the dilemma for Christians; often we “want” two opposing things which fight for our allegiance – the thing we really want, and the thing God, wants us to want.

Habitual sins are a perfect example.  Whether it’s substance or alcohol abuse, materialism, pornography, foul language, anger, or simply wasting time on the internet, they’ve become our “pet sins”.  In The 10 Second Rule book I define them as “the sins or bad habits we’re not sure we can live without, or believe we could ever be happy again, if we did.”

Once we’ve set our heart on something that we know is wrong, or strongly suspect is not the will of God, our minds go full swing setting up a justification logic for the sole purpose of sweeping guilt out of the path to the thing we want.  It’s been my experience that most people subconsciously form a theology or a belief system to accommodate the desires of their heart, rather than God’s heart and it morphs into new “truth” for them.

We can actually come to believe these pet sins either, are not wrong, “it’s just the way I’m wired”, or not very wrong, compared to other sins.  But unless you have the courage to take them on, this won’t be the last compromise with sin you’ll make, which will cripple your spiritual growth.

So how do we break the hold habitual sin has on us?

When we were truly born again or “made new” by the power of the Holy Spirit we received both the power and ability to do the will of God – that is to stop doing the things that displease God and begin doing the things that please him.  Why is it then that we find ourselves still so prone to sin?  It is because we are still not fully intentional about doing away with certain habitual sins.

Dallas Willard says this, “To begin with, we must have it clearly fixed in our minds that what dominates us is not some invincible, overpowering cosmic force of evil.  If we believe sin is irresistible it will invariably lead to giving in and giving up.  If you convince yourself that you are helpless, you can stop struggling and just ‘let it happen.’  That will seem a great relief – for a while.  You can once more be a ‘normal’ human being, but then you will have to live with the consequences.”1

This is the truth: nothing has the power to tempt us to wrong action except we give it that power.

This is true of any habitual sin.  No one can make me sin – it’s my choice.  The real problem is, you and I enjoy some sins – that’s why we do them and we’re not really sure we want to stop!  And until we do – we won’t.  Everyone knows that the AA program would be powerless to help anyone who has not decided to stop drinking.

Three dangerous questions.

  • If I’ve been forgiven, why not just do what I want anyway?
  • Doesn’t God want me happy?
  • How obedient do I really have to be to be saved?

The wrong answer to any of these three questions can distort God’s grace and weaken your resolve to resist sin.

The way to break the habit of sin is to understand exactly what sin is and what Christ wants us to do about it  —  this we get from serious and regularly study of Scripture.  Study the Bible regarding the root cause of your specific sin, not just the general nature of sin, but why do you continue in it? Meditate on how much of your life revolves around this sin.  Second, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to resist sin and to remind you of what pleases and displeases God.

Third, meditate on your habitual sins and make specific plans regarding what you will do differently the next time you are tempted (a pre-decision).  Fourth; if necessary, remove yourself from tempting places, people, and activities.  (Stop and think about your friends for a moment; there’s a very good chance you’ve chosen your friends because you share a common habitual sin, or they have other sins that make you feel more comfortable in yours.)

Fifth; get godly counsel from your pastor, or the most spiritual person you know.  Sixth; make the decision now to resist the impulse to do the next thing you know or suspect is sin, even “small sins.”   This is the time to obey a 10 Second Rule impression!

I believe it’s the sum total of the dozens of smaller spiritual battles won or lost every day that most shapes our character.  Both disobedience and obedience are cumulative.  Obedient believers grow more bold, obedient, fruitful, and more confident in God – disobedient “believers,” just the opposite – more disobedient and distant from God.

Finally, Willard states, “Trying to serve any other passion and God and hoping to have the best of both worlds is nonsense, and in any case you cannot imagine God would endure it.”2 He won’t and doesn’t.

My questions for you:  Do you have any other ideas for breaking the habit of sin?  Share them with us.

Please read these verses this week and let the Holy Spirit speak to you:

Romans 6:12-14; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 3:5-8; James 1:13-15; I John 2:15-17; Matt. 26:41; I Cor. 10:12-13; II Cor. 10:5

_____________________

1. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (New York: Harper San Francisco Publishers), pages 342, 343.

2. Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, page 207.

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Loving people we don’t even really like
Posted by Clare

“Years ago, I started spending time regularly with Jim, a very lonely guy who can be very difficult at times.  We still will meet regularly.  At times, he’d be quiet and gentle, then in the next moment, he’d turn demanding and selfish.  After he’d share a meal with our family in our home one day, I dropped him back at the group home where he lives.  As we pulled away on our way back home, my son, sitting in the backseat, was uncharacteristically quiet.  Finally he asked, “Dad, do you really like Jim?”

“Not yet,” I said.

Here’s the point:  I don’t always like everyone I’m called upon to serve.  And unfortunately, I’ve discovered I can’t make myself enjoy someone I don’t.  God can do that in me, of course, but by no act of my will or psychological technique can I create in myself heartfelt love and admiration for another human being.  And I’ve decided that I’m okay with that.  Loving your neighbors means being kind and gracious to people you may not like – until you do.  Maybe.”

The 10 Second Rule, Chapter Eight

So, is it really possible for us to love people we don’t really like?  Yes! And Jesus himself taught us how to do it.

Jesus redefines love.

The tenth chapter of Luke, starting in verse 25, tells about the day a group of religious leaders came to Jesus, hoping to trip him up.  One of them asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law?”

The man answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  But after Jesus had affirmed that the man had answered correctly, the man asked, “And who is my neighbor?”  This much is for sure – in asking this question, the man wasn’t looking to expand his neighbor base.  Jesus answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.

It’s a story we all know.  In fact, one of the problems with this story is that it’s too familiar.  For instance, how many of us have ever noticed that the story never tells us whether the Good Samaritan loved or even liked the man he rescued?

Does God love people he doesn’t like?

Consider this from respected theologian, Floyd Barackman; “When we consider God’s love for the world, we must be careful not to equate this love with human friendship or love, which is based on the pleasure that we receive from others.  God’s sacrificial love for the world is based wholly on His grace, or undeserved favor.  God’s love is an affection that moves him to provide for the well being of humans, regardless of their personal merit, worth or spiritual state.

It is God’s kind of love that we are to express toward others, even toward our enemies (John 13:34-35; Matt. 5:44-45).  God does not ask us to love all people, that is, to take pleasure in them.  He does demand that we minister to their needs, even at personal sacrifice (I John 3:16; 1 Cor. 13:4-7), and that we show them patience, kindness, and courtesy (1 Cor. 13:4-7).  Needless to say, we can do this only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Gal. 5:22).” 1

1Practical Christian Theology, Floyd Barackman, page 549, Kregal Publications.

L1, L2

For ease of discussion, let’s think of love in terms of Love 1 and Love 2 (L1 and L2).  L1 love is that love that we are commanded to have for all humans.  We are told to love others as ourselves, which means at a minimum, like God, we are to be kind, compassionate, forgiving of their failings, and care as much for their well being as our own.  This is the love Jesus described in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Nowhere in this story are we told that the Samaritan enjoyed or became friends with the man he helped.  However, Jesus said that he fulfilled the command to love others, or L1 in my terms, by having compassion on the man and putting this strangers needs ahead of his own.  We don’t even know if the victim was thankful to the Good Samaritan.  In the end it really doesn’t matter, the Good Samaritan did the right thing; he acted with kindness and compassion, L1 – what we Christians refer to as unconditional love.

However, for us to achieve the level of L2 love with another person, which are the warm feelings of admiration and a desire to enjoy them deeply, requires something more.  There is some responsibility on the part of the other person to work at being more loveable, enjoyable, safe and trustworthy.  I cannot make myself love another in person this way unless they take some personal responsibility to be worthy of this level of love.  In the same way, I can make myself more loveable to others by my good attitude and behavior.

Likewise, I can make myself less likeable by my bad behavior or attitude.  I can discourage people from loving me with an L2 love by being untrustworthy, unkind or distant.  In this sense, L2 love is not always unconditional – in fact it is often conditional on me changing some of my behaviors to help another person love me more.

One word of caution; we don’t have the right to sit back and say to another person for whom we have harden our hearts, “be lovable and worthy of my love and then I’ll love you”.  We can actually hinder truly loving others by our attitudes toward them.  If we believe someone will never measure up to our standards, they probably never will.  Our personal responsibility is to have the attitude beautifully described I Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I Cor. 13:4-7 (This passage says that we are required to attempt to think the best of others, even in the face of evidence to the contrary in the past.

Respect R1 and R2

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:33

I believe the same principle holds true with respect.  To respect someone, at a minimum we must speak respectfully to them and speak respectfully about them to others.  Specifically, for a wife to have a R1 respect for her husband she must speak respectfully to him and about him to others.  If a wife does this, she is honoring God by respecting her husband, even if his character and behavior are not admirable.  (That goes for a parent we don’t really admire, or even a boss.)

However, for a husband to be fully respected, that is truly admired by his wife (R2), his character must be such that he is worthy of respect.  His wife cannot make herself, or will her heart to fully respect him (R2) if he acts selfishly, without integrity, etc.  A man must earn the full respect of his wife and children by being a man worthy of respect.  However, just as it was in our discussion on love, if a woman hardens her heart against her husband and refuses to look for the good in him; she grieves the Holy Spirit and sins.

So, whether it’s love or respect, in the case of husband and wife, if the relationship is really only on an L1 or R1 level, each person ought to examine their own life and ask two absolutely critical questions:

1. “What is there about my current character or behavior, or what have I done in the past that keeps my spouse from fully loving or respecting me?”

2. “What has my spouse done to me for which I have not truly forgiven them which keeps me from fully respecting or loving them?  Am I grieving the Holy Spirit?”

My questions for you:

1. Do you agree or disagree with the L1 or R1 or 2 ideas?

2. Is there anyone you don’t L2 love or respect because you’ve hardened your heart to them?

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