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Pre-Plan for the Day of Battle

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Have you been in a battle of your will recently…struggling to flee evil and run toward God? Maybe you’re in that battle now?

I confess that in my weakest moments, I sometimes give in to the temptations of my flesh. I am human, after all. But all too often, I think we tend to use that as our “out”…an excuse to sin. At least I know I do anyway.

It’s as if the argument I have with the devil in my head seems to start like this, “you’re only human; what’s He expect of you? You can’t be perfect. Just give in this one time, and you can seek forgiveness afterward because He is always faithful to give it.

Then when I do fail and succumb to the tempting of the devil, he keeps going by shaming me with my guilt, “you’re not good enough for God. He’ll never accept you back, look what you just did!”

And when I give in to that conversation, I forget what follows one of my favorite verses, Galatians 2:20, in verse 21.

I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Oh, how often I have treated the grace of God as “meaningless”. For you see, when we I return to our my sin like a dog to its own vomit, that is precisely what we I do. We I cheapen the grace…degrade the sacrifice…minimize the offering…undervalue and render worthless the gift that forgives and cleanses us me in His eyes.

As a dad, if I were to freely give my 6 year old son to die in the place of another person, I would expect the person he saved to live differently…not because he knew I expected it, but because he recognized the gift as meaningful…and as a natural outpouring of his appreciation for the love he was shown first.

Doesn’t God deserve the same from us me?!

A battle for our soul rages within us! We win the battle when we claim Galatians 2:20 as our own personal experience, crucifying our flesh and allowing Christ to live in us.

Speaking for myself here, I often…too often…fail Him in choosing poorly. When I fail to apply Phil 4:13 to my daily experiences during temptations, I take for granted and render meaningless the grace of God. I step off the path He has set out for me…even if only for a moment…and that first step is ALWAYS a slippery one.

When we take that first slippery step off the narrow path during a personal battle, we allow the flesh to succumb to temptation. It’s like we use Paul’s illustration of the battle against the sin within us (found in Romans 7:13-25) as an excuse to sin rather than applying it in claiming victory OVER sin through Christ in us.

Convicted of a recent failure of my own, this verse from Proverbs jumped leaped off the page at me:

Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin. By fearing the LORD, people avoid evil.” – Proverbs 16:6

Wait what?! How do an unfailing love and faithfulness atone for my sin, and more importantly, how do I achieve those two qualities in my character?

In having captured my attention, He hit me with this one five verses later:

The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standard for fairness.” – Proverbs 16:11

And then again five verses later with this:

The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe.” – Proverbs 16:17

Which led to a bit of a word study that in summation looks like this

Confused? Yeah, me too. But bare with me for a few more thoughts, and we shall indeed be one blind beggar leading another to a morsel of nourishment.
Let’s dissect verse 6 word by word:

  • Unfailing – constant; everlasting; never-ending; inexhaustible. We see God’s unfailing love for His people defined throughout Scripture, particularly in Psalm 117:2 and Isaiah 55:3.
  • Love – love is so many different qualities that it is a book all its own really. Quickly defined for today’s purpose,
    • Love is obedience (John 14:15, John 14:23-24, 1 John 2:3-6).
    • It is NOT an emotion we feel or express; rather it is a choice me make (John 3:16).
    • Love is God…and God is love (1 John 4:7-8).
    • Because God is love, love is also confident and fearless (1 John 4:16-19).
  • Faithfulness
    • a steadfast loyalty (2 Thessalonians 3:3 and 2 Timothy 4:7)
    • a firm adherence to promises (John 14:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, 2 Timothy 2:13)
  • Atonementforgiveness, reconciliation, cleansing (Col 1:20 and 1 John 2:2)
  • Sin – an offense against God

Simply translated, verse 6 of Proverbs 16 says this…an obedience and steadfast loyalty in adhering to our commitment to sin no more cleanse us of our offenses against God and that people who fear the LORD will avoid evil.

Simple enough…until we question why we should fear the LORD.

Simply put, the answer comes five verses later in verse 11,

The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standard for fairness. – Proverbs 16:11

We should fear Him because He is a fair and just Judge…handing down discipline to those He loves for breaking His commands. His justness requires atonement for sin, and His standards are fair and balanced…we are all held to the same standard. When we are continually disobedient, we demonstrate that we don’t love Him.

My sin deserves a punishment. I cannot accept the gift of grace and forgiveness and continue in my sin. What just judge would allow that? My debt is paid, but it does not give me free reign to continue breaking the law.

Our hope can be found again five verses later in verse 17,

The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe. – Proverbs 16:17

  • Virtuousmorally excellent; righteous (Philippians 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:5-7)

But how do we “follow the path” when the temptations come?

When we turn from that which seeks to destroy us and instead seek Him, we keep our feet on the path. When we flee from Satan and draw near to God (in prayer and studying Scripture) Satan will flee us and God will draw near to us, filling us with His Spirit (see also 2 Timothy 2:20-22 about running from anything that stimulates youthful lusts, a study all its own but worthy of honorable mention here).

So the next natural question is, how do we do that…follow the path of the virtuous?

Success in this endeavor comes through proper pre-planning. God tells us to plan, then instructs us throughout the Proverbs that while we make our plans it is He who guides our steps and directs our path.

I’m a planner. I believe in planning for success…not just because God calls us to it, but because I’ve seen firsthand how planning well works in real-life applications.

In the fire service, we pre-plan everything.  I mean…EVERY. THING. In particular, we pre-plan what we call our “target hazards”, our high hazard incidents and locations. Our pre-planning process involves the following:

  • A Goal. What are our mission priorities? What’s the end game? The mission objective? The measure for success?
  • A Response Plan How will we respond? What route will we take to get there? What alternate routes are available if our primary one is not available? What resources will we deploy to assist us in mitigating the problem?
  • An Action Plan  What are the steps we will take to achieve success? What actions will we implement to achieve the goal? What is the back-up plan when the first plan isn’t successful?
  • Hazards. What dangers are out there waiting to entrap and entangle us? Where could we get side-tracked? Murphy says what CAN go wrong WILL go wrong, so how do we avoid those unnecessary dangers and pitfalls?

The saying rings true that “when we fail to plan, we plan to fail.”

Much like our efforts to pre-plan in the fire service pay off, God rewards us when we plan to avoid evil.

Which brings us full circle to find the answer in Proverbs 14:22:

If you plan to do evil, you will be lost; if you plan to do good, you will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

There are those two qualities again…unfailing love and faithfulness! And it bears repeating because those two words started me on this day-long study.

Proverbs 16:6 says,

Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin…

and when we question how to achieve those two qualities, we come right back to Proverbs 14:22 for the answer,

…if you plan to do good, you will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

In planning “to do good” we need to develop a plan that:

  • Identifies our goal.
  • Identities how we will respond when temptation comes and what resources we will deploy to assist us in achieving success.
  • Identifies our Action Plan…what steps we will take to achieve the goal.
  • Identifies what hazards Satan has lurking around the corner to ensnare an trip us up.

I encourage you to write your plan out.

Honestly, the entire process of typing this note out was as much for me as for anyone else. I followed the flow and bouncing back and forth of my hand written study because I wrote it out, but in taking the additional time to explain it to you, I better understand it myself. And in better understanding it, I can better apply it when I need it. I pray you can too.

Now, stop reading what I have to say about it and get to studying for yourself what God has to say about it.

Love,

Dad

Have you pre-planned your next response to temptation? I’d love to hear what practical steps you’ve put in place to ensure success in your faith journey.

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The Spirit’s Walking Staff

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“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.  Don’t let your mouth speak dishonestly, and don’t let your lips talk deviously.  Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead.  Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established.  Don’t turn to the right or to the left; keep your feet away from evil.” – Proverbs 4:23-28

There is so much wisdom in this short passage, it’s nearly impossible to digest it all at once.  Initially, my focus is drawn to the opening verse about the heart being the source of life, for out of the overflow of our heart come our thoughts, actions and words.  In other words, where our heart is, so are we…who we are and all that we do are a direct reflection of what we invest our heart in.

Upon a second reading, though, the Spirit reveals another wisdom that is just as important.  Have you ever been driving down the interstate, and while passing a tractor-trailer you glance over at it as you pass…and as you do, your vehicle starts drifting toward it?  Been driving on a two lane highway at night and as an oncoming car approaches, you find yourself looking at its headlights…as your car drifts closer and closer toward center line…which causes you to jerk the wheel back to keep you in your lane?  Hey, even walking in a straight line can be a challenge when we’re looking to our left or right…or down at our phone, something I’ve been guilty of on more than one occasion. 🙂  All evidence that we instinctively move in the direction our eyes are looking.

As Christ-followers, our goal is to be like Christ in all we do…and in keeping our eyes looking forward – more specifically, upward- we keep our focus on God.  Oh, how easy it is, though, to take our eyes off of Christ and drift from the path He has for us.  I mean really…can you walk through the mall without glancing into the stores?  Or drive through a scenic area without looking at the scenery as you pass by?  The world has so many attractive and alluring things to offer us…things that we don’t have to wait for.  And the instant gratification, no wait, no delay, that the world offers can be seductive can’t it?  We can easily wander from the path and be immersed in pleasure and instant satisfaction…without realizing how misleading that path really is on its way to our destruction.

And the devil has perfected his craft, hasn’t he?  He knows just how to lure and deceive us…makes it so easy to let our glance slip to the left or right at the things of the world.  Because he knows that once we start to drift, it’s easy to end up way off course.  It starts with a glance…a little dip in a seemingly “small” sin here…another glance there…a dibble here and another dabble there.  And before we know it, we’ve taken the next step, and the next, and the next…until we’re so far away from who we were back at that first glance that we don’t recognize ourselves anymore…or know how to get back on track.

What’s even more worthy of note is that when verse 26 is telling us that when we “carefully consider where we place our feet, our way is established”, I realize that the path I’m on is not a firm, concrete path with an even slope like a sidewalk.  No, the path we’re on is a narrow path like what we’d find when trying to scale a mountainous, cliff-side slope.

14_Mountain-Path

It’s unsteady and treacherous.  It has potholes waiting to ensare us…tree roots waiting to trip us…shifting dirt that causes us to slip and fall…rocks that cause us to be unsteady in our footing…treacherous slopes that throw us off balance…snakes and spiders that can reach out and bite us…low hanging tree branches smacking us in the face.  To traverse that path, we have to constantly be alert to the dangers around us…be vigilant in where we step…be purposeful in how we proceed.

The path we’re on in our walk of faith is much the same.  There are so many hazards waiting to derail our progress that if we don’t carefully consider every move we take – every decision we make – we can be caught in the dangers of a seductive and misleading culture and be diverted from the path that Christ has laid out for us.  The devil is out there waiting to trip us up…to draw our attention away from the path before us…the path that leads to all the blessings God has in store for us.  The key to keeping our footing firm and our eyes fixed forward is to walk daily with God…to pray constantly in all things and to be in His Word.  Because when we’re walking in His will – not our own – with prayer and guidance through the Word, we have a firm hold on the solid walking staff that the power of the Spirit provides for us to use on that path.

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and narrow the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

Love,

Dad

Zip it!!!

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I’m at work as I write this…36 hours into a 48 hour shift, and I’m struggling with something. What is it about me that can’t let go of who I was? I have for as long as I can remember, struggled with controlling my tongue…keeping silent when I should…and with cursing and swearing. What is it about me that thinks I need to talk? When my mind is screaming at me “keep your mouth shut!! Don’t say anything!!”, I find myself tripping over my own words as I’m spewing out ugliness and disgust. Why is that?

It’s not that I walk around swearing “like a sailor”…cursing all the time…an obscenity spewed out in every sentence I utter everywhere I go. That would be a disgrace, right? No…certainly not that bad. It’s WORSE!!! How, you ask, could it be worse than that? Well, I pick and choose who I want to be to different people. I don’t like to admit that, and I certainly am not proud of it…but it’s true. My struggle is at work. At work, I’m not always the example of a Christ-follower I long to be, and more often than not, I let the true me come out. That is worse than cursing all the time, in that I’m supposed to be representing Christ. When I claim to be a Christian and then don’t act different than non-Christians, how am I shining Christ’s light? How am I showing others that I’m changed through the grace of Christ? How can people look at me and think “There’s something different about him! I want what he’s got!”?

I used to think I was alone in doing that…that I was the only one on the planet who was one person with some people…and someone different to others. Then I witnessed a fellow Christian friend do just that…right in front of me. Have you ever been arguing with someone? A family member…a friend…a coworker? As Christians, we often call those “discussions”, yet we find ourselves somewhere in the middle of that “discussion” getting angry…frustrated…upset…selfish…prideful…impatient…even hateful. Then somewhere during that discussion the phone rings? Someone knocks on the door? And when you answer the door or take that call you do so with a pleasant voice, expressing happiness that they called? Answer their “how are you?” with a “I’m good. How are you?” Yeah…me too. Isn’t that the same thing?

If there’s one thing I could change about me, this would certainly be at the top of the list. Some days I think that if I could just get this sin in check, so many of my other sins would fall by the wayside with it. And then, as if God is listening to my thoughts, I open to James again this afternoon…and immediately find encouragement that it’s not just me.

“for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body.” – James 3:2

James spends the next ten verses warning of how the tongue controls the whole body…that what we say leads us…that the tongue is a “fire…a world of unrighteousness…[that] pollutes the whole body…a restless evil, full of deadly poison…” Pretty clear that I’ve got some work to do in this…that if I can indeed control my tongue, the other sins in my life will be easier to control. So, that answers the “why?“…I’m a practical guy though…what about the “how?

Perhaps mom said it best when she said, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” But perhaps she heard that from her mom…who heard it from her mom…who heard it from her mom…all the way back to the writer of Proverbs who has a lot to say about controlling the tongue:

“When there are many words, sin is avoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.” – Proverbs 10:19

“The intelligent person restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a man of understanding. Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent, discerning when he seals his lips.” – Proverbs 17:27-28

“The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” – Proverbs 21:23

Father God, please come alongside me in this struggle and strengthen me in the way only you can. Support me when I’m weak and lift me when I’m falling. Show me how to be the father my children will respect. I don’t just crave their love and affection. I long for their respect…for them to know the dad I am with them is the same man I am in all situations and circumstances. I so deeply want them to know that I have experienced many of the same struggles and difficult times they will one day face themselves…not that I always overcame them…but that I rely on you for my strength to win my battles…that I recognize I can do nothing without you. Lord, please fill me with your Spirit when I’m tempted to open my mouth, and please keep my eyes open to the evil around me so that I can heed the warning in Proverbs 4:23 to “Guard [my] heart above all else for it is the source of life.” Lord, when I’m tempted to open my mouth when I shouldn’t, please slap me upside the head and tell me “Zip it!!!

Amen.

Love,

Dad