“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” 1Sa 7:12
The Bible says, “Then Samuel took a stone…and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.’” As you end this year and look back, what do you see? Monuments to failure? Wasted opportunities? When it comes to your failures, God says, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isa 43:25). When it comes to your wasted opportunities, God says, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25 NKJV). A wise man said, “If we do not learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it.” It’s okay to look back and learn, but if you drive looking in the rearview mirror you’ll end up in a ditch. Whether good or bad, don’t get stuck in the past. “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this” (Ecc 7:10). One of the dangers of growing old is that you become more excited over the past than you are over the future. A lady wrote to a newspaper editor and said, “Your newspaper is not as good as it used to be.” He wrote back and quipped, “It never has been.” God says, “I know the plans I have for you…they are plans for good” (Jer 29:11 TLB). God has a plan for you this year. So, “hats off to the past and coats off to the future!” Roll up your sleeves, go to work, and expect great things from God.
“His father…had never disciplined him at any time.” 1Ki 1:6 NLT
The permissive style. This parent has few rigid rules, and explains to the child their rules, standards and decisions. The child’s opinions and ideas are heard and included in decision-making. Reason is used rather than force. These parents talk and discuss perspectives rather than using threats. Unfortunately, few household responsibilities are demanded of the child, denying them the opportunity to contribute and learn to function cooperatively. The parent is a “facilitator” and “resource person.” In such homes children “self-regulate” in areas such as bedtime, dating, the car, friends, dress, the Internet, music, and curfew. What are the pluses of this parenting style? Kids usually adore permissive parents, feel close and safe with them. These parents never belittle kids, their ideas and perspectives, nor shame and embarrass or make them feel like failures. Rather, they encourage their thinking, innovation, initiative, social and communication skills. They model forgiveness, patience, and flexibility. But let’s look at the minuses of this style. Parental guidance is missing, and low demand for household responsibilities leaves kids unprepared for life in the real world. They lack the structure and boundaries needed for relationships and the workplace, and have difficulty in accepting the word, “No!” The absence of a parental role model for leadership and decision-making leads to motivational deficit, requiring someone to “jump-start” them to get them going. This style provides many healthy, positive characteristics, producing kids who may be happy, but suffer losses productively and relationally.
“Do not exasperate your children.” Eph 6:4 TM
Parenting children between puberty and young adulthood draws on every ounce of grace and wisdom you can muster. Your effort to train them, and their drive for independence, is a tug of war that frustrates you both. The outcome depends largely on which of three classic parenting styles you follow. Though parents with each style want the best for their kids, some styles work well and some don’t. Let’s examine each. The authoritarian style. Some parents announce, “I make the rules and you follow them! Don’t question me, obey me.” Compliance at all times, respect for authority, traditional values and hard work are demanded. “There is only one opinion here – mine. All other opinions are considered mutiny!” Authoritarians don’t tolerate losing face, don’t apologize or admit fault. They are blame-oriented, legalistic, judgmental, shaming, and belittling; expecting, yet exposing the worst in their kids. By coming down hard on them they provoke confrontations, then punish them harshly and unreasonably. Often they use Scripture to bolster their position. Let’s look at the pluses of this style: the rules are clear; it establishes chain of command; it speeds up the child’s response; it’s effective with very young and insecure kids, and can be useful in crisis times. Now let’s look at the minuses: it inhibits a child’s healthy individuation process; it retards mature communication; it promotes social dependence and incompetence; it discourages decision-making and initiative-taking skills; it elevates social anxiety and depression; it increases the likelihood of your child being intimidated and bullied, etc. Authoritarians may maintain military-style discipline, but they seldom rear happy, healthy, creative kids
“In all things grow up into him…that is, Christ.” Eph 4:15 NIV
Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically. You must desire to grow, decide to grow, discipline yourself, and delight in spiritual growth. “But my life is just too hard,” you say. A lot of folks have had it worse than you and grown into spiritual maturity, and a lot of folks have had it better and remained stuck in spiritual infancy. That’s because they doubted their ability to grow, drifted wherever the current took them, or delayed their growth, thinking, “I’ll get around to it when things change.” But it never happens. Growth always begins with a decision. “Follow me and be my disciple…So Matthew got up and followed him” (Mt 9:9 NLT). Matthew didn’t understand all the implications of his decision; he simply decided to follow Jesus. That’s all you need to get started – a decision. Nothing shapes your life like the decisions you make. If you want to know what you’ll be twenty or thirty years from now, examine the commitments and priorities that rule your life. It’s at the point of commitment that most of us miss God’s best. Because we are afraid to commit to anything, we make halfhearted commitments to too many things and end up frustrated because we chose the wrong things. And when we commit to the wrong things we end up living with regrets. Every choice has consequences, so choose wisely. Christlikeness is the result of making Christlike choices, then depending on Him to help you fulfill those choices. And He will: “God accurately reproduces his character in you” (Eph 4:24 TM).
“Provide things honest in the sight of all men.” Ro 12:17
Eventually lies are exposed. The truth will always surface. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper” (Pr 28:13). Anyone who does business with you wants to know the truth – the whole truth. Jesus had the greatest product on earth – salvation. He offered the human race an opportunity to have a relationship with God. He even promised them a home in heaven. But He never painted a distorted picture. After talking about the advantages of following Him, He spelled out the challenges. “Ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Mt 24:9). Jesus offered people more than a pie-in-the-sky philosophy. He believed in preparing people for every possible situation that could arise. In an age when bankers and businessmen twist the truth to enhance the bottom line, God calls on you to be honest, even to your own hurt. If you represent God, and if you want to experience His blessing, you must do business His way. An honest relationship is worth more than a hundred sales. Your integrity will be remembered longer than your product. We as a nation need to go back to what made us great in the first place. Thomas Jefferson said, “The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.” In the Bible, God’s people were largely an agricultural community. So God laid it on the line: “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity” (Lev 19:35 NIV). John Parnell wrote, “It matters not what you do, make a nation or a shoe. For he who does an honest thing, in God’s pure sight is ranked a king.”
“Put on the new self, created to be like God.” Eph 4:24 NIV
It’s one thing to desire truth, but to pursue it you must “Put off your old self…and…put on the new self, created to be like God” (vv. 22-24 NIV). One author writes: “We must be willing to have the conversations our ‘old self’ would have avoided…It’s not easy…it requires heavy doses of humility, and accepting that we’re going to be uncomfortable… The quickest remedy is the most immediate and uncomfortable: ‘fessing up’ in the moment. I tried it. At a party some women were discussing involvement in an organization and I wanted to fit in, so I said I’d tried to get involved but could never break in…I knew I was a liar. I never had any desire to spend my time doing that…committees give me a rash! So, though my intent was good, my delivery was clumsy as I blurted out, ‘Sorry, I just lied to you. I never volunteered there and I’ve no desire to.’ Everyone was silent, and I was trying to recall where I left my purse so I could hightail it out of there, when miraculously everyone burst out laughing…No matter how uncomfortable it is…the truth sets us free. Our pursuit of truth is like a salmon swimming upstream; we’re literally going against the current…the world says truth can change based on circumstances, comparisons, new data and levels of experience. But ultimate truth isn’t relative. It can’t be rationalized or customized to fit our moods and preferences. That’s why the status of our heart is so important…when we’re unable or unwilling to think our way into the truth, we must rely on the cultivation of our heart.”
“I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” Ro 7:21 NIV
Unless you make truthfulness a priority, there’s an actual “law at work” which dictates that even when you “want to do good, evil is right there.” That means our natural “default” setting (the one automatically selected by our internal computer unless we deliberately choose another option) is always set toward a lower standard. One author writes: “I lived in Atlanta…there’s a vine there called kudzu…and once it creeps onto your tree or fence, if you don’t kill it immediately it’ll overtake your entire property. Any deception… subtle omission…telling a tiny white lie…is like planting a kudzu seed in the garden of your heart…For me it’s a slippery slope, like taking a side route on an unmarked path, thinking I’ve found a shortcut. I get sloppy…lazy…then I get lost. I let one infraction of integrity slide without correction. I feel the tug of the Holy Spirit, but I shrug it off and stay busy…and I’ve taken the first step into shadow-living…Tiny lies are like snowballs rolling downhill…they’re sticky, and they get bigger fast! How do we stay in truth when the potential resides in us to compromise? First: we must recommit to our walk with God every morning before we do anything else. We do that through prayer and reading the Scriptures. By doing this we’re choosing light over darkness while it’s still too early to mess up. Second: we must align ourselves with the promptings of the Spirit. This is a highly personal thing which grows in direct proportion to our time and devotion to our walk with God.”
“Each of you must…speak truthfully to his neighbor.” Eph 4:25 NIV
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32 NAS). But in the process, the truth can make you miserable! One author says: “Truth can be very uncomfortable. We have pivotal moments when we’re asked to step up and say it or act on it. In those moments…character is forged and relationships solidified. For example… one summer day some of my Bible study sisters and I had our kids piled into our SUVs and were headed to a friend’s ranch for the night. Another buddy who wasn’t invited called the driver of the lead car in our caravan to see if she wanted to get together. Panicking, and fearful of hurting our friend’s feelings, she mumbled something about being busy doing something else; a lie of omission…intended to guard feelings and preserve relationships. Soon…I called the same friend to tell her a group of us were headed to the ranch and I’d see her tomorrow…Suddenly, on the phone, silence. She wasn’t so much hurt that she wasn’t invited…she was hurt that our other friend lied to her. She’d have preferred the sting of the truth…to the isolation of deception. Paul says, ‘Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body’… we’ve been socially conditioned to be pleasing and avoid making waves, so some of what we have to learn about truth is actually a process of unlearning…Later our Bible study discussed this incident. We all grew from the conversation and we learned an important lesson: however painful, friendship deepens in the fertile ground of honesty.”
“What must I do to be saved?” Ac 16:30 NIV
After her first flight, someone asked an elderly lady what she thought of being on a plane. She said, “It was okay, but I never did put my whole weight on it.” And we do the same when we refuse to place our trust on the finished work of Christ. Most major religions answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” by handing you a book of rules you must keep to get to heaven. A lot of us try, and give up in discouragement. Instead of leading you away from God’s grace, Satan tries to make you earn it. When asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul didn’t say, “Work harder, pray longer, give more, and be more moral.” No, he said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (v. 31 NIV). Believing is the root of the tree we call salvation; behaving is the fruit that grows on it. We don’t do good works to be saved – our good works are just an expression of love and gratitude to the One who already saved us. The Bible says, “We should be holy and without blame” (Eph 1:4 NKJV). Without blame? That’s an impossible standard! The only way that will happen is if God takes the righteousness of Christ and credits it to our account. And He does! “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co 5:21 NIV). The moment you place your trust in Christ, God sees you as “righteous,” and on that basis He accepts you 24/7. Aren’t you glad?
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom…recovery…release…favor.” Lk 4:18-19 NIV
Jesus said that He came to bring freedom to those held captive by destructive habits, to give sight to those who are spiritually blind, to lift up those who’ve been put down, and to announce that the time of God’s favor toward us has come. If you look closely at ancient maritime maps you will see places which are marked with pictures of dragons. Sailors who explored the world wouldn’t go there. Were the dragons real? No, but they were real in the minds of the sailors.
Picture a barracuda in a big tank at SeaWorld in Florida. A glass barrier divides one half of the tank from the other. Each time the barracuda tries to swim from one end of the tank to the other, he bumps into it. And here’s an interesting thing – even when the barrier’s taken away, the barracuda still won’t swim beyond that point. Why? Because the barrier is in his mind! Satan will place barriers in your mind and say you can’t go beyond a certain point in life; you can’t dream beyond it, or reach beyond it. Don’t believe him! Jesus said Satan is a liar and the father of lies. But a lie is as effective as the truth if you believe it and act on it. With God there are no limits, just unlimited power. The Bible is filled with stories of little people, limited people, lackluster people, and, in some cases, low-life people who penetrated the barriers beyond which they thought they couldn’t go, and God used them to do amazing things. And He can do that for you too.