Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

flower bouquetSeveral years ago, I purchased a beautifully drawn coloring book that featured scenes from our Colorado mountain town. A gift for one of my grands, I asked the artist to sign it. Along with her signature, she added the words, “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!” Excellent advice, I thought.

Rather than coloring outside the lines, the unconventional John the Baptist lived outside the lines. Nevertheless, in spite of his odd attire, strange diet, and extraordinary message, he fulfilled God’s purpose. His was the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. Elisha lived outside the lines when he left his prosperous farm and teams of oxen to become Elijah’s successor—an odd choice his family and neighbors probably didn’t understand. The young shepherd boy David stepped outside the lines when he dared to take on Goliath—something none of Saul’s seasoned soldiers had attempted. Even Joseph went outside the lines when he remained with the pregnant Mary rather than breaking their engagement. Abigail crossed the lines when she kept David from taking vengeance on her foolish husband as did Rahab when she helped the Israelites. Mary of Bethany went outside the lines both when she sat with the men rather than help in the kitchen and extravagantly anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. Eric Liddle lived outside the lines by refusing to race on Sundays and becoming a missionary rather than parlaying his Olympic medals into fame and fortune. Instead of following his father into medicine or pursuing his interest in music, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went outside the lines when he became a pastor. Then, rather than fleeing the Nazis, he remained in Germany and resisted their evil. These men and women may have defied the status quo but they didn’t defy God! They answered His call by living outside the lines.

Living outside the lines is what we do when we allow God to take control of our lives; it’s taking that first step out of the boat as did Peter when Jesus called to him. Staying in the lines is what happens when, like Peter, we take our eyes off God, see the wave, feel the wind, and start to doubt. Staying inside the lines is not trusting God enough to answer His call or follow His lead. When we become more concerned about what others think than what God says, when how we look becomes more important than who we are, we are staying within the lines. Living outside the lines is refusing to compromise our faith; it is defying the system and obeying God. Those lines on the page were drawn by people. The blank page is given to us by God and He means for us to use all of it.

The artist’s advice to my grandchild applies to us all: “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!” Let’s not be afraid to live outside the lines—honestly, boldly, creatively and joyfully—fulfilling God’s purpose and trusting in His promises.

Our focus must be on God above and not on those among whom we live. [Oswald Chambers]

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5b-6 (NLT)]

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But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. [Acts 1:8 (NLT)]

wood storkSeveral years ago, Pastor John, the youth pastor at our mountain church, shared his experiences while on a mission trip to Malawi, Africa. Here in the states, we expect our pastors to keep their messages to thirty-minutes so we can get a table at the Pancake House or arrive home in time for the game. In Monkey Bay, however, the pastor is likely to speak nonstop for two hours or more. Shortly before the day’s service began, the host minister, Pastor Paul, informed our young pastor that he would be speaking that morning. John quickly declined saying he hadn’t prepared a sermon. He usually worked several hours to prepare a Sunday message and was sure, without notes, he couldn’t possibly wing it for thirty minutes, let alone two hours. Pastor Paul was not to be rebuffed and insisted that John could and would do it. Paul assured him the words would come and, indeed, they did! Pastor John reported that he was still going strong two hours later! In spite of John’s fears, the words kept coming because he tapped into the power of the Holy Spirit.

Recently, another young pastor conceded that his sermon is not the most daunting part of Sunday mornings. The real challenge for him comes when someone asks a question after the sermon and he doesn’t have a prepared answer. If pastors can experience stage-fright when it comes to talking about Jesus, what about us lay people? While we’re probably not going to be asked to give an impromptu sermon, I think we’re offered many opportunities to start Jesus conversations that are missed because we think we don’t have the words. Instead of worrying that we don’t know enough, we should remember that Christianity isn’t rocket science. The story of Jesus isn’t complicated, no one expects us to be theologians, and “I don’t know,” is a perfectly acceptable response when we can’t answer a question. While it’s good to be able to quote chapter and verse from Scripture, it’s more important to know and share its message of Good News. If we trust the Holy Spirit, we will find the right words.

There is not a better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit. [Dwight L. Moody]

And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said. [Luke 12:11-12 (NLT)]

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. [John 14:26-26 (NLT)]

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swamp (string) lily - corkscrew swampAs you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell His people, “Do not murder; those who murder will be judged and punished.” But here is the even harder truth: anyone who is angry with his brother will be judged for his anger. Anyone who taunts his friend, speaks contemptuously toward him, or calls him “Loser” or “Fool” or “Scum,” will have to answer to the high court. And anyone who calls his brother a fool may find himself in the fires of hell. [Matthew 5:21-22 (VOICE)]

While Satan’s presence is easy to see in malevolent acts like terrorism, genocide, slavery, torture and human trafficking, he’s usually far more subtle. That we don’t expect his presence in our emotions and actions works to his advantage and we don’t see him when he comes slithering into our lives. Like a trickle of water seeping through a foundation crack, he oozes in without our noticing and, before we know it, he’s settled into the La-Z-Boy and made himself at home in our hearts.

Evil is anything that contradicts the nature of God and it includes immorality, pettiness, deceit, envy, maliciousness, unforgiveness, hatred, slander, hypocrisy, covetousness, and corruption. Unfortunately, those evils are harder to recognize and far more likely to be in our hearts than genocide, murder or even adultery.

The enemy doesn’t care who he captures and the more the merrier as far as he is concerned. Rebekah and Jacob let him into their hearts when they plotted to deceive Isaac into thinking he was blessing Esau when actually blessing Jacob. Esau’s reaction to their deception allowed the enemy entrance in his heart when he decided to kill his brother. Their story illustrates how evil has a way of begetting more evil.

After recently witnessing some of the enemy’s destructive work, I’ve had righteous indignation at the way innocent people were hurt. Unfortunately, I’ve also had some very unrighteous anger and ill will. There’s a fine line between disappointment and disgust, indignation and fury, and making things right and retaliation. I found myself hoping for disaster to strike the wrongdoers and have caught myself disparaging and despising them. The enemy has used my anger to open the door for malice, unkindness and even gossip. His evil is just begetting more of the same.

Somehow, during Jacob’s twenty year absence, Esau managed to empty his heart of bitterness and anger at his brother; Satan lost that battle. If, however, I allow anger to continue brewing in me, he’ll be able to put another notch on his belt. Anger, spite, contempt, disdain, condemnation—they all diminish me and the Christ within me. That I’m angry on someone else’s behalf or that the other people’s sins have harmed people while mine have harmed no one (but me), is of no matter. My thoughts have been evil and the only option is to capture them, send them packing, and seal the cracks that allowed them entrance. I’ll do that by conforming my thoughts to God’s will and allowing His love and forgiveness to rule my heart.

Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good. [Romans 12:21 (VOICE)]

We are demolishing arguments and ideas, every high-and-mighty philosophy that pits itself against the knowledge of the one true God. We are taking prisoners of every thought, every emotion, and subduing them into obedience to the Anointed One. [2 Corinthians 10:5 (VOICE)]

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When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. [1 Corinthians 9:20-21 (NLT)]

raccoons - Corkscrew swamp sanctuaryLike the rest of the east coast, Florida had a cold spell last week. With a temperature of 40, the weatherperson warned of a windchill of 36. Cautioning about the hazardous weather, she suggested that small children and animals stay indoors. That same morning, our son’s family in the north woke to -4 with a windchill of -20. For them, it was just another cold winter morning. They calmly bundled up the kids and walked them to school as they do every day. What a difference of perspective 1,400 miles makes!

How we view the world around us often depends on how it affects us. We were enjoying the antics of a pair of raccoons as they dug in the water for snails and crayfish when we heard, “Where’s my rifle now that I need it?” Stunned by such a negative reaction to what was an “Aha!” moment for us, we turned to look at the speaker who explained his vehement reaction to these engaging animals. To this farmer from Iowa, raccoons are masked marauders who wreak havoc with his corn crop and in his hen house. One person’s pleasure easily can be another’s pain in the neck! Where we saw two of God’s delightful creatures, he saw only destructive pests and I had to concede he made a good point.

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul was a devout Jew. As a Pharisee, he carefully abided by every one of the Torah’s 613 commandments. Gentiles, however, didn’t abide by the restrictive Jewish laws. They shaved their beards with a razor, didn’t recite the Shema (a Jewish prayer) twice a day, didn’t wear tefillin on their heads and arms or have tzitzit on the corners of their robes, made no distinction between kosher and non-kosher, and didn’t follow a host of other rules about food, work, and clothing. When Paul met with them, he didn’t go into their homes and tell them how wrong they were. He didn’t insist they keep kosher, add tassels to their robes or put mezuzahs on their door posts. Knowing that Christ had freed the Jews from the Torah’s regulations, the only law about which Paul was concerned was the law of Christ. Understanding the Gentiles’ different point of view, Paul respected it and lived their way with them. On the other hand, Paul also respected the perspective of the Jews. Having always followed the strict ritual observances of the Torah, he knew they’d be disturbed to see him break from any of them. When with the Jews, Paul followed their traditions, probably recited the Shema, and refrained from eating pork, shellfish, or milk and meat together. That didn’t make Paul a hypocrite—he openly admitted the way he changed behavior depending on his company. It simply meant that, rather than being judgmental, he respected others enough to look at things from their viewpoint. With each group, he found common ground in Jesus Christ. When we take the time to see the world from someone else’s perspective, we might just learn something; I know we’d be better evangelists!

Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. … So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. [1 Corinthians 9:22b-23, 10:31-33 (NLT)]

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Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal?  You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. [Romans 2:21-23 (NLT)]

Steamboat ski areaWhile yesterday’s story of the testy foul-mouthed grandpa was funny, it was also sad. That grouchy man with the bad vocabulary claims to be a God-fearing Christian and yet he thought nothing of losing his patience and taking God’s name in vain when annoyed by a little boy! His story points out the complaint so many have about the Christian church—we’re just a bunch of hypocrites!

I know a young pastor, raised in a church family, who was so disillusioned by the hypocrisy he saw that he gave up on God. Fortunately, God didn’t give up on him and He eventually came to Christ. I have several Roman Catholic friends who have left Christianity because of the hypocrisy they saw regarding priestly abuse in the church. The news has been filled with various preachers, celebrities, and politicians, claiming to be Christians with high moral values, who have been knocked off their pedestals with assorted scandals. Unfortunately, their public unmasking throws mud on the entire church.

In actuality, we all are guilty of hypocrisy. It’s just that, for most of us, our hypocrisy is rarely publicized. Nevertheless, just because our falseness isn’t exposed on the media doesn’t mean we’re any less guilty of it. Sometimes, all it takes is a little child’s repetition of our words to convict us!

Knowing that our behavior is our witness, we tend to focus on outward appearances and wear a false face of righteousness. Eventually, however, that perfect persona cracks, our hypocrisy is evident, and our witness becomes worthless. The best witnesses to the power of Christ are the Christians who are the most open and honest about their own weaknesses. When someone says we should forgive and doesn’t, that’s hypocrisy. When someone says we should forgive but confesses to difficulty doing so, that’s honesty. None of us are perfect and we all struggle with sin; why is that so hard for us to admit?

I write about praying and reading the Bible but do neither of them enough. I write about trusting God but I worry. I write about having a strong faith but have moments of doubt and even though I write about letting God lead me, I resist handing Him the reins! I would be a hypocrite if I denied being the terribly flawed person I am. My hypocrisy is in the pointing of my finger at the grumpy grandpa when I, too, have been known to let loose with a string of profanity! Admitting our flaws is not the same as accepting them and, like the Apostle Paul, we continue to be works in progress. Although better than we were, none of us are a good as we could be!

There’s not one Christian who completely lives up to the standard set by the Bible. Rather than trying to appear perfect on the outside, we must let God repair us from the inside. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can progress toward the goal of becoming more like Christ. Just because we haven’t attained that goal doesn’t make us hypocrites, it simply makes us human.

So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. [James 1:21-22 (NLT)]

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Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. [James 1:26 (NIV)]

southern mockingbirdHearing the bird’s shrill harsh scream, I looked up expecting to see a blue jay. To my surprise, it was a mockingbird. Of all the beautiful songs it can imitate, I wondered why it chose the strident call of the jay. Then, remembering how many blue jays inhabit the area, I realized their raucous “jaaaaay” is what the mockingbird hears so that is what he sings. If he’d been listening to squeaky gates or frogs, he’d be mimicking them.

The bird reminded me of a friend who can be a bit of a grouch at times. While visiting family in the north over the holidays, he tired of hearing the grandkids squabble over their new toys and decided to go out and shovel the snow. To his displeasure, his young grandson insisted on helping. The boy was given a small shovel but complained that he wanted the big one. My friend used a few ill-chosen words to tell his grand no and set about shoveling. A few minutes later, the grand again insisted that he had to use the big shovel. Grandpa used a few more of those expletive-deleted words before letting the child give it a try. Of course, once he started with it, the boy cried that it was too heavy. “$@#!&)%! I told you so!” Grandpa angrily replied. There were a few more profanities when the boy started to toss snowballs but, eventually the shoveling was finished. Back in the house, as they took off their coats and boots, the youngster loudly and proudly announced to his parents, “We just shoveled the whole $@#!&)% driveway!” You can’t blame him for the bad language; like the mockingbird, he was just mimicking what he’d heard!

It’s not just small children and birds who echo what they’ve heard; we all model ourselves after the people we hear. For example, my mother-in-law often tells us how delicious the food is in her senior residence. If one of her tablemates complains about the night’s dinner, however, by the end of the meal, all eight women will be griping and, by the next day, Grandma’s telling me how terrible the food is. Pleasant or not, we tend to sing the song we hear. When we get together with our co-workers, once someone starts to grumble about the boss, before long everyone is grumbling about nearly everything at work. Someone starts to gossip and soon we’re all dishing about anyone not present. Most of us don’t start out planning on being negative, critical, disparaging or gossipy but, once someone starts the ball rolling, we tend to jump right in. Like the mockingbird and boy, we’re just mimicking what we hear to become one of the group.

Our job as Christians is more than just not singing the shrill song of the jay or the profane one of the testy grandpa. We must not join the disagreeable or objectionable chorus when it starts and should find a way to gently stop that nasty song from continuing once it has started. Our voices should be as pleasant as that of the nightingale or wood thrush. Let us always remember that our behavior is our witness, we should always bear the fruit of the spirit, and the only voice we should mimic is that of Jesus.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. [Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)]

Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. [Psalm 141:3 (NIV)]

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