13 Ways to Submit to Imperfect Authorities

Each of us has authority figures we struggle with. If you don’t have one now, you will sooner or later. What do we do in those situations? We know its easy to complain, or resist, but is that what’s best? 

I first met Dr. Robert Smith when I was having my own struggle with authority. I had been told how he had sweetly submitted his preferences to his spiritual leaders in a situation he would not have chosen for himself. That’s why I wanted to meet him. I desperately wanted to know how he did it.

Ultimately, God arranged our meeting. While attending a conference of several thousand people we broke from the plenary session to our seminar locations. As the seminar started an older gentleman slipped in and sat next to me. As I looked up to greet him I realized I was looking into the eyes of Dr. Smith. I could hardly wait for the seminar to finish so that I could start-up a conversation with him.

I recounted my struggle with authority, and what I had heard of his spirit of submission in a similar challenge. Then I asked him how he did it. He recounted that years earlier he had written a biblical paper on how you submit when you’re frustrated by your authority. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I could either submit, or go back and overturn everything that I’d taught and believed. I chose to submit.”

Dr. Smith’s paper was later published as the booklet: Authority Issues: When it’s Hard Being Told What to Do. I have given away hundreds of his booklets. Here are a few of the highlights:

Those in authority often make life very difficult. What should you do when it seems that wrong or unjust decisions are being made? What can you do instead of resisting, complaining, or becoming bitter and angry?

  • Go to God with your struggles and questions (Hab. 1:1-5).
  • Remember that God is in control (Prov. 21:1).
  • Recognize that God can use the leader’s failures for your good and his glory (Rom 8:28-29; Gen. 50:20)
  • Recognize that the difficulty will not be too much (1 Cor. 10:13).
  • Thank God for everything, including the leadership over you (Eph.  5:20).
  • Place your trust in God, not the authority (Hab. 3:17-19).
  • Depend on God’s grace to help (2 Cor. 9:8).
  • Be an example of a godly response (Phil. 2:5; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6).
  • Pray for those in authority over you (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
  • Honor those in authority because of their position (1 Pet. 2:17; 1 Tim. 6:1-2).
  • Concentrate on your responsibility (Matt. 7:3-5; Rom. 2:1).
  • Respond as Christ did (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
  • Return good for evil (Rom. 12:21).

 You may acquire Robert Smith’s booklet through www.NewGrowthPress.com

Getting the most from the Word

In his excellent book Unlocking the Scriptures, Hans Finszel explains that there are three essential questions we should be asking each time we open the Word of God and study it for ourselves.  Finzel’s questions are built around three key words: observation, interpretation, and application. His three questions are: What do I see? What does it mean?  How should I respond? I include his thoughts in today’s blog.

Observation asks, “What do I see?”Observation is simply the gathering of all the facts of who, what, where, and when. Careful examination of the facts is the foundation upon which we build accurate interpretation and application of the Scripture. The more time spent looking at the text itself, reading and rereading it, the more fruitful our study will be…

Interpretation asks, “What does it mean?”  Drawing conclusions based on your study of the facts is the process of interpretation. During this stage we seek to understand the meaning that the author had in mind when he wrote the text…

Application asks, “How should I respond?”Application is the goal of Bible Study. It is not enough for us to understand (interpret) Scripture; God wants us to be changed by it. The Scriptures were given “for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NRSV). In this final step of the inductive process, we move from the original context to our contemporary one, seeking to know how our interpretation can affect our attitudes and behavior.

Desiring experience over command

God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and gave them everything they would need. The garden was perfect in every way. Only one tree’s fruit  was off-limits.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…(Gen. 3:6).

Eve desired  what was forbidden. God has placed certain areas off-limits in our lives, too. This principle alone may awaken our desires.  For its often when we’re told we can’t do something, that we discover a growing desire to do that very thing (Rom. 7:8).

Whenever I have asked an audience the question, “Have any of you ever touched the painted surface when the sign read, “Do not Touch! Wet Paint!” I’m amazed at the numbers of hands that go up. The follow-up question, “Why didn’t you obey the sign?” always brings the same sheepish response, “I just wanted to see for myself.”

Just like Eve, we prefer personal experience over a command. If the command was given, we reason, someone, somewhere is keeping something from us that we deserve.

Our minds reeling under this intoxication, our desires are quick to redefine right from wrong and justify our actions. They most often do this through what our desires make us feel.

In 1960 Elvis Presley recorded the song “It Can’t be Wrong, When it Feels so Right.” The King put to music what our sinful natures had declared all along. Your desires can be trusted more than what God has said. You will be satisfied, if you give in to them.

When it comes to those things God has placed off-limits, the Bible declares another message: not only is it wrong, but it will bring disaster.

James writes,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15).

The hour that changes the world

I was introduced to Dick Eastman’s book, The Hour that Changes the World, during my seminary days.  Eastman suggests that you divide one hour into 12 periods of five minutes each. Once you’ve spent 5 minutes in any one area of prayer, move to the next. Before you know it, you will have prayed for an hour. For those desiring to pray, this is a tremendous tool. It may be the most important hour of the day, hence, the hour that changes the world.
(1) Praise: Recognize God’s Nature  (Ps. 63:3).
Giving God praise by remembering his character is a great way to start your prayer.

(2) Waiting: Silent Soul Surrender (Ps. 46:10)
To be complete, prayer benefits from an early, significant dose of spiritual silence.

(3) Confession: Temple Cleansing Time (Ps. 139:23)
A time of confession allows you to verbalize your spiritual shortcomings and admit where you’ve sinned.

(4) Scripture Praying: Word Enriched Prayer (Jer. 23:29)
Quoting the Scripture and reflecting upon it during our prayer time  is sure to increase our faith.

(5)Watching: Develop Holy Alertness (Col. 4:2)
Jesus commanded us to watch and pray. We ought to be vigilant in our holy alertness.

(6)Intercession: Remember the World  (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
By intercession we remember to pray for others. We plead to God for their needs.

(7)Petition: Share Personal Needs (Matt. 7:7)
Petition reminds us that God is often waiting to give until we ask of him.

(8)Thanksgiving: Confess my Blessings (1 Thes. 5:18)
God has richly blessed us, recalling them we give God thanks.

(9)Singing: Worship in Song (Ps. 100:2)
Using our voice in worship is something God desires. Why limit it to Sundays only?

(10)Meditation: Ponder Spiritual Themes (Josh 1:8)
Meditating  upon key Biblical ideas unites our heart with his, and prepares us to listen.

(11)Listening: Receive Spiritual Instruction (Ecc. 5:2)
This time of quiet reflection in prayer reminds us to not do all the talking.

(12)Praise: Recognize God’s Nature (Ps. 52:9)
Prayer should begin and end with praise for the Lord.

Note: For more information on The Hour that Changes the World I recommend you order the book. With over 500,000 copies in print many have benefited from this tool to both deepen and lengthen their prayer experience.

The angry man’s belief system–part 3

When it comes to anger, the final belief that needs correcting is: You believe your desires are your rulers.

Cain was angry. And the more he thought about it, the angrier he got. He had been out done by his younger brother and it didn’t feel right at all. He had always been first in the family: his parents treating him as if he was something special. But when it came time to offer the sacrifices, God had accepted Abel’s not his. Cain was seething. From the inside out, he could feel the anger working its way on to his face and he didn’t care.

He had felt this emotion before, but it had never been this strong, and it was growing stronger. Somewhere in his sullenness he heard God’s voice: “Cain, why are you angry and why is your face showing it? If you do well, will you not be accepted?”

God paused.

Cain seethed.

Then God spoke again.  

“And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain understood the word desire. It gave him strength, and it justified his actions. He could feel the desire pulling him now . . . towards the field. He called for Abel, all the while knowing what he was going to do. Like a crouching lion, the desire sprung, and so did Cain. When it was over, Abel’s lifeless body lay before him on the ground. God was speaking again. And Cain ran . . .

The first murder in the Bible took place at the hands of an angry man. Remarkably, he had been given sound advice: rule over your desires. But the desires felt like they ruled over him, and the more he gave into them the stronger they became.

In the heat of the moment, anger is a very convincing leader. It tells us to stop our ears to sound counsel; because, they wouldn’t understand us anyway. With anger by our side we can justify both our sinful actions and our bad attitude. Anger promises us we won’t be left alone.  And when we’re ready to make a decision, anger crouches with us, telling us if it feels right it must be right. Afterwards, when we survey the damage that we’ve done; anger is gone, running like Cain through the night. And we have new companion: regret.

The key, God said, is to rule over your desires before they rule over you. Desires, like our thoughts, are habit forming. The more you feed them the stronger they become. Eventually, they feel stronger than your will to choose.

 We even use language that communicates this truth:

  • I felt like I was out of control (as if anger was ruling over us and we were simply obeying).
  • I was so angry I didn’t have a choice (as if anger left us no other options).
  • You just make me so angry (as if following our desires frees us from responsibility).

Paul captured it this way, “Do you not know that you are the slaves of whatever you choose to obey?” (Rom. 6:16 NLT)

In Ephesians 4:31, God told us to rule over our desires with slightly different words when he said,

 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:31-32).

The angry man’s belief system–Part 2

When it comes to our anger there are three faulty beliefs that need to be corrected if we hope to be victorious.
Belief #1: You believe what feels right must be right.
Belief #2: You believe your thoughts have a mind of their own.
Belief #3: You believe your desires are your rulers.

The second one receives our attention today: You believe your thoughts have a mind of their own. With anger our mind can fool us into thinking our thoughts are involuntarily (i.e. they happen without us being aware of them), but in truth, they are simply habitual.

The brain is an amazing organ with amazing capabilities. There are certain tasks that our brain does without us even being aware of them. We call those actions involuntary: Things like signaling our lungs to bring in oxygen or letting our heart know it’s time to beat again. There are other thoughts our brain does when we tell it to. Like every key stroke I’m making at the computer or words you might say to a neighbor.

We tend to think there are only two categories, but in truth, there’s a third. There are the things we do habitually. There are patterns that we repeat so frequently that we do them as if we were not thinking. For instance, when I first started to play the guitar my fingers fought me to play the G chord, but as I did the task repeatedly I no longer had to think where my third, fourth and fifth finger went. They went their naturally. I only had to think “G” and then my mind did the rest. Now it happens so quickly, it feels like an involuntary action—almost like I don’t have to think about it. But it’s not involuntary; it’s habitual. It is simply a thought and action I’ve repeated until my mind has memorized the response. Now the important distinction: Because it’s simply memorized, and not involuntary it can be relearned. You probably need to read that sentence again; because for the person struggling with angry thoughts you’ve just been set free. You believed your thoughts had a mind of their own, but they don’t. They may be stubborn habits but they can be relearned.

This truth is evident in the way the Bible talks about our thoughts. When the Bible wants to make a simple statement of fact it uses the indicative mood, but when it wants to point out our ability to make a choice it uses the imperative mood. The latter, we read in our English Bible as commands. Joshua said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). It’s easy to hear the command in Joshua’s statement. But the Bible also uses the imperative mood (revealing choice) in respect to our thinking.  For instance in Philippians 4:8 Paul gives a list of 8 qualities, and he follows it with a command.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil. 4:8) [emphasis added].

Think on these things is in the imperative mood meaning you can choose what you think about. Reexamine the list and you will see there’s not an angry thought in there.

When I am angry it feels like my thoughts have a mind of their own. It helps me to remember they are simply habitual thought patterns, and that the Holy Spirit has granted me his power to bend them to his will.

I’m not saying it will be easy, I’m just saying that you can’t say its impossible. This is why Paul urges us to bring all thoughts captive in our obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

The angry man’s belief system: Part 1

When it comes to emotional sins (like anger) we tend to address them on the emotional level. Yet, the more I have studied anger (both for my sake and to help others) I have realized that our struggle with anger is really one of belief before it is one of emotion.  Dealing with it only at the emotional level is a bit like brushing your teeth when you actually need a root canal.

We must learn to deal with anger as a belief system if we hope to make progress. Here’s the first of three beliefs that effect the angry person.

I grew up with a three legged stool in my parent’s living room. It was intended as a footrest for my dad’s recliner, but I remember being fascinated by it. You would think that a four legged stool would be more stable, but in truth the 3 legged stool was harder to tip over . . . until you took one of the legs away. The angry man’s belief system is built upon three faulty propositions. When I review these errors (and I have to do that often), I find that I am better prepared to deal with the circumstances that reveal my anger. Likewise, I find that my propensity to be gentle and understanding increases.

Faulty Belief # 1: You believe what feels right must be right.

Anger feels like a feeling. I know that sounds redundant, because it’s meant to be. It’s intended to describe why victory over this sinful desire is so elusive. With anger the feeling is so strong that we believe it must be right. In truth, it may have initially been generated from something that is right—like a violated sense of justice. For instance, its wrong when a parent is disrespected or a child is provoked (Eph 6: 1-2). Its wrong when hurtful partiality has been practiced (James 2:1-6). It’s wrong when these things are not set right (Isaiah 1:17). But anger subtly shifts the authority from what God says about it to how we feel about it. Once that shift has taken place our understanding of authority moves from an objective base (God’s Word) to a subjective base (our feelings). Hence, it can no longer be trusted. The challenge? It feels like it can be and should be trusted. We’re angry about it—and that makes it right.

The first leg of the faulty 3-legged stool to go is this one: You believe what feels right must be right. The Bible declares that our feelings cannot be trusted.

Consider these biblical warnings:

  • Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools (Eyck. 7:9).
  • Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil (Psa. 37:8)
  • A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated (Prov. 14:17)
  • Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly (Prov. 14:29).

The Bible is really clear on this. The angry person lacks wisdom. Yet wisdom is an essential quality to determine if something is right or wrong. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).

When I succumb to anger I incorrectly assume that because it feels right it must be right, and I respond with my temper. All the while, I am revealing my foolishness. I am determining the rightness of my choices; based upon what I feel not what is true.

The truth is this:  In Christ you can control the passion of your angry emotion. That is why you are commanded to put off anger and put on kindness.

…you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:21-24).

31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:31-32).

One week on the mission field: priceless

Last night I returned from one week of ministry in South Korea. My heart is full, my mind alert, and my body is still 13 hours ahead of everything else on this side of the planet. Here are some things I appreciate more having been away.

I have a greater appreciation for my family. About a week away is all I’m good for and then my heart turns towards home. Every 6 year old that runs past me in the airport brings a smile to my lips as I remember the toothless grin of my own. Young adults talking or texting cause me to miss my own teenagers, and wonder what’s going on in the heart of my kids. And each couple that passes by, young or old causes me to miss my wife, to be thankful for what we’ve had, and to imagine what the future holds. Truth be told, as I get closer to the end of the week, I look at those pictures more, and my heart gets ready to return to my family.

C.S. Lewis was fond of imagining that this world is the far country, and heaven is our real home. What if we actually began to think that way about the temporal and the eternal?  Maybe we wouldn’t think of all the things we want to do on the earth-side. Perhaps we would look more longingly towards heaven. The apostle Paul communicates that yearning when he reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

I have a greater appreciation for God’s work in other people’s lives.

When I fill out my customs declaration, they always ask questions of the value of what I’m bringing back to the states. I’m tempted to write invaluable, priceless, or million-dollar-memories. How do you put a price tag on the new friends you have made, and the old friendships you’ve renewed. There are real names and real faces of real people locked in my memory. 

The part I love the most is bringing back the stories. The first-hand accounts of an 8 year old running for the protection of the Americans while bombs are going off all around him. How the same child, now in his 70’s, learned his English from the American GI’s, while he polished shoes for chocolates and cigarettes. He would pocket them and bring them home. His mother would in turn sell them at the market so this family of five brothers and two sisters would have a handful of rice for dinner.

I shake my head in disbelief when I see the sacrifice of missionaries and their wives who spend more of their life on the foreign field then they do stateside as they seek to make a difference for eternity.

I love the passion of students who have just met Jesus, and want to know him more. I keep thinking: is this what eternity is going to be like, as we live and relive the sovereign hand of God in each of our lives?

Samurai swords for my sons: 8 dollars. Tea cups for my girls: 12 dollars. One week on the mission field:  Priceless.

How the blood of the martyrs changes history

This week I have been teaching Bible College students on Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea. In preparing for class this morning I came across the remarkable story of Robert Thomas a missionary to Korea in 1866. As I teach Korean students in just a few hours I am reminded that Christianity often grows best in soil stained by the blood of the martyrs. I am forever grateful for those who have gone before and opened up doors by paying the ultimate cost.

Robert J. Thomas was haunted by the thought of Korea. A Welsh missionary to China, he knew that the people of the “Hermit Kingdom” needed the gospel. But Korea, observing how westerners had mistreated China, closed its doors to foreigners. Burning with evangelistic zeal, Robert felt he must do something about the people’s ignorance of eternal life.

On this day, September 13, 1865, he arrived on the coast of Korea and began to learn what he could about the people and their language. By his action, Robert became the first Protestant missionary to the ancient land, whose name means “chosen.” Roman Catholics, however, had converted many Koreans starting in the late 1700s. They were so successful that in 1863 eight thousand were slaughtered by a government that feared foreign influence.

Lacking Korean language material, Robert handed out tracts and New Testaments in Chinese. He soon had to return to China, where, the following year, his wife died.

In 1866, Robert learned that an American boat, the General Sherman, was going to try to establish trade relations between Korea and the United States. He offered to accompany the boat as an interpreter in exchange for a chance to spread the gospel.

That August, the General Sherman sailed up the Taedong River toward Pyongyang. Robert tossed gospel tracts onto the river bank as the ship proceeded.

Korean officials ordered the American boat to leave at once. The Americans defied the warning. They paid for their arrogance with their lives. The schooner ran aground and stuck fast in the muddy bottom.

The Governor of the province, Pak Kyu Su, attacked the ship. When the Koreans tried to board, waving machetes, the Americans opened fire. Over the next two weeks, the Americans held the Koreans off, killing twenty and wounding many more. By September 3, the Koreans were fed up. They launched a burning boat down river at the General Sherman to set it afire. Now the Americans had to dash ashore or burn to death.

As the sailors fled from the boat, the Koreans killed them. Robert had to flee with the rest. True to his mission, he leaped from the boat carrying a Bible. “Jesus, Jesus!” he cried in Korean to the attackers, offering them the Bible. His head was whacked off with a stroke of a machete according to one account, but others think he pleaded for his life and was beaten to death. We may never know the truth, nor if Robert tried to prevent the Sherman’s foolish defiance of a sovereign power and its butchery of civilians. Seemingly Robert’s efforts had been in vain.

But God worked in the heart of the man who killed Robert. Convinced by Robert’s beaming face that he had killed a good man, he kept one of the Bibles, wallpapering his house with it. People came from far and near to read its words. A church grew. A nephew of Robert’s killer became a pastor.

Today 40% of South Koreans are Christians and the nation has some of the largest congregations in the world but the North remains largely closed to the gospel (written by Dan Graves, MSL)


What if your past was dark & your future darker…

The apostle Paul knew his past and he knew his future. His past was filled with regret, and his future would be filled with suffering. How’s that for a combination? He knew both of these to be true within moments of meeting Jesus.

Notice the account in Acts:

And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4, 5).

Did Paul remember the people he’d thrown in prison for following Jesus? Was he haunted by the cries of Steven’s widow after he gave approval for his execution?

Possibly. Years later Paul would confess,

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Cor. 15:9).

Do you have things in your past you regret? I know I do. As far back as I can remember there are moments I wish I could do over again. Statements made, actions taken, pain that I caused in another’s life. Your past can feel like a prison at times – with bars of regret that have locked you in.

Paul also had a future, and it didn’t look bright. Within three days of meeting Jesus God sent him a message through Ananias.

But the Lord said to [Ananias], “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

Must suffer. When Paul heard those words for the first time, was he tempted to say, “No thanks”? Did he think, “Ananias, I think you have the wrong address?”

I don’t think so, and here is why. In meeting Jesus, Paul had found a delight greater than regrets or suffering. His words to the Galatians certainly seem to communicate this truth.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

Loved me and gave himself for me. Seven words that help us overcome the regrets of our past, and embrace the suffering in our not so distant future.

So whatever’s behind, and no matter what lies ahead, find hope in these words: Jesus loved me, and gave himself for me.