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Spray paint won’t fix rust.

A Band-Aid won’t remove a tumor.

Wax on the hood won’t cure the cough of a motor.

If the problem is inside, you have to go inside.

I learned that this morning. I rolled out of bed early . . . real early. So early that Denalyn tried to convince me not to go to the office. “It’s the middle of the night,” she mumbled. “What if a burglar tries to break in?”


But I’d been on vacation for a couple of weeks, and I was rested. My energy level was as high as the stack of things to do on my desk, so I drove to the church.


I must confess that the empty streets did look a bit scary. And there was that attempted break-in at the office a few weeks back. So I decided to be careful. I entered the office complex, disarmed the alarm, and then re-armed it so it would sound if anyone tried to enter.

Brilliant, I thought.

I had been at my desk for only a few seconds when the sirens screamed. Somebody is trying to get in! I raced down the hall, turned off the alarm, ran back to my office, and dialed 911. After I hung up, it occurred to me that the thieves could get in before the police arrived. I dashed back down the hall and re-armed the system.

“They won’t get me,” I mumbled defiantly as I punched in the code.


As I turned to go back to the office, the sirens blared again. I disarmed the alarm and reset it. I could just picture those frustrated burglars racing back into the shadows every time they set off the alarm.


I walked to a window to look for the police. When I did, the alarm sounded a third time. Hope the police get here soon, I thought as I again disarmed and reset the alarm.

I was walking back to my office when—that’s right—the alarm sounded again. I disarmed it and paused. Wait a minute; this alarm system must be fouled up.


I went back to my office to call the alarm company. Just my luck, I thought as I dialed. Of all the nights for the system to malfunction.


“Our alarm system keeps going off,” I told the fellow who answered. “We’ve either got some determined thieves or a malfunction.”

Miffed, I drummed my fingers on my desk as he called up our account.


“There could be one other option,” he volunteered.

“What else?”

“Did you know that your building is equipped with a motion detector?” Oh boy.

About that time I saw the lights from the police car. I walked outside. “Uh, I think the problem is on the inside, not the outside,” I told them.

They were nice enough not to ask for details, and I was embarrassed enough not to volunteer any. But I did learn a lesson: you can’t fix an inside problem by going outside.

I spent an hour hiding from thieves who weren’t there, faulting a system that hadn’t failed, and calling for help I didn’t need. I thought the problem was out there. All along it was in here.

Am I the only one to ever do that? Am I the only one to blame an inside problem on an outside source?

Alarms sound in your world as well. Maybe not with bells and horns, but with problems and pain. Their purpose is to signal impending danger. A fit of anger is a red flare. Uncontrolled debt is a flashing light. A guilty conscience is a warning sign indicating trouble within. Icy relationships are posted notices announcing anything from neglect to abuse.


You have alarms in your life. When they go off, how do you respond? Be honest, now. Hasn’t there been a time or two when you went outside for a solution when you should have gone inward?

Ever blamed your plight on Washington? (If they’d lower the tax rates, my business would work.) Inculpated your family for your failure? (Mom always liked my sister more.) Called God to account for your problems? (If he is God, why doesn’t he heal my marriage?) Faulted the church for your frail faith? (Those people are a bunch of hypocrites.)


Reminds me of the golfer about to hit his first shot on the first hole. He swung and missed the ball. Swung again and whiffed again. Tried a third time and still hit nothing but air. In frustration he looked at his buddies and judged, “Man, this is a tough course.”


Now, he may have been right. The course may have been tough. But that wasn’t the problem. You may be right, as well. Your circumstances may be challenging, but blaming them is not the solution. Nor is neglecting them. Heaven knows you don’t silence life’s alarms by pretending they aren’t screaming. But heaven also knows it’s wise to look in the mirror before you peek out the window.


Consider the prayer of David: “Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10 niv, emphasis mine).

Read the admonition of Paul: “Fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out” (Rom. 12:2 the message, emphasis mine).

But most of all, listen to the explanation of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, unless one is born again, he cannot be in God’s kingdom” (John 3:3).

Real change is an inside job. You might alter things a day or two with money and systems, but the heart of the matter is and always will be the matter of the heart.

Allow me to get specific. Our problem is sin. Not finances. Not budgets. Not overcrowded prisons or drug dealers. Our problem is sin. We are in rebellion against our Creator. We are separated from our Father. We are cut off from the source of life. A new president or policy won’t fix that. It can only be solved by God.

That’s why the Bible uses drastic terms like conversion, repentance, and lost and found. Society may renovate, but only God re-creates.

Here is a practical exercise to put this truth into practice. The next time alarms go off in your world, ask yourself three questions.

1.  Is there any unconfessed sin in my life?

“There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was. But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration. . . . My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them” (Ps. 32:3–5 tlb).

(Confession is telling God you did the thing he saw you do. He doesn’t need to hear it as much as you need to say it. Whether it’s too small to be mentioned or too big to be forgiven isn’t yours to decide. Your task is to be honest.)

2.  Are there any unresolved conflicts in my world?

“If you enter a place of worship and, about to make an offering, suddenly remember a grudge that a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God” (Matt. 5:23–24 the message).

(As far as I know, this is the only time God tells you to slip out of church early. Apparently, he’d rather have you give your olive branch than your tithe. If you are worshiping and remember that your mom is hacked-off at you for forgetting her birthday, then get off the pew and find a phone. Maybe she’ll forgive you; maybe she won’t. But at least you can return to your pew with a clean conscience.)

3.  Are there any unsurrendered worries in my heart?

“Give all your worries to him, because he cares about you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

(The German word for worry means “to strangle.” The Greek word means “to divide the mind.” Both are accurate. Worry is a noose on the neck and a distraction of the mind, neither of which is befitting for joy.)

Alarms serve a purpose. They signal a problem. Sometimes the problem is out there. More often it’s in here. So before you peek outside, take a good look inside.


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