Even righteous anger isn’t always wise

I don’t get angry very often, but it usually happens when I’m driving. Bad drivers make me angry. Aggressive drivers make me angry. And when I get angry, I tend to be a little more aggressive in my driving than normal. Of course, I’m ashamed to admit it. I’d much rather let people think that I never lose my cool, but that’s not the case.

The difficult thing about anger is that it’s subversive. It can make you think it’s useful because it gets you off your backside and makes you engage in conversations or events taking place around you, but if you let anger become your only motivation, you’ll end up hurting people, whether you mean to or not.

anger_steamToday’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

Jesus understood the danger of anger, and it can be dangerous. Anger by itself isn’t sinful, but it’s what you do when you’re angry that matters. There are stories in history of reformers who saw the inequality in our society and got angry about it, but they didn’t stay angry. They were angry about the injustice, and then they got busy doing good things to fix the problem. But they were too busy to be angry.

What’s important to note here, though, is that the intention of your anger is just as important as what you do with it. Jesus says you don’t have to have killed someone to be guilty of murder. In your mind, if you hate someone enough to kill them, you’re guilty. If the act is wrong, so is the intention.

In our world right now, everyone is angry. Everyone. And we’re all staying angry, and it’s not helping anybody.

The anger Jesus talks about here is “seething, brooding bitterness” that eventually leads to hatred and violence and emotional stress. It’s dangerous to feel this kind of anger, and it can make us do things we will regret if not kept in check. People will write off their anger as righteous indignation and in some cases that’s true, but righteous anger never leads to hurting anyone.

There are many, many things in our world to be angry about. I can think of five or six just from this past week that got my blood boiling, and that initial anger at people flipping God off may have helped me make some decisions about what I’m going to do with my life. But I didn’t let my anger continue. And I didn’t let it turn into something I couldn’t release.

If you hold on to your anger, regardless of who it’s focused on, you’ll eventually lose control, and you’ll do something horrible that will hurt someone else and that will hurt you and the people you love. Anger is dangerous.

So don’t be angry. I know it isn’t always that simple, but start by recognizing that anger isn’t a solution. It’s a reaction that can get you moving, but when you make a decision, you shouldn’t make it because you’re angry. Anger may be righteous sometimes, but I’m not sure it’s always wise.

If you’re angry, choose to stop. Let it go and trust that God is going to resolve the situation in His time. Sure, there may be something you can do about it in the interim, but I guarantee you aren’t going to see it as long as you’re seeing red.

The danger of leading wrong when others follow

I’m not good at directions. As far as I’m concerned, the hood of the car always points north. No, not really. But we joke about that being my only sense of direction.

The last time I was in Guatemala, I was traveling with my good friend The Colonel (no, that’s not his real name, but it might as well be). And because I’d been in the Guatemala City airport before, I took the lead and pointed us in the direction I thought we should go. Well, surprise, surprise. I led us the wrong way. Fortunately, the Colonel jumped in and got us straightened out before I took us to the complete opposite end of the terminal, and, no, I haven’t lived it down yet.

So I don’t take the lead on directions anymore unless I’m 100% certain I know where I’m going. Why? Because if I get lost and people are following me, they’ll be lost too. And that’s responsibility I neither want nor need. And quite frankly, friends, life and faith is exactly the same way.

o-CLIFF-DIVE-facebookToday’s verses are Matthew 5:17-19.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I posted on the beginning verse in this passage on Friday, about how Jesus wants us to understand His true purpose for coming here. He didn’t walk around beating people up who disagreed with Him. Instead, He went out of His way to speak to them, to teach them, to explain God’s purposes in language that we could understand. But just because He was patient didn’t mean that Jesus was weak.

Jesus held people accountable for their choices. He constantly challenged His followers to know what they believed and why, because He knew a day was coming when they would all have to stand up and be counted. On that day, they needed to know where they stood.

But what’s really sobering about this passage is the warning to teachers and mentors and those in authority. See anyone can be a teacher. You just have to share what you know with other people, but you’d better be sure you know what you know. Otherwise you’re just misleading people.

Teachers are held to a higher standard here. Maybe you know Christ, maybe you’re on your way to heaven, but if you’re teaching others to ignore one of God’s commandments, you’re going to be held accountable for that choice. It’s a harsh truth, but guess what? I’m considered a teacher. These devotional posts are about taking the Bible and applying it to my life, and that means if I don’t communicate exactly what God says in the Bible, I’m misleading people. And I don’t want to be the one who leads someone else down the wrong path because I didn’t listen or obey.

It’s a tough line to walk, but you have to ask who matters more. Popular culture, political correctness, your friends and family–or God? Are you trying to put Jesus in a box by saying one sin is worse than another? Or are you saying that a sin isn’t really a sin at all because you don’t think it’s so bad or because you don’t think it affects you?

No, you won’t forfeit your entry to heaven. Nothing you do can ever overpower the blood of Jesus if you’ve been washed in it. But do you really want to bear the responsibility of pointing another person in a direction away from God?

Jesus is full of grace, yes, but He’s also full of truth. They’re not mutually exclusive, and if you don’t understand that, you’re normal. God is too big for us to understand completely. But you don’t have to understand Him to believe Him and obey

So think about what you believe today. Granted, just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you can be unkind. That’s not how Jesus would have behaved, and our behavior should always imitate Him. But if you’re in a position of authority, think twice before you speak, because people will follow your lead, and you should make sure you’re leading them in the right direction.

Jesus finished what the Law started without changing it

When you think about the church as a whole in general, what’s the first thing you think of? Maybe if you’re in another country where the Bible is illegal and churches are threatened, you have a different perspective than we do here in America. But here in the US, generally what I run into when I talk to people about the church is the idea that “church people” are always fast to pass judgment.

This is a horrible example and it may not even be relevant, but one of the most popular comedy sketches in the history of television was Dana Carvey’s Church Lady–a cantankerous old woman character who fussed and fretted about modern trends and popular culture (and it was pretty funny, honestly).

I’ve had this conversation with people before. If you go to church, it usually means that you have no problem condemning actions or choices or the beliefs of other people. You sit on a high horse and pass judgment on people you don’t know. Whether it’s actually true or not, that seems to be the general perception.

But isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Isn’t the Bible a book of dos and don’ts? As Christ-followers, don’t we have the right and a duty to tell other people when they’re wrong?

Oh, this is such a slippery slope. And in situations like this, it’s always best to go back to the source to see what the Bible actually says.

dreamstime_m_9338559Today’s verse is Matthew 5:17.

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

This is still the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ best known messages. One of many things I love about Jesus is that He wanted people to understand why He’d come. He didn’t just walk about thumping people on the head and telling people that they were wrong. He spent His time building relationships with people.

But by that same token, as He says in this verse, He didn’t come to do away with the Law. He came to finish what the Law started.

Everything that God had done throughout the Old Testament was a picture to demonstrate that God had a relationship with people. The Laws weren’t given as a means to get to heaven or to reach God. The Laws were given to show people they could never be good enough and that they would have to rely on God’s grace through faith for salvation. Sound familiar?

Jesus came to bridge the gap between a perfect God and a broken world. And He didn’t accomplish this by walking around beating people down because they had sinned. He didn’t make it happen by standing above everyone and pointing out everything they’d done wrong. He didn’t do it by jumping down somebody’s throat because they say something that disagrees with God’s Word.

No. But at the same time, Jesus didn’t pull His punches either. He spoke the Truth because He is the Truth. He didn’t change one thing about Scripture that God had already established. I mean, think about that. God doesn’t change, and Jesus is God. So if you can’t separate God from Jesus, you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible.

You can respect another person’s choice to believe something without believing it yourself. You can demonstrate love and kindness toward people who believe differently than you do without thinking poorly of them. Pointing out where people are wrong won’t help you build a relationship with them. When you point at someone else’s faults, remember there are four fingers pointing back at you. Try to keep that in mind the next time you are being critical of someone else’s choices. We can’t make decisions for other people, and I’ve never once seen where a heated debate changed anybody’s mind.

Be clear. What the Bible says goes, and you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible. What God says is true and right. Period. Whether we like it or not. But nobody has the right to tear someone else down for what they do or don’t believe.

Jesus wanted people to understand why He was here and make up their own minds. That’s what we should be doing too.

 

Your light can only shine in one of two directions

I live in an old house, and sometimes we have power outages. Not because of a storm or anything. Sometimes the power just goes out. That’s why we keep a stash of candles readily available in case the power goes out at night time, because until you’ve lived in the country, you don’t know pitch black.

On one hand, it’s incredible because you can see every star in the sky. On the other hand, it’s disconcerting because you can’t see that hand in front of your face–or the skunk in your driveway that’s feeling threatened by you because you’re out watching stars. You get the picture.

In a dark room, it’s incredible the amount of light a single candle can put out. It’s incredible how far light can travel. So just imagine being in a completely pitch black room with a candle burning. How would you react if somebody put a basket over that candle to block the light? Would that relieve you? Probably not.

DSC_1667Today’s verses are Matthew 5:14-16.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Jesus compared His followers to candles shining in the darkness. Bright, burning flames that shine and are visible for miles and miles, all pointing to God. There are a couple of different ways to take this set of verses, and mainly the one I hear most frequently is for living a Christ-like life. And that’s so true. But I think there’s more to being the light of the world than WWJD. God made us each individuals, specifically gifted and specially designed to do something awesome for God.

Jesus wanted His followers to shine for God. That meant taking their talents and gifts and using them for God’s glory. Not hiding them out of fear of rejection.

In my experience, most people think that following God and having fun can’t happen at the same time. There’s this idea that if God wants you to do it, you should be miserable, that following God should be a lifelong sacrifice that requires you to never have fun and never enjoy life. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth!

God created us to have specific talents and abilities, and that means He wants us to use those talents and abilities. Why else would we have them? Otherwise what’s the point? You have a special talent or skill and you hide it in a basket so nobody can see it? What sense does that make?

But a word of caution. Jesus didn’t say to use our gifts so that we could become rich and famous. No, we’re to use our gifts to bring glory and honor to God. That means if you have a gift, don’t forget Who gave it to you.

So does that make famous people bad or wrong because they used their gifts to obtain wealth? Not at all! There’s nothing wrong with being compensated for something you’ve achieved, but as a Christ-follower, the spotlight shouldn’t be your goal–shining the spotlight on God should be your goal.

The light you shine with your gifts and talents can only go one of two directions–either pointing people toward God or pointing people toward yourself.

Jesus wanted God to get the glory for His life, and we should want the same thing. We should want our accomplishments and our talents to reflect God’s creativity and His grace and love and power, and everything we do should point to Him in a way that other people want to know Him.

So don’t hold back. Do your best. Shine as bright as you can and be loud about it. But remember Who gets the credit.

Death is just a doorway between life and Life

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that God is good. I mean, you know He’s good in that distant disconnected way like the elected official is good or the popular spiritual leader is good or the hero you admire is good. He’s good, but He doesn’t really get you. There’s a big difference between knowing that God is good and truly understanding His goodness.

There’s so much sorrow in the world. There’s so much hurt. People hurt each other physically and emotionally. We say things to each other intended to cut and demean. Some are the brunt of general meanness. Others are not even involved in the evil that’s happening, and they still get hurt. And even in the innocent passing of time, we lose people we love. Sometimes we expect it, due to sickness or age. Other times we don’t. Either way, it still hurts.

And that’s the world we live in. That’s life here. Sure, there are joyful moments. But then “real life” rears its ugly head and reminds us that life isn’t going to get better down here.

If that’s our future, if that’s all there is, why do people keep living? I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have the hope of salvation, the peace of knowing that God really is going to work everything out. Because the truth is that God really is good–and not just in some distant, disconnected way. He’s here, in our lives, seeing what we feel and hurting with us when we hit those dark times of sorrow and sadness. And there’s something really important that we need to remember about this crazy, screwed-up, hot mess of a world we live in: It’s not all there is.

doorwayToday’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

Jesus wanted His followers to understand that even though the world was broken, they could still have peace with God through Him. He’s the one who made the way to be saved. He’s the one who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we would have the power to overcome the world.

Do you know what that means? To overcome the world? It sounds awfully dramatic, and maybe it is. But in a practical sense it means that the world has no power over those who believe in Christ. The world can be identified as a lot of different things. The influences that pressure you to disobey God. The powers of the enemy. Just the brokenness around us that threatens us with a hopeless, meaningless existence. However you define it, the world is powerless against a Christ-follower.

Even death itself has no power over a Christ-follower. We don’t have to fear it. We don’t have to run from it. We don’t even have to hate it. Because of what Jesus did for us, death is just a doorway between this life on Earth and our eternal welcome in Heaven with God.

It’s important to know that we will have trials and sorrows. Multiple trials and sorrows. And it’s important to know that it’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to grieve the loss of people you love, the destruction of relationships and families, the consequences people have to face for the choices they’ve made. When you’re sad, you need to grieve. Don’t bottle it up and put on a cheery face to make people feel better. Be sad, but know that you don’t have to stay sad.

The world is still under the control of death, the control of the enemy, the result of our sin. As long as that brokenness endures, we will live with pain and death and sadness. Oh, but we don’t have to stay here. There’s a day coming when we’ll get to go home, where nobody hurts each other, where nobody dies, and where we’ll never have to say goodbye again.

The world is full of death and sadness, but Jesus is stronger than the world. He overcame it. And because He overcame, we can too.

The only thing harder than having a good friend is being one

I couldn’t get away with a lot when I was growing up. I’m the older child in the family, and regardless of how parents try to raise all children the same way, expectations are different for the older sibling. They just are. Not saying my brother got away with a whole heck of a lot either (he was the good child anyway), but even outside of the home, I always felt held to a stricter standard. I was the oldest. I should know better and set a good example.

Talk to other older children, and you might hear the same thing. It’s pretty common. And while it might have been irritating when I was little, as an adult, however, I can genuinely say I’m thankful for it.

I don’t know where we get the idea that going easy on people is best for them. Now, I don’t mean that to promote abuse or cruelty of any sort. But if you have someone you’re raising or someone you’re mentoring, if you make allowances for the things they say and do that are wrong, you aren’t doing them any favors. You’re teaching them that it’s acceptable to stop trying to do their best. You’re teaching that it’s okay to give up.

It’s not easy to do, especially if you have a compassionate streak and want to be kind to people, but you have to see the bigger picture. You can’t make excuses for bad behavior simply because you don’t want to upset somebody.

saltToday’s verse is Matthew 5:13.

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

This was a statement that Jesus made in one of His most famous sermons, the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s always resonated with me. It tells us a lot about who Jesus is, because He doesn’t pull punches, especially with people who say they follow Him.

What Jesus is talking about here is the fact that salt is both a preserver and a disinfectant. People would pack meat in salt to keep it good for extended periods of time, and doctors would put salt in wounds to cleanse them. And, yes, it hurt. A lot. But when salt got old, it would lost its potency, and when it lost the qualities that gave it purpose, it was no good for anyone’s use.

Jesus is comparing His followers to salt. We are here on Earth to preserve what is good and “cleanse” what is bad. Cleanse is probably not the best word. More like irritate what’s bad. Because it’s not that a Christian is supposed to walk around wiping out bad elements from society, but we aren’t supposed to run away and back down when society tries to get us to do what God says is wrong.

It’s tempting to be an undercover Christian in our world today. It’s so much easier just to keep our mouths shut. That’s usually the road I take, but I’m not sure that’s the road I’m supposed to be on. But what’s worse is a Christ-follower who’s forgotten what it means to follow Christ. A Christ-follower who follows the world is confused and uncertain and practically indistinguishable from those who don’t follow Christ.

And what I love about Jesus is that He loves us enough to tell us this. He knows the kind of life that we need to be living, and if we say we’re His followers, shouldn’t we do what He says?

Jesus is our Lord and our Savior, but if you follow Him, He’s also your friend. And it takes a strong person to stand up to friends and tell them they’re going the wrong direction. If that’s you, don’t take it as criticism or meanness or some of threat. It’s not. It’s words from a friend telling you that if you don’t change your mind, you’re going to be in trouble.

It’s a hard thing, to be a good friend. It’s also hard to have a good friend, especially if they’re the ones who can keep you on the straight and narrow. But those are the people you want in your life. Those are the people who you’ll look back and thank later on down the road.

Life Lessons that Contradict Everything You Know About the World

Sometimes God’s logic just doesn’t make sense to me. Well, most of the time, if I’m being honest. I read the Bible, and I try to understand why He does what He does, why He allows what He allows, and sometimes I think I can grasp the fringes of His thoughts. But I can’t grasp them completely. And that’s a good thing.

If I always knew what God was up to, I wouldn’t need to trust Him. And believe me, I need to trust Him. He’s brought me down such crazy roads and insane adventures to get me where I am in my life right now that I don’t really want to know what’s out ahead of me yet. He’ll tell me when I need to know.

But that doesn’t bring a lot of comfort for people who do want to know, who do want to understand why God makes the choices He makes. It can be scary sometimes, especially if you don’t know God well. But one of the ways we can get to know God is through Jesus and what Jesus said while He walked on Earth. But don’t start thinking that Jesus made more sense than God did.

img_3651-edit-2wmToday’s verses are Matthew 5:1-12.

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

“God blesses those who are poor [in spirit] and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Most people have heard of the Beatitudes, even if they don’t know that they’re actually called the Beatitudes. Frankly, this particular passage of Scripture, I think, should be called Life Lessons that Contradict Everything You Know About the World. Isn’t that true?

If Jesus is saying that God will bless the humble and the mourning and the persecuted, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Those people are miserable, aren’t they? And why does it say you should be happy when you face all sorts of evil? What sense does that make? It’s just because people were nicer back in the day when Jesus said that, right? This bit of Scripture was only relevant during Bible times.

Well, if that was the case, it wouldn’t be in the Bible at all, because everything in the Bible is current and relevant and useful for 21st Century living and beyond.

Generally what I’ve experienced is that people don’t think applying these principles to life will actually work. They’re antiquated platitudes from a bygone age, and you can’t live your life so naively. These statements Jesus made so long ago are so against common sense that there’s no way they could ever be effective. But nothing could be farther from the truth. 

The Beatitudes portray the attitudes of a Christ-follower the way they’re supposed to be. And our reaction to the Beatitudes shouldn’t be that Jesus’ statements are so out of date, it should be shock and outrage that our world is turned so far upside down. God’s wisdom goes against what the world says is right, and that’s because the world is broken. God and the World are never going to agree. They can’t, because they stand on opposite sides of the line.

If we try to make the world’s reason and logic fit with God’s reason and logic, we’ll just end up confused. They can’t both be right.  And since we are just as broken as the world, who says God’s logic has to make sense to us to begin with?

Jesus showed us how to live a life diametrically opposed to the world’s wisdom. He didn’t go along with the popular crowd. He didn’t agree with the politicans or the religious elite. He agreed with God. And you were free to love Him or Hate him, and He wouldn’t change. He still hasn’t, and He isn’t going to.

Just because you can’t understand why doesn’t mean God is wrong. It just means God is bigger than you are.