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.

Don’t ignore hurting people because you’re uncomfortable

When you think about people suffering, generally I think we dredge up images of orphans in third world countries or the homeless on the streets. And that’s true. Those people are suffering, and they’re everywhere. They need healing in their lives. But those people suffer in obvious ways, hunger and sickness and basic needs.

What about people who have all those things covered and are still hurting? What about your coworker who just lost a loved one? What about that friend at church whose kid has totally screwed up his life? What about that teenager you pass in the hallway whose parents are divorcing? All of those people have their physical needs met, but what about their spiritual needs? What about their emotional needs? How do we handle that?

It’s true that in some cases, what those people are dealing with are consequences from their own choices or circumstances God is using to transform their lives. Regardless of what is happening or how it’s happening or who it’s happening to, you should always ask God how to handle the situation.

In my experience, we treat any type of hurting people like they’re the vagabond on the street corner with the cardboard sign. We notice someone hurting and we change the subject rather than being courageous enough to talk about something that might be uncomfortable for us. And that’s not how Jesus did it.

counsellingToday’s verses are Matthew 4:23-25.

Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all. Large crowds followed him wherever he went—people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River.

Jesus was merciful and compassionate. When He saw people suffering, He wanted to help them. He didn’t hold them at arm’s length. He went out among them and encouraged them to come to Him. How much of that attitude is missing from our own lives?

People came to Jesus to be healed. They weren’t looking for charity. They wanted life, and Jesus had the power to give it to them. He had the power to heal them. Guess what, Christians? He still does. He hasn’t changed, and He still works the same way. And we have the awesome privilege of being the ones who get to stand in for Christ, the people who get to share His life-changing love with those around us.

Jesus is reaching out to heal anyone and everyone who comes to Him. Jesus’ healing may not look like what you think it should, though, so prepare yourself. If you come to Jesus and ask Him to heal you, that means you have to agree to do things His way. That’s the way this works.

And granted, being healed from something doesn’t mean the problem never happened, but it means you don’t have to worry about it anymore. You can be healed from cancer but still bear the scars. You can be part of a relationship that has been healed, but the consequences may still be something you have to deal with–you just won’t deal with it alone.

Jesus is the healer. People call Him the Great Physician because there’s no pain too terrible for Him to take away. Maybe you’re suffering today, Jesus is just waiting for you to call on Him.

And if you’re a Christ-follower and you encounter someone who is looking for hope or healing or restoration, don’t run away. God put that person in your path for a reason. There are no accidents. So don’t backpedal or make up excuses, and don’t preach either, because that won’t help. If someone needs to be healed, take them to Jesus, and leave them with Him.

There’s nobody He can’t restore, and that means there’s always hope, even for those of us who’ve fallen so far short of His plan. The key is coming to Him with our problems, our hurts, and our broken pieces and letting Him put us back together again.

Nobody is a lost cause

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in this life alone? Like you know that God is there, but He seems content to watch you struggle through frustration after frustration just so that you’ll learn something? I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve been there before. Deep in my heart I know that it’s not true and God will always take care of me, but in the dark moments when I’ve had enough, I’ve definitely felt abandoned. Or even targeted.

But is that really who God–and by extension Jesus–is? Is He really the distant, unfeeling deity in the clouds who would subject His followers to challenges and obstacles and stand back and watch them stumble and fall without interceding? Wouldn’t it be nice if He’d just offer some means of figuring out why you have to go through all this crap? Wouldn’t it be awesome if He’d just show you what you need to learn?

Guess what? He has.

Hanging-off-a-cliff-edgeToday’s verses are Matthew 4:18-20.

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.

When I was little, I thought it was really odd that these grown men would just leave their jobs and follow after this random guy who called out to them. It didn’t seem very practical to me. After all, if they didn’t know the guy, they couldn’t know if he were leading them into some kind of trap … you know, like where they’d be knocked out and have their kidneys stolen or something.

But Jesus wasn’t just some guy. And Peter and Andrew had already heard of Him (honestly I think there were few in the area who hadn’t heard of Him). But Andrew, Peter’s brother, had already met Jesus and decided that He was indeed the Messiah. So they knew who Jesus was and what He was up to when He called them out.

This passage tells us a lot about Peter and Andrew, but it also tells us a lot about Jesus. Jesus called the disciples by telling them He had something to teach them–something different than the trade they already knew. How to fish for people–how to lead others to know God.

It’s not that they were joining a super secret club where only the elite have access. You realize what these men did for a living right? They were blue collar workers, to put it mildly. The Bible actually calls them “unlearned, ignorant men.” Jesus wasn’t calling the brilliant. He was calling the everyday people, and He still is, because we still have a lot to learn. And fortunately He has a lot to teach. And everyone is invited.

He wanted to teach these men how to live life with Him, how to see God in the everyday moments, how to trust God in the tough times, and how to seek God first with everything in their hearts. And we have an example of how to live and what to believe through what these men learned in following Jesus. We have the Bible, God’s own Word handed down to us through the generations.

The truth is that we aren’t alone, and God isn’t just lounging around in heaven watching our struggles like Earth is one giant reality TV show. Neither is Jesus. And neither is the Holy Spirit. All three of Them are active and alive, vivid participants in our world and our universe.

The thing about Jesus is that He never changes, and if He wasn’t exclusive back then, He’s not exclusive now. He doesn’t play favorites, and He won’t ever turn anyone away who comes to Him. Jesus was open to those who were seeking, to those who wanted answers, to those willing to hear the truth. He doesn’t see status, wealth or education. He just sees a willing heart.

That means no matter where you’ve come from or what you’ve done, Jesus wants to hear from you. No matter how you’ve screwed up or how many people you’ve heart or how many times you’ve let people down, you can’t commit a sin too deep that Jesus blood can’t wash away.

That means nobody is a lost cause.

You can’t claim obedience until you’ve had the choice to disobey

Have you ever wanted something wrong so badly you couldn’t think about anything else? You can’t sleep. You can’t get anything done. It could be anything–person, place, or thing. Food or drink or money or power or fame or toys. Has the desire for that thing ever taken over and lured you into rationalizing that it’s okay for you to have it or to do it?

Everybody goes through that. Everyone has experienced that. Even Jesus did. He let Himself be put in a situation where He was extremely vulnerable to temptation, but He had a secret weapon. Know what it was?

AppleTemptToday’s verses are Matthew 4:1-11.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ ” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ” 

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” 

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ” Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. 

Firstly, it’s not a sin to eat bread. Let’s just get that little thing out of the way.

People sometimes wonder why Jesus put Himself in this situation. Well, I think it’s because He had to have the opportunity to disobey. Adam and Eve were tempted the same three ways (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which repeats over and over throughout Scriptures) and failed. Jesus passed.

You can claim to be an obedient servant of God all you want, but until you’ve had the opportunity to disobey, you’re making stuff up. If you haven’t had the chance to choose between doing what God says versus doing what Satan wants or what you want, you can’t say you’re obedient or disobedient. Now, in our world, there’s ample opportunity to disobey, so it’s not like we need to go out looking for situations where we can face this choice. But it’s the principle we need to remember. Just because you believe in Jesus doesn’t make you obedient.

You realize, Jesus could have disobeyed if He wanted to. But He didn’t. He pulled out His secret weapon for overcoming the temptation. He stared Satan in the face and quoted Scripture at Him. Can you imagine what that scene must have looked like?

But does that really work? Can you quote a Bible verse and make temptation flee in terror? Honestly, Bible verses are just words. They’re like any other statement until you take them to heart and start living by them. Jesus believed that we need God more than we need food. He believed that He was secure enough in God’s love that He didn’t need to test the Lord. He believed that only God deserves to be worshiped. But more than just believing it, He let those beliefs direct His life choices. That’s what made the difference.

I think of Jesus as this conquering King who’s coming back to take over the world any day now, and He’ll ride across the skies in glorious splendor and take us all home where we won’t have to put up with this crazy world anymore. So it’s easy for me to forget that Jesus was human just like me. He faced the same temptations I do, but when he had to choose, he chose to obey the Bible, to depend on God, because God is right and true.

I am subject to the same passions and desires, but I don’t have to obey them. Instant gratification, insecurity, and pride are temptations that we all experience — but that doesn’t mean we have to accept them. I can choose not to sin. Jesus gave me that ability. Thanks to God, I have the power to do what is right, which will allow God to bless me.

You can quote all the Scripture you want, and it’s good to know it by heart. But until you actually live by it, they’ll just be words on a page. Jesus followed God’s Word–what God had revealed to the people at that time. So I need to do the same. Not just saying I know it, but doing it. Just like Jesus did.