A bad choice is bad, regardless of who makes it

Imagine that you’re riding in a car with a friend. When you get in the car, you notice that your friend doesn’t buckle his (or her) seat belt. When he’s driving, he doesn’t use his turn signals. And he goes much faster than the posted speed limit. Are you shocked and surprised when your friend gets pulled over by a police officer? Are you stunned speechless because you could never have imagined your friend in that position?

Come on. Be honest.

No, you’re not surprised. You probably figured it was only a matter of time. Why? Because your friend doesn’t obey the rules of the road. That doesn’t mean he’s not a great friend. It just means that neither he nor you should be surprised by the consequences when they catch up.

Today’s verses are Matthew 7:15-20.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

How closely do you really pay attention to what people say and do? Would you recognize a red flag in a relationship if you saw it?

You have to be careful with statements that you can identify a person by their actions or choices, because we are more than what we do and say. But it is true that you can identify wisdom in a person by their choices, just like you can identify foolishness. And that’s what we’re supposed to be looking for.

Bad choices lead to bad consequences. Just like good choices lead to good results. That’s common sense. That’s a law God set in motion from the beginning of time.

Somehow this always comes back around to judging and how we’re not supposed to judge, and that’s true. But what this is truly saying is that you have to keep your brain switched on. You can’t just turn off and accept whatever hair-brained idea your friends suggest. You have to think.

If someone is choosing to do something dumb, identify it for what it is. It’s dumb. And you can’t get smart from dumb. Senselessness never magically produced sense. It doesn’t work that way. Just like a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. Just like foolish choices can’t result in a truly positive outcome.

We all run into people like this in our lives, the ones who say they’re our friends but who really only care about themselves. Be aware of them. Learn to recognize them for what they are–not true friends. And keep your distance. otherwise they’ll drag you into their problems, their consequences, their issues.

All of a sudden, even though you’re just a passenger, you’ll still have to face consequences of your own. A bad choice is a bad choice, regardless of who’s driving or who’s just along for the ride.

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The Golden Rule can tell you what matters to others

Is there a standard for how a Christ-follower is supposed to treat people? I mean, we’re supposed to love each other. That much is obvious. But there are different ways to demonstrate love, and it varies from person to person.

The Bible has so many practical solutions in its pages, and I’m so thankful. A cerebral answer to a question like that wouldn’t help much. And what’s interesting is that just about everybody knows this particular standard, whether they read (or even believe) the Bible at all.

bench-sea-sunny-man_1473x976Today’s verse is Matthew 7:12.

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

Everybody knows the Golden Rule. It’s one of those cultural things we talk about all the time, but even though we talk about it a lot, we don’t always keep to it. Why? Because it’s hard!

It’s really difficult to treat other people with the same regard that you have for yourself. I mean, it’s easy to give yourself another chance when you screw up. After all, you know your own heart. You know you didn’t mean to do it. But when someone else screws up? That’s unacceptable.

We’ve all been there.

But there’s another aspect to the Golden Rule that I hadn’t really considered. The Golden Rule can tell you what matters to other people. It’s not just how you’re supposed to act, but it’s also about how you should treat other people. Maybe those revelations sound identical, but they’re very different.

Let’s say that you are having a really bad day, and your friend brings you flowers to cheer you up. And you appreciate it. It’s thoughtful, but quite honestly, you don’t do flowers. You don’t really like them. And they make you sneeze. So while you are grateful for the thought, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to you.

But stop for a minute and think about what just happened. Your friend wanted to cheer you up, so he/she brought you flowers because flowers mean something to him/her. What does this have to do with the Golden Rule? Well, your friend would want someone to bring him/her flowers on  a bad day, so that’s why he/she did it for you. Now you know that. So tuck it away. Maybe you’d never give someone flowers ordinarily because you find them annoying, but your friend likes them.

People aren’t mind readers, you know, and many times I think we do things for other people based on what makes us happy.

Now, we shouldn’t only do kind things for other people because we want them to be kind to us. We should be kind because God says it’s what we should do. And, truthfully, it’s better if you just communicate with each other. But people don’t really communicate anymore. And even when we do, there’s still some kind of disconnect that prevents us from saying what we really mean. So you have to learn to listen to the things people don’t say.

Maybe what that person in your life did for you doesn’t resonate with your desires. Maybe it wasn’t anything close to what you would do for someone else or what you would expect someone to do for you. But the principle of the Golden Rule is that it’s not about you anyway.

So pay attention to how others treat you and what others do for you. They may be telling you without words how you can be a blessing to them. And there’s really nothing more awesome than being a blessing to someone else.

Ask, ask, and ask again

Do you remember Christmas as a child? Every year, there was something specific you wanted. You would write it down on a list or tell people that’s what you wanted months and months in advance. Did you ever forget that’s what you wanted? Did it ever slip your mind?

No. It wouldn’t have, because you were focused on it. It’s what you wanted, so that’s what you thought about. It colored everything. When you’d go into a store, maybe you’d even see that one thing you wanted so desperately, but you wouldn’t buy it. Even if you had the money to do so, you wouldn’t, because it’s what you’d asked for, and you might be getting it as a present.

Sure, you’d asked for it, and you didn’t have it yet. But yet was the operative word.

739BBHC8KM_1382x922Today’s verses are Matthew 7:7-8.

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus was a fan of persistence. There were many instances throughout Scripture where He encouraged His disciples and His followers to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, to think outside the box and never give up or give in just because it was popular.

I’m afraid to ask God for things because I think He might not do what I want. I’m afraid of putting my faith in Him completely and trusting that He’ll give me what I’m asking for because what if He doesn’t? What if I’m asking for the wrong things and He doesn’t give me what I’ve asked for?

I’m not old, but I’ve been following Jesus for a long time. And I can honestly say He’s never let me down, and He’s never broken a promise to me. Sure, there have been times when I felt like He did, but that’s because I didn’t see the bigger picture.

I tried writing for myself years ago, and it didn’t work. I dropped everything and dedicated myself to getting published. I barely lasted six months because I didn’t have enough in savings to support myself in the interim. The day I had to shut down my office and go back to a regular job felt like failure, felt like the end of a dream, felt like God had promised me something only to take it away.

But that wasn’t the case at all. And those six months weren’t wasted. I learned a lot during that time, mostly that I wasn’t ready to work for myself yet. I needed time and experience, and I needed to make connections with people I didn’t even know yet.

I asked God to allow me to write for a living, and He made that happen, first by preparing the way for me to get an awesome job as a copywriter. Then, He made it happen again by opening the doors to allow me to go into business for myself.

God gave me what I asked for, but I kept asking for it. I didn’t give up. Writing for myself (for His glory, of course) had always been my dream, and it colored everything I did. It was something I knew I would do whether I could get paid for it or not.

What I’ve learned about asking is that if you keep asking, it helps you stay focused on what you really want. If you ask for something and then stop, you must not really want it.

So ask. Then, ask again. And keep asking until you get it. It’s not nagging. It’s not pestering. It’s a way to stay focused on your dream, and as long as your dream brings glory to God, He’ll help you achieve it. It won’t be on your timetable (trust me on that one), but you’ll get there.

Making excuses isn’t the same as not judging

Imagine you’re shopping at a grocery store, and you see someone take candy or something off a shelf and walk out the door with it. I’m not sure how frequently that happens anymore, but let’s just say for argument’s sake that you witnessed it. How would you respond?

Would you applaud the thief’s bravery and courage for stealing? Would you put the thief up on a pedestal as someone to be respected and admired? Or would you point out that the thief took something that didn’t belong to him and that it’s wrong? What if you were talking to a child?

There’s something in our culture that recognizes injustice, but even though we know something is wrong, we look for excuses not to face it. We blame circumstances. We blame childhood trauma. We blame the government, the economy, the job market. In our desperate search for a reason behind injustice, we look for anywhere else to cast blame because it’s easier to blame than to confront.

man-person-hand-lens_1404x936Today’s verses are Matthew 7:1-5.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

I honestly believe this is one of the verses that is taken out of context more than any other verse in the whole Bible. You can’t have a conversation with anyone about anything without “being judgmental” comes into discussion. But without putting too fine a point on it, everyone is judgmental. We all make judgment calls all the time. The only difference comes from where you get your standards for judging.

Jesus made several distinctions about judging each other, and generally He said not to do it. It’s difficult though. our human nature makes it easy to magnify other people’s faults while we ignore our own, but it’s wrong. But “don’t judge” doesn’t mean “excuse bad behavior.”

Bad behavior is bad regardless of how you slice it. Stealing is wrong. A child knows that. Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is wrong. And that’s where people will come into the picture and start talking about how stealing becomes necessary if you want your family to live.

I get that. Some people in some cultures steal to provide for their families. But it’s still stealing, and stealing is still wrong, regardless of why you do it.

What Jesus is talking about when He talks about judging is making a call about the motivation behind someone’s actions. If you look at a man who has stolen a loaf of bread and call him a thief, you aren’t judging. You are stating a fact, and you are calling his actions what they are–stealing. But if you look at that same man who stole a loaf of bread and say that he is a horrible person and that he isn’t a Christian, you’re judging. Why? Because you’re making a judgment call on the state of his heart, and that’s something a human can’t see.

Identifying sin as sinful isn’t hateful. If someone is doing something that God says is wrong, calling it sin is simply agreeing with God. It’s not being mean. God doesn’t just arbitrarily call “fun stuff” sin just to ruin our lives. He calls it sin because it’s bad for us and we shouldn’t let it into our lives at all.

If you have a child who wants to stick car keys in light sockets, will you let him? Of course not! And we’d call you a bad parent if you allowed it to happen! So why do we get upset with God when He tries to keep us from hurting ourselves?

As always, we must speak the truth in love. You shouldn’t go up to that man who stole the loaf of bread and get in his face and tell him that he’s hopeless. What good is that going to do? If he isn’t willing to pay for what he stole, it’s a different situation, but if he is, there should be a way to work it out. Someone should demonstrate grace, the same way Jesus did. And who knows what miracle God could work in that situation?

In any case, the only judge you can be is of your own heart, so that’s where you need to be focusing. But that doesn’t mean you can make excuses for behavior and choices God says are wrong. You can agree to disagree, but accepting sin is still flipping God off. And that never ever works out.

You can’t take two roads at the same time

Everything about our 21st Century culture revolves around getting our own way. We like our food prepared a certain way. We like particular options on our cars. We like specific types of music or movies or books. In the last 30 or so years, we’ve grown up expecting that people will cater to our whims. That’s customer service. If I want a skinny decaf no foam latte, I order one, and that’s what I expect to get. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Well, there’s nothing wrong it until what we want contradicts what God says is right. Then, we have a choice. Because in the choice between two paths, you can only choose one. You can’t walk down the middle.

CI1HWTBJL1_1372x913Today’s verse is Matthew 6:24.

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

This is one verse out of a much larger passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-34), and if you’ve got time I really recommend reading the whole thing. This is one of those concepts in Scripture that gets really twisted around, I think. There are some who look at wealth and money as though it’s something evil, and that’s just not the case. Money becomes evil when it becomes more important in your life than God.

When you place the acquisition of food or clothing or status higher than your desire to walk with God, you have a problem, because you’re walking down the road that will take you away from God. You can walk with God and have money and resources, but you can’t walk with God and love money and resources more than you love Him. That doesn’t work out so well.

Jesus was devoted to one path. It was the same road He started walking when He learned how to walk, and it was the same road that led Him to the cross to die to pay for our entry into heaven.

Staying on one path is hard, especially when there is so much of the world to see, but once you step off that narrow road, there aren’t always guideposts to get you back to it. It’s like taking a poorly planned detour. In some parts of the country, a detour winds through pretty residential areas, but most of the ones I’ve been on are desert-like and time-consuming and irritating. That’s what stepping off the path gets you–confused and frustrated. And you only have yourself to blame.

It’s tempting to want to live our lives the way we want to live them, but if you are a Christ-follower, your life doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Jesus. And you simply can’t follow Jesus when you’re only focusing on doing whatever it will take to get more money. And, believe me, I know how important money is. You can sit and be as holy and spiritual as you want, but if you don’t have money, you can’t eat. This has become even more obvious to me since I started working for myself. Money is hard to get.

What’s even harder is trusting that God will provide. But that’s what this entire passage is about. You can serve money and scrimp and save and fret and stress out for your entire life to scrape a few pennies together that might last a few years. Or you can just chill and do what God says to do today and trust that when you need something, God will provide it for you.

Maybe that sounds naive. But I’m not the one asking the questions. Jesus is staring back at me in this passage asking me why I have so little faith.

So stop fretting. Stop chasing dollar bills. Instead, put God’s priorities first in your life and trust that He’ll provide when you need it.

Jesus walked one path. That’s the direction He went. And if we say we’re His followers, we probably ought to follow. Don’t you think?

When faith becomes a show, it’s not about God anymore

I like food. Except turnips. I draw the line at turnips. I’ll eat just about anything else. Food is one of my favorite parts of being a human being, and it’s one of those gifts God gave us that I’m thankful for every day. And I’ve always been that way.

So imagine my shock when I found out about a little thing called fasting.

Where you don’t eat. You just pray. Like all day long. Or longer.

What? People actually do that? Yes, they do. But fasting is one of those things I don’t think a lot of people understand. I know I didn’t understand it for a long time. I mean, why would you give up eating for any length of time if you didn’t have a medical exam? I’ve only fasted a few times in my life for reasons of prayer. I struggle with blood sugar issues, so fasting isn’t usually the best choice for me. But fasting isn’t always about food. Sometimes it can be a technology fast or a fast from other influences in life that affect us.

But there are some things about fasting that we need to remember, and they’re as true today as they were 2,000 years ago.

174H_1000x768Today’s verses are Matthew 6:16-18.

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Fasting shouldn’t be a challenge you give yourself. It’s not about proving your strength or resilience. It’s not about demonstrating how much faith you have that you can go a certain length of time without eating or checking Facebook or whatever. It’s not about putting on a show at all. Fasting is worship. Fasting is to be so intent on prayer that you aren’t even thinking about food or entertainment or what’s on sale at Old Navy. It’s trusting the Lord for everything you need, even for something as basic as feeling hunger, and focusing only on Him. It’s acknowledging that you are weak, but God is strong.

You shouldn’t go around talking about how you’re demonstrating your devotion to God by giving something up. No. just do it. And if people notice and ask, tell them. But don’t go in search of the spotlight. The minute you do that, your fast becomes about you and not about God. It becomes the opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

Jesus never looked for the spotlight. It kept finding Him, sure, but He was always quick to redirect it to God so that others would worship the Lord. We should do the same thing.

Fasting is a good discipline to get into, whether its from food or technology or other things in our lives. As Americans, we are far too comfortable, far too focused on what we have or what we don’t have. Taking time to demonstrate to God that you care more about spending time with Him than eating means a lot, especially in our super-sized American culture.

Just remember if you go that route your fast is to worship the Lord. The moment it becomes about what you’ve sacrificed for God, it’s not about God anymore. And if it’s not about God, seriously, what’s the point?

What do you need to tell God today?

My best friend lives in England. She has been living across the pond for about two years now, and I’m not going to see her face to face again until probably December. The first year she was there, the only technology either of us had was text messaging on Skype chat and an actual Skype conversation when we could make the time. But when she went back again, this time she had a smart phone. And this time, so did I.

Needless to say, we are constantly messaging each other. We text on WhatsApp. We message on Facebook. We email. Sometimes all three at once because we’re just that schizophrenic. So while I don’t know everything that’s going on in her life, I usually have a fairly good idea just because we communicate all the time. But even though we are in constant communication, I still enjoy Skyping with her. I love to see her face and hear her voice.

But that’s how it’s like with friends. Even if you already know everything you need to know about them, you still want to talk to them.

calling_1160x768Today’s verses are Matthew 6:7-8.

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

Similar to doing good deeds for recognition, religious people in Jesus’ day would pray loudly in the streets so that everyone would hear them and understand just how important and godly they were. Well, Jesus put the brakes on that. He said to pray in private.

Jesus treated prayer like a conversation. He didn’t want it to be for show. Prayer is talking to God as though He’s in the room with you. Newsflash: He is!

Some people pray using cute rhymes and songs or prepared lines, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For children, rhymes and songs can be fun, and some of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever read were written in books. But can’t we just have a conversation with God? Aren’t we capable of just telling Him what we want to tell Him?

We don’t have to use special language. We don’t have to impress him with big words and fancy speeches. Just talk to Him.

God already knows what you need, yes, but He wants to hear from you. He loves you. He cares about you and what’s going on in your day. Sure, He already knows it all, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to talk to you. That doesn’t mean He’s not interested.

I used to be afraid to pray out loud because I wasn’t good at it. But when I learned to just talk–and when I understood how much I need God–it wasn’t hard anymore.

If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit in your life. That gives you instant and immediate access to God the Father whenever you want. You can approach His throne (boldly, Hebrews says!). You have an open invitation. You can talk to God at any time.

And don’t just throw requests at Him. It’s fine to let Him know what you need, yes. But come on. Nobody wants to hear you read your to do list. We’re talking about a relationship here. Tell Him about your day. Tell Him about your dreams. Tell Him how wonderful He is and how thankful you are that He’s your Father.

God is listening. So what have you got to tell Him today?