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?

God isn’t going to bless you for making yourself look good

When you do something nice for somebody, what’s your first reaction? Do you want to keep it quiet, or do you want to run out and tell the world what you’ve done? This is one of those difficult lines to walk because on one hand, you want people to know that there’s a need you’ve invested in, and if they want to be blessed they should invest too. But at the same time, you want to be humble about it.

We’ve all seen celebrities and politicians and other folks get up in front of us and talk about charities they support or good things they’ve done, but in my mind, it’s a lot harder to to envision them being really truly passionate about a cause when all they do is talk about it. Maybe that’s wrong of me. But in my experience, the people who truly care about causes or even other people spend more time doing something rather than talking about doing something.

woman-makeup-beauty-lipstick_1232x816Today’s verses are Matthew 6:1-4.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

When you let that person in line behind you go in front of you, do you shout it to the store so they know what a great person you are? When you do that favor for a friend who didn’t ask for it, do you make sure your friend and everyone else hears about it so they can see what a great friend you are? That’s not to say that we shouldn’t go the extra mile for people. We should be kind. We should be gracious and generous and loving. The problem we run into is in the why.

Why do you want to help your neighbor? Why do you want to be kind to that person across the street? Why do you want to support a charity? Are you doing it so that you can get the recognition for your act of service and sacrifice? If that’s the case, your motivation is wrong. If any act of kindness becomes about you and your own recognition, rest assured, the applause of the people watching is all the reward you’re going to get, because God isn’t going to bless you for making yourself look good.

If you want to help others out of a genuine heart of love, it won’t matter who notices. It won’t matter to you if you get a story written about you in the newspaper. It won’t matter if you get interviewed on television. It won’t matter if your friends understand the sacrifices you’re making for them. What matters is that what needs to be done is done, and who gets the credit for it should fade away, unimportant and insignificant.

That’s the attitude God can bless. That’s the kind of person who God can make great.

Does that mean you should never talk about the good things you do? No, of course not. There is a time and place to talk about the good things you’ve done, but it all comes down to the motivation behind them. Your heart attitude will determine your words and your actions, and if your ministries are all about you, that’s what you’re going to talk about. But if your ministries are all about Jesus, that’s what the focus of your conversation will be.

Is it easy? No way.

It’s hard to do something kind or great and go unrecognized. It’s difficult because you don’t think anyone notices what you’re giving up to help others, and that’s discouraging. But God notices. So don’t feel insecure. And don’t feel unappreciated. Don’t chase people down to point out the good things you’ve done just so that you can feel better about yourself. That’s not the point of doing kind things for others.

Nothing you do is in vain. God sees it all and knows your heart. So trust Him to bless you in His good time. Jesus didn’t. And He had more reason than anyone to talk about His sacrifices.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll act like a Child of God

I used to frequent this particular site online where I could read and download information on a television show I enjoyed. It took me a little while to understand that there was a code of conduct expected among the users of the site, and the site owners had no qualms about banning users if they got out of line. I almost wonder if it were a joke at times because of the number of users they would ban. They actually kept a log where everyone could see who they banned by IP address and the reasons why. As you can imagine, people pleasing me did everything in my power to never be on their bad side.

Have you ever been in that situation where you have a code of conduct you need to obey or else face consequences. Some consequences are more dire than not being able to access a website. Depending on where you are, it could be demerits from a college, punishment from a boss, and so on and so forth. It’s true that sometimes codes of conduct are biased or full of prejudice or impossible to keep, but regardless of your opinion on the validity of that code of conduct, if you break it, that means you’re not a very good representative of that establishment.

R0C7A5M4WB_1440x960Today’s verses are Matthew 5:43-48.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

This is one of those passages I’ve heard over and over and over again, to the point where I skim over it. But I saw something this time around that I hadn’t noticed before. Jesus says that by loving our enemies and praying for the people who persecute us, we will be acting as true children of God.

Whoa. Back that up. Think about that.

I’m a child of God. I believe in Jesus. I’ve welcomed Him into my heart and my life, and I strive every day to live for Him and Him alone. But you know what? I get angry at people who hate me. And I sure don’t pray for people who persecute me. So if what Jesus is saying here is true (and it always is), I can be a Christian but not be acting as a child of God.

Ouch.

But then, is it important to act like a child of God? Can’t I just say I’m a Christian and go about living life however I want? I guess you can, in theory. But what’s the point? Why would you claim to be a Christian if you aren’t going to live like one?

Saying you’re a Christian is easy. Living like a child of God is one of the hardest choices you’ll ever make. It’s easy to love people who are kind to you. And people who do nice things for you? Loving them is effortless. But what about the people who call you names? What about the people who go out of their way to say hateful things to you and about you, to your face or at your back? What about people who hurt you or who hurt the people you love? Loving those people isn’t just hard–it’s practically impossible.

Again, you can say you love them all day long, but love isn’t just saying a word. Love is doing. Love is action. Love is doing something kind in return for the cruelty your enemy does against you.

Jesus put such an emphasis on this because it goes completely against human nature, but this is a picture of what it means to live and act like a Child of God. It’s not just a title. It’s a lifestyle. And it takes strength only God can give. It takes supernatural love. So don’t hesitate to ask for it, because you’re not born with it.

If you want to be more than just a Christian, with Jesus’ help, you can live like a Child of God. Look for opportunities to be kind to people who hate you. Look for the chance to do good to people who do evil to you. Loving people who love you is nice, but loving people who hate you? That’s legendary.

Be more willing to give mercy than receive it

We’re coming off the Independence Day holiday here in the United States. It’s a time of great celebration, family togetherness, cookouts, potato salad, and–of course–fireworks! I’m a big fan of fireworks, but I’m a bit of a pyro. Growing up in the city as children, we didn’t set off a lot of fireworks. And then, growing up on the farm, we lived in a county where you can’t shoot fireworks at all. So we’d go to friends’ houses where we could.

But something I noticed a lot this year was the comments on Facebook and other social media about people shooting fireworks off at all hours before, during, and after the holiday. As you can imagine, most folks were pretty upset about it. Their dogs bark. Their kids cry. Etc.

So wouldn’t it make sense to keep track of which neighbors are doing it? That way, next year, when they’re all done shooting off fireworks and scaring people half to death, you can set off your own fireworks and wake them up in the middle of the night?  Not immediate enough for you? Okay, instead, wait a few weeks and then go ring their doorbell at 3 a.m. That should teach them to wake you up with their fireworks.

I mean, it’s only fair, right?

fireworksToday’s verses are Matthew 5:38-42.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”

Of course, you know I’m joking. If you do that to your neighbors and tell them it was my idea, I’ll point them to the rest of this post, which says very clearly that repaying evil for evil is never a good idea.

This is Jesus talking in the passage above, and He’s teaching people how to respond when they’re wronged. Because it’s our first reaction to respond to being hurt by hurting the offender. That’s the natural reaction. But we aren’t called to a natural life. We are called to a supernatural life.

Jesus advocated turning the other cheek. This doesn’t mean He was weak–quite the opposite. But in personal relationships, you were never to pay someone back because they hurt you. Jesus believed in giving mercy more than receiving it.

Mercy is great as long as we’re the ones getting it, right? We love receiving mercy. It makes us feel good, all warm and fuzzy inside. Oh, but turn the tables, and mercy is a lot harder to give out than it is to accept. We don’t do so well when we have the choice to dole it or pour salt on the wound.

People are going to hurt you. They’re going to offend you. Heck, they’re going to wake you up at 3 a.m. because they’re shooting off fireworks. But do you know what you’re supposed to do? Go out there and make sure they have enough matches. Offer them a glass of water or something.

Makes you made, right? Makes me mad just thinking about it. Doing something thoughtful for people who are completely inconsiderate? That’s foolish. They’ll walk all over me. They’ll set off fireworks everyday if I let them think it’s okay with me.

Will they?

I really think we underestimate the power of mercy and kindness in people’s lives. And the thing we forget about this principle is that it’s not the world’s rules. It’s Jesus’ idea. This is what He teaches. To offer mercy and kindness to people who have hurt you. Take the risk that they’ll take advantage of you, and don’t be surprised if they do. Because they probably will. But don’t worry about it. Let God sort it out. You just be the person you’re supposed to be, and do what Jesus did–be more willing to give mercy than receive it.

It’s not easy, but Jesus never said following Him would be.