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.

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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.

 

Your actions speak louder than your promises

You’ve seen the character in movies and television–that overworked parent who makes a promise to be at a child’s sports event and then isn’t able to make it for some reason. In that situation, we feel bad for the child because that horrible grownup broke his or her promise. How dare they make a promise they couldn’t keep to that poor child?

Right? That’s usually the way that type of character is portrayed. But if you’re the adult watching that, you tend to identify with the parent. I mean, you’re busy working, trying to make ends meet in a financial environment that seems dead set against your success. And a kid isn’t going to understand that.

So grownups understand. Sometimes you have to break your promises. It’s part of being an adult.

Close up of crossed fingers behind a woman's back

Close up of crossed fingers behind a woman’s back

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:33-37.

“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”

God takes promises seriously, and so does Jesus. That’s one thing we should always remember about them. When God–and by extension, Jesus–makes a promise, He will always always keep it. He may not keep it in the time we want Him to, but He will always honor His word, regardless of whether we deserve it or not (and we never deserve it, by the way).

But what about promises we make to God?

This passage was talking about a group of people during that time who would make sacred vows and then treat them casually. They would make a somber promise to God and then treat it as though it didn’t matter. They’d break their word at the drop of a hat, and Jesus wanted them to know that it wasn’t acceptable. A promise to God should never be treated lightly, just like a promise in general should never be easy to dismiss.

People are good at rationalizing, remember? We can talk ourselves into and out of just about anything, and we can come up with dozens of reasons that explain why it’s okay to break our promises. But just because we can explain why doesn’t excuse it.

Why are promises so important? Well, they’re a measure of the kind of person you are. When the going gets tough and life gets hard, do you change your mind about honoring your word? See, making promises is easy; keeping them is the hard part. And it’s the choices we make when life gets difficult that show others who we truly are.

Jesus lived a life that didn’t need vows. If He said He would do something, He did it. And that’s the life we need to live. Our word alone should be sufficient that we’ll do what we’ve said (James 5:12).

So the next time you’re trying to impress someone, don’t make idle promises that don’t mean anything to you. Just say yes or no and stick to it. Let your actions speak louder than your words.

What does ice cream have to do with dismemberment?

I love ice cream. A lot. It’s one of my (many) weaknesses. I can turn down cake no problem. Cookies are a bit of a struggle, but I can manage it. But ice cream? My Achilles’ heel. My Kryptonite. Whatever association you want to make, it’s usually my undoing.

Generally, I try not to even think about it, because when I start thinking about ice cream, then I want some. And I happen to know that a small chocolate M&M mix from Braums is only $2.99 and only has about 350 calories in it. And that’s not bad. That’s what I tell myself so that I can rationalize the irrational desire to go get ice cream when I’ve already had my allotment of calories for the day.

Once I start thinking about something I want, I want it more. When I want it, I start telling myself that it’s okay for me to have it, and then I am smart enough to convince myself that I need it or that I deserve it. After all, I’ve been living on celery and walking 2 miles a day for weeks now. Surely I deserve some ice cream.

By the time I get to that point, the battle is pretty much lost. I’m going for ice cream, regardless of whether I actually need it or not. Is that a case of reverse mind over matter? Where your brain convinces you that you need something when you really don’t need it at all? You just want the way it makes you feel when you get it.

three-1024x768Today’s verses are Matthew 5:27-30.

“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

No, eating ice cream isn’t a sin. That was just a silly illustration to show that lust takes many different forms in our lives. There’s lust for power and and wealth and status. Yes, even the desire for some foods could probably be called lustful, although I expect we Americans are one of the only nations in the world that struggles with the idea of the lust for food. In any case, lust doesn’t always have to be about sex. It just usually is. But regardless of what form lust takes in our lives, it never ever satisfies.

You don’t have to be a counselor or a mentor to understand that lust is extremely damaging to relationships. It compromises trust and wrecks lives. That’s why Jesus says it’s better to cut your hand off than to live while it betrays you. Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. You aren’t really supposed to go dismember yourself. But we can grasp the concept.

Lust is selfish. It’s entirely self-focused. It’s all about what I want right now. It’s the exact opposite of love, the character quality it disguises itself as.

You know Jesus faced lust. Probably in all its many forms. If we believe the Bible when it says (Hebrews 4:15) that Jesus experienced all the same temptations in life that we do, we have to understand that he was tempted by lust as well. He just didn’t give into it. But that just means He is more qualified than anyone to tell us how dangerous it is.

Lust is like a fire that will burn us up if we let it. We’re all so good at lying to ourselves about what we need. We can convince ourselves and everyone around us that we have it all under control, but we’re locked in a death spiral that will only end when we hit bottom.

So don’t write lust off as something that won’t bother you or something that you’ll never experience. You can’t live without coming face to face with some kind of lust, so don’t underestimate what it can make you do. You’ll turn against God to scratch that itch. But if you’re prepared mentally and spiritually to face it, with Jesus’ help, you can withstand it. With Jesus’ help, you can do anything.

Hold on to the truth. Don’t give in to the lies. And put your whole faith in Jesus. He’s the Man who faced lust and never gave in, and He’s standing ready to help us get through the day.

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.