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.

Jesus finished what the Law started without changing it

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

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

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

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

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

dreamstime_m_9338559Today’s verse is Matthew 5:17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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