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.

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.

The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Being held to a higher standard

Have you ever been in a situation where you were held to a higher standard than someone else? Take a public official or a government leader for example. If someone in a position like that lies or breaks a rule, it’s a big deal (or at least it used to be).

People lie and break rules all the time, but as a public figure, especially as an elected official, you are judged much more harshly than a “normal person.”

Did you realize that concept holds true in the Bible too? The Bible says that there is a certain group of people who will be held accountable for what they say, more so than any other group. Know who they are?

The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 3:1-2.

Dear brothers and sisters,not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

That’s right. Teachers.

Think about it. Who do you go to for help? A teacher can be anyone. A pastor. A Bible study leader. A Sunday School teacher. Anyone who takes it upon themselves to teach other people about God and the Bible. And those people who have chosen that path will be held accountable for what they teach–whether it’s true or not. Because those people have taken the responsibility on themselves to teach others.

Check out verse 1 in the Amplified Version:

Not many [of you] should become teachers (self-constituted censors and reprovers of others), my brethren, for you know that we [teachers] will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity [than other people; thus we assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation].

Did you catch that? Teachers “assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation.”

Yikes.

Granted, if you are a Christ follower, you can never be condemned. But in this instance, I think James is making a point. If you are a teacher–if you have taken it upon yourself to be someone who leads others–you are putting yourself in a place of responsibility that will be judged very harshly by God.

So here’s the deal. If you’re a teacher, if you’re someone who is in a position of leadership, you have a responsibility to share God’s truth with people. Not your opinions. Not your preferences. Now, you can and should make your opinions and preferences known. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the moment your opinions and preferences go from being yours to being God’s, you have a problem.

This concerns me. A lot. Because the longer I live, the more I seem to end up in positions of leadership. And I keep ending up in situations where I am being given more and more responsibility. And the last thing I want to do is to teach something as God’s truth when it’s really just my own personal sentiment.

Kind of like I posted yesterday, as someone who was raised in a godly home, I have a responsibility to share God’s word with others. But as a teacher, I have a responsibility to make sure what I’m sharing actually lines up with God’s Word.

Otherwise I’m just blowing smoke. I’m misleading people. I’m defeating my own purpose, simply because I can’t get myself out of the way.

So how do I do that? How do I make sure what I’m teaching is actually helping people instead of confusing them or leading them away from God? Well, first off, you need to know what you’re teaching. You need to know the Bible if you’re going to teach it. That means you have to read it. And if you’re going to teach it effectively, what I’ve discovered is that you have to go beyond reading it. You have to love it.

I’m leaving on vacation tonight, and one of the main things I plan to do while I’m gone is to sit in a quiet place and have a conversation with God about this very topic. I want to make sure God and I are on the same page. It’s just been so long since I’ve had time to sit and talk to God, and I miss it. We have a lot to talk about, and I’m looking forward to it.

I can’t guarantee that there will be a blog post tomorrow. Or Monday either.  Sometimes getting alone with God means putting everything else to the side.

Teachers have a responsibility to lead others. And because they will be held accountable for what they teach, it’s important they know what they’re teaching.

School house window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What friends are for

Do you ever feel the need to be alone? I’m not talking just getting away from people. Even the most extroverted person needs some quiet time every now and then. I mean alone, like you cut ties with everyone you knew. Alone, as in by yourself with no one around you.

Why is that? Why do some people feel the need to shut others out and try to shoulder their burdens by themselves? Well, I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself. I’m afraid that people will think I’m weak.

School house window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

School house window – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 19:3-4.

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

1 Kings 19 is an interesting chapter. It follows one of the most amazing Old Testament stories in the Bible, when Elijah challenged Queen Jezebel’s prophets of Baal to a contest to see who was real, Baal or God. Elijah called fire down, and the prophets of Baal just made idiots out of themselves. And all of Israel that had gathered there declared that God was the true God and that they would worship Him.

It was a high moment in Elijah’s life. But, of course, that made Queen Jezebel pretty angry, and she threatened to kill Elijah.

Whenever this story comes around, most folks will focus on the fact that Elijah crashes. After experiencing a mountaintop day with God, the next day, he crumbles into a useless heap in a cave and has a pity party.

Or people will talk about God asking Elijah what he’s doing there. Or people will focus on how God spoke to Elijah, not in the wind and not in the fire but in the still, small voice. But as I was reading this morning, something stood out to me that I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before.

Verse 3, at the very beginning of the story, tells us that Elijah fled for his life and left his servant behind before he went on alone.

Maybe that’s not significant. But it popped out on the page at me today because I am constantly doing the same thing.

I live on a mountaintop pretty much. My life is amazing. I get to see God doing awesome things just about every day. But it’s not uncommon for me to take a tumble and have a bad day either. I’m human. And I’m emotional enough, no matter how much I don’t want to admit it, that I can end up pouting under a broom tree asking God to kill me.

And on those days, I don’t want anyone to see me like that. So I leave people behind and go off and figure out how to handle my emotional breakdowns all by myself.

Is that the right thing to do? I don’t really think so. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with taking quiet time to get your heart and your mind right. There’s nothing wrong with taking alone time so you and God can get right again. But that’s not what I’m talking about. And that’s not what Elijah did either.

Elijah didn’t want his servant to witness him being less than perfect. This is the same servant who got to see his master be bold and daring just days earlier. This is the same servant who not only got to see Elijah call fire down from heaven but also rain, after it hadn’t rained in three years.

Elijah knew he wasn’t living up to the expectations God had for him. Why else would he tell his servant to stay behind while he went on alone? Elijah wasn’t wandering off to get his head straight. He was going off to beat himself up, to tear himself down, to rip himself apart. And he was too proud to share his feelings with anyone else because he was afraid of what they would think of him.

Maybe I’m putting words in Elijah’s mouth. But that’s what I do.

I’m still working through this. I’ve always been a loner, the kind of person who has to fight through challenges and struggles on my own. But God is beginning to show me that being alone isn’t always the best thing. He’s given us friends for a reason, to keep us accountable, to make us laugh when we don’t even feel like smiling, to love us on the days when we really can’t stand ourselves.

The simple truth is that none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, and refusing to be honest about that with other people will only hurt our relationships, even if you’re just trying to protect them from your screwups.

God didn’t allow Elijah to be alone. He sent an angel to take care of him. And after God was through talking to him, he sent Elijah on several tasks, ending with appointing a successor, Elisha. They traveled together, and Elisha never let Elijah out of his sight.

God’s given us friends for a reason. And I’m not talking about the fair-weather friends, the ones who are only with you on the good days. I’d be willing to be that everyone has a friend who would do anything for them, whether they know it or not. Those friends love you for who you are. And on those days when you feel like crawling into a cave and asking God to kill you, instead go to those friends and tell them what’s wrong. Let them listen, and don’t worry about what they think of you.

Most likely, they’ll just listen. And they’ll love you anyway. That’s what friends are for.

Door at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Love is telling the truth when people don’t want to hear it

Christians aren’t perfect. We all do wrong. We all stumble and fall. Not one of us is immune. And that’s why God has given us community with other believers, so that we don’t have to face the consequences of our sin alone. Because let’s be honest here: sin has consequences. We’re not home yet, so when we choose to sin, we still have to face the results of that sin.

I blogged at the beginning of the year about how Christians need to treat each other, especially those who have fallen back into a sinful lifestyle. Galatians 6:1-10 tells us how we’re supposed to treat fallen Christians. And when I blogged on it, I really focused on the attitude Christians need to have. But I neglected to mention the attitude the Christian who chose to sin needs to have.

Galatians 6:1 says we are to help that person back on the path. That’s not a conditional statement. It doesn’t say we have to help them back on the path if we feel like or if we know them or if we feel responsible for them.

So what happens if they refuse? 

Door at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Door at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:25-26.

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

Christians are to love. Period. That’s how we show we’re different. That’s how we demonstrate to the world what we believe. We love them. We love each other. We love.

But what is love? What does love look like? Is it constant forgiveness? Is it continually making allowances for another Christians’ behavior?

I don’t think so.

We’re not to judge. We are not supposed to point fingers at each other, especially in matters of the heart, because we are unable to judge someone’s heart. But the Bible specifically tells us what is right and what is wrong. God tells us how we’re supposed to live. God explains clearly what sin is. And when you know another Christian is engaging in that kind of sin, the kind of lifestyle God has already said is wrong, is it judging them to point it out?

No.

James 5:19-20 says: “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

We are all capable of sin. We all have a choice. Christians can choose whether to sin or not, and more and more, especially in the last few months, I am seeing Christians make terrible choices. Christians I have known for years and years are thumbing their noses at God and doing what they know is wrong, like they’re daring Him to do something to stop them.

Christians aren’t immune to the consequences of sin because we’re Christians. Rain falls on everybody. In Kansas, hail falls on everybody. So if you leave your car outside in a hailstorm, do you think it won’t be dented and pockmarked like a golf ball after the hailstorm is over just because you believe Christ saved you from your sins?

That’s idiotic.

And it’s the same with choosing to sin and thinking that God will protect you because you believe in Jesus.

He won’t.

If you’re faced with a Christian who is sinning and is refusing to change, how do you love them? Do you hug on them and give them presents and buy them things? Tell me. How is that love? All that will do is to encourage them to keep living the way they are living. That will push them deeper and deeper into Satan’s hold because you’re teaching them that they can live however they way, make whatever choices they want, do as much evil as they want, and they won’t have to face the consequences. And that’s not true. Because they will.

Love them by telling them the truth. Gently. Humbly. Kindly. But tell them the truth.

They sinned. They didn’t make a mistake. They didn’t make a poor choice. It wasn’t a weak moment. They knew what was right, and they chose to do wrong anyway. They sinned.

But God still loves them. You still love them. And if they will realize that what they did was wrong, God can redeem that sin. God can take that situation and make it right.

But if they refuse to change their heart, if they refuse to see that what they’ve done is wrong, there’s no help for them. And if they refuse to see the truth, God will have to make them see it. And if they really do believe in Christ, God won’t pull His punches.

If you are enabling a Christian who is sinning to keep on sinning, you are just as guilty as they are. If you are standing in between God and a Christian daughter or son that He is chastising, you are going to absorb the hit just as much as they will.

This isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. And if you love people as much as I do, you feel like a horrible person after you do it. But love isn’t easy. Whoever told you it was lied. It’s easy to sit back and let a Christian destroy themselves. It’s easy to watch another Christian make bad decisions and hope that it all turns out all right. It’s easy to do nothing. But that’s not love.

Two tea cups in the hotel cabinet - Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Staying sharp

A knife can only cut something so many times before it gets dull. When I was growing up, we had sharp knives that we used to chop onion or celery, but they were so dull they did more smashing than cutting. I remember that my mom took them to be sharpened once, and when they came back we had to be very careful when we chopped with them.

What is interesting about knives is that you can’t expect to sharpen them using a material lesser than what they are made from. Anything less than the material they’re made from, and the knife will cut through.

Two tea cups in the hotel cabinet - Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Two tea cups in the cabinet – Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:17.

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

I’m a pretty independent person, and I’m an introvert to boot. So I’m not one of those people who runs around looking for new friends all the time. I’m not against making new friends, but it’s not my first priority.

And although there are times when I love to be alone, I recognize fully that I need people around me at other times.

No one person is an island. We weren’t created to be on our own all the time. God made us with the concept of community in mind. We need each other. We need each other to keep each other honest, to help us stay accountable to the promises and the choices we’ve made, and to help us get up again when we fall down.

There’s another verse that I blogged on some time ago about how two people are better than one because when one falls down the other can help them up. And that’s very true. But what kind of people are you choosing for your friends?

That can make a major difference in how you live your life. Friends are a huge influence. The people you spend your time with will determine a lot about you and about the choices you will make.

Friendship is just like trying to keep a knife sharp. If you choose a friend who is at a different place in their walk with God than you are and you decide to make that friend the closest one in your arsenal, you’re going to struggle. I’m not trying to be snobbish here. This is just a fact.

If you have one knife made out of steel and another knife made out of wood, what’s going to happen to the wood knife? The wood knife is going to be destroyed, and the steel knife will only get duller.

But what happens when you put a steel knife with a steel knife? They sharpen each other. They turn out better than they were before you started sharpening them. That’s what happens with friends who are walking with God the same way you are. You can point out the places where you’re struggling. You can help each other understand (or at least deal with) the things God is doing in both your lives. You can encourage each other to keep going.

Iron sharpens iron. Steel can’t sharpen itself. It will just get duller and duller. And it will cut through anything of a less quality material, but if you match it against more steel, it will be stronger than it was before.

If you want to maintain a solid biblical walk, get yourself a solid biblical friendship and hold on to it. There will be times when it’s not fun, especially when you need to admit you’ve done something wrong, but more often than not, you’ll build a relationship with another believer that will last through your lifetime on earth.

There is nothing more awesome than staying out with a cup of coffee and a friend you know you can trust, encouraging each other and reminding each other that God is still working even if you can’t see it right now.

Gorilla sitting by himself

Independent and proud

I’m an independent person. I always have been, even when I was a child. My mom used to tell me that even as a very small girl I didn’t want to be held; I wanted to run around like an idiot. Not much has changed, I don’t guess.

There is certainly nothing wrong with being independent, that is until you start thinking that you can rely on yourself for everything. Then you’re just asking for trouble. Because none of us are strong enough on our own to make it through life alone. I don’t care how independent or self-sufficient you are.

Gorilla sitting by himself

Gorilla sitting by himself - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ecclesiastes 4:10.

If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.

I love Ecclesiastes because it’s pretty much just straight talk, and the passage where today’s verse comes from is all about the advantages of companionship.

Anyone who thinks the Bible doesn’t make sense hasn’t read Ecclesiastes. This is actually the passage where today’s verse comes from. It’s just so good, I had to post the whole thing:

Ecclesiates 4:9-12

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Two people are better than one. Why? Because if one person falls down, the other person can help them up. That is relevant in a figurative sense and a literal sense. If you trip and fall and scrape your knee, it’s a lot easier to stand up again when someone offers you a hand. Same thing when you slip and slide into some sin. It’s a lot easier to pull yourself out of a pit if someone helps you out.

In the cold, two people can keep each other warm, while one person will freeze to death. Two people can watch each others’ backs in a fight, while one person will be overcome. According to this passage, having someone to walk through life alongside you is a really good idea. But in our hardworking, busybody 21st Century American thinking, we don’t need anyone else. We are sufficient on our own. And if you ask for help, you’re weak. If you’re seeing a counselor, there must be something wrong with you. If you have an accountability partner, you must have a deep dark struggle with sin.

Well, you know what? Everyone is weak. Everyone has something wrong with them. And everyone struggles with deep, dark sin. Because everyone is human.

This is something I have to really fight in my own personal life because I hate it when people think I’m weak. I can’t stand it if someone feels like they have to take care of me or support me or try to help me carry my own weight. I don’t want anyone to have anything that they can hold over my head.

But that’s pride. And pride is pretty stupid, if you think about it.

Maybe being alone is easier at times because you don’t have to sacrifice to make someone else happy, but the result is that you are completely by yourself with no one to help you when the time comes that you need help. And, trust me, the time will come when you need help.

So weigh your options.

Independence with pride because you don’t want people to think you’re weak? Or independence with the knowledge that every now and then you might need help because you’re not perfect?