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.

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Egyptian statue's head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Do the license plates match the driver?

I did something yesterday that I’ve never done before. I rented a car and drove to Colorado Springs. When I woke up yesterday morning, I hadn’t planned to do it. When I posted yesterday’s blog, I didn’t realize I’d be writing today’s blog at the St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs.

But my life is just kind of funny like that.

To make a very long story short, my parents were vacationing in Colorado and my mom ended up having a problem with one of her fingers. Basically, she had to go in for emergency surgery. And I waited around home as long as I could, but when things started getting (more) complicated, I couldn’t stand it any longer. And I jumped.

One rented car. Most of my desk work from the office. An awesome boss who understands. Seriously…. the whole thing just ran really smoothly and I made it safely to Colorado Springs in about eight hours.

What was interesting to me, though, is that my rental car had Missouri plates. It was a little dark blue Nissan Altima. Really nice car. Did the job very well.

But as I was driving along the highway, another car pulled up beside me. A couple in the front seat looked at me and then drove on past, and I realized they had Missouri plates too. Maybe they knew someone with a dark blue Nissan Altima from Missouri? Maybe they thought they knew me? (or maybe they were just being weird)

Either way, they were obviously disappointed when they drove by and saw me inside. Not from Missouri. A Transplanted Texan who calls Kansas home.

They saw my rented car and expected to see someone they knew inside, but when they got a look at the inside, it wasn’t what they thought.

And I couldn’t help but think about how that relates to other aspects of life, especially in my study about attitude.

Egyptian statue's head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Egyptian statue’s head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Today’s verses are Matthew 23:25-26.

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

How many times do you meet someone who presents the image of a “Good Christian,” the consummate Christ-follower, the role model believer? I’ve known a lot of them. But once I really got to know them, once I peeled back the layers and the masks and peeked inside the car windows, I got to see them for who they really were. And I was disappointed.

No, nobody is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect people to be perfect. We shouldn’t judge people for not meeting expectations. We shouldn’t judge people at all because we don’t know their hearts or their situations. But if you encounter a “good Christian” it’s normal to assume that their character will match their appearance. And that’s not always the case.

Those types of Christians have done more damage to the faith than anyone else. I’ve run into so many people who have chosen not to follow God because they’ve met Christians who don’t act like Christians.

So I don’t want to be like that. Not ever. I want my inside self, my character, my thoughts, my everything to be genuine, to be real, and to be 100% sold out to Christ.

It’s difficult, though. When you’ve grown up in the church, when you’ve lived so much of your life around church people, it’s so easy to put on a face. It’s so easy to put the mask on and act like a super Christian. And I’m not talking about teaching. I’m not talking about sharing the Bible with people. I’m not talking about trying to live a life and make choices that honor God.

But what about if someone asks how you’re doing? What about if you’re struggling with your faith? What about if you’re struggling in general? It’s so much easier to put a mask on and pretend like everything is okay, but that’s not healthy. And it’s not helpful.

No, I’m not going to be perfect, but I can be honest about not being perfect. I’m going to make mistakes, absolutely, but I can take responsibility for them and try never to make them again.

That way, my plates will match the person driving. What shows up on the outside won’t identify me as something I’m not.

The barn at Safe Haven Farm in the snow, Haven, KS

Were you born in a barn?

A really significant wind storm blew through Kansas yesterday. Granted, we always have wind. And it’s never just a gentle breeze. Kansas’s gentle breezes can still knock you over. But yesterday and last night was ridiculous. As I was walking out of the parking garage at my office building at the end of the day, the door to the atrium didn’t shut behind me because the wind was so bad. So what did I do? I walked back up the steps and pulled the door shut. Letting the door hang open while the wind battered it to pieces would only damage the door or the building or both. But as I walked down the stairs again, someone else came in behind me. The wind caught the door, and they ignored it.

Being a good person is hard work. It’s so much easier to say or do what I feel like saying or doing instead of what the Bible tells me. If I’d been a super Christian, I would have run up again and shut the door, but I didn’t because it was obviously an exercise in futility. Wonder what that says about my character?

The barn at Safe Haven Farm in the snow, Haven, KS

The barn at Safe Haven Farm in the snow, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Peter 1:3-8.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

None of us are born with perfect character. It’s something we all have to work at, day by day every day of our earthly lives. Character is built. Building character isn’t a fun process either, because the best way to build character is to struggle. You don’t build character in sunshine and daisies; you build character in brutal storms and barren deserts.

But the good news is that you have everything you need to build godly character if you know Christ. By trusting Jesus, you have everything at your fingertips to build character in your life, but it’s up to you do it. Godly character doesn’t just happen. You have to choose it.

The Bible is our road map for life. When we have questions about who God is and how He wants us to live, that’s where we should go. The Bible isn’t just full of old stories to entertain us. It’s full of true tales intended to guide us.

Living a Christian life is a process. You don’t get all the answers in one day. You don’t get godly character in one day. But you do get bits and pieces, and you can make a host of good decisions even knowing just a little about who God is.

We have a list in today’s verses (this is the Message paraphrase):  goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. Notice this is also a process. You can’t have the next one until you get the first one. So if you want to add knowledge to your faith, first you have to start with goodness. If you want self-control, you have to add knowledge. The process of achieving these character qualities has to be taken a step at a time. It’s really like building a skyscraper. You can’t move on to the next level until you establish the first one.

So if you want to build godly character, start with faith and then be good. That’s where you start. And you know how to be good by turning to Scripture. God has told us everything we need to know. It’s just up to us to act on it.

Marching band at K-State during a volleyball game, Manhatten, KS

Endurance is hope

What wakes you up in the morning? For me, it’s coffee. Strong, strong coffee with real cream. My current dietary requirements prevent me from eating grains, starches, or sugar on a regular basis so real cream in my coffee every morning is the indulgence I allow myself. But if I didn’t get coffee, I’d like to think I would still get out of bed. I guess when it comes right down to it, what gets me out of bed (not necessarily wakes me up, mind you) is duty and obligation and responsibility.

I’m being honest here. I do love my job, but, man, it’s a job. And I’m thankful for all my opportunities, but they can be overwhelming and exhausting. And just to be frank, duty, obligation, and responsibility will only get you so far before it wears you out. I hit that point last year where even my sense of duty could barely get me out of bed in the mornings. So what do you when you get to that point? What can you do? And can you prevent yourself from reaching burn out on that level?

That’s what I want to accomplish this year. I don’t want to burn out. I want to stay fresh and excited about everything that’s going on in my life, even though it’s exhausting at times. And what I feel like I need to do that goes beyond duty, obligation, and responsibility. I need endurance.

So what it endurance? Why is it important? Why should we look for it? Well today’s passage, I think, encapsulates the need for endurance pretty succinctly.

Marching band at K-State during a volleyball game, Manhatten, KS

Marching band at K-State during a volleyball game, Manhatten, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 5:3-4.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

I’m a word nerd. So I like knowing what words and phrases mean. I like knowing where they came from and why they matter.

According to Dictionary.com, endurance means “the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina.” The word itself originated in the late 15th century, meaning “continued existence in time,” although the connotation about enduring suffering didn’t start until about 1660. Usually when I think about endurance, I think about runners. Not sprinters, but the people who run long-distance races like marathons or triathlons. Or I think about musicians, oddly enough. If that sounds weird to you, then you didn’t grow up with a musician in the house. Musicians have more endurance than just about anybody I know.

My mother has played viola, a stringed instrument that covers the octave between a violin and a cello, for more than 40 years. When I was younger, I tried to learn how to play, and I will never forget how tired my arm would be after I played for half an hour. But I’d seen my mother play for hours and hours on end. But she’d been playing for a long time. She’d developed an endurance to play for extended periods of time, just like a runner, just like a dancer.

You don’t start off with endurance. You have to build it. You have to train to obtain it. And that training is usually difficult and frustrating, especially if you’re an impatient perfectionist like me who wants to do everything exactly right the first time.

Why does endurance matter? Well, look at our verses for today. Endurance, which comes from problems and trials in life, help us develop a strong character. That happens because you don’t give up when tough stuff comes your way. You keep gong. You keep holding to what matters, and you plow through the issues and keep doing what’s right even when you suffer for it. And people with good character accomplish great things and live great lives, and they have a healthy perspective on life too–and that’s something you can’t buy.

Trials and troubles create endurance. Endurance develops good character. Good character produces hope.

So, forgive me an algebraic moment, but I if a = b and b = c, then a = c. Endurance produces hope. That’s why it matters.

Our world is dark, and we face difficult circumstances daily, at work, at home, at school, at church. No matter where we are, life is difficult. Life is a struggle. Life is conflict. And all of those trials and troubles can weigh us down, but if we endure it, we will strengthen our hope.

Our hope in what? Check the verse. Salvation.

This world isn’t all there is. Our eyes don’t need to stay mired in the darkness of our world. We need to be living for eternity. We need to make decisions that will affect the future in a positive way, not get stuck in the day-to-day grind of office politics and family strife. Focus on what matters. Endure through difficult circumstances and build your character, because it will make your hope strong. And we can’t make it without hope.

So be thankful for the tough stuff. Endure. Just hang on. God will get you through, and on the other side, you will be stronger. And when those same tough circumstances come around again, you won’t even blink because you already got through them once.

Train. Build. Endure. Hope.