God’s Law is a ruler, not a sledgehammer

I don’t really like rules. I understand why we need laws. Without them, everyone would just do whatever they felt like, and everything would be completely chaotic. And that being said, some rules are okay. The rules that are things I would have done anyway–driving safely or not taking illegal food into the movie theater or paying my taxes. But what about God’s rules?

God’s rules are significantly harder to obey. I don’t want to be kind to people who are unkind to me. I don’t want to forgive people who hurt me. I don’t want to do what God says is right instead of what I think is right. That’s hard. That takes faith and trust that God’s rules are superior to our own understanding, and I rarely have the strength to do that.

So what happens? I fail God. I can’t meet His expectations. And I end up feeling like a loser. And that’s the point, right?

metric-cmToday’s verses are Romans 5:20-21.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

While it’s true that the purpose of the law is to point out our imperfection, that’s not what God is trying to communicate. Yes, we need to understand that we can’t keep the law. We can try and try with all our strength, and we’ll still fail. You have to be perfect to keep God’s Laws, and only Jesus has those credentials.

But the point of the law isn’t to make us feel like losers. The point of the law is to help us realize that we need a Savior.

God gave the law as an example of His perfection. If you could keep His commandments, you could be worthy of Heaven. You could stand in His presence without shame. But nobody could do it. Not one single human He created. We all screw up. We all focus on ourselves more than God. We want what we want, and we don’t care what God says about it. Or we listen to what God says and then do our own thing anyway, knowing full well that there will be consequences. And then we beg and plead for help to escape the consequences we fully deserve.

Seriously. People are a mess.

But God knows that.

Jesus came and lived His perfect life and gave it up freely as a sacrifice to pay for our broken souls. Because Jesus died for us, we don’t have to fear the Law. Yes, the Law is still true, and if you break the Law, there are consequences. That much hasn’t changed. But the Law can’t condemn us. Not as long as we believe in what Jesus did for us.

So when you screw up, don’t sink into a pit of self-loathing. Don’t sit there and hate on yourself and call yourself names or give into that horrible little voice at the back of your brain that always says nasty things. Yes, recognize that you broke the Law, but instead of wallowing in your guilt, take action. Change your mind. Don’t do it again. Ask forgiveness. Move on.

Without Jesus, you’d be doomed. So would I. So it’s a good thing we have Jesus, because I screw up all the time.

Don’t fear the Law. The Law can’t hurt you. It doesn’t exist to hurt you or to shame you or to guilt you into submission. The Law is there to help us understand that we can’t ever be perfect. We can’t ever be good enough. That’s not a statement intended to hurt you. That’s a statement of fact.

If it were up to the Law, we’d all be condemned. But for those who believe in Jesus, the Law has no say. Grace is our anthem. Jesus’ sacrifice made us right with God, made us right with the Law. We don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Free, open to everyone, no strings attached.

The Law isn’t a sledgehammer to beat people down with. The Law is a ruler that helps us see we can never measure up. And Grace is the still, small voice that whispers we don’t have to.

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God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card

Everybody screws up. It’s just part of life. And when you screw up, you should do what you can to make amends. You should pay what you owe. You should take responsibility for your actions, and often that means facing up to the consequences of your choice.

Maybe you have to pay a fine or fee. Maybe you have to do community service. Maybe it’s something like losing privileges at work or even at home. Either way, it takes a good deal of humility to accept punishment or correction after you’ve done something wrong. It’s a lot easier to play the role of a victim, but if you choose that route, you’ll never learn what you need to learn.

Either way, don’t be surprised when consequences come your way after you make a choice. Good or bad, every action causes a reaction, but unlike physics, consequences are rarely equal or opposite of your original choice. If you make a bad choice, you’ll always face bad consequences, and usually they’ll be on a much larger scale.

So what about grace? If we’re saved and we follow Jesus, doesn’t that mean we’re in the clear? Doesn’t that mean we don’t have to face the consequences for our actions?

3BBC051F8BToday’s verses are Romans 6:14-16.

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 

Christ-followers, we get this whole grace vs. consequences concept all turned around somehow. When Christ saved us from our sins, He freed us from our eternal death sentence in hell. That’s grace. That’s 100% right. If you trust that the price for your soul is paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross alone, you’re saved. Absolutely.

But what happens if you take something that doesn’t belong to you? What happens if you lie or cheat or gossip? Do you think you’ll get away with it? Or when you get caught (because you will get caught), do you think people will just let it go? Do you actually think you won’t have to face some kind of consequence for the bad choices you make?

Because of God’s grace, we won’t face hell if we belong to Christ. But if we choose to sin, we will have to face the results of our choices. Like sowing and reaping. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. It’s a natural law.

We blunder through life making foolish decisions without asking God what’s right. We run over people. We run into people. We hurt others without thinking. We selfishly chase our own ambitions and ignore God’s warnings. We do it our way because our way is easier, faster, more fun. And we end up doing things God says we shouldn’t do. And then we’re shocked when God expects us to take responsibility. We accuse Him of abandonment. We shake our fist at heaven and demand to know why He’s treating us this way.

Friends, God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card. We still have a responsibility to live a life that honors Christ. And, no, there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love, but God loves us enough to not let us act in ways that will ultimately lead to our own destruction.

But God is so good. Even in the midst of our own messes, God is still with us. He’ll step in and give us strength to face our consequences. He’ll give us wisdom when we need it, patience when we need it, peace when we ask for it. But that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Are you facing consequences today because you made a wrong choice? Or because someone in your life made a wrong choice? Don’t be a victim. Maybe you are innocent in all of it, but take the opportunity to get humble before God anyway. Accept responsibility. Own up to it. And ask God to help you face the consequences of your actions with faith.

He has never turned anyone away who came to Him truly seeking. He won’t stop now.

Stop trying to hit a ball that’s not in your court

Have you ever made somebody angry? Whether you intended to or not, you hurt someone. What do you do? How do you handle it?

Well, if you’re a Christ-follower, you should take responsibility and ask forgiveness. Period. There’s no hemming and hawing. There’s no rationalization. There’s no trying to get out of it. At least, there shouldn’t be. Own what you did and ask forgiveness.

But what happens if the person you hurt won’t forgive you? What happens if they see your action as unforgivable? What if, despite your trying to make amends to the best of your ability, they still want to hurt you?

bird-sparrowToday’s verses are Matthew 10:26-31.

But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

We live in a difficult world. Hurting people hurt people. That’s just the way it works, and often times we get caught in the middle. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you will hurt the people around you. And the world has gotten so small that you can hurt someone you don’t even know.

The number one thing to remember is that you should never ever automatically assume you are in the right. You’re a flawed, broken human being, and you could be wrong. Granted, sometimes you aren’t. Sometimes your actions are justified. Sometimes your choices were the right ones. But not always. And you should never assume that you are blameless, because it’s rarely the case.

When there is blame to be cast, accept it. Don’t shrug it off. Look it in the face and don’t flinch. And do what you can to mend fences (within reason). But once you’ve done your part, step back.

It’s important to understand that not everyone will forgive you. And, this is the part that kills me, not everyone will like you. Some people will just dislike you for no reason you can fix. And even if you do everything in your power to make them like you, they still might not.

Ultimately, following Christ isn’t about whether people like you or not. Following Christ is about living a life that honors Jesus. As much as possible, we’re to live peacefully with people around us, but that won’t be possible in every situation.

You can’t live your life in fear of what people may do to you. Maybe another person is holding something against you, but you can’t control them. You aren’t their Holy Spirit, and they have to make the choice to take their hurt to Jesus instead of piling it all on you. All you can do is humbly ask forgiveness, decide not to repeat your actions, and then get on with your life.

In the end, just remember that God isn’t blind. He knows more about your situation than you do, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on. He cares about you. He cares about your problems. He cares about your losses. And if He notices when a sparrow falls, you can be sure your troubles won’t go unnoticed.

Have you done everything you can to make peace? Have you done all God asks to resolve the conflict? Then move forward. The ball isn’t in your court anymore, so stop trying to hit it. God sees the truth, and He’ll work out the details in a way that’s better and more beneficial for both sides. What we have to do is to learn to live without resentment.

Don’t be afraid of what people can do to your body or your finances or your possessions. Everything you have is a gift from God anyway. If it’s taken from you in a way you feel isn’t fair, just trust that the Lord will restore it. You might find out that you didn’t need it as much as you thought in the first place .

A bad choice is bad, regardless of who makes it

Imagine that you’re riding in a car with a friend. When you get in the car, you notice that your friend doesn’t buckle his (or her) seat belt. When he’s driving, he doesn’t use his turn signals. And he goes much faster than the posted speed limit. Are you shocked and surprised when your friend gets pulled over by a police officer? Are you stunned speechless because you could never have imagined your friend in that position?

Come on. Be honest.

No, you’re not surprised. You probably figured it was only a matter of time. Why? Because your friend doesn’t obey the rules of the road. That doesn’t mean he’s not a great friend. It just means that neither he nor you should be surprised by the consequences when they catch up.

Today’s verses are Matthew 7:15-20.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

How closely do you really pay attention to what people say and do? Would you recognize a red flag in a relationship if you saw it?

You have to be careful with statements that you can identify a person by their actions or choices, because we are more than what we do and say. But it is true that you can identify wisdom in a person by their choices, just like you can identify foolishness. And that’s what we’re supposed to be looking for.

Bad choices lead to bad consequences. Just like good choices lead to good results. That’s common sense. That’s a law God set in motion from the beginning of time.

Somehow this always comes back around to judging and how we’re not supposed to judge, and that’s true. But what this is truly saying is that you have to keep your brain switched on. You can’t just turn off and accept whatever hair-brained idea your friends suggest. You have to think.

If someone is choosing to do something dumb, identify it for what it is. It’s dumb. And you can’t get smart from dumb. Senselessness never magically produced sense. It doesn’t work that way. Just like a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. Just like foolish choices can’t result in a truly positive outcome.

We all run into people like this in our lives, the ones who say they’re our friends but who really only care about themselves. Be aware of them. Learn to recognize them for what they are–not true friends. And keep your distance. otherwise they’ll drag you into their problems, their consequences, their issues.

All of a sudden, even though you’re just a passenger, you’ll still have to face consequences of your own. A bad choice is a bad choice, regardless of who’s driving or who’s just along for the ride.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How can you stop being angry?

I don’t get angry easily. It takes a special person to really make me mad. I get frustrated, sure. I get snappy, yeah. But angry? Not usually. Unless the situation is just right or (and this is more likely) my current problem is a result of my own actions.

This happened the other day. Without going into the gory details, let’s just say I got mad. I got really mad. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that upset. And the day didn’t get any better. It just kept getting worse. I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t find a solution. I couldn’t do anything about any of it. And the more I kept messing things up, the more angry I got.

When I get that angry, I tend to shift blame. That’s my first response. Isn’t it everyone’s? It’s not my fault. I’m not the one who such-and-such. Or if he/she would just let me do my job, this wouldn’t have happened. Anyone else ever experience that?

Well, I hate to tell you this, but getting angry about it isn’t the right way to handle it.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 1:19-21.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

God has some harsh things to say about anger. He doesn’t say it’s wrong. No, anger can be useful at times to stimulate us into action. But anger can rapidly rage out of control, especially when the focus of your anger is wrong.

Don’t ever make anger your first response. Maybe it’s what you feel first, but that doesn’t mean it’s what you have to express first. First, you need to listen. You need to take a deep breath and slow down and refocus. Then, when you’re calmer, pay attention.

In my situation, I was ready to blow up. Seriously. Those of you who know me know how rare that is, but I was totally on the brink. Absolutely ready to chuck it all in the corner and give up completely.

But a nagging little voice at the back of my brain started whispering louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it. The voice kept asking the same question: “Who are you really angry at?”

It’s a good question to ask when you’re angry because most of the time the people we take our anger out on aren’t the people we’re actually even angry with. They’re just convenient targets.

So I took a deep breath. I hid in a quiet place for a little while until I could think straight. I asked God to take the blinder off and give me courage to face the truth.

I was angry at me. Because I was in a situation of my own making. Unwise choices. Consequences. Nothing earth shaking. Just irritating. And absolutely, 100% my fault. No one else’s.

And when God gave me the strength to face that fact, my anger actually went away, and it turned into a fierce desire to make things right again, to never get to that place again, to make the decisions I need to make and act on them immediately.

So who are you angry at today? Who made you angry? Who are you dealing with in your life who you think is the central focus of your anger? Are you sure that’s really the person you’re angry at?

Whoever you’re angry at, figure out a way to sort it out because anger left to simmer gets stronger and hotter as the years go by, and before you know it, that little bitty flame will grow into something you can’t control, a fire that blazes and destroys everything in its path.

Don’t be afraid to discover it’s yourself you’re angry at. Being angry at yourself is actually the best possible outcome because with God’s help, you can change your attitude. And our attitude is usually where everything starts.

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.

Delusion, indolence, and the American Way

I don’t want to go to work today. So, I am going to stay home and watch DVDs of Batman: The Animated Series. And I’m going to believe that my boss won’t care if I don’t show up today. After all, she’s just another person working at the company, and she doesn’t have any real authority over me. Boss is just a title, and it doesn’t mean anything. And it’s not like they can fire me. Right?

What would you think if I said something like that? And what would you think if I said something like this:

  • “My seatbelt rubs my neck raw and it’s more trouble than it’s worth, so I don’t wear it anymore. People are just exaggerating about how it can save your life in a wreck.”

Or what about this:

  • “All the stuff people say about smoking cigarettes is so overrated. People just make a big deal out of it because they can. Maybe it’ll increase my chances for cancer, but they won’t kill me. And it’s my choice to smoke or not and it makes me feel better, so I’ll smoke if I want to.”

So . . . are you paying attention yet? If I were to say any of those things, I think people would believe I’ve finally had that nervous breakdown my brain has been threatening. But these statements are fairly common in our culture, don’t you think? I don’t know about you but I hear things like this all the time.

I don’t care who you are. If you think smoking won’t hurt you, you’re an idiot. I’m sorry to be so brutal . . . . well, no, I take it back. I did a post a little while ago about saying you’re sorry when you really aren’t . . . . so, I won’t apologize. I’m sorry if you get your feelings hurt, but I need to be honest here and I’ll do my best to speak the truth in love.

When you smoke, you’re inhaling chemicals into your lungs and you’re holding them there. That just doesn’t sound healthy to me. People die of smoke inhalation in fires all the time, and we still have this concept that smoking is okay?

The interesting thing about smoking, though, is that people who smoke oftentimes know the risks involved and they just don’t care. I don’t know if they think they’re like Superman — that the consequences of smoking don’t apply to them? Or maybe they need the drugs in the cigarettes more than they care about living. I don’t know.

And what about wearing your seatbelt? I’d say it’s pretty obvious that seatbelts save lives. I’m not a paramedic, but common sense suggests that seatbelt prevent people from getting hurt worse in an accident that could claim their lives. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt when I had my wreck. I probably would have been splattered all over the pavement.

Again, if straightforward communication about this offends you, don’t take it personally. I’m just trying to get people to think.

And what about your boss and your job? I don’t know about you, but if I suddenly decided that I didn’t feel like going to work and decided to stay home (especially without notifying anyone), I’d be in deep trouble. And my boss wouldn’t care that I’ve had a horrible week. I have responsibilities, and I can’t just drop everything and do what I want to do. They hired me for a reason. And they absolutely can fire me if they want to. Telling myself anything different is moronic.

And that’s the point I’m getting to this morning.

Any thinking person can take these three examples and see immediately what the right thing to do is. Any person who is thinking can see the truth here.

Smoking will kill you. Not wearing your seatbelt is inviting danger. Shirking your responsibilities at work will get you fired. It doesn’t matter what you tell yourself to rationalize your actions in these situations. This is the truth.

Someone once told me that a statement becomes truth when you believe it.

That’s a load of balogna. (It’s actually a load of something else, but I won’t say that here.)

Truth by its very nature is exclusive, and it doesn’t matter how much you deny it, if something is true, it’s true whether you believe it or not. And you deciding that you don’t want to believe it is like a child having a temper tantrum because they want to believe a red balloon is blue.

This is today’s verse:

Psalm 14:1

1 Only fools say in their hearts,
      “There is no God.”
   They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
      not one of them does good!

I know people who say that there is no God. Most of the time, they’re like people who say the things listed above. The know the truth. But accepting the truth means they have to be accountable to Someone who knows more than they do. So it’s easier to deny the truth and make up some other story to believe.

The Bible says those people are fools.

The sky is red. The grass is purple. Drinking doesn’t hurt you. Having sex before marriage is a good way to know if you’re compatible with someone else. A baby is just a wad of tissue until it’s fully born. The terrorists on September 11 had every right to attack the U.S. because they were doing what was right for them.

Evidence of God’s existence is everywhere. People who say they don’t believe in Him are lying to themselves because they want to live in a way that is contrary to what God has declared is right. It’s the same as knowing that smoking will kill you and doing it anyway. It’s the same as driving around without wearing a seatbelt. It’s the same as not going to work when you know your boss will be angry.

But it is your choice. Absolutely. But Newton was right in more ways than one. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You push something, and it will push back at you. Every choice you make has consequences. And you might not experience those consequences until you’re a grandmother or a grandfather. But they will come.

You can lie to yourself all you want, but it doesn’t change what’s true.