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.

When faith becomes a show, it’s not about God anymore

I like food. Except turnips. I draw the line at turnips. I’ll eat just about anything else. Food is one of my favorite parts of being a human being, and it’s one of those gifts God gave us that I’m thankful for every day. And I’ve always been that way.

So imagine my shock when I found out about a little thing called fasting.

Where you don’t eat. You just pray. Like all day long. Or longer.

What? People actually do that? Yes, they do. But fasting is one of those things I don’t think a lot of people understand. I know I didn’t understand it for a long time. I mean, why would you give up eating for any length of time if you didn’t have a medical exam? I’ve only fasted a few times in my life for reasons of prayer. I struggle with blood sugar issues, so fasting isn’t usually the best choice for me. But fasting isn’t always about food. Sometimes it can be a technology fast or a fast from other influences in life that affect us.

But there are some things about fasting that we need to remember, and they’re as true today as they were 2,000 years ago.

174H_1000x768Today’s verses are Matthew 6:16-18.

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Fasting shouldn’t be a challenge you give yourself. It’s not about proving your strength or resilience. It’s not about demonstrating how much faith you have that you can go a certain length of time without eating or checking Facebook or whatever. It’s not about putting on a show at all. Fasting is worship. Fasting is to be so intent on prayer that you aren’t even thinking about food or entertainment or what’s on sale at Old Navy. It’s trusting the Lord for everything you need, even for something as basic as feeling hunger, and focusing only on Him. It’s acknowledging that you are weak, but God is strong.

You shouldn’t go around talking about how you’re demonstrating your devotion to God by giving something up. No. just do it. And if people notice and ask, tell them. But don’t go in search of the spotlight. The minute you do that, your fast becomes about you and not about God. It becomes the opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

Jesus never looked for the spotlight. It kept finding Him, sure, but He was always quick to redirect it to God so that others would worship the Lord. We should do the same thing.

Fasting is a good discipline to get into, whether its from food or technology or other things in our lives. As Americans, we are far too comfortable, far too focused on what we have or what we don’t have. Taking time to demonstrate to God that you care more about spending time with Him than eating means a lot, especially in our super-sized American culture.

Just remember if you go that route your fast is to worship the Lord. The moment it becomes about what you’ve sacrificed for God, it’s not about God anymore. And if it’s not about God, seriously, what’s the point?

A kitten swatting at a cat's tail, Haven, KS

Why the why in discipline matters

When was the last time you got spanked? It’s honestly been so long since my parents punished me for anything, I don’t remember. Not that I was a great kid. I was actually the bad one. Or rather, the independent one. I liked doing things my own way, and I was stubborn about it. (Imagine that, right?)

Even then, I don’t remember the last spanking I got. While I didn’t always agree with them, I always understood why it was necessary. And growing up, I learned not to do the things Mom and Dad said were wrong because I didn’t want to be punished. But as I got older, I began to understand that the things Mom and Dad said were wrong really actually were wrong. They weren’t trying to prevent me from having a good time. They were trying to protect me from doing something that could damage my life.

So as I grew older, I stopped obeying them out of fear of punishment and started obeying because I recognized their rules existed for my benefit.

Typo as a kitten swatting at Gremlin's tail, Haven, KS

Typo as a kitten swatting at Gremlin’s tail, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 3:11-12.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.

Anyone ever have a similar experience with God? When you first met Him, did you do what He said was right because you were afraid of being punished? Did you only obey Him because you feared what He would do to you if you disobeyed?

Well, I could be opening a can of worms, but I really don’t know if God works like that. Now, will He allow you to face the consequences of your actions? Definitely. But is He watching for the moment you make a mistake to smash you with a hammer? No.

I remember being young, both in age and in my relationship with Jesus, and I was often afraid that I would do something wrong. And if I hated spankings from my parents, I could just imagine what a spanking from God would be like. So growing up, I always made sure to obey the rules because I didn’t want to be punished.

But I’m older now. I’ve known Jesus for a long time. And after all the years I’ve walked with Him, after all the life He’s let me experience, I can honestly tell you that fearing punishment isn’t the way to build a relationship with Him.

The same holds true for your parents. If you go through life just doing what they say so you won’t get in trouble, you’ll never understand why. And it’s often the why that leads us into closer relationships with others. It’s the why that breaks down the walls of our communication and gives us a glimpse at someone else’s heart.

I’ve known too many people who treated God like a strict disciplinarian. And I can tell you, each one of those people were never interested in getting to know Him. If that’s the way you see Him, you won’t want to take the time to get to know Him.

Because, honestly, who wants to know somebody like that? People like that are hard to get along with and uncomfortable to be around. And those people do exist. But God isn’t that way. And I can say that because I know Him personally.

There’s nothing wrong with the parent-child relationship that begins with obedience through fear of punishment. In many instances, that’s the only way to get through to a strong-willed, hard-headed child. But just because the relationship begins there doesn’t mean it has to stay there. If that same relationship exists when the child is an adult, something is wrong. If that same relationship exists when the child is grown, the child never actually grew up.

Relationships are supposed to grow. And maybe you start obeying because you’re afraid of discipline, but if you take the time to understand why the discipline is important, you’ll get to the place where you understand your authorities better. And—here’s a shocker—you might even agree with them.

So what rule are you having trouble obeying right now? Have you taken the time to understand it? Have you taken the time to ask why it matters to your authorities?

If you’re fine living in fear of punishment for the rest of your life, that’s up to you. And, true, just because you understand a rule doesn’t mean that you’ll escape punishment if you break it. But understanding a rule will help you take a step toward building a relationship with people in authority over you, and that will have a tremendous effect on your attitude.

Sometimes you need a Jedi mind trick

I’m attending a training seminar in Philadelphia this week. So far, it’s great. It’s all about getting organized and learning to make the choices that will help you achieve the most productivity.

The facilitator said something in yesterday’s session that really stood out to me: Ordinary happens. Extraordinary is a choice.

How true is that? I’ve learned it’s very true. The everyday, the normal, the average, the mediocre just happens. It doesn’t require any extra effort. It doesn’t require any sacrifice or commitment. What’s average is going to happen anyway.

But if you want to be extraordinary, if you want to go above and beyond and achieve something great, you have to make a choice. And the first step in making a choice is changing the way you think.

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

If you’re a science fiction movie fan, you probably know all about Jedi mind tricks. And I admit sometimes I wish I could use a Jedi mind trick on myself. It would make thinking about the right things easier.

You know you have control over what you think, right? Sometimes I wonder if people actually grasp that. They don’t have to think about the first things that pop into their heads. They can choose what they think about.

If it’s not a thought that’s useful or productive or a thought that will lead you down a useful or productive road, you don’t have to think about it. No, you can’t control it popping into your brain, but you can decide whether or not to waste time thinking about it.

Few of us really have time to waste. Let’s just be honest about that. Even people who don’t have a lot going on could be using their time better than on things that don’t matter.

It’s difficult to take thoughts captive, though. They’re slippery things. Often it feels like the moment you have them under control, they wriggle out of your grasp. It’s a never-ending battle, and that’s where friends and accountability partners come in. That’s also where it helps to have a Bible close at hand.

Maybe that sounds clichéd but it’s true. If you’re having trouble keeping your thoughts in line, a good place to start is with daily Bible reading. There’s something about the Bible that helps me calm down and focus on things that matter.

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. If I can start my morning off thinking about things that really matter, usually I find my day goes better.

What about you? Do you have trouble caking your thoughts captive? Or have you got it down to a science? If your thoughts are running wild and you’ve never even tried to direct them, you might want to give it a try.

Just because your brain wants to think about something doesn’t mean you have to think about it. You have a choice. You don’t have to let your thoughts control you. The most productive and effective people are the other way around.

The kitchen counter at Safe Haven Farm after a week (or two or three), Haven, KS

Facing anxieties like ripping off a band-aid

I am a procrastinator, at least when it comes to things I don’t want to do. If it’s something I’m passionate about, I’ll jump up and do it right away, with zeal! But if it’s something I don’t really have interest in doing anyway? Well, it can wait until later. After all, I don’t really need it right now, do I? It’s not important, right?

Wrong. It may not be important now, but it will be important later. And later, when you have run out of time to do a good job on it, you’ll be wishing for the time you wasted back again.

Why is it so easy to procrastinate? I know I’m not the only one out there, and it confuses me. Because I’m a rational person. Some might even call me a wise person. But still–even though I know the consequences–I would often rather face the consequences and do what I want instead of doing what I should do.

It irritates me. But I guess it doesn’t irritate me enough to change. Take my dishes for example (please, take them). If you’ve been reading my posts for a long time, you’ll remember a few other times that I’ve posted about my amazing, alarming stacks of dishes that pile up. It’s not that I don’t like doing dishes. It’s just that there are other more important things to spend my time on. Dirty dishes don’t bother me. They only bother me when I know people are coming over and I know a countertop overflowing with dirty dishes will make me look irresponsible. Then I care about my dishes, and then I spring into action. Of course, it takes ten times longer than it would have if I just did them earlier.

The kitchen counter at Safe Haven Farm after a week (or two or three), Haven, KS

The kitchen counter at Safe Haven Farm after a week (or two or three), Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 12:11.

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

Living a disciplined life isn’t easy, and there never seems to be an end to it. Because the moment you conquer one aspect of your life and bring it under control, another area seems to let go. Living a disciplined life feels like trying to hold on to sand. The more you grab, the more keeps slipping through your fingers. You bring one area of your life under control, but when you let go of it to seize another area, you lose your grip.

The trick is finding the balancing point, where you are able to live and live well according to how God would want. But you won’t get there overnight. And the journey isn’t easy. And I can guarantee you’ll never get there if you procrastinate.

For me, it’s convincing myself that acting immediately is better than acting later. That requires a change of thinking. But how do you do that? I’m still trying to work it out, but I can tell you that my main reason for procrastination is anxiety.

When I’m facing a challenge that seems completely out of my control, the last thing I want to do is jump in with both feet, especially if I’m on my own. No, I back off and let everything settle. I let myself calm down, first, because jumping in unprepared rattles me, and I can’t recover when I’m challenged. But once I’ve backed off, it’s much easier to keep backing off. It’s much easier to find something more important (or more urgent) to focus on instead of doing what I should be doing, and I rationalize it telling myself that I’m not ready or that I’m not qualified enough.

Lies. Lies that spring from anxiety and insecurity. None of which comes from God .

Facing challenges is so much better if you treat them like a band-aid. Don’t just pick at it. Rip it off. Get it over with. The sooner you get over the pain, the sooner you can get on with life. And if we could look at our uncomfortable life situations that way too, I think we’d all be a lot happier and a lot less stressed. Because that’s ultimately what procrastination leads to. Stress, stress, and more stress, and eventually a poor job done because you didn’t give yourself enough time to do a good job.

Learn to be disciplined enough to shut out those anxious lying whispers when you’re faced with a challenge that scares you. No, don’t be foolish. Don’t just jump into something that you can’t handle. But don’t run away from it either, especially if it’s something you have to do, for work or for ministry or whatever.

Discipline is hard work, but if you can learn it, if you can live with it, if you can figure out a way to integrate it into your life, life itself will get a lot better, and you’ll reap the rewards of it.

So how do you do it? Well, it starts with knowing what the right thing to do is. Know what you’re supposed to do and then choose to do it. It’s that simple.

No. Not easy. It will take time and sacrifice and dedication and commitment. But the choice to act is ultimately simple, and the satisfaction you’ll feel once you’re finished will be worth it.

So why are you wavering between choosing to act or choosing to retreat? You know what you’re supposed to do. So do it.

Now.

Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Don’t be stupid

I don’t like calling technical support numbers because inevitably I end up talking to someone who thinks I’m a moron. I would much rather try to figure the problem out on my own with Google’s assistance than to spend the time to call somebody. I think half of that is proving to myself that I don’t need help, even though I recognize that’s pretty silly. But every now and then, you have to call. You have to face the fact that you don’t know everything and that some technical issues are beyond your control.

A recent example? My mom and I have been customers of a cell phone company since February, and while I’m sure their service works fine for people who don’t use their phones so much, it’s really not working for us. In fact, I think we’ve both already worn out the phones we bought from them, plus the fact that the coverage at my house is pitiful (even though they told us it wouldn’t be). So we decided to switch to a nationwide carrier, one that my company offers an employee discount for, and I’m not going to say which one (can you hear me now?).

Mom and I completed the transaction to set up the plan and purchase our phones yesterday afternoon. Well, by the evening we had both received phone calls from this company telling us that there was something wrong with our request to transfer our phone lines. Okay, without going into a whole lot of boring detail, let’s just say I ended up on the phone with them at 7:30 last night trying to figure things out. First, I spoke to a very nice young lady who told me exactly what she thought was wrong and gave me instructions on how to fix it. I got the information she needed and called back. And that’s when I talked to “Mike.”

Have you ever experienced that aha! moment when someone answers the phone and you know instantly that they’re going to be rude? Yup. That was “Mike.” I could tell even in the way he said hello that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation. Now, in all fairness to him, I’m sure he was just trying to help, but he was incredibly full of himself. He told me that he couldn’t even look at our account because our numbers weren’t live yet, and whoever I talked to before had been making stuff up, and that he was going to solve all my problems for me. You can always usually tell people who are trying to make themselves sound more official because they use big words that don’t fit the context of what they’re talking about (“on the 19th, your phone account will come into fruition”).

I was really, really irritated. Not only did this guy talk to me like I was a child, he went so far as to tell me that his coworker had given me bad information. He wanted to call our current cell phone provider right then, and I know that’s what they’re supposed to do to verify information, but honestly, he was so unpleasant I didn’t want to deal with him anymore. I just didn’t want to talk to him. So I dismissed myself as quickly as I could and called our current service provider myself.

And as I was waiting to talk to them, I started getting worried. Maybe I had misjudged “Mike” and he really was right about what he’d said. Maybe I’d made some other huge mistake in the account setup process and this was going to take longer to fix than I’d thought! … But then, the very helpful lady at the other service popped on and confirmed everything the first gal I’d talked to said.

“Mike” had been blowing smoke the whole time.

So I called back and talked to a super nice southern gentleman who helped us get everything sorted out, so now we’re good to go. But I remembered a very important lesson about how treat other people that I really felt led to share this morning.

Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 12:1.

To learn, you must love discipline;
it is stupid to hate correction.

Everybody makes mistakes. Everyone will be wrong at some point in their life. Just expect it. You’re not perfect, and believe it or not, making mistakes is how you grow. But you only grow from your mistakes if you learn from them. You’ll only get something out of what you’ve done wrong if you recognize that it was wrong and that you shouldn’t do it again.

But time after time, what I’ve noticed is that the people who are the most unpleasant about their knowledge are the ones who are usually wrong. I know a lot of smart people, and the ones who are stuck up and snobby about their intellect are the ones who can’t seem to give me correct information. On the other hand, the really super smart people I know who are humble about the size of their brains are the ones whose input I can trust 100%.

The lesson here? Be pleasant and humble about what you know, even if you are 100% sure you’re right, because you may discover that you’re wrong some day and it’s a lot easier to save face if you’ve been humble about it from the beginning. Remember, even though you’ve worked to attain your intelligence, intellect is a gift from God. You didn’t wake up one morning and decide to be a super genius. That’s not how it works.

So be nice. And also … don’t talk to me like I’m a moron. Because you may end up in a blog post.

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Finish your race in Christ’s footsteps

I don’t run. I just thought I’d put that out there. I have all these friends who are so into running, cross country, endurance, marathon. I’m glad they enjoy it, but that’s not an activity that I enjoy. It’s ironic, though, because while I don’t run for sport literally, I run through life figuratively. I’m one of those people who never stops moving. I’m always dashing about, up to my elbows in busyness, especially this time of year. But then I don’t think that’s just me.

Everyone is running a race of some kind. Everyone is seeking a goal in their life, no matter what it may be. It could be a big goal, an accomplishment that will change the world. Or it could be a “small” goal, one that will only matter to a few people–maybe even just you. But whatever the size of your goal and no matter how many people it will affect, there will be days when you won’t be up to achieving it, especially if your goal/dream is something that you want God to use to help others.

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Today’s verses are Hebrews 12:1-3.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

Running is hard work, especially the marathons and cross country races. Those events take time and discipline to prepare for and even more of both if you want to finish. If you sign up to run a cross country race or a marathon, you don’t get to take a nap in the middle of the race. If you’re going to run the race, you have to run it from start to finish without stopping.

I know a lot of runners, but none of my running friends have ever won a marathon. I’ve got a cousin who came pretty close, but everyone else I know doesn’t run a marathon to win. They run a marathon to finish. That’s not to say that you can’t run a race like a marathon with the goal to win, but I’m not really sure if that’s the reason to run a marathon. Remember, I don’t run. So I may be totally off course here. But marathon racing and cross country racing isn’t like sprints or 100-meter dashes. Long-distance running is all about endurance and focus.

It’s kind of like life, don’t you think? If you’re a follower of Christ, God has given you a race He wants you to run, and I guarantee it’s not a 100-meter dash. God doesn’t give us things to accomplish that only take a few minutes and a little bit of effort and faith. No. If God gives you something to do, I promise it will take more of you than you have access to, and the only way you’re going to get through it is with His help.

What we have to remember when we start running the race that God has set for us is that we’re not the only ones running it. There are many others around us who are running too. And, what’s more, Jesus already ran the race ahead of us. We have His example to draw from. We can run our races the same way He ran His.

It wasn’t easy for Him either, so don’t get into the habit of thinking that Jesus sailed through life because He was God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He struggled just like we do with people and circumstances and the general trouble our old sinful world insists on throwing at us.

What I’ve noticed about racing–both literally and figuratively–is that the start of the race is the easy part. Sort of like the end. At the beginning, you’re fit and fresh and ready to go. At the end, you can see the finish line and you have hope that it will be over soon and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. It’s the middle where people start struggling. It’s the middle where people give up.

Remember that. And when you hit the middle of your race, be on the lookout for discouragement and despair. You’ll wonder what you’re doing. You’ll wonder why you’re doing it. Just like a runner has to train for the middle span of a marathon, we need to prepare for the middle of our spiritual race so we’ll know how to make it through. And the key–as with everything else in life–is to watch Jesus. How did Jesus handle it? What did He say? How did He act? Follow His footsteps, and you can’t go wrong. And on the days when the trouble and the challenges you’re facing feel like too much, remember that He faced more issues than we do, and He’s right there with us offering His help if we’ll just ask for it.