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.

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 .

Don’t let shame drive you away from God

Do you ever wonder when God will lose His patience with you? I lose my patience with people very easily, especially when I’m driving. But while I know God sometimes shakes His head at me, He’s never given up on me.

And it’s shocking if you really believe what the Bible says, because the Bible says God won’t ever give up on us. He won’t deal harshly with us. He isn’t cruel to us. Even if we deserve cruelty, even if our foolish mistakes make us worthy of His wrath, He won’t stay angry with us.

57J9ZJN1HMToday’s verses are Psalm 103:8-14.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust.

I don’t understand God’s love, but I’m thankful for it. You’re going to make mistakes, that’s true. So prepare yourself mentally for it now. Because after you sin, you’re going to want to hide. Adam and Eve did. Everyone in history who has committed a sin has always tried to cover it up, which is funny in a way because who do we think God is? Do we really think we can hide from Him?

I’m only partially joking. Because I hide when I do wrong.

I don’t want to face what I’ve done. I would much rather crawl under my bed and live in denial, but that’s not what I’m called to do. So don’t let shame and fear drive you away from God. If you’ve done wrong, the shame and fear you’re feeling is only going to hurt you, and it’s only going to prolong your misery.

Give your shame to God. Give your fear to God. Let Him take it. Let go. It’s easy to want to hang on to it, but it’s too heavy for you. God is strong enough to carry it and take it away, so far away that you’ll never have to deal with it again, so far away that He won’t even remember it anymore.

It’s hard to believe that God would continue to love us even when we do wrong, but He does. God has no illusions about us. Like the verse says, He knows that we’re only dust. That means He knows we’re going to fail.

Granted, that doesn’t mean He expects us to fail. No, He has great plans and expectations for us, just like a parent has for his or her children. But do you stop loving your children when they don’t measure up? No. And how do you want your children to behave when they screw up? Who do you want them to turn to for help? Their friends? Their teachers? No, you want them to come to you.

Guess what? God feels the same way.

What does ice cream have to do with dismemberment?

I love ice cream. A lot. It’s one of my (many) weaknesses. I can turn down cake no problem. Cookies are a bit of a struggle, but I can manage it. But ice cream? My Achilles’ heel. My Kryptonite. Whatever association you want to make, it’s usually my undoing.

Generally, I try not to even think about it, because when I start thinking about ice cream, then I want some. And I happen to know that a small chocolate M&M mix from Braums is only $2.99 and only has about 350 calories in it. And that’s not bad. That’s what I tell myself so that I can rationalize the irrational desire to go get ice cream when I’ve already had my allotment of calories for the day.

Once I start thinking about something I want, I want it more. When I want it, I start telling myself that it’s okay for me to have it, and then I am smart enough to convince myself that I need it or that I deserve it. After all, I’ve been living on celery and walking 2 miles a day for weeks now. Surely I deserve some ice cream.

By the time I get to that point, the battle is pretty much lost. I’m going for ice cream, regardless of whether I actually need it or not. Is that a case of reverse mind over matter? Where your brain convinces you that you need something when you really don’t need it at all? You just want the way it makes you feel when you get it.

three-1024x768Today’s verses are Matthew 5:27-30.

“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

No, eating ice cream isn’t a sin. That was just a silly illustration to show that lust takes many different forms in our lives. There’s lust for power and and wealth and status. Yes, even the desire for some foods could probably be called lustful, although I expect we Americans are one of the only nations in the world that struggles with the idea of the lust for food. In any case, lust doesn’t always have to be about sex. It just usually is. But regardless of what form lust takes in our lives, it never ever satisfies.

You don’t have to be a counselor or a mentor to understand that lust is extremely damaging to relationships. It compromises trust and wrecks lives. That’s why Jesus says it’s better to cut your hand off than to live while it betrays you. Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. You aren’t really supposed to go dismember yourself. But we can grasp the concept.

Lust is selfish. It’s entirely self-focused. It’s all about what I want right now. It’s the exact opposite of love, the character quality it disguises itself as.

You know Jesus faced lust. Probably in all its many forms. If we believe the Bible when it says (Hebrews 4:15) that Jesus experienced all the same temptations in life that we do, we have to understand that he was tempted by lust as well. He just didn’t give into it. But that just means He is more qualified than anyone to tell us how dangerous it is.

Lust is like a fire that will burn us up if we let it. We’re all so good at lying to ourselves about what we need. We can convince ourselves and everyone around us that we have it all under control, but we’re locked in a death spiral that will only end when we hit bottom.

So don’t write lust off as something that won’t bother you or something that you’ll never experience. You can’t live without coming face to face with some kind of lust, so don’t underestimate what it can make you do. You’ll turn against God to scratch that itch. But if you’re prepared mentally and spiritually to face it, with Jesus’ help, you can withstand it. With Jesus’ help, you can do anything.

Hold on to the truth. Don’t give in to the lies. And put your whole faith in Jesus. He’s the Man who faced lust and never gave in, and He’s standing ready to help us get through the day.

Even righteous anger isn’t always wise

I don’t get angry very often, but it usually happens when I’m driving. Bad drivers make me angry. Aggressive drivers make me angry. And when I get angry, I tend to be a little more aggressive in my driving than normal. Of course, I’m ashamed to admit it. I’d much rather let people think that I never lose my cool, but that’s not the case.

The difficult thing about anger is that it’s subversive. It can make you think it’s useful because it gets you off your backside and makes you engage in conversations or events taking place around you, but if you let anger become your only motivation, you’ll end up hurting people, whether you mean to or not.

anger_steamToday’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

Jesus understood the danger of anger, and it can be dangerous. Anger by itself isn’t sinful, but it’s what you do when you’re angry that matters. There are stories in history of reformers who saw the inequality in our society and got angry about it, but they didn’t stay angry. They were angry about the injustice, and then they got busy doing good things to fix the problem. But they were too busy to be angry.

What’s important to note here, though, is that the intention of your anger is just as important as what you do with it. Jesus says you don’t have to have killed someone to be guilty of murder. In your mind, if you hate someone enough to kill them, you’re guilty. If the act is wrong, so is the intention.

In our world right now, everyone is angry. Everyone. And we’re all staying angry, and it’s not helping anybody.

The anger Jesus talks about here is “seething, brooding bitterness” that eventually leads to hatred and violence and emotional stress. It’s dangerous to feel this kind of anger, and it can make us do things we will regret if not kept in check. People will write off their anger as righteous indignation and in some cases that’s true, but righteous anger never leads to hurting anyone.

There are many, many things in our world to be angry about. I can think of five or six just from this past week that got my blood boiling, and that initial anger at people flipping God off may have helped me make some decisions about what I’m going to do with my life. But I didn’t let my anger continue. And I didn’t let it turn into something I couldn’t release.

If you hold on to your anger, regardless of who it’s focused on, you’ll eventually lose control, and you’ll do something horrible that will hurt someone else and that will hurt you and the people you love. Anger is dangerous.

So don’t be angry. I know it isn’t always that simple, but start by recognizing that anger isn’t a solution. It’s a reaction that can get you moving, but when you make a decision, you shouldn’t make it because you’re angry. Anger may be righteous sometimes, but I’m not sure it’s always wise.

If you’re angry, choose to stop. Let it go and trust that God is going to resolve the situation in His time. Sure, there may be something you can do about it in the interim, but I guarantee you aren’t going to see it as long as you’re seeing red.

The danger of leading wrong when others follow

I’m not good at directions. As far as I’m concerned, the hood of the car always points north. No, not really. But we joke about that being my only sense of direction.

The last time I was in Guatemala, I was traveling with my good friend The Colonel (no, that’s not his real name, but it might as well be). And because I’d been in the Guatemala City airport before, I took the lead and pointed us in the direction I thought we should go. Well, surprise, surprise. I led us the wrong way. Fortunately, the Colonel jumped in and got us straightened out before I took us to the complete opposite end of the terminal, and, no, I haven’t lived it down yet.

So I don’t take the lead on directions anymore unless I’m 100% certain I know where I’m going. Why? Because if I get lost and people are following me, they’ll be lost too. And that’s responsibility I neither want nor need. And quite frankly, friends, life and faith is exactly the same way.

o-CLIFF-DIVE-facebookToday’s verses are Matthew 5:17-19.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I posted on the beginning verse in this passage on Friday, about how Jesus wants us to understand His true purpose for coming here. He didn’t walk around beating people up who disagreed with Him. Instead, He went out of His way to speak to them, to teach them, to explain God’s purposes in language that we could understand. But just because He was patient didn’t mean that Jesus was weak.

Jesus held people accountable for their choices. He constantly challenged His followers to know what they believed and why, because He knew a day was coming when they would all have to stand up and be counted. On that day, they needed to know where they stood.

But what’s really sobering about this passage is the warning to teachers and mentors and those in authority. See anyone can be a teacher. You just have to share what you know with other people, but you’d better be sure you know what you know. Otherwise you’re just misleading people.

Teachers are held to a higher standard here. Maybe you know Christ, maybe you’re on your way to heaven, but if you’re teaching others to ignore one of God’s commandments, you’re going to be held accountable for that choice. It’s a harsh truth, but guess what? I’m considered a teacher. These devotional posts are about taking the Bible and applying it to my life, and that means if I don’t communicate exactly what God says in the Bible, I’m misleading people. And I don’t want to be the one who leads someone else down the wrong path because I didn’t listen or obey.

It’s a tough line to walk, but you have to ask who matters more. Popular culture, political correctness, your friends and family–or God? Are you trying to put Jesus in a box by saying one sin is worse than another? Or are you saying that a sin isn’t really a sin at all because you don’t think it’s so bad or because you don’t think it affects you?

No, you won’t forfeit your entry to heaven. Nothing you do can ever overpower the blood of Jesus if you’ve been washed in it. But do you really want to bear the responsibility of pointing another person in a direction away from God?

Jesus is full of grace, yes, but He’s also full of truth. They’re not mutually exclusive, and if you don’t understand that, you’re normal. God is too big for us to understand completely. But you don’t have to understand Him to believe Him and obey

So think about what you believe today. Granted, just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you can be unkind. That’s not how Jesus would have behaved, and our behavior should always imitate Him. But if you’re in a position of authority, think twice before you speak, because people will follow your lead, and you should make sure you’re leading them in the right direction.