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.

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The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Being held to a higher standard

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

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

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

The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 3:1-2.

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

That’s right. Teachers.

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

Check out verse 1 in the Amplified Version:

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

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

Yikes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whose wisdom are you teaching?

I know a lot of teachers, and I have tremendous respect for all of them. Many of them are elementary teachers. Some of them are high school teachers. Others are college professors. And even though all of them teach completely different subject matter, there’s one thing that is the same with all of them. When they teach their students, they want to make sure they’re teaching their students the right things.

They want to make sure they’re teaching their students what verbs are or how to do long division or how to hold their hands correctly when they play the piano. They want to make sure they’re telling their students correctly when the Civil War started and ended and that the United States of America elects our Senators democratically but our presidents through an electoral college.

Being a teacher is a huge responsibility. And if they’re not teaching students correct information, they’re not doing themselves or their students any favors.

It’s the same with the Christian life.

Today’s verse is Colossians 1:28.

 28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.

Those of us who believe in Christ — and especially those of us who have followed Christ for a long time — have a responsibility to reach out to those around us who don’t know Him yet. We are responsible to share the Good News of Christ with everyone. According to this verse, we are to warn people about what will happen if they don’t accept Christ and we’re supposed to teach them how to live.

But read the end of that again, “with all the wisdom God has given us.”

Just like being a teacher is a huge responsibility, being a Christian is a huge responsibility. And if you’re a Christian like me who has followed Christ for more than half your life, it’s a responsibility above and beyond accepting Christ in the first place. Because if you’ve known Christ for any length of time and truly tried to deepen your relationship with Him, you will have experienced trials and difficulties in your life that have increased your faith and taught you valuable lessons about yourself and your God.

And what this verse is saying is that we have a responsibility to share those lessons in faith with the people around us. Warn others not to do the things that got you in trouble. Teach others how to follow Christ no matter what the cost. But when you do it, you must use the wisdom you have gained from God and not wisdom from yourself.

We think we’re so smart. We think we have it all figured out, but many times what we think we understand is merely the tip of the iceberg of God’s great plan. And just when we assume we have everything under control, God pulls the rug out from under us and we have to scramble to keep our heads above water.

When that happens, whose wisdom do you rely on?

Do you trust your wisdom? Do you trust the world’s wisdom? If you do, you’re liable to give up. Or to stab someone in the back. Or to tell a lie. Or to lose your temper. Or to act like someone you’re not to impress someone you don’t like to gain a position you don’t need. Because that’s what our wisdom tells us to do — look out for number one. And that’s not what life is about.

When everything is falling apart, we need to trust in God’s wisdom that says that He always has a plan and He always knows what He’s doing and that He always works everything together for the good of the people who love Him. We need to trust God’s wisdom that says the meek are the ones who will be rewarded and the sorrowful are the ones who will be happy and the humble are the ones who will be exalted. God’s wisdom is diametrically opposed to the world’s wisdom, and looking at it from the world’s perspective, it doesn’t make any sense — but neither does God.

We who have known Christ for a long time are responsible to teach others how to live. But how can we teach others how to live for Christ if we don’t acknowledge His wisdom or if we don’t obey God’s teachings?

So many Christians mean well and try to teach others how to live by using 12-step programs and self-help manuals. Their intentions are good, but their materials are lacking. If you’re trying to teach someone to live for Christ, all you need is the Bible. Everything you need is in there.

If you’re an English teacher who doesn’t know English, how can you teach it? If you’re a math teacher who doesn’t understand math, how can you teach someone else to use it? If you’re a music teacher who can’t sing or play an instrument, how can you teach someone else to love it? If you don’t know the material you’re trying to teach, can you even teach it at all?

If you’re a Christian who doesn’t know the things God has told us, how can you live a Christian life? If you’re Christian who knows the Word of God but chooses to ignore it, how can you teach others to obey when you don’t hold yourself to the same standard?

We are all teachers. Teachers are held to a high standard on earth and rightly so, but heaven’s standards are higher still. So we need to make sure we know what we’re teaching.