Category Archives: Truth Be Told: Blog Series

Truth Be Told #4: Don’t Fast Like A Criminal

"Worshiping God involves more than observing an outward ritual;

there must be an inward obedience and submission to the Lord." -Warren Wiersbe

Do you know why most criminals get caught?  It is because they can't keep their mouths shut.  Sooner or later Bubba has to tell someone that he stole a pack of cigarettes from the gas station so he can feel tough and then…wammo…handcuffs baby.  Most detective work is just waiting around for Mr. or Mrs. Criminal to tell someone with one more brain cell than them about the crime and then the cops go pick up the perp after who they told rats them out. 

We may not all be criminals, but all of us on some level want people to know what we did. 

I mean sit around a table at dinner with more than 3 people for 10 minutes and you'll find that to be true.  One story leads to another story that leads to another better story that leads to an even better story that is only half true which leads to someone knowing someone which leads to your dad somehow having had dinner with Frank Sinatra. 

We all want to feel important and to have people notice us. 

That is the crux of what Jesus is talking about in this truth.

 "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." – Matthew 6:16-18

Now fasting in its simplest sense is deprive yourself of something you want such as food or water for a period of time so in the moments of their desire you can refocus your attention to God.  Fasts can last hours or days but the reason for them stays the same.  It's about refocusing on God.

I've fasted in times of great stress or at a time when large decision was looming to truly seek God's direction and guidance.  In all honesty though, I am a light weight when it comes to fasting and in fact one day is very hard for me, but the challenge is always a draw to me.

The difficulty with a fast, in most cases, is not about the food it's about the heart.  When you are in the middle of fasting or even just starting out it is such a temptation to announce it to someone.  To maybe subtly let it slide that it's the reason you can't each lunch or it is the reason you are so irritable.  It would be such a great confidence boost if someone would say "wow, that's awesome!" or "I wish I was disciplined enough to do that."  Those little boosts seem harmless, but what it may do to your spirit could be crushing.  What Jesus wants us to do in our times of fasting is not seek the approval of others, but seek the face of God. 

Jesus tells us that if our desire is for the approval of those around us, we have received our reward.  However if we fast in worship to Christ and not reduce it to grimacing and moaning for sympathy we are told our reward is eternal.  It simply takes us keeping our mouth shut and our soul open.

So the next time you are considering fasting, try not to fast like a criminal, but rather fast as a Christ follower should.

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Truth Be Told #3: Stuffed Animal Prayers

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” - Matthew 6: 5-8

My daughter Aniston is such a good baby and I don’t even know how to thank God enough for her each day.  One of my favorite times of day is the morning when she wakes up.  It usually will happen sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 am and I’ll be downstairs having coffee when I hear her start to stir.  She never cries when she wakes up but rather just starts to talk.

To give you an accurate picture, in her crib is at least 3 dolls, 6 blankets, 6 stuff animals, and a couple of random toys.  All of these have been hand selected by her over the course of consecutive nights because of her apparent inability to go to sleep without them.  It looks like a Toys R Us threw up in her crib.

My wife and I guess this is who and what she is interacting with when she wakes up, but what is not in question is that she is talking up a storm.  What we also have found is that she does not like us to rush in right away when she first wakes up.  In fact she will not be a happy campier at all if you do.  She needs this time to talk it out and get herself ready for the day.  Eventually she will say “Mommy” or “Daddy” and then we can come get her.

So it begins. J

Why as we get older do we lose this?  Why do we get so “smart” and “aware” that we lose the ability just to relax and talk?

Let’s take God out of the equation for a second here because we even have a tough time talking to each other without looking at our watches, having an agenda, or feeling guilty.  In some ways conversation has turned into an art form that is only done by the professional or we just talk to hear our selves speak.

This is what Jesus was dealing with in Matthew when He saw what the Religious were doing to prayer.  These men would stand in the most public of locations in the busiest sections of town to pray aloud for all to hear.  Jesus didn’t beat around the bush when He calls them hypocrites.

  • Is it bad to pray out loud?  No.
  • Is it bad for people to hear you while you pray?  No.
  • Is it bad to pray out loud for all to hear so everyone will look at you and think you are God’s gift to all that is holy?  Bingo!

Jesus is saying “Don’t you see that when you are praying it’s ultimately between you and Me so why not go to a place where it is literally you and me?”  To be clear, I don’t believe that a closet is the only place where Jesus wants us to pray. Scripture even encourages us to pray unceasingly, but it would be tough to fulfill anything else in the Scripture if the prayer had to occur in a broom closet.  So of course we need to get out of the closet and into the World, but from time to time you need to just get alone and be with Christ.

I mean if I wanted to bring up some heavy stuff about me to my earthly dad I sure wouldn’t want it to be in the middle of the mall where everyone could hear me screaming about it to him.  Now if I wanted to brag about how awesome I was to him I wouldn’t mind a microphone and maybe a studio audience, but again that’s not the point of prayer.

Just like telling everyone how much you do for the poor corrupts the act of service so does arrogantly praying out loud for notoriety corrupt prayer.

This Truth again comes back to the heart and the motivation for prayer.  My motivation should not be rooted in being praised by someone for how eloquently I spoke, but rather motivated in wanting to talk to my Dad.

The truth is that the people around you care way less than you think they do and God cares way more than you can ever imagine. So maybe take some time tomorrow morning, grab your stuffed animals, and before you get up just talk to your Dad.

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Truth Be Told #2: Jesus and Phoebe Buffay

Nothing like starting a blog with a clip from Friends…check this out before you read on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCHu1E0ca4E  

So do you agree with Phoebe?  Is there such a thing as a selfless good deed?

I can't tell you how many rabbit trails this blog has taken my mind down.  If the old school typewriter was still in use I would have ripped out and crumpled up 20 sheets of paper by now.  Even reading these words of Christ's didn't seem to help much.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." – Matthew 6:1-4

Do you see the slipperiness of this idea?  The glaring abuses of this principle are not what trip me up.  I can see where using people for your personal gain are bad.  I understand the hypocrisy in feeding the homeless just so you can call the media to come and film it.  That I get.

The WD40 moment for me was that even in the most purest of hearts or humblest of Christian action there is gain involved.  Christ Himself, in verse 6, says "Then your Father, who see what is done in secret, will reward you."  So it appears that either way you slice it there is reward for the things we do. This, for me, was mind boggling and frustrating to wrap my mind around.  Because in my brain it seemed that any type of gain for my efforts made me devoid of any selflessness. 

So to put this in the context of Christ’s words in Matthew, we see the efforts of helping the poor in front of the equivalent of a NBC5 reporter for earthly notoriety vs. quietly feeding the poor without anyone around and eventually being rewarded in heaven by God the Father both work to my gain.  How is that possible?

It wasn't until I gave up the notion that the reward wasn't a bad thing that I figured it out.  I mean it only takes a quick flip through Scripture to see that God is a giving and generous God over and over and over to His people.   For crying out loud He is building us a room in Heaven so He must even get creative in how He rewards us!  So the idea that He is looking to not reward us for doing good seemed to be antithetical to who He was entirely. 

I had to look deeper and see that it was the motivation of the act that determined the holiness or unholiness.  I mean at the end of the day 50 lunches given to homeless people fills their bellies just the same, but the question of what fills your soul remains. 

  • Is it filled with pride or love? 
  • Is it overflowing with expectation or humbled by how generous God is to us?
  • Is it calloused with pity or softened with compassion?

The Truth that Jesus is calling us to is that our service to others should be acted out of the natural flow of being a humble, generous, Christ follower and not out of forced, calculated, results expectant effort.  Our motivation is not one of “What will this act do for me?”, but “How could I not help after God has been so gracious to me?” 

If we are honest, we ALL are needy and yet God didn't hesitate to send aid to us in the form of Jesus.  His earthly reward for that service was death on a Roman Cross, but in the end His heavenly reward is seeing us face to face in eternity. 

How great is our God that we can share in that victory…so take that Phoebe! :) 

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Truth Be Told: Jesus Christ Lawman

"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." – Matthew 5:18

There was a show on A&E TV called Steven Segal Lawman.  It followed the now D-list actor Steven Segal while working as a Sherriff in the New Orleans area.  It was a mish mash of random junkies recognizing Steven and asking for his autograph while being tazed, but it was also mixed with sporadic bits of wisdom from the slurred speech of a wanna be Sherriff.  However, Steven would always say that he respected the badge he wore and wanted to bring justice to the streets of New Orleans.  To shrink wrap it, Segal was saying he liked the law and wanted people to follow the laws which were created to protect us. 

Written, spoken, cultural, or otherwise we all love laws until we break one. 

  • Speed limits are great until we get a ticket for”only going 5 over". 
  • Construction Zones should be kept safe until it keeps you from getting to the Bulls game on time.
  • Lines seem like a perfect organization method until we get stuck in a long one so then of course we cut in.

One of the myths about Jesus was that he was a renegade rule breaker.  Some people have morphed him into a teenage skate boarder running from the cops when the try to rail grind at the mall.  When in reality Jesus was much more a Lawman than we care to give him credit. 

The Pharisees were freaking out about Jesus for many reasons, but a big ulcer they had was that they felt he was disrespecting the Old Testament Law given by God to Moses.  These laws were really broken up into three categories: ceremonial, civil, and moral.  If you are in need of some "light" reading feel free to thumb through Leviticus to get an idea of the complexity and magnitude of these laws.  The Religious leaders of the day made it their goal their religion to follow these rules to the tee.  We even learn later that they were so legalistic that they tithed their spices to make sure they were in accordance.  However the sad truth was that they law that they were following so closely was primarily designed to point to the One they hated…Jesus. 

"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." – Matthew 5:18

Jesus did not come to destroy the law or disobey the law; rather He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law.

  • In Jesus the laws of ceremonial cleansing were fulfilled through His death, burial, and resurrection.  All that remained was for us to worship and love Him as God.
  • In Jesus the laws of civility were fulfilled as He demonstrated how these were lived out in perfect practice.  Although Old Testament culture may be difficult to relate to modern day, the principles are timeless.
  • In Jesus the laws of morality were fulfilled and demonstrated by Christ for our pursuit.  Although we will stumble and fall we look to the One who was perfect as our guide. 

Sadly, the men that studied the laws the closest were missing out on the Reason the laws were written and missing out on the Joy of their fulfillment. 

Equally as sad is that even today we are missing out on that joy in Jesus.  Without Jesus, we also look to the law as either a deterrent or a comfort to our faith. 

It deters some by its magnitude and impossibility causing us to lose heart and lose faith.  And impossible wall that we can never climb and are sometimes reminded of by the religions.

The law gives some comfort thinking that if they get enough of the right pieces in place they will somehow please God by their works and neatly kept spice racks.  These people look down upon those that can't keep up with their faith or don't have the discipline to submit themselves to all of that is expected. 

The good news is that for those of us that have found our identity in Christ we are free from both of these views.  We understand that we can never follow all the laws to make us right with God and we also agree that we don't have the strength to climb the insurmountable wall it creates, but we know One that can and did conquer it for us.  

The Truth is that Jesus came to stop our endless pursuit of the Law and begin our endless pursuit of Him. 

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