Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Agreements vs. promises...

Week 22:

Matthew 5:33-37 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

In my first year of this blog, I wrote some similar thoughts on this passage in Yes be yes, and no, no…  It’s also a chapter in my Devotional Book.   Today, I would like to look at the difference between agreements and promises. 

When I was in my high school and early college years I would often tell people that if I said, “I promise…” then you could count on me following through with my commitment.  As I have grown older, I have learned better how to just make a commitment without any extra promises to keep that commitment.  Reflecting back on those years, I must have lived in such a way that I could not be counted on at my initial word.  It took a promise or an oath to bind me to an agreement or commitment.  I might as well have written out a contract. 

I used to teach students from this passage that they should live their life in such a way that no promise is needed in order to be trustworthy.  I even have it written under the passage in one of my Bibles.  It was in this early teaching time of my life that I began to look at how I made promises/oaths in order to keep my word.  Subconsciously, I began to realize that to teach it, I must live it.  I’m not perfect at keeping my word, but I cannot remember the last time I had to say, “I promise.”  I think the difference lies in agreement vs. promise.

Simply defined, a promise is an oath.  It is an oath, declaration, pledge, or a vow to fulfill something I will or will not do.  To me, to use the words, “I promise” means I have somehow been untrustworthy before.  The promise is something extra to keep me in integrity and to assure the other party that I will keep my word.  Even then, there is no guarantee the promise will be fulfilled.

The agreement is simpler and lines up with truth an authenticity more than the promise.  When I agree, I have given my word that within my power, I will fulfill my commitment.  If I have lived in such a way that I keep my agreements, then my agreement is all I need.  My “yes” means yes, and my “no” means no.  If I break my agreement, I deal with less shame and am freed up more to take responsibility for breaking an agreement. 

In other words, the oath/promise feels like bondage.  The agreement is the way I should live.  When I break a promise, I have created a poor situation by going against an oath, which seems more binding.  When I break an agreement, and I normally do not, I can rest on the fact that I can make this up in some way because I am not characterized by breaking agreements.  It is not a pattern for me.  An agreement also frees me up to change the agreement in the future.  I can get in touch with the person I have a commitment to and re-negotiate the agreement. 

Breaking agreements in the past has also helped me to look at not making as many agreements with others.  I have come realize, that most of the agreements I have broken are because I have committed to too many things and people.  I have had to take a step back and look where in my life I need to say “no”. 

As I look at this passage, I believe that Jesus is helping me simplify my life.  He is helping me to shape my character in such a way that I can say a word, and that word would be my word.  As I continue this journey of life, the more authentic and truthful I can live, make me more trustworthy. 


1.      What would be your differing definitions of promise and agreement?
2.      Have you lived in such a way that your “yes” means yes and your “no” means no?
3.      What needs to change for you to live in this way?
4.      Are you overloaded with your agreements?  Why do you think you are?  What do you gain out of saying “yes” when it is hard to keep that agreement?
5.      Pay attention this week to how you keep your word.  Let God show you some things around that as you take note.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Pay attention...

Week 21:

I Samuel 3:8-10 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”  Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”  Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Over the last few years I have been seeking and listening for God’s voice.  One of the things I have had to do is to find some discipline in order to hear from God.  I’ve said this many times before, but I have never heard the audible voice of God.  In fact, no on I currently know has reported they have either.  However, in my search I have run across several instances with God as He has revealed Himself.

Many times, I catch myself ending my questions and challenges list with a “pay attention” passage.  Apparently, I am practicing this discipline.  I wrote an article on my former blog titled Random Ramblings, where I had been introduced to the thought of paying attention to random thoughts.  I furthered my quest with the reading of several books around spiritual disciplines, silence, and simplicity:  Celebration of Discipline, The Good and Beautiful God, Experiencing God, and 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Each of these has helped me look for God in other places besides what I think would be ideal. 

One over-looked area for me has still been in the area of paying attention.  So much of my time, I want to talk to God, talk about God, work for God, serve God, worship God…all the while expecting to hear God.  While all of these are good and important, I do not do enough paying attention to God.  I do not do enough paying attention to what is going on around me and noticing how God is working.  I am getting better, but not consistent.  It’s funny, as a teacher, coach, and now principal, paying attention is a large part of my job. 

Last year, I wrote blog articles about loving God with all our Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.  Three of these especially relate closely to paying attention.  With my heart, I am to pay attention to my emotions.  Where do they come from?  Where are they leading me?  What is God telling me as I experience my emotions? 

With my soul, I am to pay attention to how my spirit relates with the Holy Spirit.  What is God leading me to know and do?  Where is His Spirit soothing, healing, guiding, building, and/or filling my soul?  What do I learn about the character of God as He relates to me through His Spirit?

With my mind, I am to pay attention to thoughts.  Which thoughts are mine?  Which thoughts are coming from God?  Why do I have thoughts that seem random?  I believe that this is where I am to start when it comes to listening for God’s voice and following His direction.  In 2 Peter 1:5-9, Peter lists several character traits.  Within that list is knowledge which seems to tie closely together with the rest. 

Working through some of the disciplines in order to begin to pay attention to thought has allowed me to begin to notice God at work more frequently.  I said, “…begin to notice”.  God has been working all along, I just now am beginning to notice and recognize Him at work.  This recognition has also allowed me a ticket into my emotional world where God also resides.  I have begun to feel His presence in different ways than just joy.  And, I have been prompted by His Spirit in many ways to see Him at work in supernatural ways.  Ways that can only be explained by God. 

It is early in this journey.  The continual challenge for me is to pay attention. 


1.      When it comes to the Kingdom of God, what comes to mind when I say, “Pay attention?”
2.      In quiet times, what have you noticed as random thoughts?
3.      Upon reflecting on those thoughts, could some of those been planted by God?
4.      What message do you suppose God is sending you?
5.      What action do you suppose God is calling you to take in relation to those thoughts?
6.      This week, pay attention to your random thoughts.  When you experience them, stop and ask God for more guidance.  Then read His word and share with others your thoughts.  Watch what happens next.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

"Don't judge me..."

Week 20:

James 5:19-20 19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Over the course of recent years, I have been hearing a common phrase, or at least a variance of this phrase, “Don’t judge me…”  I have mentioned before that mainline Christianity has moved more toward a grace-oriented message.  I believe this is a move back toward Jesus and His teachings.  However, as with any shift in philosophy, the swing of the pendulum can become too extreme.  One of the signs of the swing is this statement.  Those who usually use this statement do not want to be called to account for what I call a “violation of conscience”.  I don’t want to go to deep around this “violation” (maybe a topic for another article) but it relates closely to our spirit and how it relates to God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us.

Let’s look at the difference between judgment and accountability.  Both Christians and non-Christians quote Matthew 7:1-2 when referencing judging others:  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  I believe what Jesus was saying here was to not base your judgment upon your own preference and comfort level and then, pass it off as Biblical.  I like to think of it this way; by whose authority is the judgment based upon?  Is it my authority and experiences or is it by God’s authority?  If it is by my authority, preference, and/or experience, then it is the judgment that Jesus warned me not to practice.

Accountability is all-together different.  When I take on Christ as my savior, I agree to follow Him as Lord.  That also means that I follow His teachings and commands.  The Bible is full of verses relating to the following of Jesus also means following His commands: John 14:15, John 14:21, John 15:10, I John 2:3-4, I John 3:24, I John 5:2-3, II John 1:6, and Revelation 14:12 to name a few.  When I violate Jesus’ commands, I have broken an agreement with Him.  When someone points out that I am not following Jesus’ commands, it is not judgment but holding me in account. 

When I am guilty of violating my conscience, an agreement, a law, and/or a command; I normally resist being called into account for that violation.  In fact, many times I say in my heart and/or under my breath, “Who are you to judge?”  As I settle in and begin to drill down to the root of that response, I realize that I do not want to feel guilt or shame for my choice and consequence around my violation.  Therefore, I begin to project back onto the person, who has been sent by the Holy Spirit to call me into account, to protect my pain from shame. 

Written into the heart and soul of each one of us is this sense of right and wrong.  God has interwoven this as a part of our very being.  Yet, as we move away from that part of us, we feel guilt…a tug from the Spirit.  Furthermore, both Christian and non-Christian alike will be judged by God according to the commands He has given us. 

It is much more difficult to hold one who does not believe in the Word of God into account.  His/her reaction to a Christian will be “Don’t judge me.”  The only way to the heart of this individual will be through love.  I have said this before in Grace and truth…, to reach this person…though Jesus, we must help them to feel a sense of belonging until they begin to believe, then they will behave by following commands.  At this point we can much more easily hold them into account.  The caution here is to base any accountability upon a Biblical basis and a holding to an agreement to follow Biblical teaching.  Am I within my right to judge a non-Christian for acts against Biblical commands?  Yes.  Will I draw him/her closer to Jesus by doing so?  Not likely. 

Unfortunately, this “Don’t judge me” thought has entered into the Christian circle.  It has become increasingly difficult to hold Christians accountable due to this philosophy.  So, what do I do?  I first have to check myself and decide if I am holding someone accountable or if I am judging according to my standards.  Once I have ironed that out and I still feel the person has broken an agreement in the following of scripture, I then take a route of checking in around the person’s belief system.  I ask something like this, “Do you believe the Bible to be true?”   If the answer is “yes”, then I ask something like this:  “Why do you take exception to this command?”  This person has chosen to do different than what God has asked.  By calling him/her into account for the choice, it is not judgment. 

I think as a body, we need to re-direct this “Don’t judge me” philosophy as often as possible.  If we are not careful, we will let Satan use his power of deceit to fool us into believing that we cannot hold each other accountable for following God.  We are called by God to hold each other accountable out of love and through love so that we can all finish this race together.


1.      What has been your reaction, both externally and internally to the statement, “Don’t judge me”?
2.      How have you handled that situation?
3.      In your words, what is the difference between judgment and accountability?
4.      Describe a situation where you knew you had Biblical backing yet did not speak up for fear being judgmental.
5.      When you have judged, what preference, experience, or personal standard was that judgment based upon?
6.      Ask God this week to give you the tools of discernment between judgment and accountability.  Pay attention to what comes into your path around this revelation.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Protector of the heart...

Week 19:

I Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Somewhere early in life I developed this protector of my heart.  He shows up in many ways.  The main way is through dismissiveness.  When I was young, I was teased and set aside.  To combat the hurt of losing connection with others my age, I would take a “rain on you” attitude and toss them on a pile and move on.  If I were to name this protector, I would have to call him, “Toss ‘em aside guy”.  When we are young, we are vulnerable and put feelings out for the world to see.  In most cases, someone in our life trains us that certain feelings are not acceptable.  This usually occurs due to pain we experience from peers and/or authority figures in the form of teasing or shaming.  I like how Richard Rohr describes it from his daily meditation titled Listening for the true voice.
During childhood we developed an internal Loyal Soldier (largely from our parents’ early warnings) whose mission was to keep us safe. Our Loyal Soldier created and deployed whatever strategies were necessary to assure our social, psychological, and physical survival.
The voices of the Loyal Soldier are pre-rational, immediate, deep, constant, and unconscious, and they feel like absolute right and wrong. They become for us the very voice of God (resulting in our distorted, punitive images of God). These voices determine what we value and what we disvalue. They are usually shame- or guilt-based and very good for social order and control, which are first-half-of-life concerns.

We all experience pain of the heart.  Some of us experience this pain more severely than others.  Looking back on that pain for me reveals “Toss ‘em aside guy”.  When something happens close to that area that has been wounded, “Toss ‘em aside guy” shows up and doesn’t allow me far into that pain again.  My “Toss ‘em aside guy” has served me well.  He has shown me how to react to situations.  He has kept me from making a fool of myself.  He has kept my heartache down to a bearable level.  However, I have allowed “Toss ‘em aside guy” to have too much control over my life.  Because of people and their general tendency to look at outward appearance, “Toss ‘em aside guy”  has guided me to worry more about my outward image.  Now, I am not blaming people for my decision to follow “Toss ‘em aside guy”.  However, I need to pay attention to the caution that God gave to Samuel when choosing David.  People, including the great Prophet and Judge Samuel, look at outward appearance.

So, why am I concerned with “Toss ‘em aside guy” taking control?  I was once challenged to think about how I was blocking the flow of God’s grace in my life.  That was a difficult question for me.  Up to that point, I had lived a life of blaming and shifting responsibility.  I had even lived in such a way that I thought that God had stopped the flow of grace.  Now, in my head I knew that was not true, but in my heart, I struggled with this.  I now know that part of that block was because “Toss ‘em aside guy” was covering my heart and vulnerability to the point that I would not even allow God’s love into my heart.  So, by letting “Toss ‘em aside guy” take control, I have walled off the part of my heart that allows God to pour in his love and grace.  The part of me that has protected and served me is now keeping me from peace and joy. 

One of the things I love about this verse is God’s statement to Samuel:  “…but the Lord looks at the heart.”  God is not the other people in my life.  All of us are created in His image, but we are not Him.  I hear from God through other people, but their character, judgment, thoughts, projections, etc. are not God’s. 

Where do I go from here?  First, I must recognize that I have a built in protector, a “Loyal Soldier”.  Second, I must acknowledge that this protector has served me well.  And, he may need to serve me again from time to time.  Finally, I must set my protector aside for the sake of allowing God to pour in His love and grace that he has been showing down for so long.  This is risky for me.  I may get hurt from time to time by others…but when I do, I need to realize the truth of this verse, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”


1.      As you read today’s article, did you begin to identify a protector in your life?
2.      How does your protector show up?
3.      If you were to name this protector, what name would you give him/her?
4.      Where has your protector affected your relationship with God?
5.      Pay attention this week to where you have blocked the flow of God’s grace and love and mercy.  If your protector was part of the wall, acknowledge him/her and then set him/her aside and ask God to fill the void where he/she resided. 

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