America turns 243 years old this year and I finally think her wrinkles are starting to show. She’s been the Jennifer Aniston of the world powers for so long, but if you look for cracks and creases, you’ll find them every time.
I think it’s the same with our spiritual growth. Have you ever been told “you’ve changed”? Or asked, “Is this really what you want to hang your hat on?” Maybe even, “That was a horrible choice. You’re better than that.”
I have absolutely gone through seasons where I’ve experienced those comments and questions out of someone’s dislike for my pursuit of Jesus. But I’ve also experienced those same things when it comes to my choices after I’ve chosen to follow Jesus.
Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”
– Matthew 5:10-11 NLT
Sometimes the wrinkles and cracks that I try to cover up about my still-sinful self are exposed. And they’re not pretty. In that moment, I can either choose to dust myself off and focus on how God will be glorified from my mistake, or let it drag me further down. I think that’s bravery.
You can’t always control what you experience, but you can always control how you respond.
Freedom. The freedom of choice, especially for those who were disciples following Jesus in this passage, was a game changer. Here, Jesus had just told off the Pharisees who wanted to criticize how his disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. It had more to do with spiritual cleanliness from an unwritten law than it did about “Jesus and germs are everywhere.”
What Jesus was trying to tell his disciples was that God wants our motivations to be pure. When we act, we act based on what’s in our heart – not our mind.
I think that’s an important distinction because my mind is NOT the nicest place to be. Think industrial London in the mid-1800s: polluted, poor, and crowded. My heart, on the other hand, is doing better thanks to Jesus.
Jesus has to touch your heart, not just your ears.
Hypothetically, let’s say we’re consistent church-goers who still make bad decisions. (Don’t feel attacked, I said hypothetically!) How can that be? We hear what our pastor says on Sunday. We nod along in agreement. We may even post about it on social media. Or, we may attend a small group once a week and talk about our problems, maybe mentioning Jesus a couple of times, but did it make us more equipped to deal with our problems?
My point is this: We hear a lot of things. There is a lot of noise in the world. The Word of Jesus shouldn’t add to the noise – it should silence it.
We have to be wrecked, changed, and affected by the teachings of Jesus to be used by Jesus.
As you’re enjoying your cookouts, sports, and pyrotechnics this 4th of July, think of the freedom and bravery it took to get here. Think of the deep crevices that our country has and what your place is in it. Imagine what Jesus could do to a country that took his teachings to heart, not just when they feel the roar of the jets over a stadium and hold their hats over their chest.
Maybe it starts with choosing better responses – with choosing to not let what comes out of our mouth defile us. Imagine the legacy of the next 243 years with that posture!