Careful Words

“… a careless word is like the thorn of the honey locust thorn tree – it can cause a deep wound that can lead to the ‘infection’ of bitterness…” – Wally Armstrong, Practicing the Presence of Jesus

“All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God forgave you in Christ.” – Eph. 4:31-32

I have been on the receiving end of bitterness, anger, slander – spiteful words. I am quite certain we all have. As a young person, these words damaged me to my core. Thankfully, I have healed from these wounds and walk free from their pain. As an adult and a believer, I have felt mostly compassion and sorrow for the unbelievers who rage against me or my worldview. I cannot expect those who do not understand me or my views to accept them, and their opinions do not injure me.image

 

However, there is one party from whom careless words continue to hurt – fellow believers. While there is not typically shouting involved, or even discernible anger, careless words from believers can cut a person’s confidence, self-worth, and spirit. They can cause a person to question his/her calling or even leave the church. This pain has not been my experience alone, but the story of many people I have walked with over the years. Careless words lead to a wound of offense, which can easily become bitterness. Tragically, I have seen many walk away from friendships, from churches, and even from the faith, over offenses rooted in careless words.

I am talking about hastily delivered criticisms.

I am talking about sarcasm;

about gossip;

about jesting;

about snarky side commentary;

about words said out of earshot,

because they weren’t really out of earshot. These things have a way of getting around.

I am talking to myself. I used to pride myself on my sarcastic humor. You know what sarcasm means? To tear the flesh. And I gloried in it. Now my six year old son calls me out on it, and I realize my foolishness.

Careless words break trust. As believers, we should be covenanted to one another, preferring one another in love, anxious to honor each other.

“But I’m speaking the truth in love!”

Is it in love? Is it patient and kind? Is it rude or self-seeking? Does it always protect and always trust?

“People are too easily offended! That is their problem!”

We have a responsibility to forgive offense, yes. We have an equal responsibility to guard our words, to be slow to speak. The Bible charges us to use our words to encourage, heal, and extend grace.

If we find that offense tends to follow us, perhaps we are the problem.

If I am to dwell in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I must carry slow to speak and quick to forgive in equal measurings like offerings. Then I can give in trust the words of grace which build and heal.

 

Advertisements

The Story

“All of these lines across my face tell you the story of who I am.” – Brandi Carlisle, “The Story”

I read something recently that said, “Thank goodness we do not look like what we’ve been through.”

I look in the mirror and have trouble relating to that statement. I look every bit of what I’ve been through.

I have never been the beautiful girl. I have not even been the pretty girl. I’ve been the marrying kind, as some say. Of course, I thought I’d be the “live alone in an apartment with too many cats” kind.

And that has always kind of bothered me. We women have this innate need to be lovely and adored, and, if we do not get that need filled, we likely become either lowly, desolate, and bitter; or over-bearing and attention-seeking (see Stasi and John Eldridge’s book Captivating for more on this topic). I became the former, often depressed and self-deprecating with regard to my appearance. Cerebrally, appearances should not define us, should not matter that much, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, we know. Every one of us knows. We tell ourselves all the time. But, the facts do not matter much in a world revolving around image.

I hear your thirties are supposed to be that magical time when we stop caring as much about what others think. But instead, I have found myself more critical, mainly due to my inability to maintain (you know, the oft-spoken “she let herself go”), in addition to the marks of life upon my body.

So, when I read the statement above, about looking like what I’ve been through, I had to step back for an assessment. On the bridge of my nose is a scar from years of wearing glasses, often having those glasses hit by flying sporting equipment in P.E. classes. My cheeks and chin are bumpy from the blemishes of youth, years I spent fielding taunts and sarcastic comments from the bullies and the cool kids.

Those marks, however unsightly by cultural standards, remind me that I made plans to end my life, but I survived.

My abdomen has a probably permanent bulge and dark vertical line from carrying three babies. I have scar tissue in my side from their kicks and residual pain in my tailbone, which broke when I delivered the first. I have literally been torn apart and put back together.

But it is the back together that matters. And those children are alive and healthy and beautiful.

I have gray hair and split ends and unpainted nails because those things are low on my list of priorities (no shame if that’s your thing, it just isn’t mine). I have bruises on my legs from carrying car seats and kicking children. I have freckles on my arms and sun spots on my feet from days spent outside ministering on mission trips or making memories with my family. The veins of my hands protrude, and my knuckles are growing knobby from nights writing out whatever is heavy on my heart. There are lines between my eyes, across my forehead, around my mouth – all the remnants of emotion and thought. There are a dozen other stories on my body too personal to tell.

My body is a testament to the depth of my soul, and I must learn to love it for its imperfections, not in spite of. If I love “in spite of,” I will always resent those flaws and diminish their stories.

Yes, my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Temple of God in Jerusalem was lovely and ornate. However, let us not forget that God’s presence also resided in a tent, and it was glorious. As Momma always said, it’s what’s inside that counts.

Ladies, sisters, love your story. Love the evidence of a full life that is written on your body. You are not your body; it is simply a precious, ever-changing portrait of your story.

After all, nobody ever says at a funeral, “Look at that beautiful corpse.” They will say, “Look at her beautiful life.”

Things I Can’t Not Say

Don’t be misaligned,

don’t let your faith be defined

by lines drawn in shifting sand.

Don’t fall prey to hate

upon hate.

Let us not piggyback on politics

and legislated ethics.

Let go of perceived needs,

undeserved rights,

unneeded exemptions.

Who is your King?

To Whom do you submit?

Who holds your soul, after all?

Render unto Caesar so you can

turn the other cheek.

Freedom is not in the holding on.

Who is your king?

That calf in gold,

the one of your own making?

Where is your trust?

Those paper and ink abstract notions

re-named and re-claimed by any man,

consumable when put to the flame?

We put our trust in borders of wire

and wall and water and imaginary lines.

Are you willing to relinquish your citizenship, your membership,

you rights and rightness?

Revoke your borders?

Abandon your status?

I have called you to be a people without country,

without home,

without name,

except Mine.

No other name.

Deny my father.

Refuse my name,

And I’ll be newly baptized.

Weeds

My children love dandelions. They love them bright and yellow like tufts of sunlight. They love them gray white begging to be shaken or kicked, seed pods catching the air currents and drifting to re-populate our yard. Pure childhood joy.

As we walked to a neighbor’s house the other day, my daughter’s hand clung fast to one such yellow puff, and I noticed their pristine hard-won grass un-marred by tell-tale jagged leaves. I remembered that not everyone likes dandelions as much as we do. I stashed the wilting weed into my pocket before she could have the chance to drop it.

We live in a neighborhood of terrible red clay dirt, where getting anything to grow is quite a feat. We spent the first three years as home owners tilling, seeding, fertilizing, and removing rocks just to have something to mow. For some, landscaping is a passion. Money and time are invested to achieve that perfect green lawn. And I must admit, there is a certain beauty there.

I can’t help but think about the poor dandelion, though. I mean, it isn’t ugly. It spreads out, I know, and takes up big spaces. But, that’s just survival. And, did you know you can eat dandelion greens? It is kinda the rage with chefs now.

What about clover? The little ones also love clover for a soft seat in the yard. They love to hunt for four-leaved clovers. The white flowers make excellent chains for crowns and necklaces (Okay, maybe I like them, too.).

And those little purple-flecked wildflowers. I don’t even know what those are, but we have them!

Before you cast aspersion on me and my hippie yard, allow me to work out my metaphor with fear and trembling.

I know the God I serve is the creator of all things. I know that all He created is good. That even the spiders and the ticks and the piranhas have their design and purpose in His kingdom. It was us (just being real) who introduced sin. It was us who tookdandelion every good thing God created to a wrong extreme: we turned feasts into gluttony, intimacy into fornication, spirituality into religion. When God gave us His law, we worshiped it instead of Him. When He gave us a government of judges and priests, we demanded a human king. When He gave us manna from heaven, we complained for meat.

He gave us plants to enjoy and eat, and we called them weeds. We pull them and burn them and spray them with laboratory chemicals and replace them with cow food because we think it looks better.

(Seriously, stay with me. Metaphor. Sort of.)

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s dandelion? Okay, I’ll compare me. I know I have felt like a dandelion in a grassy yard. I have accepted the idea that God made me beautiful and useful in His sight, but I have not always been beautiful and useful by the world’s estimation. And though now I am strong enough to survive, I was not always. And I wonder how many people we classify and aim to remove because we do not yet see their beauty and usefulness. Because they do not fit in our scheme of the world. Because they do not look like the thousands of identical blades of grass surrounding them.

I am no fool – I recognize sin and evil and the fallen, infested ground. But that darkness on which we must set our sights is spiritual, not carnal. If there is ugliness, there is a dark spiritual root that must be removed. Often, though, I think we just have not learned to see beauty yet. We see in part. We know in part.

I resolve to look for the beauty today, even in things the world labels as weeds. I will look for the usefulness and celebrate it.

And if you happen to come to my home anytime soon, forgive my hippie yard. Focus on the joy on my children’s faces.

Parallel

What did you expect when you
tied on your robes, donned your chains,
your bells, your incense and oil;
when you saw him walking through crowds
paying his taxes, spitting in mud,
loving his enemies?

What did you expect when he unrolled the scroll,
broke your rules, fulfilled the law;
when he challenged your pride and died
on a thief’s cross?

Who did you expect:
A righteous warrior?
A crown prince?
Certainly not the Suffering Servant,
the Sacrificial Lamb.

What did you expect when you
put on the respectable clothes,
drove too fast, went to his house,
looked for your seat, the one with your name?

What did you expect, arms folded
mouthing songs about more about yourself than him;
critiquing the offering protocol, the message,
waiting to feel better?

Who did you expect:
A good-looking rock star?
A charismatic politician?
Certainly not the Risen Christ,
the Almighty Lord.

What does he expect, but a
heart broken and pure:
clean hands, empty of straws
grasped in a rush of fear;
eyes fixed on him?
Who does he expect?
The ones he calls “Beloved,”
even them,

even me,

even you.

30 Days to 30, Day 8

Day 8 – I Will Control My Thought Life

I listened to a lesson on freedom today by my pastor, one I’d heard before and through which I was preparing to lead a small group.  The lesson centered on renewing the mind.  In summary, one of the main points was that our thoughts determine our emotions, our emotions determine our attitudes, and our attitudes determine our actions.  Therefore, the negative things that come from me are rooted in my thoughts.  I can control my thinking by taking captive every negative or sinful thought and submitting it to Christ, nullifying it with the truth in the Word of God.

My apologies if you weren’t expecting a sermon.  There is no separating me from my faith.  It is who I am, and it’s going to come out.

Now, I am an introvert by nature and one with an above average IQ.  Trust me that I am not bragging there.  The combination of the two makes for a fairly distracting internal world, and I tend to be very socially awkward and unaware of my surroundings because the buzzing of analysis and synthesis in my brain overwhelms my ability to engage in the moment.  The relevancy then is that my thought life can quickly and powerfully leap from normal and balanced to detrimentally askew.  Negative thoughts create fear, anger, worry.  Those emotions stimulate an attitude of hopelessness and anxiety.  It is usually right before those attitudes turn into actions that I re-secure the reins of my life and begin the process of getting the horse back on trail.

What would happen if I could consistently stop it at the thought-level?

Thirty makes me realize I am too old to play games with my bad emotions and attitudes.  I am too old to be sunk every time my mind takes a situation or word the wrong direction. And, I know I want to kill the habit of being controlled by my thoughts before I get too old. I know what God says about His people, and I am graced enough to claim it for myself.

30 Days to 30, Day 7

Day 7 – I Will Seek to Honor

While this resolution might seem to piggy-back on yesterday’s, I cannot avoid the themes I see stretching across the landscape of each day.  Today is Veterans’ Day, a day on which we honor those who have served in the military.  I spent my morning with my mother, who served her time in the U.S. Army, hoping to honor her not only as a veteran, but as a mother and a grandmother as she spent time with my kids.

I want to honor my husband as he tells me stories about his day and as he struggles with the difficulties and injustices that sometimes accompany college classes.

I want to honor my children by training them up in the way they should go, whether it means telling them stories or calming their fears or sending them to time-out.

I want to honor my Creator my making sure that every word, action, and thought is worshipful.

Honor does not always require a parade or a salute, but instead it demands that the little things of our lives have an intent to lift up and to respect.  That is my goal for today.

The Extravagant Praise of King David, or, Why Can’t My Life Imitate Art?

I’ve been thinking about musicals a lot lately.  My husband and I re-visit the same discussion about musicals every time a movie comes out in that particular genre that I want to see.  This time, it was Les Miserables.  He always says musicals are ridiculous.  Silly. Over-the-top.  Most of all, they are unrealistic.  And I get it: many of them are silly, and it’s not like we randomly burst into song in our daily lives, lifting up operettas in cubicles, or waltzing with potatoes up and down the produce aisle (well, unless you are the parent of a preschooler, but I digress…).  If something like a scene from a musical actually transpired in front of us in real life, most of us would take a few steps backward, look around awkwardly, and make for the nearest exit.

But then, I found an argument for the musical way of life in Scripture.  There are moments throughout both the Old and New Testaments in which godly people, overcome with love for God, cannot help but stop what they are doing to lift up a song of praise to Him.  Moses and Miriam both did it; so did Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Apostle Paul.  And, of course, there is the most prolific songwriter of them all, King David.  I get the feeling that his life was much like musical theater: there was an underdog story, followed by a little romance, betrayal, a chase scene, a bromance, and yes, some adultery and murder (shield your ears, kids).  All the while, David sings songs, plays the harp, and dances in the streets.  In fact, why isn’t there a Broadway show about the life of David? (Mental note: write a manuscript.)

I was reading one of David’s psalms this week, Psalm 18, which is given the following introduction: For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.[1] First, I noticed that David sang, not wrote, this song initially.  While I do not know the entire context, I know David was not one to sit quietly and write a poem.  This is a man who faced lions and giants and bears.  My guess is that he sang this loudly, in front of many, and he probably danced while doing it.  The next thing I noticed was the sheer grandness and depth of the language:

4The cords of death entangled me;

the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

The cords of the grave coiled around me;

the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord;

I cried to my God for help.

From his temple he heard my voice;

my cry came before him, into his ears.

The earth trembled and quaked,

and the foundations of the mountains shook;

they trembled because he was angry.

Smoke rose from his nostrils;

consuming fire came from his mouth,

burning coals blazed out of it. [2]

 

Forgive me, but this is no namby-pamby, Christian radio-friendly pop song.  This is a declaration of the power of our God.  He continues:

30 As for God, his way is perfect:

The Lord’s word is flawless;

he shields all who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God besides the Lord?

And who is the Rock except our God? [3]

 

The entire psalm reads this way.  It is a grand, over-the-top, epic of a song to glorify the one true King.  This is the kind of worship God desires.  David was called a man after God’s own heart not because he was the most well-behaved or most holy guy, but because he poured out his life in adoration and devotion to God.  Everything he did was done with a posture of praise, and not just any “Thank you Lord for this day” praise, but the kind of big, all-encompassing praise which scatters the enemy.  In victory, David praised God; in frustration, he praised God; in sorrow, he praised God.

Some might argue that this kind of praise is just emotionalism or attention-seeking, and maybe, for some, it is. But I believe that issue is between us and God.  Besides, I would hope that when I stop to worship Him who has given me all, my emotions would be touched as well.  After all, I never want to be accused of holding anything back from Him who holds nothing back from me.

So, I hope that I can aspire to praise God the way David did, in a way that gets as close as humanly possible to the way He deserves.  To the rest of the world, it may look silly, over-the-top, and unrealistic.  But I know, we know, that it is the most natural thing for those who have found Love of our lives.


[1] The New International Version. 2011 (Ps 18:title). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The New International Version. 2011 (Ps 18:4–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] The New International Version. 2011 (Ps 18:30–31). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Ordained

“Ugh, Monday again. Just gotta make it through today.” I overheard yet another person make yet another comment about trudging through yet another Monday.  I felt a check in my spirit.  Recent comments and conversations began replaying through my head, all filled with the tones of personal anxiety, need, or general disdain for doing any of the ordinary, daily activities required by life.

“How are you?”

“Tired.” “Busy.” “I’m not feeling very good.” “If I could just get through.” “I need more time/better health/more money.”  “Wish it was summer/vacation/Friday/weekend/insert anything other than here here.”

I think the sad thing is that I hear these things from believers.  Born-again, Spirit-filled, walking free from their past sins believers.  I hear them from me, too.

John Lund/Riser/Getty Images

John Lund/Riser/Getty Images

I guess the question I began to ask myself is, Why are Christians sometimes the most defeated people?  That’s not what the Word says we are: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Have you acknowledged your ordination yet?  It is time we, as Christians, recognize that we are ordained by God to be His priests and ministers of the Gospel.  We are called to live as Jesus lived, which means everyday is an opportunity to heal the sick, set the captives free, and proclaim the year of jubilee.  We must break free from the mentality (or, more aptly, spiritual condition) that makes the only ministry we see that which we need.  We claim our Savior, yet live as ones destitute, hungry and naked from spiritual impoverishment.  “Pray for me,” we beg, yet we ignore the dying all around us, too distracted by our own needs to have the heart for another’s.

Every day is a gift.  And while that is a cliche, it doesn’t make it untrue.

Yes, we all have needs from time to time, and God wants to meet your needs.  But it is our faith that looks at those needs in our lives, declares, “His grace is sufficient,” and pushes through to live as a son of God, without hindrances, moving in the authority granted us in Him.  Satan would love to keep you too bound in your own impoverished state to do damage to the Kingdom.  But isn’t it time we awoke from our state of stupor, stepped beyond our immediate comforts, and looked at the Kingdom, with its fields ripe with harvest. Beloved, are you His?  Are you a new creation, with the DNA of Christ in your being?  If so, you are ordained into the priesthood.  Put on your habit, the clothing of Christ.  Walk in each moment with the intention of the Kingdom.

How do we do that?  Wake up every morning with the prayer that God would show you your calling for that day.  Do you have errands to run?  Pray to meet someone who needs the Gospel.  Working in a cubicle?  Have a God conversation with your neighbor.  Cooped up in a house with three preschoolers?  Put on the worship music and let the Spirit of God invade your home and their little hearts.

Beloved, it is a choice we must make every morning to advance the Kingdom.  We must put on Christ daily and choose to find ways to turn each day into a mission. With mission comes joy, purpose, and the fulfilled promises of God in your own life.  I charge you, me, to embrace Monday, the grocery store, the cubicle, and even the illness that sends us to a doctor; it is in those places we take the Kingdom by force.

Crazy, Stupid Obedience

Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. – John 5:19 (NIV)

The last few weeks, I have had to make some decisions that have been difficult.  I have realized that I took far too much control over some things in my life, not trusting that God would just be God and take care of me if I would be fully obedient to Him.  I was in disobedience, and I knew it.  I felt God’s favor drift away from me like a shady cloud on a hot day.  I had to, as the expression goes, drop back and punt, even though it meant loss of investments and the embarrassment of admitting defeat.

I have become convinced that the Kingdom of Heaven can be summed up in this one idea: radical and complete obedience to the Father.  As I look more and more at the life of Jesus, it seems that he always comes back to this point in both his daily activities and his teachings.  While many of his teachings have different topics, they all stem from the same root of obedience.  In other words, he constantly showed that if we would just make up our minds and hearts to completely surrender to the will of God, everything else falls into place (see Matt.6:33).  Consider:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. – John 5:30

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. – John 6:38

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [the one I claim to be] and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. – John 8:28

For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. – John 12:49

I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” – John 12:50

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. – John 14:10

And that is all just from the Gospel of John, which means Jesus probably started feeling like a broken record at some point.  I can just imagine the Son of God, in all his loving but righteous frustration (we see that a few times in the gospels) just wanting to scream out, “Listen!”  Seriously, though, it is vital to understand that everything Jesus did had a two-fold purpose.  First, he was just being Jesus, the greatest prophet and teacher to ever walk the planet, working miracles and flipping tables long before that New Jersey housewife.  But the second part of his mission, and this is where many Christians struggle, was to be the example for the rest of us to follow.  His job in those three years was to be a trailblazer for the rest of us, showing us how we could live as children of God in a world without his physical presence.  He didn’t just call followers; he created imitators, and even, dare I say, duplicators.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. – Romans 8:14

This passage from Romans (and many other scriptures which I will not enumerate here) reveals how we live truly to be like Christ in our degree of obedience: we are led by the Spirit.  You see, the obedience to which I am referring has very little to do with the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Law.  As Paul pointed out so many times, those things are good and useful, but essentially meaningless because there is not necessarily a spiritual obedience with the keeping of the law.  The obedience of Christ was to pray, seek the Father, listen, and follow, even when it didn’t make sense or would cost something.  It is for this reason we need the Holy Spirit operating in our lives on a daily basis.  We need a constant stream of communication between ourselves and the Father, not just a few minutes of daily quiet time before we shut our Bibles and our minds off from God.  We must be in a constant state of readiness to hear from the Lord, whether our direction comes from the still, small urging in our spirits or a sudden recollection or “sign” that directs our paths.

Then, and this is the hard part, we have to stop and do.  Good intentions are not obedience, and God isn’t good with the excuse of, “It’s the thought that counts.”  He has a Kingdom to advance.  He wants to use you.  And if you aren’t willing, someone else will be.  Sadly, that means we miss the blessing of seeing God work miracles and change lives. When we ignore God’s commands on a large-scale, it gets called ‘The Western Church,’ and we all sit around on our hands and wonder why God moves so mightily in places like Africa and Asia.

I am sorry if that hurt.  It hurt me, too.

My husband and I were swapping stories today about how God loves people so much that He might ask us to do some seemingly stupid things in order to reach one person.  From simply walking in a particular place without knowing why to the extreme circumstances of giving away more than you can afford or saying something that seems absurd, we have no clue how God is working in someone else through those acts of obedience.  Most of the time, we will not understand exactly what we are doing or why we are doing it until after the circumstance.  God doesn’t need us to understand His motives or see the whole picture, and while that sounds harsh, it really doesn’t matter if we are totally surrendered to Him anyway.

This is what Jesus did.  After all, this is the same Jesus who spit in the dirt and smeared the mud on a man’s blind eyes, and who told a disciple to get tax money from the mouth of a fish.  I can honestly say that I have never felt led to do something like that.

I have been led to do things that the world might look at as crazy, irrational, or just unnecessary.  But think how much different the world might be if Christendom got this: if we stopped being so controlling over our own lives and made the Holy Spirit our guide.  What if we let God be truly sovereign?

I have realized that I do not want to be the person about whom others say, “She had a really successful life, nice house, nice car, dressed well, took lots of vacations, blah, blah, blah.” I want them to say that I changed the world for the better, and I can only do that the way Jesus did.