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.

 

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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.

Another Election Opinion…Great.

Like forty-some-odd percent of Americans, I was a little disheartened today by the outcome of the presidential election.  I can’t say that I am surprised, but I am disappointed nonetheless.  Honestly, I am not a fan of Gov. Romney for any particular reason, but, politically, I think electing a democrat, any democrat, while battling a recession is like pouring salt in a wound — the left’s philosophy is one of big government, and bigger government leads to slower private sector growth and, therefore, a stagnant economy.  Socially, I believe we’ve made choices against honoring the sanctity of life, that first and most basic inalienable right.  We’ve elected someone who ignores our foreign obligations and appeases those who would seek to harm us given the opportunity.  But, you can save your comments about those statements; that’s not why I’m writing tonight.

As a Christ follower and one who believes the whole Word of God, I am disappointed at the reaction of other Christians to the election results.  Brace yourself: I am about to sound incredibly cynical.  On Facebook and in conversations with others, the common responses were, “God is still on the throne,” and “No king but Jesus.”  Those are true.  They are great things to say.  But I found myself beginning to roll my eyes every time I scrolled past one of those comments.  I had to ask myself why I was so annoyed by them, and the truth is that they are great things to say which should have been said long before Election Day.

Please bear with my humanity in this moment.  Reading all those comments today was like watching a child after losing a game, shrugging his shoulders, sticking out his lip, and saying, “So.  I didn’t want to play anyway.”  And I know there are some beautiful and well-meaning people who said those things, and I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to them, but my disdain is with many of the people making comments like these who were also the ones who made political rants and debates their only topics since the primaries.  There was no talk of God and His throne then.

Make no mistake – the God I know refuses to be a backup plan.  He is a jealous God and He is not surprised by anything we choose to do (or anyone we elect).  He is, and has always been, sovereign.

We have been called to be strangers in a strange land, from Abraham to Jesus to you and me today.  Perhaps God is simply allowing us to have our way, like when the Israelites begged for a king.  Perhaps He is going to do a mighty work in our president and shift the nation back to Himself.  Perhaps He is simply charging us, as the Body of Christ, to step up our faith in Him and our service to others, to build our character as a body and keep us from being dependent on a government to legislate our morality.

Regardless, God works all things for the good of those who love Him.  But, beloved, we need to love Him first, depend on Him first, seek Him first.  If  adversity is what it takes to build a Church that is strong and faithful, I will welcome the challenge.  I pray that my faith, our faith, will stand the test before us: that we will act justly, walk humbly, and love mercy.

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.