Archive for August, 2012

Wholesome Words

August 31st, 2012

“What you say can preserve life or destroy it.” Proverbs 18:21 TEV

A cleansed heart is the source of a wholesome vocabulary.

My thoughts and comments today are about “wholesome words.”

My fourth grade teacher put a fascinating book into my hands that would shape and equip my adult life, though its significance was unbeknownst to me at the time. That book was about etymology, “the study of the sources and development of words,” that cultivated my appreciation for language. As is often said, “Words mean something.” That’s true all the time, not just when you intend for your words to mean something. Words carry a weightiness you can easily fail to realize even at the time you are speaking them. In conversations, you leave blessing or turmoil. Your words can validate or invalidate a person to whom or about whom you speak. I want my words to lift lives, not diminish them.

Know this about words; words inspire or dishearten; they induce healing or inflict trauma. Hearts have been wooed and won by tender, loving words, as well as mortally wounded by angry, hurtful words. With words, endearing friendships or enduring enemies are formed. Solomon wisely observed, “What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequence of your words” Proverbs 18:21 TEV. In perilous times, national leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill have, with their words, rallied nations to great courage and sacrifice, while Adolph Hitler’s words spawned unparalleled hatred and evil in the soul of a generation of Nazi Germany, bringing devastating destruction across a continent. See Proverbs 12:18 NKJV.

Consider with me the spiritual etymology of your words, their “source and development.” Have you ever thought to yourself, “Where did that come from?” Your words are consequential and reflect their source. See Matthew 12:36-37 NKJV. A wise person weighs their words carefully, or better yet, prayerfully. Before speaking, you should weigh your words because others will, and God does. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things . .” Read Matthew 12:34-35 NKJV. A cleansed heart is the source of a wholesome vocabulary. Monitoring what comes out of your mouth is less difficult when you guard what is in your heart.

A friend recently commented about another that, “They had lost their filter.” They were describing a person who frequently indulged themselves in saying what they thought, without regard to their words’ propriety, origin, or effect. Speaking your own mind isn’t always best if you want to have friends, or be one. Filters are important. “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 NLT. The words you speak are too relationally important and eternally consequential to be handled casually, without careful examination and prayerful forethought.

The Bible teaches, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths . . that it may benefit those who listen.” Read Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV. Their effect on others is the standard by which words are judged. Do your words pass that Bible test? “Do not be rash with your mouth . . therefore let your words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2 NKJV. You will experience a lot less regret.

My prayer for you today is that your communication is always honoring and edifying.

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Real Relationships

August 29th, 2012

“It is not good that man should be alone.” Genesis 2:18 NKJV

When mutuality is imbalanced, relational intimacy is elusive.

My thoughts and comments today are about “real relationships.”

Success in life involves establishing mutually beneficial relationships. There will be associations that a person may seek out of their own sense of need or from their willingness to sacrifice to meet another’s need. But the relationships that endure and grow are those that become mutually beneficial – something is given and something is received. Marriage may be the best illustration of this principle. Marriage will be neither satisfactory not successful unless both partners are giving generously and receiving gratefully. When mutuality is imbalanced, relational intimacy is elusive. In a measure, that principle is true in friendships, families, and work relationships as well.

But there is a vast difference between community and being in a crowd. Have you ever wondered why we are drawn to where the crowd is? A crowd can be a lonely place when you are a stranger there. People pack the same venues, sporting events, restaurants, and churches, looking for a place where they are not alone, looking for closeness that is never found in the crowd. The satisfaction and belonging you seek cannot be found in a crowd but is found in fellowship with God and in the surrounding company of Godly community. You were created for community; by God’s design, meaningful community is the setting in which people thrive.

Soon after creation of Adam and as incentive to create Eve, Adam’s helpmate, God declared a truth that is repeated again and again in Scripture, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Genesis 2:18 NKJV. After everything that God created and pronounced, “very good,” God stated clearly that Adam’s relational aloneness was “not good.” Adam had perfect surroundings, safety and security, ample provision, and meaningful responsibilities – literally everything a person could want or need, except for the lack of companionship.

The Psalmist understood the same truth when he observed, “God sets the solitary in families.” Psalm 68:6 NKJV. Solomon stated mutual benefits unequivocally, “Two are better than one . . [one] who is alone . . has no one to help him.” Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NKJV. And of course, the New Testament is replete with direction about “one another” “love one another, serve one another, forgive one another, comfort one another, edify one another, hospitable to one another, submitting to one another, devoted to one another,” and many, many other such practical expressions of life in community. Salvation is to restore mutual and beneficial relationship with God first, and then with others. See 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NLT.

Friendship is a valuable thing, a design of God Himself for the fullest realization of what He made each person to be and do. My shortcomings and under-achievements are my own doing, not the fault of others. The longer I have lived the more I realize the preponderance of credit goes to others for whatever good I have done and whatever good I have become. At the heart of every meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship, you find the fingerprints of God. When you are ready to be that kind of friend, God makes the proper introductions to have that kind of friends.

My prayer for you today is that you become the friend you wish others to be for you.

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Right Side Up

August 27th, 2012

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 NIV

Discover how God made life to work and cooperate with that.

My thoughts and comments today are about “right side up.”

Have you ever heard someone described as, “not knowing which way is up?” I hope it isn’t you. That is not particularly complimentary. You know; it’s about people who get a lot of things wrong. But the reality is that a host of people – maybe any one of us at some point – are confused about how life is meant to work. Here’s the reality. Life does not often work the way you want it to; life works exactly the way God designed it to work. Briefly, you might be able to manipulate a situation or a person to your advantage, but that is not effective for long. Life has a way of regaining its symmetry or balance as God ordained it. It’s better for you, and those around you, when you discover how God made life to work and cooperate with that.

Jesus’ disciples seemed to always be maneuvering for personal advantage, rushing to be first to request “sitting at Your right and at Your left.” See Mark 10:35-42 NIV. Or on more than one occasion, they argued about who among them would be “considered the greatest.” See Mark 9:33-35 NIV. They thought they knew how things should work from the way things appeared to work in the society around them. Their theory was that those who are first get the most; those who are last get the least. We are so much like them, aren’t we? People always seem busy keeping score, vying for place and importance.

Jesus really confused their assumptions. He talked about a time when, “many that are first shall be last; and the last first.” See Mark 10:32 NIV. How confusing is that? Jesus seemed to be always turning things upside down. “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 NIV. Eventually, after the Feast of Pentecost and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit His followers were described this way: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” Acts 17:6 NKJV. What really was happening was that Jesus and His true followers were actually turning their world right side up – a world as it should be!

Here is how Jesus taught that life should work, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them.” That was a world upside down. Here is the Kingdom of God setting things right side up. “But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant . . for even I came not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 NLT. Serving and sacrifice typify people whose lives are right side up. How do you measure up to that standard?

Here is the matter simply stated, “For you have been called to live in freedom . . to serve one another in love. For the whole Law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:13-14 NLT. Living to bless others and for a cause bigger than yourself is the only way to true happiness. Paul commended the house of Stephanas, who “have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” 1 Corinthians 16:15 KJV. Through their intentional practice of serving, their selfless lifestyle of sacrifice for others had become habitual, an inseparable part of who they were in Christ. Would to God that would be said of more of us today.

My prayer for you today is that you know when things are as they should be.

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Civility and Respect

August 24th, 2012

“Don’t let anyone look down on you, but set an example . .” 1 Timothy 4:12 NIV

Civility is the right choice; respect is the result.

My thoughts and comments today are about “civility and respect.”

Commerce, community, friendships, and family all do best in the climate of mutual respect. As multiple Grammy Awards winner, Aretha Franklin, so notably sang, All I’m askin’ is for a little respect, R-e-s-p-e-c-t; find out what it means to me.” The Bible commands all of us to, “Show proper respect to everyone: love the brotherhood of believers, [reverence] God, honor the king . . Give respect and honor to all to whom it is due.” 1 Peter 2:17 NIV/Rom 13:7 NLT. Being respectful of others is the surest way to be respected by others. The Psalmist seemed filled with wonder as he considered, “Though the LORD is on high, yet He regards the lowly.” Psalm 138:6 NKJV. What an example.

But first, there is another side to this discussion. Wherever respect is lacking disrespect fills the void. That seems to have become a pervading attitude at every level of culture and society, and we are not the better for that. It seems increasingly common to hold little of anything or anyone in regard. Personal rights disrespect selfless concern for the common good.  Personal whim disrespects traditions, however long-standing and valuable. Respectful discourse is replaced with coarse language, more suited for the street than the home.

Every individual is either part of the problem, or part of a solution. Disrespect is at the root of any attitude or action evidencing an opinion that diminishes another person’s worth or importance. Such opinions are born from prejudice about things such as age, gender, nationality, education, or social standing. External and unchangeable differences should not necessitate disrespect.

Any person wants respect; every person deserves some respect. I think this begins with honest civility. Civility is the right choice; respect is the result. “This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we commanded you before. As a result, people who are not Christians will respect the way you live . .” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NLT. Your goal should be that your life in very practical, everyday ways is worthy of others’ respect. Respect cannot be demanded; it can be generously extended.

It is not length of years, but rather depth of character that commands others’ respect. Paul’s advice to young Timothy was, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young [or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, native or immigrant, man or woman] but set an example . .  in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 NIV. I might paraphrase Paul’s words in this way: people will not look down on those who always give others reasons to look up to them. Our nation, politicians, communities, churches, marriages, families, and individuals need a revival of gracious civility and Godly respect. Let that begin today with you.

My prayer for you today is that you will live respectfully in a manner that honors God.

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A Soul Set Free

August 22nd, 2012

“Praise the Lord . . Who forgives all your sins.” Psalm 103:3 NIV

Forgiveness heals your history; grace empowers your destiny.

My thoughts and comments today are about “a soul set free.”

Unforgiven sin is a heavy burden on one’s soul, even for the strongest of men. King David learned that lesson the hard way, “When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long. Day and night Your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” Read Psalm 32:3-4 NLT. Clearly, there is not only a spiritual dimension to sin; there are physical, emotional, psychological, and relational consequences to sin as well. Sin produces guilt; guilt breeds shame; shame causes regret. It is overly simplistic, but true, to say that none of those are profitable or desirable.

It is futile to hide sin from God, for He sees and knows all. It is foolish to excuse sin or blame anyone else but yourself and self-destructive to hold onto your sin when God waits to forgive readily. The burden of sin can only be relieved by forgiveness. Forgiveness heals your history; grace empowers your destiny. “Praise the Lord, O my soul . . and forget not all His benefits – Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, and crowns you with love and compassion.” Psalm 103:1-5 NIV.

Listen to David’s joy when rid of the burden of his horrible sins, “Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin, whose lives are lived in complete honesty . . finally, I confessed all my sins to You and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And You forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” Psalm 32:2/5 NLT. I saw a bumper sticker that correctly read, “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.” There is an unspeakable joy in a soul set free. Read Psalm 124:7-8 NAS.

Forgiveness was made available to you at the Cross when Jesus, the sinless Savior, died for the sins of the world. See John 3:16-21 NKJV. Forgiveness does not erase what you’ve done; it does transform who you are and can change who you become. The only reason sin remains unforgiven in your life is that you allow it to remain unrepented and unconfessed. My dear friend, Campbell, often said, “The only way that sin leaves your life is through your mouth, in confession and repentance to God.” I am sure he was right. The Bible promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” Read 1 John 1:8-10 NKJV.

Be clear about confession. Let’s start with what it is not. Confession is not telling God about your sin; he knew of your sin before you were willing to recognize it as such. Neither is it merely saying to God you are sorry; of course, you’re sorry. God gave you a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong that troubles your soul when ignored. You are sorry because sin is troublesome to the human spirit. Read 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 NKJV. Confession is not promising God you will do better, although you had best intend to do just that. Confession literally means, “to say along with.” You confess sin when you say the same thing about your sin that God says – that your sin is against His moral and righteous Law, your sin separates you from His fellowship and purpose, and your sin is destructive now and eternally. Read Psalm 51:1-12 NIV.

My prayer for you today is for you to know the joy of a sinless soul and liberated spirit.

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