Consider the Words You Speak

gossip

2 Timothy 2:23-3:5 (NIV)

23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

 

Gossip is often regarded as a relatively harmless pastime, particularly when compared to “bigger” wrongs like murder or adultery.  Satan has painted idle talk as innocuous, but if we peel away the deception, we discover the ugly truth.  In the Bible God lists gossip among the most depraved sins.  Don’t believe me?  See for yourself:

Romans 1:28-31 (NIV)

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

Nothing about gossip is harmless.  Whether the talk is intentionally cruel or simply some idle musing, the target of the comments can be embarrassed or hurt.  I had a friend, from one of my men’s groups, decide to trace a damaging story about himself back to the original source.  He asked one man after another, “Where did you hear this?”  Seventeen people later, he finally found the person who had originated the story.  This fellow admitted he had speculated aloud regarding a situation about which he knew very little.  A destructive chain reaction began with just one man jumping to a false conclusion while chatting with a friend.

Even if the victim never learns of the chitchat going on his or her back, gossip still has consequences.  The people who spread story reveal their inner thinking:

Matthew 12:34b (NIV)

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

A poisonous tongue flows with the jealousy, resentment, or pride that resides in the heart of the person.

Gossip has the power to hurt feelings, destroy reputations and friendships, and divide churches.  We do not have the right to bring such damage into anyone’s life.  In fact, God is the only one we should turn to when we hear a story about somebody.  Those facing trials need prayer and love rather than tongues wagging over their struggles and misfortunes.

Please keep in mind the full extent of the possible consequences before you choose whether to engage in gossiping.  Hopefully by pondering and praying about it, we will choose to take a better path.  A path that builds up and does not destroy.

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Don’t Be a Slave to Shame

shame

Mark 2:13-17(NIV)

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Want to hear a weird irony?  At some point in our lives, we all long to be known, but at the same time we are terrified of it.  So many of our patterns of relating to others can be traced to this inner tension.  So, which side wins?  More times than not, it is our terror that wins out.

I know this has been true of my own life.  Much of my early life was spent trying to make a name for myself and become known to others.  Being an athlete in a high-profile program such as Iowa State and my brief time in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams brought me to that level of recognition that I so craved.  It is a double-edged sword though.  When you are well-known by people, you don’t slip through the cracks.  People know things about you that they would not normally know about a person.  You really do tend to live in a fishbowl, where people can see everything you do and make judgments about what they see accordingly.  Even though 18 years have passed since I have participated in any organized sports, I still get recognized in public, often by people I do not even know.

As I have grown older, my desire has become to live a more private life, where not everyone knows everything I do.  I don’t have that strong desire to be “known,” as I once did.  I don’t want everyone to see me completely, all the time.  Despite this, I have found that I still feel, at times, relentless pressure to look good to all the people I do interact with.  The idea of admitting my own fears, doubts, and temptations seems impossible to me.  I am a slave to my shame way more often than I really want to admit.

So how does Jesus change this?  Take the story of how he called Levi, the tax collector, a eatinman hated and shamed by his fellow Jews.  Levi throws a party and invites the only friends he has, other tax collectors and lowlifes.  What can they do?  They eat together.  Eating in that culture required a certain physical intimacy as they reclined together on couches.  It also implied an emotional intimacy as hearts were shared over the food.  Imagine the impact on Levi and his friends.  Jesus wanted to be close to them, and it began the dismantling of their shame.  We don’t know what happened to Levi’s friends after the party, but we do know what happened to Levi.  He was so revolutionized by Jesus that he eventually penned the Gospel of Matthew.

That same revolution can happen in us too.  How does shame get healed?  How do we learn true intimacy?  It comes as we allow Jesus to re-shape how we feel about ourselves, seeing ourselves through His eyes.  Shame binds us because it defines us, but the truth is that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers.  We see this in the book of Hebrews.

“Whatever the reason for your broken intimacy with God…Jesus waits to embrace you now in the arms of unconditional, divine love.”

Charles Stanley

I think there is a lot of peace available to us, knowing that Jesus love us no matter how bad we mess up.  There is nothing we can do to make Him stop loving us.  He will forgive us for anything we might do wrong.  All we have to do to accept this gift is choose to accept it.  It really is that simple.

The important question that we need to ask ourselves is:

How has shame influenced and distorted your life?

Once you can answer that question, you can work to end that influence and distortion.  One way to do that might be to go to a trusted friend and share a present or past struggle or difficulty from your life.  There is real power in sharing with others.

We are all influenced by sin in our lives and none of us are perfect.  It can be very easy to let the shame we feel for things we have messed up in our lives control the direction of our lives and take us in directions we never imagined possible.  Just remember that we do not have to be slaves to our shame.  Jesus has already bought our freedom through His death on the cross so that none of us have to live as slaves to anything, including shame.

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The Lasting Impact of Freedom

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

As we approach another 4th of July holiday, when everyone puts a huge emphasis on our freedom, have you every stopped to consider this question: How do you use the gift of freedom?  I love the freedoms we have in this country and I am so grateful for the sacrifice of all the men and women who allow me that freedom.  But I am talking about a freedom that goes beyond freedom in this life.  A freedom that is not contained to the borders of our country.

God gives all believers true liberty through His Son Jesus Christ.  Do you squander that blessing or share it with others?  The problem is, some people are so focused on their own needs and desires that they fail to impact even their closest neighbor.

Think about all the people you see every week.  Do you know how many of your neighbors are sick?  Are there people in your church who struggle to make it from day to day?  Do you know if any of your coworkers are going through hardships?  Most likely, there are individuals all around you who could use assistance.  But being self-focused limits our ability to notice those people, let alone reach out to them.

Jesus taught His disciples:

Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

In order for salt to remain useful, it must maintain its purity and potency.  Likewise, we must endeavor to lead holy, humble, and loving lives, focusing on the Savior’s will rather than our own.  God has prepared the good works that we are to walk in.

Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Our job is to carry them out.

Whether or not we affect our world positively depends on the focus of our heart.  Do we look inward to consider how we can do more to get ahead and add to our own lot in life?  Or do we look outward and think about ways that we can do more to serve others.

This holiday, when someone mentions the word freedom, I challenge each of us to think of an even greater freedom that each of us has available to us.  Let’s step out of our comfort zone and share about that freedom with those around us.  It really is a matter of life or death.

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Walking in the Spirit

Holy Spirit

Galatians 5:16-25 (NIV)

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is one of God’s most precious gifts to His beloved children, which is of course, us.  The Spirit takes up residence within the believer at the moment of salvation and empowers the individual to overcome sin and live for God’s glory and purposes.  However, the Holy Spirit’s power can’t be “turned off” or ignored.  Only those who choose to walk with Him have unhindered access to His strength and guidance.

Walking by the Spirit denotes reliance upon God.  God leads the way, and we follow Him.  As He speaks, we listen, heed His warnings, and obey His directions.  The Spirit’s way is a path of surrender which, although difficult, leads to fullness of life.

God’s Spirit not only guides but also empowers us.  The challenge of obeying Him is impossible in our own strength.  The Holy Spirit supplies everything we need for living a godly life, and He produces His amazing fruit in us.

Being led by the Spirit should be the natural lifestyle of all sons and daughters of God.  As you intentionally seek to maintain an awareness of His presence throughout the day, He is only a thought away.  When your mind turns to Him, He gives you a sensitivity to the things of God and provides understanding about the situations and people in your life.

Take a walk with the Spirit today, and learn to know His voice.  Spend time in the Word and in prayer.  Whenever your mind is not occupied with the duties of the day, focus your thoughts on Him, asking for His guidance and looking expectantly for His leading.  When He gives direction, obey what God says, relying on His power, not your own.

 

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What Do You Do When the Storm Comes?

storm

Luke 8:22-25 (NIV)

22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

 

In this account from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus simply invited the disciples to sail with Him to the other side of the lake, but He said nothing about the fact that they would go through a storm before they got to the other side.  As they set out across the water, Jesus even fell asleep.  Eventually a terrible storm arose, and the disciples panicked.  The distress among the disciples rose to sheer terror as the wind and waves threatened to overturn the vessel.  The disciples rush to Jesus, still asleep and seemingly oblivious to the impending danger.  They awaken Him with fear and panic in their voices: “Master, Master, we’re going to die!”  Jesus responds by simply rising and rebuking the storm.  Then He turns to His disciples and rebukes them for their unbelief.  They are left in awe of His power but still fearful, this time of Jesus himself.

One would think that the disciples would have great faith by this time.  After all, they had witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus to perform miracles, but the reality is that they failed to demonstrate faith time and time again in the Gospel narratives.  This story is no exception.  It is easy for us to criticize the disciples, but if we are honest, we have had the same type of response as the storms of life have arisen and threatened to shipwreck us.  We tend to panic as we focus on the storm and not on the One who is able to calm the storm.  No matter the situation or struggle, whether at home or in the workplace, we are to look up and fix our eyes on God.  He will certainly see us through the wind and waves, even if it does not look like it at the moment.

 

What are some storms you are facing right now in your life?

How are you responding?

What would change if you felt a growing ability to fix your eyes on Jesus in the storm?

How could you cultivate that ability?

I have found that in my life, when the hard times come, that is when I am drawn to God the most.  In those times I actually feel the closest to God and because of that, I feel great comfort and protection.  Because of this, it gives me great strength and courage to weather the storm and see it through.  God is the rock that I keep myself attached to, which keeps me from getting blown away.  I know that I can make it through anything as long as I stay connected to God.  What a comfort it is to have that kind of security in a world where you can’t fully count on anything else.

 

 

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Be a Person God Can Use

peter

Acts 2:14-36 (NIV)

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’Matthew 16:16

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

 

When Jesus called him to a life of discipleship and service, Peter left his fishing career to become a leader in the church at Jerusalem.  We can learn so much from both the high and low points of his transformation.

Peter publicly acknowledged that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.  When Jesus asked the disciples who they believed He was, Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  We find this response in the following verse:

Matthew 16:16 (NIV)

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter boldly confessed his faith in front of the other disciples and didn’t hold back for fear of their opinion.

In a similar way, the basis for our identity, both in public as well as in private, ought to be that we are followers of Christ.  Our words and actions should proclaim to those around us that we belong to Him.

After Christ’s arrest, Peter’s faith faultered.  When he was challenged about having been with Jesus, he denied it.  Just as Jesus had predicted, the apostle refused three separate times to acknowledge their relationship.  How bitterly Peter wept about what he had done.  We see the whole scene played out in the book of Matthew:

Matthew 26:69-75 (NIV)

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

But following the resurrection, Jesus forgave Peter and then called him to love the “lost sheep” of the world.

John 21:15-17 (NIV)

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

After being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter began his ministry by sharing the gospel with thousands of people.  Through God’s power, many were saved.

Acts 2:6-11, 41 (NIV)

 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Peter is a good example of the type of person our heavenly Father can use.  He is looking for someone with strengths and weaknesses, who learns from mistakes and is surrendered to the Lord for His purposes.  Have you committed yourself to following God’s plan for your life?  If so, God has all kinds of plans for using you for His kingdom.  What a great honor it is indeed to be able to serve our Creator!

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Avoid Being a Distant Leader

Dan 3

2 Samuel 11:1-5 (NIV)

11 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joabout with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

 

John 10:11-14 (NIV)

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.

 

In 2 Samuel 11, David didn’t go off to war, as most kings did during the springtime; instead, he sent others out to do the fighting and remained at home in Jerusalem.  While at home, he fell into terrible sin with Bathsheba, but the king’s sin didn’t start when he committed adultery with her.  It didn’t start with his seeing her bathing from his roof.  It started when David tried to lead his army from a distance.

Most of us face the temptation to chase after the authority of leadership, but not the responsibility.  Who doesn’t love being the one who gets the say?  Who doesn’t hate being the one who gets the blame?  There is no positive biblical role model for distant leadership.  David’s example reveals the dangers to us when it comes to leading from a distance.

God perfectly modeled close leadership for us in the form of Jesus.  Christ came down and dwelt among us.  He became our Immanuel “God with us.”  But then He laid down His life for us as the Good Shepherd.

When we practice biblical leadership, we are intimately involved in the lives of those under our care.  We aren’t using them as stepping stones for our advancement; instead we are helping them become building blocks for God’s kingdom by our encouragement and presence.  They are spurred on in the roles that God has given them because they recognize our sacrifice on their behalf.

If we stay behind the fray, we demonstrate a lack of desire to serve those for whom we are responsible.  Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.  Leaders serve, and you can’t do that from a distance.  Nor can you serve if you are hungry for power or control.  But, if leaders become servants, investing in the well-being of those under their care, it would make a real impact.

Max Dupree, an American business leader in the 19th century, once said, “Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.”

I want us to take a minute and try to think about a servant leader we have known in our lives.  How would you describe them?  What was it like to be led by them?

For me, I think of Dan McCarney.  Dan was a great leader because he would always come to you at a level that you could understand.  He never asked us to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.  He always stood beside us and never tried to tower over us.  We always knew that he had our backs no matter what.  He may get mad at us at times, but he always had our very best interests in mind.  When I think of a great servant leader, I think of Dan.

Have you ever been tempted to use the people you led?  What have been some benefits of serving those you have led?  As we are put into roles of leadership, we should try to be servant leaders and lead those we are leading, like we would want to be led.  We need to lead like Jesus did.  May we love those we lead just a Jesus has loved us.

 

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