You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘life’ tag.

What is this thing, this action, that in and of itself is not a sin, but when most people attempt it, they usually end up sinning?  What is it that people do millions of times a day, and usually do it wrong?wordsmouth1

The answer is talking.  Of the multitude of sins that are chronicled in the Bible, none is more common or more destructive than the sin of words and talking.  The apostle James speaks much of this in all five chapters of his little book.  Most forcefully in chapter three, where he calls the tongue a wild fire, a poison, something straight from the pit of hell.  Our words can poison relationships, burn out a community of faith and destroy years of good work.  Who can tame the tongue?

And even if a person never gossips, slanders or badmouths another person, their words can still be sin!  Paul, in Ephesians four, tells the church that every word uttered should only be for the uplifting, edification and strengthening of the body of Christ.  If not, it’s a sin.  The last two letters Paul wrote in his life that we have in the Holy Scriptures are written to Timothy.  Paul knew his time on earth was short, and his last instructions were of utmost importance, so he emphasized  the most important truths to his young charge.  In both letters he told Timothy to “avoid godless chatter”.  What is “godless chatter”?  It is any conversation with another person that does not in some way include or point to God.  If we talk a lot about the weather or sports, or other people or events,  and that discussion does not have its basis in  God, then we are skating on thin ice.  We are probably sinning.

Back to the book of James.  He says that anyone who controls his tongue is perfect.  We all want to be perfect and mature before God and man, so we need to control our tongues.  The best way to control our tongues and thus be perfect is to not talk at all.  Never utter a word.  Most people are probably aghast at the thought of not being able to voice their opinion, tell the world what they think, or stand up for themselves with their words.  They are probably sinning.  We have all  heard of monks who take a vow of silence; who don’t talk.  Perhaps we think them crazy.  We should think them very wise.  Perfect.  They have tamed the tongue.

Of course the Bible talks about good words.  Happy, encouraging words can be like medicine to a broken heart.  Doctors don’t hand out any type of medicine to their patients in a helter skelter kind of way.  First they diagnose the problem and then give out the exact prescription that is needed to bring healing.  We should be like that with our words. Paul writes in Romans ten that people need to hear the words of the gospel to be saved.  We need to offer life saving gospel words to lost people in a sick world.

In order to speak helpful words and not sin words, we need to put a filter over our mouths and carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully think before we speak.  All of our cars have air filters, oil filters and gas filters to keep harmful particles from going in the engine and causing destruction.  We need the same kind of mental and spiritual filters between our brain and our mouth to keep harmful words from going out and causing harm.  The Psalmist writes “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! ” (141:3)

If we are careful to maintain these filters or guards or doors between our brains and our mouths, we will speak words of life and not death, words of health and not poison, words of hope and not destruction, words of righteousness and not sin.  If we watch our words we will glorify God and enjoy him all the more!

Words about words from Proverbs –

12:18   There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
12:19   Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
15:2     The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
15:4     A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
17:4     An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
18:21   Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
21:23   Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
25:23   The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
26:28   A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.
28:23   Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.
31:26   A virtuous woman opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

*****          *****          *****          *****

In our chatty world, in which the word has lost its power to communicate, silence helps us to keep our mind and heart anchored in the future world and allows us to speak from there a creative and re-creative word to the present world.

Henri Nouwen – The Way of the Heart

Advertisements

I’ve been reading Ephesians lately.  It’s a pleasant change from Ezekiel.   Ezekiel was full of sin, disobedience, judgment casketand the wrath of God.  It contained strange visions and bizarre symbolic actions.  Some things were hard to understand and confusing.  When I read scripture in the morning I try to find a phrase or encouraging word that I can meditate on throughout the day.  Those words and phrases were few and far between in Ezekiel.  Thank God for Ephesians!

With Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I find words or phrases that I can hang my spiritual hat on in almost every verse; certainly in each paragraph.  After a couple weeks of basking in the glory of chapter one, I came to the second chapter.  It starts out with the words, “As for you, you were dead”.

It’s unfortunate, in some ways, that there are chapters in the Bible.  It was not originally written with chapters. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he did not separate his letter into six different chapters.  It was a unified whole. But when we read it, we see chapter division.  Each chapter is intricately connected with the chapter that came before and the chapter that follows.  Many times we miss that connection, because we have a tendency to read the Word of God one chapter at a time; one chapter a day, and we miss important connections.  That initially happened to me upon reading chapter two.  Ephesians two is a well loved chapter to most Christians, being rich with images, words and phrases about salvation, grace and mercy.  I was anxious to reread those beloved verses and practically skipped the first, rather unflattering words of Ephesians two.

I caught myself and went back to the opening words of the chapter.  “As for you, you were dead …”  I thought about the first three words, “As for you” .  I recognized those as transition words.  Now he is talking about “you”.  You Ephesians, or more generally, you believers, or you Christians.  Well what was Paul talking about before, at the end of chapter one?  What was he comparing us to?  I went back and reread the last paragraph of one.  Paul was comparing us to Christ.

We were dead.  What was Christ?  Christ was raised from the dead.  Christ was seated at the right hand of God, seated in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked.  All things were placed under his feet, and appointed as head of the church.  He fills everything in every way.

And who were we?  What were we?  We were dead.  What an incredible contrast the apostle Paul presents between us and Christ!

My meditation phrase for that day was “and you were dead.”  Or more personally, I reminded myself that “I was dead!”  Maybe you want to try out that phrase within your day.  Remind yourself over and over that you were dead.  You were a spiritual corpse, without hope of true life, abundant life, eternal life.  Then go and read the rest of the first paragraph of Ephesians two.  See how great is the impact, how meaningful and significant those following words of Paul become – But God made you alive!

*****          *****          *****          *****

While we remain in Adam, we are entirely devoid of life; and that regeneration is a new life of the soul, by which it rises from the dead.      John Calvin

 

As part of Jesus conclusion to the sermon on the Mount, he says “Enter through the narrow gate….small is the gate and narrow gatenarrow is the path that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  I read those words of Christ and began to ponder what it was that Jesus wanted his hearers to take away as they headed back down the mountain to their homes.  I wondered what Jesus wanted me to learn from this statement as I was about to begin my day of work at the home for needy children in Oaxaca,Mexico.  I couldn’t quite get a handle on it, so I gave up and went outside to begin my day.

The first thing that I encountered was a big mess of fruit and vegetables that needed to be cleaned up.  Somebody made a mess and I needed to clean it up.  I was upset.  Inwardly I began to grumble and complain.  It’s not right.  It’s not fair.  I began to think bad of the brother who had made the mess.  I began to judge him.  Then it hit me.  I was not entering the narrow gate that leads to life, but was trundling down the broad road that leads to destruction.  My negative attitude had destroyed my peace and joy.  In a way I had destroyed my brother in my mind.  I felt God saying to me, “Get with it and go through the narrow gate!”

Doesn’t Come Naturally

Now I was beginning to understand.  Entering the narrow gate means going against what comes naturally, and following the principles that Jesus had been laying down in his sermon.  Principles of having a kingdom heart.  Principles like not judging; forgiving; loving those who do wrong.  Jesus was saying that it is easy to follow the flesh and do what comes naturally – that is what the crowd is doing who enter the wide gate and go down the broad road that leads to destruction.

The last story he gives us in his sermon is the well known story of the wise builder and the foolish builder.  In his introduction to this parable Jesus says, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock.”  Jesus could just as well as said that everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who entered through the narrow gate.

What are some of the other words that Jesus said that we need to put into practice?  Other things we need to do to enter through the narrow gate?

Jesus said don’t be angry with your brother.  Don’t lust.  Don’t do acts of righteousness to be seen by people so that you will be honored.  He said his disciples are to love their enemies and pray for those that persecute you.  He said to turn the other  cheek and give to those that ask and go the extra mile. He said we are to treat others like we want to be treated.  These are not easy things, but are marks of a true disciple with a kingdom heart who strives to enter the small gate and go down the narrow path.

Does God Really Want Us To Be Happy?

If we really believe that God is good and that He loves us and wants us to be happy, then we needn’t worry about anything.  At the end of Matthew chapter six, Jesus teaches his disciples that not worrying is part of what it means to enter through the narrow gate.  Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”  He goes on to say that your Heavenly Father feeds the birds and dresses the flowers and you are more valuable than they are.  People without Christ in  their lives worry about many things; get stressed out at work and home, and are headed down the broad path toward destruction.  Worry and stress destroys a persons health, mental outlook, happiness and relationships.  Trusting God to meet our physical and spiritual needs leads to health, happiness and life.

Everyone wants to be happy.  C.S. Lewis writes that God desires our happiness more than we ourselves desire to be happy.  God has provided explicit, written instructions on how to be happy in the Manual of Life called the Bible.  Those who enter the wide gate that leads to unhappiness and destruction disregard God’s Word.  Those who love God and trust him and put into practice His principles found in the Bible enter through the narrow gate that leads to life.  C.S. Lewis writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to  go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus put the question to the crowd and to his disciples, are you going to be wise and put what you have just heard me preach into practice, or are you going to be foolish and ignore what I have just said?  Are you going to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, or continue going down the broad path that leads to destruction?

I ask in the vain of C.S. Lewis,  are we going to happily make mud pies the rest of our lives, or are we going to make sand castles by the sea?

*****          *****          *****          *****

The narrow  gate is not, as so  often assumed, doctrinal correctness.  The narrow gate is obedience – and the confidence in Jesus necessary to it.  We can see that it is not doctrinal correctness because many people who  cannot even understand the correct doctrines nevertheless place their full faith  in him.  Moreover, we find many people who seem to be very correct doctrinally but have hearts full of hatred and unforgiveness.  The broad gate, by contrast is simply doing whatever I want to do.        Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy

Life with Mikey

Life with Mikey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My ten year old daughter Tifani had broken the rules and needed to be punished.  I don’t remember what offense she had committed.  I just remember looking at her, shaking my head, letting her know that she had disappointed me by breaking the rules and that she was going to be punished.  She looked up at me with big, sad eyes and said, “I’m bad.  I know it.  Daddy,  I need help.”

When I heard her utter those words I burst out laughing, all my anger gone, knowing that my budding little actress had obviously picked up this line from some movie she had watched.  All thoughts of punishment had disappeared and I asked her where she had heard those words, “I’m bad.  I know it.  I need help.”

She had recently watched a movie called LIFE WITH MIKEY, and in this movie, a young girl about Tifani’s age was a pickpocket on the streets of New York.  She gets caught and an angry man accuses her of stealing his wallet.  A small crowd gathers around her.  Michael Chapman (Michael J. Fox) shows up.  He had just had his wallet stolen by this same girl.  He is the head of a child talent agency, and is always looking for new talent.  He sees the way that this girls is playing the crowd, and realizes that she is a natural.  He intervenes, telling everyone that she is his daughter.   Crocodile tears pour down her pretty little face and she exclaims, “I’m bad.  I know it.  Daddy, I need help.”

She made the confession, “I’m bad.  I know it.  I need help”, not out of any realization of her true nature, but in the hope that people would feel sorry for her, give her a break and let her go.

Her words, though, have great significance for those who want to enjoy God.  The life of enjoying God begins with the startling revelation that we are all bad.  That we really and truly Know that we are bad and that without help, we are doomed.

This thought, for many, is the hardest part of enjoying God.  In fact, it seems ridiculous!  When confronted with the possibility that we might be bad, we immediately present our first list of all the good things we do.  We give to charitable organizations and donate time to worthy causes and don’t beat our wives or children and work hard at the office and never cheat or steal.

Our second list is made up of truly bad people like murderers, rapists, thieves and those who cheat on their spouses and take advantage of the poor.  We can always point to those who are really bad and thus exonerate ourselves.

Everyone has their own categories of who is bad and what is bad and we certainly don’t fall into any  of those categories.  But, the category that matters most, is God’s category.  Since He is the one we want to enjoy, and it is He that gives the joy, it is His standard of Good and Bad that we need to take a look at.

In the Bible God reveals His character and ours.  He shows us His standard of goodness and also how far removed we are from that standard.  The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that because we do not live up to His standard of Goodness that we are His enemies (Rom. 5:10). Indeed, we are dead in our badness.  Dead in our sins as Paul puts it Ephesians 2.  Sin is just another word for bad, a type of bad that utterly offends  a perfect God, and totally blocks our any chance of enjoying God.  In Romans 3:12, Paul quotes Ecclesiastes 7:20 saying, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”  Even the good deeds we do, the random acts of kindness we perform, the rewards we receive for helping others, are all a stench in the nostrils of God, if done apart from being in right relationship with him.

Help Is Available

This is where the Good News comes in.  We can’t enjoy the God the Good News if we don’t first understand the bad news.  The bad news is that we are bad.  The Good News is that help is available!

The last phrase the girl pickpocket declared when confronted by the angry victim was, “I need help.”  She was insincere in her claim of needing help.  If we truly believe from the bottom of our hearts, that we re bad and desperately need help, God is more than willing to come to our aid and rescue us.

I lived in Sonoma County, California, for a number of years.  There were a few years that we experienced terrible flooding.  I lived close to the RussianRiver and during a particularly bad flood many of the residents were surrounded by high water and had to be helicoptered to safety.  Those residents recognized they were in a bad way and were glad to be helped.

I remember one especially dramatic photograph that appeared in the local paper.  A man was being rescued from the raging river by a fireman who was in the river with him.  The fireman was roped to other firemen standing on the bank.  The drowning man was rescued and the photographer went on to win a Pulitzer prize for the photo.

When we come to a point where we realize that we are drowning spiritually, when we realize that joy, peace and contentment are not the hallmarks of our lives, and that the turbulent waters of depression, disappointment, frustration, anger and disillusion threaten to overwhelm us, and we call out to a merciful, compassionate and gracious God (Daddy), He will rescue us!

In a way, God is like the fireman who jumped into the river to save the drowning man.  God jumped into our hopeless, helpless situation, into our badness, in the person of Jesus Christ.  And all those who became aware of their badness, and followed this God/Man Jesus were rescued, and are still being rescued and given new lives.  Lives filled with joy in God and delight at being delivered from the turbulent flood called existence, and brought onto the safe shore called Life.  Life enjoying God.

Some, like many of the religious leaders of Jesus day, didn’t realize how dire their plight was, and chose to cling to the slippery and perilous branches called self-righteousness and good works. They perished without ever experiencing the joy of knowing God.

Bad Gunky

Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of doing bad things.  While we celebrate and rejoice that our Bad Existence was put to death by Jesus, we still struggle with doing bad things.  Martin Luther said we are at the same time righteous and sinners and that we continue to wrestle daily with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  I call these things Bad Gunky.  In Stephen King’s novel LISEYS STORY, one of the main characters explains to his wife, Lisey, all about bad gunky.  As a child he lived with his father and older brother.  At various times they were attacked by what his father called “bad gunky”.  This was an evil presence that would, without warning, fill either the father or one of his sons with a violent anger that would cause them to want to kill.  The only cure that normally worked to rid the family member of bad gunky, was the shedding of blood. One of the family members that was not being attacked by the bad gunky would have to inflict a large, deep cut on his own body, to set the other family member free of the evil known  as bad gunky.

This is a wonderful picture of what our Brother, Jesus, did for us, giving himself up freely to be crucified, to let his blood pour down the cross, so that we could be free from bad gunky, the power of sin, of badness, that caused our spiritual death.  Bad Gunky, with a capital B and a capital G is no longer a threat to our eternal relationship with God, to our eternal life.  However, bad gunky, small b, small g, still nips at our heels and barks in our ears on a daily basis.  This bad gunky tempts us to do bad things.  Tempts us to leave the Lord we love.  We fall victim daily to bad gunky.  Jesus tells us we are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. He tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We fail at this everyday.  In fact it is an impossible task.  So what sets followers of Christ apart from the rest of humanity that fails everyday?  It is the fact that as followers of Christ we have as our life goal to love God with all our being, and to love our  neighbor as we love ourselves.  We know this is the surest way to a life full of joy with God and with each other.  We begin the day in prayer, asking God’s Spirit to come along side us to help us love as He wants us to love.  And, if we are to be honest, end the day in prayer, noticing the ways we have failed to love, and confess to God that we have not loved Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength.  That we have not loved our neighbor as our self.  And we rest assured, knowing that God is faithful to forgive us our sins, our bad actions, our lack of love.  We sleep peacefully, knowing that our merciful, compassionate, patient God has washed away the bad gunky of the day.  We look forward to the morning when God’s mercies are new and we can experience afresh the joy of God.

****          ****          ****          ****

The great power of God appears in bringing a sinner from his low state, from the depths of sin and misery, to an exalted state of holiness and happiness.  Jonathan Edwards  (1703-1758) from his sermon God Glorified in Man’s Dependence

****          ****          ****         ****

Next blog – God Didn’t Have To, But He Did

Why Am I Here?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Advertisements