Thursday, January 30, 2014

Come back!

I'm out of the country with no internet, so please visit again on February 10th! honor me with your presence!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Words of Comfort & Eliminating Shame

“Comfort, oh comfort my people,” says your God.  “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her hardship has ended, that her iniquity has been removed…”
Isaiah 40:1-2

By all accounts, and at first glance, this verse appears to be quite similar to the verse shared in last week’s blog.  To speak words of comfort is to speak a good word, is it not?  Indeed.  Yet, something else struck me as I studied this verse, and it left me with another category that NEEDS TO BE DECLARED, and often!

A good word from the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18b).  I love that thought.  I especially love it in light of so many who have struggled with shame over past sin.  Shame is a horrible, crippling thing to live with, and it ought not to be.  Yet, how often do we, the church in general, not walk with sinners right out of their shame-filled-journeys into healing?

That’s the question this verse raised for me this week.  So often, when I meet with women of all ages, we almost always get to issues of the heart.  What I hear most often is just how difficult it is to get beyond a painful past.  What I hear from so many is that even in church, even among Christian people, who love them (and they know they are loved), there is still a sense of judgment.  What I hear is that so many feel this barrier distancing them from ever being really close, because past moral failure stands between them like a pink elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss. 

However, look again at the verse above.  Jerusalem, God’s beloved people, has been stuck in sin.  Yet God calls the prophet to call out and proclaim that her iniquity has been satisfied!  By doing so, his beloved is comforted.  The barrier sin has created is demolished, and Jerusalem is free!  Free to serve.  Free to live.  Free to be loved fully, and free to love.  The truth about God’s request is that it’s IMPORTANT – that’s why he says the word “comfort” twice.  When God wants to stress something that is BIG, he repeats himself.  Not only is it important to proclaim the iniquity has been paid for, but it’s important how it’s done.  We can only comfort repentant sinners with a kind word.

The Hebrew word for kind is different than the word for good.  Here is what the Lord is really saying:  Put to ease and strengthen the heart of my sinful child.  Use kind words, words that speak to the feelings of the inner man, and influence the mind toward belief. 

I am so challenged, once again, with my speech.  I am challenged to not be afraid to speak of the very thing that we think we ought to avoid, but bring it to light, because it is part of all our stories.  It is important to comfort one another, the sinner, by speaking words of truth that ease the heart, and strengthen faith.  Let us all journey side-by-side, until shame is a thing of the past.  This is an important job, and should be the joy, of every church.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Need for a Good Word

Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.
Proverbs 12:25

The last couple of weeks have had me researching Scriptures on the tongue and what comes out of the mouth.  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time examining my own heart, since “out of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  I’ve not liked what I’ve seen in there, and recognize that my heart needs frequent cleansing and refilling.  I have also become aware that the real cure for all of this is standing in the shadow of the cross.  When I do, I remain humble, and that is a very safe position for keeping my heart under control, and subsequently my tongue. 

However, through this process, I ran across the above verse.  It, too, has been a source of conviction, but also one of encouragement for me.  For the last few years, anxiety has been a curse I have lived with (just saying this causes no small amount of anxiety in me; after all, as a Christian, aren’t I supposed to have “it all together?”).  There’s no rhyme or reason to when it will strike.  It’ll rear it’s ugly head at the most inopportune moments.  When the Spirit of God says that anxiety weighs the heart down, I get it.  I know what that feels like.  There are no more words that need to be said.  “Weighed down” covers the sensation just fine. 

I don’t like anxiety.  I’d like to “fix it.”  I’ve often felt like the Apostle Paul who prayed for his thorn in the flesh to go away.  Three times he prayed (I, on the other hand, have lost count) and the Lord said to him, “Paul, this is a prayer I won’t answer as you might like.  I want MY GRACE to be sufficient.  I want MY STRENGTH to govern YOUR WEAKNESS.”  Anxiety has become my thorn.  I’ve seen God’s strength cover me.  I’ve seen His grace be more than sufficient.  I’ve walked in victory in spite of it.  Yet, to be perfectly honest, I dislike it; and, I have often wondered about a cure.  Believe me, I know forwards and backwards what Philippians 4 says.  I understand Jesus’ command to not be anxious regarding tomorrow.  I can apply those Scriptures, and I can get a temporary “fix.”  Sometimes that “fix” lasts for days, and maybe even weeks.  Here’s another one:  a good word. 

So, what’s a good word?  Any advice, counsel, message, utterance or saying that is “cheerful, fine, gracious, joyful, kind, loving, pleasant, agreeable, excellent, valuable, understanding, or beneficial” (taken from Spiros Zodhaiates, Key Word Study Bible – New American Standard).  In Isaiah, the prophet says this:

The Lord God has given me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word (50:4).

Here’s where the conviction hit:  How often do I speak a good word to others?  How many, like me, may be in need, yet go about life as if everything is “fine, just fine?”  Perhaps the Lord has allowed this condition as a reminder to me that not only to I need to guard what comes out, I need to be intentional about what does, and that must be a GOOD WORD!  A good word that sustains the weary, and makes glad an anxious heart.

At the same time, I’m encouraged.  Encouraged that my God will do as He has promised further on in that Isaiah passage:

He (God) awakens me morning by morning; He awakens my ear to listen…(v.4)

…and when I do, he never fails to give me a good word.  Not many folks speak “good words” these days.  Not many of us leave one another with speech that brings hope and encouragement.  Ah, but the Lord never, never fails.  His mercies are new EVERY DAY!  How I need his good words!

Monday, January 13, 2014

This Current Unpleasantness

Recently, Bay and I spent a few days in Charleston, SC.  During our stay, we took a little sight-seeing tour through downtown.  Of all the facts our tour guide spouted, one sticks out in my mind.  She mentioned that in the South, because people tend to care about manners and gentility, they find it difficult to spit out words that are disagreeable. So, they will come up with other words.  A cemetery, for example, is a "sculpture garden;" and, while we might use terminology for the Civil War, such as "The War Between the States," they still might say, "The War (said, "Waaaaaaa-wa") of Northern Aggression (the way it is said is so much more than what is said, it just rolls off the tongue so sweetly)." At the time of the war, however, in Charleston, it was known as "This Current Unpleasantness."  There is a "current unpleasantness" in my own life, which I am working through.  It, too, is a "War Between the States," as such.  Let me explain.

After reading the Matthew passage (see last week), I skipped over to the book of James.  The man had quite a lot to say about the tongue, as well.  I'll just share a portion of what he has to say.  In my bible the title to this particular portion of Scripture is:  The Tongue is a Fire.  Here's what he says:

For we all stumble in may ways.  If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.  Now, if we put the bits into the horses' mouth so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well.  Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.  So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.  Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue sis set among our members as that which defiles us, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. (3:2-6)

It's that last little phrase that struck me as I studied this passage: set on fire by hell.  That's not very comforting.  So, let's start with what is comforting.  I'm not perfect; I'm being perfected.  Thank the Lord!  It's great to know he understands my failures are "normal," although he is working to make me abnormal (peculiar to this world, in fact). It's comforting to know that fires can be controlled. Sometimes, in fact, we fight fire with fire.  This is important to where we are headed this morning.

However, back to the heart, the tongue, and hell.  With no slap-in-the-face intended for the South (I happen to LOVE the South), my heart is often led by the Southern Hemisphere (AKA "hell").  When the South wins, it takes over my mouth, and leaves quite a destructive wake in its path.  This is what I'm trying to fight. I'm attempting to battle the fire that rages, as a result of my heart, as it spills out through my words.

So, while I was reading this passage, I remembered another time that fire took over the tongue.  This time, though, it wasn't a fire from hell, but from heaven.  Look back at Acts 2.  This is so encouraging!!!!!!!!!
(Setting - Day of Pentecost).

And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them ability to speak out (2-4).  

Fire from heaven.  We fight fire with fire.  To change our mouths, we offer our hearts to the Spirit of God, so heaven can fill them.  In this setting, the disciples were doing just what they were commanded when Jesus ascended into heaven.  Wait.  In Jerusalem.  Devote yourselves to prayer.  The Spirit will come.  Come he did.  And he filled their mouths with heavenly words, because their hearts were expectant and ready for the filling of the Spirit.

The battle for control of the mouth is a North/South war.  It needs to be a War of Northern Aggression in order to end "This Current Unpleasantness" within me.  The war is won by submitting, as the disciples did, waiting, devoting myself to prayer, and expectantly allowing the Spirit to take over.  What I'm excited about, and believing God for right now, is this:  beginning to speak as the Spirit gives me the ability to speak out.  Not as I want to speak out, but as He directs.  Only then. Oh, may it be so……soon (and, of course, as often as my mouth opens...)!

Monday, January 6, 2014

What's REALLY in MY Heart?

I know someone who frequently quotes an old Scottish Proverb that goes something like this:  When the heart is full, the tongue will speak.  I reckon my heart is fairly full; the question is, of what? I'm not sure I want to know the answer, although it's fairly obvious.

I can't begin to count the times my mouth has gotten me into trouble.  Rarely is saying too little my issue, and were that my issue, I'd have readily obtained a title of "virtuous woman."  After all, another familiar quote says that silence is a virtue.  Nope, never fit that category, either.

As I sat reflecting this past week on an upcoming New Year, I always ask a question about what needs to be changed in my life, or putting it in a positive way, "What is something that I can give to Jesus as a gift in this New Year?" When I prayerfully brought that question to him, my mind starting wandering back to all the verbal faux pas that a still haunt me. Truthfully, I can go all the way back to high school and come up with some great failures. However, I don't need to go back that far…I'm still working on the ones more recent that still pop up in my mind causing me no small amount of embarrassment, and, yes, shame. No matter how many times I ask forgiveness, of the individual I've hurt, or of the Lord, those words come back to bother me time and again.

Once a word flies, the damage has been done.  Indeed, it is a sword that is quick to pierce a soul, and the damage is slow to heal.  I wish I could say those words were just a "slip of the tongue" (whoever came up with that lovely excuse, I wonder?).  I wish I could say, "I just don't know where that came from!" I wish I could find an easy explanation, justification, or even a provocation, or excuse.  Typically, I can't.  This truth is probably the hardest pill for me to swallow, because once it flies, instead of edifies, I am no longer a safe place.  I am no longer trustworthy.  Those things are harder to regain than they are to lose.  So, EVERY TIME, I misuse the gift of words, I am nauseous, sad, and, yes, angry at myself (sometimes for years).  I'd like to learn the secret to holding my tongue prisoner.  I wish I could plant a little soldier as a guard with a bayonet on my tongue to poke me every time I am about to say something I shouldn't.  I fear, though, I'd have so many holes, saliva would constantly be dribbling down my chin.

Well, my friend's Scottish Proverb is entirely biblical.  This morning, I read Matthew 12:33-37. No mistake, I read it this morning, while all this is fresh on my mind.

"Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.  How can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.  The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.  And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned."

Ouch! Words reveal our character.  Our hearts all contain a treasure chest either filled personal treasure, or a Pandora's box filled with poisonous asps.  Out of the box spills what is in our hearts.  When the mouth speaks, I better listen!  I will never see what's in my heart more clearly than at that moment.  What's said is reflective of the inner condition.  There's work to be done. It begins on my knees!

Picture from one of my little treasures to represent our talk about this verse (refreshing fruit, or bitter lemons?).  The fruit that's produced is what justifies or condemns.