He’s not the greatest

Usain BoltUsain Bolt has done it again. He strode into history with third straight Olympic 200-metre gold . The cameras zoomed in. The public address system announced his name. He did his little dance. And the crowd went wild.

For many, Bolt is a god. People love him. They adore him. He is the epitome of human strength, speed and power. And he knows it.

“I don’t need to prove anything else,” Bolt said. “What else can I do to prove to the world I am the greatest?”

Oh dear.  Is that what it’s all about? Proving to the world that you are the greatest? We’ve seen it all before, with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Pele, they reach the top of their game and attain world-wide fame. And then they spend the rest of their days basking in their hard-earned glory.

The truth of it all is Usain is not as fast as everyone thinks he is. Take a look at this visual guide I found:

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I grabbed this from their post:

The world’s most extraordinary human runner would not beat, say, an ordinary warthog. A warthog can run around 30 miles per hour on an average day—no training, no audience, no special wind conditions. Housecats also regularly reach this speed, as do grizzly bears, rabbits, and white-tailed deer. The roadrunner can run 25 mph even though it can also fly. A certain class of butterflies, called skippers, can get up to 37.

The Olympics may have us all misty-eyed at the heights (and lengths, and speeds, and depths) of human achievement. But if we were ever to open the stadium gates to the whole animal kingdom, we’d quickly be put back in our place. I’m not even talking about those fancy calculated situations that try to make things physiologically fair, and thus prove that a human-sized ant could pick up a semi-truck with one leg, or that a human-sized flea could jump Big Ben.

So Usain is outclassed by a butterfly.  Seems that God has the last laugh.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against great sporting achievements. My wife and I have recorded a number of our favourite olympic events. We enjoy watching the outcome of years of discipline, self-control, and fantastic coaching (coaches ought to be up there to receive medals as well). It’s just that we need to keep all things in perspective. Whenever we watch these stunning feats of human achievement and look with adoration as the athletes take the podium, we need to remember who made them and where their strength and speed and power comes from.

And a day is coming when they – along with all of us, will face the only One who can take the title “The Greatest”. And we will bow our knee in humble adoration. Willingly or unwillingly.

This is what the Lord says:
The wise man must not boast in his wisdom;
the strong man must not boast in his strength;
the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth.
But the one who boasts should boast in this,
that he understands and knows Me —
that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love,
justice, and righteousness on the earth,
for I delight in these things.
(Jeremiah 9:23–24)

Put no more trust in man,
who has only the breath in his nostrils.
What is he really worth?
(Isaiah 2:22)

When darkness becomes light

gandalf_the_white_by_freddyjay-d5sd753Earlier this week I flew to Wellington for a meeting. When we lifted off from Nelson the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the temperature was just right. When I landed the sky was grey, it was raining and the wind chill factor was down to zero. Within 10 seconds I was nearly frozen to death. I shook my head in disbelief. The distance between Wellington and Nelson is only 125 km – as the crow flies. How could this be possible? Was I really on the same planet?

Take that experience and ramp it up a hundred fold. That was what it was like for the Son of God to come to this earth. He must have wondered what hit him. Perfection encountering deficiency. Holiness encountering sin. Truth encountering lies. Sincerity encountering pretence. Love encountering rejection and hate.

The light came and shone and the darkness does not comprehend it.

“Who are you?” The Pharisees questioned (John 8:25)
“Precisely what I’ve been telling you from the very beginning,” Jesus told them.

But they didn’t get it. Because they didn’t want to get it.

Jesus made it very plain who he was. He is fulfilment of all Old Testament types, shadows and prophecies. He is the Word of life. He is the bread of life – the true manna God sends from heaven. He is the true temple of God. He is the true vine. And he is the way, the truth and the life.

But the Pharisees just didn’t get it. Take the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus for example, which we find in John chapter 3 (my paraphrase):

“Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”
“I don’t understand what You’re talking about” Nicodemus replies.
“Unless you come into the kingdom, you can’t understand”
“I don’t understand what You’re saying”
“Look,” Jesus says “Unless a man is born from above, you cannot see the kingdom of God”
“I don’t understand a word of what You’re saying.”

Note that everything that comes out of Nicodemus’ mouth confirms what Jesus is saying. The natural man – the man without God working in him, is in complete darkness. It’s one thing to be blind and know it. It’s quite another to be blind and not know it. And that is the exact condition of all human beings. We are blind to our own blindness.

Is there any hope for us? Yes there is.

There is a moment – a wonderful moment, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, when Gandalf the Grey takes off his cloak and it’s Gandalf the White. And every one steps back – in wonder and amazement. They got it.

That is what happens when the Spirit of God opens our eyes to see the true nature of the Son of God; we see him for who he really is. It is what happens when we hear the words of Jesus – they sound strange, other-worldly, and we struggle to comprehend them. We take a deep breath, close our eyes and BELIEVE in them. When we open our eyes, there he is, right in front us.

That’s when we realize he’s been standing there all the time. We just couldn’t see him.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1–5)

I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

 

The Olympics and the Grandeur of God

Rio opening ceremonyI was about to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games this morning. And then I read a post by David Matthis called Watch for God at the Olympic GamesIt changed the way I was about to view things – completely. Here’s a portion for your tasting:

The Olympiad captivates us with its bigness. It can appear larger than life, with a kind of transcendence that taps into a profound longing in the human soul.

On display are the world’s best athletes, and most impressive humans, from most of the globe’s geopolitical nations. The world’s eye rarely fixes on a single object like this, apart from war and terrible disasters. From our limited vantage, few things seem to bring out humanity’s oneness, and feel as globally significant in such a positive way, as the Olympics.

But as great as the Games are, Christians know we have something infinitely greater — Someone infinitely greater. The grandeur of the Games points us to an even greater grandeur. The taste of transcendence helps us recognize a personal Bigness and Magnitude that doesn’t come and go for a couple weeks every couple years, but remains for our everlasting enjoyment — together with people from every tribe and tongue and nation.

As big as the Olympics feel, as momentous as the gold-medal run may seem at the time, make the effort to pan out with the camera of your mind’s eye to the aerial view. See the smallness of the arena compared to the city of Rio, then dwarfed by all of Brazil and South America, and only a speck compared to the globe. Then consider the smallness of our little terrestrial ball — infinitely tiny — against the massiveness of the universe, and that relativized by the grandeur and value of God.

Have you heard?

street-punk-gogn-einkamal-woman-whispering-to-man-pop-art-5374421There is a story about two elderly women who were sitting together in the front pew of church with a fiery preacher. When he condemned the sin of lust, these two ladies cried out at the top of their lungs – AMEN BROTHER! When he condemned the sin of stealing, they yelled again – PREACH IT REVEREND! And when he condemned the sin of lying they jumped to their feet and screamed, RIGHT ON BROTHER…. TELL IT LIKE IT IS….. AMEN! But when the preacher condemned the sin of gossip, the two got quiet and one turned to the other and said, “He’s done quit preaching and now he’s meddlin’.”

That might be the way you respond when you have finished reading this post.

All the sins of the tongue are deadly. But gossip is particularly deadly. Gossip has destroyed more people, tarnished more reputations, broken more friendships, and split more churches than any sin I’m aware of. Gossip is quickly told, quickly heard, and quickly spread. Worst of all, gossip is quickly believed.

You might think you don’t really have a problem with gossip. But how many times have you either said or listened to the following?

“I shouldn’t really tell you this but…”
“I thought you might be interested about…”
“Have you heard the latest about…?
“I only mention this as a matter for prayer…”

We all love a good bit of gossip. There’s some kind of perverse pleasure we derive from hearing about other people’s problems, errors or misfortunes. It’s kind of like – well, eating something tasty. Proverbs 18:8 says,

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”

Gossip about other people gets deep within us and affects us from the inside out. Bad reports about other people can affect our attitudes toward them months and even years later. We need to take this sin VERY seriously. So how do we recognize gossip? And more importantly, how do we resist it? That’s what I want to talk about in this post.

Recognizing gossip

The hardest part about gossip is that is does not come with a warning label. Imagine, before a tasty bit of gossip was about to be aired a big flashing sign appeared about the person’s head: “WARNING – sinful gossip coming your way.” But that’s not how it happens is it? No, normally we are just talking with someone and all of a sudden a juicy piece of news about someone else presents itself. And we are happy to swallow it. So how do we know when it’s gossip and when it’s not? Joseph Stowell gives this helpful definition: “Gossip is sharing damaging information about someone or something with another person who is not part of the solution.” I think that’s very helpful. But there’s another that I like better, from Matthew Mitchel. He defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out a bad heart.” Now let me break that down for you.

Gossip is bearing bad news…

Gossip always involves some kind of talking. The KJV uses the word “talebearer.” A talebearer is a person who likes to tell stories. We all like to hear stories. Stories are great. But a gossip or talebearer carries the wrong kind of stories – stories that contain damaging information about others.

But gossip not only involves talking – it also involves listening. Proverbs 17:4 says, “A wicked person listens to malicious talk.” You don’t have to be the one doing the talking – just listening. The NLT translation says, “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander.”

And in our computer age I should add that this giving and receiving of bad news can also take place on the internet by way of email, blogs and social media. All you have to do is click “send” or “forward” or the “share” button on Facebook. And let’s not forget the phone. If someone were to scroll through your messages right now what would they find? Would it be clean?

OK – so gossip is bearing bad news. Let’s look at the second part of that definition:

…behind someone’s back

The person you are talking about is not there. And you are whispering things about him (or her). Why? Well it’s much easier when they’re not around. I mean, it would make things a whole lot more difficult if they were there! Let me give you a suggestion at this point: before you talk about someone who is not present, ask yourself the following:

  • Would I say this if the person was present? (be honest)
  • Would I listen to this bad news the same way if he was present?
  • Would I want someone to talk this way about me if I was absent?

Remember: we are talking about harmful information here. This doesn’t mean you cannot say good things about a person if they are absent. You can say as many good things about a person who is absent as you like!

OK, let’s look at the third part of the definition – gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back:

…out of a bad heart.

Gossip comes from a bad heart. “The mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” Jesus said (Luke 6:45). You’ve got poison in the root system. Something is driving you to want to share or listen to damaging information. What is it? Is it jealousy? Is it anger or hate? Is it a desire for revenge?

Resisting gossip

Now that we know how to recognize gossip we need to know how to resist it. Most, if not all gossip involves the judging of others. Whether we are the bearer or the receiver of the bad news, our bad hearts are passing judgement on another person. James has some very strong words for this:

“Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)

I never knew that whenever I criticized someone; whenever I shared information about them that was critical or unfavourable I was actually setting myself above the law of God.

So how do we resist gossip – either spreading it or listening to it? Let me give you 5 ways:

1. Avoid hasty judgement
Much gossip involves passing on only one side of the story. There is always another side. And you are foolish to pass judgment without finding out what that other side is. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” I made a lot mistakes here as a young pastor. People would come into my office with that “I just thought you ought to know” line and then set about railing on another person. When I learned the other half of the story, it wasn’t anything like that person described.

2. Consider the source
Where is this source of information coming from? Is it coming from someone you trust? And if you trust them, why are they even sharing it? Proverbs 14:15 says, “The simple believe everything.” Don’t believe everything you hear!

3. Assume the best, not the worst
You cannot see inside the hearts of others. You do not know what makes them tick. Nor do you know the context or complexities of a situation a person is in. Therefore, we need to assume the best, not the worst about others (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). The ‘bad report’ is likely to be in error, or at least inaccurate.

4. Talk to people, not about them
When we have a problem with another person, the overwhelming temptation is to rail on them to someone else. We must resist that sinful urge. Jesus gives us clear instructions in this regard in Matthew 18,

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” (Matthew 18:15)

And yes – I know this is hard. Nobody like confrontation. But Jesus says we must do it. I tell you – if we all practiced this, and practice this consistently, we would completely rid God’s church of any trace of gossip and slander. Anyone who even started a whisper would be stopped in their tracks. “Why are you telling me this? Have you not gone to this person? Why haven’t you?”

5. Say nothing
If you are faced with the temptation to gossip and you don’t know what to say the best thing to do is say nothing. Sometimes silence is golden. Proverbs 10:19 says,

“When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.”

If someone asks you not to share something – just pray, then pray and say nothing. Don’t betray a confidence! There are some exceptions to this, such as a suicide threat or a report of abuse. You’ll need the utmost wisdom in such cases. Seek out wise counsel for what you should do. But DON’T share it with your friends or as a matter of prayer at your home group!

Conclusion

Perhaps, after reading this you’re left feeling a little discouraged. You know you’re guilty of gossip and slander – either by listening to it or spreading it. And you wonder how you are going to go forward. So here’s what you need to do:

First, confess your sinful gossip to God
True confession means to completely agree with God about our sin. It does not means saying, “Lord, I feel bad about gossiping and I’m kind of sorry” or “I didn’t really want to but I felt pressured to do it.” No it means saying,

“Lord Jesus what I did was wrong. I shouldn’t have said what I said nor should have I listened to it. I have not glorified you nor sought the best of others. I did this out of a bad heart. Your law says this sin deserves death. I am truly sorry.”

Second, confess your sinful gossip to others
When the Spirit convicts you that you gossiping you need to confess it right then and there to the person you are sharing with. Say it. Tell them you were gossiping and it was wrong. Some of you might be convicted as you are reading this post and there might be someone you need to speak to. Go to them (or write to them). Apologize for gossiping about them and ask for their forgiveness.

Third, receive the cleansing that Jesus offers
The good news is that Jesus offers cleansing from this sin. That’s why we have the cross. Jesus died for our sins – including the sin of gossip. He bore the punishment for it. Jesus completely satisfied God’s righteous demands for your death. And now he offers cleansing and healing. Receive that cleansing.

The gospel is so much more powerful than gossip. It has the power not only to cleanse and forgive us of gossip, but also resist it. The bible tells us that God’s divine power has given us everything we need to for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3).

The gospel of Jesus Christ defeats gossip.

Note: this is based on a message I preached from a series called “Trouble with our Talk.” You can access the full sermon here.

The Monster in Me

I-miss-you-sad-life-nice-wallpaperIt is very difficult for me to write this, and even harder to know that it’s going public. Yet I know some of the most encouraging things I have read have been the experiences of other Christians who have messed up (sometimes very badly), and recovered. They remind me that the gospel is in fact for sinners, not for those who are righteous. It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but those who are sick (Luke 5:31-32). I am one of the sick. And this is a story of my illness.

I was on the verge of falling into a deep sleep when I was jolted awake by the sound of my son trundling down the corridor in his wheelchair, talking to his sister in a loud voice. Here he comes again. Can’t he ever be quiet? I heard the door of the kitchen slam open, the cupboard doors banging open and shut and the sound of the microwave buttons being pushed. Microwave, I thought. I bet he hasn’t covered his plate again.  And guess who gets to clean it up?  

I got out of bed – dozy and grumpy (my first mistake). I walked into the kitchen (second mistake – don’t confront people when you’re tired or cranky). I saw the plate of food in the microwave – uncovered, and heard the buzzing on full reheat. “I couldn’t find anything to cover it,” he said. “That’s pathetic” I replied.

And then I exploded.

I won’t go into detail what I said. It was my tone, my anger and my rage and my countenance that did all the talking. My son Mark didn’t see a man who has been wonderfully and miraculously transformed by the gospel.  He saw a monster.

I walked out of the room and put my face in my hands. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t pray – I couldn’t even think. I stumbled back into the bedroom and crawled under the blankets. “Do you think that helped?” my wife asked.  How was I supposed to answer that? Of course it didn’t help. I lay there for – how many hours? Two? Three? I lost count. Sleep did not treat me kindly that night.

Before I knew it the alarm started beeping. I awoke having to face the dreaded task of preparing to preach. What a joke. I spent extended time in the Psalms confessing my wretched behaviour and asking God’s forgiveness. But I found no peace, no solace, and no comfort. Of all mornings I had to speak publically. If I could call in sick I would. But pastors can’t do that sort of thing.

I happened to be the guest speaker at another church that morning. I stood there trying to sing my way through the worship songs. But worship eluded me. It’s difficult to sing from a troubled, guilt-ridden heart. A communion tray was passed to me. I picked up the cup with red liquid – a symbol of Christ’s blood, staring up at me. I held the cup so tightly I almost crushed it in my hand. I don’t know how long I sat there gazing at it. Someone nudged me – it was the basket to collect the empty cups. Already? I thought. I’m not ready to take it. I’m not ready for anything.

As the minutes drew closer to get up and speak my heart beat increased. My hands were clammy. I looked down at the floor. I heard my name spoken – “We come now to the end of our series on relationships. And we have a guest speaker. We’ve saved the best part for now.” Really? If only they all knew. I wanted to throw up. How I made it through that message I do not know. People afterwards told me it was a great message and God really spoke to them. A picture of Balaam’s ass went through my mind. It was time to go home.

It is very bad for a believer in Jesus to wallow in guilt and despair – I knew that. I had to take the counsel I had so often given to others and preach it to myself. I am a sinner.  I will never meet God’s perfect standards. But there is one who did meet the standard: Jesus Christ. He suffered sin’s penalty (death) on the cross in my place. He did this in order to bring me to God (1 Peter 3:18). I am completely forgiven. And the perfect righteousness of Christ has been credited to my account. In don’t need to punish myself for my outbursts of sinful anger. Jesus bore that punishment already.

That’s all well and good. My relationship with God is taken care of. But what about my relationship with my son? I needed to put things right with him – but how? How empty a verbal apology will seem – especially considering this was not the first time. What could I do that he would appreciate? I’ll go and buy him some beer. So I did – his favourite, in fact, with a bag of BBQ crisps. The door of his cabin was closed. I slid it partially open and waved a 12 pack of Corona inside. “Dad,” he said “Come on in.” I guess he was expecting me.

I was able to put things right with Mark that afternoon and he did forgive me. But I knew this was going to be a turning point for me. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I was determined to change. I hated getting angry like that. I hated what it was doing to my relationship with Mark. I wanted desperately to change.

How does change occur for a truly repentant heart?  Change is process that takes place by a number of small steps where you do things differently. The first step is the hardest and most difficult. It’s not enough just to say you’re sorry.  Words must be backed by actions. I was determined to do things differently.

I will start behaving differently to my son
By thinking differently about my son
By being thankful to God for my son
Every day
Starting with today

So far it’s working. Each time I see Mark I think how thankful I am that he is alive and we have the privilege of looking after him.  When he talks to me I work on giving him eye contact and responding lovingly and authentically.  Slowly, little by little gospel grace is having an effect upon my heart, as I yield to the Spirit’s transforming power which as at work in me.

This is why Christ came – to save and redeem
This is why he died on the cross – to take care of the monster in me
This is why he rose from the dead – to give me power to be a new me

By God’s grace, I want to be that new me.

I don’t quarrel!

20160506-1Look up quarrel in the dictionary and you’ll find something like this:

— noun
1.an angry dispute or altercation; a disagreement marked by a temporary or permanent break in friendly relations.
2.a cause of dispute, complaint, or hostile feeling

A quarrel is not the same as a disagreement. Disagreements are common and can be worked through amicably and peacefully. Quarrels are not peaceful. A quarrel is a verbal fight. We quarrel, James tells us because there is something that we want and we can’t get it (James 4:1-3). We want to change someone’s mind or behaviour.  We want to win an argument in order to feel superior.  We want to be treated better. So we quarrel. Parents quarrel when they want to change the behaviour of their children. Employers quarrel to get better results out of their workers. Customers quarrel whenever they feel they are getting a raw deal.

But ultimately, quarrelling is an attempt to control someone by fighting with our words. When we quarrel, we are trying to force another person to agree with us or change in some way. Quarrelling is foolish because it can never win another person’s heart. You might win the argument. You might end up getting your way. But you’ve done it by verbal bullying. And you’ve driven the other person away.

Sometimes quarrels are started by the most ridiculous things. You might not believe this but I’ve actually quarrelled with my wife over a towel that wasn’t hung up:

“Dear, what’s this towel doing there?”
“It’s waiting to be hung up”
“Then why didn’t you hang it up?”
“I am going to hang it up”
“Do we have a fixed time frame for this?”
“You might – I don’t”
“You’re being deliberately difficult with me”
“No – you’re being deliberately difficult with me

Why do these things happen? Why do we get into quarrels over such stupid things?

One word: PRIDE

Proverbs 13:10 says that pride breeds quarrels. You say, “You mean whenever I am difficult, disagreeable and confrontational, it is because of my pride?” As a matter of fact, YES. The quarrel becomes the battleground for domination. Quarrelling should never characterize the life of a Christian. When giving advice to Timothy, a young leader in the church, Paul said,

“The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24–25)

Notice how quarrelling is contrasted with gentleness and patience (in fact gentleness is mentioned twice). Proverbs 20:3 says,

“It is honorable for a man to resolve a dispute, but any fool can get himself into a quarrel.”

Any fool can get himself into a quarrel. You don’t have to be smart or clever – just stubborn and prideful. Proverbs 17:14 says,

 “Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out.”

We must stop flood while the water flow is just a trickle, otherwise the hole will enlarge and become a raging torrent. The same applies to your mouth and the use of your tongue. If a small quarrel starts, abandon it!  Plug the hole!  Bite your tongue!  Otherwise you will say things you will be sure to regret.

Here are some examples of quarrel-starters that are part of our everyday speech:

1. Verbal Slamming

Have you ever watched a table tennis game between two people? There they are, pushing that ball back and forth, back and forth and then suddenly the game starts turning more serious, sweat breaks out on the brow and then one of the players slams the ball so hard it careens off the table and the other player has his back up against the wall. The same happens with verbal slamming.

Here are a few examples:

“You’re such a liar” 
“You make me sick”
“Don’t be such a moron”  
“Do you always have to be such a jerk?”

Proverbs 29:11 says,

“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man holds it in check.”

It is not wise to vent everything you feel. Yet many counsellors today advocate just that, and in doing so they encourage people to sin. The wedges in the relationship are only driven deeper. Proverbs 12:18 says,

“There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

It when we start hurling harsh and cutting words that will only have the effect of making you more distant from the other person. Let me give you another quarrel-starter:

2. Take-back Speech

Take-back speech is when you say something in one breadth and then take it away (or cancel) again with the next. Here are a couple of examples:

“Thanks for calling to tell me you’re going to be late.  It’s just a pity you don’t do that more often”
 “You did a good job at mowing the lawn, except for the edging”
“Sure you got a great mark in your Maths, but your English is lousy”

Do you know why we do that?  PRIDE (again!) We want to keep others in their place. We can’t express simple appreciation for someone else’s efforts without some kind of disclaimer.  That’s being quarrelsome. If you are one of those people who do that on a regular basis (just ask a family member – they’ll soon tell you), you need to practice saying:

“Thanks for calling me”  PERIOD
“You did a good job”  PERIOD
“That’s a great idea”  PERIOD

Say what’s good and then put a sock in it to prevent any nasty additives! Proverbs 26:21 says,

“As charcoal for embers and wood for fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”

Stop stoking the fire. There’s enough trouble in the world without creating more. Let me give you a third quarrel starter:

3. Gunpowder Speech

Proverbs 18:6 describes a very serious kind of unwholesome talk, which we could call “gunpowder speech.”  It says,

“A fool’s lips lead to strife, and his mouth provokes a beating.”

Some people just can’t help themselves shooting off their mouths, and it’s all you can do to keep from firing back. It is speech that invites retaliation. You ask this person a question and the answer you get is,

“What’s it to you?  Why do you want to know?”
“I don’t remember giving you permission to stick your nose in my personal life”
“What are you – thick or something?”

That’s a mouth that invites a beating Proverbs tells us. People who have gunpowder speech are continually causing quarrels.

4. Verbal Hand Grenades

You know how a grenade works – right? It has a built-in detonator on a timer which is activated when you pull the pin. You then lob the grenade at your enemy, count to 3 and then “BOOM!”  Well, there are verbal grenades as well. They are words with a delayed detonator which then explode in your face. I grew up with these. Your mum or dad says to you, “I noticed the neighbours did a good job on cleaning their car yesterday. It would be nice if our car was cleaned more often.”  You think to yourself, “Yeah, I guess it would be nice if the car….”  Then suddenly BOOM! You realize that was meant for you! Proverbs 15:4 says,

“The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit.”

When you drop these little bombs on other people which are intended to make them feel guilty, you’re using devious talk to crush their spirit. They will harbour feelings of bitterness and resentment toward you which serve as fuel for quarrelling. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you have a complaint, make it.  If you want your teen to clean the car, ask him. Here’s one more quarrel-starter:

5.The Final Word

Some people insist on having the final word, no matter what. They project the attitude that once they have spoken on a subject, nothing more can be added. Even if the conversation has ended, they chip on something at the end. If you are one of those people who insists on having the last word, please stop doing it. It is not loving or kind or considerate. It is selfish and prideful and invites rebuke.

Conclusion

Verbal slamming, Take-back speech, gunpowder speech, verbal grenades, and the final word all serve as fuel for quarrels, contention and strife. Is there any way we can avoid all these? Yes, there is. Have a look at James 1:19-20:

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”

 Here James gives us three important commands that will help you avoid being in the centre of conflict and strife:

 Be quick to hear

Be a good listener. Work on listening and understanding what the other person is trying to communicate rather than trying to get your two cents in. In any field of knowledge, we learn by listening, not by speaking.

 Be slow to speak

There is a very good reason why God has given us two ears and only one mouth. We are prone to talk and argue more than we listen. Proverbs 10:19 says, “he who restrains his lips is wise.” Listen carefully and then consider carefully what you want to say before you answer. Then thirdly,

 Be slow to anger

Anger is a very natural emotion – often at times an automatic response, to anything or anyone that says or does something to harm or displease us. That anger needs to be kept in check. It needs to be brought under the reigns of the Holy Spirit so that it can be channelled in a direction that glorifies God, and not self.

We might well summarize James’ advice with the following four steps:

  • HOLD YOUR TONGUE.   Whatever you do, don’t open your mouth before you’ve thought very carefully about what is going to come out.
  •  LISTEN to what the other person is trying to communicate.  Put yourself in their shoes.
  •  PRAY for wisdom on giving the right reply.
  • Then SPEAK such a word that is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29)

Note: this is based on a message I preached from a series called “Trouble with our Talk.” You can access the full sermon here.

 

 

A Slip of the tongue

SLIP-OF-THE-TONGUE-You are familiar no doubt with the old adage “a slip of the tongue.” That’s when something comes out of your mouth you wish hadn’t. Once aired, you instantly regret it. You say to yourself, “Did I really just say that?” You want very badly to take the words back, but you can’t – it’s too late. You try to repair things by explaining that you didn’t quite mean what you just said; it was a mistake – a slip of the tongue.

It would be nice if we could just leave it at that.  Just apologize and move on. But Jesus stops us in our tracks. Listen to his words from Luke chapter 6:

 “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”  (Luke 6:43–46)

Jesus uses a metaphor that we are all familiar with: a tree. There is a direct connection between the roots of a tree and the fruit it produces.  The same is true with our words.  Our words are the fruit of the root issues found in our hearts.

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Jesus offers us some profound wisdom here: word problems are always related to heart problems. Our words are shaped and controlled by the thoughts and motives of our heart. It is very tempting isn’t it, to blame others – “he makes me so angry” or to blame the circumstances God has placed you in – “with this job how can I be content?” Jesus says our words come from the overflow of our heart. The people and the situations around us do not make us say what we say; they only provide an occasion for our hearts to reveal their true nature.

Now let me press this one step further. Take a look now at what James has to say with regard to the problems we have with conflict:

“What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires.” (James 4:1–3)

Why do we fight and quarrel James asks? That is a very good question. Is it because we have never learned the skills necessary for conflict resolution? Not according to James. James says it all has to do with the desires of our hearts.

You see there is a war going on within your heart and my heart. It’s a war of conflicting desires battling for control. James is saying that when a certain set of desires battles for “turf” in your heart, it will affect the way you deal with people around you. What controls your heart controls your words.

31d6Yok65eLThis is how it works: I’m sitting at work and I look at the weather app on my phone and see it is settled weather all through to the weekend. I think to myself, ‘That’s perfect weather for fishing!  I’ll call a few mates and we’ll head out for some snapper.’ The rest of the day I’m dreaming of sitting on a boat on nice flat water hauling in one after another.

At the same time, my wife is sitting at work thinking about remodelling the guest room. Family is coming to stay the weekend after and she remembers that I promised that I would help with the paining. She says to herself, ‘Here’s a great opportunity – I’ll get hubby to help on Saturday.’

So I drive home from work with visions of blue water and the taste of fresh fish in my mouth – I’m about to break this wonderful news to my wife and there she is standing there holding a four litre paint tin and a roller. My heart, which moments before was beating with excitement instantly stops. She says to me with a big smile, “Guess what we’re doing this weekend?”

Now at this point I am undergoing a test. There is a war going on in my heart – a conflict of desires, fighting for control. I have been dreaming about Saturday’s outing all week and now that dream is about to be crushed. What am I going to do?

I say to her, “Guess what you’re doing tomorrow?  I’m going fishing.”
Fishing!”
she answers, “You can go fishing anytime.  We’ve got family turning up next weekend.  You know how important this is to me.  Besides – you promised!”

It is at this very juncture that the word of words starts taking place:

“You always do this to me”
“Do what?”
“Find things for me to do when I want to enjoy myself”
“I’m not finding things for you to do – this is something that has to be done”
“You using that tone on me again” (which is entirely irrelevant at this point)
“What tone?”
“That bossy-wife tone”
“You know what?  I think you better go for a walk.  I don’t like talking to you when you’re like this”
“Now you’re making it out like it’s MY problem”

Do you see what’s happening there? Do you see this has nothing to do with a problem with communication skills? It’s a problem of conflicting desires. The desires in themselves were not wrong. The desire to go fishing is not a bad desire. The problem was that desire took control of my heart – control that should be given to God. The desire became a craving, the craving caused the conflict.

When desires become demands God no longer has control of our heart. Something else has.  Scripture calls that something an idol. My idol was fishing (or mountain biking or hunting or reading and relaxing.) That idol got crushed. The heart retaliated. And what was the fruit? Angry words. Unwholesome talk. Harsh tones.

The mouth speaks what the heart is full of, Jesus said. It’s the case in every area of speech: Gossip and slander – that’s a heart problem, a problem of hidden hatred for someone. You despise them, that’s why you speak negatively about them. Complaining – that’s a heart problem. It’s a lack of submission to God. There is something God is doing you don’t like, so you grumble in your heart about it. Lying and covering up the truth – that’s a heart problem. It’s problem with pride and wanting to look good in the eyes of others.

The Solution

So what’s the solution to all this? We have out-of-control tongues and idolatrous hearts and internal desires that are constantly waging war. The problem is too big. It’s beyond us.

Yes, it is beyond us – but not beyond God. God has already given us a solution: a changed heart. The answer lies not in cleaning up our speech. That’s just like pinning plastic fruit to a sick tree. You’re trying to change the behaviour without addressing the idols that drive the behaviour.

James gives us the answer in chapter 4 verse 7: submit to God. Change you see begins at the heart level. We must renounce the idols in our heart that taken the place of God and turn our hearts back to him. Then our words will reflect a heart that is ruled by Him.  Submit to God. Give him first place – the place he deserves. Hand everything over to him – all your concerns and desires and wants. Let him deal with those things as he pleases.

The Bible tells us if we are ever going to see lasting change in the way we talk, we must start from within. If we want good fruit, we need to deal with the fruit. The “root” in this case is the heart, which John Calvin called, “the idol factory.” Every problem with have with our speech – arguing and quarrelling, complaining and murmuring, lying and deceiving, boasting and bragging is a problem with the heart.

One last word: God never reveals hidden things to discourage us. On the contrary, this is how he demonstrates his love to us. God does not want us to live with hearts that are enslaved. He wants to free us. So he exposes not only the fruit (sinful talk) but also the root (idolatrous hearts). When you sense deep conviction by the Spirit of God that is a sign that God is at work in you for your good.

So don’t be discouraged. Your Redeemer has come. Jesus has died and rose again. Sin has been atoned for. He serves now as your Great High Priest, interceding for you daily. His Spirit is at work deep within in you to transform and renew into the person he wants you to be. Don’t resist his good work. Give Him free reign. Let your prayer be that of David in Psalm 19:14,

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit… A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Luke 6:43–45). Ouch. What we glibly pass-off as a slip of the tongue was an intention of the heart. What was in our minds went public. Our sin has just been exposed and we are ashamed.

What’s the cure? It’s not a reformed tongue. This is something speech therapy won’t fix!  The answer is a renewed heart; which praise God is possible because of Jesus.  Jesus, by his death and resurrection overcame the power of sin and offers to cleanse and renew our hearts so that what slips off the tongue brings healing rather than hurt and life rather than death. So next time the tongue slips, remember these words of Jesus and the remedy he offers. Deal with the root and you’ll start seeing the desired fruit.