What You Say…and How You Say It

recklesswordsThis has been the most controversial week in our nation’s news that I can remember. It takes about ten seconds of television watching or internet surfing to realize that people are passionate—and disagreeing—about their beliefs. Things get hot quickly!

We are discussing many critically important ideas in our country right now, and Christians should be an important part of those conversations. How we speak in these times matters very much.

When Ephesians 4:15 says that we are to speak the truth in love, it is not only referring to the content of our speech, but also to the method of our speech.

Here’s a reminder: “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (Proverbs 27:14). In other words, what we say can be totally accurate, but how we say it can destroy any good we could have done.

Before you comment on Facebook or argue at the water cooler, consider these words of God:

  • “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
  • “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3)
  • “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)
  • “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4-5)
  • “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
  • “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36)

On the contrary, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

If you want to represent the faith in what you say, make sure that you represent it in how you say it!

A Third Place

Where are the three places that you spend the most time?

For most people, the first place is home, and the second place is work. But what about the third place?

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A barber shop in Brazil. The barber shop is an example of the third place; in many societies it has been a traditional area for (especially) men to congregate separate from work or home.

For parents with school-age children, the third place might be the little league bleachers. For a business professional, it might be the golf course, the coffee shop, or even the bar. Where is your “third place”?

Missiologists (people who study how to do mission work) have written much about the third place because it is one of the places where you can do the most good for the kingdom. A man’s home is his castle—and many people don’t like the intrusion of door-knocking, so it is hard to reach someone at home. A person’s job keeps him busy. It’s sometimes difficult to have a meaningful discussion at someone’s work without getting him in trouble with the boss. The third place usually is a place of freedom, community, and relaxation—a great place to have a spiritual conversation that might bear fruit.

When you read the book of Acts, you see that the apostles tended to spend time in third places. They reasoned in the synagogues—the centers of Jewish community life. They taught in the marketplaces—the centers of Gentile community life.

Here’s a suggestion for how to share the gospel: identify your third place and become more intentional about showing the light of Jesus there!

How’s your boat?

How's Your BoatImagine that your soul is a boat. It’s not a gas-powered boat; it has oars and a sail. If you’re that boat, there are four things you could be doing.

SAILING: Sailing is living the Christian life with the wind at your back. God is powerful and active, and you see, feel, and recognize that clearly. Prayer is a pleasure and study is a joy.

ROWING: Rowing is when you are working. You find the disciplines to be a duty more than a delight. It doesn’t feel like God is doing much. You feel alone often. You keep at it, you don’t give up, but you don’t see the results.

DRIFTING: Drifting means that you’re feeling the same way you felt if you were rowing—but instead of digging in, you’re letting yourself drift. You don’t feel like approaching and obeying God, so you don’t. You feel sorry for yourself, so you indulge and self-medicate. You’ve given up for now, but hope is not lost.

SINKING: A boat that drifts long enough will eventually sink. It will collide with another boat or a shore, or eventually time and negligence will compromise the hull. Drifting long enough leads to numbness, negligence, and death.

If you pray, worship, and obey despite negative circumstances and feelings, you won’t be drifting, and when the winds come up again, you will move ahead swiftly. On the other hand, if you do not apply the means of grace, you will at best be drifting, and if storms come your life, you might be in danger of sinking.

In any case—pray no matter what. Praying is rowing, and sometimes it is like rowing in the dark—you won’t feel that you are making any progress at all. Yet you are, and when the winds rise again, and they surely will, you will sail again before then.

(Adapted from Tim Killer’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God)

Keeping Memories

Keeping memories is far more difficult than making memories. Memories are made in an instant, but must be held on to for the rest of our lives.

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Occasionally someone will compliment me on my memory. Here’s how I remember things: google calendar stores my appointments, events, and family birthdays. Our church directory helps with your birthdays and anniversaries. Evernote keeps up with my task lists, project plans, sermon ideas, and honey do’s. My email inbox is overflowing with reminders to get back in touch with people. Voicemail reminds me of who called me. A weekly planner keeps up with my errands and chores and where I have to be. Our photo albums keep track of where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. A sticker on my windshield reminds me when to get my oil changed. My white board keeps up with brainstorming sessions and what I need to do today. My Post-it notes remind me of what I need at the grocery store. The ink on the back of my hand tries to remind me of that really important thing I forgot the last three days…and finally, Leslie reminds me of everything else.

We’re definitely better at forgetting than remembering. Our memories need lots of help to keep from dropping things—even really important things. If I’m going to get things done, I have to be intentional about reminders.

We celebrate Memorial Day because it is important that we never forget the men and women who have sacrificed to make the world a better place. It reminds us that people of courage can and do make a difference in the world.  It reminds us of the exceedingly high cost of war and helps us to long for peace.

God knows that we’re a forgetful people, so he helps us remember. He gave the Jews tassels and phylacteries to remind them of the power of his law (Numbers 15:39). He gave Israel the feast of unleavened bread to remind them of his deliverance during Passover (Deuteronomy 16:3). He gave us parents who can tell us the story of what God has done in their lives, and remind us of the power he has in ours (Deuteronomy 32:7).

Today we gather for the reminder that Jesus gave us. “He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19)

Are you busy?

BusyWe wear busy-ness like a badge of honor. To be busy means that we are important, we’re not lazy, and that the world can’t go on without us. How wrong we are!

Kevin DeYoung wrote a book that was really convicting to me. If you find yourself too busy too often, you might find it helpful, too. It’s called Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem. In it, he lists many of the poor reasons for our addiction to business:

  • Pats on the back (we like the attention we get)
  • Performance evaluation (we want people to know we are go-getter’s)
  • Possessions (we busy ourselves to get them, keep them, and not ever use them)
  • Proving ourselves (to show how much we matter)
  • Pity (so people will feel sorry for us)
  • Poor planning (because we just didn’t think about it)
  • Power (so we can be in charge)
  • Perfectionism (because good enough isn’t good enough)
  • Position (to maintain our image)
  • Prestige (to look good)

After considering these motivators behind our scheduled insanity, he asked one more question: Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?

We praise the busy bee, but swat the buzzing gnat. Take a look at your week. Were you doing the things you really needed to, or were you just busy?crazy-busy

The Personal God of Heaven

theology-mattersWe really need to do our best to understand God on his own terms. Many Americans view God as some impersonal power behind the universe. They see him as the “Force” in Star Wars, or “Karma” in the eastern religions, or “Fate” in the Roman world.

God has not revealed himself as an impersonal background force or power. He is a “personality.” That word isn’t quite right. He’s not a man (Numbers 23:19), but man is made in his image (Genesis 1:27). A person and God share many things in common. Scripture frequently uses emotional words to describe God.

Check out this list of God’s emotions from GotQuestions.org:

Impersonal forces are unintelligent, simple actions. They make no choices. Gravity doesn’t sit around and decide whether or not it will cause you to fall out of your chair. Gravity always does what gravity does. It is the same with all of the impersonal forces (magnetism, electricity, atomic forces, etc.)

Personal forces, however, make choices and decisions. My dogs aren’t the same as I am, but they do have “personalities.” They make choices and exert power over their environments.

An impersonal God is the same as no God at all. He doesn’t choose to act. He would just act! A personal God decides to intervene on behalf of his people, to reveal himself, and to make himself known.

How Are You Communicating?

I doubt this story is true, but I’m going to share it anyway! A group of women were at a seminar on how to live in a loving relationship with your husband. The women were asked, “How many of you love your husband?” All the women raised their hands. Then they were asked, “When was the last time you told your husband you loved him?” Some women answered today, a few yesterday, and some couldn’t remember.

The women were then told to take out their cell phones and text their husband: “I love you, sweetheart.” The women were then told to exchange phones with another person, and to read aloud the text message they received, in response. Here are some of the replies:

  1. Sms message on mobile phone close-upWho in the world is this?
  2. Eh, mother of my children, are you sick or what?
  3. Yeah, and I love you too. What’s up with you?
  4. What now? Did you wreck the car again?
  5. I don’t understand what you mean?
  6. What did you do now?
  7. You’re kidding, right?
  8. Don’t beat about the bush; just tell me how much you need?
  9. Am I dreaming?
  10. If you don’t tell me who this message is actually for, someone will die.
  11. I thought we agreed you wouldn’t drink during the day. (my favorite)
  12. Your mother is coming to stay with us, isn’t she?

These replies don’t exactly point to the healthiest relationships, do they? Several years ago during our door-knocking campaign, I met a lady who told me that she already had a church home. “Great,” I replied. “Where do you worship?” She hemmed and hawed and stuttered and stammered…and she couldn’t remember. If you can’t remember the name of your church, you’re probably not going often enough. If you get a reply like these to a text message to your husband, you’re probably not communicating very well.

How is your prayer life? What would God say if you stopped right now, and prayed, “I love you?” Would it be the first time in months, or would it be continuing the conversation from moments before? It’s a challenge, but it’s a beautiful one. Paul told us to “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That’s the epitome of constant communication.

Great Expectations

Imagine a girlfriend saying to her boyfriend, “If you really loved me, you’d win the lottery.”

You’re already hoping that he’ll find someone better to spend his time with, aren’t you? Obviously that is outside of his control. There’s no way he could arrange that, and if he could, wouldn’t he have already?

Expectations

Sometimes we get frustrated with people because we are unrealistic in what we expect them to be. If you go to McDonald’s and ask for an oil change, you’re going to be disappointed. A husband who expects his wife to also be his mother is in for a world of hurt, as this poem describes:

He didn’t like the casserole
And he didn’t like my cake.
My biscuits were too hard,
Not like his mother used to make.

I didn’t perk the coffee right
He didn’t like the stew.
I didn’t mend his socks,
The way his mother used to do.

I pondered for an answer
I was looking for a clue.
Then I turned around and smacked him,
Like his Mother used to do.

expectations31Impossible expectations always guarantee failure and frustration. People cannot give us what they do not have. Don’t expect your children to be perfect when you’re not. Don’t expect everyone else to always be perfectly kind when it’s okay for you to be a grouch because you’re having a bad day.

The only place you can expect perfection is from God. “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” (Psalm 62:5). “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” (Proverbs 10:28).

Let’s have high expectations for each other—but not impossible ones!

Phony Gospels

counterfeit-gospelsWhen we studied the book of Galatians together, Paul warned about deserting the gospel for “another” gospel—even though there is no such thing as another gospel (Galatians 1:6-7).

There are several “phony gospels” that are common in modern churches. Each of these has some kernel of truth, but fails because it overemphasizes one aspect of our teaching while neglecting others. Let me illustrate a few of them:

The Gospel of Sin Management: Believers in this gospel believe that the whole purpose of church, religion, and faith, is basically to help keep them nice, moral, and good. They view the church as a pill to prevent public, shaming sin. It’s true that Jesus transforms us and we aim for holiness, but we need to remember that the reason Jesus came is because we aren’t perfect and won’t be in this life. 1 John 1:8-10 warns against pretending like we don’t sin.

The Red Bull Gospel: Named after the energy drink that keeps you awake and alert, the Red Bull gospel emphasizes how we feel over everything else. If the worship service isn’t “uplifting and exciting,” this false gospel says that it didn’t count. It thrives at the end of mission trips, camps, and revivals. This gospel fails to account for the rigors of every-day life. Not every moment can be a mountain-top experience. Much of the substance of our faith comes from obedience when we don’t feel great. It causes us to forget that love is a choice worth pursuing (1 Corinthians 14:1).

The real gospel is this:  “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:1-6).

The real gospel is life for those who were dead, hope for the hopeless, and sight for the blind. It’s not a nice “add-on” to our experience in this life—Christ “is our life” (Colossians 3:4). Our goal for the year is to be “Simply Christian.” That means we focus on the real gospel for real life!

East TN Motorcycle Trip – Days 2 and 3

DCIM102GOPRO

I never remember if I turn the camera on or not!

Wayne at the campground was kind enough to give us some suggestions for the ride Thursday. He didn’t steer us wrong at all! Before we left, he made a call or two to verify that we had fuel where we needed it. What a great service!

We left out of the campground on TN-315 until we hit TN-30 at the Hiwasee River in the booming metropolis of Reliance, TN. We continued south on TN-30 until we hit US-64 at the Ocoee. TN-30 was a great little twisty road in the woods without a lot of traffic.

2015-03-26 11.41.15We took US-64 east to Murphy, NC. I love riding by the Ocoee…but there’s just too much logging traffic here. It wasn’t too bad being a Thursday mid-morning. We hit a few light showers, but not even enough to cover the visors.

Lunch in Murphy at a BBQ joint was nice. While we were stopped, we took off John’s home-made air filter. Evidently that combination of paper towels was chocking him out at speed. You’ll have to ask him for the details on that one!

We hit US-129 south into Georgia. Even though it’s the same road as Deal’s Gap, it isn’t the same road. Lots of big rigs here. We peeled off on GA-325 to circle Nottely Lake. GPS didn’t completely agree about where we were here, so we were pleasantly surprised to end up back on US-129 north of Blairsville. We continued south until just north of Vogel State Park where we picked up GA-180 towards Suches.

This road was the hidden gem of the trip. It winds through switchbacks in the Chattahoochee National Forest. WOW! This may have been the best riding of the week. Great switchbacks, tight turns, and good views. We came upon a couple of eastern Europeans who went a little too fast for a curve…they were picking the leaves out of a bike but were otherwise unscathed.

We picked up GA-60 going northwest through the forest towards McCaysville, Georgia and Coppertown, TN.

At one point we turned in behind a 15-passenger walk-on bus. I think John and I both groaned a little bit to be on such a good road behind such an awful vehicle, but we were wrong. The lady driving that bus actually made us work to keep up with her. It was obvious she knew where she was!

GA-60 becomes TN-68 at the state line. It takes us through Coker Creek back to Tellico Plains.

We got in about 150 miles today. The pace was a little bit quicker and the roads were all new to us. Great riding!

2015-MC Day 2

Day 3 – Friday, March 27th

Taste Testers

Taste Testers

It was cold.

It was raining.

We already rode everywhere we really cared to see…

So we just went to a Mexican place in Athens, TN and toured the Mayfield Dairy.

Chocolate ice cream was a pretty good way to end the trip!