Words

Do you need a heart check-up?

If you genuinely want to know your spiritual condition, then listen to the words that you spontaneously say when something disagreeable happens. What are the first words out of your mouth when you drop a bag of groceries, or someone cuts you off in traffic or someone cuts in line when you’re boarding Southwest Air 🙁 not a problem right now )? What you will hear is the condition of your heart. Your spontaneous reaction is revealing.

Matthew 12:33-37 (NLT), “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.

What’s in our Hearts?

Good intentions are good, and reading your Bible is good. These indeed appear to be good fruit, but you verbalize what is in your heart when you don’t have time to engage your mouth-filter.

If we dive into the original Greek, we learn the inference from an “evil person produces evil things.” The word produces or brings ἐκβάλλει (ekballeiStrong’s Greek 1544: means to throw (cast, put) out; I banish; I bring forth, produce. From ek and ballo; to eject. The wording indicates the spontaneity of what comes from the heart.

If your words show that your fruit isn’t appealing, then it’s time to ask Jesus for help. God is ready to transform us by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). Don’t ask God for a better mouth-filter. Instead, ask Him for the renewal of your mind, for your transformation will change you, which includes your heart. Good things will be in your heart, so good things will spontaneously come out of your mouth.

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I wanted to use this picture (I love coffee) but it didn’t connote today’s message. Still, I couldn’t pass up that opportunity to use it!

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Sniping


Sniping
: definition – the action of verbally attacking someone in a sly or petty way

The rest of this sentence will show my “clay feet” (Daniel 2:31-45), but am I the only one that gets weary from people sniping? At all times, we all carry a broad spectrum of circumstances, situations, and emotions. And I’m confident we each have a sufficient amount of difficulties. So why do some people feel the need to throw a bit more on our backs?

I rejoice that my Savior, Jesus, did not respond in kind to the sniping of the Pharisees. We find a great example of this in Matthew, chapter twelve. Here’s what was happening (my paraphrase).

Here’s What Happened

Jesus and His disciples were walking through a grain field. His disciples were hungry, so they started picking some of the heads of grain and eating them. Their actions were perfectly legal in Jewish society. However, it was a Sabbath day.

Some Pharisees spotted the disciples and, no doubt, ran to Jesus to tell Him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” You see, the issue wasn’t WHAT they were doing, but WHEN they were doing it.

As if the Pharisees’ complaint wasn’t enough, the Pharisees lost their collective minds when Jesus healed a man that same day. At this point, the Pharisees decide they had to kill Jesus. Yes, kill Him. So far, I’ve never made anyone sufficiently angry that they wanted to kill me…well, maybe once.

Sniping Not Allowed

What was Jesus’ response? He left (v.15). Then Matthew tells us the following:

Matthew 12:17-21 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

As we strive to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

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Many Words

a puzzle that says "choose your words"

My wife and I watch way too many British reality police shows. We’re fascinated by how polite the arrested suspects are. Police will walk ahead of the perpetrator, and the accused dutifully follows along behind. And while the offender is being booked, the officer will offer the detainee a cup of hot tea or hot coffee.

Mind you, this politeness only applies to people that have committed serious crimes. If the person is drunk, then they’re handled just like here in the States. Still, the politeness of the alleged offender as well as the police is just so different from the scenes we are shown here in America.

However, it seems that all criminals think they can talk their way out of their crimes. This mindset of thinking you can talk your way out of a misdeed appears to be part of humanity’s fallen condition. 

Be Wary of Many Words

So, a word to the wise, be wary when someone gives you a long-winded explanation when a simple answer would make more sense.

With local, state, and Federal elections ramping up in America, the possibility of an early election in the UK, oh, and the failure to form a government in Israel, my guess is that we will hear a lot of long-winded explanations. Remember what God’s Word states:

When words are many, sin is not lacking;
so he who controls his speech is wise.

Proverbs 10:19 (Complete Jewish Bible) 

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. 
(Matthew 5:37. ESV)

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Inner Me

The person you talk with the most, and share your most intimate thoughts with is, well, yourself. It seems that everyone has an “inner me”.

Our “inner me” is our friend that never gets tired of listening to us. Some of us also have a music channel in our heads. That, too, is continually playing. In fact, we may become ticked off when someone sings a commercial jingle because that knocks our music track off line.

Now, there is a subset of humanity where whatever goes through their mind comes out of their mouth. I am blessed (?) with two of these people, my wife and my daughter.

An Experiment

As an experiment, when my daughter was pre-teen, I invited her to go with me to another town which was about ninety minutes from where we lived. I knew she’d go because she was my traveling companion. Anytime she heard my keys rattle she knew I was going somewhere, and she wanted to go. She had a lot of “go” in her; she still does.

Anyway, secretly, I mapped out my experiment. I would let her talk, without interruption, until she ran out of things to say. Then I would know how long it took for her to stop talking.

Yes, I was naive. Anyway, we got in the family car, and we prayed that we would have a safe journey. Then I waited. Right on cue, my daughter started talking to me. She talked and she talked and she talked. Finally, we were at the parts store. I asked her to wait until I was finished before “we” started talking.

A Travelog

I finished in about 5 or 10 minutes, and before we had left the store she was back in full swing. And, she talked all the way back home. Only when I pulled into our driveway, got out of our car, and started walking to our backdoor did my daughter stop talking to me. She immediately shifted gears and began providing her mom with a travelog of our adventure.

The lesson I learned was that for my wife and daughter there was no end to talking because everything triggered thoughts which generated words and words were meant to be spoken. It’s been a wild ride.

Pray Without Ceasing

Anyway, my wife and daughter showed me what the Holy Spirit led the Apostle Paul to write in these following instructions to the church at Thessaloniki:

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

God packed so much guidance for a satisfying and purposeful Christian life in these few sentences. It would do us all well if we took the time to meditate upon this gift God gave us.

Through my wife and daughter I have learned that it is not only possible to “pray without ceasing” but there is great comfort and strength to be gained through continual prayer. I suppose women have a prayer track in addition to a music track and a “me” track. I’m too afraid to ask. I thank God I’m a man.

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Names

As some of you know, I have an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) cat named Max. Science has proven that cats recognize their names. Although, for poor Max, we affectionately call him by many permutations of Max. The most common name is Maxy, but sometimes he’s Maximillion, sometimes Maximus, well, you get the idea. These names are meant to be affectionate, but for Max they are most likely confusing. Science hasn’t proven that cats are skilled in grammar.

Having recently been away from home for a week, Max was stressed by my absence and was a complete nuisance when I got home. Upon my arrival I had other things on my agenda than to let Max go through his OCD routine but  he would have none of it. That’s kind of the way I am with Jesus.

Routine

When my routine gets upended by life I lose my routine with Jesus. Oh, I still make time for Him in the morning, but that may be in a car. And, we still talk but it’s difficult to carve out a quiet time to read my Bible, meditate on His word, and pray. So, when I finally get my life back, I’m like Max. I’m desperate to spend time with my Master.

Here’s where the rest of my Maxishness comes into play. Names are very important to the one true God; the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. The LORD renamed Abram, Sarai, and Jacob. He named the children of Hosea. Jesus gave new names to Peter, James, John and probably Saul/Paul. Also, each of God’s children gets a new name when we get to heaven. Names are important.

Confused

Also like Max, sometimes I am confused by my Master. I see myself as a worn out man of little or no worth. However, sometimes, God calls me by a name like “the one who breaks down walls.” That’s confusing to me but Jesus sees me in Him; yes, I said that correctly. He is in me but I am in Him. And, the person I am in Jesus has different names, kind of like Max.

You also may have different names because you are loved by God and used by Him. Perhaps, you are the “the builder of churches”, “the compassion giver”, “the teacher of children”, “the elder”. I don’t know how God sees you or the names by which He calls you. But you should know this, God often renames His people.

Mark 4:13-17 (ESV), And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder);

So, pray and listen. That name you hear may be yours.

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It will be okay

It will be okay. I know. I have a bunch of kids. God blessed my wife and me by spacing most of their births apart by several years. But, just for His fun, we finished off our family with unplanned twins. I’m sure God got a big kick out of that! Although I do have to say that the twins were and are a great blessing to our family.

One of my “Dad” sayings is that the teenage years are for parents so when the time comes for their little bundle of joy to leave the nest, the parents say, “Bye!”

I commend you to God and to the word of his grace

Still, parents are concerned when they send their naive child out into this world filled with evil. I’m sure this is how the Apostle Paul felt when he left the church at Ephesus for the last time. Paul called the Ephesian elders to him and taught them. And, in Acts 20:32 (ESV) Paul says, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

A Biblical mechanism is at work in Acts 20:32. Depositum fidei is the Latin term for this mechanism. Our Christian translation for depositum fidei is “substance of faith” or “treasury of revelation.” However, the implication is a bit deeper. Depositum fide stems from ancient estate and trust law and probably has something to do with “good faith” or “earnest.”

“Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers” states, “Teachers are to “commit” the truth they have received to others (2Timothy 2:2), and the truth so committed is the depositum fidei which they thus hold, as it were, in trust (2Timothy 1:14).” Therefore, Scriptural truth is the “substance of faith” or “treasury of revelation.” This truth from God abides within teachers. And they hold this “trust” to place, engraft or implant God’s truth in people who are sanctified (i.e., set apart for God).

Quick and Powerful

As for “the word of grace, which is able to build you up” this is undoubtedly the same “word of God, quick and powerful” of Hebrews 4:12.

So, Paul was saying to the Ephesian elders that even though he would not come back to Ephesus. And the Ephesian church was surrounded by evil people with the desire to rip apart their infant church, they would be okay. For, the church had the presence of God, and they had the word of God’s grace which in itself contains life to build up their church and to give them an inheritance in the kingdom of God.

It will be okay. For every Christian child, friend, loved one, or missionary that launches out or is left behind, we “should together share the conviction that each of us is safe because God and the ‘word of His grace’ will go and remain with us.” – MacLaren’s Expositions

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Truth can be hard but lies live forever

EU car license plate that spells LIES

Truth can be hard. I happened to read the article, “The Death Of The Family Secret,” by Jeffrey Young in a HuffPost article. The report delves into the fall-out for two friends that took DNA tests. The subheading of the article is, “Ancestry and other DNA-testing companies are bringing old family secrets to light. These friends are now dealing with the truth about their fathers.

It’s just one of multiple accounts about people uncovering family secrets through DNA testing. In the HuffPost story, there is a compelling statement that reads, “Family secrets are as old as families. The reasons for keeping them haven’t changed much. To cover up a lie or to protect someone or to avoid social stigma. While revealing secrets can cause harm, so too does deceit.”

While there is a difference between family secrets and lies, they often go hand-in-hand. Lies can seem helpful when we tell them. The perpetrators of the crucifixion of Jesus and to think fast when they learned of Christ’s resurrection. So, the concocted a lie. We can read about this in Matthew 28:12-15 NIV:

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

A lie is such a handy tool

Even today, this specific lie still circulates. A lie is such a handy tool. We believe we can protect ourselves with lies, promote ourselves with lies, or justify our actions and condemn others with our lies. A lie is so easy, but the truth is God’s nature.

We must do as God’s Word says in Ephesians 4:25 (ESV), “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” We can’t help others with lies and lies that we tell will live forever. Even when we confess them, the lies we birth will never go away.

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Peacemakers

A sign that says PEACE

Peacemakers Are In Short Supply

Some of the most devastating kinds of disagreements occur between adult family members. I know that when my Grandma died, the ensuing arguments destroyed that tenuous family – my mother mostly avoid the carnage. And, just recently, I happen to overhear what seemed like an innocuous comment. I was not eavesdropping! Sometimes we end up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyway, this comment, overtly devoid of venom, was received by the hearer as crushing.

We find in Acts 7:26, where Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, spoke about how Moses acted as a peacemaker. It takes boldness to say, as Moses did, to bitter foes, “Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?” The result of Moses’ intervention was that both men turned on him!

Peacemakers Are In Danger

For Moses, his work as peacemaker placed him in danger. Still, Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, for Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…” (Matthew 5:9 ESV) Now, when I think about peacemakers, I also have to consider peacekeepers.

A peacekeeper typically is someone that is continually working to keep the status quo. Their motto is, “Don’t rock the boat.” There can be some merit in this approach, but it’s not maintainable, and Jesus didn’t call us to be peacekeepers. No, Jesus wants us to trust Him and, with love, peel away the facade of “It’s okay” so that the actual problems are revealed and dealt with.

Godly peacemakers are people who want to lance the boil so healing can begin. They see interpersonal conflicts as failures to live in the image of God. God will call you to active duty as a peacemaker. When called, you will need to be “prayed up” and in tune with the Holy Spirit for each word you speak or write will be judged. And, if we have any hidden dirty laundry, as Moses had, you can be sure that it will be brought out and thrown in your face. So, don’t have dirty laundry. Be like Daniel. Make sure that no matter how extensively your enemies search, they won’t find a valid accusation to bring against you.

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The 3.5% Rule

The 3.5% rule is non-violence

This “3.5% Rule” devotional is not at all political.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan did an in-depth study[1] on the effectiveness of violent versus non-violent acts for the overthrow of oppressive governments. 

They set rigorous criteria for their study. Not even Mahatma Gandhi’s protests in India against the British was as non-violent. To their surprise, purely non-violent actions were more than twice as successful as violent acts. Their science-based study was so surprising that Ms. Chenoweth was asked to do a TED talk about it, and their research has been published worldwide, from Harvard to newspapers.

For me, this result wasn’t surprising. I was blessed by having an excellent Mennonite friend when I was growing up. He took me to many church services and conferences, which helped shape my trust in non-violence. So, it was just an affirmation when their study stated that the best way for people to achieve political change was through nonviolent or civil resistance. In fact, from 1900 to 2006, genuinely nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies.

The 3.5% Rule

Here’s the jewel in the results of their research. No campaigns failed once they’d achieved active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population. Granted, that may be a lot of people for a country the size of America. However, for smaller, more close-knit countries, 3.5% is a reasonable level of participation.

Now let’s go back to Israel when the Church was young. Luke has provided us in the book of Acts with detailed accounts of the first collisions the Church had with civil authorities. 

We have no documentation about the number of people that morally supported the Church, but there were enough people to sway Jewish leadership. We read in Acts 4:25, “Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.

I think it’s clear if you read Acts, chapters 1-5, that God’s hand is in all of these first confrontations between the Church and civil authorities. For me, the big takeaway is that we must follow as God leads and not assume what God will do. He may shield us from abuse or allow us to suffer so we can celebrate suffering for Jesus. However, in every situation, God’s love is with us. Still, His focus is always on His work to advance His kingdom in this broken, ineffectual, and sinful world.
 1 – https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/02/why-nonviolent-resistance-beats-violent-force-in-effecting-social-political-change/

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Just Jesus and His Cross

Our society is more fractured now than it has ever been in my lifetime. You would be hard pressed to pick any social topic, be it ethnicity, gender, economic, political persuasion, the morality of computer games, or anything that comes to your mind, if you say what you think online, in a forum, on facebook, and now even face-to-face, the topic will immediately spark a vicious debate with no possibility of anyone changing their mind. These are not exchanges of ideas but mechanisms for demeaning people. 

Christian, we are all created in the image of God; do not participate in this useless “arm wrestling” that tempts even the best follower of Christ to create homegrown scripture to bolster their position.

Instead, the next time someone tries to draw you into a debate, say what Paul said to the Corinthians, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (MSG), “You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.” I think we can learn something from Paul’s approach.

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