Heart & Tongue


For the month of November the leadership team at my church (of which I’m a member) is reading through the book of Proverbs – one chapter a day, and the date of the month corresponds to the chapter we read (so since today is the 11th we are reading the 11th chapter).  Reading a Proverb a day is actually something I learned a long time ago from my dad, who has consistently read through the book every month for years (literally) – I remember as a kid seeing him reading every morning, and it was typically in the book of Proverbs.  It was a discipline I had through my college years, but it’s not something I’ve continued with great faithfulness like he has (to my shame).  So the exercise this month with some other guys at my church has been both a return to the familiar and also a journey into the new revelations God has in store for me (and us).

While I certainly will not post about my readings every day (obviously – since I’m 1/3 of the way into the month and haven’t posted a single thing yet!), there’s been a common theme over the last several days that I wanted to reflect on.  And it has to do with the words we speak.  For anyone who’s even glimpsed the book of Proverbs, the amount of space dedicated to the words we speak is obvious and difficult to miss.  In addition to Proverbs, many Christians are familiar with James’ teaching on the tongue (see James 3:3-12), as well as Paul’s (see Eph 4:29) command to not let unwholesome talk come from our lips.

heart-and-tongue

But I guess I’ve missed a key connection on many of these verses before.  Proverbs 10:20 reads, “The tongue of the righteous is pure silver; the heart of the wicked is of little value.”  Many times proverbs are set up as two contrasting ideas – working vs. laziness, purity vs. wickedness, etc.  So when I read this verse and it contrasted the tongue and the heart it peaked my interest – and it was as if God told me to go back and meditate on it and read it again.  So I did, and I was reminded of this verse: “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. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45)  (emphasis mine).  And I realized that this proverb, like many others, is actually creating a contrast – a contrast of the heart.  Jesus said that what we speak comes from our heart; if you’re not a follower of Jesus, here’s an extra-biblical quote that is similar:

heart2.6

So Solomon (the author of Proverbs) is telling us what Jesus also told us: the words we speak are a reflection of our heart – the words of the righteous reflect a righteous heart while the words of the wicked reflect a wicked heart. Connected with all of this was the Ephesians passage listed above, which we discussed at some length this past week in our small group.  One of the things that convicts me when I read Paul’s words is that it says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth.”  It doesn’t list exceptions (ie, when you’re angry or venting or sad).  None.  That’s how much we’re “allowed”.  And I think the reason is that our words reflect (and often betray) our heart to those around us.  My colleagues at work think I never curse – and every time they curse around me they typically apologize (not sure why they feel the need to do this, because I’ve certainly never said anything about it – they just have never heard me curse and I guess they figure I’m greatly offended by it).  My wife once told me that her grandmother told her cursing revealed a weak mind – it was what we said when we were too ignorant to use a better word.  Now I certainly won’t tell you that my words have always been (or always are) free of four letter words, because on occasion (typically when I’m alone and angry), one slips out – especially on the road.  Not something I’m proud of, simply stating a fact.  But it’s also something I’ve worked hard to overcome over the years – and, if my work colleagues are any judge, God has certainly been gracious to me.

heart-and-mouth-connection

Don’t take this post as an anti-cursing post, because that’s certainly not it.  The purpose of this reflection is to ask the question, “If my words overflow from my heart, what do they say about the condition of my heart?”

If I say I love Jesus, do people hear me talking about Him?  If I say I’ve surrendered to Him and I strive to serve my family and faithfully lead my wife and kids to be more like Jesus, is it apparent in my speech?  If I value the covenant and commitment I made to my wife on our wedding day do I participate in “wife” jokes when I’m out with the guys to get a laugh?  How about when my kids want to play a game – do I speak harsh words to them?  Am I dishonest when asked a question, or manipulative, or un-trustworthy?  How about when someone comes to me with a problem they need advice on or someone to help them process – does it stay between us or do I turn around and use it as gossip with the next person I see?

Now I know the old saying that, “Talk is cheap”, and I’m not suggesting that just because we say something we do something.  I’m simply suggesting that often times our words (or lack thereof) say something different than what we want them to say – and is that because of an inconsistency in our actions (we don’t practice what we preach) or is it because the words themselves reflect a problem in our hearts?  God promised us in Ezekiel that he would give us a “new heart”, and Paul certainly preaches that we are “new creations” (see Ezekiel 36:26 and 2 Corinthians 5:17).  Yet how does this play out in our words?  If we’re to take Solomon (and Jesus) at his word, then we need to recognize there really is a connection between our words and heart.  The words we speak and the tone we use to say them reveal a wealth of information about the state of our heart.  What do your words say about you?

My Prayer


I’ve been reading a new translation called The Voice lately (I was selected to receive a preview copy awhile back and so I’ll be posting a review soon).  Anyway, as I was reading Ephesians (one of my favorite books), I was reminded of two prayers Paul prayed for the believers in the first century.  I’ve always read these and been challenged to pray them for believers I know and pray for, but recently I felt the Lord challenging me to pray them for myself.  So below I list what I’ve been praying the last week or so – reworded into first person.  This is just one of those short blog posts that I hope inspires and blesses you…

God of my Lord Jesus the Anointed, Father of Glory: I call out to You.  Give me a mind ready to receive wisdom and revelation so that I will truly know You.  Open the eyes of my heart, and let the light of Your truth flood in.  Shine Your light on the hope you are calling me to embrace.  Reveal to me the glorious riches you are preparing as my inheritance.  Let me see the full extent of your power that is at work in me, and may it be done according to Your might and power.  (Eph 1:17-19a)

Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen me.  Fill my soul with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in my heart.  May love be the rich soil where my life takes root.  May it be the bedrock where my life is founded so together that with all of Your people I will have the power to understand that the love of the Anointed is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced.  God, may Your fulness flood through my entire being. (Eph 3:16-19)

Amen.

In church the last three weeks I’ve been hearing a lot about “becoming more like Jesus.”  I think that if these two prayers were to be realized in my life then I’d have made a major step into being more like Jesus and being able to share him.  So, I invite you to, at the very least, pray these prayers for me (just substitute “Tom” where ever it says “I” :)).  And, if you’re willing, pray them for yourself as well.  If you’re willing to do that, consider responding to this post with a comment so I can also pray for you.  God promised in Isaiah, “I send [out my word] and it always produces fruit.  It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” (Is 55:11), so we can be confident that as we pray these scriptures they will be answered.

The Invasion (Part II) (4.10)


If Christmas is an invasion (see last week’s devotional), then how are we to understand passages where OT prophets prophecy the Messiah is promised as one who will bring peace, where Jesus himself talks about giving peace, and we read numerous references throughout the NT where peace is referred to as a present reality?  I believe it begins with a proper understanding of the term “peace”.

I think there are at least two types of peace, and I’ll refer to them as intrapersonal peace and interpersonal peace.  Intrapersonal, or internal, peace is that peace we have within ourselves, whereas interpersonal, or external, peace is the peace we have with others.  When Christ told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you” (John 14:27) and Paul spoke of the “peace that passes understanding”, (Phil 4:7) I believe he was partly talking about this peace on the inside that we sense as Christians – the peace we talk about and hear about when someone is going through a difficult time in life but they say, “And in all of this I have this peace that everything is going to be all right.”  It’s something that’s inside them and has nothing to do with peace between peoples (or nations).

The second type of peace, interpersonal, is the peace I believe Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to when he said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” (incidentally, this quote was used in the 1997 movie Air Force One in reference to peace between a country and a terrorist organization).  This type of peace is not yet present in our world, and it won’t be present until evil is vanquished, Satan is completely overthrown, and sin (and its consequences) are gone.

And it is the conquest for that peace in which we find ourselves today, a time of war between the spiritual and unseen powers that surround us.  We are the middle of a war, a war that is striving to restore justice, and until justice is restored by the Prince of Peace we will always have this tension in our lives: while Christ has given us peace, we still must fight for ultimate peace until he returns and restores it.

There is one more type of peace that I haven’t mentioned yet, and this is the peace that Christ provides us today for those who believe, and that is peace with God.  When we sinned we joined Satan’s side in the war he waged against God.  The great mystery of the Christian faith, however, is that when we become Christians we switch sides: because of Jesus we can have peace with God and we now fight on his team against our former commander – and make no mistake about it, God’s team is the winning team.

Until we understand and view life through this lens (understanding) of peace, war, and justice, we will never fully understand all that is happening around and to us.  We have an enemy, and enemy who seeks to devour and destroy us.  Which means we are at war.  Christmas was the Great Invasion, the day God turned the tide and allowed us to be on his team in this war.  The angels proclaimed, “Peace on Earth” at the annunciation of his birth, but the peace they proclaimed was only “to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).  There will come a day when peace is offered to all – when justice will rule and evil will be vanquished for eternity.  Until then, we are warring “against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12).

The invasion has begun.  Which side are you on?

Living the Word (3.30)


This past week at my early morning mens’ Bible study we were talking about living in the presence of Christ every moment of every day – something that’s easy to talk about but, ashamedly, hard to do.  Apparently, this is a common struggle between Christians from long ago as well as for today.  Read what Paul wrote in regards to his prayers for the Ephesians:

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Chris, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.  I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to use who believe….I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God…Therefore I..urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received.” (1:17-19, 3:17b-19, 4:1b-2, HCSB)

Wow – go back and read that again (seriously: do it).  Do you see what Paul said he was praying for for the first century believers in Ephesus?  During our conversation Friday morning we talked regarding the importance of knowing God’s will – how do we know if what we feel God is telling us to do is really God speaking and not our own voices or the voice of other spiritual powers?  The first thing we talked about was being “rooted and grounded” in the Word.  For if what we feel God is calling us to do is contrary to His word then it’s not him doing the speaking.

And that’s basically what Paul is praying for here – that the believers would grow up and know God’s word, that they would know Jesus and live him out.  But do you see what occurs first?  The knowledge of Jesus – and as our minds are “enlightened” and spirit grows in “wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” then we can “walk worthy” of our calling.

Think of it this way… This past August I gave each of you a recording of demo songs from our repertoire for the year to listen to – a CD I know many of you listened to as we learned the music.  And knowing what the song sounded like in whole allowed us to better prepare the songs and learn them when we were together – you had a reference point to compare them to.  That’s kind of what Paul is talking about here: knowing the Word and living it is like knowing the song and singing it – they go hand in hand.

So this prayer has become one I prayer regularly not only for myself but for others – and I encourage you to pray it as well.

Practical Ways to Share Jesus (2.27)


Last weekend I ended our devotional with the following statement question: How does the saving work of Jesus spill over into “practical, real-world implications” in my life?  Today, hopefully, we’ll begin to look at some answers.

Let’s start by piggy-backing the verses Bill mentioned in the sermon this morning: Ephesians 5:1-2, 5:21-33, 6:1-4, and 1 Timothy 4:12.  Here’s a quick summary, based on the notes I took this morning:

  • Eph 5:1-2: Follow God, walk in love, and imitate Christ;
  • Eph 5:21-33: Husbands and wives should love and respect each other;
  • Eph 6:1-4: Children should respect their parents and parents (in particular fathers) should not provoke their children to anger;
  • 1 Tim 4:12: We need to be an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

That seems like a good place to start.  But these are still fairly general, so let’s give some specific examples from every-day life where these might be illustrated:

  1. Not speeding up when a weaving car approaches from behind on 264 and tries to pass me;
  2. Doing the dishes without my wife asking me to;
  3. Playing with the kids instead of trying to “get my stuff done” (that could easily be done at another time);
  4. Looking at people when they talk to us;
  5. Instead of saying, “I’ll keep you in my prayers” taking a few minutes right at that moment to say, “Can I pray for you right now about this?”
  6. Picking up trash on the floor at work (or any place, really) (instead of leaving it for the custodian because, “That’s their job”);
  7. Refraining from laughing at any joke that contains racial or ethnic degradation (more commonly called “stereotyping”) – and even telling people the joke isn’t funny because of the racial/ethnic contents;
  8. Making a habit of saying “Please” and “Thank You”
  9. Allow someone to step in front of you at the grocery store check-out or fast-food ordering line;
  10. Spend an evening playing games that opens up conversation and encourages your family members.

Now, these are some simple things that we can do every day to help show people we have Christ’s love in us.  They are simple things, yet hard to do.  They aren’t meant to be legalistic in any way, and doing or not doing them doesn’t make us more or less holy.  But they are some little ways in which we can encourage and lift up others around us and reach out to them.  Some may go un-noticed by everyone but God, and that’s okay.

Too often we get concerned with what we must do or not do as a Christian, and that list so often contains “big stuff”, yet that “big stuff” is hard to measure and so we get discouraged and feel we fall short.  But the “good works” that Jesus saved us to do should be going on every moment of every day.  While a “big” action like building a Habitat house is wonderful, the truly great things are the “little” actions we take day by day that form habits in us which continually paint the picture of Jesus to those around us.

"Tollerance" (Issue 1.17)


Originally Written for 1/18/09

Recently I finished reading through Paul’s two letters to Timothy.  While there are many verses I could share on, one in particular sticks out to me, especially in light of the Wednesday evening series we’ve been doing on having a Christian world view.  That verse is 1 Timothy 6:29.  Paul writes the follow to Timothy, the young pastor at Ephesus:

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.  Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”

I’m not a Greek scholar, and I’m not suggesting the thought I’m going to give you can be backed up linguistically by the Greek; however, I believe the intent is the same…  I wrote a note in my Bible that this same verse could be used today and the word “knowledge” could be changed to “tolerance”.

How often have we heard people tell us we need to be “tolerant” of others’ views and beliefs?  While this thought has many connotations, let me focus on one right here: the idea of inter-faith “tolerance”.  I spoke recently to a friend from another church and they’re currently looking for a new pastor.  I asked how the process was going and he said they had just finished an interview that he described as “interesting”.  He shared the story of a pastor from another state whom they interviewed, and the seminary this pastor had attended required all students each semester to take one class at another “seminary” in the same city – one class at the Catholic seminary, one at the Jewish synagogue, one at the Buddhist temple, etc.  And the purpose behind this was so they could have a greater understanding and conversation with people from these religions.  Here’s the scary part – he told the people interviewing him that one of his previous churches over 80% of the attendees were not traditionally from this person’s denomination – they were made up of Jews, Buddhists, and other “believers”.

Now obviously I wasn’t privy to the conversation so I can’t speak to exactly what he said, but I can share this: what was not heard by the committee was “We have people who used to be Jews & Buddhists who have converted” but that the church was made up of a significant number of “Jews and Buddhists”.  This is an example of inter-faith teaching.

You’ll also see every year in the paper reports from the inter-faith alliance (I think that’s what they’re called) when they do their annual Inter-Faith service in Greenville.  People attend the service and participate in practices of people from other religions – they may hear a sermon a Muslim leader, and pray a Buddhist prayer, and then turn around and take communion together.  Yet another example of “inter-faith” at work.

James MacDonald, a pastor in the Chicagoland area, talks about this often and he cites a verse I’ve come to appreciate.  He divides much of Christian theology (though I’m going to apply it here more broadly) into two areas – one where we should be “convicted” and one where we should have “tolerance”.  The former are the  seven “non-negotiable” of the faith, and they’re found in Ephesians 4:5: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, on God & Father of all.  Everything else, he says, are areas we can agree to disagree on.

Which pretty much rules out the idea of inter-faith, as I see it.