Witness This

Psalm 39: 1 – 2             NIV

I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.” So I remained utterly silent, not even saying anything good.

If you want to keep yourself from sin, the tongue is an excellent place to start. Most of us do more damage to ourselves and others with our mouth than any other way. In my book, Journey Through the Bible, chapter 64 is titled Loshon Hora. This is a Hebrew expression for derogatory speech. If you study Loshon Hora, you will discover that the Rabbinical teachings advise against derogatory speech, otherwise called evil talk, not only because of the negative impact upon others but also because it is damaging to the speaker. The words which come out of our mouths either edify us or defile us. So, when we speak negatively about someone else, even if it is true, we tear down ourselves. I encourage you to take this to heart as absolute truth.

David knew the truth of this. Sometimes it is more beneficial to remain silent even when you want to speak truth. Fools cast their pearls before swine. Yet we find ourselves with many words. We want to preach people into the Kingdom of God, but God never told us to do that. Preachers are for the saved, to train them and teach them so they can do into the world and save the wicked. Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 2: 4). If Paul’s witness was demonstrations of the Spirit and his power, then why do we choose to talk people to death? We are on the wrong path entirely. We should all know by now that people aren’t listening to what we say, they are watching what we do. So, are our lives demonstrations of God’s love? Are we harbingers of His power and grace? People are not interested in what we think. They are interested in God’s presence and we can be those carriers of God’s presence to people, literally, everywhere we go.

Our goal should be to honor Jesus’ commission to us by first obeying Romans 12: 2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” See, our job is to be transformed so that people see that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Not us, but God in us. We aren’t perfect in ourselves, but He is. Our mission is to allow the Lord to transform us. That is accomplished through the renewal of our minds. You see, mine and your first task is not to tell the world how to be. It is to let God show us who we should be. Our effort should be focused on our own renewal and subsequent transformation. When we are renewed and transformed, we won’t have to say much because God in us will be loudly visible. We will demonstrate the love and power of the Almighty as did Paul.

We have had this all upside down for so long and we absolutely must correct this. We are the church, we are the temple of the Almighty. That is where people are looking to see if God is alive. We must become more attractive images of Christianity. Don’t try to change them so they can go to heaven. Change you with the power of the Holy Spirit so they want to go to heaven. We’ve been making heaven look like hell. We’ve got to right this ship and mirror our Lord. We are to be his disciples which means we act like him, we talk like him. David said, “I will watch my ways.” We’ve been busy watching their ways. We’ve been acting like the world and frankly, talking like them too, and then trying to persuade others that we know truth.

Let us save ourselves. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2: 12). Let derogatory speech have no part with you. Keep your tongue from sin. By this we guard ourselves and minister to others.

Thoughts & Words

Psalm 19: 14                God’s Word

May the words from my mouth and the thoughts from my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my defender.

This verse has been on an index card for years. Though I am better, I need to be reminded daily. This is not about holiness though one cannot be holy without clean thoughts and words. Although this verse stands alone very well, you will understand its richness when you take it in context with the rest of the nineteenth psalm. Look back at our Words of the Day for this week. Is there a theme? What was David trying to communicate?

This is definitely a good news psalm. It has been about guaranteed success, a designated path, protection, a healthy soul and spirit, a cheerful heart, radiant joy and more. We discovered yesterday from verse eleven that being in Jesus, not just believing in him, but living in him is key. David reveals another important key today, guarding our thoughts and words.

It is easy to think of this verse as an admonition to refrain from ugly thoughts and words and sure, that probably goes pretty much without saying. I think, though, that is a very limited reading and understanding of this powerful verse. Look at the phrasing David used. It is interesting what he didn’t write and that is a clue to the deeper meaning embedded here. He didn’t write, “Keep me from thinking evil thoughts and speaking derogatory words.” David’s concern was not focused on the absence of offensive speech and thought. Instead, he wanted his words and thoughts to be acceptable in God’s sight. He wanted his words to not only avoid negativity but rather to radiate positivity and faith. That is a far different thing.

We are not talking about living in a vacuum here. The goal is not to refrain from saying something bad. That is a given. The next step would be silence, i.e. “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” No, David is coaxing us on to level three. Intentionally say things, think things which are appealing to God. Speak in agreement with God words. That is the lesson of this verse.

If you undertake to speak Yahweh kind of words, then begin with His Word. That makes sense, doesn’t it? If you want to speak God words then you will need to think God thoughts for whatever is in your heart, will come out of your mouth. That is a guarantee. If we want God appropriate thoughts and words, then we must put His thoughts and words inside us. I suppose this is what folks call a “no-brainer”, but we need to actually think about this because it requires purposeful action. Life is busy and there are distractions everywhere, especially at this time of year, but will we purpose in our hearts to invest time in God’s Word? It is a challenge, I grant you. That is why we have to be so very intentional about it.

Me too! There are things vying for my time too but if I don’t spend the time in the Word and with my heavenly father, it really shows. The revelation just doesn’t pour out. So, when I get out my calendar, sometimes I just have to schedule prayer time and make it happen. So, I appreciate your challenge. None the less, find five minutes if that is all you have and read some of your Word. Here is a very easy thing to do when you don’t know where to read. Take the Word of the Day and read the chapter it is taken from. It will generally take you less than five minutes and it will actually enrich what you heard in the Word of the Day.

Put in the Word and the Word will come out. Then your thoughts and words will be pleasing to the Father and that will make your heart joyful and your life successful.

Gentle Speech

Proverb 15: 1, 4

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.

This is such an important lesson to learn and I know many of you have. For the rest of us, it is an easy way to fail. I have learned that the same message can be conveyed abruptly or gently, harshly or mildly. It often takes more words to say something gently, but the message is received more easily when it is offered in tender words.

I am the kind of person who likes to just say what I am thinking and move on with life. I don’t like taking the time to craft a sentence with fifteen words when I can say it with five. However, I am learning that gentility of speech is a major leadership skill. The time it takes to make the message more palatable is worth the effort in the way your hearers receive it.

Tone of voice is important too, as you know, and we all need to learn to take the time and effort to speak with one another in gentle tones and with soothing words. Many household arguments could be avoided by answering in a gentle way. It is guaranteed that if you answer your spouse with a harsh word that you are going to stir up the hornet’s nest.

You can make your same point and have it received more readily when you use soothing language, gentle speech. People are able to hear your message rather than conflict with the means of conveyance. When we are short with people, they have already stopped listening from the start. It seems like a waste of time and energy to use flowery speech when two or three words can get the job done but when you consider that the communication involves two people you can also see that not alienating one of them will make our communication more effective.

There is no value in stirring up anger. The value we have for our listeners really demands that we consider the wrapping our message is cloaked in. None of us wishes to crush the spirit of the listener and even though it may feel like a waste of your time, the spirit of the other person weighs more heavily in the calculation. I wish everyone would let me communicate in my communication style but is it obvious from this proverb that there are effective and ineffective ways of speaking to people. If we want to be a blessing, then we have to learn to use gentle language rather than harsh and abrupt. Just consider it a part of your own personal growth and a way to bless God. In the end, you may find that you are the one most blessed by your gentle turn of a phrase.

Space of Grace

Ephesians 4: 29

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.

If you do not stumble here, then you are a perfect person for this is where we usually trip up ourselves, with our mouths. That is the ultimate insight. We damage ourselves with our mouths.

At first reading, this passage is clear enough. However, as we continue to ponder this scripture, one begins to hear a lifestyle emerging through it. Paul was encouraging Christian unity in this chapter. Clearly, there will be no unity in any group if its members do not police their words. Paul leads us a step further though. His words direct us to edify one another with our words. In this he creates a distinction. He didn’t say, “Just keep your mouth shut,” which, by almost anyone’s standard, is good advice. Paul teaches us, instead, to speak words of grace. Our words can lift the hearer. They can build up the group.

Here is the hard part, Paul would have us avoid making statements that are even true if they are likely to disparage another. We are not talking here about lying, never let it be said, but some things just don’t need to be said. As a former lawyer, I can tell you that I struggle with this. Truth is truth and so often I think the scoundrel should be exposed. This is where the world’s way of thinking diverges from God’s way of doing. That is why we have to pay such close attention to the Word. The world’s teaching is engrained within us. Sometimes we have to root it out by really seeing what the Word teaches.

Everything God ever told us, or ever will tell us is for our own good. He didn’t give us a bunch of rules to steal the life from us. He gave us rules to give us life, and that more abundantly. When we let unwholesome speech out of our mouths, we damage ourselves, those who hear, and we do no great favor to the heart of God. However, since we are growing up in the things of God, let us not stop with bridling our tongues. Let’s learn to direct our language in a way which edifies others. Find the space of grace and share it with others. Words can hurt but they can also heal. Use yours to unite and console.

Lip Tripping

2 Timothy 3: 1 – 3

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips.

Well, this verse alone ought to convince us we are in the last days. Paul warned us that difficult times would come. What is interesting is that, for the most part, the behaviors listed in these verses are not even reviled in our modern culture. For the most part, all of these, previously detestable, acts are accepted. These truths strike grief in the heart.

Worry not, however. God is in the business of transforming hearts. He remakes us into the beautiful creatures of design. The world has stained and molded us but God, through Jesus, has restored us to His glory. Wherever sin and evil abound, God’s grace does so even more (Romans 5: 20).

Obviously, this is a list of behaviors that are abhorrent to God. These are signs that we are falling into destruction, signs of decay. It is worth a moment to re-read the list and ponder the deeds which God has highlighted as signs of our downfall. Each is a lesson in itself but I want to focus on one in particular because most of us fall into this trap and must be reminded that God finds this habit repulsive.

Gossip makes God’s list of reprehensible acts, acts that are indicative of the decadent and fallen state of humanity. The concern that challenges me most is that I am just as guilty in this regard as any unsaved heathen in the world. Really, how many Christians fall into the trap of gossiping? The answer is sure to alarm us. The truth is, though none wants to say, and no one wants to hear it, gossip is a sin.

How would you define gossip? We normally think of it as talking about a third person in a way that is not edifying to them, although gossip doesn’t edify us either. The Jews have a clear perspective, one that informs my thinking. They teach the doctrine of Loshon Hora. In a general sense it means malignant or derogatory speech about another. Paying close attention to this description, it becomes clear that the speech can be true and yet still be prohibited. It is speech which, even if true, tends to cause harm or potential harm to the person about whom the speech refers. In other words, gossip.

In this I will say, as Paul once did, I am chief among sinners. I know, however, that I am not alone. This is a good time to remind ourselves that talking about others is detrimental to ourselves and harmful to the reputations of others. We should, in the least, be concerned about the stain we leave on our own spirits by spewing vileness from our lips.

The cure is simple. Just don’t tell tales about others. Don’t talk about others. If we take advice from the Word, we would practice “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord,” (Ephesians 5: 19). We should talk about the Lord and glorify His name rather than run down the name of others. Do it for yourself. Edify yourself by speaking holy words rather than gossip. It is important for your sake.

If you really wish to edify yourself, look up the doctrine of loshon hora, Google it. You will be surprised. Some describe it as evil speech and claim it to be even worse than murder, immorality or idolatry. Also, for a brief discussion, see my book Journey Through the Bible, chapter 64 (this book may be purchased at: https://iveyministries.org/product/journey-through-the-bible/.)

Seeker

Matthew 7: 7 – 8

Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you for every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.

I have a question for you today. Does or did Jesus have the capacity to tell a lie? Did Jesus ever tell one lie in his life? We need to know because he is the one who spoke these words we read today. Here is another question, is it possible that when Jesus said these words he meant them only figuratively? In other words, are the words in the quoted verses for today meant to express their literal meaning or are they some figurative, allegorical or metaphorical representation of another meaning? We need to know! Does Jesus mean what he said or was he speaking in nuanced riddles?

I looked up simile, allegory, metaphor and figurative and from the meanings I see there, none of them apply to these two verses. Still, many people excuse the literal meanings of Jesus’ words claiming that they represent some other ideas which are not actually spoken. Because Jesus sometimes taught by using parables, some people discount all of his speech as representative rather than literal. Okay, so let me ask you another question. Why would the Son of God, he who came to set us free and to lead us into truth and fullness of life, play cloak and dagger with his beloved? He came to earth to die for each and every one of us; he came to give his life a ransom so that we might be saved. Why then would he hide the ball from us? And yes, that was figurative language I just used and it was obvious and understood.

That is the point of figurative language. It is not meant to hide the truth. It is used to illustrate and make clear difficult concepts. Finally, if we intend to have a relationship with Jesus, one that is based on truth and trust, then we must believe his words have actual meaning. He spoke so that we could hear and be free. When he said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10: 10) we must assume and understand that those words mean exactly what they say. Otherwise they do not have meaning and frankly, the whole Bible is undermined. If Jesus wanted to communicate that the purpose of his coming to earth was to give us life, how else would he say it other than to use the words which have the meaning which normally and customarily mean just that? Do you see what I mean? Once a person reduces one of Jesus’ literal statements to fantasy or figurative poetry, then all meaning for all his messages is lost. Who can say which of his statements are mere figures of speech and which ones he actually meant as spoken? Honestly, it is beyond intellectual integrity for one to adopt this posture. It is the height of arrogance. People who excuse away Jesus’ words and meanings replace them with themselves and their reasoning. It is foolishness!

The point of all of this is that Jesus said that if we seek, we shall find. There is no figure of speech in that statement so really, the choice is whether or not we choose to take him at his word. Do we believe the Father of us all sent His only begotten son to earth to lead us into truth, wisdom, and freedom? Why would Yahweh, Abba Father, sacrifice His beloved on a cross for people He intended to mislead? Does that really make any sense at all? Jesus’ brother, James, said that we should ask God for wisdom promising that God would give it to us freely and without reproach (James 1: 5). Why, then, would God offer to give us all His wisdom yet cloak every word Jesus said while in the earth. It is illogical and unreasonable to believe that so, trust that Jesus came to open eyes and doors. Believe him when he says that if we ask, we shall receive. When we seek, we will always find. Knock on the door because Jesus is on the other side waiting to open it to you.

Jesus has so much for us. The Father invested everything He had to bring us into a personal relationship with Him. The Holy Spirit is hovering today with creative power in his hands. They long for us. Let our yearning reach out and take hold of the love offered. Ask, seek, knock . . . receive, find, be welcomed in.