Gossip-Free – Part One

God set forth ten commandments for His people. One of them states that we are not to bear false witness. In today’s terminology we might say that a person should not be involved in gossip. Gossip always involves speaking things that are not entirely true. And, even if the facts are accurate, you are only hearing one side of the story and thus missing perspective. And, believe me, perspective can make all the difference in understanding a situation accurately.

Interesting: the people being gossiped about hate it, and God hates it. So before you post an on-line posting, a comment, or a link, consider three sets of questions to keep yourself gossip-free online and thus not in sin. Breaking any one of the commandments is, according to James, a sin.

Before you comment on anything online, ask yourself the first set of questions: “Is what I’m about to say helpful or hurtful? Will this build up or tear them down? What’s my intention behind what I’m about to type?”

Paul surely never dreamed of the technological advances we have today. But he still directly addressed our tendency to gossip: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). If what you intend to communicate is unwholesome, don’t type it. Don’t tweet it. Don’t post it. As followers of Jesus, we want everything we say to build up others. The Bible tells us, “A scoundrel plots evil, and on their lips it is like a scorching fire. A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:27-28). 

We all hate when others gossip about us or someone we love, but we don’t always realize how quickly we can fall into gossiping ourselves. Sometimes we even think we’re being honest, but actually we’re disguising a dig. You know what I’m talking about. We start with something positive before sharing what we really think — the proverbial turd rolled in glitter.

      • “I’ve always liked this restaurant, except for the poor service last time.”
      • “She’s always been someone I’ve admired, but after what she said last week …”
      • “For years I’ve really respected him. But let me tell you what I just found our.”

Even Christians fall prey to deceiving ourselves in fairly elaborate ways. 

One young pastor writes: “When I was a new Christian in college, I never wanted to miss the Thursday evening prayer meeting because if you did, you were fair game. ‘We need to pray for Craig,’ other Christians would say. ‘He doesn’t seem as passionate about God as he use to be. If he was, he’d been here praying with us. And did you hear that he said another bad word during practice? Yep, we definitely need to pray for him.’ One time they were praying in my living room, and I had a test early the next morning. About 11:00p.m., I told them I was going to bed. I actually heard one guy tell the group they needed to pray for me because I cared more about my class than I did about God’s presence.”

Now in that same spirit of carefully disguising gossip as well-intentioned prayer requests, many make their “concerns” public on Facebook or some other form of social media. We’ve all heard or seen these kinds of prayers, if we have not been the person praying them.

      • “Please be in prayer for Megan. She’s doing things with her boyfriend she shouldn’t be doing”
      • “Pray that Bob stays away from that woman in accounting who keeps flirting with him”
      • “Hey, y’all, lift up Jenn in prayer NOW!! She was boozing @ the party last nite.”
      • “My dad lost his cool again with mom. Believe with me that God will do a work in him.”

While it’s always good to pray, not all prayer requests belong online. At least not with the kind of descriptions that imply something you may know very little about in someone else’s life. If you’re going to request prayer online, do it in a way that doesn’t make others look bad.

Maybe you’re inclined to push back and argue, “But, Ralph, it’s okay to talk about things if they’re true, right?” Not necessarily. Everything you say should be true, but not everything that’s true should be said. Before you type it, ask yourself, “Is this helpful? Or hurtful?

If it’s not helpful, don’t say (type) it. 

Moved To Action

The Greek word that the New Testament translates “compassion” is splagchnizomai. It is pronounced “splag-ch-NEE-zo-my.” It means “to be moved as to one’s bowels.” It means to have your bowels yearn. It’s a passion arising from a place so deep inside you that you can feel it, that it sounds like your intestines are working, doing something inside of you.

When the New Testament was being written, people believed that love and compassion originated from within your bowels because that was the deepest place in your body, right in your center. When they used the word splagchnizomai, they were describing an ache, an empathy for another person felt deep inside. But even more important, it means that you feel so strongly, you are moved to action. Don’t miss this. It’s powerful. Compassion is not just an emotion, not just some feeling you have that eventually passes.

True compassion demands action.

Let me put this another way. If you say that you care but then don’t act on that feeling, it’s the same as not caring at all. Please reflect on this, because It can be hard to process.

Let’s think about what this looks like in our everyday life. When we see something on Instagram that really connects with us, or something on Facebook that makes us feel some emotion., what do we do? We click. On Instagram, we may spring to double-tap on the picture, because that Likes it. Tap, tap. We can see that the person is going through a hard time, and that makes us feel bad for them. So we acknowledge their pain by giving them our Like or double-click. But clicking isn’t caring. Truly caring means taking some action. It’s getting ourselves involved so we can make a difference in a life. Clicking doesn’t change anything. Caring is not Liking a post; it’s loving a person.

As you might guess, Jesus is the best example of how this concept was lived out. In every verse in the Gospels where we see Jesus and the word compassion together, we immediately see Him perform some action. He was there, He felt compassion, and He did something. Every single time.

But don’t just take my word for it. Look for yourself. For example, in the gospel of Mark, a man approaches Jesus with a desperate need:

“A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed” (Mark 1:40-42 NLT).

Compassion. Splagchnizomai. Jesus felt, and immediately He acted. He touched the man. 

Here’s another one. When Jesus was leaving Jericho, two blind men heard Him going by and called out to Him, asking for His help (Matthew 20:29-30). “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him” (Matthew 20:34).

Jesus felt compassion; therefore, He acted. True compassion demands action. To say you care but then not act is not to care at all. We’re living in a society where we care less and less about other people. That’s even quantifiable: young adults care 40 percent less than they did just a few decades ago. It’s tragic. And I believe, it’s unacceptable for those of us who call ourselves God’s people, His Church, to just sit by and not act when we’re surrounded by people in need.

It boils down to this: the more I obsess over social media, the more I care about me and the less I care about other people. But the more I focus on Jesus — the more I try to get to know Him, to serve Him, to draw closer to Him — the less I care about me and the more I care about His people (John 3:30).

When I look at how Jesus lived His life, and when I allow the words He said to challenge me, something in me changes. I am compelled to deny myself, to take up my cross, and to follow Him (Matthew 16:24). I actually want to die to myself. I want to follow Him.

I’m going to ask you some potentially really difficult questions. When was the last time you gave an hour to serve someone else? What about a whole day? Have you ever spent an entire weekend just serving other people?

What about financially? When was the last time you really went out of your way to give financially? I don’t mean something obligatory, something people might expect of you. I mean that you gave just because you felt like it. You gave a significant, difficult amount for you that would genuinely make a difference in some else’s life.

When was the last time you missed out on doing something that you really wanted to do because you chose instead to invest that time in someone else? If you’ve done any of these things recently, then I praise God with you.

If you don’t remember the last time you did something like these things, could it be that you’re not really that close to Jesus? You might think that’s a judgmental question. Possibly. But here’s something I know for a fact: when people are really close to Jesus, their lives are no longer about themselves. They become about glorifying God and loving others. 

Strength or Weakness

Did you know that we actually connect with people through our weaknesses. We may impress them with our strengths, but we connect through our weaknesses

Let me explain what I mean. Have you ever met someone, mentally looked them over, and considered the life you think they have? They’re nice looking for their age. Their spouse is attractive. They seem to have great kids. Their life seems to be together. In so many ways, it looks to you like they’re living your dreams. What do you think? “They’re just … so. … perfect. I don’t think I like them!” Right?

Isn’t that tempting to do? 

But that’s not real. You’re not really connecting with them. They’re not connecting with you. We want so badly to connect with others and we think that the best way to do so is by showing off our strengths. But it doesn’t work that way. 

Now, after you’ve spent more time with them and seen them in many different circumstances, you begin to get to know them, and you realize, “Oh. I never would have thought they struggle with some of the same things I do. They’re human after all. You know what? I really like these guys!”

Why? Because we connect through weaknesses.

However — and here’s the issue. We tend not to lead with our weaknesses. We hide our weaknesses and play to our strengths. And, at times, we hide our weaknesses and wear whatever mask we think we need to present to be accepted. We wear masks so that people won’t come to know how weak we really are and thus, we think, not want to connect with us. Not like us. 

How do I know that? Well, we only post on Facebook and other social media what we want people to see. Not the real you but the you that you would want to be. You show only your good side. In fact, you often just make stuff up and post it because you want to come across strong and in control. On Facebook and other social media we have filters that even make us look better in the pictures we post. So, we end up playing a part and playing the role we have created for ourself. But, in your heart of hearts, you know you’re not the person you present to the world. And, e know, deep down inside we are not connecting because the real “we” is no where to be seen. 

The danger is that we can become so used to showing our filleted self, so accustomed to the half-truths and exaggerations, that we don’t even know who our real self is anymore. Are you one person in one group of people and a different person in another group? Until you show who you really are, until you know and are fully known, you’re going to be longing for something more. You won’t really connect.

When we’re always filtered, when every selfie shows only our best side, we may impress some people some of the time. They may think, “Based  

Now that we’re on the same page about this, what do we do? Where do we go from here? How do we “turn off” our desire to constantly filter who we show the world we are? Well, some off-the-cuff suggestions would be:

      • Don’t use a filter every time on your photos
      • Try not to care so much about what people think
      • Just be yourself – if you still know what you are

All of this qualify as solid advice. But the truth is you can get advice like this anywhere. I’d much rather give you godly advice, wisdom that can come only from the source: God’s Word. I can give the solution to the problems with one simple phrase. Only Christ can remove the mask.

That’s it. When we turn to Christ, He removes the mask and the need to be someone you’re not.

Maybe you’re exhausted. You’re weary because you’ve already tried everything else you can think of. You’ve looked everywhere you can for affirmation. You’ve turned to one person after another, but you still haven’t found that thing you’re longing for. This is the promise you have from God, straight from His Word: You don’t have to remove the mask. When you turn fully to Christ, He does it for you!

Then you can finally drop the mask because you’re not getting your approval from Likes; you’re getting it from His love. You will no longer be living for the approval of people; you will be living from the approval of God. He will reveal the truth: you are acceptable to God through Jesus. You are the righteousness of God in Christ. His grace, His righteousness, is sufficient for you.

When you realize that Christ is all you have, you’ll find that He’s all you need. You don’t need approval from someone else because you have approval from Christ. When you turn fully to Jesus, you have the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead living within you. Your identity is not connected to how many followers you can get. Your identity comes from who you are following, and you are following Jesus. 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV).

Have you ever experienced the Spirit of God? Have you ever called out to Him? Asked Him to come and live inside you? When you do, you experience freedom. When we all take the masks off — because our lives are better when we’re together, when we act as the Body of Christ, when we allow each other to see the “real” us — we will truly see the Lord’s glory.

Why? Because we truly connect through our weaknesses and not through our strengths. Because it is not about you and me. It’s not about our selfies. The reason we exist is to give Him glory. When we do, this Scripture says we will begin to be transformed — not into the person we think others want us to be but into His image, bringing ever-increasing glory.

Turn to Christ.

He’ll take your mask(s) off for you.

He’ll transform you into the image of Christ, not for the approval of people but for the glory of God. 

We’re not called to elevate ourselves (John 3:30); we’re called to deny ourselves and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). The way to follow Jesus in a selfie-centered, social media world is to give Him glory in all we do.  

Surrender your selfies and social media accounts.

Let Jesus lift off your masks.

Be real.

Be you!

Missing Persons

Have you noticed that every time your smart phone buzzes, whistles, chirps, beeps, or dings, something in you can’t help wondering “Oooh. What was that? I wonder if it’s something important. Who sent me something? I must know right this instant.”

Have you heard of FOMO? It’s a thing. I read recently that FOMO was added to the latest edition of a popular English-language dictionary. FOMO is an acronym for “Fear Of Missing Out.” It was coined for an entire generation of people who are constantly worried they’re going to miss something.

We ask, “What am I missing?”

“I might miss someone’s funny cat picture.”

“I might miss the next video clip that goes viral. Then tomorrow everyone else will have seen it, and I’m going to look like some kind of idiot because I haven’t seen it yet.”

“I might miss the next trailer for that movie that doesn’t come out until eight months from now.”

“I might miss a really beautiful inspirational quote from some person I’ve never heard of.”

“I might miss someone Liking that picture I posted twenty minutes ago.”

Ask yourself this question: at the end of your life, is it really going to matter how many “Likes” you got? Do you honestly believe that you’re going to be lying on your deathbed one day thinking to yourself, “If I had gotten just three more Likes on that picture I posted of that weird tomato back in ’15, I would have made an even hundred. One hundred Likes. Triple-digit Likes. Ooh, life would have been so good. #ICanDieHappy #RIPme” 

Life is not about how many Likes you get. It is all about how much love you show. The only way people will know that you are a follower of Jesus is by how well you love other people.

Have your children been begging for your attention? Have they been acting out? Maybe instead of posting online about how they’re driving you crazy, you should put down the phone and engage them face-to-face. Maybe you argue, “Well, they’re doing the same thing! I can’t peel them away from that stupid device!” That may be true. But you’re the parent. It’s your job to teach your children (no matter their age) how to engage in real life in ways that make it more meaningful than anything they can get looking at a screen and tapping pictures.

Instead of FOMO online, what you really should be afraid of is missing out on the people in front of you. You may be missing out on your children growing up. You may be missing out on enjoying an intimate marriage. You may be missing out on deep friendships filled with meaning. Is your fear that you’re going to miss out on something causing you to miss out on what matters most?

Figuring this out in your own life is going to take a little effort on your part. But maybe it’s time for you to make some basic rules like these:

Phone curfew is 10:00pm: phones get silenced and plugged in somewhere out of sight.

When you’re with your family or close friends, phones get silenced so they don’t even vibrate and are placed face down. Nobody picks up their phone during dinnertime or at your small group.

Really think this through. If you’re in bed with your spouse while you’re both on your phones, and you text her, “In the mood?” there’s something wrong. She texts back, “Sry not tonite #headache.” If you’re not laughing at this, maybe it’s because you can picture it happening — if it hasn’t already.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18 NLT).

Don’t just pray for people. Pray with them.

Don’t just Like what they post. Like who they are.

Get involved in one another’s lives.

The greatest weapon the first-century followers of Jesus had was their love for each other. The outside world persecuted them so fiercely that they were driven together into a radical, unifying love for one another. If anyone among them had a need, someone else sold some of their possessions and used the money to meet that need. Scripture says that they were so generous and so loving that “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:32-37).

Can you imagine? The sceptical world looking on was thinking, “You know, I’m not so sure about that whole Jesus-being-raised-from-the-dead business. I’m not sure I believe what they believe, but I sure wish I had what they have. They love each other and care for each other.”

That’s exactly what Jesus said would happen: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples” ( John 13:35 NLT).

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how many followers you have.

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how many Likes you get.

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how quickly you respond to emails.

Believe it or not, they won’t even know that you’re His disciple by how many Bible verses you post.

No, they will know that you’re Jesus’ disciple when they see His love in you through your actions. When you get involved in the lives of other people, when you care for them right where they are, when you open up your heart and do life with them — that’s when they’ll see something in you that they really want. Then when they ask you what makes you so different from everybody else, you’ll be able to say, “God gave His Son for me to forgive me of my sins. I’ve found freedom and life in Him, and that’s how I’m able to show you this kind of love.”

Others won’t know you by your Likes

They will know you by His love. 

Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part Two

 

Blog of September 7, 2020

We are looking at how technology has changed how we relate to others in our day and age. Last time we saw two of three major changes:

1> The term “friend” is evolving

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s continue our look and see number three…

3> We have the power to do friendship on our own terms

Not only do many of us have more virtual Friends than real friends and are addicted to immediate gratification in connecting with others, we face another downside to social media: the power to define relationships on our own terms. Let me explain what this means. Let’s say my friend texts me. I have some choices, don’t I? I can read his text right away, or I can read it later. I can reply as soon as I read it, or I can reply later. I can even choose not to reply at all.

I have complete control over what I do — or what I don’t do.

If another friend posts a picture on Instagram, I have the power to determine several things. For example, is his picture Like-worthy? Is it worth the extraordinary inconvenience of double-tapping my finger on it? Or should I just scroll right on by? If this is another of his stupid cat pictures, you can probably guess what I am going to do. A dog picture. Different.

I am in total and complete control of these friendships; I manage them from a distance. If you are my online friend, I’ll show you only the parts of my life that I want you to see and tell you only what I want to tell you. If I don’t want to respond to the things you choose to show me, I’m not going to. If you post too many pictures of your product, or too many duck-face selfies, or too many “inspirational quotes” that the person you credit may or may not have actually said (because you can’t be bothered to check), or too many pictures of your cat making duck faces, I will unfollow you. We are in control of on-line friendships. And that control is changing how we manage our relationships.

Friendship doesn’t mean what it use to mean. 

I can’t speak for you, but to be really honest, I have to admit that the more I dabble on social media, the more I realize I’m delaying the personal interaction I crave. I have also never been more connected and yet feel so alone.

The author of Hebrews says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Wouldn’t it be amazing to get together with other followers of Jesus and discuss this topic? We could start with, “Guys, how can we become so aggressive in how we show love to one another that other people really stop and think, ‘Hey, these people must be Christians. Have you seen the way they love one another.?’”

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 12:25). 

Really let that sink in: “Let’s not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.

Have we fallen out of this practice?

If this passage isn’t enough to convince you, think about friendship in the context of your Christian faith. Think about what Jesus said: “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Isn’t that powerful? Jesus promises us that whenever we come together with other believers in His Name, we will experience His real presence in a supernatural way. Does that mean you con’t experience His presence when you’re alone? Absolutely not! You can. It’s just something more, something special, something powerful happens when we come together with other believers to seek God. When you join hands with someone, when you join your faith together and go before God on His throne, you experience His power and presence together in very real ways (Acts 16:25-26).

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and lift up holy hands before our God to worship Him (Exodus 17:10-13). 

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and, as believers have done for centuries, open up God’s Word and read it aloud together (Nehemiah 8:1-12).

Something supernatural happens when we unite our faith and passionately seek God together in prayer (Acts 12:11-14).

Presence is powerful!

Think about it this way: God didn’t shout His love from heaven. He showed His love on earth. He stripped Himself of all heavenly glory and became one of us. God became flesh in the person of Jesus. Even one of Jesus’ names, Immanuel, literally means “God with us.” He came and lived with us, He loved people others rejected. He poured His heart into people who the religious community said were not worthy. He hung out with — and even ate with — tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes.

Presence is so powerful. So why do so many of us settle for on-line relationships and neglect the old-fashion way of having friends; actually meeting with them one-on-one, face-to-face?  

Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part One

I was away on my annual holiday for three weeks in July. And, every morning over my first cup of coffee I wrote a group text to everyone in my home church. Most were not aware that I was away and not at home in my office. It led me to think and briefly research how technology is changing the way we relate to the people in our lives. As we explore these ways, consider how each applies to your life and how you are using technology and social media to relate to others. 

1> The term “friend”is evolving

It used to be that when someone said another person was a friend, you understood exactly what they meant. A friend was someone who shared common interests or bonds, someone you enjoyed being around, someone you did life with. But it’s not that simple anymore, is it? Now a friend can be someone you’ve never met IRL (in real life). Friends can be people who follow what you post on social media. If they follow you, and you don’t follow them back, that’s one kind of friend. If you follow them, but they don’t follow you, that’s another kind of friend. And if you both follow each other, that’s yet another kind of friend. 

Currently, the average Facebook user has 338 friends. But surveys indicate that the average person has only two friends they consider to be close. As shocking as that statistic is, there is one that is even sadder: 25 percent of people in North America today say they have zero close friends! The struggles are real. Does it really matter that you have 338 Facebook friends if you have no one to share your life with? And I’m not even talking about the kind of friend who listens as you pour your heart out or share your latest struggles, Many people no longer have friends they can hang out with or who can drop by unannounced as a welcome surprise. (When was the last time you did that to someone, or they did it to you? Doesn’t it sound intimidating?) Technology supposedly saves us time, yet we seem to have even less time — at least for really relating to people. We have lots of online interactivity, but that doesn’t mean we have any personal intimacy.

Friends just doesn’t mean what it used to.

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s say you were at home alone back in the old days (ten years ago), and you started feeling a little lonely. What would you do? You might pick up the phone and call a friend. You might even make arrangements to get together. You might walk outside and visit with your next-door neighbour. Any of these were reasonable choices, and they were all pretty easy, right? Apparently, they just weren’t easy enough.

What do we do today when we feel lonely? Text a friend, post an update, or share an old favourite picture. If you’re feeling really creative, we’ll surf for items to pin to Pinterest or make a new YouTube video. We might take a picture of our homemade chocolate chip cookies (gluten free, no GMO, hand-whittled, and carved from organic cocoa) and share it on Instagram. Or we Vine or Tic Tok a little clip about being bored.

Then there’s my favourite. If we’re really bored and lonely, we always have ourselves. That’s right, we can snap a selfie, right there on the couch. It we’re really motivated, we might even go into the bathroom and fix ourselves up a little first, then snap a selfie in the bathroom mirror. We tousle our hair, puff out our lips (duck face), and tilt our heads, snapping picture after picture, trying to get the light just right, determined to achieve a ‘perfect’ shot. We might even go as far as to wear our trendiest clothes, find a local you-wish-you-knew-where-I-was ally, and let the self-timer rip.

But we don’t have to stop there. We can touch up the photo, tweak the lighting a little more, maybe use a filter. We are nowhere near perfect, but we can manipulate images, apps, and filters to create an image of ourselves that’s perfect for the moment. And don’t forget the all-important caption. Is it inspirational? Clever, but not too obviously clever? We can even add a Bible verse for extra ‘Likes.’ Once all is in place we can post it. Then we can compulsively check our updates, hoping to hit the ‘Likes’ jackpot. 

Even if you don’t hit it big, we may score some fun comments. You know, things like: 

    • “Lookin’ good!”
    • “Love that shirt! Where’d ya get it???”
    • “omgosh amazing *swoons*”
    • “where r u? Totes adorbs!! [sexy, smiling emoji]”

We often get immediate feedback. But the problem with this kind of immediate feedback, this quick affirmation, is that it’s addicting. Even when we know it’s shallow, even when we don’t believe the sender is sincere in their flattery, we still love receiving it. To be fair, it’s not our fault. Scientists say that receiving positive affirmation like this release dopamine, a chemical in our brains that gives us a kind of euphoric feeling, a little rush. Just like similar drugs, we can get addicted to that high.

If you don’t believe me, consider the last time you posted a selfie and didn’t get much response — at least in the first hour. Do you remember having an empty feeling and thoughts like these running through your mind?

    • “Where is everyone? What’s up with that?”
    • “How many have clicked on it? Did they ‘Like’ it?”
    • “Who ‘Liked’ it?”
    • “Why didn’t she ‘Like’ it? She never ‘Likes’ my pictures. I’m going to stop ‘Liking’ hers. Just keep that up sister, and you’re gonna get yourself unfollowed.”

Many of us are addicted to immediate affirmation. What is this addiction doing to us? How is it affected our relationships?

Sociologists call all this “deferred loneliness.” We’re trying to meet some short-term need, but in the process of meeting this need, we’re deferring a deeper, longer-term need. We are meant to have deep, sometimes difficult feelings of loneliness to motivate us toward the kinds of contact with others that meet our deepest, long-term needs. Every time we seek instant affirmation, we ignore our basic human condition of loneliness and the opportunity of loneliness that drives us toward real friendship, real intimacy, first with God and then with others.

So our addiction to instant gratification can stunt our relationships. We’re living for ‘Likes,’ but we’re longing for love. 

More next time …

Sink or Swim

Former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1923-29, 1935-37) is quoted as saying, “I am one of those who would rather sink with faith than swim without it.

The quote, when I read it a few days back, reminded me of three Bible characters; friends. They were put to the test as circumstances where they were living changed drastically. Now they were no longer allowed to practice their faith in the one living God of Israel. They could not practice their faith either privately or publicly. Often in the Scriptures we see people who have their faith tested. I would judge that these three young men went through one of the most severe tests of faith of any Bible character.

Shadrach’s, Meshach’s, and Abednego’s very lives were at stake. They were faced with a terrible dilemma, as the rules for practicing their faith while living in Babylon changed dramatically overnight. They faced a terrible dilemma. They said, “King Nebuchadnezzar is telling us to bow down and worship him instead of God, or he’ll throw us in this fiery furnace. We’re not going to bow down and worship a man, even if that man is a king. We believe that God will deliver us. We believe that God will rescue us. But even if He doesn’t, it will still be okay. We’re not bowing down to anyone but our Lord.”

Do you see that deep, inward, unshakeable faith in a trustworthy God? Theirs wasn’t a faith based on the outcome they desired; it was a faith based only on the character and goodness of God. 

Essentially these three teenagers stood boldly and declared,

“We believe our God can.”

“We believe our God will.”

“But even if He doesn’t, we still believe.”

How could they have such confidence? How could they be willing to die instead of making a lifesaving decision and then ask God for forgiveness later?

Because they believed that God is God and that He has everything under control, and that was good enough for them.

They knew that even if they died a terrible excruciating death in the flames of the king’s furnace, God was still God. They believed that the Lord was on His throne and that they simply had to do their part and trust Him.

The Key: It was a faith based only on the character and goodness of God. Not based on answered prayer or desired results. It was a faith based on who God was — His character — and not on what He had done or was about to do. 

You might be shocked at how your trial can reveal a depth of faith you never knew you possessed. 1 Peter 1:7 says this: “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (NLT).

When things are not always going the way you want them to or you are about to be overwhelmed by circumstances and your situation. When you are going through one of the many tests and trials of your faith and are wondering if you are going to survive. It is always good to remember three small words that appear in the Bible whenever someone has reached the end of the road and have apparently run out of options and no longer have any hope. Those three little words are: “But the Lord…”

Recently we were looking at the prophet Habakkuk. He didn’t get the answer he wanted from God, but still he believed and hung on to his faith. Although his life was about to grow even harder, still he chose to keep the faith. He knew, like these three young teenagers in the furnace, that God was still God. He knew God was still in charge. No matter what Habakkuk experienced, he kept coming back to those three little words that carry such enormous power:

“But the LORD…”

It would be good for us to remember those words when we are having our faith tested and tried. 

Write It Down!

When God says something to you, record it, because your spiritual enemy is an expert at stealing the seeds of truth that God wants to plant. You might keep a notebook just for such impressions or jot them down in your daily journal. You keep a daily journal, right? God may show you something from His Word or speak directly to your spirit, and if you don’t write it down or make some kind of record that you can refer back to, it’s way too easy to forget what He showed you.

I can’t tell you how many time this has happened to me. I’ll be wrestling with something I don’t understand and praying about it. “God, are you there? What’s going on? What do you want me to do in the situation? What are you up to?” Then I feel that God is showing me something, providing direction, or simply speaking personally to my heart. I have learned to write down what I believe God is saying to me. I write it down because inevitably, a few days later, I’ll be thinking about it again, and I might talk myself out of it. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe it was that late-night snack. Just some divinely inspired indigestion.” So I begin to doubt what I knew with certainty only a couple of days before. My awareness of God’s message to me seems to vanish unless I write it down.

When I record it however – in my electronic journal on my laptop – it becomes a spiritual anchor that tethers me to God and to the consistency of His promises. “Yes, I believe that God has spoken.” And better than that, I have a reference point that I can return to; it doesn’t depend on my mood or what I had to eat the night before. It’s there in print just as I originally received it. 

When you develop the disciple of writing down what God shows you and what you’re praying about, you might be shocked over a few years at all that God does. George Mueller (one of my spiritual heroes from the early years of my walk with the Lord) was a well-known evangelist who lived in the 1800’s. One day, his heart broke when he saw hundreds of homeless children fending for themselves on the streets of Bristol, England.

With almost no money to his name, he decided to start an orphanage, and over the next sixty years, Mr. Mueller helped care for more than ten thousand orphans. All throughout his ministry, he kept a record of his prayers, in a journal that ultimately filled more than three thousand pages. He recorded how one night there was no food to give the children the next morning for breakfast, so he begged God to do something. Early the next morning, a local baker knocked at his door. When Mueller answered, the baker told him he hadn’t been able to sleep the night before, so he had gotten up and baked three batches of bread, which he had brought for them. Another time, a milk truck just “happened” to break down in front of the orphanage on the exact day they had no milk for the children. Since the milk would have spoiled in the heat, the driver gave it to the orphans. All in all, Mr. Mueller recorded more than thirty thousand direct answers to his prayers. Just imagine ow this built his faith, as he saw God’s faithfulness laid out before him again and again, in black and white in his journal.

If you are anything like me, journaling is a challenge. I can’t count how many years I committed to journal daily, only to forget and quit in the middle of January. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I got this idea from another pastor who has experiencing the same problem… 

Someone gave him a five-year journal that helped his relationship with God more than anything else. Instead of pressuring him to write a couple of pages a day about his feelings, prayer requests, and important events, this journal was way simpler. Each page represented one day but will eventually cover five years. For example, on January 1st there are five lines to write on for the current year. Then just below those five lines are five more lines, for January 1 next year. And so on. So essentially he was writing a fifth of a page each day. And over a five-year period, you get to see what happened each year on the same day. The best part – instead of writing pages, he only had a few lines to fill in, making it easy to continue. 

He writes … “During the first year, I found it easy and somewhat meaningful. The daily discipline helped me keep God at the front of my mind as I recorded something I was praying about each day. But during year two, I noticed something that really impacted me. When I returned to the same day from the previous year to begin the next one, suddenly I realized how many things that had weighed on me then were completely handled now. Problems worked out. Challenges met. Prayers answered. Concern with one of my kids had been resolved and was no longer even on my radar. Losing a valuable staff member had seemed like a big setback, but a year later we had someone in place who was even more effective. A challenge with a friendship had course-corrected, and we’re now closer than ever before.

Journaling daily with a glimpse back to the previous year helped me see the bigger picture. Once I stopped obsessing over my present problems and started looking back to past ones, I could see how God was faithful in ways I might have missed otherwise. And the power of this realization came from one simple discipline: write it down.”

Hope that helps and encourages you to try journaling for the first time or to retry journaling if you have tried in the past and it simply faded out. 

The Tradition Keepers – Part Three

We are called to “guard our hearts” and no set of official commandments from the Lord or man-made rules from religious authorities will enable us to do that. The commands and the rules help us to have right behaviour and provide a standard to live by or, at least, live up to. But, all of that is on the outside and the heart is an inside issue. But, please note once again, that the inside “heart issues” are really the source of the outside behaviours. An understanding that seems to be have been lost in the Church and in the lives of believers today.

Jesus’ words inspired by the Holy Spirit stated … “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:18-20).

There are four primary enemies of the heart — four life-blocking agents that become lodged in the heart, poisoning our relationships, our faith, and our character. We could spend days discussing these. But let’s just list them so that you are aware of what they are. These four damage the heart and result in the  ungodly behaviours contained in Jesus astonishing comments. These four enemies of the heart are what we need to be guarding against. They are: Guilt, Anger, Greed, and Jealousy. As I said – the topic of a book in itself.

So how do we “guard” or protect the heart? Again, the topic for a whole book. But, I would suggest the root of “guarding your heart” is to first give your whole heart to the Lord. When we are truly born again we encounter Jesus as more than Saviour from our sins. He is more than our friend. He is more than our new “crisis management expert.” He is Lord. And, we need to make Him Lord. This means selling out totally to Him. Recognizing that He purchased us back from the devil by His death on the Cross of Calvary. He owns us. And we are no longer our own. As Paul writes, “it is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives His life through me.” This selling out and truly understanding that Jesus is Lord —and personally accepting Jesus as YOUR Lord — is the starting point of being transformed, receiving a new heart, and beginning a new life “in Christ” as a ‘new creature.’

Then, He helps us to guard our new heart. His Spirit living in us helps us to deal with the issues that have wounded our heart before we met Jesus and brings healing and freedom. As He does that, we work at truly knowing how to love the Lord God with “all your heart.” The more junk and baggage that we allow the Spirit to deal with the more of our heart is free to worship, serve, and love God. 

As this process continues (and it is a process or journey) we would do well to read through the New Testament (take a fresh copy and a different version so that you are free to see it with new eyes) and note the references to heart and, in particular, the need to guard it. For example, Luke 12:15 states (Jesus speaking): “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” As you read with fresh eyes and ears — heart eyes and ears — you will note an abundance of verses such as this one. Don’t just jot them down. Pray about them. Meditate on them. Think about them. Think about how they apply to you right now, right where you are. Deal with what the Lord reveals to you. This will free the heart up and heal the woundedness thus allowing you to truly love Him with your whole heart. 

So, it is not a matter of rules and more rules. It isn’t even a matter of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, and fasting (which can be just more rules and more tradition). These are all things that are on the outside and they do not defile you. Often we fall back into the “religious rut” and do our praying for an hour, reading three chapters of the Bible every day, and so on. Don’t be a tradition keeper. These things are just tools to help us in our journey and often we have turned them into rules. It is what is in your heart that is the real issue right now. Not all the external structure and routines that we fall back onto most times. Don’t become one of The Tradition Keepers.

As you move forward in this you will note that you are experiencing more and more freedom and feeling more spiritually alive and alert than ever before. That is great. So great. But, don’t let your guard down as there is so much more to experience. So, “guard your heart” and aim for the goal of loving the Lord your God with ALL your (healed and set free) heart.

The Tradition Keepers – Part Two

As I mentioned last time – the implications of Jesus’ words are huge and life-changing. You see, our tendency is to monitor our behaviour while pretty much ignoring our hearts. After all, how do you monitor your heart? Keeping an eye on your behaviour is easy. Besides, I have lots of help with that. I can’t get too far off base in my behaviour without somebody drawing it to my attention. But my heart? That seems a bit more complicated.

But if the items on Jesus’ list emanate from the heart (Matthew 15:19-20), then clearly we need a new monitoring strategy. After all, if we knew how to monitor our hearts, if we knew how to deal with trouble at its source, then perhaps we would see a marked improvement in our behaviour. Makes you wonder why no one ever taught us to do this.

Jesus wasn’t the first to point out the importance of the heart. Nearly a thousand years earlier, Solomon echoed Jesus’ concern when he wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23 NASB). Here we are actually commanded to “watch over” or guard our hearts. The heart is the source.

Somehow, what’s in our hearts, good or bad, is eventually translated into words and deeds. That’s a bit crazy, I know. Especially since it’s so hard to know what’s going on in there. For example, when we hear or see something and suddenly we’re overwhelmed with emotion, we think, That really touched my heart. But we’re always surprised when it happens, aren’t we? Why? Perhaps because we’re so out of touch with our hearts. On the flip side, we’ve all seen and heard things that should have affected us emotionally , and … nothing. No response. And we wonder, What’s wrong with me? Why was everyone else impacted and I just stood there unmoved? Perhaps we have even been accused of being ‘hardhearted’ or having ‘a heart of stone.’ If you’re a guy, you may have even taken pride in the fact that your heart’s not easily moved. But is that a good thing? And is that even true?

The heart is such a mystery. In fact, one prophet asked of the heart, “Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Good question. The implication is, nobody. With which I really concur. And even if we do understand it, we certainly can’t control it — which is all the more reason we need to learn to monitor it. Like the seismic activity of a dormant volcano, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you’ve suffered the consequences from anything on Jesus’ from-the-heart list, you know that to be a fact.

Suddenly someone files for divorce.

Suddenly a kid’s grades drop and his attitude changes.

Suddenly a harmless pastime becomes a destructive habit.

Out of nowhere devastating words pierce the soul of an unsuspecting loved one.

We’ve all seen it, felt it, even caused it. Just as Jesus predicted, what originates in the secret place won’t always remain a secret. Eventually it finds its way into our homes, offices, and neighbourhoods.

Okay, so we’re all volcanoes waiting to erupt. Now what? How do we combat something we can’t even see? How do we guard — or maybe it would be more appropriate to say, guard against — our hearts? How do we monitor what’s going on in that secret place that has the potential to go public at any moment?

I’m glad you asked! 

Next time…