The Anatomy of a Great Relationship – Part Three

The second benefit of being a man or woman of character (Psalm 15) is found at the end of the psalm. After describing the person of character in detail (see Part One), the psalmist concludes, “He who does these things will never be shaken.”

Now this is a benefit you don’t experience immediately. It’s something that comes from weeks, months, or years of investing in your character and your relationship with the Lord based in that character. It’s the result of adopting a lifestyle. The image the psalmist paints is that of two trees in a storm. And while the same storm sweeps over both trees with the same force, one tree is destroyed while the other is left standing. 

So it is with men and women of character. They are not delivered from the storms of life. But they are delivered through them. For their roots go deep. Their faith is strong. Their resolve is unwavering.

Their pursuit of Christlikeness has gained them the unique privilege of saying to God, “God, I’m just doing what You told me to do. You got me into this. It’s up to You to get me through it.” And so they deliberately and sincerely cast their deepest and most intimate cares upon God. And they live with confidence that He is going to care for them (1 Peter 5:7).

No place in the world is more secure than in the middle of God’s will. It’s the only real security. In that way, to pursue a life of character is to prepare for the storms of life. Remember, “he who does these things will never be shaken.” 

God assumes total responsibility for the life that’s yielded to Him. That’s why men and women of character will never be shaken. Navigating the storms of life is not their responsibility. Being obedient to the voice of God is. 

The greatest tragedy of missing this process isn’t that your marriage might fall apart. Or that you’ll flounder in your career. Or that you’ll be lonely the rest of your life. As tragic as these things may be, the greatest tragedy of refusing to pursue the character of Christ is that you’ll miss Him. There is a price for becoming a person of character. But it’s not nearly as high as the price of pursuing other things.

Character paves the way to intimacy with God. To know Him is to trust Him. To trust Him is to live with the confidence that He will not allow you to be shaken. That’s the ultimate promise of character. It is the promise of His presence, a presence you cannot possibly miss. 

The Anatomy of a Great Relationship – Part Two

Let’s turn from looking at the key relationship – intimacy with God – and look at our personal relationships. You’ve probably known someone in your past who pursued a relationship with you for all the wrong reasons. Once you got close to him, you realized he had a hidden agenda. Do you remember how that felt?

How do you respond internally to a person like that? Do you open up and become more transparent? Of course not. You become cautious. Everything he does is suspect. You rehearse old conversations and think, Oh, so that’s why he said that.

Think a minute. If your interaction with God is focused primarily on getting something from Him, what does that say about your relationship? You aren’t coming to Him on terms that warrant a relationship of intimacy.

Still, God listens to your self-centered prayers. Sometimes Her actually grants your requests. But as long as you see Him only as a means to your ends, you will never experience intimacy. You will never truly know Him. This unique depth of relationship is reserved for those who respect Him, trust Him, and are willing to communicate honestly with Him. It is withheld from those who dishonour Him by treating Him like a vending machine.

There is a correlation between your personal holiness (character) and your intimacy with God. There is a direct relationship between your willingness to obey God and His willingness to reveal Himself to you. This is THE primary benefit of character. Character brings a heightened sense of intimacy with God, an intimacy available only through the pursuit of Christlike character. 

During His ministry on earth, Jesus modeled this cause-and-effect relationship. He reserved a level of intimacy for a select group. They had left everything to follow Him. They respected Him. They trusted Him. And they were in constant communication. No, the twelve apostles were not perfect. But they had left their businesses and their families to pursue a relationship with Him. He was their priority.

Further evidence of this is found in an incident that took place immediately following the telling of a parable. The meaning behind Jesus’ parables was not always clear. And apparently, that began to bother the disciples. On this particular occasion the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked Him why He wasn’t more direct with His audience. He said, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11 NKJV).

Jesus was suggesting to His disciples that there would always be people who remained on the fringe relationally. There would always be curious onlookers who had a distant interest in Jesus. But special insights were reserved only for those in His inner circle. Did Jesus love the multitudes? Yes. He died for them as well as the Twelve. But the multitudes did not know Jesus as the Twelve did. He chose to reveal Himself to them at a deeper level. After answering the disciples’ question, Jesus took them aside and explained the meaning of each parable. To His special friends, it had been given “to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We are not talking about a relationship that excludes anyone. This exclusive relationship is available to everyone; everyone that is, whose walk is blameless and who does what is right. In other words, it is available to those in pursuit of character. 

Jeremiah echoed this same idea when he wrote, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). 

So, I was out walking the other day and it was one of those still days when there was little to no wind in my region of the country. An unusual occurrence as there is always a wind, it seems. I walked a long distance in the still air and sunshine. But then I turned around to return home and seemingly out of nowhere there was a gentle breeze blowing. Where had it come from? It had been there all along. I just wasn’t’t aware of it. As long as it was at my back, I didn’t hear or feel it. But as soon as I faced the other way, my ears immediately sensed its presence. 

The same is true of God. As long as we have our backs turned to Him, doing our own thing, living life the way we think it should be lived, we are less aware of His presence. He is there, but we remain unaware. Once we begin prioritizing our lives around His values and principles, it is as if He comes alive in our lives. We have a heightened sense of the reality of God. But again, the sense of His presence is reserved for those who have turned in His direction. 

More next time… 

The Anatomy of a Great Relationship – Part One

Since mid-summer and a three week camping trip in the forests of my region of Canada I have been studying and reading a lot on healthy relationships. The believer’s relationship with God being the foundation for all healthy relationships. It is an interesting study as I learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Topics such as friendships in a time when we are ruled by social media; how to end unhealthy relationships; the need for solid character to develop healthy relationships; and how to grow healthy relationships.

As believers, the key to all relationships is our walk with God. Psalm 15 is a wonderful psalm that talks about the character of one who would abide with the Lord and have intimacy with Him. The writer asks (KJV), “Who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?” The assumption is that these are two things to be sought after. However, neither sounds appealing. After all, who wants to live in a tent? And what’s the big deal about living on a holy hill?

The tent referred to the place where God resided. And the holy hill was the hill in Jerusalem where the permanent temple was eventually built. To have access to these places was to have access to God.

The Israelites of that day thought of God as dwelling in the ark of the covenant inside the sanctuary tent. God gave them that picture as a tangible reminder of His presence. In their way of thinking, the closer they were to the ark and the tent, the closer they were to God. The farther they were from the ark and the tent, the farther they were from God. They believed this so deeply that they took the ark of the covenant with them into battle. And who could blame them?

So when you take these questions, steeped in ancient Jewish culture, and translate them into our language, this passage asks and answers one of the most relevant questions imaginable: Who gets an inside track with God? The implication is that intimacy with God is a real possibility.

The psalmist makes it clear that this privilege is reserved for men and women of character. Psalm 15 in full reads (TPT):

Lord, who dares to dwell with you?

Who presumes the privilege of being close to you,

living next to you in your shining place of glory?

Who are those who daily dwell in the life of the Holy Spirit?

They are passionate and wholehearted,

always sincere and always speaking the truth—

for their hearts are trustworthy.

They refuse to slander or insult others;

they’ll never listen to gossip or rumours,

nor would they ever harm another with their words.

They will speak out passionately against evil and evil workers

while commending the faithful ones who follow after the truth.

They make firm commitments and follow through,

even at great cost.

They never crush others with exploitation or abuse

and they would never be bought with a bribe

against the innocent.

They will never be shaken; they will stand firm forever.

Let’s list the description in modern day terms:

      • They walk with integrity
      • They do what is right
      • They tell the truth
      • They don’t gossip
      • They don’t mistreat people
      • They side with those who are right
      • They keep their word
      • They lend money to those in need without interest
      • They don’t take advantage of people for financial gain

That’s quite a list. Clearly, character paves the way to intimacy with God.

Initially, this idea may sound somewhat pretentious. Unchristian. But that is not the case at all. Throughout Scripture, God is described as having a personality. Again and again, we see Him relating to humankind much the same way we relate to one another. In fact, the rules that govern human relationships are very similar the rules that govern our relationship with the Father – God the Creator.

Three elements are always present in a healthy relationship.

    1. Respect
    2. Trust
    3. Communication

To have a quality relationship with someone, you must respect him, trust him, and communicate with him. The same is true about your relationship with God.

The pursuit of character (the list from Psalm 15) entails all three elements of a healthy relationship. When you acknowledge that God’s standard is THE standard, you demonstrate respect. When you commit to follow God’s standard, regardless of what it costs you personally, you demonstrate trust. And as you seek to understand His standard more thoroughly, and as you run up against your inability to live out His standards consistently, you communicate with Him. 

The pursuit of character (Psalm 15) inevitably becomes the pursuit of God, for the standard by which you judge your life flows from the nature of the heavenly Father. You may begin with a list in mind. But eventually, you discover that you are pursuing a Person, not a standard.

More next time…

The Rescue – Part Two

We are looking at the lack of personal time and space in today’s world of constant demand and connectedness. In a world where your soul just can’t do life at the speed of smartphones. And how that leaves our souls feeling exhausted and out of touch with who we really are. So, let’s add God into the issue we looked at yesterday and see if that might help.

I’m a Christian and so I believe that if we had more of God, that would really help. We could draw upon His love and strength, His wisdom and resilience. After all, God is the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). If we had more of His lavish life bubbling up in us, it would be a rescue on this soul-scorching hour. 

But this frantic, volatile world constantly wilts the soul, dries it out like a raisin, making it almost impossible to receive the life God is pouring forth. How true.

I have tried to find more of God, knowing that if I only had a greater measure of His life in me, I’d be able to navigate this rough terrain. I was practicing the usual stuff — prayer, worship, Scripture, sacrament. But still I felt shallow. Sipping God with teaspoons, not drinking great gulps; wading not swimming. My soul felt like a shallow rain puddle (it’s raining today as I write this). But I know the soul isn’t a shallow puddle at all; it’s deep and vast, capable of symphonies and heroic courage. I wanted to be living from those deep places, but I was trapped in the shallows.

Because of the internet and television we are losing our ability to focus and pay attention longer than a few moments. We live at the depth of the text, the swipe, the “like.” This isn’t just an intellectual problem; it’s a spiritual crisis. It pretty hard to hear “deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7) when we’re forced into the shallows of our own hearts and souls by this frenetic world. 

So, this past summer (June to August) I unplugged and stopped the frantic pace at which my life was being lived. I removed all my schedules and just let life happen. I took my calendar that I use to plan each day to make the most of it and removed all the preset events and activities. I simply stepped out of the “Christian rat race” and worked at doing life differently. I wanted above all else to “experience the ‘more’ of Him. And, in the process I began to get my life back.

God wants to come to us and restore our lives. He really does. But if our soul is not well, it’s almost impossible to receive Him. Dry, scorched ground can’t absorb the very rain it needs.

As C.S. Lewis explained, “The soul is but a hollow which God fills.” In place of hollow I let the word vessel, something beautiful and artistic. Our souls are exquisite vessels created by God for Him to saturate. You can picture the round, curved basin at the top of an elegant fountain, with water spilling down all sides, running over with unceasing life. Isn’t that the promise? “As Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).

And so it follows that if we can receive help for restoring and renewing our weary, besieged souls, we’ll enjoy the fruits (which are many and wonderful) of happy souls and also be able to receive more of God (which is even more wonderful). We’ll find the vibrancy and resiliency we crave as human beings, living waters welling up from deep within. And then — we’ll get ur lives back!

But the process needs to be something the Lord leads you into. There are no preset packages or prepackaged programs that you can buy into that will guarantee success and a deeper spiritual life resulting in a more meaningful life lived to the fullest. We have all tried exercise, diets, Bible study programs that began with vim and verve but over time got shoved to the side, lost in the chaos. So, don’t look to a pre-packaged regiment or process or program. You are a unique individual and God will meet you in a way that is specifically designed for who you are and where you are at in life.

All you need to do to get started is to recognize that you are living on the surface and that your life lacks meaning – real meaning and true depth. It has lots of activity and important things to do. But, meaning and true life does not come from the “do” in life. It comes from the “be” in life… and so you need to be … be who you really are; be in His presence; be still and know that He is God; be comfortable with who you are right now and where you are at …. Simply come to Him as you are and let Him guide and direct you on this new and renewing part of your journey.

God wants to strength you and renew your soul; Jesus longs to give you more of Himself. Come, you who are weary and heavy laden. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life … and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message). You can get your life back; you can live freely and lightly. The world may be harsh, but God is gentle; He knows what your life is like. What we need to do is put ourselves in places that allow us to receive His help. 

So simply come to Him. Ask Him to help you; lead and guide you. Tell Him that you want to know Him more. That you want to experience Him in fresh and new ways. You will be amazed at what He will do.  

The Rescue – Part One

There’s a madness to our moment, and we need to name it for the lunacy it is. Because it’s taking our lives hostage.

First, there is the blistering pace of life. It seems that we are busier than ever. People send you an important text message where they are expressing what is happening in their life and we respond with thumbs-up emojis. I experience this personally on a daily basis as I send out a group text to everyone in my local house church. Worse than an emoji is simply total silence. People no longer interact with texts. At one time emails felt so efficient when it replaced the letter. Texting seemed like rocket fuel when it came along. But it didn’t give us more space to live life. It didn’t make our lives more spacious. We simply had more to keep up with, respond to.

Even as I write this I just had an email from a pastor I don’t know who visited my web site. He lives in Africa… then a phone call followed by a text. He is looking for immediate attention. He is impatience. He is expecting me to jump and respond. I didn’t. I deleted. This is a daily event in my life. And, I admit that I struggle to keep up with all the messages that come in daily via numerous apps. So, I delete the ones with whom I have no relationship and have not initiated the conversation. I currently don’t need more contacts, more relationships, more open doors to minister.

It seems that we are living at the speed of the swipe and the “like,” moving so fast through our days that typing a single sentence feels cumbersome. I feel busier than I have ever felt before. And, time for what is important seems to be lacking. For example, reading a book, writing in my journal, spending time reflecting, praying and reading Scripture. Coffee with a friend.

It seems that we have been sucked into a pace of life that nobody is enjoying.

Second, there is the deluge of media coming at us. We are spending three hours a day using apps on our phones, ten hours viewing media, consuming enough informations each week to crash a laptop. As someone recently wrote: “We talk about unplugging, but we’re enchanted — by the endless social media circus of love and hatred, the vapid, alarming, sensational, and unforgivable. We’re snagged by every new notification. And while we’ve always had our individual struggles and heartbreaks to deal with, now we have the tragedies of the entire world delivered to us hourly on our mobile devices.”

This is very hard on our soul.

Traumatizing, in fact. Exposure to traumatic events can traumatize us, and we’re getting lots of it in our feed. It’s like we’ve been swept into the gravitational field of a digital black hole that is sucking our lives from us. 

So, I get this text from the pastor in Africa and then an email and then a phone call on an app. And, I find myself totally ignoring every attempt to communicate with me. There are simply too many people wanting a piece of my time to add another demand to an already busy day. A day that has me feeling somewhat overwhelmed with just the basic demands and needs. 

I find myself flinching when a friend texted and asked for some time. I didn’t want to open email for fear of the demands I’d find there. I have a shorter and shorted fuse in traffic. I feel numb to tragic news reports. It makes me wonder — am I becoming a less loving person? I have little capacity for relationships and the things that bring me life —- a walk in the park, a quiet coffee with a friend, a day to paddle board and enjoy the water. And when I do steal a few minutes for something life-giving (like reading by an open fire by my fire pit), I feel so overwhelmed, so distracted, so exhausted that I can’t enjoy the time. I can’t focus.

It isn’t a failure of love or compassion. These are all symptoms of a soul pushed too hard, strung out, haggard, fried. My soul just can’t do life at the speed of smartphones. But I am asking it to; everybody’s asking theirs to do so as well.

I’m guessing that you have experienced something similar. I am not alone. I am not unique. And, like me, your soul its looking for something. Are you aware of what it is?

How would you score your soul these days:

      • Are you happy most of the time?
      • How often do you feel lighthearted?
      • Are you excited about your future?
      • Do you feel deeply loved?
      • When was the last time you felt carefree?

Our souls are bleary, seared, smeared. Still able to love, yes; still able to hope and dream. But at the end of any given day most people come home in a stay of exhaustion. Numb on our good days, fried more often than we admit. We feel stretched and living life on the surface. Stretched so badly that we can’t give our full attention to anything or any one. “Like butter that has been scraped over too much bread” as one author states it. 

The world has gone completely mad, and it’s trying to take our souls with it.

More next time…

A Slower Walk

We are well into the fall season and stores are beginning to put out Christmas decorations and signage … fighting for space with the large Halloween displays that are up in most stores. Interesting to see them side-by-side in some of the larger stores. Not an ideal time to mention slowing life down and living life at a slower pace. 

We are so use to living life in the fast lane that we fail to read the Gospel stories of Jesus, His life and ministry, in the context of the first century. We fail to see all the in-between times when Jesus and His followers were walking from one town to another. When the record states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee (John 1:43), we project our own pace upon it, not realizing that it took the disciples three days by foot to get there. 

Three days just strolling along, talking, or sharing the silent beauty; the pauses for lunch or a drink from the well; the campfires in the evenings. Even as I write this, it sounds luxurious. Christ does not move immediately from one dramatic story to another; there was down time, transition time between these demands. Time to process what had happened (these are the moments you see the disciples asking questions; “what did you mean by…?”). Time to catch their breath before the next encounter.

That was the pace Jesus felt was reasonable for people engaged in important things and wanting a life with God. Time we would categorize almost as vacation time, for those are the only periods we allow ourselves a stroll, a lingering lunch, a campfire conversation. We highly progressive moderns try to keep up without any of these intervals and transitions. 

The things that we require of ourselves — we go from a tender conversation with our eight-year-old anxious about going to school to an angry phone call with our insurance company as we drive to work, followed by a quick chat with our sister ending a decision about our aging parents’ “memory care unit.” Then it’s straight into a series of business meetings (during which we multitask by trying to bang out some email), firing an employee, interviewing another, making dinner reservations for our spouse’s birthday, fitting in a conversation with our boss because we can’t say no, and showing up late and haggard for dinner.

And we wonder why we have a hard time finding God, receiving more of Him, feeling like we’re overflowing with life.

The EMS technician, who leaves the scene of a terrible accident, races to get to his Bible study group, but wonders afterward why he couldn’t find God there. The school teacher, who come home exhausted from a day herding a riotous classroom, tries to be present to her own child, but can’t seem to find the right gear to do so. The modern pastor, who needs to be a real estate expert on one meeting, a brilliant trauma counsellor in the next, and a caring friend over lunch, only to shift gears into the role of savvy corporate CEO for the meeting that follows.

We are forcing our souls through multiple gear-changes each day, each hour, and after years of this we wonder why we aren’t even sure what to say when a friend genuinely inquires, “How are you?” We don’t really know; we aren’t sure what we feel anymore. We live at one speed: go. All the subtleties of human experience have been forced into one state of being.

Mercy. No soul was meant to live like this. 

What sort of madness have we come to accept as normal when just taking a minute to reflect and rest feels like a luxury? We need time to process as we move from one event to another, one demand to the next. We need time to transition between what we are doing now and what is next being demanded of us. Not a long time – just a brief moment or two. A few minutes to process what you have just been involved in and to prepare for what you are about to focus on. A brief pause that you take to process and reflect; to sense and to learn. And, no one is going to offer this “pause.” It is up to each of us to learn how to slow things down a bit allowing us the needed time to pause and ponder and to sense God in al that we are involved in. To walk at a slower pace allowing us to live life as God intended. 

What Do You Worship?

The question is “what” do you worship – not “who” do you worship. I am quoting from a book I recently read while on a three week retreat in the north of my province….

And, please note my definition of idolatry. Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.

When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.

First, she said, not so gently, the Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who had already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry. 

Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom — of all places!

Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.

Kind of gives new meaning to American idol, doesn’t it. My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statute of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star-worshipper, but is your obsession with your phone gearing out of hand?

Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!

Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.” 

As I read this and then took a long walk to think about it I had mixed feelings and several distinct reactions. I was pleased that for several years now I have set boundaries on my iPhone. It turns on at 9:00a. Before that is my time with the Lord, in prayer, reading and studying the Bible. It turns itself off at 10:00p so that I have an uninterrupted 90 minutes to read before heading to bed. I work so many hours in front of the computer screen in my office (9:00a to 1:00p) with emails and texts and then shut it down and go about other things – appointments, meeting with non-believers, and time in my study writing a book I am currently working on.

But I did realize that I needed to put up better boundaries regarding how much time I “waste” watching television some evenings. I realize there are more productive things I can do. But, after a normal day and early evening I am tired and want to simply relax and not have to think. But, that is simply a rationalization and an excuse. So, I have been changing my evening routine and putting my time and limited energy to better use. Establishing boundaries. No longer spending more time binge-watching than I do with the Lord in any given day.

Idolatry is still very much alive in the world today … no matter where you live or what language you speak. And, with all the technology now available idolatry has become an acceptable aspect of life. It is time to reclaim the precious time the Lord given to us each day. 

Remember: Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

Gossip-Free – Part Two

The second set of questions you should ask yourself to avoid gossiping online are equally important. Before sharing your thoughts, ask yourself, “Am I making private matters public? Am I about to share something that would be better handled privately?” In his wisdom, Solomon said, “It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbour; a sensible person keeps quiet. A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence” (Proverbs 11:12-13 NLT).

If you share what should be secret, you’re gossiping. 

Before you post anything online, be absolutely certain you’re not making something public that should be private. Do it to protect others. And do it to protect yourself. If you want close friends, you can’t be perceived as a gossip. The Bible says, “When arguing with your neighbour, don’t betray another person’s secret.” Others may accuse you of gossip, and you will never regain a good reputation” (Proverbs 25:9-10 NLT).

Be trustworthy!

Keep what’s private, private.

The third set of questions you’ll want to ask when gossip starts flying begins with this: “Am I permitting — maybe even encouraging — others to gossip?” It’s not only wrong to dish it out; it’s also wrong to eat it up. Scripture is clear: “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander” (Proverbs 17:4 NLT). Notice that this verse doesn’t say that only gossipers are wrongdoers. No, it says wrongdoers are also those who “listen to gossip.” It not just wrong to spread gossip; it’s wrong to consume it. Why? Because what you permit, you promote.

Not only should you keep yourself from gossiping, you shouldn’t associate with those who gossip. What is true “in person” is also true online. Because I am a Jesus follower, I do not develop close friendships with gossips; in the same way, I choose to avoid those who continually spray venom online.

Remember, if someone gossips to you, then they’re likely to gossip about you. Stay clear of repeating gossip — and of hearing or seeing it.

If someone is gossiping in person or online, you can be subtle in your approach to avoiding it. You can explain politely that you are not feeling comfortable with the conversation. If that’s not your style, you can take a caring approach. Explain to the gossiper that if __________ (insert names) knew you were talking about them, you would hurt their feelings. (And if you’re talking about them online, there’s a pretty good change they’re going to know.)

Or you could help gossipers take an approach that is consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Remind them of Matthew 18:15-16, that if they have a problem with another brother or sister, they’re supposed to go directly to that person. And if all else fails to stop the gossipers, be direct and make the consequences clear. If they keep it up, you’re not going to hang out with them, anymore (or follow them, or whatever). 

Any time I talk about someone else, whether in person or online, I want my words to be something I’d be willing tp say in their presence. We should answer honestly, Am I about to make private matters public?” When talking or posting, “Are my words helpful or hurtful?” Finally, “Am I permitting or encouraging others to gossip?” What we say (or allow others to say) matters because our words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). I want my words always to be helpful;, not hurtful. You know that old saying: you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution. By God’s grace, let’s be a part of bringing solutions, not increasing problems. 

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.