Choose Your Words Wisely

“You must determine if a tree is good or rotten. You can recognize good trees by their delicious fruit. But if you find rotten fruit, you can be certain that the tree is rotten. The fruit defines the tree. But you who are known as the Pharisees are rotten to the core! You’ve been poisoned by the nature of a venomous snake. How can your words be good and trustworthy if you are rotten within? For what has been stored up in your hearts will be heard in the overflow of your words! “When virtue is stored within, the hearts of good and upright people will produce good fruit. But when evil is hidden within, those who are evil will produce evil fruit. You can be sure of this: when the day of judgment comes, everyone will be held accountable for every careless word he has spoken. Your very words will be used as evidence against you, and your words will declare you either innocent or guilty.“ – Matthew 12:33-3 (TPT).

Sadly, we seem to be living in an increasingly uncivil environment. From presidential politics to random internet comments, there seems to be more rude, demeaning, insulting, and aggressive language and behavior in our society than in the past. But this devotional is not political, nor does it have anything to do with our First Amendment right of “Freedom of Speech.” It has one purpose and one purpose only. How do we talk to each other in a Christ-honoring way? 

As followers of Jesus, we must understand the impact of our words. In the Matthew 12 passage above, we see that civility flows out of character. The Pharisees were on a mission to tear Jesus down. They tried to entrap Him at the beginning of chapter 12 by charging His disciples with unlawful action for eating a little grain out of the field on the Sabbath, the day set aside for worship and rest in the Jewish culture.

Beginning in verse 22, Jesus heals a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute, and rather than rejoicing and being amazed like everyone else, the Pharisees are not happy. The crowd was saying,” Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?” (vs 23) The religious leaders respond in verse 24: “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.” 

Jesus continues in verse 33 to speak about the reality of words. With this teaching, we once again see the eloquence of Jesus. Jesus teaches us our conversations reveal our character. From our hearts, we will either speak words of truth and love or we will speak words that are either untrue or words that are true but not loving. Verse 34 (TPT) says, “…For what has been stored up in your hearts will be heard in the overflow of your words! Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

This not an easy discipline to apply to our lives. But nothing is impossible with God. It’s a daily practice. Yes, we will mess up at times. But we need to learn and keep moving forward. The most important thing to remember is that our words have one purpose: to glorify God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read James 3:2-6: What are different ways you can use your words to give life instead of destroying it?
  2. Read Luke 6:45. If a stranger listened to everything you said for an entire day, what conclusions would they come to about what’s in your heart? What would they determine is your purpose in life? Would they hear evidence of a growing relationship with God?

What Happened To Civility?

“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.” – I Peter 3:8-9. 

The level of civility in our culture is dropping like a rock. Whether it’s TV talk shows or online comments on news sites and social media, we seem to have lost the ability to discuss an issue calmly and logically. We talk less about the real problems and more about the differences we have with an individual or group of people. I am a republican. I am a democrat. I am a socialist. I am black. I am white. I am Asian. The incivility increases day by day. We think more about our rebuttal then about understanding the other person. We make statements of opinion rather than asking questions to try and understand.

We get a sense of what public engagement looks like in the 1 Peter passage above. We will encounter angry, uncivil people who want attention or want power or want revenge for the wrong they perceive was done to them, real or imagined. But Peter is telling us not to play their game. He wants us to play Jesus’ game instead, being civil and experience blessing. This was at the heart of the civil disobedience of Mahatma Ghandi in India and of the black Christian leaders of the civil rights movement here in the U.S. 

Matthew 5:9 (TPT) says, “How blessed you are when you make peace! For then you will be recognized as a true child of God.” Want to be a child of God in a fractured world? Get out in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your politics, and be Jesus; but do it His way. Engaging in public life with civility and with radical love. This is our calling.

Sigh. Doesn’t sound easy, does it? When someone does us wrong, it is not human nature to return their wrong with as much love and blessing and forgiveness as it takes to change their life for the better. It would seem better to vent our anger, or forget about it and move on. But Jesus calls for a different kind of engagement, though, to look evil in the eye and love the people who are uncivil to us. This is not turning tail and running when we face contentious people. It’s just choosing a different way of engaging, one that looks like Jesus, promoting peace and blessing.

And the best part is it works. When we engage in life with peacemaking love, we’re more likely to change a bitter heart. We’re more likely to secure justice for ourselves or someone else. And we’re guaranteed to show a violent, bitter world what Jesus looks like.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you see civility as passive or action oriented? 
  2. What can you do this week to show the Jesus version of civility in an uncivil war?   

A Decade of Holiness

“So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16.  

Last month we completed a sermon series entitled Decade of Impact: With the new decade rolling in, it is exciting to think about what the next ten years – triumphs and new discoveries that will make us stronger Christians as a result. The series delved into preparing for the next decade so you will be the person God intended you to be at the end of 2029.

We are all preparing for something all the time. The question is what are we preparing for?  What are our goals? Certainly one of our goals should be to pursue holiness. 

The Bible has a lot to say on the subject. Psalm 14:2-3 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one.” And in Isaiah 64:6, we read, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” What hope do we possibly have of becoming holy like God?

Fortunately, holiness is not just based on our own efforts at being good. Holiness is who we are based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then the Bible says that you have been given a new heart. A new person has replaced the old person. We are holy because of our position in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:10 says it like this, “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.”

We have been made holy… not because we follow a bunch of rules of things to do and not to do. It is not because we exhausted ourselves trying to be a spouse or parent or a better person. It is because of Jesus Christ. But even though our position as a child of God is secure when we accept Him as Savior, it is still important how we conduct our lives. We must continue to live in a pure and Holy way that pleases and honors our Father in heaven.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Does living a holy and pure life seem impossible? Does that mean marriage is impossible as well?
  2. What is the hardest part of living a holy life? 

Repentance

“So keep coming to him who is the Living Stone—though he was rejected and discarded by men but chosen by God and is priceless in God’s sight. Come and be his “living stones”who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that he readily accepts through Jesus Christ. –  psalm 133:1. 

The church participated in the sin of slavery and thus contributed to the generational effects of prejudice, segregation, and violence. But acknowledging the wrongs of the past is only the first step toward genuine repentance, reconciliation, and healing. As individual Christians and as the church, we should try to address the racial wrongs that continue today and to lift up and be guided by those who are most in need, who are impacted by racial injustice and racial prejudice. 

Once we have acknowledged what happened to the best of our ability, we must consider our attitudes and actions. Search your heart and soul to see where there might be prejudice, discriminatory feelings, or even racist behavior. Ask yourself where it’s implicit. Where is it explicit? What do you need to let go of? We must attempt to be as honest with ourselves as much as possible and repent of any sin that we discover. Briefly defined, repentance is turning away from sin and self and looking to God for forgiveness and salvation. One example in the Bible is the story of Zacchaeus in Luke, chapter 19. 

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.

There is a difference between regret and repentance. A deep rift in a marriage isn’t solved by buying flowers. As kind a gesture as that is, what needs to happen is change. Regret buys flowers. Repentance confesses and seeks to change. Regret says “I’m sorry.” Repentance risks being hurt by saying, “please forgive me.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.”

Repentance carries with it the idea of changing; changing your mind, changing your attitude, changing your ways. It’s not a fickle change of mind, but rather a transformation of outlook, an entirely new way of seeing things. It is a change of direction. We turn around. When we find the sin of racism in any way, we go in the opposite direction, like Zacchaeus. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you know if repentance is real? What does genuine repentance look like?
  2. What can you do this week to take up a posture of faith and genuine repentance?  

The Shadow of Racism

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” — Nelson Mandela.  

Racism has many layers. It continues to exist with us despite good intentions. The question is where do we go from here? What do we need to look at that we haven’t noticed? What are possible subtle ways of perpetuating racism, layers that might not enter our minds, or stay in the shadows as we struggle to understand why we think and act the way we do? Sometimes we don’t think deeply enough about the issues for which we stand. Some of the layers (or symptoms) of racism include:

Employment: Let’s say you are an employer and you’ve solicited resumes. There are no pictures on them, just their education and experience, accomplishments, and credentials. You have four in front of you that have been vetted and are virtually identical in quality. You look at their names: two sound black, two sound white. Who are you going to call for the interview? Do you privately make an assessment of worth, value, capability, or likability based on names—even though the resumes are the same?

Dating and Marriage: You see a black man with a white woman on a date. Or they are married. How do you viscerally feel about it? Good or bad, neutral or biased, positive or negative? In God’s eyes, it’s not an interracial thing at all. It’s just two human beings whom He created for relationship with Him and with each other. 

Assumptions: Four black high school students were going door-to-door to raise money for their football team in Wynne, Arkansas. One minute they were laughing and talking to each other, and the next minute they were on the ground in a stranger’s front yard with their hands behind their backs, while a white woman with a handgun ordered them to stay put. Before she even went out with her gun, she had already called the police. He had the children stand up, and they explained they were selling discount cards for their school athletic program. When she was asked why she pulled the gun on them, she said it was because all four boys were black and that area was white.

Pseudo-Acceptance: Another way of demonstrating shadow racism is through pseudo-acceptance. As one woman from Africa said to me, “Racism is if you invite me to a party but don’t invite me to dance with you.” Meaning, you didn’t truly invite me in to be involved or engaged.  It is as hurtful to be in a room as the only black person and be shut out or not engaged.

Family Life: One last area where shadow racism can manifest itself is in our home life. What do your children hear you say? What do they see you do? How are you shaping their thinking, their perspectives? Does a viewpoint toward people of color come out as you drive, walk through a mall, or watch the news?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which of the five do you think is easiest to fall into doing? 
  2. What do we need to this week to eliminate the shadows (Symptoms) of racism?  

The Evil of Racism

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” – 1 John 4:20 (NIV) 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at The Hungry Club Forum in Atlanta on May 10, 1967. The address was on the three major evils that were endangering the gains that black Americans were making. The three major evils were the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, and the evil of war. Racism is still an evil today, some 54 years later. Dr. King acknowledged in the speech that “..there has been some progress, and I would not want to overlook that” but went on to add “we must face the fact that we still have much to do in the area of race relations.”

Americans have been turning to organizations, education, famous personalities, and, ultimately, the government to address the on-going racial divide in our nation. Yet racial tensions have not abated. The church believes that the only solution powerful enough to bring about racial reconciliation and harmony is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this gospel that announces that, through His blood, Jesus has demolished the dividing wall that separates humanity along racial lines and has brought all ethnicities together as brothers and sisters into one body—the church. It requires believers to do the hard work of renewing our minds by replacing old ways of thinking with gospel ways of thinking.  

It is tough to turn on the media and be bombarded with images of evil, violence, hatred, and racism. It makes you wonder whether we truly realize that systemic racism is still an active part of our culture. It also makes you wonder when the evil of racism and the polarization, division, and injustices will ever end? In earthly kingdoms, it will not. Only when Christ returns will there finally be true justice and peace for every race, tribe, tongue, and person. When Christ returns, there will be harmony among mankind. That will be a truly remarkable day. 

In the meantime, how do we as Christians, respond to the evil of racism? The first step is to ask God to identify any pride and prejudices, big or small, in our hearts. Why? Because racism is rooted in pride. And the danger with pride is how quickly it can take root in our lives without warning, which turn into jealousy, bitterness, prejudice, and even racism.

The apostle John put it simply: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” To be a part of the solution, we need to ask that God align our hearts and minds with His. In a world filled with hate and anger, pray that God’s love will overcome the evil that is racism. Following and loving Jesus is the best place to start.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you see as the role of the church in overcoming racism in our community?  
  2. What role can we play in destroying the evil that is racism?

The Answer Is Love

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8.

An expert in religious law tried to trick Jesus in Matthew 22 by asking Him “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Verses 37-39 give us Jesus’ reply: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Paul’s command would not be unnecessary if love were an automatic or standard operating procedure for believers. It doesn’t work that way. There will always be disagreements and conflicts. In the Colossians passage above, Paul assumes that in the church, there will be complaints against one another. Life in the church will not be perfect. We will need to work at maintaining and restoring loving relationships with one another. Love is not a luxury, but a Biblical necessity.

There are at least 55 direct commandments in the New Testament telling us to love one another. John 13:34-35 says, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 15:12, 17 says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you…This is my command: Love each other.” And Romans 13:8, 10 adds, “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law….Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”  Ephesians 4: 2 says, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” 

The love talked about in these verses is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved. The core of love is not emotion, but commitment. It’s not a commitment to make the other person immediately happy, but rather to seek the person’s best interests.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is loving others more than a feeling?
  2. Demonstrated love for one another reveals a love for God. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. What’s one change you can make in your life to put love into action? 

Peace No Matter What

“ A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.” – Mark 5 25-26. (TPT) 

When we are finished talking to somebody, we would typically say “goodbye” or “see you soon” or “later dude,” or some other phrase you are comfortable using. If you were Jewish, you would simply say, “Shalom” —” Peace!” The word peace occurs 429 times in the Bible.

The woman in Mark 5 did not have peace for 12 years. In first-century religious law, there were serious regulations concerning hemorrhaging. The laws of bleeding not only made the woman herself unclean but whatever and whoever she touched also became unclean. The result was embarrassment, isolation, and religious stigma. 

This woman had sought the advice of rabbis and doctors, to no avail. They could provide her with no peace. Only God could have done for her what Jesus did. Jesus said to her in compassion, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” (Mark 5:34)

Where can we find this shalom? Only in Christ, the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace will we find this. Come to Him today and listen to Him, say to you, “son, daughter—go in shalom.” But shalom is something we need to strive for. 

God never intended for there to be so much strife because of race. God created each race and gave them a unique identity. God wants us to learn to accept each other and love each other.

We need to think to hear and act on what Jesus says. The church needs to do its part. It makes no sense to go to church all day and sing songs about God and raise our hands in worship, and yet we are not concerned about the injustice that faces the everyday life of people of color. We can start by modeling Romans 12:15 and “mourn with those who mourn.” Then without defensiveness, without counter-argument, and without self-justification, white Christians need to listen to our black brothers and sisters: and then make any changes we need to make to be a catalyst to bring a new era of justice and tolerance, love and shalom to our community and our nation.  

Only God can change the human heart — and He will, as we, each one of us, open our lives to the power and love He has shown us in Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we better come together in a spirit of shalom?    

Refine Us God

“In the same way that gold and silver are refined by fire, the Lord purifies your heart by the tests and trials of life.” – Proverbs 17:3

Different metals purify at different temperatures. As a result, artisans working with gold or silver need to be careful to get the temperature just right, so that they eliminate the dross and don’t lose any of the precious metal they are refining. Otherwise, they will burn it too much and it all turns to dust. Watching a skilled refiner dance with molten metal and flame is amazing. Eventually, he eliminates all the foreign substances and impurities and gets to the pure metal which is what holds the real value.

The Bible often uses the imagery of gold being refined as a picture of what God does in our lives. Gold, when extracted from the earth, does not look like gold we find in a jewelry store. In fact, it is not always recognizable due to the impurities that mar its appearance. Yet, for the person searching for it, the ugliest lump of gold is of great value, and the potential for beauty is evident.  

This is the same refinement process that we, as God’s children, go through. The gold (God’s children) are not destroyed in this process, they simply become pliable and can be molded into the image of God. With just the right amount of heat and trial, God burns away the dross that is not just buried within us but has been a part of us for as long as we can remember. He applies the fire, then pulls it away. 

The sacrifice of God’s son to reconcile us back to a relationship with God shows just how much He values us — even while we are lost and separated from Him. God sees us not full of impurity, but full of potential. Sometimes we expect God to simply zap the junk out of our lives when we enter into a relationship with Him.

If heat is being applied to your life today, it has a purpose behind it. Illness may be designed to bring fear to the surface so God can build trust. Financial difficulty may raise materialism to the surface. Relational struggles may raise bitterness or unforgiveness to the surface. Disappointment at work may raise pride to the surface. The heat and trials of our lives are evidence of how much God values you and His desire for you to be all He designed you to be. He loves us too much to leave us as He finds us.

God’s purpose behind every difficult circumstance in our day is to develop our character. The Lord could have kept difficulties away from so many men and women of God in the Scripture, but then they would not have been refined. He could have kept the three young Hebrew men from being thrown into the fiery furnace or Daniel from being thrown into a lion’s den or Jeremiah into the slimy pit or Joseph into prison. But He didn’t. And each of them, because of the refining fire they experienced, were pulled closer to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God refine us on a daily basis?   
  2. What can we do this week to do the little things that make us more Christlike?  

Living Stones

“So keep coming to him who is the Living Stone—though he was rejected and discarded by men but chosen by God and is priceless in God’s sight. Come and be his “living stones”who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that he readily accepts through Jesus Christ. –  1 Peter 2:4-5. 

In our culture today, when we build our homes, we often build them out of wood. For larger buildings, we use steel. But, in Peter’s day, the material that they used in building homes and buildings were stones. This passage uses this fact and describes the community of believers as a building that Christ is building. But, the passage isn’t so much about the church which God is building. It’s more about our relationship to Christ, the living stone. We are living stones because He is the chief stone. We each are stones built on Christ to take part in God’s ongoing work of redemption and healing. 

Have you ever watched as workers covered a house or chimney with stone. They truck in a few thousand pounds of rocks and the labor intensive work begins. Stones of all shapes and sizes are placed carefully in the structure to form its shape. As the mason begins the wall, he places a few large stones at the base of the wall. Once the stones are placed, he walks over to the pile to see what sort of stones would fit nicely on these stones. At various times, he shapes them up and sizes them to see if they will work for him. When he has found his stone, he puts some mortar down, and places the stone where it goes. It is like a rock jigsaw puzzle. 

God’s kingdom is made up of people who don’t all look the same, talk the same, even believe exactly the same in terms of scripture, methodology, and doctrine. Some black, some white, some red, yellow, some old, some young, some men, some women. But it’s not in those things that we find common ground with one another. Jesus is where we find common ground. Jesus is the cornerstone. The cornerstone is the one that literally sets all the other stones in place.

Jesus is building His church, but rather than a pile of stones, He has a pile of believers. He takes each of us and considers how best to place us into His church, which He has promised to build (Matt. 16:18). And Jesus places us into the wall and ceiling and floor as He pleases. God is not calling any of us to give up how He made us. He does not want us to use how He made us to relate inappropriately to people He has made different than us. God is not asking you to be anything other than what He’s made you, as long as you submit to how He has made you, and to relate to other people who He has made different than you. 

When our master craftsmen, the Creator of the Universe, draws us to Himself, something wonderful happens. We begin the journey of becoming more and more like His Son, Jesus, and this is very precious to Him regardless of age, color, or ethnicity, gender or nationality.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to be a living stone? 
  2. What can we do this week to better relate to people who are different than we are?