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Praying about our Words

The tongue can bring death or life….

Proverbs 18:21 

How often, as we pray, do we ask God for a greater sensitivity to our words?  And for a greater power over them?  My guess is we all know how powerful words are, especially critical, negative words.   If you receive five compliments and one criticism, which has the greatest impact and lingers the longest?  And yet, how quick are we to criticize….  There are lots and lots of warnings in the Bible, especially in Proverbs and James, about the power of the tongue.  Power to build up and tear down.  I encourage us all to give more attention to our words, and to the impact our words are having on others.  It begins as we pray.

We are “ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5), not just in our actions, but every time we speak.  Every word is a seed, it has an impact:  it either builds up or tears down.    James reminds us that the tongue is “restless and evil, full of deadly poison(3:7).”  He says “no one can tame it.”  That’s why we need to pray for our tongue, because the only way it can be controlled is by the heart, a heart submissive to and controlled by God.  If we truly want to be effective ambassadors for Jesus, if we want to sow seeds of encouragement and love, we must get our words under control.  Not our control, for that is impossible, but under His control.  And that takes prayer, and lots of it.  Every day, every moment.  The effort is worth it:  the tongue of the wise brings healing…(Proverbs 12:18);  a kind word cheers (12:25);  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body(16:24).  

Lord Jesus, give me a greater sensitivity to the impact my words are having on others.  Soften my heart and my mind, that my words, and the tone in which I speak them, may bring healing, encouragement and love to those around me, for your glory, Amen.”

Joy in the Morning

Weeping may last through the night,

but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5

As a pastor, I often find myself speaking to people experiencing pain: physical, emotional, relational…. All kinds of pains, with varying intensity. Most times, there are no answers to the “why” question: life simply is hard and confusing at times, isn’t it? Jesus, our shepherd, never said life would be easy, even as He walks through life with us. But He does promise His Presence through every twist and turn, each obstacle, all the hardships and struggles we may face. Jesus Himself knew His share of pain, didn’t He? The writer of Hebrews reminds us that He, as our great high priest, understands our weakness and temptations, because He also experienced it. And so we can turn to Him, even when we feel alone in our pain, and think that no one understands: there is One who does understand.

We have His presence with us, and we also have HOPE. Not just any hope, but HOPE: that joy will come in the morning. We see and feel the effects of sin all around and within us, but one day (O Lord, come quickly!), it will be removed. Even death, the final enemy, has been conquered, and joy awaits us on the other side, through our faith in Jesus.

And so, James reminds us, we “rejoice in our trials”,” our suffering and pain, as difficult as it is. Its like watching the rerun of a sporting event when you know your team has won: yes, at times the other team might have just scored, or seems to be winning, but we know the final outcome. Knowing the final outcome takes away the sting…

Sooooo, let me encourage you today, as you pray for yourself and others around you, to ask that you and they may experience life (and all its pain and hardship) with the “morning” in mind, when joy comes. That we would stay close to Him who promises to walk through the pain with us, and who promises to use it for our good and His glory. Whether your pain today is little or severe, Jesus is with you in it, will see you through it, and in the end you will know His joy in a deeper way.

I have told you these things

so that you will be filled with my joy.

Yes, your joy will overflow! (John 15:11)

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

 

Quietness and Rest

In repentance and rest is your salvation,

in quietness and trust is your strength,

but you would have none of it.

Isaiah 30:15

Our culture tells us a very different message, doesn’t it?  We are told to fill our days with as much activity as possible.  We don’t want to miss out on anything.  That “life” consists in doing, in activity, in experiencing as much as we can fit into our schedules.  And so, we find ourselves exhausted much of the time.

And the noise we have come to live with and tolerate!  Always noise around us, to the point where we have become uncomfortable with silence.  Time yourself:  spend 5 minutes in silence, and see if it doesn’t feel like a year!

We’ve all experienced at times when an activity that usually brings us great pleasure (concert, athletic event, dinner at favorite restaurant…) didn’t bring much enjoyment because we were either distracted or simply exhausted.  It is not the activity itself that brings the pleasure, satisfaction, joy.  It is what we bring to that activity, how we are able to focus and invest ourselves in the moment.  That has to do with the condition of our soul.

Perhaps the most-loved Psalm is the 23rd.  Perhaps its most important line:  “He restores my soul.”  

We see all around us the effects of exhausted, neglected souls:  depression, discouragement, anger, violence, despair….  How we need our souls to be restored:  daily, against the busy-ness and noise of our culture.

We need to re-establish the spiritual disciplines of silence, rest, reflection….  For we are told that in them is our “salvation,”  our “strength.”  The word “salvation” means life,  wholeness, healing….  We will enjoy life so much more, the events and activities of our days, only after we have attended to and nourished our soul.  And we do that through prayer: silence in his presence, meditation on His grace, resting in His love.

Will you turn off all your devices, and turn your eyes away from all screens, if only for a few minutes?  And turn your eyes and your heart up, towards your God?  Not to ask for anything, or to bring your requests, but simply to be in His presence.  Simply to be quiet, to slow down our hearts and minds,  and let Him restore us.  Or will you, like the Israelites, “have none of it?”

Saying ‘Yes’ to God

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you…

John 16:13

You might remember the story of young Samuel, studying under the high priest Eli. One night the Lord speaks to him, and he mistakenly thinks the voice is Eli’s. Eli correctly instructs him that the voice he is hearing is from the Lord, so as Samuel returns to bed and once again hears the voice, his reply is: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”(1 Samuel 3:10). I think Samuel’s confusion is often our own: discerning the voice of God in our lives. Scripture and Jesus is quite clear: we have the Holy Spirit within us, and His presence is intended, among other things, to guide us and lead us in the ways of righteousness.

So the question for us today: are you listening? He is speaking, but are we listening? I have a lot to learn here, but my experience is that His voice is usually a soft, gentle urging within my spirit, usually prompting me to a simple, small act of kindness, thoughtfulness, encouragement, or to an act of obedience. A few times He has screamed to me(that’s the topic of another blog), but most times its just a thought, a remembering of someone or something, an urging to do or say something that is quite doable. It just takes a “yes” on my part: maybe a little inconvenience (making a phone call, writing a note, writing a check…), but not something that significantly alters my day. It seems to me that our Lord desires our obedience to the little, small, seemingly insignificant acts of obedience, to these soft, gentle promptings of the Spirit within us. To our saying “yes.”

The problem, so often, is that I often dismiss those promptings, and in so doing miss an opportunity to draw closer to Him and be used by Him to bless others (and be blessed ourselves in the process). And to please my God.

As you pray this week, will you include Samuel’s words, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” and then say “yes,” to His promptings?

Surrender

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves

and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

The Christian Life begins in a moment of personal surrender, as we confess our sin and need, and embrace Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Lordship, by its very definition, implies submission and surrender. This surrendering is not just a momentary thing, is it? It is also a life-long process as well, a “daily” choice to put God’s will before our own (Not my will, but yours be done…), even to put the interests of others before our own (in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 4:3-4). When we talk about spiritual warfare, we usually think about the battle against Satan, evil, false religions, and other powers that pull us away from God. But perhaps the most intense venue of spiritual warfare is within our own soul, and whether we will pursue a life of continual surrender: surrendering our will to God.

As you pray today, and as you move through this day, ask God to show you where you are choosing to put your own interests above God’s will, and also where you are putting personal desires above the concerns of others. Make the decision now, to cultivate a “lifestyle of surrender,” surrender to your God. For here lies one of the paradoxes of Christianity: as we surrender to Him, it leads not to bondage, but to freedom. Not to loss, but to great gain. whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it (Luke 9:24). Do you believe that verse? Will you choose today, throughout the day, to believe it enough to choose to surrender yourself to Him? To pursue a lifestyle of surrender? From my perspective, this lifestyle of surrender thing never gets easier, no matter how long we are a Christian. Every day, every hour…. We need the Spirit’s wisdom and help…. Not my will, but yours be done….

 

Change

Above all else, guard your heart,

for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

The older I get, I recognize how things are always changing. Nothing remains the same (except our God, of course!): each day is a new day. We may think we’re stuck in the same job, the same family, the same house…., but truth is, everything, every-thing, is in the process of change, however imperceptible it may be to our senses. Nothing lasts forever, everything is subject to decay and decline. (Uplifting, aren’t I?) With that as background, take some time to reflect on the following words:   may you be encouraged by them.

Where did we get his idea that we can’t change?

Where do we get such thoughts as:

“It’s just my nature to worry;”

“I’ll always be pessimistic, I’m just that way;”

“I can’t help the way I react, it’s who I am.”

 

Such thoughts are not from God.

 

He makes all things new- ALL things

He NEVER leaves a life unchanged.

His plan for you is nothing short of a new heart.

If you were a car, God would want control of your engine.

If you were a computer, God would claim the software, and the hard drive.

If you were an airplane, He’d insist on taking over the cockpit.

 

But you are a person, so God wants your heart,

For from your heart flows everything we do and are.

 

God loves you just as you are.

But, He refuses to leave you as you are.

He changes hearts, and lives: thats what He does.

He wants you to have a heart like His.

A heart just like Jesus.

 

Will you give God your heart today? And open your eyes to the wonderful, grace-filled change that He brings about in your life?

anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.

The old life is gone; a new life burgeons!

2 Corinthians 5:17(Msg)

Prayer for the New Year

anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.

The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

2 Corinthians 5;17

Here’s a Prayer for the new year:

Release me Lord

and keep me from the habit of thinking I must say something on every subject.

Release me from wanting to control everybody’s affairs.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details and of personal gain.

I ask for grace

enough to listen to the stories of other’s pains.

Help me to endure them with patience.

But seal my lips of my own aches and pains.

My love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter by the years.

Teach me

the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.

Keep me sweet in your eyes, Lord,

but I don’t want to be a saint since some of them are hard to live with.

Give me

the ability to see good things in unexpected places,

and talents in unexpected people,

And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them.

Keeping it Fresh

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning;  great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23)

I was asked recently if it is hard each year at Christmastime thinking of new things to preach on.  The short answer to that question is “yes:”  the basic Christmas story has not changed a bit.  The challenge I face each year is to take the same ol’ story, the birth of our Savior, God becoming human, and somehow put a fresh face on it.  But isn’t that the same challenge that each of us has each day:  to make our “story” fresh?  Our basic testimony, or ‘story,’ remains the same:  God opened our hearts and our minds to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and to receive His gift of eternal, abundant life.  The basic storyline hasn’t changed.  As with me and my sermons at Christmastime, the challenge for each of us, especially those of us who have been followers of Jesus for a while, is to make our relationship with Jesus fresh and new each day.  Lamentations tells us that God does His part:  His mercies are “new every morning.”  Are we offering ourselves to Him afresh each morning?  Are we expecting, looking for those new mercies today?  How current is your ‘story,’ your relationship with your God?   Let’s not allow our ‘story’ to sound more like ancient history:  speaking of God’s mercies and grace in years gone by.  Let’s make sure there’s a ‘right now’ piece to our story, as we pour out our concerns to Him in prayer; as we offer ourselves to Him today; and as we look for His presence, His ‘new mercies’ throughout the day.  One final thought:  don’t keep your ‘story’ to yourself:  make sure you tell someone about God’s mercies today.  Both they and you will be blessed as you do!  Merry Christmas!

Heaven and Hell

I came across a quote recently from Anne Bradstreet, the American Puritan poet: “Oft have I thought, were it hell itself, and [I] could there find the love of God toward me, it would be a heaven. And could I have been in heaven without the love of God, it would have been a hell to me; for, in truth, it is the absence and presence of God that makes heaven or hell.”  It might be a little difficult to read, but it reminds us of an important biblical truth: what matters to the joy of our soul is not where we are, but where we are in relation to God. Our toughest circumstances can be transformed by the awareness of God’s presence. Conversely, the good times, enjoyed without a thankful spirit, experienced without a sense of His Provision and Goodness, quickly turns into selfishness, pride, even dissatisfaction and grief.

During this season, we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, God with us. That is the true spirit of this season. It is a greater awareness of His coming (His Presence) that inspires and elevates our spirit. Not the “stuff:” the presents, cards, parties, decorations… Enjoy the “stuff,” but lets not forget where the true joy comes from: remain in me and I in you….I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (John 15:5, 11).

The more we can sense His Presence, that elevates our spirit to heaven; as we drift away from Him, our spirit is lessened, lowered into self, and worry, fear…

John put it this way: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:14, 16).

The true spirit of this season rings out, as did the angels to the shepherds: He has come, He is with us, and He will come again! Rejoice!!

Reaching Outside the ‘Circles’

For God so loved the world that He gave….

Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another….

 

We tend to live out our lives in little circles. The circle of family; the circle of vocation (clients, co-workers…); the circle of church; the circle of friends…. We develop routines and comfort zones which, if we’re honest, we rarely move beyond, either because we’re just too busy, or because the world seems increasingly to be an unfriendly and scary place.   And yet the Gospel command is to “Go, into all the world…(Matthew 28:19).” We tend to think of this verse in terms of foreign missions, the importance of sending out missionaries to the far ends of the earth. But let me challenge us all to apply this verse very personally, to be willing, especially during this Christmas season, to reach outside of your little circles and comfort zones, and share the message of God’s love and grace to some around you who you tend to overlook amidst all the activity and busy-ness. Maybe it’s as simple as paying for the coffee of the person behind you, or preparing a simple gift/goody bag for a resident of a local nursing home. Let God show you the ‘how’ and the ‘who’ to reach out to: He is quite capable of opening your eyes to “see” the needs of those around you, those outside your ‘circles.’ Isn’t the basic story of Christmas about a God who cared enough to move closer, who loved us so much He “gave.” Enjoy, and even celebrate, the “little circles” of our lives, but let us not live entirely in them: may we be willing to stretch ourselves a little, in obedience to the Gospel command, to share the grace and love of our God to as many as we can, in as many ways as we can.