Category Archives: Spiritual
As a Christian, the post-Charlottesville rhetoric may have your head spinning. The klaxon of fear from the left-leaning mainstream media was expected, but there are many blogs on Christian websites as well decrying racial injustice along with unctuous homilies on white privilege.
How should the clash between a group of self-proclaimed white supremacists and violent self-proclaimed moral authority Antifa make you feel? Which side are you supposed to choose?
My answer is, neither side. Just because there are two sides doesn’t make one side right and one wrong – they can, as in this case, both be wrong.
Still, there are all these stories. I’ve seen articles, some from Christian leaders I respect, that say we should acknowledge and apologize for our white privilege, that we are responsible to right the wrongs suffered by blacks (especially black young men), that non-racism isn’t enough and that we can’t be colorblind because that means we’re stripping away the identity of blacks (especially black young men). I haven’t had time to read them all and the (il)logic used in some of them is dizzying.
Christianity has played a huge role, and in some cases deserves the majority of the credit, in creating the racial equality we have now.
There is one huge fallacy running through many of the narratives that equate Christians with white, privileged, upper middle class people, primarily men. Christianity, of course, is not an exclusive white club and acting as if it is completely ignores the many brothers and sisters of other races and ethnicities. It also ignores the fact that Christianity has played a huge role, and in some cases deserves the majority of the credit, in creating the racial equality we have now, from before the Civil War through the Civil Rights marches. Without the impetus of Christian churches, both black and white, we may still not have equality today.
So, beyond that fallacy, here are a couple of things I know:
- God created a human race. And Jesus came to save the human race. If the creator and savior of universe didn’t distinguish between races, neither do we need to.
- Christians should not feel shame or guilt for the color of their skin. As Paul says in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those in Christ have already had their sins removed as far as the east if from the west.
- White Christians do not have to atone for any sins or atrocities committed by their ancestors. Hundreds of years before Christ, God said, “The person who sins is the one who will die. A son won’t suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity, and a father won’t suffer punishment for the son’s iniquity. The righteousness of the righteous person will be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be on him.” (Ez. 18:20) In fact, this is so important that God gives a long example of how the actions of one generation will not affect the other.
- It is not the responsibility of white Christians to “solve” or “correct” the problem. This is saying that the only way black people can make their way in the world is if white people give them special privileges. This is arrogant and insulting. Not only that, it is tantamount to making blacks an inferior race who can’t help themselves. White Christians and black Christians must work arm-in-arm as equal brothers and sisters to address any issues.
- We must pray for the white supremacists and the Antifa groups. As appalling as that sounds, Jesus made it very clear what our response should be to enemies. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45). “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
- We must strive to see each other as individuals, not as members of a group. This was the lesson of Jesus when he healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, healed the servant of the Roman Centurion and spoke to the Samaritan woman – all members of groups the Jews hated or saw as inferior. In fact, the overriding lesson of the story of the Good Samaritan is that it is an individual’s right actions, not his or her skin color, ethnicity or group that makes him the neighbor we are to love as we love ourselves.
We must pray for the white supremacists and the Antifa groups. As appalling as that sounds, Jesus made it very clear what our response should be to enemies.
The news is still filled with stories about last weekend’s events, and will be until the next tragedy or hot item rises to the forefront. Reading the stories and social media blurbs can produce anxiety in Christians. But we can read something that will produce peace – the Word of God.
In the famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an albatross (a large sea bird) leads a ship to safety. But soon after their rescue, the main character, the mariner, shoots the albatross, and the ship is again in peril.
To punish the mariner for his churlish action, the ship’s crew forces him to wear the dead albatross around his neck. As he watches the crew succumb to death, the albatross serves as a constant reminder that he is to blame. Today we use the term, “wearing an albatross around one’s neck” to signify a psychological burden, often brought on by one’s own foolish or careless action.
Unfortunately, many Christians today live as if they are that ancient mariner, wearing their guilt around their necks like a big dead bird. I became aware of that recently when, within a span of a few days, I had a friend tell me he still dealt with guilt about things he’d done more than two decades before; another friend confided that she still felt shame for actions committed years before; and another person talked about the anguish he felt daily about the sins he’d committed.
Understand, these are all devout Christians who have been walking with the Lord for decades, who have confessed these sins repeatedly, yet they still function as if they are bound and condemned for them.
I have a feeling these are not isolated cases. But by worrying about, thinking about and feeling guilt and shame about our past sins, we are seriously impairing our ability to live the abundant life Jesus promised.
I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame?
It’s not that I don’t understand where my friends are coming from: I have plenty of sinful behavior in my past and I regret having caused God the pain of my actions. I still suffer from some of the consequences of those actions.
But I no longer feel guilt or shame for them. I choose instead to believe the truth of the words in Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This is one of the greatest statements in the Bible. I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame? And it’s not just the Romans passage that gives me that confidence.
- Jesus came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18)
- God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12)
- Jesus set us free to have freedom (Gal. 5:1)
- God sweeps away our sins and remembers them no more (Isa. 43:25)
- God has taken our blood red sins and washed them white as snow (Isa. 1:18)
- The Lord will never charge us with our sins (Rom. 4:8)
- Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice once for all sins (Heb. 7:27)
There are a number of other scriptures in the same vein – that once we are in Christ Jesus, once we are following him as our Lord – all of our sins have not only been forgiven, they have been removed completely from our account. We are free and we are washed clean.
But, you may argue, you don’t know what I’ve done in my past. No, I don’t, but it doesn’t matter. Really.
What matters as a Christian is not what you have done but what Christ has done for you. No evil of your past can compare with the abundant life of your present or the glory of your future.
If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?
The difference is where you choose to turn your eyes and ears. Will you keep looking behind you at how you have failed, or will you focus on Christ and how he has overcome? Will you look at your weakness, or his power? Will you accept the lies of the enemy, or listen to the voice of the Great Shepherd calling you to the truth?
As a follower of Christ you no longer have to be captive to shame and guilt for your past actions. All you have to do is accept the truth that you are free and no longer under condemnation. If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?
The ancient mariner could never get over the guilt of killing that albatross, forced to wander the earth to tell his tale of woe. But as a Christian, your guilt has been removed. Christ died for that guilt so that you, unlike the ancient mariner, can live a life of victory.
Gary Kauffman is Bible teacher, Christian life coach and freelance writer/photographer living in North Augusta, South Carolina.
“What is God’s will for my life?”
That is one of the most frequently asked questions by Christians, often in a voice tinged with anguish, confusion, longing or fear – sometimes all of them at once. It is a legitimate question because as sincere Christians we want to honor God in all that we do. Knowing His will is an important part of that.
The question is often asked by young people in college or soon after graduation, when they realize that the real world awaits. Is it God’s will that I take a job in the secular world or that I go into full-time Christian work? And if so, is it God’s will that I attend a seminary or go onto the mission field? Is it God’s will that I marry that cute girl I saw in church but whose name I don’t even know yet?
But older people ask it as well, sometimes with even more angst because there are families, bills and prestige to consider. Is it God’s will that I go back to school? Is that job offer three states away God’s will for my life? Is it God’s will that I buy a motorcycle instead of car because of the better gas mileage? (Yes, I’ve actually heard that one.)
I’ve wrestled with the question myself and I’m sure you have too. Doing God’s will is important. So what if I told you a sure-fire way to determine God’s no-doubt-about-it will for your life? Interested?
OK, here’s how you do it – read the Bible.
Oh, did that disappoint you? After all, the Bible says nothing about going back to school, or job offers in other states, or marrying cute girls, and is especially silent on the motorcycle vs. car debate.
God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once.
But it is chock-full of passages about God’s will for your life. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
It is God’s will that you:
- Love God with all your heart, soul and strength. It says so in Deut. 6:5 and Jesus emphasized it in Matt. 22:37, Mark: 12:30 and Luke 10:27.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27
- Love one another as believers. John 15:12, 1 John 4:11-12
- Make disciples. Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:1, Heb. 13:7
- Be generous. Mal. 3:8-10, Luke 6:38, 1 Tim. 6:17-19
- Live in victory. John 10:10, John 16:33, 1 Cor. 15:57
- Keep His commands. John 14:15, 1 John 2:3
- Be thankful. 1 Thess. 5:18, Eph. 5:20
There are a number of other things that are God’s will as well, such as prayer, submitting to one another and being filled with the Spirit. If you are a married man, it is God’s will that you love your wife unconditionally as Christ loved the church; if you are a married woman, it is God’s will that you submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ.
Maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”
The point is, God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once. So before we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” when facing new situations, maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”
If we’re not already loving and being generous and living in victory, etc., then maybe we should concentrate more on those things before wondering about that out-of-state job or the cute nameless potential marriage partner. It’s not that God doesn’t care about those things, or that He doesn’t have a will for those areas of our lives. He does. But it seems rather self-serving to seek His will in the unknown if we’re not already living in His known will.
Plus, there’s a good chance that once we start following His will as outlined in His Word, the path of His will in those other situations, even regarding motorcycles and cars, will become much clearer.
One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride (Men: This is not a chick-flick movie. It has sword fights, great feats of strength and overcoming overwhelming odds to rescue a damsel in distress – plus it’s funny). One of the main characters in the movie is Inigo Montoya, a man obsessed with revenge.
When Inigo was a boy, his father was killed by a six-fingered man and he has spent most of his life training so that he can one day exact his revenge. He even has his introduction to the six-fingered man down pat:
“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
And (spoiler alert) he does just that. Once he has exacted his revenge, though, he is left with a conundrum because his entire identity had been tied up in one thing.
“Is very strange,” he marvels in his Spanish accent. “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”
Our identity, even as Christians, is almost always based on the work we do for a living. Yet we are many more things.
Many Americans are in the same situation about their identity, although they may not realize it. When you ask someone, “Who are you?” (or sing it, like The Who, “Who are you? Who, who?”) the person is likely to reply with something like this:
“I’m an office manager.”
“I’m a school teacher.”
“I’m a rock star (if you happen to ask a member of The Who).”
Our identity, even as Christians, is almost always based on the work we do for a living. Yet we are many more things. For example, I could answer the question, “I’m a husband,” or “I’m a father,” or “I’m a baseball fan.”
Still, my identity is not tied to my occupation or my marital status or my devotion to the New York Yankees. My identity is that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a child of God.
Paul wrote a lot about this identity. He said we are now citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), our old self was crucified and we now live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20), we were chosen for adoption into God’s family (Eph. 1:5), we are children of God (Ga. 3:26) and we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6). John adds that our new identity as God’s children is a result of God’s great love (1 John 3:1).
When you think about it, shouldn’t our identity be the same as our top priority in life?
This is obviously quite a bit better than even our noblest professions or relationship statuses. This new identity comes with some pretty good perks – a new abundant life on earth, co-heirs with Christ in his glorious inheritance and eternal life.
When you think about it, shouldn’t our identity be the same as our top priority in life? And when we answer the identity question with our job function, what does that say about our priorities? If we truly make following Christ our No. 1 priority, then our identity will first and foremost be that of being a Christ follower. (This works even if the question is, “What do you do?” You can answer, “I follow Christ.”)
I’ve even thought of a catchy way to phrase it a la Inigo Montoya: “Hello. My name is Child of God. You have been saved by grace. Prepare to live.”
After his resurrection and just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus came up with an interesting option for Christians. He said that if a select few people felt like it, if it wasn’t too much bother, they could tell people about him. This is called the Great Suggestion.
Um, really, no, it’s called the Great Commission and Jesus was hardly suggesting it as an option. He was commanding it, to all of his followers then and now. Yet today, many Christians treat his final words as a nice suggestion that somebody should be doing, as long as it isn’t them.
The Great Commission is found in Matt. 28:18-20, although frequently it’s listed as verses 19-20, and often only verse 19 is quoted. But it is actually verse 18 that is the key to understanding the rest of the Commission. Here’s what Jesus said:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
The very first thing Jesus states is that all authority has been given to him in heaven and earth. Not some authority, not just authority in heaven, but all authority in heaven and on earth – in other words, it’s all the authority there is, anywhere in the universe. No one has more authority than Jesus – not a police officer, not the president, not even your mom (sorry, Mom).
Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.
What does it mean when someone has authority over you? It means they have the right to tell you what they want to have done. Someone in authority, ideally, will be someone who understands the big picture, understands what needs to be done, how to do it, and can give you the order to do so. We have learned to obey authority – if the blue lights start flashing because you chose to ignore the speed limit sign, you’d better pull over. If your boss tells you to get a project done by a certain date, you’d better get it done by then.
Why? Because we have submitted ourselves to these people as having authority over us – and because there will be consequences if we don’t obey that authority. Run from the cops and eventually you’ll be tasered and thrown into prison. Ignore the boss’s instructions and you’re soon standing in the unemployment line.
Yet how do we – how do most Christians – respond to Christ’s authority? Do we say, well, Jesus said it and he has all authority so I’d better snap to it? Or do we say, cool suggestion, Jesus; somebody better get busy on that, and then look around the room to find someone who should be doing it?
Jesus isn’t just telling us that he has all authority in heaven and earth to brag about it. It’s not, “Hey, I got all authority from the Father. What’d you get?” He is telling us this for a reason, and the reason follows in verse 19, which begins with Therefore.
Now, anytime you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you have to ask yourself, what is it there for? Because what follows the therefore is based on what was said in the previous sentence or paragraph. In this case, Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.
And that command is to go and make disciples. There are two verbs that are connected here, “go” and “make.” Go means, of course, that you aren’t stationary. You aren’t sitting back waiting for these disciples to magically appear around you. It is an aggressive action on our part. But is that how we generally think of this process? I think most of us sit back, waiting for people to show up at our church and decide to become involved in the church activities. The closest we come to “go” is to occasionally invite someone to check out our church sometime.
So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group.
The second verb is make, and this is a modifier, describing the next word, disciples. Again, make is an aggressive action. Nothing is magically going to appear. It will take time and effort on our part. And notice what we are supposed to make – not more church members, not more people to sit in worship service, not even more people to lead Bible studies or sing on the worship team. The command is to make disciples.
For many years, this verse has been loosely and lightly interpreted as doing evangelism – simply telling people about the good news of Jesus and hoping they would attain salvation. But that is not what Jesus is commanding here. The Greek word for disciples is mathetes, meaning a student or committed learner. The two English words, make disciples, are actually summed up in one Greek word, matheteuo, which is in the imperative form in Greek – imperative meaning it is absolutely necessary, or a command. It also points to the words “make disciples” as the central focus of the sentence. The people to be made into disciples are every ethnos, or people group.
So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group. That hardly sounds like some passive action, or a suggestion.
But Jesus isn’t done yet. He goes on to describe what this disciple making will include. First, we will baptize these new believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then we will teach them. What we’ll teach them is to obey or observe everything he commanded, through his words while on earth and through his revelations to Paul and other writers of the New Testament. In Greek, the word commanded carries the connotation that we are aware of the purpose of the commands – in other words, we don’t just obey blindly, but we do so because we know the purposes behind them. Again, there is an all-inclusive word here – we are to obey everything he commanded; not just the things we like or we approve of, but everything he told us to do.
The magnitude of conveying everything Jesus commanded, including the purposes behind them, indicates more than a one-time contact with someone. It requires more than a casual relationship with someone. It is an ongoing teaching process, one that Jesus took three years to accomplish with his disciples. But many of the early disciples took longer – Silas and Barnabas spent years pouring into Paul, who then spent years pouring into Luke and Timothy and Titus and others.
But just making disciples wasn’t the end goal. The end goal is to make disciples who make more disciples. After all, Jesus told us to obey everything he commanded, and one of those commands is to make disciples. So our disciples will have to obey that command as well.
His final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.
Note also that making disciples is not listed among the gifts of the spirit. The gifts of the spirit are those special abilities that the Holy Spirit has endowed on some, but not all Christians. They are to be used together to build the body of the church. Among the gifts that some, but not all, Christians have are prophecy, teaching, hospitality, even evangelism. But discipleship isn’t listed because it is expected of all believers. It’s not something special endowed to just a few, but a command entrusted to all believers.
When Jesus came to the end of his time on earth, when it came time for him to say one last thing, to give one last command, to in essence to sum up everything he’d been saying all along, he chose to say this. It wasn’t to build big churches, to sing beautiful songs, to develop outstanding church programs, it wasn’t even to simply evangelize. No, his final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.
The question now is, will we accept Jesus’ authority? Do we believe that Jesus has the right to tell us what to do? If so, are we willing to take action? Are we willing to enter into the long, involved process of making disciples rather than sitting in church letting words wash over us?
Perhaps the better question is, What authority do we have that exceeds Jesus’ authority to not do what he has commanded?
In the classic movie The Princess Bride, kidnapping mastermind Vizzini frequently utters the word “Inconceivable,” even when he is presented with evidence that what is happening is, indeed, conceivable. Finally, Inigo Montoya says, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
I could echo Inigo’s words when it comes to the word stronghold as used by many Christians today. I frequently hear phrases like, “Fear of failure has always been my stronghold,” or “I have to get over the stronghold of my weight issue,” or “I have to break the devil’s strongholds on my life.”
The term is almost always used in the negative of someone or something having a strong hold on someone, synonymous with being bound in chains by it, or imprisoned by it. This has been a popular theme of some Christian speakers and authors. Addressing those areas of weakness in our life is important because they often keep us from living the full, abundant life Jesus promised.
However, if you use the word stronghold as described above, it does not mean what you think it means. In fact, it means the opposite.
If you are under attack, you want to go to a stronghold to stay safe.
A stronghold is a fortress, a refuge, a place of protection and safety. If you are under attack, you want to go to a stronghold to stay safe. It is a positive word.
Depending on which version of the Bible you’re using, stronghold appears between 47 and 66 times in the Bible – all but once in the Old Testament, where it always refers to a place of protection and safety. The lone reference in the New Testament is in 2 Cor. 10:4: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” The Greek word translated as strongholds is ochyromaton, which means fortress.
While this could be interpreted to mean breaking free of the chains that are binding us, it is clear from the context that Paul is encouraging believers to wage an offensive war against the enemy. Satan doesn’t have a stronghold on us (substitute the word fortress or refuge and see how silly it sounds), but he does have a fortress of lies and accusations he hides in. The resurrection of Christ, though, has given us a powerful offensive weapon to destroy the enemy’s place of safety.
In Matthew 16, Peter gives his great confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus replies that it is on the rock of this confession that he will build his church “and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”
Gates, of course, are part of a defense, part of protection. So what Jesus is implying here is that we as believers will be on the offensive against satan and his stronghold, and we will win. Jesus the Messiah will be our battering ram to raze satan’s fortress and leave him defenseless.
God can be and is our stronghold. The psalmists and prophets get it right when they repeatedly tell us this.
So it is wrong to say that your struggles with your weight are your stronghold. You could say that overeating is your stronghold, if that is what makes you feel safe in the face of attack. But your struggle cannot be a stronghold. Nor can the devil have a stronghold on you unless, again, he is where you find your sense of safety and protection.
However, God can be and is our stronghold. The psalmists and prophets get it right when they repeatedly tell us this. In Psalm 37, for example, David says, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.” The prophet Joel declares, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”
Satan does attack us at times, as do earthly bad guys, and when that happens we can retreat into the safety of God’s protection, a stronghold that can withstand even spiritual attacks. But we are also to use our salvation in Christ to go on the offensive against these attacks with the expectation of winning. As Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
When we take the offensive, satan’s stronghold will crumble in the face of the Word of God. To think anything else would be inconceivable.
Gary Kauffman is a writer, photographer and Bible teacher living in North Augusta, S.C.
Time can never mend
The careless whispers of a good friend
To the heart and mind – Careless Whisper
Back in 1984, the group Wham! (yes, with an exclamation point), featuring George Michael, had a huge hit with the song Careless Whisper. The song is basically about a man cheating on his wife or girlfriend, who apparently learned about it by overhearing a careless whisper to the new lover. It speaks about how much those careless words can damage a person’s heart and mind.
Of course, we’ve also long heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But at least according to one authority other than George Michael, careless words can have a long-lasting impact. And since that authority is Jesus, we would be wise to pay attention.
In Matthew 12:33-35, Jesus talks about fruit trees – a good tree can only produce good fruit, a bad tree can only produce bad fruit. The trees, of course, are us. Jesus goes on to say that we will speak what is in our hearts – good words can’t come from an evil heart.
Then in verses 36 and 37 he says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ESV)
The word translated as careless is the Greek word argon, which some versions translate as empty or idle, and can also mean lazy. So what does it mean to speak careless, empty, lazy words?
These words often hurt the person they’re spoken to – and, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t get a free pass just because you didn’t mean them to be hurtful.
In the context, we can infer that they are not good words – they come from a heart that is not right with God. These words may be blurted out without thought of their effect on others or be reactionary, angry responses based on another’s words or actions. These words often hurt the person they’re spoken to – and, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t get a free pass just because you didn’t mean them to be hurtful. That’s part of being careless and lazy – not taking the time to think about how your words will be perceived.
Paul had a lot to say about words as well. In Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 12, for example, he lists several areas of speech among unrighteous acts: Slander, deceit, quarreling, outbursts of anger, boasting and gossiping. He warns Timothy twice about not speaking with irreverent, empty words. And John, in 1 John, implies that love that is based on speech only rather than accompanied by action is empty.
On the other hand, Paul says our speech should be an example to other believers (1 Tim. 4:12) and should be full of grace, seasoned in salt (Col. 4:6), meaning it should be thought out with words that enhance others. We are to speak the truth in speech, Psalms and songs; we are to speak the gospel fearlessly and boldly; and we are to be quick to hear and slow to speak.
Our words will be used to either justify us or condemn us on the Day of Judgment.
With TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we are so surrounded by words that we become inured to their affect. They’re here for a moment and then vanish. But Jesus clearly says everything we say will have an eternal impact. Our words will be used to either justify us or condemn us on the Day of Judgment.
That angry remark you made to your spouse, the little white lie you told your parents, the flirtatious words to that cute new employee at work all may seem like innocent words, just words, that don’t mean anything. Except that Jesus said they do matter – a lot.
But, fortunately, so do the words of encouragement you spoke to your neighbor, the kind words you told your child, the loving words you expressed to your spouse. We just need to make sure we think before we speak.
In the song, George Michael’s careless whisper had a negative impact – he was left with no one to dance with. Jesus said that your words will determine who you’ll have as a dance partner for eternity.
The other day I read an interesting article about a neat little trick our brains do to us called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Before your eyes glaze over, let me explain this amazing brain ability.
The brain can actually rewire its neurons to help you remember things better and faster. If you think the same thoughts over and over, the brain starts grouping those neurons together to make it easier for you to access those thoughts. It’s part of the learning process that makes it easier, for example, for you recall the facts and processes you need to do your job well.
Here’s the bad part – the brain does the same thing even if we keep thinking negative thoughts. So if you complain a lot or are a worry wart, your brain helpfully starts grouping those neurons together. “You want to worry?” your brain asks. “Here, let me make it easier for you.”
The concept of neuroplasticity has only been around in the scientific/psychology realm for less than 70 years, and is just recently starting to be accepted as a modern discovery of how to help people move from negativity to a more positive outlook.
Since He designed our brains, God he knew they would tend get stuck in a rut of thinking the same wrong thoughts over and over.
Except the concept isn’t modern at all – God revealed it in Scripture thousands of years ago.
Since He designed our brains, God he knew they would tend get stuck in a rut of thinking the same wrong thoughts over and over. But the great thing about neuroplasticity is that works both ways – yes, it can make negative thoughts easier to access, but when we train it with positive thoughts, it also makes positive thoughts easier to reach. So God outlined plenty of encouragement and ways for us to turn neuroplasticity into a rut of correct thoughts.
For example, in Deut. 6:4 we have the Shema, later quoted by Jesus, which tells us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength. But it continues with a command that shows the importance of neuroplasticity in positive thoughts.
“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:6-9)
In other words, keep repeating God’s words over and over so that your brain reroutes the neurons to make them easy to recall.
This concept of using the brain’s innate ability is found throughout the Bible.
The more we think about God’s word and His character, the easier our brain will make it for us to keep thinking that way.
In Philippians 4, Paul instructs us to not worry about anything (don’t let negative thoughts dominate your mind so that they’re easy to recall). Instead, he tells us in Phil. 4:8, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”
In Romans 12:2, he instructs us to not be conformed to the world but instead “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Why? So that we may discern “what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
In the very first Psalm, we find this principle at work: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers. Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” The Psalmists frequently encourage meditating on God’s word and His character: “I will reflect on all you have done and meditate on your actions.” (Ps. 77:12)
So the more we think about God’s word and His character, the easier our brain will make it for us to keep thinking that way. It will allow us to do His will, to not be anxious or worry and to live a life that is an example to others. Thinking about God will become a self-perpetuating habit.
Neuroplasticity may seem like a recent breakthrough in the study of the brain science, but Bible readers have known about it for thousands of years. God has known about this little brain trick all along because He created it.
At most weddings I’ve attended, at some point the pastor or a friend reads a section of 1 Cor. 13, which is known colloquially as “The Love Chapter.” I’ve seen those verses on plaques or cross-stitch samplers hanging on the walls of people’s homes. We look at those words and think, “What a great example of married love.”
It is a great example of married love – but Paul wasn’t speaking of marriage at all when he wrote it. Paul spent chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians describing how the church works as a body and encouraging us to seek the gifts of the Spirit. All fantastic stuff, but he ends the chapter with “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”
So in chapter 13, we are looking at what Paul believes is an even better way to conduct our lives and our churches. The word translated “most excellent” in the NIV is the Greek word hyperbole, which has the connotation of going above and beyond.
The hyperbole or most excellent way to conduct ourselves is with love. In the first three verses Paul explains that anything we do, no matter how good the work is, even if it’s speaking in heavenly tongues, is worthless if it isn’t done in love. We can’t just create a checklist of do’s and don’ts and go down the list like a robot, marking them as done. Our attitude means everything. The works we do as followers of Christ are meaningful only when we do them from the heart.
For love, Paul used the Greek word agape, which most often refers to the active, unconditional love God has for us – and the same love we are to have for one another.
Jesus himself was adamant that the right attitude was essential to doing good works in his name. In Matt. 7:21-23, Jesus says that people will come to him proclaiming their good works, but if they weren’t done according to God’s will, he will drive those people away, calling them evildoers.
Verse 4 to the beginning of verse 8 in 1 Cor. 13 are those that most often make their way onto the cross-stitch samplers. For love, Paul used the Greek word agape, which most often refers to the active, unconditional love God has for us – and the same love we are to have for one another.
Here is a catalog of what love is (note that it isn’t what love does, but what it is): patient, kind, rejoices in the truth, endures, trusts, hopes, perseveres and never fails. Here’s what it isn’t: envious, boastful, proud, dishonoring, self-seeking, easily angered, a record keeper of wrongs and unrighteous.
Replace the word love or it in that passage with the pronoun I (or better yet, your actual name). How does that sound to you now?
Obviously, those are fantastic things to strive for in marriage. But are you also striving for it in your church? In your interactions with other believers? In your conduct among non-believers?
Here’s how you can do a gut check on how well you are living out the love of God: Replace the word love or it in that passage with the pronoun I (or better yet, your actual name). How does that sound to you now?
“I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I’m not boastful, I’m not proud or conceited, I don’t dishonor others, I’m not selfish, I’m not easily angered, I don’t keep a record of wrongs. I find no joy in unrighteousness but I rejoice in the truth. I endure, I always trust, I always hope, I always persevere, I never fail.”
Impossible? Of course it is, under our own power. But as believers in Christ, we now have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to make possible what we once couldn’t do. We still have to approach this intentionally, though, to keep striving for this kind of love. The more we work at it through the Spirit, the better we’ll get at it. Paul later implies that this is part of our maturing process as Christians – not maturing as a married couple, but in our everyday lives as followers of Christ.
Eventually all other good works will fade away but three things will always remain forever – faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love. This, Paul says, is the most excellent way to conduct our lives – at home, in church and in the world beyond. And, of course, in marriage as well. It goes above and beyond expectations. The key is to put love into action, not just frame it and hang it on the wall.
Our society has defined the word discipline to primarily mean something bad – a punishment for wrong action. But the word actually can – and possibly should – hold a positive meaning.
The word discipline comes from the Latin for instruction, and is related to the word disciple. A disciple is someone who decides to follow a certain teacher or set of teachings in an effort to make his or her life better and to make the lives of those around them better by becoming teachers or leaders themselves. The Disciples with a capital D were the ones who followed Christ and who in turn spread the Word, and developed more disciples to carry on their work. We’re able to read the Bible today and follow God through Christ because of the Disciples’ willingness to be taught. So being a disciple is a good thing.
Discipline is what a disciple does. While we see it today as punishment or at least an unpleasant form of correction, discipline is actually the act of committing oneself to a particular set of teachings, studies or course of action. A college major is a discipline. Athletes in training follow a discipline. Learning specifics for a job is a discipline.
Correction and punishment usually come from a lack of discipline. Lack of discipline can have negative consequences. If an athlete doesn’t stay disciplined, he runs the risk of not being able to compete, or not compete well, or even become injured (a boxer who doesn’t stay disciplined to do his footwork and defensive tactics will get punched in the head repeatedly until he is unconscious). So being disciplined means doing the things to avoid the punishment or negative consequences.
Discipline often means giving up things. Athletes give up being lazy, students give up free time to attend class, Christians give up following the world, etc. There are obviously certain things that can’t be done if a certain goal is to be obtained (which is why, for example, eating donuts while on a treadmill isn’t going to work for weight loss – gotta give up the pastry if one wants to shed the pounds).
Here’s the positive aspect of discipline – it gets you where you want to be.
The things given up aren’t necessarily bad. For example, there is nothing wrong with a student wanting to have fun and eat pizza with friends, but if that keeps him from the studies that will help him achieve his end goal, then he’ll need to give up the pepperoni party.
So on the surface, the fact that discipline can mean correction and giving up things (heads get punched, donuts go uneaten) does sound like it is a negative thing. But here’s the positive aspect of discipline – it gets you where you want to be. The whole point of discipline is that it helps you become a better person and/or to achieve a goal. When we stay disciplined in what we eat and how we exercise, we become stronger and slimmer. When we stay disciplined in how we spend our money, we have a bank account that grows fatter and/or we can buy more stuff we want. And when we stay disciplined in Bible study and prayer, we become more Christlike.
Here’s what the Bible has to say about it in Hebrews 12:11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
In other words, as Dave Ramsey might say, you live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later.
We want what we want now – or better, yesterday! Discipline takes time.
It’s a hard thing to do in our instant gratification world. We want what we want now – or better, yesterday! Discipline takes time. Discipline sometimes means failing and starting again. Discipline means patience. Discipline means building on yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Discipline means doing the same things over and over again with consistency.
Discipline is hard work, no doubt about it. That’s why training is often done in pairs or groups. It’s easier when you have the support and accountability of others (misery loves company, you know). They help you stay disciplined on the days you absolutely don’t feel like being disciplined.
And you don’t usually go through it on your own, but with an instructor or trainer, someone who will show you the way, be able to nudge you back on course and let you know when you’re getting sloppy with techniques (although a punch in the head will also be a reminder of that).
Of course, usually people have to go through more than one discipline at the same time. The classic example is the student-athlete, who has the twin disciplines of brains and brawn. Adults often have to simultaneously juggle disciplines in marriage, child-rearing, finance and job skills.
Attitude plays a key role, too. No, discipline isn’t pleasant as the writer of Hebrews says. Seriously, it means giving up donuts! The ones with sprinkles! But it seems that the people who succeed the most in achieving their end results are the ones who have learned to deal with the daily grind of discipline at least neutrally (i.e., don’t hate or complain) or in the best cases, find reasons and ways to enjoy it (maybe I could just eat the sprinkles…).
Painful or not, there is no doubt that the Bible says that discipline is a good thing. Discipline is needed in order to achieve wisdom. Wisdom is more valuable than gold or silver, more precious than rubies – and even more desirable than donuts with sprinkles.