Have you ever been hurt by someone speaking reckless lies about you? Maybe you made a mistake, and you've ran into the one person on earth who is positive they have the complete right to be your judge, jury, and executioner? Or, possibly, you've found that more people than you're comfortable with feel they have that right? Recently, I have heard several people in my life recall some memories that are a little painful. The pain wasn't physical, but strictly emotional. No one was struck; no brute force was applied. The only weapon used was the tongue of someone who had a heart full of things holding far less worth than that of love or compassion.
Luke 6:45 (ESV) says, “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The NIV is a little more direct: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
Words flowing from a sinful heart cause damage. These words can be decisively coupled together to form destructive statements that inflict far more damage to another fragile soul than a physical blow could ever deliver. Words are powerful, and they reveal the true intentions hidden not so deep inside of our heart...so frequently revealing an ugliness that delicately exists just beneath the surface of a friendly smile or a firm handshake. When that ugliness is aroused, the words produced can be very dangerous things.
Our call as disciples of Christ does not include the directives of arrogance, hatefulness, gossip, or the belittling of those who have made mistakes. At our very best, we all live lives full of errors, failures, and bad choices. It is for this reason that Christ had to drape Himself upon an instrument of torture...suffer and die a horrendous death...to pay for the cost that our sin and personal failures would bring into our life. For the child of God, those personal failures of sin have already been forgiven, yet we still see people who seek to reopen the case of forgiveness and deliberate a new verdict to suit their own opinion of justice...opinions held in the complete ignorance of the power of grace and mercy…opinions grounded in our sin nature…opinions that are unapologetically self-serving. It’s important to note that Jesus did not die on the cross in the defense of our opinions; He died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin. Let that fact temper our opinions and the words we speak relaying them.
Why does mankind seek to judge again that which Christ has already paid for on the cross?
The cross of Christ, the place where justice met grace, is dismantled in our life when we seek to be the judge, jury, and executioner of those who have made a mistake or crossed paths with our own very delicate opinions and personal agenda. It is not our place to demean or retry a persons worth or value following our awareness of a mistake or indiscretion in their life. And, particularly, we should certainly not seek to demean them simply because we hold a differing opinion or we fail to get our own way. It's a practice of throwing Christ off the throne of Lordship in our life, taking His rightful place as judge, and sentencing those who vex us to another crucifixion. We love driving nails through the worth and character of those we view in contempt of our plans.
The value of all men was accessed on the cross, as Jesus determined their worth to be great enough to die for. In the light of that sacrifice, why would we dare to entertain the self-serving notion that our opinion even matters? How pompous can we be in our dealings with those we are called to love, as we offer to them a forgiveness based solely on our own exclusive terms of outcome and judgement? When has God called us to execute the character of our fellow man, or define his worth before others, based off of our own opinions? Is the price of love and compassion so high that the shallowness of our Christian character can't afford it, or do we simply just love to pour salt into open wounds? Sadly, I believe our motives often exist in the shadows of simple meanness. We love to play the game of diminishing the worth and character of those we see as opponents to our own personal cause and agenda. Foolish. Dangerous. Stupid.
Our discipleship of those around us should be undertaken with a heart that is full of compassion. Our correction of bad behavior should be based on the truth found within God's word and not on satisfying our arrogant need to point out the failure of others...as if we live lives of perfection? He without sin, cast the first stone…
Consequently, I've thrown many stones in my life. Some have hit the mark and caused undeserved grief in the life of another. At the time, I felt like my objectives had been met. I felt a bigger person, possibly even better, because I had justified my own bad behavior by belittling another. I was foolish. I'm not entirely over that desire in my life, but I've done a lot of growing since I found that practice something acceptable within my own superficial walk with Christ. Thank God for His grace, His forgiveness, and His pursuit of me in spite of my sin through my own developing walk with the Lord. It's often a struggle.
We live around people who are prone to error. If you don't see that...look in the mirror. The person you see there is the one you should concentrate on. When I look in my own mirror, I see a very flawed man. If you don’t see your flaws, get a better mirror. Don’t overlook the log in your own eye...because I assure you it's there. (Matthew 7:3-5) We are all full of sin...everyone. It's important that we see others through the eyes of a Savior who loved them enough to die for them and their mistakes. Christ did not die to bring justification to our own reckless words concerning others. He died, in part, as an example to us in how to treat others. We should pay close attention to that example, and our words should fall within the shadow of the mercy and grace afforded us on Calvary.
Let us all be warned and respond accordingly in our life and our words...
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)
Again, Christ didn’t die on the cross in the defense of our shallow opinions. Too often our opinions turn into malignant words of hate and bitterness. We should be careful. What if Jesus loved us and forgave us with the same compassion in which we speak to, talk about, and judge each other? Words are powerful; they can be dangerous, and they can utterly destroy the life of another.
Whether we see bad behavior in another, someone has offended our own will, or we simply don't like another, we should first qualify our words with standards of God's own grace and mercy. Speak the truth in love, but be sure that it’s the truth. Any words spoken that are not grounded in truth have the ability to do great damage, specifically when spewed forth from a heart full of sin.
Just a reminder that we are called to serve God...not be God. Love each other, and be compassionate in your words spoken about others...specifically when they are spoken in the mirage of safety behind their back. Bad news, the flu, and gossip travels fast. When we don't control our words, we're often exposed. And, typically, our own malicious words do more to hurt us than we might realize.
I’ve just now finished up my lesson for small group in the morning. We’re in my favorite book of Scripture, James. I love this book, simply because of the blueprint of instruction that it contains. Basically, James is the outline for how Christians should live, interact with others, and define their character, a character which should be grounded in Christ. To me, reading James is like getting kicked in the mouth over and over again…and, I feel like that’s a great thing for the weak and rebellious follower of Christ that I can often be. There’s nothing like God speaking to you boldly. It’s not always pleasant, but it’s always instructional…especially in James. However, James is not the topic of this blog, so I digress. I apologize.
I had a lot of feedback on my blog yesterday regarding change, and I appreciate the messages. Thank you for the input, and without fail, we all seem to agree that change is inevitably hard at times, but God is relentlessly good all the time. I appreciate you sharing your stories with me, and your faith in God through changing and unstable circumstances.
The thought process of that blog post ended with the fact that God never changes; He should be our foundation, and, regardless of the rough and tumbled ride that change imposes on our lives, He should still receive the glory. That’s tough, but it’s truth.
Quickly this evening, let’s talk about why God imposes change on our lives. Why do people die? Why do friendship end? Why is the paradigm of our life in constant flux?
The answer: Because God is doing something new!
Most people embrace the old; they dislike change, and, thereby, they find it difficult to get overly excited about the possibility of something new entering their life. But God is a God of new beginnings, and He is a God who loves to unfold the beauty of His will to us in the uncomfortable medium of life-change. He’s certainly drug me kicking and screaming into His will on a number of very memorable occasions. I fought hard, and I lost. God’s will won out over my rebellion, and, in every instance, His will was much more pleasing than I could ever imagine! If we embrace it, the changes that God places into our life always, without fail, lead to another step up the ladder of His will. For God’s child, that step up can be hard, but it is always a learning step into another aspect of God’s perfect timing and plan.
Isaiah 43:19 says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
If we could rewrite the Bible under our terms, I’m fairly certain that, for some, this passage would read...
“See, I’m doing nothing new, so there’s no need to perceive anything whatsoever. Don't worry; sit back down in your recliner and rest, my beloved child, for I will never push you out of your comfort zone any farther that your fragile emotions can endure. So, be thankful, there’s no need for me to make a way in the wilderness, nor is there a need for any streams in the desert. Just relax in the comfortable ordinary life that I have ordained for you, because it’s my will that you never be pressed out of comfort zone. Go back to sleep.”
Ok, I may have gotten a little carried away with my own version of antithetical Scriptural transliteration, but I still don’t think I’m very far off base.
If many could have their way, their lives would never undergo any change whatsoever. Their faith would never be challenged, and they would live out a lifetime comfortably sleeping through Christian tradition and religious pomp and circumstance. Faith in God would be redefined as only faith that God exists, and faith in God’s power to provide in times of trouble would never be needed. But, sadly for some, we don’t serve that God. We serve a God who loves us beyond measure, and who desires for us to find His will so earnestly that He will push us far beyond the confines of our established comfort zones, in an all out effort to prove His worth and sovereignty to us.
Change happens because God is not a sedentary ruler. He is always active, and, more importantly, He is always in full knowledge of “where we are” versus “where we need to be.” Moreover, that knowledge catalyzes Him to act “upon” us and our circumstances in order to move us in a direction that is favorable to His will “for” us. Consequently, that is a direction that is favorable to us as well, although we often have trouble discerning the benefits at first.
Changes in our life are never without cause, and also, they never arrive lacking a divine intentionality. Whether it’s discipline by God (Him adjusting our course because we’re heading in the totally wrong direction), or determination by God (heading us in a new course because He has something new for us to do), change is always authored by a our heavenly Father who desires good things for us.
Ephesians 1:15-23 says, “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under His feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”
This whole verse is about change…specifically a change in perspective. Do you remember from my last blog the talk about us finding a stable perspective?
Paul is praying that God would “give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that (they) might know Him (God) better” – changing their knowledge of God and their trust in Him.
He prays that “the eyes of (their) heart might be enlightened in order that (they) may know the hope to which He (God) has called (them)” – changing their outlook and mindset on the future.
He prays that they would understand “the riches of His (God’s) glorious inheritance in His holy people” – a change in their knowledge of self-worth.
He prays that they would understand “His (God’s) incomparably great power for us who believe” – a change in their perception of empowerment.
I could discuss the intricacies of this verse for a while, but, know this…those same changes that Paul is praying for are changes that God often teaches us through paradigm shifts in our life. Those shifts/changes are always leading us to an opportunity for a greater understanding of God. When taken head on through faith, those changes always lead us to a renewed outlook and mindset regarding our future, because we understand that a good and loving God is steering our life towards the perfection of His will. God, working through those changes, should reflect to us that we are His inheritance, the inheritance of His kingdom. If He loves us enough to steer us towards His will on earth, how much greater will the rewards be in Heaven? And finally, understanding that we cannot stop change, and we can only journey through it in His power, we should feel empowered. God has not brought us to a change in our life to abandon us during the process; instead, He has brought us to this change to prove His power to us through it.
If God is doing something new, let Him do it unhindered!
Winston Churchill once said, “If you find yourself walking through hell, keep walking.”
I would say, "If you find yourself in the midst of change, keep praying to God, keep trusting in God, and keep walking towards God. The view from the other side will be fantastic!"
Walk confidently in the “new thing” that God is directing you towards.
Things change… There’s immense, irrefutable, and definitive truth found in those two simple words. When looking through the lens of our life, it might appear that we are traveling upside down on a very fast and very rough roller coaster. The ride may not always be comfortable, but the constantly changing landscape, often viewed from an inverted position, keeps the journey interesting. Seldom can we become really comfortable with any aspect of life, because it tends to alter course so frequently. Some of that change is good, and some of that change may fall way short of being good in our eyes. I don’t know that I’ve necessarily become accustomed to the often uncomfortable ride, but my toleration of it has increased over the years. Frankly, I’ve grown to expect change…and I’m to the point that I almost embrace it.
Looking back over my life, so many people that I would have, at one time or another, undoubtedly classified into the category of “lifelong friends” have changed into simple acquaintances…or even less. So, my friendships have changed, and most of my interests have changed as well. I’m no longer the avid golfer that I once was, and my bank account is better for it. Over the past fifteen years, the view from my front door has changed consistently…sadly, about every three years. It’s not always easy, but, at the end of the day, God has made certain that I am well traveled. Over time, my opinions have changed, honed and rationalized by years of experiences, both good and bad. I am not the same person that I was ten years ago, or five, or even three… Some of the differences are subtle, and some of them are much more profound. The constant in this life is that things inevitably change; people change; friends change; locations change, and it’s up to us to place it all in a stable perspective.
A friend of mine from high school unexpectedly lost her father yesterday evening. On October 14th of last year, I was very close to losing my own dad, due to heart failure. Many people today woke up realizing that their life would forever be altered because of the death of a loved one. Another close friend has a child who recently experienced a traumatic brain injury. Her life, as well as the life of her child and family, has changed forever. People die, health changes, jobs change, friendships change, and, as quickly as the seasons pass, life takes on another new course that’s very seldom under our complete control. We're simply along for the ride. Bring some snacks and a good helmet...
As we are squeezed by the instability of life’s often difficult path, we need a foundation.
I have embraced change as a fact of life, and I’ve come to realize that I can only effectively view this journey by grounding everything on one foundational perspective, and that perspective is God. You see, God is the only constant; He never changes.
Malachi 3:6 states, “I, the Lord, do not change…”
Hebrews 13:8 tell us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Robert Sterling wrote a song many years ago that was first recored by Janet Paschal.
It’s called “Jesus Will Still Be There.” It’s one of my top three favorite songs of all time, and the message it contains is a realization that I have come to find favorable to my own peace and stability when changes come.
The lyrics are profound…
Things change, plans fail
You look for love on a grander scale
Storms rise, hopes fade
and you place your bets on another day
When the going gets tough, when the ride's too rough
when you're just not sure enough
Jesus will still be there
His love will never change
Sure as a steady rain
Jesus will still be there
When no one else is true
He'll still be lovin' you
When it looks like you've lost it all
And you haven't got a prayer
Jesus will still be there
Time flies, hearts turn
a little bit wiser from lessons learned
But sometimes weakness wins
and you lose your foothold once again
When the going gets tough, when the ride's too rough
when you're just not sure enough
Changes in our life are assured. Life is seldom fair, friendships can be superficial and fleeting, health can diminish, etc…but, my friends, God is always there, and He’s unchanging and relentlessly in pursuit of us. Our world can become turned and twisted, and that contortion of life can cause us to lose focus on the one reality we need never forget…the reality that God is by our side to bring hope, healing, and stability within the wreckage that so often accompanies change.
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
– Isaiah 41:10 –
Sometimes, it can all just become too much. If you've never reached that point, then you may not be pursuing life with passion, but, if you have, then you will understand the heart's cry of the Psalmist, which is my prayer for you and me on this day...
“From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
– Psalm 61:2 –
And forever, let God receive the glory through the journey…regardless of how rough the ride may become.
"Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
– John 13:35 (NLT)
Have you ever really thought about that verse? Has it ever occurred to you that your love for your fellow man is the evidence of the lordship of Christ in your life? That cuts me pretty deep, on occasion…ok, daily. This verse bears a heavy weight, and we all should pay close attention.
Notice that it does not say “the love that you show to your fellow man.” Oh, if it were only that simple. Showing love to someone is cheaper and easier than actually possessing the real thing. Correct? We all know people who have an abundance of good works, who are heavily involved in ministry, who have open displays of love and worship, who smile a lot, and who relentlessly declare their love for God. These people appear to be wonderfully put together disciples of Christ, until their thinly veiled and extremely superficial Christlike facade falls off and shatters in the church parking lot…sometimes only a few feet from the front door of God’s house. At that point, the reality of their heart begins to speak a much different message than their previous words and actions have foretold.
Who are these people? We all know them, because, more often than should be the case, “they” are “us.”
Matthew 12:34 says, “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Just like the statement “You can’t hide your crazy” is true…you also can’t hide a heart full of sin and evil. Trust me; I have one; it can’t be done; I've tried.
There's a lot of wonderful things found within the narrative of Scripture. Epic stories of God's faithfulness fill each book. His provision, His discipline, His compassion, His mercy...all distinct reflections of the character of a God who, at His very core, is a God of love. Love is of utmost importance to God. Love is what held Jesus on the cross, and love is God’s distinctive plan for our lives. It would benefit us to know just how important it is.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”" – Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
If you’re trying to love someone, and you just can’t seem to bring yourself to that level of emotional and spiritual sincerity towards them, then pray for God to soften your heart toward them. At least you’re moving in the right direction. If you have an outright hatred in your heart towards another, then understand that God is playing absolutely no role whatsoever in that decision. And, ultimately, understand that God sees us from the inside out. I Samuel 16:7 tell us, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
The insincere outward displays of love that we often recklessly throw on the table, in an attempt to convince God and the world that we are sterling top-tier examples of Christ, fall short of the marker of a true disciple of Christ found in John 13:35. God knows our motives and the genuineness of love we possess, and, by the truth found in Matthew 12:34, we will, to our great dismay, find that others will also come to that same knowledge. Consequently, we can’t hide our “loveless” heart towards others, a heart not reflective of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
Today is a new day. We will all be faced with many opportunities. Be careful; some of those opportunities will be disguised as problems. Many of those opportunities will exist in interactions with difficult people. They may even cause you a little frustration and grief. Or, maybe, they will cause you an immense amount of frustration and grief. Either way, expect some of that today, and be prepared to respond with a heart full of love.
Life is a compilation of very distinctive moments, and we have the power to engage those moments, and the people we encounter through those moments, in any way that we choose. We are seldom in complete control of the discourse of a particular interaction with someone, nor are we in complete control of the direction that particular conversation will take, but we are in complete control of our response to what occurs within that conversation. In the things that we can control…choose to love.
There is nothing that releases the power of God in your life faster than quick and deliberate obedience to His commands, and He has commanded us to love one another, regardless of opinion, politics, or our SEC team affiliation (and their subsequent win/loss record at seasons end). A genuine love for our fellow man is a marker that Christ legitimately dwells within us. When we allow Christ to be Lord, we love more freely and with greater authenticity. When we choose to seat ourselves on the throne, it is our flesh nature which prevails and exposes the disability shared by all mankind…sin. Don’t strive for superficial and fake representations of love to others; instead, strive to love others as brothers and sisters…co-creations of a God who views all men through the eyes and the purposely shed blood of a loving Savior.
Today, be Jesus to your world, and choose the path that is a reflection of Christ's sincere response to you. Choose to genuinely love.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!