GOD–Almighty, Bountiful, Compassionate, Deliverer, Eternal, Faithful, Glorious, Holy, Incomprehensible, Just, Kind, Loving, Merciful, Noble, Omnipresent, Perfect, Quick to listen, Redeemer, Sovereign, Trustworthy, Unchanging, Victorious, Wise, EXcellent, Yahweh, Zealous. Father, let me fix my eyes, my mind, my soul, on YOU. Let me see you; let me stay close by you and be true to you. Let me reflect you and share your glory today.
LOVES–Adores, Blesses, Cares, Delights, Encourages, Favors, Gives, Holds, Intercedes, Justifies, Knows, Listens, Ministers, Nears, Ordains, Protects, Quiets, Reveals, Sanctifies, Treasures, Understands, Values, Watches, EXhorts, Yearns, Zeroes in… Jesus, your love for me is beyond anything I can imagine. I don’t understand it, I don’t deserve it, and I can’t be separated from it. It hems me in and holds me close– even when I don’t see it. I thank you and praise you for BEING love; for showing love; for sending your Son; for showering me with your mercy; for showing me how to share your love with others.
YOU. No long alphabet list– just let that sink in. God LOVES you. He adores and pursues YOU. He wants to spend an eternity with YOU– helping you become the YOU you were always created to be! Lord, let whoever may read this to know and experience the power of Your love, today. May they be wrapped in Your mercy and grace. May they be strengthened and encouraged in the warmth of Your invitation to COME to You.
Children can be very inventive when finding ways to hurt other children. Name-calling, shunning, shaming, or just pushing, shoving, and tripping each other on the playground. As parents, teachers, and concerned adults, we should be working to instill compassion and discipline in our children– compassion to see how such actions and words hurt, and discipline to keep them from speaking and acting out of emotion and carelessness. We also spend time wiping away the tears and comforting those children who have been bullied and hurt by their peers. And we teach them sayings like, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words (or names) can never hurt me.” Such sayings mean well, but they are not entirely true. Words and names can hurt. They DO hurt. And they don’t just hurt the person who is the target of such words. They hurt the speaker and everyone who lets the words fall unanswered, or who picks up the words to hurt someone else.
Christians should stand out as beacons of light and love. Yet many of us are guilty of throwing “sticks and stones” every bit as hurtful and thoughtless as those hurled by playground bullies.
A few years ago, I read with some shock a hate-filled article from a Christian woman who was urging all her Christian friends to boycott “Operation Christmas Child”, a group sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, a charitable organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of the famous Evangelist, Billy Graham. Every year, Operation Christmas Child sends out millions of shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts, meant for some of the poorest children around the world– orphans, refugees, and those in extreme poverty. But according to this woman, Operation Christmas Child was a hate-filled organization, spreading racism and condescension by sending “white” “western” baubles meant to taunt the recipients–useless articles like dolls and toy cars and color books with crayons. She also called out Mr. Graham as a racist, homophobic, hate-monger who should be — well she did stop short of asking for his assassination, but not by much. (I’m not here to champion Mr. Graham. But she gave no examples of racism and homophobia, nor did she give Mr. Graham any chance to defend his organization.)
Her proposal was that anyone wishing to help someone in a “third-world” country should instead send their donations to a group that provides livestock– goats and chickens–to struggling farmers and families in developing countries, giving them the means to be self-sufficient, independent, and providing practical help instead of “frivolous toys”.
I spent hours crafting a response to this woman’s article– one I later deleted without sending. I believe her proposal came from a heart that sincerely wanted to help others. And I think her hatred and disgust for Operation Christmas Child was based on criticisms she felt were warranted. But her article left me in tears for three reasons:
It was hateful and filled with the kind of name-calling and condemnation that Christians should not just avoid, but mend and correct with love and grace. That doesn’t mean that we cannot say anything negative about other Christians or criticize their actions if they seem inconsistent with the Gospel. But there are Biblical guidelines for doing so.
Second, the article was divisive. She did not allow that anything about Operation Christmas Child could be done with a loving motive or a positive outcome. Because she found issue with the founder and with the design of the boxes and certain contents, she felt justified in condemning everything and everyone connected with it. And because she had found a solution that made her feel virtuous, she wanted every Christian to follow suit.
Finally, I believed her article was driven primarily by the passing emotions of rage and disgust self-righteousness, instead of a desire to do whatever she could to honor God and help those He loves. In fact, the majority of those living in poverty around the world (and thus subject to the goals of the charities she contrasted) live in urban areas–often they are homeless or live in crowded refugee camps or sprawling housing complexes. Sending livestock can certainly help farms or families who have land and food available to tend them. It is a helpful and loving gift to send a goat to a family or small village–it is however, impractical to send a pair of chickens to someone living in a high rise in Nairobi, and her advocacy shows a “western”, “white” naivete that rivals the one she sees in dolls and color books and caricatures printed on the boxes used to send them.
My response was no better–it pointed out her faults (as I saw them), and was designed to make her feel foolish and little and “wrong”. And just because I deleted it then, I obviously have not forgotten the incident. But I bring it up now because I see in it an ongoing problem—one to which I am not immune, even as (or maybe especially as) a Christian. It is very easy, especially with social media, to speak “in the moment”– and often in the emotion of the moment. We react, rebuke, chime in with our “two cents,” and let our tongues (and fingertips) destroy when they should be building up.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” Proverbs 25:11
So, for this new year, am I hurling sticks and stones, as I sneer at those with whom I disagree? Am I like the playground bully, finding delight in calling others names, or laughing at their expense? Am I tearing down other Christians because I hear others being critical? Or am I using my tongue (and my keyboard) to bless others? Do I speak the truth (harsh as it sometimes is) with love and grace, or with pride and condescension? Do I listen more than I speak? Would I want Jesus to read my Facebook posts or hear my conversations? (Because He DOES!) Does He speak through me?
May His words take up residence in our hearts and spill out of our mouths and fingertips today!
I love words. But sometimes, it can be frustrating to find just the right word to express a complex idea. I’m sure the Apostle John felt the struggle as he began writing his Gospel account of the life of Christ. How can mere words describe the arrival of GOD– creator and ruler of the universe– into a darkened and sin-filled world, come to live among and serve the very lost souls He would die to save? John, of all the Gospel writers, uses the most visual metaphors to describe the Advent of Jesus (many of which he heard from the lips of Christ Himself)– He was the “Light of the World”, the “Bread of Life”, the “Living Water,” the “Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and the “Good Shepherd.”
But right away, the phrase John uses to talk about the “Light of the Life” causes modern English scholars confusion. John says that the light “shineth”, or “shines” in the darkness and the darkness “comprehended” (or apprehended, or understood, or overcame) it not. The phrase is simply too big for one word, or idea. The Greek word comes closer to expressing a dual idea, but even it can’t wrap up the totality of such an event.
Consider–This Jesus, one with God from the beginning, and the “Word” of creation, spoke light into existence. Where there was darkness, He exploded– light upon light– stars and galaxies of light! Even on the darkest night we will ever know, there are millions of lights spread out across the vastness of space, including our own sun, even unseen on the other side of the planet. Darkness can never “comprehend”, let alone “overcome” the existence of light in our world.
Moreover, when we see physical light piercing the darkness, we are aware of it, but we rarely comprehend, or understand it. Whether we are blinded by a flash of light, or compelled to seek out a single hint of light in a darkened tunnel, it is not obvious at first glance (and sometimes even after diligent study) the source or scope of the light. It may be a candle, or a set of glaring headlights, or the glint of reflected light in a mirror. It could be a distant star, a satellite, or a street light shrouded in fog.
But in a spiritual sense, it is even more true that “Light has come into the world” (John 3:19), and it “shines” in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood, or apprehended, or overcome it. Jesus came as an infant to His own chosen people, people who were longing for the advent of their Messiah. But few of them recognized Him. They didn’t understand– even Jesus’ closest friends didn’t “get it” at first. And some of them tried their best to “overcome” and “apprehend” the Gospel message– zealous religious leaders like Saul tried to stop the “light” of Jesus’ message and all those who trusted in it. Saul had to be “blinded” by a light on his way to Damascus, so that he could finally “see” Christ (Acts 9).
And the light is still shining in the darkness– as followers of Christ, we are to reflect God’s love and grace to those around us. Many of them will not comprehend; many will try to overcome or even destroy the message we bring. Our light may seem small and insignificant. It may seem like we are surrounded by the vast darkness of space, or shrouded in fog. But the light of Christ cannot be extinguished, or rationalized out of existence, or contained. All the words ever spoken, written, or thought throughout all the ages of mankind cannot compare to the power of God’s “Word”, who spoke worlds into being in an instant, and yet entered His own creation with a soft cry of an infant in the middle of a dark night so long ago.
This is the “little light of mine”, and of yours if you are a follower of Christ. It pierces through the darkness of despair, hatred, addiction, injustice, greed, oppression, malice, rebellion, war, grief, loss, disease, and sin.
This season, as we anticipate the Advent, let us remember the greatness of the tiniest of lights, and the triumph of that light over the vast darkness. It is easy to get distracted by the twinkling of a thousand artificial and commercial lights this season, or blinded by the soot and smog and clouds of gloom and pain that surrounds us. It’s so important that we keep shining; continue reflecting the true light that only comes from the “Light of the World”
“This little Light of mine–I’m gonna let it shine! This little Light of mine– I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine!”
I once saw a cartoon involving a person holding a sign that read, “Bad spellers of the world: UNTIE!” Part of what makes the joke funny (at least to a pun-lover like me) is that all the correct letters are there–just two letters are transposed–but the meanings are completely different. And, of course, the bad speller misspelled the most important word. Instead of asking for unity, the sign invites potential destruction and chaos!
There is a serious side to this cartoon, however. Just like the sign-bearer, we often carry a message that is vastly different from what we mean to project– it may look similar or close to what we intend; it may even go unnoticed at first–but eventually, it will make us look foolish and actually call more attention to our faults and failures.
As Christians, we often pray for unity– we talk about it, we long for it, and we call out for it. But what are we DOING to promote unity and love within the Church? I recently ended my subscription to an on-line forum with articles about Christian Living. I wanted to support discussion, encouragement, and even constructive criticism among the Christian community. But more and more, I found the articles and discussions were not constructive; they were divisive, sarcastic, boastful, and condescending to other believers based on how they worshiped– the kind of songs they sang, or the lighting and seating in their sanctuary, whether they wore suits and dresses or ripped jeans and flip flops, whether they collected offerings or had a diverse worship team. There was no effort to listen or present Biblical principals that might help congregations find a balanced way to discuss differences in worship styles. There was no invitation for consensus or inclusion; no discussion of doctrinal principles or lasting truths that must be upheld. It was a forum for bickering, snide commentary, complaints, and virtue-signaling from self-righteous people taking pot-shots at other self-righteous people. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not unsubscribe earlier–I sent in my own snide comments, my own self-justifying judgments of others.
The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) includes Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control– it doesn’t include cleverness, arrogance, criticism, or divisiveness!
4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
It is not difficult to let our thoughts and emotions lead us to react badly– to untie, rather than unite. Here are several handy questions to ask BEFORE we grab up our “misspelled” sign and march around spreading dis-unity and chaos:
If Jesus were listening to me or reading my posts– and He IS!–would He agree? Would He “like” or “share” this? Would I send it to Him? Would I say this to His face?
Have I really thought about what this says to my family? My friends? My neighbors? My enemies? My Pastor? My co-workers? Strangers? Will it bring people together? Or will it force people to take sides? (There are times when we all need to be challenged to take sides on important issues, but is this one of them?)
There are some great posters in elementary schools that use the acronym to evaluate social media, but it works equally well for gossip, news articles, or any information or opinion that we wish to pass along– THINK–T: is it True? Have you checked the facts, dates, assertions, etc., to see if they are valid? H–is it Helpful? Is this good information? Am I helping people find a solution to a problem, or offering encouragement? I–is it Inspiring/Important? Am I wasting time passing on information or opinion just because I find it clever or entertaining? Or will this information inspire and build people up?Are lives in jeopardy if I don’t pass this information along or if I don’t comment? N–is it Necessary? Does this information or opinion need to be shared? With everyone? By me? Now? Finally, K–is it Kind? Even if it is “true” and “helpful”, etc., it can be abrasive, hurtful, or condescending in tone. Being “right” can still be “wrong” when it comes to unity and encouragement.
Lord, help me to speak and act in ways that bring unity. Help me reflect the Grace and Peace that comes from You. Let my words and deeds produce Spiritual Fruit that lasts. May I seek to build up others, not tear them down or “untie” relationships that You want to flourish.
I spent the day with my granddaughter today. We went to the bakery, the bank, the grocery, and the library. Some days we visit the post office or a local cafe. We live downtown, so we walk everywhere, and say hello to people we meet along the way. At each stop, we thank the people behind the counter or desk. My granddaughter is learning manners– how to be polite in public. Her parents do a wonderful job of this, and it’s very easy for me to bask in the proud glow of people remarking on how cute and polite and engaging she is. (I may be a little biased, but they DO say such things…)
Years ago, when I worked at a library, there were always families who came in and practiced good manners– “Please” and “Thank You,” “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” and “May I?” Often, the children were prompted, especially when they were young. Sometimes, they didn’t understand why they were being told to say such things. A couple of times, I had other parents roll their eyes and comment negatively on such practices. “They don’t even understand what they’re saying.” “I’ll bet they don’t say any of those things at home– what hypocrites. They’re just trying to make people think they’re better than everybody else.” “You shouldn’t force kids to say such things. They’ll just resent you for it later.”
There are actually parenting articles about forcing children to say “I’m sorry.” They are well-intentioned, and some are helpful about explaining what the issues are (here’s a link to one of the articles) . Other articles advise parents not to prompt children to say, “Thank You.” (Here’s another link.) I don’t disagree with these authors. In fact, I think they make a valid point about teaching our kids “shallow” manners and neglecting the deeper values of gratitude and empathy. But I think children need both.
Manners (especially as they reflect deeper values) are important. We live in a society where manners are becoming relics–laughable reminders of a quaint culture we have long outgrown. There are pockets of the country (and the larger world) where politeness is almost an obsession. It is not polite or helpful to be facetiously “nice” or sarcastically “nice”. But what happens when we no longer dare to show gratitude or empathy without inviting ridicule and contempt? What happens when saying “Please” and “Thank you” make you a target for mockery? When and how did this happen to our culture?
With all due respect to the recent spate of articles, I think something gets lost in the hyperbolic headlines and fascination with “feelings”–manners should originate, not with feelings, but with the acknowledgement of some basic truths:
I am not the center of the universe!
Other people– all other people–have value, worth, and dignity.
I need other people, and they need me–I am not an island.
There is a God who is kind, forgiving, loving, and wise.
I am polite to others, not because I feel “nice”, but because I recognize that God created all people; He loves us all equally, and I have a duty to treat others with dignity, respect, and kindness– even if I don’t “feel” it; even if they don’t respond in kind. Do I always remember and acknowledge this, even as an adult? Sadly, no. But I practice politeness as a discipline and a reminder that this should be so. I teach it for the same reason. And the amazing thing is that it makes a huge difference. Maybe not in the moment, with all my emotions running wild…but in the quiet aftermath of knowing that I said “Thank you” instead of the hurtful and sarcastic comment. I said “I’m sorry” instead of holding on to my pride and bitterness. And I may never know the difference it made to the harried waitress, or lonely shopper, or tired mechanic to hear two or three kind words– “Thank You” (You are noticed– you matter). “I’m so sorry” (you have dignity–you are worthy of kindness) “Please” (you have value–your time, skill, or service is special)
I’m not a “nice” person– I am often hateful and stubborn and impatient. But God has been abundantly gracious and merciful to me when I don’t deserve it. Being polite is such a small thing in light of God’s eternal and boundless love toward us.
Words have weight– I’m not talking about thousand-page novels or multi-syllable legalese terms– some words simply weigh heavier on the mind and heart than others. Some everyday words spill out like dust motes carried on a light breeze. They hang suspended in midair, without any set purpose or destination, and finally settle, forgotten, until someone sweeps them away. Other words explode, sending shards and pellets at unwary targets. Some words thunder like falling rocks in an avalanche of guilt or anger or hatred. And some rare and precious words have the weight of a quilt or a hug, or an arm lifting you up when you are falling.
One of the amazing things about prayer is that as we pour out our words before the Savior, the weight of our words is lifted off our hearts and minds and given to him to carry– the weight of the guilt, the weight of worry, the weight of grief, the weight of anger, the weight of hurt. Not only does God take on the weight of our words (and our pain and guilt), but he makes sense of it all– maybe not instantly, or in the way we imagine– but he brings order and goodness out of our chaos and burden.
And those everyday words swirling around like dust fall into the light, where they shine like gold dust in His presence. When we bring everything to God, he transforms it; he transforms us.
Our words have weight in prayer. And our words to others have weight, as well. Today, I want to weigh my words carefully. Are my words burdening others, or helping them lift a load of care? If I had to carry the weight of my words– my criticisms and clever put-downs, my accusations and angry tantrums, my bragging and comparisons– would I be dragging them behind me with joy and pride? What if, instead, my words were filled with the weight of shared laughter, encouragement, hope, and compassion? What if my words held the weight of truth and kindness and peace?
The world is filled with language–there are well over 5,000 recognized languages and dialects around the globe. And within each language are thousands upon thousands of words– nouns and verb forms and adjectives; names and even grunts and sighs and “clicks” that vary from language group to language group.
In spite of this, we often find ourselves “speechless”– unable to find a word or sound that adequately communicates our thoughts or feelings in the moment. We stammer or sigh, gesture, or scream– but the words either don’t come or they don’t exist.
God knows and understands our innermost heart– with or without words. The Apostle Paul refers to this in Romans, chapter 8, when he talks about the Spirit interceding for us with groans that words cannot express (v. 26). And it’s not always groaning– sometimes there are no words for our joy– only dancing or tears of gladness. Sometimes, there are wails and cries that come straight from our broken hearts. Sometimes, our excited thoughts come so fast that we cannot form words and sounds to keep up.
Prayer isn’t always about words– carefully drafted lists of requests or thank-you’s for our blessings–sometimes prayer is a spontaneous gush of sound or movement; sometimes, it is an intense stillness and profound silence, such that your heartbeat is deafening and the very air sings in your ears. Sometimes, it is the eruption of pain and guilt, regret and despair–the sound of your soul being pulled up through your throat and ripped almost in two. And sometimes, miraculously, it is the overwhelming presence of God in all of his Holiness, Splendor, and Might that defies any human utterance, but draws out pure praise, unfiltered by language!
15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Praise is an essential part of prayer– God is worthy of our continual praise and worship. He is eternally good and thoroughly righteous; all-powerful and all-wise. The author of Hebrews reminds us that we are to offer a sacrifice of praise–continually– to God.
This is more than just a simple “Praise the Lord” uttered when we are at church or surrounded by fellow believers. A “sacrifice” of praise implies more than just a gift or even an acknowledgement of God’s worthiness and majesty. It implies cost, and hardship; a giving up of something precious in the act of worship.
Sometimes, the sacrifice is small–giving up our right to take credit for God’s mercies; being thankful (instead of jealous) of our neighbor’s success. Other times, the sacrifice is painful– praising God in the aftermath of a daughter’s rape, or a spouse’s betrayal, or acknowledging God’s goodness after a diagnosis of cancer or dementia.
God isn’t looking for false and empty worship–He wants us to be real. Sometimes, the sacrifice isn’t eloquent, polished, or “pretty”; it comes with tears, tormenting questions, and anguish. Sacrifices are poured out, broken, or burned up– dreams that have been dashed, hopes and plans that have been abandoned, heartaches that crush the soul.
God wants these sacrifices– but not because He is a cruel God who wants to see us crushed and hopeless. God wants these sacrifices because only when we are ready to put them on the altar can He make the exchange– Beauty for ashes; eternal hope for temporary dreams; trust and security for our doubts and fears.
In the same verse (Hebrews 13:15), the author describes the sacrifice of praise as the “fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” The Hebrews to whom he was writing were making a huge sacrifice in just uttering the name of Jesus. They were beset on all sides– from the Jews who did not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah; to the Romans who were using them as scapegoats for troubles within their Empire. In the midst of their troubles, God did not ask them to slaughter their enemies, or to create a separate society and live only to themselves. He didn’t ask for impossible deeds of daring–though many endured persecution and became martyrs for the Cross of Christ. God asked for the sacrifice of praise. God’s ways are not our ways– his weapons are not our weapons, and his words are not our words– God’s words are more powerful than any weapon or plan that we could ever imagine.
The practice of praying the various names of God and titles of Jesus and the Holy Spirit– Almighty, Father, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Counselor, I AM, Savior, Redeemer, etc.–is the essence of praise. In times of trouble, God’s attributes may seem hidden, but when we acknowledge what we do not see, we are harvesting the fruit of our faith and putting it on the altar.
Stand back– God has been known to set both the sacrifice and the altar on fire!
Every once in a while, I like to check an app that counts the words I use on Facebook. The end result is a cloud full of words that people see when they read my posts. (You can see my most recent one above.)
Sometimes, I like the cloud– I love to see it filled with words like Love, People, God, Prayer, Joy, Peace, Thankful, etc. I’d like to think that this is how I always look and sound. Of course it isn’t. I don’t always speak encouragement and love on people. Sometimes, I complain and rehearse negative self-talk, or I explode and rant about bad drivers, rude customers, constant bills, and more. Checking on my word count may not keep me from using negative words altogether, but it does show me patterns I may not be seeing or hearing on my own or from my friends.
My prayer life acts in this same way–especially as I journal about my prayers. I can look back through my prayer journal, and see patterns in prayer requests, notes, and even answers to prayer. Sometimes, I see patterns of struggle–desperation, need, frustration. Sometimes, the pattern is steady; other times it is a roller coaster of ups and downs.
It’s important to spend a little time periodically getting feedback like this. Why? Because what we actually say (and pray) may be very different from what we think we have said. Jesus was very careful about words:
Matthew 12:35-37English Standard Version (ESV)
35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Mark 10:17-18English Standard Version (ESV)
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
Paul is also careful to distinguish between words:
Romans 5:7-8English Standard Version (ESV)
7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I include the last two examples because they both refer to “Good” people. I want people to see God’s goodness in me. But idle or careless words and habits can show up in my thought life, my prayer life, my on-line life, and my face-to-face conversations. In attempting to show how “good” I am (self-righteousness), or how clever I am (even at someone else’s expense), or how__________________________________ (daring, popular, hard-working…you get the idea) I am, it compromises all that I want my life to say about God, and all that He is waiting to say through me.
Words matter– whether in praying or blogging or commenting on someone else’s post. I pray that I am making mine count!