Category Archives: Communication

Teachers, watch your words

shhh“If you your lips would keep from slips, five things observe with care: Of whom you speak, to whom you speak, and how, and when, and where.”

This clever little rhyme, along with myriads of other pithy statements, underscores the need for us to carefully guard the words that come out of our mouths.

In WWII America propagandists would warn, “Loose lips sink ships” and in youth group settings pastors often remind their students that “a word is like toothpaste—once expelled you can never get it back in the tube.”

Despite these catchy reminders; however, it can still be so difficult for us humans to truly manage our speech.

I was once in a class with a respected, older pastor and he began his lecture by stating, “I never say anything I don’t mean exactly.” I accidentally laughed out loud when he made the statement because I thought he was trying to be funny—who never says anything that they don’t mean exactly? But he was serious. He knew firsthand how ruinous ill-timed or ill-placed words can be, and he also knew that the Bible gives a special warning to those of us who would presume to be teachers.

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James then goes on to advocate prudence in speech, making his emphasis clear: people whose ministry is words will be held more strictly accountable for their words.

We all need to watch our words because they always come back to haunt us. What gets whispered in the dark inevitably finds the light of day. Additionally none of us want our loved ones to bear scars from our regrettable speech—rather, we want to heal and build up, always leveraging the weight of our words well. This becomes even more important when we have been entrusted with a ministry of words.

If you are a teacher, pastor, counselor, writer, parent, or coach, please be careful with your words. They are weightier than you think. People will believe what you say, and your words will either produce life-giving, grace-infused fruit or poisoned fruit that only troubles your hearers.

Angrier than we need to be

engine-lightAre you an angry person?

Amid all of the potential issues that we humans can grapple with, is anger near the top of your list? I certainly have my share of issues, but anger isn’t usually one of them. Overall I’m pretty patient and laid back—except for those times when merging drivers try to sneak past me on the freeway shoulder and then cut in front of me…or when drivers are driving too slow…or when today’s aggressive political culture starts infecting me…and then I realize that I’m not quite as anger-free as I like to think I am.

I’m actually quite a bit angrier than I usually admit. I’m angry about more things than I realize, and when I feel the angry I probably feel more of it than is warranted.

What should I do with my anger? What should you do with yours?

The Bible says, “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) so there is certainly a place for “righteous” anger, but how do I know if my anger is righteous or not? How do I know if my anger is justified or not? Anger isn’t something I choose to feel—it just emerges in me—so what do I do with it?

Perhaps a helpful metaphor could be the imagery of your car’s dashboard. Anger is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. The light itself is neither right nor wrong; it is simply an indicator of a deeper issue. Yes, your oil light may be blinking but the issue is not the light it’s the lack of oil in your car. So too with us, our emotions of anger are indicators of a deeper concern.

Perhaps we are reacting to injustice…perhaps we are defensive for another human being…perhaps a situation is being poorly or dangerously handled in front of us…or perhaps we are just being selfish, and we are angry at whatever is interrupting our way.

Our anger must be judged, that’s the first step to dealing with it appropriately. We need to identify whether the underlying issue is valid or not. Then based on our assessment—valid or invalid—we respond appropriately. Anger can guide us to justice and relational repair, or it can fuel selfish, self-destructive patterns. Let’s follow it to the deeper issues and then harness it for our good.

And while we’re at it, let’s please stop driving slower than the flow of traffic on the freeway!

Satan’s favorite babysitter

under-my-umbrellaSelf-pity is Satan’s favorite babysitter. At least that’s what my pastor used to say when I was growing up, and now that I’m a grown man with a few years of experience under my belt I can conclusively say that he was right.

Self-pity—with its accompanying self-loathing and victim mentality—has NEVER helped me get ahead in life.

I have certainly been filled with self-pity before, and I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about how unfairly and unjustly I was being treated. And I was right—I was being treated unfairly, and it was wrong. However, it still didn’t help me. Whenever I’ve made self-pity my friend, it has only pulled me down deeper into anger, defeat, and despair.

I think my pastor called self-pity “Satan’s babysitter” because once we start indulging in it we take ourselves out of commission and Satan can simply walk away. We don’t need any external spiritual warfare to oppress our beleaguered minds; we do a fine job of it on our own. Our own bitter rumination locks us into a state of anxious inactivity.

You and I are too big for babysitters, especially destructive ones like self-pity. It is true that sometimes we are wronged, and the wounds from those wrongs can really hurt. In some ways we probably have a legitimate right to quit the fight and hunker down for a good pouting session. Indeed, nearly every one of God’s preachers and prophets had their share of pouty moments. However, once we’ve cried, vented, pouted, and complained we need to get back up. We need to take the keys away from our babysitter, pick up our battered shield and head back to our post.

God’s compassion and gentleness will heal us and make us great, but our self-pity never can. It will only lock us into a negative, ineffective state. Let’s do whatever it takes to shake ourselves free and carry on in what the Apostle Paul called “the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Ezekiel’s Muteness

mute-buttonA bizarre, often overlooked element of Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry to the Jewish exiles in Babylon is the fact that God muted him for twelve years. Ezekiel was only allowed to speak when he was uttering an authentic word from God.

Ezekiel was taken to Babylon in the first Jewish deportation in 597 B.C., but the city of Jerusalem did not actually fall to King Nebuchadnezzar’s armies until twelve years later, and for the entire twelve years in between the initial deportation and Jerusalem’s ultimate collapse Ezekiel was silenced.

When word of Jerusalem’s fall arrived in Babylon, Ezekiel’s muteness finally came to an end. “In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, ‘The city has been struck down.’ Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before the fugitive came; and He had opened my mouth…so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute” (Ezekiel 33:21-22 ESV).

Can you imagine having those restrictions placed on your speech? Can you imagine holding your tongue for twelve years?

Sometimes I can barely hold my tongue for five minutes…and I almost always regret it when I start talking again.

I’ve seldom ever regretted the things I haven’t said, but I have often regretted the critical, gossipy, pretentious words that I let slip out. The real problem though is not just my regrettable utterances it’s the fact that those things were already in my heart to begin with.

Our speech betrays us; it reveals the internal condition of our soul. Conversely, silence can be a purifier that tests the metal of our soul, revealing what is pure and what is dross. Perhaps we should practice some Ezekiel-esque silence, resolving only to pour unashamed words of life into the ears (and souls) of our listeners.

 

 

The Next Right Thing

multidirectional signsWhat am I supposed to do with my life?

Which path should I take, left or right?

Is this the right time to make a move, or should I wait a little bit longer?

Should I follow this counsel or that opinion?

And most importantly, how long is it all going to take?

Sometimes questions like these can make us crazy. We can be so concerned with knowing exactly what the next steps are for our lives that we become obsessed. We fret and stress and live under a canopy of frustration, fear, and anxiety. We fail to enjoy the present moment because we’re so desperate to get into a future moment, and ultimately, we miss what we are supposed to learn and receive today. What we don’t even realize is that today’s obsession with tomorrow can actually disqualify us for tomorrow.

There is a better way.  Sometimes rather than obsessing over the ultimate answer or our final path, we need to simply do the next right thing.

Quite often, if you and I will simply do the next right thing, our larger path will become clear. If we do the next right thing, we will be ready for the next right thing after that. Then if we do the next right thing after that one, we will be ready for the next one that appears. If we were to consistently do this for a lifetime, several things would happen. We would live really good lives, some really great things would happen, and we would always be prepared when our new seasons arrived.

This is not a diminishing of vision. Nor is it an appeal to stop dreaming. Not at all! We need a vision. It is imperative that we dream. However, it is the maximization of today’s opportunities that qualifies us for the vision that is coming tomorrow.

What does it mean to be ‘wise as serpents’?

snakeBe wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” What do these words from Jesus mean? What does it mean to be as wise as a serpent? Are serpents cunning? Are they crafty? In what ways are serpents wise?

And while we’re at it, were there specific kinds of serpents that Jesus was referencing? Was He talking about snakes in general, or did He have a particular serpent in mind? Was He pointing back to the craftiness of the serpent in the Garden when it beguiled Adam and Eve?

I doubt it. The archenemy of humanity hardly seems like a potent role model for Christ’s followers.

Dallas Willard suggested something different. He proposed that the wisdom of the serpent lies in its timing. Although snakes can strike and bite from any position, the true accuracy and potency of their attack diminishes if they are uncoiled. It is when a snake is coiled and poised for assault that its accuracy and striking potential is fiercest.

Perhaps that’s some of what Jesus had in mind. Perhaps He was warning us about the damage that can be done when we get our sense of timing out of sync. I’ve been both premature and late in my timing too many times to count, and that faulty timing has repeatedly hurt me. It’s caused me to either mess up or miss potential opportunities, and it’s created messes and regrets that I would not have had to deal with if I had simply been more careful with my timing.

Timing is everything. A timely action or a word in season can make all the difference in our lives and relationships. Perhaps a good prayer for us today would be to ask God for a greater dose of true serpentine wisdom.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Note to Self

note to selfDear Self, I’m not sure what you are thinking or how you are feeling right now, but in case you’re not doing too well, I wanted to remind you of some things. Emotions come and go; truth remains. Unfortunately, emotions often feel more powerful than truth, and sometimes we can judge the entire external universe based on minor, internal mood swings. I’d like to save you from that, and remind you of some truth.

As I write to you (to me) I am in a good place. My thinking is clear and I can sense God’s life and presence around me and in me. I would qualify for Pastor Wayne Cordeiro’s description, “clear-headed and close to God” (remember, he always urges people to only make their biggest decisions when they are clear-headed and close to God). So I think I’m in a good spot to pep talk you and prop you up. Granted, someone could accuse me of doing the very thing I am warning you against, namely attributing a positive mood to ultimate reality. However, that’s not the case.

It is true that shallow emotional upswings do not necessarily correspond to God’s truth anymore than negative, gloomy ones do. We humans are so easily swayed by circumstantial highs and lows, but God’s life is very different from that. Some of King David’s mightiest psalms—where he boasts of an ability to “run through a troop” or “leap over a wall”—were written at the bottom of some very nasty life seasons.

There is a hope and peace and presence that can transcend whatever we are experiencing, and when we touch that presence everything changes even if nothing changes. Please remember that last phrase. Things don’t need to change for YOU to change. Circumstances don’t need to improve for you to step more fully into the life and strength of God’s Spirit.

So, dear self, man up. Don’t quit. Don’t pout. Hold steady. Lean into God. Like David said, you too will live to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!