Monday, October 29, 2012

Construction or Demolition?

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph. 4:29)

     This verse has been on my mind for many months. It appears in a passage that talks about how to “live a life of love” as “children of light”.
     The words we speak to and about others are a reflection of our living lives of love as God’s children of light… or not! If living as children of light results in life-giving words to and about others, then the reverse is also true: words to and about someone that tear them down, come from a place of darkness!
·         In the same way that unwholesome food breaks down the health of the body, “unwholesome talk” tears other people down:
Ø  These may be words we speak to someone else - words of criticism, judgment, complaint, accusation, rejection, attack…
Ø  Or they may be words we speak about someone else behind their back – criticizing them, complaining about them, slandering them, tearing down their reputation, casting suspicion about and aspersion on them to others, leaving others with a negative view of them…
     Such words may provide some temporary relief in getting things “off your chest”, but this “satisfaction” is short-lived, and we are left with even more yukky feelings inside ourselves. Unwittingly, we are encouraging “darkness” in our own hearts by doing this.
·         Like wholesome food that builds up the health of the body, talk that is “helpful for building others up according to their needs” entails words that benefit another:
Ø  Life-giving words of encouragement, affirmation, appreciation, kindness… spoken to another
Ø  Positive words spoken about another to others
            Note that these words do not come out of a self-focus and self-interest, but out of a heart that is concerned about the needs of others. When we do this, both the speaker and the listener are left feeling built up!

What should we do?
·         The Bible is full of “one another” passages, showing us how to love others out of the love that Jesus has poured into our own hearts. Living out of a heart of Christ-centered love, we work to build others up through the words that we speak.
·         If we are carrying an offense against someone, Scripture tells us to lovingly confront the other person directly, with the motivation of reconciliation and restoration. We are to talk to them about the issue, not talk about them negatively to others! Furthermore, our honest addressing of the issues involved should not leave the other person feeling lacerated by our words. Rather, our words should “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). This applies not only to what words we say, but how we say them.

What if I’ve been hurt by the words of another?
     You may have been on the receiving end of words that have torn you down – either hurtful words spoken to you that have left you wounded, or words spoken about you to others who now regard you in a negative light. How should you respond?
     First of all, know that God promises His protection and vindication of those who have been wrongfully maligned by the words of another:
     No weapon formed against you will prosper, and every tongue that rises up against you will be shown to be in the wrong. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from Me,” declares the Lord (Is. 54:17)
     … You keep them secretly in Your pavilion from the strife of tongues (Ps.31:20).
     Then, in spite of the hurt, you and I can still choose to “live as children of light” in the face of such experiences. In this very same passage in Ephesians, Paul goes on to say, “Be tenderhearted (kind) and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (v.32).
     The unkind words others speak very often come from the “darkness” that is inside themselves – they may be carrying their own woundedness, feelings of rejection, turmoil, insecurity, etc. However, rather than speculating about what lies in their hearts, we should simply keep our own hearts open, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the love of Jesus for them, until we overflow with His tenderness and compassion. When this happens, forgiveness comes easily!
     Then, as opportunity allows, we may in turn speak words that are “helpful for building them  up according to their needs”, setting aside our own needs in the situation in spite of our hurt. In this way as “children of light” we spread light and life and love into someone else’s “darkness”. In this way we live out the life and love of Jesus, rather than pursuing an “agenda” of our own.
     Instead of retaliating, we respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit, out of a heart captivated by, and filled with the love of the One who hung falsely accused, insulted, rejected, mocked and in agony on a cross and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
     Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Whatever happens to be filling our hearts, is what is going to spill out of our mouths and lives! Poisonous words are an overflow of what lies in the heart. If we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to fill us with the extravagant love of Jesus, this love is what will spill out of our mouths and lives into the hearts and lives of others.
     It is easy to give extravagantly when we are rich! God offers us the opportunity to be “rich in love” so that we are in turn able to give love away extravagantly, knowing that there is always more available to us at the Source!
     Today, no matter how others treat us, let us speak life-giving words that build others up according to their needs, out of hearts captivated by God’s extravagant love. We will find our own hearts lighter and filled with joy when we do this!
     Let us “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24) and be builders up, not demolishers, of the people in our lives who are so precious to God.

Saturday, October 20, 2012



 Have you looked in the mirror today? What do you see reflected there? Perhaps you see dark circles under your eyes, reflecting too many hours of work, or lack of sleep, or even sorrow or worry or stress... Or perhaps you see a glow of health, reflecting wholesome eating habits, regular exercise, good sleep, satisfying relationships and fulfilling work!
     What we see of our faces in the mirror often reflects whatever dominates our lives – whether that be chronic worry and stress, or personal fulfillment and enjoyment of life.
     Hebrews 1:3 says of Jesus that He is the radiance of the Father’s glory, and the exact representation of His being.
     Have you ever wondered what God is like? Look at Jesus! Look at His life, His character; hear His words; witness His heart of love expressed through the way He engaged with people; see His power manifest in all He said and did. Jesus is the exact expression of the glory, majesty, love and radiance of God Himself.
     In fact, Jesus said of Himself, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father” (John 14: 9). His name is Immanuel which means God with us!
     The Bible exhorts us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Heb. 12:2). Not only does He perfect our faith, but when we make Him who is “the radiance of the Father’s glory” the focus of our attention, something amazing begins to happen in us. This is described in 2 Corinthians 3:18: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
     Our thoughts, our emotions, our relationships, our lives reflect whatever dominates our attention. And when Jesus is the One who has captured our hearts, and is the One who holds our gaze, our lives begin to reflect Him and His radiance!
     The Victorian Scottish writer, Thomas Carlyle, once said that people become like the gods they serve. Whatever or whoever predominates in our lives and dominates our attention and consumes our thoughts and captures our emotions, is what or who is going to be reflected in and through our lives. In our words and conduct, we begin to mirror that person or thing. In making Jesus the One upon whom our attention, thoughts and desires are centered, we have the opportunity to reflect Him who is the radiance of the Father’s glory.
     What does “unveiled faces” mean? It simply means that we open our hearts completely to allow Jesus to reveal Himself to us, and pour His love into the depths of our beings - not "veiling" our innermost selves in a way that denies Him access. And then, with open hearts, we turn and engage with others around us, allowing the glory of who He is and His love, to spill from our lives.
     We are a people marked by love: The consuming, extravagant love of God lavishly poured out. His love has an amazing effect on our hearts – it causes them to both fill and expand. The more we look to Jesus, the more He fills our hearts; the more He fills them, the more He increases their capacity to both contain and give more and more of His love to others.
     What may be some of the reasons we keep our faces, or our hearts “veiled” – closing them off to God’s love; sealing them away from others? There may be a variety of reasons why we are tempted to shut down in this way: pain, disappointment, fear, shame…
     For some reason we think that we need to get our hearts and lives “fixed” before we can open them completely to the Lord. But the Word of God encourages us to come just as we are – to bring our hearts to Him no matter what condition they are in… and just open them to all that He is. "God is bigger than our hearts" (Pastor Dan Hammer).    
     Psalm 34:5 tells us: Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
     Recently I had a conversation with someone who I know has been through tremendous difficulty for many years. I had not seen her in a while, and when I asked how she was doing, with tears in her eyes, she said, "I feel so incredibly blessed. I have been overwhelmed by the love of God, and I have realized it's not about how much I love Him - it's all about how much He loves me! And realizing this has enabled me to let go and stop trying to be in control, because I can rest in the knowledge that in His great love for me, He will cause all things to work for my good."
     In spite of the problems, she was radiant with the love of the Lord, and no longer the downcast person I met a couple of years ago!
     Can you allow your heart too, to gaze upon His radiance? Let the barriers down, and open your heart to receive the love He yearns to pour out into you. The result will be a heart and life transformed by the experience! A heart that continues to hunger for more and more of this One who is the radiance of the Father’s glory. And before you know it, your life too, will begin to reflect His radiance for others to see. You might remain oblivious to your own radiance, because your attention is not on yourself, but on the Lover of your soul. But others will see it… and begin to want what you have… and it will draw them to seek the same transformational Love…
     Who or what have you been “looking to”? A person? A relationship? An ambition? A career or a job? A strategy for success? A methodology to fix your life and circumstances? A desire that consumes you?
     For a while each of these things may seem to hold the answers we have been seeking. But sooner or later we end up striving to address what still leaves us dissatisfied in our obsessive pursuit, trying harder and harder to gain the satisfaction we so desperately seek - yet ultimately ending up hollowed out and empty handed.
     Until a still, small, compelling voice begins to call, “Seek Me”.
     What if…? What if we began to pursue Him with the same intensity that we so often employ in chasing after other people, relationships, activities, strategies, methodologies… He longs to reveal Himself to us. He longs to pour out His extravagant love into our lives. He longs for us to encounter the radiance of His glory. If we would only focus our attention on Him and allow our gaze to be filled and consumed by all that He is…
     We will become a people marked not only by His love, but stamped with His radiance. And everything else in our lives will come into alignment with the glory, majesty and infinitely good purposes of a God whose extravagant love for us draws us ever deeper into Him.
      Would you open your heart and allow Him to fill it with Himself today? He has been waiting for you to come…

Monday, October 1, 2012


 Break my heart with what breaks Yours:
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause…

     These words have been my personal prayer for many years. It is what I call a “dangerous prayer”!
     Why dangerous?  Because when God looks upon an open heart tender towards Him and hears these words, there is no telling how He may answer such a prayer. In that sacred moment when we pray it, our hearts may hold the glow of some vision of God’s calling and purpose through our lives – but it is a vision at best hazy and rose-hued until we begin to walk in the reality of God’s response to our prayer.
     For God does not only begin to pierce our hearts with His love for broken lives around us: He also begins to allow our own hearts to experience their own brokenness, in order to mold them into the shape of His vision for us.
     What does this “breaking” entail?
     It may come through many kinds of life experiences. It may even entail being vilified for the very love that we pour out:
     I am reminded of two different instances of women who each broke an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, one pouring it out over Jesus’ head, the other anointing His feet with her offering:
·         In each case the woman concerned poured out the very best she had, out of extravagant love for Jesus.
·         In each story the offering the woman brought involved personal sacrifice.
·         In each instance the woman and her offering were criticized: one by Judas Iscariot; the other by Simon the Pharisee.
·         In each case the critics were contemptuous of the love poured out by these women.
·         Both women’s hearts had been pierced at some point by the love of Jesus, and Jesus was at the center of their attention

     Jesus’ answer to Simon the Pharisee is significant: He pretty much told Simon that he was unable to comprehend love poured out because Simon himself “loved little”. Simon was unable to recognize his own great need for forgiveness, and could therefore only find criticism in his heart for others' expressions of love. He considered himself beyond reproach, and found fault with everyone else - including Jesus. He had not been forgiven much, and therefore was unable to love much either.
     Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, was completely self-absorbed. Jesus was not the center and object of his devotion. He was only interested in what would be of benefit to himself. Being self-focused, he too, could not understand what it is to "love much".
     Has there been a time when you have poured out from the depths of your being the most precious of all you have to offer, from a heart pierced by the extravagant love of Jesus? And in doing so, has your offering been despised and diminished and misunderstood and dismissed?  This can leave us feeling as if all we have given has been worthless and fruitless. The result is a broken heart – and a baptism of pain.
     How we respond to this brokenness, is crucial. On our response hang our destiny and calling. We could become defensive, angry, resentful and bitter, and seal off our seared hearts in self-protection. We will then face a long, hard journey of unresolved pain and thwarted purpose and lost opportunity.
     Or… we could embrace the brokenness, choosing to surrender our aching hearts over and over at the foot of the cross. God is then able to use our lives to become a fragrant offering for the sake His kingdom and precious lives for whom Jesus gave His.
     When we do this, we relinquish the need to have our love gift acknowledged and valued by anyone other than Jesus. Just as in the stories of the women who poured out their costly perfume, we can rest in the assurance that Jesus sees, understands and values our offering of love. The opinions of our critics lose their power. And in that place of rest in Him, we can accept that we may never know until eternity, what fruit our offering bore.
     Very recently, a reading from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest resonated in my own heart. To quote: “… He gives us a tremendous, riveting pain to fasten our attention on something that we never dreamed could be His call on us… This call… has to do with being made broken bread and poured-out wine. Yet God can never make us into wine if we object to the fingers He chooses to use to crush us… If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed – you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed… To be a holy person means that the elements of our natural life experience the very presence of God as they are providentially broken in His service” (September 30).
     Whose fingers has God allowed to crush you? They may even have been the fingers of someone whom you trusted with your heart. No matter who or what has been instrumental in squeezing you, allow God to use the experience to produce life-giving wine out of your life. Allow the Holy Spirit to teach you in ever deeper ways, what it is to love selflessly, out of a Christ-centered, cross-embraced life.
     In 2 Timothy 4:6 Paul writes, For I am already being poured out like a drink offering…
     Through the heartache and the tears, my own prayer is, “Yes Lord – for the sake of precious lives for whom you gave Your own, pour me out also like a drink offering - spilled from a heart pierced by Your love.”