The Heart-shaped Tongue

heart shaped tongueI have been following the situation surrounding the contentious decision by the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to rescind a job offer to a tenure-track scholar. Dr. Steven Salaita had resigned his job at a university in Virginia and was waiting his final approval by the Board of Trustees at U of I. Chancellor Phyllis Wise pulled the job offer after learning of Mr. Salaita vitriolic tweets about Israel. For many, this is a free speech issue and apparently a lawsuit is pending.

It is unfortunate that Salaita had already quit his job and had begun to move his family from Virginia. However, his appointment was not yet confirmed by the Trustees, and therefore, he had not yet been officially hired. Thus the issue was a hire not a fire. I also question whether the issue was one of free speech. Salaita had the freedom to say (tweet) whatever he wanted without prosecution. However, our culture needs to learn that free speech is never speech without consequences.

Could Salaita’s comments be considered hate speech as some have indicated? Hate speech is that which incites violence against a protected racial, ethnic, religious, gender minority. I don’t believe that was his intent even though it was passionate speech filled with animus.

I have been reading through the biblical book of Proverbs, which has a lot to say about speech. This morning I read: “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feed on folly”; “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked points out evil things” (15:14, 28). The Bible points out the direct relationship between the mouth and the heart. Jesus said that “a good man brings good things of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).  Also James indicates in his chapter 3 that the use of the tongue reflects our very nature.

I am not sitting in judgment of Mr. Salaita and will defend his right to free speech. But my take-away from this situation is to ask why would an institution want to hire a person whose vitriolic mouth may just be manifesting something deeper? We do not often know ahead of time the nature of an employee’s character, which is usually revealed on the job. However, when you get a sneak preview like this, why would you take a risk and offer them a job? You will not be doing the rest of your staff or your students any favors.

Cravings…

DeerDrinking55071The Psalms reflect the wonder of life, the glory of creation, the incomparable gifts of God, praise for his love and constant care. But they also reflect the loneliness of the human spirit which no earthly medicine can heal; the solitude of mental anguish; the hours of dark despair; the waves of doubts and fears, of questions and tears upon which all men and women are tossed. In the introduction to his Commentary on the Psalms, John Calvin wrote in 1563, “I may truly call this book an anatomy of all parts of the soul, for no one can feel a movement of the spirit which is not reflected in this mirror. All the sorrows, troubles, fears, doubt, hopes, pains, perplexities, stormy outbreaks by which the hearts of men are tossed, have been depicted here.”

Psalms that most closely fit this description are called Psalms of Lament. These psalms mirror the painful emotions of the soul struggling with circumstances beyond its control; trying to reconcile such situations with what it believes about God.

Lament Psalms are of two kinds: National (Ps. 44)- Why? How Long? Why does God neglect his people? How long will they be objects of derision among the nations? Then there are the individual or personal lament psalms. There is a typical pattern to these:
1. An intro- usually a cry for help
2. A lament- a description of the complaint
3. A remembrance of what is known to be true about God
4. A petition- asking God for something
5. A confession of trust

Such a pattern should be a model for our own communication with God in the midst of discouragement or despair. These psalms should teach us that we can bring such things before God, indeed that we must come before God at times like this. They will help us to work out our anger and despair within the context of our faith rather than outside of it.

An example of such lament is found in Psalms 42 and 43, which were (most likely) one psalm with three strophes, each with twelve line concluding with an identical refrain: 42:5, 11; 43:5- “Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

The psalmist feels that he is separated from God (from the Temple in Jerusalem). He feels this so intensely that he describes it in physical terms- like a thirsty deer trying to find water in a dry and arid land. The psalmist is both spiritually and emotionally thirsty for the presence of the living God. v. 3, His grief finds expression in his tears, in fact, his condition is such that he has been doing more weeping than eating (tears have been my food day and night). Have you ever thirsted for God? I think you have, but just haven’t known it. I believe that a desire to be personally related to God is a basic human drive; the reason why we have been created.

The problem is that this hunger for God is masked behind other human desires. I can prove this by showing that the fulfillment of every human desire does not lead to permanent satisfaction. In fact, our human cravings may actually cause us to hate the very thing we thought we loved. Let’s do a little experiment: let’s say you have a craving for mint chocolate chip ice cream. “I’d do anything for some,” you say. Ok, here are 5 gallons and one spoon, and you must eat it all. Let’s say for arguments sake that you do- you eat every bit of the ice cream, gag. How do you think you would be feeling about your desire? Satisfied? You probably wouldn’t use that word to describe your feeling. I bet you would say with great emotion that you never wanted to see or smell another spoonful of ice cream ever again!

There is a story in 2 Samuel 13 about a man named Amnon, who was in “love” with his half-sister Tamar. He told one of his friends “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister” (v.4). He loved her so much that he couldn’t eat. So he went to bed pretending to be sick and asked that Tamar be sent to feed him. She came into his bedroom and he forced sex upon her. “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (v.15). That was love?

The analogy of the ice cream and the tragic story about Tamar illustrate the same point: human desire cannot be ultimately satisfied by the thing it craves because we were not made for ice cream, or sex, or drugs, or money and fame, but for God. C.S. Lewis said it so well in his Problem of Pain, “If I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, I must conclude that I was made for another world.” Behind every human desire there is a thirst for God.

God said to Israel, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…” (Isa 55:1). Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:27)

Billows Oe’r Me Roll…

big-waveGloria and I are vacationing at the Outer Banks in NC. We are with four out of five of our kids (and their spouses/fiancé), and all five of our grandchildren. One does not normally gain insights on suffering when on vacation unless he gets sunburned or eats bad sushi, however, yesterday I experienced something that gave me such an insight.

I was standing in the ocean about waist deep keeping an eye on my grandson and granddaughter playing in the shallower surf- my back to the open sea. Suddenly, I was hit by a breaker square in the back and it sent me hurtling towards shore. It knocked my prescription glasses off as well as my New England Patriots cap (some of you are happy about that).

I wasn’t hurt, but I was stunned and practically blind without my glasses which I immediately tried to find. Then I was hit with another wave and then another. Finally, I stood up (which I should have done in the first place) and began to search for my glasses to no avail. Fortunately, however, I have two pairs of contact lenses with me.

I was reminded of Job’s experience when his initial suffering came in such sharp succession- where one messenger told him of a tragedy, then another, and another…like waves crashing over him without mercy. And in subsequent chapters, though Job maintained his faith his sight was affected. “Behold I go forward but He is not there; and backward, but I do not see Him” (23:9, 10).

In Psalm 42:7 the writer describes his difficulties this way: “All your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” And Jonah quotes this very verse when he was in the belly of the great fish. “For you have cast me into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me” (2:3).

Have you ever felt like that in your suffering- wave upon wave? Have you looked for God in your suffering but have not been able to find him? Though there are no easy answers for what you are experiencing, I have found it helpful to stand up or stand on what you know to be true, while you are trying to deal with all the things you do not understand. And like the Psalmist, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (42:11).

That is my insight; now I am going back out to the beach to look for my glasses.

It’s not about ME…

pass the batonThis is the last “Just a Thought” that I will be writing as the pastor of Community Fellowship Church in West Chicago where I have been for the last nine years. We will officially finish our ministry here on Sunday (Aug) at what I am calling “a transition service.” I will literally pass the baton to a very capable Will Pavone who will shepherd this wonderful flock of God’s people at CF. Then, Gloria and I will venture into a future partly known to us but fully known to God.

The last several weeks have been filled with parties, opportunities for hugs and good-byes, and hearing the loving affirmations usually reserved for funerals. Speaking of funerals, I am reminded of Paul as he rehearsed the amazing things that God had done through him and spoke about the uncertain future he faced as a prisoner of Nero in Rome. However, there was one thing of which he was certain. His ultimate concern was that he would “eagerly expect and hope…that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20, 21). Paul’s ultimate concern was not glorying in his past adventures or looking ahead to his next ministry assignment or even his health or survival, but in the cause of Christ and his glory.

Professional sports, even college-level athletics, have become something so completely different than what we experienced as kids. In sand-lot and high school football we played for each other, for the team, and for the sheer enjoyment of the game. Today, high-powered athletes who earn their living off the game play for themselves and a better contract. If they don’t like the coach or the team, they ask to be traded. If a coach were ever to confront such a player and say, “it’s not about you; it’s about the team,” it would be laughable as well as hypocritical. However, for Paul, it really wasn’t about him or his survival, health, or happiness. For Paul, everything was about Jesus and his reputation in this world.

And so as Gloria and I face the future, the Lord has impressed these things upon me. This is not about us, but about the team, the sheer enjoyment of the game, and most of all the Coach. It is not about what we have done, or about our image, or about our physical or financial well-being, or about our careers or future opportunities. Our ultimate concern must be with that which is certain to be victorious (the gospel), and with Jesus Christ who is certain to be exalted above all things.

As for the future…the Coach will take care of us.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way…

I am planning a last preaching series for my church entitled GOD. I am also redoing a series on the Book of Job for a week of teaching this summer. The combination of the two has brought a couple of ideas together that I need to think about more deeply.

All that we know about God comes to us through his self-revelation. We commonly speak of his general revelation through the observable creation and in the inward “notions” of the supernatural with which most of humanity seems to be possessed and driven to worship something greater than itself. (Romans 1:19, 20) While these evidences are sufficient to render accountable anyone who denies the existence of God, they cannot lead to a true understanding of the true God. This comes only through his more specific or special self-revelation in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 1:1, 2)

Thus God reveals himself as Just, Merciful, Holy, Good, etc. We have a vague understanding of these because we have been created in his image so that we might reflect these same characteristics though in an imperfect way. (Theologians call these characteristics of God “communicable attributes” because we find them resembled in humanity.) We also learn through God’s self-revelation that he is Self-existent, Infinite, Majestic, Immutable, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omni-present, etc. These characteristic we do not fully grasp or understand because they have no markers within our experience as humans (i.e. incommunicable attributes).

OK, so you know all this. However, do you also recognize that while all of this may be sufficient knowledge, it is not complete knowledge? This knowledge is sufficient to show us our sin and our need of a Savior; sufficient to save us and transform our hearts when mixed with faith; sufficient to form an ever- deepening eternal bond to the Living God which nothing will sever. As incredible as this sufficient knowledge of God is, however, it is still not (nor will it ever be) the complete knowledge of God. “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)

OK, so you know all this as well and it drives you to worship the Triune God. Yet, there is a problem which arises even to the most ardent worshipper—like Job ( and his friends). We tend to take what we know to be true about God (sufficient knowledge) and make it the boundary lines for God’s actions (we think it is complete knowledge). Thus when God acts in such a way to transcend the boundaries we have set for him, we question his character or trivialize his ways.

I remember when I was in Junior High; I went to the library to write a paper on the subject of “Ghosts” in Macbeth and others of Shakespeare’s plays. I read one article in the encyclopedia, wrote the paper, and walked out of the library in less than an hour with the distinct feeling that I knew everything there was to know about the subject! Compare this with the feeling I had when I finished my doctoral dissertation a couple of years ago, defended it before my professors, and actually turned it into a published book. I felt I knew a lot after years of study, but was more keenly aware that there was still so much I did not know about my subject.

Many times God really does move in a mysterious way and we must learn to “judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace.” (William Cowper) Is there anyone of us who has never experienced God jumping the boundaries and acting in ways beyond our figuring out? Perhaps this is what CS Lewis meant when he said that Aslan was good, but not safe. Our proper response before this mysterious undomesticated God should be like Job’s first (and last) response: “Then Job…fell on the ground and worshiped.” (Job 1:20)

And so, let us remember that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we might do all the words of the law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) God is his own interpreter, but sometimes he does not make it plain. We must trust him in the darkness by hanging onto what he has revealed to us in the light.

Kung Fu Repentance…

Fighting-Kung-Fu-catsRepentance is not one of the most exciting topics in the world and perhaps you are not getting into my series on the subject. That’s ok; you’re busy and are looking for more uplifting and encouraging reading. However, be aware that you may be suffering from a form of Kung Fu Repentance and not even know it.

It has been my observation that many people who think they are evidencing true repentance are really not because their penitence is accompanied by self-defense. We can often see this in our marriages; we are sorry for something we have done, but our apology is accompanied by some form of justification. I remember counseling a man who was broken because his wife had left him. I can still hear him say, “It is all my fault. I have tried to control her with my anger and manipulate her by my silence, and I have failed her as a godly husband.”

I was thrilled by what he said and heard the faint rumblings of a repentant heart coming from a very proud and quirky man. However, then he said, “But I wish she would respect me more and listen to what I tell her to do.” I smacked him upside the head! Just kidding, but I sure felt like it because he just Kung Fu’d his repentance right out of my office.

In 1 Samuel 15 we see a very clear example of defensiveness and self-justification hidden behind what looked like repentance. King Saul was commanded by God to wipe out the Amalekites as part of God’s judgment upon the sinfulness of that people. Instead, Saul disobeyed by sparing the king, some of the best livestock, and the money. He did this for his own self-aggrandizement because he had already built a monument to himself (1 Samuel 15:12) and in his mind he was the most important star in the universe. What a change from a man who was at one point “little in his own eyes” and began his career by building an altar for God! (14:35)

Samuel confronted Saul about his disobedience, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears”? Saul had started in with his Kung Fu—“I saved the best animals to give to the Lord.” That is what I call “Religious Kung Fu” where we justify our sinful behavior by spiritualizing it away. Then Saul used the oldest excuse in existence; “It wasn’t really me but my soldiers who took the spoil for themselves.” That one I call the “Adam-style Kung Fu” named after the first guy who blamed his sin on his wife. I wonder if all of this blah blah blah sounded like bleating to Samuel?

After Samuel told Saul that he had been rejected by God as king because of his repeated disobedience, Saul fell on his knees (good posture for repentance) and cried out “I have sinned!” Now we’re getting somewhere… however, notice what followed; “but honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me that I may bow before the Lord your God.” (15:30) Here we see just plain old Kung Fu; nothing fancy, just pure selfishness which had sunk to the level of charade. Saul was done, and lived the rest of his life in depression with momentary flashes of regret.

Let’s go back to the guy who had tried to Kung Fu me in my office. I told him about Saul. I also told him that true repentance would be demonstrated by going to his wife and getting down on his knees, coming clean with the viciousness of his angry manipulative behavior, telling her that he had failed her and God as a husband, and asking her for forgiveness even though he did not deserve it. I told him one more thing; “when you get off your knees, do not expect your wife to suddenly trust you and take you back into her life. You have hurt her deeply and she will be watching you carefully to see if you’ve really changed or whether this is just part of your manipulative bag of tricks.” He never came back to see me, and he Kung Fu’d his marriage.

Repentance without excuse is the life-breath of the Christian. I think it was Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Marriage who said that “couples don’t fall out of love as much as they fall out of repentance.” Maybe the way to reinforce this lesson is to give someone permission to speak into your life and say to you, “what’s that bleating sound I hear?”

A Constant Weeper Be…

crying_729-420x0Good Friday is the proper context for examining another misunderstanding of repentance. The Gospel of Matthew sets in juxtaposition the dastardly deeds of two of Jesus’ intimates. It tells of Peter’s denial he ever knew Jesus—not once but three times, and in the end Peter “went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75) It also tells of the betrayal by Judas and his recantation by giving back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and confessing to them that he had betrayed innocent blood. Then “he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5) So, if you did not know the end of the story, who would you say seemed more repentant?

We often make the mistake of equating repentance with sorrow. While there is a place for sorrow, the danger is that a person may be filled with remorse but not be truly repentant. We have had examples of preachers and presidents caught in the web of infidelity and adultery. They have stood before us and confessed their sin with tears. We have also known others in public office or church ministry who have been “caught” and responded with great sorrow. We ourselves know of the remorse and regret we experience when we see the messes we have made. Some of our friends have been filled with such remorse that they have taken their own lives. Surely, both Peter and Judas were terribly sorry for what they did. On the surface, Judas looked even more repentant, but was he?

In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul regretted sending a harsh letter to the church which caused them great sorrow. Yet, at the same time, he did not regret it because it produced a godly sorrow. What is the difference between sorrow and sorrow? “For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death.” (v. 10)

CH Spurgeon preached a message in 1881 entitled “Sorrow and Sorrow” and this is part of what he said: Some persons seem to think that mere sorrow of mind in reference to sin is repentance; but it is not. Read the text…”Godly sorrow worketh repentance.” Therefore, it is not itself repentance. It is an agent employed in producing repentance, but it is not itself repentance. There is, in the world, a great deal of sorrow on account of sin which is certainly not repentance, and never leads to it. Some transgressors are sorry for sin for a time; they are convicted of guilt, with a transitory conviction, which soon passes away. Many are sorry for sin because of its temporal consequences; and many more because of its eternal consequences… They are as fond of sin as ever they were, but they sorrow because they see that it is bringing them down to the gulf of perdition. Now, that kind of sorrow is not repentance. A moth may burn its wings in the candle, and then, full of pain, fly back to the flame. There is no repentance in the moth, though there is pain; and so, there is no repentance in some men, though there is in them a measure of sorrow on account of their sin. Do not, therefore, make a mistake in this matter, and think that sorrow for sin is, or even necessarily leads to, repentance.

Spurgeon continues: Next, do not fall into the other mistake, and imagine that there can be such a thing as repentance without sorrow for sin, for there can never be such a thing… It is an entire and total change of mind, a turning of the mind right round, so that it hates what once it loved and loves what once it hated… Here is a man who says, “I repent.” But are you really sorry that you sinned? “No,” he replies. Then, my dear sir, you cannot have truly repented; for a man, who has not got even so far as repentance, is often sorry for having done wrong. When a man is convinced that he has transgressed against God he ought to be sorry; and if you tell me that there can be such a thing as Spiritual repentance, and yet no sorrow for having broken the law of God, I tell you that you do not know what you are talking about… If there is no such sorrow as that in your heart, one of the things necessary to a genuine repentance is absent.

Judas and Peter were both filled with sorrow on that first Maundy Thursday/ Good Friday. The worldly sorrow of one led to death; the godly sorrow of the other led to repentance and life. There have been many who have known the way of tears and even the mutilation of the flesh, but have never come near to true repentance because it was more about them than it was about their own sin. Like Esau, they have sought repentance with tears but could not find it (Hebrews 12:17).

“Lord, let me weep for nought but sin, And after none but thee; And then I would – oh, that I might! A constant weeper be.” (Spurgeon)

Penance or Repentance?

penanceLent is a season of repentance; yet many people are often confused as to the meaning of the word. There are many watered-down versions of repentance out there, which are not only cheap alternatives but tend to divert us from experiencing the joy of the real thing. One of those versions is the concept of “penance.”

Many of you recognize penance from your religious background as a sacrament consisting of contrition, confession, and the carrying out of certain works which render satisfaction for the sin committed since baptism. The Douay-Rheims Roman Catholic translation of the Bible actually replaces the word “repentance” with “penance” thus giving universal credence to this imitation of repentance.

However, we “Prots” also have our own version of penance. Though we are saved by grace, we are still driven to act in such ways that curry favor with God. Many co-opt the Lenten season with self-denial and acts of self-abnegation. Somehow our human nature feels better when we think we are impressing God by the sincerity of our outward actions, failing to comprehend that the real issue is the inner condition of our hearts. Not only does penance divert our attention away from the real need of our souls, but penance also anesthetizes our consciences so we gain momentary relief from our guilt.

Somehow we feel that our penance balances the scales and tips them in our favor, and yet, it is nothing more than a vicious cycle. We do good things to make up for our bad things; then after being good for a while we think we deserve a little bad, which we then try and make up for by being good and… so on and so forth. Penance makes us like little gerbils on a never-ending wheel of trying to please God.

The prophet Isaiah held out the free grace and mercy of God for his people when he cried, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for things that are not bread, and your labor on things that do not satisfy” (55:1, 2). And in the closing chapter of the New Testament, the Spirit and the Church cry out, “Come, and let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17).

If we can do nothing to achieve our salvation, why do we think our actions (now that we are God’s children) are in any way meritorious or sanctifying? Why do we measure God’s love for us by how much we do for him rather than by what he has done for us? Penance may drive us to a bed of nails or to stand barefoot in the snow for three days, like Henry IV did to show how sorry he was to Pope Gregory VII in 1077 AD. However, repentance will always drive us back to the cross and to God’s love and mercy which continues to flow for us. The same gospel that saves me also sanctifies me.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess:
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.
(Elizabeth Clephane, 1830-1869)

Penance keeps us tied into our past through fear of God’s justice. Repentance frees us up to hope for a new future because of God’s love. May God drive us back to the cross!

But Dave, if repentance does not lead me to tears and showing God how sorry I am, is it really repentance? Good question! We’ll talk next week- on Good Friday.

Repaint and thin no more…

repaintThat is the punch line for a joke about a minister who wanted to save his church some money by painting one of its buildings with watered-down paint. When the job was finished, there was a huge down pour which washed all the paint away. Then there was a voice from heaven that said, “Repaint and thin no more!”

Obviously, for you quicker people, this is a reference to the phrase “repent and sin no more.” Many believe this phrase is in the Bible, but it isn’t. Some may find this confusing and cite the passage about the man in John 5 who was healed by Jesus and then revisited by our Lord and told “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (v.14). Jesus did not tell him not to repent anymore, but to stop doing the things that may have contributed to his sickness in the first place.

Also, some may reference the woman who was caught in adultery and brought to Jesus by the Pharisees to see if he would be faithful to the law in requiring her death. You probably already knew that it was actually a set up to trap Jesus because she alone (not the couple) was brought to him, which in itself was a violation of the law. Jesus talked the Pharisees off the ledge of stoning her by pointing out that they were not in a moral position to be her judges. Then he said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). How do you think she would have understood this? Would she have heard him say that she no longer had any need for repentance in her life? Would she have concluded that for the rest of her life Jesus expected her to be sinlessly perfect? OR, do you think she would have understood these words as strong encouragement from Jesus to be done with this adulterous relationship and to change her lifestyle completely?

In many respects this has happened to each of us who has experienced the grace and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ. Like the lame man and the woman, we have been shown mercy and saved from the firing squad of God’s righteous judgment. The punishment for our sin was suffered by Christ and “by his stripes we are healed.” Yet, he tells us “to be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5). I do not believe that this holds out for us the expectation of sinless perfection, but sets the course and direction of our lives to evidence a Family likeness in showing mercy to others. (Check me out on the context.)

Nowhere does Jesus ever say “repent, and sin no more.” The reason is because repentance is not only the first word of the gospel (Matthew 4:17), but it is also one of the key characteristics (the other is faith) of the Christian life. You will not stop repenting as a follower of Jesus until you stop sinning. And when do you think that will be? When I talk to people about living as a Christian, I not only emphasize a continuing need for trust in Jesus but also a continuing need of a repentant heart—a lack of which will be apparent in our marriage and in our relationships both inside and outside of the church. The same gospel that saves us also sanctifies us.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to unpack this concept or repentance. We will look at what isn’t, what it is, and how it affects our relationship with God and others. Stay tuned, and by the way, don’t water down your paint this summer (if it ever comes) just to save a few bucks.

The Power of Benediction…

tame the tongueA benediction is a pronouncement of divine blessing and encouragement. It is a short, concise statement which gives assurance or promise. It is from the Latin bene (good) dicere (to say). Every time I say a benediction over my congregation, I am not leading them in prayer, but blessing them with a good word for their spiritual encouragement.

One of the most famous benedictions in the Bible is one that God gave to Moses to tell Aaron to speak to Israel (follow that?). It was given to be a general encouragement to the nation as the Law of God was being explained and the Tabernacle of the Lord was being dedicated: “The Lord bless you, and keep you: The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

My personal favorite biblical benediction is found at the end of Jude and spoken to people who were being called to persevere in their faith: “Now unto him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24, 25).

I have heard some use Genesis 31:49 as a benediction; “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are parted from each other.” However, if you check the context, you will find that this was a covenant warning made between Laban and Jacob who did not trust each other; calling for God to be a witness so that they would not continue to harm each other. Therefore, don’t use that one, but check out and meditate on some of these: 2 Corinthians 13:14; Hebrews 13:20, 21; 2 Peter 1:2, 3; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, 5:23; Romans 15:5, 6, and 13.

There is one more use of benediction we don’t often hear about because it is mostly spoken outside a church service. It is a benediction used in our personal relationships. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25). We know the power of hurtful words. “Rash words are like sword thrusts” (Prov. 12:18) and yet a good word has healing power. “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24). Many of us were raised with hurtful words, which have wounded us and made our words hurtful to others. Many of us have experienced being the target of cutting and spiteful words, which have weighed us down and discouraged us beyond measure. O for just one good word spoken in truth! “To make and appropriate answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23)

This week someone hurt me with their words, but on the same day someone else spoke an appropriate word that brought great encouragement to me. We all need to experience the power of benediction; a good word that is truthful, sincere, and with no ulterior motive other than to encourage. What a great ministry! Try it, and start in your own household.