The True Moral Fallacy of #justiceforHarambe

western_lowland_gorilla3 (1)The death of Harambe the gorilla has taken the Internet by storm. If you somehow missed the story, you can find a summary of it here.

It should come as no surprise that animal activists are outraged by Harambe’s death. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition calling for “justice for Harambe,” insisting that the boy’s parents should be held accountable.

The “justice for Harambe” movement is predicated on the concept that all life – human and animal – is of equivalent value.

Most of us, of course, don’t agree. We object to the concept of human/animal equality in a sort of visceral way, without being able to clearly articulate why it’s wrong. “Of course people are worth more than animals,” we say. “It’s just obvious.” Or this: “If it were your child in that enclosure, you’d certainly feel that his life was worth more than the gorilla’s life.”

Many Christians take their reasoning one step further, correctly noting that humans are made in the image of God, while gorillas are not. But few of us can articulate what it means to be made in the “image of God.” As a result, we struggle to explain specifically what is wrong with the “animals are equal to people” arguments making the rounds at the moment.

Upon close inspection, though, the argument that Harambe deserves justice collapses in on itself. In other words, if humans and animals are truly of equal value, then nobody would be insisting on justice for Harambe at all! 

What do I mean by that?

Let’s imagine for a moment that Harambe had, in fact, killed the child. Animal activists, of course, would be insisting that the gorilla was justified. After all, the boy invaded his home! When their environments are invaded, gorillas feel threatened and they rip people to bits. That’s just what they do. There would be no “justice for the boy” movement. Nobody would ask Harambe to go to jail, or pay a fine, or make restitution in any way. After all, he’s a gorilla. The boy and his parents should’ve known better.

But wait a second. Isn’t this a double standard? Why are humans held accountable for killing gorillas, but gorillas are not held accountable for killing humans?

Here’s why: Because we all recognize that humans and gorillas are not, in fact, morally equivalent. We don’t hold gorillas morally accountable for their actions. If they pose a threat to a human being, we restrain them or even kill them, but that’s not a punitive measure. It is a practical measure. The zoo employees who shot Harambe were not trying to punish him or to set an example for all the other gorillas. They were just trying to protect a child’s life.

This is why the concept of “justice for Harambe” contains a deep moral and logical fallacy. The entire movement is built on the premise that people are morally superior to gorillas. Those asking for justice for Harambe recognize that people should be held accountable for moral decisions, but gorillas should not. Gorillas do not have the ability to think morally, even if they have the ability to think rationally.

Let’s imagine another scenario for a moment: Think of the biggest, strongest man you can imagine. Maybe The Rock or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now imagine that the man’s home is invaded by an unarmed 4-year-old child. Would that man be justified in ripping the child to pieces with his bare hands? No? But why not? After all, the child has invaded his home! The man is big and strong and angry and startled – shouldn’t he be able to kill the intruder? Of course not. He would go to jail for that crime. He might even face execution.

We hold the man accountable because we understand that he has the capacity to act morally. He is not driven solely by instinct. He must not allow his size and strength to dictate his actions. We expect more of the man than we do of the gorilla. That is because there is more to the man than there is to the gorilla.

Here’s where we come back to the concept of the image of God. To be made in the image of God is – at least in part – to be capable of reflecting God’s moral character. Because we are made in the image of God, we are called to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16). Humans are superior to animals because we are made in God’s image, and God’s image includes the capacity to make moral choices.

Because Adam and Eve were made in God’s image, He punished them when they disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden. They didn’t disobey God because they were stupid; they disobeyed Him because they were rebellious and evil. We might call a gorilla dangerous and stupid, or gentle and playful or any number of other things, but we never call it evil. We do not attribute good and evil to animals, because we recognize that they are not morally responsible. Even animal activists recognize that, although they do so unconsciously.

Hence the irony of insisting on justice for Harambe, when we would not ask the same if the gorilla had committed the same offense. People can be evil. We all agree on that. Gorillas, on the other hand, can only act according to the nature of gorillas. They act on instinct. And if that is true, then people are superior. Their lives are more valuable than those of gorillas.

It’s not that gorillas have no value at all. It’s just that their value is less than that of a human being. From a Christian perspective, we recognize that being made in the image of God confers upon us a great deal of value, but also a great deal of responsibility.

While the death of a beautiful gorilla is sad, the waste of a human life is even sadder. While the life of a gorilla might bring us joy for a few years, the life of a human being can last forever.

While we strive to be kind to all of God’s creatures, let’s never forget the eternal nature and immeasurable value of humanity, created in God’s image and redeemed by God’s son.

 

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The Word of God is a Dangerous Thing

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ReDiscovered Word

(Hebrews 4:12)

The Word of God is a dangerous thing. 

You and I open it up, hoping to understand God, or maybe to find a little bit of inspiration to make it through another day.

When we open those pages, though, something else happens.

God’s Word opens us instead.

Living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, the Scripture cuts us to the core. The cuts are deep and painful, but redemptive at the same time.

Read it often enough, and we discover something unsettling: we cannot predict or control what God will say to us. And the changes He makes will be deep and painful. But they will also be right.

Our values will be turned upside down. Our self-righteousness will be shattered. Our plans for the future will change.

When we approach God’s Word with open ears and submissive hearts, we will be changed. 

Perhaps that is why so many keep His Word at arm’s length. It’s safer when it’s consumed in small doses at manageable times. It’s less frightening when we simply use it to satisfy our curiosity, or to justify our preconceptions. If we don’t get too close, it won’t open us up.

And that’s a safer approach. But it’s not a better approach.

It’s tragic, in fact, to have access to the very Word of God and yet to never allow it to do its work. Because when we let it transform us, we find something deeply satisfying: His way is better than ours.

Our old values need to be discarded. Our self-righteousness needs to be shattered. Our plans need to change.

His ways are infinitely better, but we resist them anyway. Still, his Word waits for us. Living and active, perfectly good, and powerful enough to change us.

If only we will let it. The process is painful, but the outcome is always good.

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The Biblical Command We Ignore

Philippians_BibleConsider this question for a moment:

What biblical command is so difficult that we don’t merely disobey it, but we also routinely ignore it? 

It’s probably not what you think.

After all, we Christians try to steer clear of sins like sexual lust, gluttony, and drunkenness. When we fail in those areas, we usually acknowledge our sins and ask God for the strength to do better.

Most of us try to avoid dishonesty, gossip, and outbursts of anger. We understand how damaging those sins can be, so we try to avoid them also.

But there’s one biblical command that is so tough that we regularly ignore it, and we sometimes even question whether it’s possible to obey at all. Yet every time we disobey it, we’re committing a sin just as real and damaging as the ones I’ve listed above.

What’s the command I’m talking about?

Rejoice. 

Take a moment to read the verses below:

“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, oh righteous! And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” – Psalm 32:11

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, ‘Rejoice!’” – Philippians 4:4

“Rejoice always.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Those are just a sampling of the many, many verses in the Bible that call us to rejoice. Not just to rejoice sometimes, but to rejoice always.

It’s a direct command from Scripture. It sounds like a fun command, actually. Maybe that’s why we tend to view it as a suggestion rather than as a command. After all, who doesn’t want to rejoice? Nobody would choose to lack joy, right? And if we don’t feel like rejoicing, it must mean we have some good reason to be grumpy or whiny, right?

Actually, wrong. The command specifically tells us to rejoice always. Even when we think we don’t have a good reason to rejoice.

“But how?” you ask. “How can I rejoice when I have so many good reasons not to?”

That’s a real quandary. There’s no way to side-step the reality that life can be quite hard. Our relationships don’t meet our expectations, our bodies don’t work like we want them to, our jobs disappoint us, and so on.

Joy seems like a luxury reserved for those who have easy lives. Something for people who don’t have real problems to worry about, people whose lives are all sunshine and roses.

It would be easy to convince ourselves of that, if only it wasn’t the apostle Paul who told us to rejoice. Paul, the guy who was beaten, shipwrecked, ostracized, starved half to death, and imprisoned for sharing the gospel.

How did he do it? How could he possibly rejoice in the midst of all of that? And how can we, even in the midst of all of our problems?

The secret is found in the little phrase that Paul attached to the word “rejoice” in Philippians 3:1 and 4:4.

“Rejoice in the Lord,” Paul wrote. 

Rejoice that God is good. Rejoice because Jesus is alive. Rejoice in the truth that He loves you. Rejoice that you know Him. Rejoice in the fact that He’s coming again to undo sin and death forever.

Even in the middle of your worst day, you can rejoice. There is always, always, always, a reason to rejoice. That’s why Paul says to rejoice always.

Joy is not the same as pretending your problems don’t exist. “Rejoice” is not code for, “Suck it up and paste a smile on that face.” Biblical joy acknowledges the pain of living in a fallen world, but then looks beyond that pain to the hope found in Jesus.

For too many of us, we read the command to rejoice and simply ignore it or disobey it because we find it unrealistic. Maybe we even find it offensive.

“I’m just complaining about my kids because parenting is hard. Don’t tell me I need to rejoice.”

“My job is terrible. My spouse is a jerk. My air conditioner is broken. My cat hates me. How dare you tell me to rejoice?”

But we miss the point when we respond that way. Paul tells us to rejoice precisely because our lives are hard. He tells us to rejoice as a way of reminding us that nothing is more powerful that God. When we rejoice in the Lord, we learn to trust Him. We deepen our faith in His promises and our appreciation for His character. And we encourage others to do the same.

Yes, it’s hard to do. Yes, we don’t always feel like it.

And yes, that’s why we really need to obey anyway. The God who raised Jesus from the dead can gives us the power to do the impossible.

Rejoice. In the Lord. Always.

Shall I say it again?

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Love, Mortality, and Aggie Football

11230612_10156141018410160_4599014232661230164_oI didn’t grow up watching Aggie football. My parents both went to Oklahoma, and neither of them were ardent fans of college football anyway. I remember watching college football each year on Thanksgiving, when we visited my mom’s family in Oklahoma City. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were die-hard Sooners. At least once, my grandfather (whom we called Ghido) took us to a game in Norman. All I remember about the game is that Ghido, who was a prominent attorney and later a judge in Oklahoma City, seemed to know every person at the stadium. I came to realize over the years that he seemed to know everybody wherever he went. He was one of those rare individuals who could walk into a room of strangers and quickly turn them into friends.

Still, Ghido loved his family above all else. He especially loved his grandchildren. There were nine of us, and each of us believed we were his favorite.

In a sort of ironic twist, it was my love for my Sooner grandfather that eventually cemented my love of Aggie football.

I came to A&M in 1994, following in my older brother’s footsteps. We were the first Aggies in our family, so when A&M played Oklahoma that September, I made sure to be at the game. OU entered the game ranked 15th; A&M was 16th. Since A&M and OU were not in the same conference at the time, the matchup had only been recently revived. OU won the game in 1993. In 1994, A&M had their revenge and beat OU 36-14.

When I got home from the game, I decided to call Ghido and harass him a little bit. My grandmother answered the phone. When she told my grandfather to come to the phone, I heard him say, “Tell Matt I’m not here.” She told him that he’d better come to the phone right that minute and talk to her grandson, a demand with which he complied (he was really never able to tell her no). I gave him a hard time for a few minutes, and in his gracious way, Ghido said, “You guys have a good team and a good coach. But these things always go back and forth.”

A&M won the next three times they played Oklahoma, but as Ghido predicted, the series swung the other way in 1999. A&M and OU were both in the Big 12 by then, so we played each other every year. OU absolutely decimated A&M, 51-6, in Norman that year. Ghido called me to remind me that “these things go back and forth,” but then followed it up by saying things were sure to turn around for us.

Over the next ten years, A&M only won once, leading me to think that “back and forth” was no longer an accurate description of the rivalry. Ghido never forgot to call me when his team won. Not a single time. I think he even began to feel a little bit sheepish about the calls, since he was on the winning end of a very long streak. And yet he always called nonetheless.

Over time I realized that the phone calls weren’t about football. They were about him and me. They were about a young man from Generation X and a old man of the World War 2 generation, who stumbled upon a shared interest, an inside joke that cemented our love for one another. I grew to love his calls after the game every year, even when the Aggies lost. I’d wait by the phone and look forward to hearing his voice gently razz me about our team. And I know that on the few occasions I got to call him, he eagerly waited by the phone, although he’d always pretend that he was trying to sneak out of the house before the phone rang.

In 2006, my wife and I were living in College Station again, having moved back from Dallas in 2004. It occurred to me that I’d never actually attended an A&M-OU game with Ghido, even though we had watched one or two of them on the same television. So I called to invite him to the game that Fall. He was 85 years old at the time. My grandmother had passed away a few years earlier, and I had a feeling that our time with Ghido was running short as well. I didn’t know if we’d have another opportunity to see the game together in person.

My grandfather sat with me on the west side of Kyle Field, the old “former student” section. He was a bright red speck in a sea of maroon. Ordinarily, a fan of the opposing team sitting right in the midst of home team fans would face some ribbing, maybe even some hostility. But this was Kyle Field, home of the friendliest fans in college football. And, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandfather had a way of winning people over. By the end of the first quarter he was friends with everybody sitting within speaking distance. Since we ended up standing through most of the game, my fellow Aggies periodically checked on Ghido. “Are you doing okay?” they’d ask. “Need any more water? Can we get you anything from the concessions stand?” He stood for the entire game, with the exception of halftime, although I could tell it took a toll on his knees. He just didn’t want to miss a minute of the action.

The Aggies ran out of time that day, losing 17-16 to Oklahoma in a nailbiter that turned into a heartbreaker. As always, Ghido said something like, “You guys have a good coach. It will turn around again eventually.”

As I’d feared, that was the last time I would attend a game with my grandfather. He died in 2012, just after A&M entered the SEC. Oklahoma won their final matchup in the Big 12. Other family members tell me that he talked about attending that game in 2006 for years, how he and his Aggie grandson shared a rivalry that somehow turned into an alliance. To this day, it’s one of my favorite and most poignant memories.

Less than two months after Ghido died, A&M played OU in The Cotton Bowl, and this time the Aggies won 41-13. After the game, I reached for the phone, and then remembered he was gone. For seventeen years, we’d talked to each other after the game. This time, A&M’s victory was bittersweet.

Moses wrote in Psalm 90 that “the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength, eighty” before we “fly away.” My grandfather had 91 good years before he flew away. 

These days, when I watch Aggie football, I often reflect on the bond it created between me and my grandfather, and on the fleeting nature of life on this side of eternity. I remember what my grandfather taught me through those yearly phone calls, that the people we love matter so much more than any game. I remember that our days pass quickly, so we’d best use them wisely.

Another great sage, King Solomon, says to “remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” Because time flies. Three or four hours and the game is over. Seventy or eighty years and so is your life. And then eternity beckons. As a pastor, of course, my calling is to point men and women to the reality that Jesus is risen, to the truth that eternal life is found in knowing Him.

I’m an avid Aggie football fan these days. But I’ve transformed in more important ways since that first game I watched in 1994.

I now understand from experience that time is short. I know in a deeper way how much people matter, how significant our time is with those we love. I remember that eternity awaits us all, so the wise among us prepare for it.

Lessons God drove home through Aggie football and phone calls from my grandfather. Unlikely teachers, but the greatest wisdom often comes from unlikely sources.

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God’s Image and the Gospel

broken_mirrorEvery human life is made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). Every man, woman, child, and infant carries the potential to eternally reflect God’s glory. Our bodies, minds and spirits are created to shine His light.

For that reason, Christians have always believed that a person’s value is not determined by his or her size, intelligence, physical abilities, race, or gender. 

Each human being is stamped with a permanent price tag, one that simply reads, “Priceless. Made in God’s image.” That is why God defends the defenseless and calls His people to do the same. That is why, when infanticide was common and accepted throughout the Roman Empire, Christians were the ones who rescued and cared for those abandoned infants.

It is why Christians will never agree with the sentiments of men like Princeton University’s Peter Singer, when he says, “The fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.”

To accept Singer’s logic is to deny the image of God and commit a terrible form of blasphemy. Our value is not defined by our capacities, but by our Creator.

The image of God informs how Christians view all of life. The image of God demands that we care about the weak and defenseless (Psalm 10:17-18; 82:3-4). The image of God means that we cannot passively accept a world in which people discuss the crushing of human babies as an acceptable and routine practice. The image of God means that we cannot passively accept a world in which racial and tribal divisions lead us into a dehumanizing suspicion of those who are different from us (Acts 17:26-29).

That said, the image of God is only part of the story we are called to tell.

While the image of God demands that we defend the defenseless, the gospel calls us to love and pray for God’s enemies. Because only the gospel provides a path by which God’s enemies can become His friends. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that no human being, however cruel, however far from God, is beyond the reach of His grace. So rather than isolating ourselves from those who currently reject Christ, we step right into their midst and share the good news that nobody is beyond the hope of salvation. We share that true life is not found in the pleasures and power of this world, but only in the love and redemption of the One who came to save us.

Because God made each person in His image, He longs to undo the sin that has defaced and broken that image for all of us. He longs to repair everybody to their proper working order. And He gave Jesus to make that possible.

If we are to be consistent in our ethics of life, then, we cannot forget that the oppressed and the oppressor are both stamped with the same price tag. All are made in the same image and all carry the potential to know and reflect God.

In Christ, every person matters. In Christ, every enemy is a potential friend. 

Every single person is made in His image yet broken and rebellious because of sin. And the saving power provided by the gospel is the only power in heaven or on earth capable of raising the dead, saving the hopeless, and transforming enemies into friends.

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The Only King We Need

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(1 Samuel 8, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles)

When will we stop waiting for the next king, the next leader, the next hero to save the world?

When will we learn that kings and rulers will never meet our expectations, or fulfill our deepest hopes? Earthly leaders can never do what only God can do.

Israel never learned that lesson. I wonder if we will.

Like you and me, Israel wanted a leader who would make their nation look good. They wanted a ruler to reflect their values: strength, power, and maybe a little morality thrown in for good measure.

“Give us a king,” they said. “We want to be strong and respected, like all the other nations.”

So God gave them what they asked. They rejected His leadership and made idols out of their kings. And Israel’s monarchy was a disaster, just as God warned them it would be.

Saul, their first king, was power-hungry and godless. His successor David worshipped God, but was violent and deceitful. David’s son Solomon was wise, but his unrestrained lust led the people into idolatry.

Rehoboam’s arrogance split the nation in half. And on and on the cycle went.

There were nineteen kings in northern Israel, and every one of them worshipped idols. There were twenty kings in the southern kingdom, and most of them worshipped idols as well. Even the “good” kings of Judah were often violent, usually arrogant, and sometimes idolatrous.

The root of Israel’s problem was that they did not trust God’s leadership. For nearly 400 years, the people followed their kings into all sorts of evil, until God judged the nation by sending them into exile.

When they returned to the land, after 70 long years, they still clung stubbornly to their hope that a human king would save them.

And all the while, God kept sending prophets to tell them the truth: Only one King could save them. But they never listened.

They kept looking to their leaders, expecting them to do what only God could do.

So God Himself came, clothed in human flesh, to save His people from their enemies and from their sin. Born in a manger, raised by a carpenter, with no palace of His own, He didn’t fit their model of a what a king should be. So they killed Him.

But this King was not like Saul or David or Solomon or any of the others. He would not stay in the grave. He rose again to lead His people to victory and life, to save them from sin and death and Satan, once and for all.

And yet the people kept waiting and hoping for somebody else. Rather than submit to the Savior, they kept looking for a better option.

Will God’s people ever learn that there is no better option? Will His people ever see that there is only one Savior?

The pattern of Israel’s idolatry continues in the hearts of God’s people today. We look to governments and kings to save us. We want them to free us from our national sins and lead us into righteousness. But they won’t. They can’t. Because there is only one Savior.

Are you disappointed in your government? Are you disillusioned by your leaders? Well, that’s not a bad starting point on the pathway to trusting God. Because once we free ourselves from the old and tenacious lie that kings will save us, we become free to trust the only King who can.

He’s a good King. He’s a powerful King. And He will save us. Don’t lose heart, and don’t place your hope in the kingdoms of the world.  

Instead, worship the One True King. Proclaim His glory to those who need to hear.

And wait for His salvation, because He’s coming back soon.

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Even the Wisest Person

1024px-Jugement_de_Salomon_3,_vitrail_roman,_Cathédrale_de_StrasbourgReDiscovered Word

(1 Kings 11, Proverbs 2)

Even the wisest person can become a fool.

Solomon’s wisdom was vast, but he forgot its Source. He amassed wisdom and wealth and honor, but at some point he started to turn away from the God who gave him it all to him.

His wisdom made him powerful, but his power made him arrogant. He collected wives and concubines and they led him far away from the Lord. Their idolatry crept into his heart and then into the entire nation of Israel.

Solomon’s divided heart eventually resulted in a divided kingdom. Years of war, years of loss, years of idolatry. The wisest man in history made a series of foolish choices, and his nation paid a terrible price.

Wisdom is not a permanent acquisition. It has to be cared for and cultivated or it will fade away. A wise young man might become a foolish old man if he doesn’t pay close attention to his heart.

You and I are always headed toward wisdom or headed toward foolishness. Our paths are largely determined by how well we remember the One who gives wisdom and how faithfully we listen to his Word.

Wisdom shouts in the street and lifts her voice in the square. Wisdom instructs the simple and enlightens the wise. But wisdom only does its work in those who will listen.

When Solomon stopped listening, his wisdom faded. The same can happen to you and me. Or we can pay attention to our hearts and heed the God of wisdom. He loves to give wisdom, and He gives it to young and old alike. But you have to listen.

Even the wisest person can become a fool. But even the foolish can become wise when they hear the voice of wisdom’s Maker.

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Five Questions to Ask Before You Speak

bigstock-Speak-No-Evil-4964653-e1363801488317As a preacher and writer, I spend a good deal of my time thinking about words. I’ve always been a word guy, in fact, and I suppose that’s one reason I chose the profession I did.

The best and worst part of being a word person is that the things people say to me often stick to me. In contradiction to the old saying, I am not rubber and others are not glue. Instead, I am the glue. Words stick to my heart and soul, sometimes in uncomfortably painful ways.

In our digital age, words are even more permanent than they once were. Everybody now has a platform to publish their words for the world to see. And anybody who spends time on social media has seen the pain caused by unwise words tossed out in the heat of the moment. James once wrote that the tongue is a raging fire; he could say the same thing today about the computer keyboard.

The Bible approaches words from two directions: what to say and what not to say. When my wife and I talk with our kids about their words, we emphasize that every negative statement has a positive counterpart. In other words, the goal isn’t simply to avoid saying the wrong things; it’s to cultivate the art of saying the right things. For the Christian, we do this in partnership with God’s Spirit who lives in us. “No man can tame the tongue,” James tells us. But God can do it if we let Him.

In that regard, let’s hold our words up to the Light of His character. Here are some questions to ask ourselves about our words, before we open our mouths or start typing on Facebook:

1. Are these words helpful? This question is a good starting point. To be clear, helpful words are not always comfortable words. There are times when we can help another person by kindly exhorting or even rebuking him or her. The goal, though, is always to build up rather than to tear down (Eph 4:29).

Often we use words in ways that are merely careless, without considering their impact. We complain, we mouth off, we criticize, or we gossip. I think we talk sometimes simply because we’re afraid of silence. But if our words aren’t going to be helpful, it’s best just to remain quiet.

2. Are these words true? I’ll never forget my junior high classmate who seemed to lie compulsively. Exaggerations and unbelievable stories flowed out of his mouth like water from a spigot. He was so accustomed to lying that I’m not sure he even knew he was doing it anymore. He certainly didn’t seem able to stop.

Most of us lie sometimes, perhaps because we’re trying to save face, or to avoid confrontation, or to get something we want. We lie because we’re looking out for our own interests rather than the interests of others (Phil 2:4). But God never lies, and neither should we. If we are to reflect His perfect character, we need to cultivate truthfulness, even when it hurts.

3. Are these words timed correctly? My wife is a skilled communicator and she often provides helpful feedback for me about my sermons. However, she’s learned over the years that Sunday afternoon is not the ideal time to provide suggestions about my Sunday morning sermon. I’m too tired and sensitive right after I preach; the timing isn’t right, even when the suggestions are helpful.

Proverbs 15:23 says that a “word in season” is good. It’s possible to say the right thing at the wrong time. It takes supernatural wisdom to know whether a person needs to be encouraged, rebuked, or just left alone at any particular moment.

4. Are these words pure? When I was nine or ten years old, I remember one of my baseball teammates saying, “Would you like to hear a dirty joke?” Before I could answer, he said, “A white horse fell into the nasty brown mud!” Fortunately, his “dirty joke” was not as offensive as most of the ones I’ve heard through the years. All too often I’ve heard such jokes from other Christians. To my shame, I’ve occasionally laughed at them or even passed them along to others.

But Ephesians 5:4 cautions us against filthy talk and crude joking. Those types of words are not fitting for men and women who represent the purity of God. Not only that, but impure words are simply a waste of time and energy, when we should be using our words to edify and encourage.

5. Are these words kind and gracious? We all know people who consistently use “truth” as a blunt instrument with which to smack other people in the head. There’s a fine line between being direct and being unkind. Always ask yourself, “How would I want somebody to tell me what I’m about to say? Is the way I’m about to say this consistent with the forgiving and gracious character of Jesus?” If not, rethink your approach. “Speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

By holding up our speech to these five questions, we can avoid most of the negative speech that Scripture warns us about: gossip, sarcasm, lying, verbal abuse, dirty jokes, and other inappropriate words.

What’s more, these questions help us speak in a way that is “seasoned with salt,” full of grace and kindness and love (Col 4:6). They help us use our words to reflect the enduring love and purity and perfection of Jesus our Savior.

So how do your words measure up? Are they helpful, true, well-timed, pure, and kind? If not, hold them up to the light and ask for the power of God’s Spirit to speak what is good.

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Always Present, Always in Control

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(Matthew 14:22-33; Psalm 139)

There is nowhere you can go where Christ’s presence cannot follow. There is no crisis, big or small, from which He is absent.

He is always present, and He is always in control. 

You say, “I know that. I learned it as a child. God is always with me.”

Yes, of course you know. But do you forget?

On a dark and stormy night, Jesus’ own disciples forgot His presence and doubted His power. In a small boat on a small sea, the wind raged around them and the rain poured from heavens. The boat threatened to break apart and they were terrified.

When they saw the man walking on top of the water, they thought it was a ghost. Perhaps death itself had come to claim their exhausted bodies and wayward souls. They cried out in fear, until He spoke.

“Take courage. I AM. Do not be afraid.” 

The Maker of the Seas was in their presence. The King of all Creation was walking on the water. He was always present and He was always in control.

You know the rest of the story. You probably learned it as a child. Peter got out of the boat. While his eyes were on Jesus, he walked on the waves. When his eyes shifted to the wind and the waves, he fell.

And the Captain on the Storm took him by the hand, pulled him from the water, and stopped the storm cold. No more wind. No more rain. No more waves.

Jesus was always present and He was always in control.

Just as Jonah learned the hard way, and just as the Psalmist wrote so many years ago, nobody escapes His presence. 

If you fly to the highest heavens, if you descend to the depths of the earth, if you go to the east or the west, He is there. Even if you turn off all the lights, He sees you.

If you find yourself in a crisis not of your own making, He is present. If you find yourself feeling out of control, He is in control.

You can panic or you can trust. You can pretend you’re in control, or you can grab ahold of the hand of the God who is. 

And like the disciples remembered so many years ago, you’ll remember who He is. The one who conquered death will not abandon His people. The one who defeated hell itself will eventually resolve every crisis and wipe away every tear. He never leaves and He never loses.

The Maker of the Universe lives in you and me. Every place, every moment, forever. 

Always present. Always in control.

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The Prayer God Loves to Answer

Luca_Giordano_-_Dream_of_Solomon_-_WGA09004ReDiscovered Word 19

(1 Kings 3, James 1)

There is a prayer God loves to answer, a request to which He eagerly answers, “Yes.”

It is a prayer that was offered by Israel’s third king, and encouraged by the brother of Jesus Himself. It is not a prayer for good health, long life, extra money, or easy circumstances.

What is the prayer God loves to answer? It is a prayer for wisdom.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all, generously and without reproach.”

When you and I, like Solomon, ask God for wisdom, He opens His storehouse and provides. Perhaps not all at once, as He did for Solomon. And perhaps not to the same degree that He gives to another. He might not make you the wisest person in history. The Queen of Sheba will probably never sit at your feet to listen to your pearls of wisdom. (At least she’s not coming to ask me for advice! Perhaps you’re wiser than I am, though).

But God will generously give you wisdom. He will never mock your naïveté, and He will never rebuke you for coming to ask. He will give to you freely and without reproach.

We face a dizzying array of decisions each day. Some are insignificant, but others matter deeply. How should we use our limited time? How should we allocate our money? How can we respond to our spouses or roommates or kids or bosses or professors with the grace and truth of God?

All too often we worry about the right decisions, when we ought to pray for wisdom. We substitute anxiety for prayer and simply refuse to cast our cares on Him. We read articles, we ask our friends what to do, we lie awake with worry, but we seldom pray for wisdom.

But wisdom is the very thing that God is eager to give. He possesses it in infinite quantities. He never runs out, and the man or woman who asks Him for it will receive more than enough. He’s filled His Word with wisdom, and He can fill our hearts and minds with it as well. Yet for some inexplicable reason, we stubbornly refuse His help, hoping against hope that our small minds can gather enough wisdom, all alone, to make the right choices. And time and again we prove ourselves wrong, while the very Maker of Wisdom offers us bountiful wisdom beyond our wildest dreams.

Solomon’s wisdom overflowed the boundaries of his own country and made him famous throughout the whole world. God was delighted when Solomon asked for wisdom, so He gave Him more wisdom than He even imagined possible.

He’s waiting for us to ask as well. God loves to answer our prayers for wisdom. He loves to give it generously and without reproach.

The only question that remains is whether you and I, the people of God, will ask for it.

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