Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dan Holmquist on Spiritual Smear Campaigns

My friend Dan warns against subtle lies (malicious gossip) that undermine good ministries:

Little lies work best.
A sampling:  This is not a loving church.  People are unfriendly.  The pastor isn’t really a good shepherd.  They do not understand other perspectives.  I am not being fed.  I was not touched in worship.  They do not lead biblically.  The leaders do not spend wisely.  Ministries are not meeting the most important needs.
 Then he talks about those people most susceptible to get entangled by a smear campaign:

Beware of those who complain, and after heard are rarely able to come to a peaceful resolution.
Beware of those who talk a lot about ministries and take positions, but are largely uninvolved.
Beware of those who discuss other people’s motives thoughtlessly and carelessly, even openly.
Beware of those who purposefully avoid developing close relationships with others in the church.
Beware of those who aren’t learning, and yet present themselves as knowledgeable and spiritual, and ever-ready to teach.
Beware of those who are spiritually discontent and generally unhappy in God.
And he concludes with a biblical strategy from 1 Thessalonians 2 for answering these kinds of attacks.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sunday, April 28, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Grumbling (Part One)"

“Grumbling (Part One)”
The Tongue of the Wise
April 28, 2013 :: Exodus 15:22-16:36

We’ve only had two sermons in this series, but they’ve got us off to a good start.

The first one was called "The Fearsome Tongue,” and we talked about how powerful our words can be.  “Reckless words pierce like a sword.”

And the second sermon was about the other half of that verse, “but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

“Pleasant words are honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Our words can be powerful for good[!] as well as for evil.

Today and next Sunday, I want to talk about grumbling.


During the first message in this series, I asked you to name some sins of the fiery tongue, and one of you yelled out, “Grumbling.”

And I said, “Oh that’s a little one isn’t it? That’s no big deal.”

And we all laughed.  Because we know that we’re all guilty.

In a very helpful article on “Grumbling a Look at ‘Little’ Sin” author Paul Tripp says, “We live with grumbling all the time.  Isn’t it amazing that we human beings can stand in front of a closet full of clothes and say we don’t have a thing to wear? Or stand in front of a refrigerator full of food and say there’s nothing to eat? We are angry at the food and go on diets because we’re convinced that anything that ever tasted good is fattening. Isn’t it remarkable that we have wonderful activity-filled lives full of meaning and purpose, and we grumble that we’re way too busy? Or that we can look at everything that exists and find some reason to complain? Grumbling may seem like a little thing—a little sin—but I would like to propose to you that grumbling is a pollutant in the waters of your heart. It will kill life.” (Grumbling–A Look At A ‘Little’ Sin, Journal of Biblical Counseling, Volume 18, Number 2, Winter 2000).


I want to take two weeks to think about this together.

This week in Exodus and next week in Numbers.

Because I think we all need to hear this.  I know that I do.

Exodus 15 comes right after Exodus 14. (Believe it or not!)

What happened Exodus 14, does anybody remember?  The Red Sea Rescue!

The LORD God rescued His people Israel from the hands of the Egyptians by 10 devastating plagues and one Red Sea Rescue.  The Egyptian army had been buried by a divine tsunami.  And the people of Israel had worshiped the LORD in singing at the Red Sea!  “The LORD is a warrior.  The LORD is His name.  I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted.  The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea!”

The people of Israel sang the praises of their Rescuer in Exodus 15.

But that didn’t last long...just three days.

In three days, the same people who were raising their voices in mighty rescue songs were grumbling against their Rescuer.

Grumbling.  In the Old Testament, the word for grumbling (or if you have King James Version–murmuring) is used 21 times.  And all but 2 of those times, the word “grumbling” is found in this section of the Bible (Exodus 15, 16, and 17) and the very similar situations in the book of Numbers. This passage is about grumbling in the wilderness.

Grumbling.  Murmuring.

Both of those words are great because they sound like what they are.

You guys over here. Tell your neighbor, “Grumble, Grumble, Grumble.”

And you over here say, “Murmur, Murmur, Murmur.”


The experience of the people of Israel in Exodus 15 and 16 stands in the Bible as a warning and an exhortation to us to not fall into the same temptations that Israel did.

In the New Testament, whenever it talks about the behavior of Israel in the wilderness challenges us to not act like they did.  The book of Hebrews, chapter 3. 1 Corinthians, chapter 10.  Philippians chapter 2.

Paul says there in Philippians chapter 2, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”  Don’t grumble.  Don’t follow the example of Israel in the wilderness.  Don’t grumble.

What is grumbling?

Grumbling is rebellious complaining.

There is a godly way to complain.  It is to take your problems to the LORD in faith and make your problems plain to the LORD in prayer.  The Psalms are full of godly complaints.

But grumbling is never godly.  Grumbling is never good.

Grumbling is rebellious complaining without faith.

Don’t grumble.

Now, that’s a lot easier to say than it is to do!

Grumbling comes naturally.
Grumbling comes easily.
Grumbling is hard to fight.

At least it is for me.

I often don’t even realize that I’ve fallen into it.  Someone has to point it out to me.

It’s second nature for me to grumble.

I don’t like something.  I don’t like my situation.  I don’t like my circumstances.  I don’t like what’s happened to me.  I don’t like how I feel.  And I grumble.

How about you?

This week I posted a little bit on Facebook about what I was learning about grumbling, and a number of people pressed “like” or said “ouch” or sent me a note saying, “Your message on Sunday is sure to pinch, but please preach it. Grumbling is toxic and poisonous, and we need help.”

How do we learn to stop grumbling?

I think that in this section of Scripture there are 3 things about God to remind ourselves when we are tempted to grumble.  Three reasons why we shouldn’t give in to grumbling. And if we can get these reasons engraved on our hearts, we can gain some victory over grumbling.

The people of Israel have been rescued but that does not mean that they are out of trouble.

In fact, they run into trouble right away.  Moses leads Israel away from the Red Sea into the Desert of Shur (northwest corner of the Sinai peninsula). And they run out of water.  Chapter 15, verse 22.

“Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.”  Stop there for a second.

Put yourself in their shoes. It’s easy to be critical when you are well fed and comfortable.

Did everybody get something to eat this morning?  Did everybody get something to drink?  Anybody really hungry out there?  Anybody thirsty?  Anybody not drink anything for the last 2 days?

There are upwards to 2 million people here in the desert. And they have no water supply.

And then, they see some water!  But it seems like some kind of cruel joke.  V.23

“When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. ‘Bitter’)  So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’”

Now, put yourself in their shoes.  Desert.  No water.  Crying babies.  Here’s some water.  Uggh!  Can’t drink that!

What do you do?  Well, you could pray.  You could thank God for what He has done. You could ask Him in faith to supply your need.  Or...you could grumble. V.24

“So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’  Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them.”

Don’t Grumble.  Why?  #1.  THE LORD IS TESTING YOU.

You see here how God responds to their grumbling?  Amazingly enough, He simply answers Moses’ cry with a miracle.  A piece of wood makes the water (not just not bitter but...) sweet.

You know, wood doesn’t normally make water sweet.  But this time it does because the LORD wants it to.  And it quenches the thirst of the multitude.

And verse 25 says, “There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them.”

This was a test.

The reason they didn’t have water was a test.  And, you know what, they didn’t pass.

This was a test.

Now, when the LORD tests us, He doesn’t do it just to flunk us.  He does it to teach us.  The LORD uses tests to teach us.

The LORD uses tests (or trials, that’s what the word “trial” means) to teach us.  He uses our circumstances, our situations, our problems, our trials to:

teach us what is in our hearts
and teach us what should be in our hearts
and teach us to respond differently in the future.

The LORD uses our circumstances, our situations, our problems, our trials, our tests to teach us what is in our hearts, teach us what should be in our hearts, and teach us to respond differently in the future.

You see, the LORD’s tests are not just pass/fail but instruction.

And we see here what was in Israel’s heart–unbelief.

They grumbled because they didn’t believe.  Because they didn’t trust.

And all along, the LORD was testing them.  We’ll see the same thing in chapter 16.

And the LORD is testing you.

This problem that you have–I’m sure you have one.  Whatever it is.  You know what it is–this problem that you have is (among other things!) a test.

Don’t grumble at it.  The LORD is testing you.

He knows all about it.  In fact, He’s sovereign over it.  No matter how bad it is, He’s in control of it!

And He’s brought it into your life for (among whatever other reasons) to test you.  To teach you what is in your heart.  To teach you what should be in your heart.  And to teach you how to change.

Forty years later, Moses was preaching to the people of Israel before they went into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy chapter 8).  And he says, “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.  Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years...to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

Friends, He’s still doing that today.

And here’s one of the things He’s trying to teach you: With obedience comes blessing.  With disobedience comes danger.

We use those phrases all the time with our kids.

With trusting obedience comes blessing.  With unbelieving disobedience comes danger.  V.26

“There the LORD made a decree and a law for them [something to go by], and there he tested them [His testing is training.].  He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, [test] I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.’”

Now, there is a promise and a threat in that verse.  “If you trust and obey, I will not bring any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians.”  Implied corollary: I just might if you don’t trust and obey.

With trusting obedience comes blessing.  “I am the LORD who heals you!” With unbelieving disobedience comes danger.  Pass the test: Don’t grumble.

Are you passing the test?

V.27 stands as an illustration that He can do what He says.  V.27

“Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.”

The LORD knows what He’s doing.  He is in complete control here.  He says, “I can heal you,” and He leads them somewhere perfect in the middle of the desert, a little oasis, a delightful little campground, a foretaste of the Promised Land.

Did that end the grumbling?

Unfortunately not.

Chapter 16, verse 1.

“The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. [One month exactly from the Passover.]  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’”

Now, they are hungry–we have to put ourselves in their shoes–but this is really too much!

They grumble against their leaders and charge them with treason.

The Israelites say that it was better in Egypt!  They remember it as “pots of meat and lots to eat!”  (Walter C. Kaiser)

“O! Remember the smorgasbords back in Egypt?  Rameses Old Town Country Buffet?”

Yeah, right?!  As if there was any such thing!

They are hungry, but they accuse Moses and Aaron of trying to kill them.

No faith here.

So, the LORD graciously brings another test.  V.4

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions [another test].  On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.’  So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?’  Moses also said, ‘You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.’

Don’t grumble.  Why? #2.  THE LORD BROUGHT YOU OUT.

The LORD did.

And you’ll see it.  You’ll know it.  You’ll know it when get meat this evening.  And when you eat bread in the morning.

You’ve not grumbled against us.  You’ve grumbled against the LORD.

That’s so important to realize. When we grumble about our circumstances, we are, in our hearts, truly grumbling about the Lord.

The LORD who (v.6) “brought you out of Egypt.”

“Israel, do you know Whom you are insulting when you grumble?

The same God who rescued you from Egypt is going to take care of you in the desert.  Why don’t you trust Him?

I know you are hungry.  But you don’t HAVE to grumble.

The LORD brought you out!

If He brought the 10 Plagues on Pharaoh and his people, if He split the Red Sea and brought you across on dry ground, if He saved you from Pharaoh and his army, don’t you think you can trust Him for some food?

Don’t listen to your stomach!  Listen to me: ‘The LORD brought you out!’

Don’t grumble.  It insults him.

It shows that you don’t think He is able or willing to take care of you.

Well, soon you’ll see.  You’ll know.  He brought you out.”  V.9

“Then Moses told Aaron, ‘Say to the entire Israelite community, 'Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.'’  While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud [!].  The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'’”

How much more, should we who live on this side of the Cross of Jesus Christ, the greatest rescue of all, not grumble.

He brought us out of sin and darkness and Satan’s control.

Don’t you think we could trust Him and not grumble when we’re not happy with something along the way?

Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

He brought you out by His One and Only Son.  Don’t grumble!

Think about that. Think about what He did for you.

And that will do away with grumbling.  Don’t grumble.


Have you ever noticed how gracious God is to Israel in this part of the story?  They have done nothing right since the worship service at the Red Sea.  Grumble, grumble, grumble, grumble.

And how does God respond?  Does He spank them?  Not here.  (We’ll see something different next week.)

But here, what does he do but He gives them what they want!  He provides what they need!  And much more.

Yes, He uses it to teach them a lesson but He pours out His grace on Israel.  He feeds them! V.13

“That evening quail came and covered the camp [Wow!  A camp covering of quail!], and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. [Whoa!] When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ [Hebrew: “Manna?”] For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. [You don’t deserve it!  This is grace!]

This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'’  The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.  And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed. [That’s grace!]  Then Moses said to them, ‘No one is to keep any of it until morning.’ [Why?]  However, some of them paid no attention to Moses [that’s getting to be a pattern!]; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them. [Don’t keep it overnight, it doesn’t keep.]  Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.”

You know what that is?

That’s daily bread.
That’s daily grace.
That’s mercies new every morning.
That’s a fresh supply of daily grace.

That’s our God!

He is so gracious!  Why would we grumble against that?

God not only heals them, turns their bitter to sweet, gives them meat, and bread, but He also gives them rest.  Sabbath.  V.22

“On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much–two omers for each person–and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses.  He said to them, ‘This is what the LORD commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. [Don’t work!]  So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'’ [It will keep this time.]  So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.  ‘Eat it today,’ Moses said, ‘because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.’  Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. [Duh!]  Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?  Bear in mind that the LORD has given you [that’s grace!] the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.’  So the people rested on the seventh day. [Grace!]  The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. [Another “foretaste [literally!] of the Promised Land!”  (Peter Enns, Exodus NIVAC)]”

The LORD is so gracious.  He even gives you a day once a week to enjoy Him without working!  And He gives a perpetual reminder of His grace.  V.32

“Moses said, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt.'’  So Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD to be kept for the generations to come.’  As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony, that it might be kept. [A perpetual reminder of His grace.  V.35.  This grace went on and on and on and on.]  The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.  (An omer is one tenth of an ephah.)”

The LORD is so gracious!

He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and goodness.

He is so gracious, friends.

Why would we ever grumble?

His mercies are new every morning.  Think about what He is for you each day!

This week, I got to go out visiting, and I realized that I had visited two members of our church that are over 90 years old.

Lloyd Hampton and Bea Johnson. Lloyd just had his birthday last month and Bea has hers next month.  Bea Johnson has been a part of this church for 91 years!

Many churches haven’t been around for 91 years, but our church has someone in that has been a part of that church for 91 years!

And one of the things that jumped out at me when I visit with both Bea and Lloyd and Dora was how little they complained.

I don’t know if anyone has ever heard Lloyd Hampton complain!

Lloyd says to me, “I sure miss the fellowship at church, and I’m so thankful for the people who pray for us and think of us. I have so much to be thankful for. God has been so good to me.”

Lloyd knows the knows the principle of manna.

Daily grace. Fresh grace for each new day. Ninety some years of it.

Dora does, too. Bea does, too.

Why would we ever grumble when God supplies fresh grace for each new day?

Why would we ever grumble, when He gives us our daily bread?

Why would we ever grumble?

Don’t Grumble.

THE LORD IS TESTING YOU!  Trust Him.  Pass the test.

Don’t Grumble.

THE LORD BROUGHT YOU OUT!  Don’t Insult Him. He Saved You!

Don’t Grumble.


He gives us everything we have.  Everything we need.

And He has given us Himself...

The Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of manna.

After Jesus fed the 5,000 (in the Gospel of John), the people wanted more of the same.  They wanted more manna just like Moses had given them.

But Jesus knew what was in their hearts. And He knew what they needed.  So He said (John chapter 6):
“‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven [what manna was just a picture of].  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’  ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘from now on give us this bread.’  Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty [He is the sweet water!].”

Jesus is the bread of life.

He went on to say to the crowd (John chapter 6):

“‘Stop grumbling among yourselves,’ ... I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.  I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’”

Jesus is the True Manna.

A Christian is one who has “eaten of Him” by faith, that is someone who has believed that He is the embodiment of all of the grace that we need.

Have you trusted in Jesus as your Bread of Life?

He alone is satisfying, and He is satisfying forever.

We need to repent of our Grumbling, and to rejoice in our Rescue and Rescuer.


Messages in this Series:

1. The Fearsome Tongue
2. Sweet Words

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Without Grumbling?

This upcoming Sunday's message is about grumbling, complaining, and murmuring.

I don't know if anyone else will need this one, but I sure do.

Mark Altrogge wrote about it this week: Really? ALL THINGS Without Grumbling? Really?

Paul Tripp wrote a great article about it in the JBC: Grumbling: A Look at a "Little" Sin.

I wrote about this briefly in a message called Living Out the Gospel.

Paul the apostle wrote, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life."

May we shine like stars!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Marty Schoenleber on "Heart Talk"

My friend, EFCA Pastor and Church Planting Mentor, Marty Schoenleber writes a provocative blog called "Chosen Rebel."

Marty was one of the critical readers for my Resisting Gossip D.Min project and drew a lesson from a quote in it this week.

All my words reveal my heart. All of them.
The ones I speak when I am rested, and fed, and happy, and satisfied, and fulfilled, and the ones I speak when I am tired, and hungry, and sad, and impatient, and confused. All of them reflect the inner workings of my heart. 
Those words that voiced impatience with my wife when she was talking to me can’t be attributed to the fact that I am cranky when I am looking through my bifocals, or anything else that I use to try and absolve myself of bad behavior. My words flow from what is in my heart. And my heart needs to be filled, overflowing with Christ. But not filled like a cup is filled, filled like a sponge is filled–saturating every part of the whole not superficially carried in a container of flesh.
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"An Astonishing Message from a Gay Sister in Christ"

Do not skim this post by an anonymous sister in Christ with same-sex attraction posted at Hunter Baker's blog. This is one of those posts that you have to read the whole thing to get the whole message. There is a paragraph here for everyone:

The first paragraph is for those living in denial.

The second is to those who are living in active or passive hate.

The third paragraph is why I am writing this series of blog posts.

She concludes:

We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not what we shall be, but thank God, we are not what we were. Let us work together to see that we all arrive safely home.
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

14 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

Chris Brauns adds 4 more to Anthony Esolen’s ten-point list.

#1.  Begin by rearing children almost exclusively indoors – give in to the threats of the outdoors, don’t risk allowing them to have unbridled experiences out of our observable space. Lock them up in classes and organized instruction and avoid giving them opportunities to run free.
Amen to this list.

Peter & Isaac at Parker Dam State Park

Drew's head on its own in the woods.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ken Sande on Silencing Gossip

Ken Sande of Relational Wisdom 360 wrote last week about "Silencing Gossip."

Along with other points of wisdom, he share three questions that you can use to interrupt a gossipy moment in its tracks:
 “May I quote you when I talk with her about this?”
 “Could we go to him together to discuss this?”
 “Instead of talking about her, could we pray for her right now?”
While those aren't the only strategies for dealing with sinful gossip, they sure would be helpful ones in many conversations.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Turn and Trust"

[Note: I am out of the pulpit this Sunday, as we have a guest preacher, Henoc Lucien, this week from the Allegheny District Conference. So, I'm posting an old sermon. I picked "Turn & Trust" because of the tumultuous week our nation has had, especially with the Boston Marathon Bombing and a huge explosion in West, Texas. These and other terrible things have reminded me of what I shared the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. "Turn and Trust" is the message I gave that week.  I believe the basic message is the same for us today.]

Photo by Thomas Svensson

"Turn & Trust"

September 16, 2001
Luke 13:1-9

What do you say after a week like this?  As you know, on Tuesday, terrorists succeeded in leveling the World Trade Center and killing thousands of people.  The Pentagon was attacked by another hijacked airplane and yet another dug a deep crater south and west of here in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Our nation has been attacked.  The death toll is higher than Pearl Harbor and the Titanic combined.  The nation has been in crisis-mode all week with planes grounded and financial markets frozen.

This has been the greatest American tragedy in my lifetime, and most of the week I had no idea what I was going to say to you this morning because of my grief for the nation.

What do you say?  In 5 short days, our country has gone through shock, fear, exhaustion, and mourning in quick succession.  It’s been overwhelming.

Christian leaders from around the country have urged that this day be set apart as a “National Day of Mourning and Prayer” and have urged pastors everywhere to give words of comfort and consolation to our congregations.

And that is right.  We need to hear words of comfort–words about the powerful love of God that cannot be separated from us who are in Christ Jesus (Did you hear George W. Bush quote Romans 8 on Friday?).  And we need to hear words of consolation–words about the God who cares about pain and suffering and is powerful enough to do something about it.  A God who is great and a God who is near–just like Pastor Russell told us a few weeks ago.

But there is a word that is conspicuously missing from the national dialogue this week.  I have not heard it on National Public Radio or heard about it being spoken on the television or written in the newspapers.
And that word is “repentance.”  Repentance.

And while I intend to share words of comfort this morning, I believe that God is calling for Christian leaders to call people to repent because of this tragedy.  Don’t just mourn.  Don’t just pray.  Don’t just hold candlelight vigils.  Repent!

Why do I say that?  Because Jesus said it.  Let’s look at Luke chapter 13, verses 1-9.

V.1.  “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”

Jesus receives some bad news just like we received bad news this week.  People from his homeland had been killed while worshiping.  Imagine some armed thugs breaking in here right now, and slicing some of our throats and then pouring our thick, red blood on the communion table.  That’s how horrible this was.  Pilate’s men had killed some Galileans and mingled their blood with the blood of bulls, rams, goats, and doves on the altar in the temple.

And some people shared this bad news with Jesus.  And Jesus knows what they are thinking.  You see, the prevailing notion of the day was that if someone suffered like this, then they must have been an extraordinary sinner to deserve it.  Remember the story of Job from late January?  Job’s quote-unquote friend Eliphaz said, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?  Where were the upright ever destroyed?  As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” (Job 4:7)  One for one.  Sin for suffering.  That was the prevailing notion.

Strangely enough, something almost opposite is the prevailing notion today–and that is that there is almost no sin worthy of perishing.  That those who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and were flying on commercial airliners did in no way deserve their fate on Tuesday.  They were completely innocent and should not have suffered at all.  That is today’s prevailing notion.

And both notions are partly right and mostly wrong.  Jesus saw things far differently than we often do.  And he saw them absolutely accurately.  He is the one human who absolutely accurately saw reality clearly as it really is.

V.2 is Jesus’ stunning answer to the bad news.  And it is shocking to today’s ears.

“Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”

Their suffering was not in proportion to extraordinary sin.  Their suffering was in proportion to ordinary sin.

The wonder in the world is not that people suffer.  The wonder is that people don’t suffer more often because we are all ordinary sinners–and deserve a fate worse than death.  That’s Jesus’ perspective.

He takes this bad news as normal.  And uses it as an opportunity to warn people to repent.  “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”

To perish means to die.  And he means much more than just physically dying, because we all do that (even repentant people), it means spiritually dying, spending eternity in hell–conscious eternal torment.

“Unless you repent, you too will perish.”

Jesus is saying, those Galileans met a dreadful end.  But they were no worse than you.  And you, too, will meet a dreadful end unless you repent.

But someone might say, those Galileans probably did something against Pilate to deserve some action.  We don’t know what, but that wouldn’t be surprising.  So Jesus, goes out of his way to show that this principle of God’s wrath applies to natural disasters, too.  V.4

Jesus says, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Now, 18 sounds like a very low number compared with 5000, but here we have a building falling on top of people and killing them.  Would Jesus have mourned their deaths? I believe, yes, He would.  He hated death. Jesus hated the enemy of death. Would Jesus have comforted and consoled the families of the victims left behind in the wake of the tower of Siloam tragedy?  I believe, yes, He would.  He wept with those who wept and cared for people like a gentle shepherd.

But He also cared about their souls.  And He knew that their deepest need was for repentance.  “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

You and I deserve a fate worse than a building falling upon us.  We deserve the torment of Hell because we are ordinary (not extraordinary!) ordinary sinners.

That’s what Jesus says!

On one level, of course, we are shocked by what has happened this week.  We thought we were generally safe and secure and protected by the military might of the United States of America.

But on a reality-level, we should be shocked every day that we don’t die in a worse way!  Because we are sinners.  And God is absolutely holy.

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus is sounding a warning.  A warning to everyone here in this room.  A warning to everyone in our country.  A warning to everyone who hears about this tragedy all over the world.  And, yes, a warning to those who perpetrated this atrocious crime against our nation.

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

When Jesus hears or tells of a tragedy, he reminds the crowd that God is holy, and we are sinful.  God is righteous, and we are unclean.  God is just, and we are rebellious.

God would be and is right to cause us to perish.  And every tragedy is a warning bell going off for us to repent while there is still time.

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Those are not my words.  I didn’t want to say them this morning.  But they are Jesus’ words.  And He would not let me say anything else.

Jesus says, “Do you think that the 5,000 people buried under the World Trade Center were worse sinners than the ones who escaped?  Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Those are hard words.  But I have good news for you this morning:

#1.  There is time for us to repent today!

Starting in v.6, Jesus tells a story, a parable, that further explains his point of view . It is scary, but also full of hope.

After saying, “‘Unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, `For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?’` ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.’`”

Notice, that this story comes on the heals of the warning to repent.  The fig tree is you and me.  And God’s justice is looking for fruit on us, “the fruit of faith, the fruit of repentance.”  And He has not found it.  So He plans to cut us down (that is to judge us!).  But there is another part of God’s character–His mercy, His longsuffering, His patience–that stays His hand for another period of time with more gracious care and fertilizing words of promise rained down upon the fruitless fig-tree.

This parable is saying that God is patient–that there is time today for us to repent.

If you are listening to this sermon, if you are alive: breathing, thinking, weighing what I’m saying, then God is being patient with you and giving you a chance right now to repent.  My words are the vinedresser’s care and fertilizer for you. God is calling you now while there is time to repent.

2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness [some of you are wondering why God does not strike Osama Bin Laden dead right now.  2 Peter 3:9 says...] God is patient with you [why doesn’t God strike you dead right now?], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

For those of us who are unrepentant today, God is saying, “Don’t cut the tree down just yet.  Wait a bit.  I have every right to cut this tree down, but I will give him or her more time for the fruit of repentance.”

The good news this morning is not only that God has sounded a warning that we should repent, but God is also giving us time to repent.

God is not just holy and righteous.  God is merciful and patient.

And the second good news is even greater!

#2.  God is granting life to those who repent!

Jesus said (in both v.3 and v.5), “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  But the opposite is also true, “If you repent, you will have life!”  That’s the opposite of perishing.

John 3:16:  “God so loved the world (that’s despicable people like you and me) that He gave His One and Only Son (Jesus Christ, the One who Himself suffered the wrath of God upon sin,) that whoever [repents] and believes in him shall NOT PERISH but have eternal life.”

John 10:27:  Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. [Unsnatchable! Safe!] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all [greater than the US Government, greater than Osama Bin Laden, greater than the fear of death, greater than all] no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”  (John 10:27-29)  Safe and secure from all alarms!

The greatest news in all the world is that God has provided a substitute to perish in our place so that if we come to Him repentantly we will not suffer the pains of Hell.  And we will be safe!  At home in God!  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty!” (Psalm 91:1)

Not perishing, but having eternal life.

Life, brothers and sisters! Life!  Abundant life!  The terrorist comes to steal, and kill, and destroy, but Jesus has come so that we might have life! And life abundantly! Life in the fullest sense of term. Life that we can’t begin to imagine the joys of!

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  But if you do repent, you will have life!

I can’t think of a more comforting and consoling phrase to hang onto in a week of death than “eternal life.”  God is granting life to those who repent.

So repent!  Repent!  Repent!

What does that mean?  Let me put it this simply:

To repent means to turn from sin and trust in Him.

I think we can all remember that.  To repent means to turn from sin and trust in Him.

It’s not just saying, “I’m sorry,” It means making a break from the passing pleasures of sin, of choosing our own way to live our lives, and trusting in Him.  Looking to Him to be our soul’s satisfaction and asking Him to run our lives.

In preparing to build a house this Fall, I’ve learned a lot about contracts.  If you don’t set the terms, someone else will set them for you.

And God is God.  And He offers the only terms acceptable to Him–total surrender.  No bargaining. No giving Him only Sundays and Wednesday Nights.  No token prayers.  Total surrender.

Turn from sin and trust in Him.

If you are an unbeliever or living like one this morning, I call you, with Jesus, to repent.  You are a sinner deserving of Hell (just like I am).  But God is holding your catastrophe back and giving you this chance right now to repent. Turn from your sin and put your trust in Him.  Surrender.  Ask Jesus right now to forgive your sin and rule your life.  Give Him the steering wheel of your life.

If you are a professing believer right now, I call you, with Jesus, to repent.  You and I are no better than those who suffered on Tuesday. We need to turn from our self-satisfied sins and trust in Him.  We need to make Him our All-in-All, our sufficiency, our greatest treasure, our joy.  We need to be able to say, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever!”

Our nation needs to repent.  Not just pray, not just hold candlight vigils, not just mourn.  But repent.  I pray that many and not few would bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ because of the warning of this tragedy.  Because if they do not, the real tragedy will be even worse.

On Tuesday, those who had not repented perished–not just once but twice–and the second death is eternal.  But those who had surrendered their lives in repentance to Jesus Christ were ushered into His glorious presence and found out what life truly is.

If you repent today, no matter who you are, you will have life.  God is holding back for repentance, and God is granting life through Jesus to all who surrender to Him.

What is holding you back?

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  But if you do repent, you will have life!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Enjoying the Allegheny District Conference

We are already living my "Top 10" list at the conference this weekend. 9 out 10 checkmarks so far from what I wrote about earlier this year.

✔ 10. Music. Our times in worship together will be led by either Chris Tomlin or Matt Mitchell* (*depending upon availability. Turn out that Chris couldn't make it.).

✔ 9. Food.  The ladies at our church know how to cook! I’ve told them that even if they fire me someday, I’ll still come to the fellowship dinners. We’ve also arranged for a family-style dinner on Friday night at a nearby location. Bring a belt that has an extra hole in it.  (Some folks are already asking for recipes. Thanks, Ladies!)

✔ 8. Family. Our district is a family of churches. Come and visit with your crazy uncles and the cousins you haven’t met yet at the family reunion. This year, we’re going to welcome new churches into our district family! It’s like a child dedication at church. You don’t want to miss that.  (Welcome Ikon Church and The Sanctuary!)

✔ 7. Location.  Central Pennsylvania is beautiful in April. With Spring bursting all around, it’s a gorgeous drive to our church campus through the Allegheny Mountains. And if it rains some, don’t worry, we have Noah’s Ark out on our playground.  (So far, no rain.)

✔ 6. Exhibitors. Meet the guys in cowboy boots and Stetsons from Miracle Mountain Ranch. Ask Bud Smith from Minneapolis for his latest joke. Learn something you didn’t know about Trinity from Carl Johnson. Pick up extra pens and candy!  (Everyone is true to form. Loving having these folks here.)

✔ 5. Rollicking Fun Business Meeting. What more can I say?  (Unanimous votes!)

(Tomorrow) 4.  Pastors’ Wives.  Ladies, this time, Kim Powell’s hospitality get-together is being hosted by my wife, Heather, at our house. Find a moment of peace, make yourself at home, drink something out of my wife’s “tea-snob” storehouse, eat something sweet, look out our picture window at the chickens in the yard, and reconnect with your fellow ministry-wives.

✔ 3. Hotel Deals. The three conference hotels are nearby, nearly new, and cheap. Where else can you stay a comfortable night for $89 including breakfast?  (It's nice for me to actually sleep in my own bed this year.)

✔ 2. Theme & Speakers.  Last year we learned about being externally focused churches. What does that mean for us globally?  Our two main speakers are going to challenge and inspire us to reach our world for Christ.  (Brian and Henoc are doing a great job of sharing truth and "best practices" with us.)

✔ 1. Who You ARE.  You and your church ARE the Allegheny District. “The district” isn’t someone else somewhere else. Together, we are who “the district” is. We all need each other to be interdependent.  (I love being a part of this family of churches.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013


A few times a year, I get asked about a tattoo. Not the little guy from Fantasy Island, but the skin altering art form. And I've always given a brief answer to the best of my little ability. But I've never had a good resource to point people to about a practical theology of tattoos.  

Until now. Now, blogger Joe Thorn has done us a service by writing a short series of blog posts that go into the theology of tattoos and offers some practical wisdom. 

Joe writes as a pastor with tattoos. He is pro-tattoo. But he also offers some strong cautions and things to keep in mind. I highly recommend this series.

Later today I'll be visiting my tattooer. That's right, not just a tattooer, but my tattooer. Some people have a barber (I obviously do not), I have a local tattoo artist, Aaron. ... But, what does the Bible have to say about tattoos? If it is permissible, is it wise? I will answer these questions and a few others along the way this week.
We need to look at more Scripture, and we need to work through a few issues, but as we start it looks like God doesn't condemn tattoos in and of themselves. Such marks, when connected to pagan theology and worship, were forbidden. But, God appears to have found them to be a fitting picture of how he remembers us.
When thinking and talking through the issue of Christians and tattoos we need to appeal to Scripture and sound theology, but we need to do so carefully. It's easy to for people on either side to cherry pick proof texts to support their position without treating each passage fairly and in it's own unique context. There are two bad examples I have seen come up a number of times.
When people, especially young people, start talking to me about tattoos I try to talk them out of it. I figure if I can talk them out of it they really have no business getting one. If they are set on getting one I then counsel them in the best ways to move forward. Here are my top 10 reasons to not get a tattoo.
OK, so you are set on getting a tattoo. No one is talking you out of it. (Are you really sure you want to do this?) I have talked people out of getting ink, and I have taken people to get their first. My father got his first tattoo at 50. His second tattoo is coming up (he's turning 70). My dad and I are actually going in for matching tattoos. We are having a custom "sacred heart" design created for us. Like my dad, I hope you will listen to a few pieces of advice from a guy who has a lot of tattoos and 20 years of of living with them.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: "Sexual Sanity for Men"

Looking for hope for holy sexuality? I've got a book to recommend.

From my book review at the Biblical Counseling Coalition:
“Sexual sanity.” Isn’t that exactly what we need?
No one should need convincing that, here in North America, we live in a culture that has gone insane over sex. Our day is characterized by so much confusion, so much heart-ache, so much access and addiction to unholy and unhealthy choices—Internet pornography, fornication, same-sex attraction, adultery, sexual fantasy, masturbation.
Men are in the thick of this battle, and often losing. Men are isolated, pinned down under heavy crossfire, and do not know where to turn.
David White of Harvest USA has done something about this problem by writing Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture. This book is imaginatively designed as a men’s small group resource with (amazingly!) seventy chapters. Fourteen weeks of five-day chapters are divided up into four major sections. For each day there is a substantial reading and three to four applications questions to generate discussion.
The topic is sexual brokenness, the goal is holy sexuality, and the author offers gospel-centered hope.
Read my whole review.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is It Ok to Use the Word "Gossip" to Describe Something Good?

Quick Answer:

Sure! Go ahead, it’s a free country.


Better Answer:

Yes, but make sure that you are clear in what you mean.  Some people just mean “small talk” when they say, “gossip,” and other people mean “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.”  That could cause problems if you aren’t being clear.


Longer Answer: 

This is a question that comes up often when talking about the problem of gossip. The difficulty comes from the way that language works.  When some people say, “gossip,” there are only bad connotations. But other people mean rather innocuous things by the word. I worked on this problem quite a bit when I was researching and writing my doctoral project.

Older Meanings of the English Word Gossip

“Gossip” hasn’t always meant the biblically bad thing. The first (and therefore oldest) meaning for “gossip” as a noun in The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is “One who has contracted spiritual affinity with another by acting as a sponsor at a baptism.”1 It comes from the Old English “godsibb,” meaning a god-relation such as a godfather or godmother.2 What could be objected to in that?

It is only as the language develops that the English word takes on more disagreeable connotations. “Gossip” began to be used to describe the kind of personal talk that might pass between close intimates such as those present at a baptism or a birth. By the fourteenth century, it was used mainly of women and by the sixteenth century of a woman who “delights in idle talk; a newsmonger, a tattler.”3

But In the Bible

Now, in the Bible, we know that the idea of sinful gossip is much older than English--and that kind of gossip needs to be resisted. But because we use the English word (which has a history of elasticity), we need to be especially clear what we mean (and do not mean) when we say, “gossip.”4

The same is true of the words “whisper” and “whisperer.” It’s not morally wrong to use a small voice and whisper, but it is morally wrong to live out Proverbs 16:28. “A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends” (KJV).

Maybe we need a new word to describe “biblical gossip,” that is, gossip that is always bad all the time.  Or maybe we could resurrect an old one: talebearing.  Or maybe we just need to be careful to define our terms if we think people might not understand us.

Redeeming the Word

The flipside is also true: Just because someone said “gossip,” don’t assume that they meant everything the Bible is saying is bad. The word also has a history of describing something good and redemptive–loving small talk.  You and I might feel uncomfortable when we hear someone talking like that because we want to be biblical Christians, but we don’t want to become the “word police.”

So, when we encounter something like Kathleen Norris calling something “holy gossip,” before we judge her, we should cock and ear and listen first to what she says. “I love the part in our Presbyterian service when, before prayer, we share joys and concerns. We hear about somebody's grandkids visiting from Spokane or the birth of a great-grandchild. We also hear about someone losing a job or going into surgery. That's when the gossips get busy after church and call around. They get in touch with friends, neighbors, and relatives—does he really want to see people? Or is he too tired? Should I drop in today? That is a good use of gossip.”We could call that category: “redeemed gossip.”

Whatever we call it, and whatever we do, we should do it out of love.

1Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., s.v. “gossip,” oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/80197 (accessed February 1, 2011). The first known occurrence was 1014 AD. It was not coined by Shakespeare, as some have claimed, nor does it come from “sipping something good” while sharing the news in an American tavern. See Andrew J. Harvey, “Glenn Beck Meets Front Porch Linguistics,” Front Porch Republic Blog, entry posted January 27, 2011, http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2011/01/glenn-beck-meets-front-porch-linguistics/ (accessed June 30, 2011).
2The Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., s.v. “gossip,” oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/80197 (accessed February 1, 2011).
3The Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., s.v. “gossip,” oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/80197 (accessed February 1, 2011).
4The elasticity of the English word “gossip” is utilized by Jerry Camery-Hoggatt in Grapevine: The Spirituality of Gossip (Scottdale: Herald Press, 2004). The author makes it clear that our lives are made up of little moments and “small” words. He is not talking just about what we might call “dark gossip,” but about small talk in its many forms.
5Kathleen Norris, Mark Galli, and David Goetz, “Amazing Grace-Filled Gossip: An Interview with Author Kathleen Norris,” Leadership 20, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 56-61, in ATLAReligion Database with ATLASerials, http://ebscohost.com (accessed July 26, 2011).

Monday, April 15, 2013

This Week: The Allegheny District Conference

This week, our church is pleased and privileged to host the Allegheny District Conference of the EFCA.

We've been working hard to get our building and campus spruced up, and we're all ready to greet and feed people, lead them in worship, and generally welcome our extended family to our home.

I love our church and I love the folks in our district, so it's a real joy to see them together this week. I'm sure that my "Top 10 Reasons to Come to District Conference" will come true this weekend!


If you would like to visit with us, too, there is a special service on Friday night at 7:30pm. It's free to the public and we'd love to see you there.  No sign-up necessary. Just show up!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Sweet Words"

“Sweet Words”
The Tongue of the Wise - Spring 2013
April 14, 2013 :: Proverbs 16:24

Our new sermon series is called “The Tongue of the Wise” based on Proverbs 12:18, “Reckless words pierce like sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

And last week, we talked a lot about the first half of that verse: “Reckless words pierce like a sword.”  We went to James chapter 3 and talked about the fearsome tongue. The fiery tongue is small but mighty and so often can derail the train of our lives.  “Reckless words pierce like a sword.”

Was anybody reminded of that this week, maybe in a painful way?

What I wanted to do this week–before we began to tackle the various traps that our words can get us into and from which the gospel can rescue us–was to paint a picture of the other side of our key verse. “The tongue of the wise brings healing.”

I almost titled this message, “The other side of the verse.”

Because we often miss that!  We only think about the bad side, about the danger and the destructive potential of the fearsome tongue.

But the Bible also paints a beautiful picture of the blessings that the tongue of the wise can bring. There is a whole other side to the tongue, to the power of our words.
Not words gone bad but words gone good!

“The tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Or to use today’s passage (Proverbs 16:24), “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Isn’t that a great word picture?

This is a honeycomb from Houston’s Schoolhouse Apiary.

Same kind of honeycomb they had back in Solomon’s day. Bees are bees the world around.

Yum. Tasty.

Isn’t great to come upon naturally occurring sweetness?

This proverb says that there are words, pleasant words, that are sweet like honey, like honey right from the honeycomb.

And they have a wonderful effect. They are not just pleasant but “sweet to the soul” and healing to the bones. I think that’s a reference to the body here.

They are good for the spirit and for the body.

There are spiritual benefits to pleasant words and even physical benefits to pleasant words.

Our words have great power not just for evil, but for good.

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

That’s what I want to talk about today.  “Sweet Words.”  That’s our title for today, “Sweet Words.”

What are some of those kinds of sweet words?

When I told my family about this message that I was working on, I said, “Our mouths are not all bad. We can do good things with our mouths, too.” And Peter said, “Yeah! We can praise God.”

That’s right! And if we are creative, there are hundreds and thousands of ways to use our mouths for righteousness. If we use our sanctified imaginations, there are “pleasant words” at our disposal.

And this week, I just ransacked the book of Proverbs and picked out six.

Six kinds of sweet words.

These are not all of the kinds of pleasant words we can use, just six that jumped out at me as I was reading through Proverbs. They all have something to do with human relationships. And they all give us an idea of the vast arsenal of sweet words that are available to Christians to use.

Let’s do a quick survey of all six kinds of sweet words.

#1. A KIND WORD.  Turn to Proverbs 12:25.

“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.”

King James has, “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.”

We all know this, don’t we?

Who here has been anxious this week?

I know I have.

Last week and this week, I have been working through a substantial edit on my book on resisting gossip, and it was really stressful and I had deadline, and I was not sure if I could get this done.

And I was calling my Dad nearly every day, all stressed out.

And my Dad every day had an encouraging word for me. A kind word.

And it cheered me up.

“An anxious heart weighs a man down [it’s heavy!], but a kind word cheers him up.”

The question is, do we have kind words for the people around us?

The people around us have cares. They are weighed down by anxieties.  Life is heavy.

But, Christians, should have kind words that lift people up.

Who did you lift this week with your words?

We’ve probably all spoken an unkind word.  But who have we said something kind to?

Who did you cheer up?

Who could you give a kind and honeyed word to today?

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

#2. AN HONEST ANSWER. Turn over to Proverbs 24:26.

“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.”

Talk about pleasant!  Woo woo!

Solomon says that it’s as pleasurable as a kiss to get an honest answer.

My wife started something new in 2013. Every time I come home for a meal, she’s meeting me at the door with a kiss on the lips. And I love it.

This proverb says that honesty is like that.

We all know what dishonesty is like. Nobody like being lied to.

When I say, “sweet words,” I don’t mean “sickeningly sweet words.” Not flattery. That’s just another form of lying. Nobody like that.

And we don’t like it when people hide from us or give us an evasive answer.

How sweet it is when someone gives you a nice direct honest answer.

Maybe not what you wanted to hear but you know it’s the truth, right?

Let’s be like that, as much as we can.  Let’s give people honest answers.

Straight up. Clear. Not equivocating. Not hiding. Not lying. Not flattering. Truthful.

An honest answer.

It’s like a kiss on the lips.

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

#3. EARNEST COUNSEL. Turn over to Proverbs 27:9.

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.”

Now I don’t know how you feel about perfume or incense. Not everybody has the same tastes in smells as everyone else.

But Solomon here assumes that perfume and incense are good thing, pleasant things.

If you don’t like those kinds of smells, then substitute in your kind of smells.

Bacon frying. Right?
For some of you, candles.
For some of you, apple pie in the oven.
For some of you, it’s that greasy garage smell, or the smell of the barn that really makes you feel good.

I love the smell of Cook Forest after a rain.

That’s pleasant.

Solomon says, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart [ummm], and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.”

Earnest counsel.

That’s telling somebody what to do!

And really meaning it.  Really telling somebody what they ought to do.

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.”

We can actually tell if someone is truly a friend if they give earnest counsel.

Because if they don’t care, they won’t share it.

Now, there are times to give that counsel and times not to give that counsel.

And wise person will know the difference between those times.

Often, the times that we should offer earnest counsel are those times when it has been asked for! =D

But when it is asked for, a true friend offers earnest counsel. They aren’t ambivalent about your life and your choices. They want what’s best for you, and they offer advice to help you get there.

When I look around this room, I see a number of people who have looked out for my best interests and given me earnest counsel.

And those words are sweet words for me that I cherish.

Maybe I didn’t at the time!  But if I’m wise I recognize that earnest counsel is a pleasant word like “a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Sometimes that earnest counsel has to be offered sharply. It has to be a rebuke–an earnest counsel to stop doing something that is going to bring harm.

#4. A LIFE-GIVING REBUKE.  Turn to Proverbs 15:31 with me.

“He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.”

“A life-giving rebuke.”  That’s not a phrase you don’t hear every day.

We tend to think of rebukes as being bad things.  Maybe something that is a necessary evil.

But if we are genuinely loving others, we will rebuke them in love and rebuke them to help them to experience a better life.

That’s what a “life-giving rebuke” is. It’s a rebuke that is offered in love to help someone experience a better life.

That’s hard to do. It’s hard to speak and hard to take.

But Solomon says (v.31),  “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.”

That’s a major theme in the Proverbs. Proverbs 17:10 says, “A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.”  I know which one of those I’d rather have!

Proverbs 25:12 says, “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.”

It’s valuable to humbly receive a life-giving rebuke.

A few weeks ago, my wife pulled me aside and rebuked me. She told me that I had recently been unnecessarily harsh with our children when disciplining them. They had begun to shy away from me if they thought that they might need some correction.

I didn’t like hearing that from Heather.  But I took it to heart. I needed to hear that. It was valuable to me. And as I changed my approach, it was life-giving to me.

Verse 31 again,  “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to be at home among the wise! That’s where I want to live.  I want to live in Wisdomville!

And I want to help others to live there, too.

One kind of genuinely sweet, honeycomb word is a life-giving rebuke.

But so often, I chicken out.

The last two days, I had opportunities to deliver life giving rebukes that I passed up.

I even realized that I was doing it, to my shame. I failed in love in those situations by not speaking up.

How about you?  When was the last time you offered a life-giving rebuke?

Or received one well?

“He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.”

But what if they don’t receive it well? What if they are all angry and up in your face?

#5. A GENTLE ANSWER. A gentle answer is a honeycomb. Look at verse 1 of chapter 15.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

We’ve all seen this principle at work, too, haven’t we?

Somebody is all up in your face and angry, and if you respond calmly and carefully and self-composed, it makes a huge difference.

Instead of answering tit for tat, anger for anger–a gentle word.

A kind word. A merciful word. A soft-spoken word.  Makes a huge difference!

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

I know that’s not easy to do.

If someone brings me a harsh word, I want to bring a harsh word back.

But then it just escalates. It just gets worse.

A gentle answer diffuses the situation.

It takes self-control, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But it is possible.

And people love to be around people who are self-controlled.

Did you ever notice that?  People love to be around people who can control themselves.

Proverbs 22:24 says, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.”

But people love to make friends with those who can turn aside someone’s anger with a gentle word.

You can do it. You can hold in that angry word.

Don’t say it! Don’t post it on Facebook! Don’t press “send” on the text message. Don’t let it out.

Use a gentle word instead.

A gentle word is a pleasant word.

And “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Number Six.  Again these are not the only 6 kinds of pleasant words in the Proverbs, just six I found this week. There are tons more.

The Tongue of the Wise brings healing. There are countless ways to use our tongues for righteousness.

Here’s number 6 and last for today.


Turn to the last chapter of Proverbs, chapter 31 and verse 30.

Yes, this is the chapter about the Excellent Wife. What to look for in a potential bride.

And what to do with her once you got her.

At the end of the alphabet-led-list of godly virtues she possesses, it says (v.28).

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

The principle I’m pointing to here is that it is right and good to praise someone who has earned it.

Her children praise her.
Her husband praises her.
He brings up her name for praise at City Hall.

She has earned it. V.30

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

It’s right to praise her. It’s earned. It’s deserved. It’s fitting.

So, it’s right for us to praise people, to commend them for the good things they do.

When was the last time you told someone, “Good job!”  “I like that.”  “Well done.”  “I’m proud of you.” ?

This last week, I was really impressed with my wife’s teaching of our children.

I was working the in basement, and I could hear her hard at work impressing not just spelling and math to the kids but also shepherding their hearts as she did it.

And I came up to her more than once and quoted v.26 of this chapter:

“She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Good job. Thank you for doing that!

It can be a little embarrassing to talk like that.  To go around praising people.

But it’s right. It’s the right thing to do.

Two years ago, I read a book called “Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God.

There is a chapter in there called “100 Affirmation Ideas for Those Who Feel Stuck.”

A hundred ideas of how to praise other people!

Not to flatter them. That’s “unfitting praise.”

But fitting praise.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

Let’s learnt to talk like that.

Those are pleasant words. Sweet words.

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Messages in this Series:

1. The Fearsome Tongue

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sins and Virtues of the Tongue?

I need your help.

Last Sunday, I began a new sermon series on "The Tongue of the Wise."  I want to teach on both sins of the tongue (grumbling, lying, crudeness, gossip, etc) as well as virtues of the tongue (encouragement, discretion, promise-keeping, etc).

What I'm wondering is what are both the sins and virtues of the tongue that people most need help with?  What topics would you like to hear addressed by this series?  

I have my ideas, but I really want to be as helpful as possible to our people.

A second, related, question is: what do you not understand about the tongue?  What is unclear to you about what the Bible teaches on the way we use words?

Thanks, in advance, for any comments.