The Power of Unsaid Words

The opportunity was obvious. I could say something that would be the truth, but it would also be hurtful. The words would sting but help me with the argument.

But I held my tongue.

When he spoke, it made me angry. I knew I could not openly attack in this setting, so I thought about making a passive-aggressive statement. It would bring laughter and make him feel the sting of my wit.

But I held my tongue.

My wife was clearly in the wrong. I could yell and let her know that this failure was not acceptable behavior to me.

But I held my tongue.

The Bible has a lot to say about the use of the tongue, especially the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 18:21, it says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NIV 2011)” The tongue has the power of life … and death. Obviously, he is not speaking of literal death. He is underlining the possibility that the words we use can kill people emotionally. It can break their spirit, ruin a relationship and leave other people feeling dead inside.

Sometimes the most significant thing you can do to improve your life is to hold your tongue. I have done it a few times, and they were some of the best decisions I have ever made. Maybe the most productive thing you can do today is to listen more and speak less.

The Changing Hands of Love

When you are young, love comes with passion. You can’t wait to see each other, touch, kiss, and be close. Those feelings supercharge your emotions and make you feel alive. Young people write love, songs, poetry, and make art. The love of youth is full of energy that pushes people to do crazy and fun things together.

The other day I saw the other side of love. I watched an older couple getting into their car. He struggled to walk. She took his hand and helped him into the passenger seat. I am sure he once drove that automobile everywhere, as she was rarely allowed to drive. Now she was in control. She helped him into his seat, loaded his walker in the trunk. She came back to his door and made sure he was buckled up and secured. With all her might, she closed the door, walked around and maneuvered into the driver’s seat. The car started and off they went.

They never saw me watching them, even though I was staring to the point that might be considered embarrassing. I marveled at his trust in her. Her compassion for him. The teamwork that made their life together magnificent. By appearances, I would say they had been married at least 50 years. The fire of passion was dim, but their love has never burned brighter.

After watching their act of love, I spent time thinking about my wife and how much love changes. The passion of youth gives way to the teamwork of parenting. The fun of adventure transitions into the joy of time alone together. The hands that once touched with delight now help to support one another in times of difficulty. The feelings remain the same, but the expression becomes new with each season of life.

Real love is about joyfully changing yourself to meet your spouse’s needs. The hands that one day are buying lingerie will then wash baby clothes, and next will help your son pack for college and finally will hold your hand in the doctor’s office.

My challenge this week is this one project. If you are married, go home and grab your spouse’s hands and kiss them. Thank God for the things those hands have done. Ask God to guide you into the things those hands will do for you. Take a moment and recognize that the hands of love have many forms and each one is a gift from God.

Reasons to Try A New Seat This Sunday

I am a creature of habit. I eat the same things, wear the same things, and when it comes to Sunday morning, I like to sit in the same place. Likely, you do too.

Last week, as part of a joke, a family in our church came up to sit with me on the front row. They are the first people ever to do that, and it was nice to have people beside me. This got me thinking about why it is a good practice to sit in different places around the worship auditorium on Sunday.

  1. It will make the Church more guest friendly. When you sit in different seats, then no one area becomes your territory. If you walk into worship and someone is setting where you might typically sit, it is not a big deal.
  2. Moving helps you to meet more people. Since all of us naturally gravitate to the same general areas, a move across the room might enable you to meet some new people.
  3. It gives you a different perspective. When you sit somewhere new, your eyes will be opened to new things. I know this is very true in our Church building. The sound is different in various places around the auditorium. The view is unique from each location. Different seats help you to visualize what other people see each week.
  4. It will make change a regular part of your worship. Once you start sitting in the same chair every week, then you are going to want the same order of worship, the same songs and the same people on the stage. Moving seats starts you on a path of continual change. Frequent small changes will help you handle the significant changes when they come, and they are coming.

This Sunday, when you walk into worship, how about trying a different seat than usual. You never know, it might change your perspective and even make you a new friend.

Why I don’t spend much time away from Church

I struggle to take vacations. When I do take them, more than half of the time, I end up coming back to my Church to worship. Last year I spent one Sunday away from my Church family.

One of the most recent trends is for a preacher to only speak about forty times a year at the Church where they are on staff. The goal is to keep the preacher fresh and spiritually healthy while developing a team of speakers. My only problem with this approach has been a single question, “Do you still attend your Church when you are not preaching?” That question usually ends up with this pastor telling me they are always doing something productive for the kingdom on Sunday morning. The short answer is no.

This bothers me to my very core. How can we expect people to value the community if we don’t? If we only attend the Church we lead three times a month; there is a problem, in my opinion. We should never expect our people to be in attendance more than we are.

Let me explain my thinking. You see, this is not just the Church I get paid to lead; this is my faith community. This is where my Christian friends attend. These people love me, encourage me, support me, and stand beside me as the family of God. We cry together and we laugh together. For this reason, I enjoy preaching here every week, and I attend, even if I am not speaking. Yes, my wife will attest that there are seasons I need to take some time off to clear my head, but it not because I have no desire to be in worship together.

Recently, I took a vacation, and on the second Sunday I was off, I came back to be a part of worship here. As I shook people’s hands, everyone said the say type of thing, “We didn’t expect to see you today.” I was a little more than surprised at people’s responses.

I am here today to tell people that as a preacher, I love my Church family. Just like I enjoy being with my own family as much as possible, I delight in being with the people in my faith community. I am not saying this because I think I am more spiritual than other pastors or better than anyone who calls on the name of the Lord. I simply want my Church to know you are my family in the faith, and I want to be with you.

I hope and pray you will want to be with me also. If so, I will see you Sunday.

People Leaving the Church

Every year 15-20% of people attending a local church will leave. I once heard Lyle Schaller say, “You people are all going to move, quit or die. We can’t count on any of you to be here in the future.” While he said it with a smile, there was also a harsh reality behind his words. Eventually, all of us will no longer be a part of the Church we love now.

The most challenging group for the pastor to handle leaving is this the second group. I am okay with people who move, and those who die are sometimes hard to accept, but we have no control. The group that quits are the ones who break my heart. Every pastor I know agonizes over the pain of someone leaving the congregation they lead. And yet, every year, no matter the size of the Church and the quality of the ministry, people will leave.

Here is my list of how people leave the Church community:

  1. The Painful Split. Some people will be offended by something, or they will not like the changes that were made. The disagreement is over methodology and not theology. Most often, these people will leave the Church with a loud voice, frequently inviting others to join them. It is an ugly scenario, but it repeatedly happens in Churches, especially small ones.
  2. Drifting Away. When someone’s life hits a busy season, for whatever reason, they stop coming as their schedule fills with other things. Their three times a month attendance becomes once a month, and then once every other month, and then once a year. They never really intended to leave. It just happened.
  3. Placing Blame. This group leaves the Church and lets everyone know that it was because a person or family did something that offended them. They did nothing wrong, and this other person is the problem. It is a matter of intrapersonal relationships gone awry.
  4. Distraction. These people come to me and tell me about some theological problems they feel causing them to leave. Almost without exception, there is something else going on in their head. If they can blame their departure on a Biblical stance, then they are justified in their behavior. I once had a guy leave the Church and blamed it on the topic of baptism, what he didn’t tell people about is a private meeting where a ministry associate and myself questioned his motives as a leader the week before this happened.
  5. The Direct Approach. I can count on one hand the number of times this has happened. But I have encountered a few people who have come into my office and sat down so they could discuss an issue. When we could not find a resolution, they left the Church, by mutual agreement. One time this happened because our Church was not able to have the children’s programs this family felt they needed. There was nothing I could do, and the family moved on to another group.

Through the years, I have come to terms with people leaving the Church. My biggest frustration is that people leave and quit attending anywhere. They claim to go for because of some high moral standard and then spend the rest of their lives away from Church, and most unfortunately, often away from the Lord. I wish they would find some place to go where they can grow spiritually. I understand that people don’t like me or feel they can grow spiritually somewhere else. I will never get those who don’t just quit the local Church but the Church entirely.

My suggestion is that if you are thinking about leaving, go and talk to your pastor about it. He will be more understanding than you think. I can speak for all of us when I say we really do want to see you grow spiritually somewhere, and while it may hurt to see you leave, we still want you to grow in the Lord.

Transformation and Grace

Sin is not just a blemish on our past, and it is also a detriment to our future.

As a result, God calls us not just to grace but also repentance.

In Biblical terms, we need both justification and sanctification. 

These are foundation truths of the Christian faith.  I fear that the second part of this equation is being lost to the tide of culture. 

We love the message of God’s amazing grace.  It is fantastic news to hear that God knows our sins, mistakes, and failures and offers us a clean slate.  He does not hold our past against us; instead, he forgives us through the power of the cross.  Everyone who hears that message says a hearty “Amen.”

The other side of the equation is equally important. The call of faith is not merely a message of grace but also of transformation.  We are to leave our sins behind in exchange for a new tomorrow. The sin that stains our past is also entangled around our soul and must be severed to live the life God desires for us.  We die to our old self so that we may walk in a new life. 

This message has increasingly been coming under attack.  Culture tells us we were born this way, and there is nothing we can do to change.  It is in our DNA.  God made us like this, and there is nothing flawed with anything he makes.  Yes, we need grace, but it ends with me letting go of my past. 

In the past year, I have been accused of lacking grace, unloving, and being pharisaic.  Why such harsh accusations?  Because I told people they needed to leave their sin and live differently.  It has been deemed unloving to tell people they need to change the behavior that is against God’s will.  These actions are destroying their life. 

Today, I want you to know I do not believe it is ungraceful to tell someone to change.  It is great to pick someone up out the filth of their life and clean them up, but it is also necessary to instruct them not to return to living in the dump. Jesus said we are to take up our cross daily and follow him.  We are to die to our old self and live a life where Jesus is the sole leader. 

Grace without transformation is not only unbiblical, and it is also detrimental to the future God desires for you.  A message of anything less is a false teaching that does more harm than good.      

Precious Memories, How They Linger

I first heard those words from the Woodsman quartet at my home church one Sunday evening. An all-male gospel quartet was big in those days, most churches had one, and ours was better than average. Bud sang bass notes that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Together they sang, and those words rang out through the Church auditorium at a special concert I was attending with my parents. Later, Alan Jackson would record the song, and it became a radio hit, but nothing can top the music from my youth by four men in matching red jackets.

At the time, I had little idea what they meant. I did not understand the pain of losing someone and how sweet it was to recall a moment you spent together. Precious memories are precisely what the title suggests. They are recollections of past moments that we hold dear because of the person to whom they were connected.

The problem with anything I find precious is that it may not be regarded as that to others. I first learned this with possessions. There were things I treasured, like an old fishing lure given to me by my father, that other people treated as common when I showed them. Similarly, my most treasured memories may seem like frequent everyday events to others, but they hold a special place in my mind.

Nothing I have said so far is surprising or challenging, but I always like to flip ideas over and seem them from a different angle. The things I see as ordinary, others may find as precious. The conversation I had as I was rushing to get home, might have meant little to me but was a blessing to the person with whom I spoke. That visit, meal, card, email, or even text may have been shared while busy, but it may be a touching moment to someone else. I think we need to be continually reminded that we have no idea the impact we are making for good.

I heard a preacher one time talk about the three most common things that Jesus did for people. He offered them a look, a word, and a touch. To people who were ignored, he looked at them with value. To confused people, he spoke a word of clarity. And to people who felt alone, he compassionately touched them. All of those are everyday acts that we might take for granted, but to someone else, they may be a precious memory of someone who cared.

So go into the week and offer the world kindness in the name of Jesus, you never know the difference it will make in someone’s life. They may treasure your time and it lingers with them for the rest of their life.