In May, a fabulous woman (Bonnie Muenz) introduced me to a book called “The Magic” – all about the magic of the practice of gratitude. With her and 5 other women from our mastermind – Starting Over 2018 with Bonnie Muenz – we worked our way through 28 days of gratitude practices! It was simply transformational!
How do you practice gratitude?
“You say grace before meals. All right.
But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” ― G.K. Chesterton
I’m 23 days through the 28 days of “The Magic”, by Rhonda Byrne. You can say what you like about “oh, it’s New Age” or whatever you want, but I have loved the practical application of gratitude in my life this month!Read More »
- Romans 11: 1-2a; 29-31
- Matthew 15: 10-11; 15-20
This week, in the news from Charlottesville and then Barcelona, we see far more fear and hatred in the world than we are comfortable with. This is not the world that I want my daughter to grow up in. The unfortunate reality is that we are in an environment today where people have become comfortable showing us what they really hold on the inside – they are letting it come to the surface and showing their “true colours”. While I’m repelled by it, I’m also a little relieved that the masks are off – now that we know you have these fears and anger on the inside, let’s talk about them. Let’s talk about healing. Let’s talk about a love that casts out all fear!
Our readings this morning dealt with 2 particular topics:
- We each have a gift and calling from God that are irrevocable; and
- Whatever comes out of our mouths, comes directly from our hearts!
We are all like lemons: a lemon has some wonderfully positive characteristics; it’s full of vitamins, it can help your liver deal with bile, it can cleanse your bowels, you can use it to bleach your hair (if you don’t mind it getting dried out), we put “real lemon juice” in our dish-washing liquid and our furniture oil; it is considered anti-bacterial. On the other hand, it’s also sour, acidic, tart, astringent and in some cases just plain bitter! When you squeeze a lemon, what you get out is lemon juice – because that’s what is inside.
And when you or I are put under pressure and squeezed – the “real” you comes out: that which is really inside of you! And, like the lemon, you have some wonderful qualities, gifts and calling; and other parts of you are sour or bitter or not so pleasant.
STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
Before I talk about your gifts and your callings, I want to remind you that our strengths and our weaknesses are usually connected: they can’t be looked at as independent attributes. For example: your stubbornness is the determination that gets things done; your creativity is probably somehow tied to your day-to-day chaos; your inconsistency may allow you to remain flexible; your calm may be seen by many as emotionlessness. Many adventurers are seen as being irresponsible; someone who is realistic may tend to be negative and pessimistic; and someone who is self-confident may easily become arrogant.
Behind all of this, is the heart and the intentions of the heart! Is the heart coming from a place of love, caring and calling? Or is the heart coming from a place of lack, fear and ego?
There is a story that is told of an old Cherokee teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
WHICH “I” ARE YOU FEEDING?
If you have followed me so far, you will realise that every one of your weaknesses might actually be a strength – a gift that God has given you to help you fulfill your calling. They say that the best moment to plant a tree was 20 years ago; but if you didn’t do it 20 years ago, the next best day is today. If you haven’t identified your calling in life, today is the best day to sit down and identify what you were called by God to do. Every single person that is born was born with a purpose to fulfill on earth! Everyone.
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10
You have your gifts and talents. You were given enough. But if you are busy feeding your heart anger, envy, sorrow, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt & ego – that is what will win. When you are put under pressure and squeezed, that is what will show to the world!
So, when you look at your gifts and talents, and you identify your calling: then you have to strive to perfect those gifts. Use it, or lose it? Anyone that has ever tried to learn a musical instrument knows what no matter how much talent you have, without practice it’s impossible to improve. There are hours of practice of techniques, until muscle memory takes over instead of having to think about each movement. They say it takes some 10,000 hours to become a master! If you look at your spiritual gifts and your Christian life – how far along the path are you investing 10,000 hours to master being a Christian and following in Jesus’ footsteps?
If you considered a University degree – 4 years of study, which is about 8 months out of the year, let’s say 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? That would be about 5,500 hours that you spent only to reach a bachelor’s level of education. Most of us would not consider a recent University graduate to have mastered anything yet. So, when it comes to your spiritual life and transformation, when it comes to what you have inside your heart, why do you expect it to be so easy?
BEING “BORN AGAIN”
I know for myself, there is this lingering idea that when you are “born again” you become a new creation! Suddenly it’s all easy, right? But if you remember, about 2 months ago we were studying Romans 7, verses 14 to 25, where Paul was agonizing over how he wanted to do good and yet was doing exactly what he didn’t want to do! It was a constant struggle. But as you get to know your strengths and weaknesses, as you cultivate yourself – you practice, sharpen, and develop – then your heart becomes transformed closer each day to the calling that God has for you.
But I would dare to say that “being reborn” is simply “the first day of the rest of your life”. As today is. As tomorrow will be when you wake up tomorrow morning. So use your gifts well. The gifts and talents that God has given you are not for your own benefit, they’re for the benefit of other people. My gifts are for your benefit. Your gifts are for my benefit. You are to use those gifts in the service of other people. God has given you a special role in this world: you have a special contribution to make that others cannot replace!
1 Corinthians 7: 7 reminds us:
each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.
LIVING FROM THE HEART:
As we read in Romans 11:
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! … God has not rejected his people who he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
God has NOT rejected us! God’s love abounds for everyone: the gifts and calling are irrevocable. But it depends upon us to make our way back to God’s calling and to use the gifts we are given. It is up to us to get ourselves back on track with the forgiveness, healing and help that God has promised throughout the entire Bible. We may reject ourselves. We may reject others. But God is love: God is not ONLY loving. God is love. This means that God cannot help but love us. We are all children of God, called according to God’s purpose. May our hearts and minds reflect this calling.
We read in Psalm 19, verse 14:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
David knew well that what he meditated on, in his heart, would control the words that came out of his mouth. As you take stock of your gifts and talents, as you identify your calling and purpose, how you are called to serve others, then you will find the focus on which you are meant to meditate, ruminate, ponder, consider, reflect and think. And as you spend more time, thinking on things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, just, commendable: when you are squeezed by life – that is the fruit that will come out of your mouth from your heart! I trust, as we all leave today, that we will go forth to our calling, using our gifts as we were meant to do.
- Romans 11: 1-2a; 29-31
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! … God has not rejected his people who he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you… have now received mercy… so they now, by the mercy shown to you, they too many now receive mercy.
- Matthew 15: 10-11; 15-20
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”
Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions… false witness, slander [gossip, lying, cursing, blasphemies, evil speaking, complaining, railings, perjury, impiety of speech]. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
If you asked me to name my favourite book of the Bible, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Proverbs and James. This could be because James seems to be so knowledgeable about Proverbs. The book of James is quite short: it has only five chapters and is known for its practical wisdom and common sense. At about 12 years of age, after having memorised the book of Philippians, I set out to memorise the book of James. Practical wisdom for a teen – controlling your words!
Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who gossiped about each other and tore one another apart with their tongues. Throughout the letter, James is helping his readers learn to view their trials from God’s perspective and to resist temptation as they bridle their anger. They were in a church where their tongues were used to destroy each other, as they participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another. Complaining and grumbling are mentioned in the Bible more than 100 times (compared to the 6 times that the sin of homosexuality is actually mentioned). Guess which one has done greater damage to the Church, to groups and to growth? We all stumble in many ways, most of us tripping over our tongue!
Our reading from James this morning is simply fascinating, with its similes and his presentation of the tongue as a restless evil, a spark (that can cause a forest fire), poisonous venom, or a spring of water. A human tongue weighs about 3 ounces… if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s about 0.1% of your body weight.
This morning I want to present two opposing ideas: tearing things (or people) down versus creating or building the reality and relationships that you dream of having. As well as presenting you with the Biblical angle, I’m going to steal some ideas from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). NLP explores the relationships between the way we think (N), communicate (L) and behave (P). Let me explain it to you this way:
Our words become thoughts, our thoughts become feelings, and our feelings become actions. If I see a negative world I will use negative words, creating negative thoughts, generating negative feelings, which will make me act me in a negative way, then I will see an even worse world, and have even worse thoughts, … (Ruben Marcelos Lagos)
Who saw the rain storms this week as a blessing – filling up the Canal basin and feeding our water supplies? Who saw the rain storms this week as floods and chaos? Were the 2 families that lost everything an opportunity for this Church to participate in the community? Or a burden?
There are those who firmly believe that words are not just elements of speech or writing, because they can be used to affect how energy travels through space. When spoken out loud, words transform into vibrations, and as we know, vibrations can direct energy and how energy flows around us.
There is a whole science based on “Words that Change Minds”, how you can use positive words to impact your own life and also to influence others around you – to build them up. What kind of words do you speak to yourself? Are they words of encouragement and self-esteem? Do your words reflect the fact that God created you in His image and that He loves you? If not, they should.
It will be your tongue that will shape your character. Do you know that Christian person that is always negative, complaining and grumbling? They have nothing positive to say: their demeanor, or the way they carry themselves, reflects this. Please get this in your spirit, a person will eventually get what his or her mouth says. Is it any wonder that the person that is always complaining and bitter about how life has treated them always seems to get the short end of the stick? They never seem to get a lucky break? Their words are creating their reality, as if they were speaking it into existence.
Proverbs 18:21 reminds us:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.
Do you remember as a child, when you visited the doctor and he asked you to “stick out your tongue?”. He seemed to be able to tell a great deal about our health by looking into our mouths. Spiritually, it’s about the same – what comes out of our mouths is usually an accurate index of the health of our hearts. James explains this in chapter 3: how is it that you are worshiping and praising God, and then using that very same mouth to cut someone else down?
In fact James again addresses this issue for those who consider themselves “religious”. In James 1:26, he says,
“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”
Jesus called out the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-37:
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
In the Bible we find 4 principal areas of talking that God condemns: complaining (or grumbling), slander, gossip & lies.
Phillipians 2: 14
Do all things without grumbling or complaining
Proverbs 26, versus 20 to 28 focus entirely on our words and the power of the tongue, covering all four of these areas: complaining, slander, gossip & lies.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
But there is more to it than just that, there is also thinking before you speak and speaking a kind word, even when you have been attacked.
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
We have opportunities, constantly, to choose how we will respond. Will we be the spark that starts a fire? The venom that poisons the relationship? Or will our words be a healing balm?
General Robt. E. Lee was once asked what he thought of a fellow officer in the Confederate Army–an officer who had made some mean-spirited remarks about him. Lee thought for a moment, then rated him as being very satisfactory.
The person who asked the question seemed troubled. “But general, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.”
“Oh yes,” answered Lee. “I know. But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”
Each one of us has the power to stop gossip:
- We can stop listening to it, rather than participating. Without an audience, it’s hard to gossip.
- We can stop the cycle, by dealing with the problem. This is where tough love and the hard truth are sometimes the most difficult road to choose. It’s so much easier to say “it’s not my problem”, rather than get involved and have the compassion and love to see it through. People had being confronted.
- Start confronting those who spread gossip – calling it by its name.
For yourself, when you are speaking to someone, think before you speak, using this short Acronym: THINK
- T–Is it true?
- H–Is it helpful?
- I–Is it inspiring?
- N–Is it necessary?
- K–Is it kind?
Then, we should look at healing. We have all, at one time or another, been hurt by malicious words. But we don’t have to stay hurt, we have the power to heal.
Step 1 – Let it go: The longer you hold on to the cruel things that people say about you, it will begin to develop bitterness and resentment in your life. The best thing to do is let it go.
Step 2. Be gracious to those who say things you don’t like – Be gracious to those who speak bad about you. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe what the person said wasn’t meant the way you took it. Maybe the person was having an off day. Maybe there is turmoil in that person’s life that you do not know about. Remember this simple fact: Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by people. 9 out of 10 malicious gossips are people who are hurting so bad and so deeply that they have to hurt other to make themselves feel better. Let’s face it, Jesus has put up with an awful lot of things from us, we can be gracious to others.
Step 3. Be silent – If something that is being said about you and you do not need to respond, don’t. Sometimes remaining silent is the best thing that we can do.
Step 4. Keep your words sweet you may have to eat them – If you have to respond to a person who is either upsetting you or speaking bad about you, be kind and keep your words gentle. The words that you use carelessly may come back to haunt you.
Abraham Lincoln counselled us:
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Words have incredible power in our lives. For one, they provide us with a vehicle for expressing and sharing our experiences with others. Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience. You have the power to take control of your habitual vocabulary to change the quality of your life. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary—the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life—you can instantly change how you think, feel and how you live.
This week I would challenge all of you to be mindful of the words you speak – choose to speak only positive and hopeful things about your job, your children, your spouse, your health, your future, anything and everything that effects your life. It may be difficult at first, but see what type of results you get. As I said before, your tongue will reflect your true character. Your words will reveal the real you. (Do you like what you’re hearing? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then you need to change the discourse). If you are into journalling, I would encourage you to start writing down what you heard yourself say – and how you will say it differently from now on.