Cool It, Chatty Cathy…

“Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom!”

Job 13:5

Does that big empty talk bubble up above leave you feeling a little bit uneasy? After all, what’s a talk bubble for if not to fill up with words? It would look so much better if some of that white space were covered up. A few big words or lots and lots of little words…either option will do, just as long as we get some talk filling in that great, big, uncomfortable silence!

  

 

Hmmm…I suppose that’s one way to take care of the problem.

As women, we do find it difficult to leave a little room for silence now and then, don’t we? Oh, but how much better off we would be (not to mention the people around us) if we would only take Solomon’s counsel to heart, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). Just think, if our talking didn’t so quickly convince people otherwise, they might think we were rocket scientists! Well, wise at least, and I’ll take that any day.

Mary Kassian has some good advice for the yakkers in our midst: 

A Girl-Gone-Wise doesn’t yap. She bridles her mouth and restrains how much she speaks and what she says.

Restraining words means that you don’t have to have an opinion on everything. You don’t have to comment on everything that happens. You don’t have to answer every question. You don’t have to constantly make your thoughts known. You don’t have to be proved right. You don’t have to show off your superior knowledge. You don’t have to constantly offer advice. You don’t have to nag. Restraining words means that you carefully weigh an answer before you speak, and that you hold back from constantly weighing in. It means that you are quick to listen, but slow to speak (James 1:19).

[Girls Gone Wise, p. 220]

Check out Mary’s Conversation Peace Quiz HERE.

Illustration: Christian Ferrari

Yak, yak, yak. Blah, blah, blah.

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
Proverbs 10:19

 

When I was but a youngster, I remember getting a kick out of this silly song on the oldies station:

You talk too much, you worry me to death.
You talk too much, you even worry my pet.
You just talk, talk too much.

You talk about people that you don’t know.
You talk about people wherever you go.
You just talk, talk too much.

You talk about people that you never seen.
You talk about people, you can make me scream.
You just talk, talk too much.

Talking too much–it’s an amusing topic for a song, but can be a miserable problem to handle in real life. Ask any elementary school teacher you know.  :)

In this video, Mike Emlet of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation offers some biblically-based counsel on how to gently and lovingly address the yakkety-yakkers in your life.

Photo: Aschwin Prein

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Grace to Give Life

 “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Psalm 19:14
    

Over the past few weeks weeks, I’ve talked a lot about talking. Today, I’m just going to be quiet for a bit and let someone else share in this conversation. In the following video, Paul David Tripp, author of War of Words, presents some valuable insights to help us in our quest to subdue the untameable tongue.   

    

Photo: Andy Stafiniak    


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Words of the Wise (Pt. 4)

“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”

Proverbs 15:28

Even though over two decades have passed, I can still remember the feelings all too well. Sitting in the bedroom alone, face flushed, skin tingling, and heart vainly, yet fervently wishing for the power to turn back time. My untamed tongue had gotten me in trouble once again. If only I could be granted a redo, I would start over and say something really nice instead of something so terrible to my sister! As I waited for one of my parents to come apply the rod of correction to the seat of my understanding (as one of my professors so poetically puts it), my childish mind would repeatedly echo a Nancy Kerrigan-like “Why?!! Why?!!” and wish it weren’t so exceedingly difficult to keep my mouth under control. In those early stages of life, I became well-acquainted with the sentiment of Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” 

With the passing of so many years, I wish I could say that my battle against an unruly tongue had long ago been won, but at 32 years of age, the war rages on. Since you’re human, and you’re a woman (my apologies to any rogue male readers out there), you just might know something of the difficulties of saying the right thing at the right time and in the right way. Yessiree, wrong thing, wrong time, wrong way—that’s more often the course my speech tends to follow. Another truth with which I am all too familiar: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Prov. 17:28). 

In the book of Proverbs, a distinguishing characteristic of the wise woman is seen in her ability to close her mouth. She knows well that “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Prov. 13:3). While the fool is marked by an open mouth, the wise woman is marked by open ears. She is ready to listen, learn, and receive instruction. The foolish woman, on the other hand, remains convinced that her mind is a storehouse of knowledge out of which she is obligated to share generously with all (18:2).

Perhaps you’re familiar with such a lavish giver. She may identify herself as being the blunt type, one who always speaks her mind, or the proud recipient of the gift of gab. If a thought can be expressed clearly in ten words or less, she can skillfully pack it into 50. To put it simply, she talks too much, and it gets her into trouble. I know what it’s like to be that woman. Maybe you do, too.

Although we often pass off the tendency for excessive yakking as a mere matter of personality, Proverbs portrays it as a matter of wisdom. The problem, as Proverbs 10:19 puts it, is that “when words are many, transgression is not lacking.” The simple fact is: the more we speak; the more we tend to sin.  Being well aware of this truth, the wise woman disciplines herself to guard her speech.

A simple question will help us to discern whether the words in our heart are worth conveying with our tongue: Are these words worthwhile? Of course, if we think only in terms of ourselves, our thoughts will often seem worthy of expression, so that’s why it’s important to think in terms of our Lord and our neighbors. Would our words be worthwhile in that they would bring glory to God and grace to those who hear us? If so, then they’re words worth speaking. If not, then a silent conversation with the Lord just might be of greater benefit to all.

To expand these thoughts further, we can remember the following principles taken from the New Testament. A wise woman’s speech is worthwhile when it is:

  • Guarded
  • Good
  • Germane (Not germane as in Jackson; germane as in appropriate)
  • Gracious.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We guard our mouths to prevent corrupting (literally, rotten) talk from crossing our lips; we speak words that are good for the growth of others, that are germane (appropriate) to the occasion, and that will convey the grace of God to those around us.

Because I took my alliteration medication today, let me add three reminders for how such a daunting task as developing worthwhile speech can be tackled:

Whether on the phone, on Facebook, in person, through email, wherever, and whenever, let’s make our words count. Talk less; listen more; sin less–the wise woman’s motto. ;) 

 

Here’s today’s proverb:

“He who restrains his words has knowledge,

and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”

Proverbs 17:27

 

Related: The Sweet Taste of Sharing

 

Photo: Dimitri Castrique

Words of the Wise (Pt.3)

“An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
    but the righteous escapes from trouble.” 

Prov. 12:13    

If there’s one lesson that politicians are unquestionably qualified to teach us, it would be this–our words have consequences. Take the following example from the life of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: 

Ouch. Even though Brown’s two-facedness is inexcusable, I can’t help but feel compassion for him in this situation. Can you sympathize with him as well? Maybe your words have never been recorded and replayed for the world to hear, but you probably know what it’s like to speak before an unintended audience. When we decide to talk badly about another, our usual strategy involves checking to see who’s listening before we begin talking, but sometimes, we get the two actions reversed. And when we do, it’s never a good thing. Somehow, it’s so much more comfortable to talk about someone behind her back when she’s not actually right behind your own back!

In our series on the words of the wise, we’ve learned that our speech is important because it identifies our origin and it reveals our hearts. Additionally, the woman of wisdom understands that her words matter because they have eternal consequences. Proverbs 18:21a teaches that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” How serious is our speech? According to the Bible, it’s a life and death matter!

Have you ever heard someone say, “I wish I had a tape recorder, so you could hear yourself”? For some reason the threat of having our words forever preserved often provides us with a much-needed incentive to control our speech. Think about it for a moment. How differently would you speak if you knew that, like Gordon Brown, a microphone was transmitting your every word for any and all to hear?

Most of us probably already know this truth, but we often live as though we’re entirely unaware of it—Our every word is being recorded. Jesus Himself made this fact perfectly clear:

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. (Matt. 12:34b-37)

Every careless word. Give account. Justified. Condemned. Death. Life. Eternal consequences.

For women accustomed to spewing out thousands of words each day, such thoughts should tighten even the loosest of lips. It is said that a woman once told the well-known evangelist John Wesley, “My talent is to speak my mind.” Wesley wisely replied, “Woman, God wouldn’t care a bit if you would bury that talent.” We would do well to follow Wesley’s advice and seek God’s help in laying our untamed tongues to rest.

The grave consequences of our unwise speech should act as spotlights drawing our attention not to a need to clean up our act, but to our need for a Savior who acts on our behalf. We are women of unclean lips in desperate need of the cleansing blood of the One who silently bore the punishment for every one of our careless words (Is. 53:7). Our words are powerful, yes, but Christ’s grace is infinitely more so. As we seek victory in our battle against the untamable tongue, may we rely fully upon the strength of Jesus Christ, who alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

Here’s today’s proverb:    

“My son, do not lose sight of these—
   keep sound wisdom and discretion,
and they will be life for your soul
   and adornment for your neck.”

Proverbs 3:21-22

Illustration: Billy Alexander

Words of the Wise (Pt.2)

“A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words,
   And the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him.”
Proverbs 12:14 

As an amateur gardener, I experience a great deal of joy by poking tiny seeds into the freshly prepared soil of my garden plot, eagerly anticipating the produce soon to come. Aside from watering, weeding, watching, and waiting, I continue on in general ignorance of additional contributions I could or should make to encourage a successful harvest. Last year, as my efforts yielded both successes and failures, I was thankful for the former, disappointed by the latter, yet remained equally clueless regarding the reasons for either. One thing I know for certain—I have a green thumb when it comes to growing peppers. Whether I can grow the particular kind of peppers I prefer is a question which, as of yet, has no clear answer. 

Although I purchased and planted two bell pepper plants last spring, I failed to grow even one bell pepper. I did, however, grow hundreds of jalapeno peppers without even trying. The reason? My “bell pepper” plants turned out to be mere imposters—jalapenos, masquerading under the identity of their milder relatives. Their spicy deception remained undetected until the jalapeno plants could conceal their true nature no longer, and in accordance with Jesus’ words, they were known by their fruits. Regardless of the label they bore, these plants were no more capable of producing bell peppers than they were of producing Godiva chocolates. 

Last Monday, we began a study of the wise woman’s speech as taught by the book of Proverbs. So far, we’ve seen that our speech is important for two reasons: It shows we are not of this world, and it identifies us with our family. Today, we’re delving a bit deeper…

How do you distinguish a wise woman from a foolish one? You probably know by now that looks don’t provide much help in identifying a woman of wisdom. Unfortunately, a person’s age offers no guarantee of either the possession or absence of wisdom, so you can’t judge on the basis of graying hair or stooped shoulders. No, if you want to tell the difference between the wise and the foolish, you don’t need to look so much as you need to listen. As Proverbs 17:28 teaches, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” A foolish woman may be able to go incognito as long as her lips remain sealed, but we all know that can’t last for long. Just as the fruit of the pepper plants revealed their real identity, so too, does the fruit of a woman’s lips reveal the true condition of her heart. Listen to the words a woman chooses, and you’ll quickly discover whether they spring from a heart full of wisdom or a heart fully of folly.

Think about your own speech patterns for a moment. What is the overriding theme, content, or tone of the words you use? If characteristics like encouragement, patience, edification, truth, love, gentleness, kindness, compassion, peace, purity, and worship mark your everyday language, then I’ve got good news–your heart (your inner person, the real you) is probably quite healthy. If, on the other hand, your speech tends to be a bit more like mine–critical, negative, sarcastic, unloving, and unwholesome–then you and I both need to stay in closer contact with the Great Cardiologist. When it comes to changing our speech, the crucial issue is not primarily that we learn better communication techniques or focus on removing certain words from our vocabulary; the goal is to see changes in our speech preceded and motivated by changes in our hearts (Lk. 6:43-45; Matt. 12:33-37). 

If I wanted bell peppers from my garden, I could never get them with the plants I had. I would need to uproot the jalapeno plants and replace them with bell pepper plants. In a similar way, as Christian women who desire to speak with wisdom, we must seek the Lord’s help to uproot the folly residing in our hearts and replace it with the wisdom from above. James 3 makes it clear that taming the tongue is a human impossibility. Yet, in the area of producing Christlike speech, as in all others, what is impossible with man is entirely possible with God.

Willpower will not produce wise speech. We need supernatural assistance if we ever hope to tame our unruly tongues. A good place to start is in asking God to give you a desire to speak in ways that reflect the character of His Son and bring glory to His name. As you continue to pray, begin to soak yourself in Scripture. Read it, memorize it, think about it, listen to solid Bible teachers explain it, and then apply what you learn to your life. Hearing and obeying God’s Word will begin to produce change from the inside out. The writer of Proverbs encourages us, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips” (Prov. 22:17-18). The more wisdom is contained in our hearts, the more wisdom will be communicated by our lips. As you ask the Lord to help you change the way that you speak, never forget that the words of the wise get their start in the heart!

 

Here’s today’s proverb:

“Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless,

is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.”

Proverbs 26:7 

 

Photo: Tom Schmucker

Making the Mea Culpa

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9

In certain areas of life, I like to consider myself a “can do” kind of girl. Last year about this time, my overconfidence brought me quite a bit of pain, and I’ve got the scar to prove it. When a Wal-Mart sales assistant  in the garden department asked if I would require help loading my purchases, my can do spirit foolishly responded, “No, thanks. I can get it!” My attempt at self-reliance quickly ended in disaster when a 40 lb. bag of soil I was pulling from a shoulder-high stack slipped from my hands, pushed the corner of a metal price sign down the front of my shin, and left me with an ugly-looking wound which warranted a traumatic visit to an urgent care clinic.

My husband and I imagined that Wally World would probably cover the medical expenses, since we thought the location of the metal signs created something of a hazard (my leg was in complete agreement). When I expressed my opinion that the signs would be more safely placed overhead, as is the case at Lowe’s Hardware stores, I was told that Wal-Mart did not agree that the current location of the signs posed a safety hazard. Oh, well, what’s a little person like me to do? I took my newly uglified leg and went on with life.

But today, you’ll never guess what I saw when I revisited the site of my tragical accident for the first time since last year. The price signs are now hung safely overhead, kind of like…no, exactly like they do at Lowe’s! So, is it just me, or do you think Wal-Mart might have agreed with me about the safety hazard after all, but just didn’t want to admit it? I suppose we’ll never know the truth. Oh, well, at least I have the assurance that the Wal-Mart garden department is now a safer and, therefore, happier place for all. That’s worth something, at least.

For some reason, it seems that admitting wrongdoing is one thing you just don’t want to do in life. After all, it’s not only superstores that like to avoid taking the blame; little people like us do it quite regularly as well. Our hearts are very crafty about devising strategies to avoid confessing our sins. We try outright denials, blame-shifting, excuse-making, or even deception. If those won’t work, we might try our own version of confession such as being incredibly nice to the person we sinned against, hoping that will suffice. Or, we may attempt to convey the illusion of confessing sin through careful wording without actually admitting any guilt at all: “I’m sorry if you felt offended…” or “I’m sorry if I’ve ever done anything…” The list of possibilities could go on and on.

With all of the creative strategies for avoiding confession, you’ve got to wonder what’s so tough about saying, “I was wrong when I ________. Will you please forgive me?” Perhaps like Wal-Mart, we feel that any admission of wrongdoing will cost us by hurting our image or making us vulnerable to someone else. But if our desire is to avoid painful costs, then having a spirit that is quick to confess sin is an absolute necessity. The “pain” of confessing sin is nothing compared to the pain we will experience if we allow pride to prevent us from dealing biblically with sins we commit against those we love. A prideful heart that refuses to admit wrongdoing will act as poison to any relationship. In contrast, a humble heart that is genuinely willing to recognize and repent of sin and seek forgiveness will strengthen and nourish marriages, friendships, and any other human relationship.  

Proverbs 28:13 provides a powerful incentive for those reluctant to admit guilt, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” If we want to prosper, if we desire to find mercy, if we want our relationships to flourish, we must seek to become the kind of women who are quick to humbly confess sin, first to God, and then to the ones whom we have wronged. As we make the sincere confession and repentance of sin a normal part of our walk with Christ and life with others, we will soon discover that instead of inflicting painful costs, these practices actually result in rich payoffs as our conscience is cleared, our relationships are restored, and our God is glorified. What further incentives do we need?  

Peacemaker Ministries offers this helpful guide regarding biblical confession:

The Seven A’s of Confession

ADDRESS everyone involved

AVOID if, but, and maybe

ADMIT specifically

ACKNOWLEDGE the hurt

ACCEPT the consequences

ALTER your behavior

ASK for forgiveness

 

Photo: Linden Laserna

Words of the Wise (Pt.1)

“There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.”
Proverbs 20:15

Born as a Texan and raised as a Hoosier, I don’t exactly blend in with the Tar Heels among whom I currently reside. There are many ways in which my southern neighbors and I differ, not the least of which are our views on such topics as cooking and eating. What Southerners call sweet tea, I call syrup. What I call cereal, they call rabbit food. What they see as breakfast meat, I see as inedible. Yes, indeed, when it comes to matters of cuisine, I’m afraid it’s rather clear that I ain’t from around these parts.

Even if I could stomach the idea of eating a menu item that contains the words “liver” and “mush” in its name, my foreign roots would still remain entirely obvious. It’s not only what will never cross my lips that sets me apart; it’s also what comes out of my lips. Last year, after telling a lifelong North Carolinian where I was originally from, I had to suppress a smile as she responded in her thick, southern drawl, “I could tell by your accent that you weren’t from around here.”  Marked by a Midwestern “accent” such as my own, it’s unlikely anyone would question the fact that my home must be a long way from here.

Just as a Southerner would rarely be mistaken as a Minnesotan, or a Texan as a New Yorker, so too, should a Christian woman’s speech clearly identify her as being different. Whenever a woman of wisdom opens her mouth in conversation, it should be obvious to those around her that she’s a long way from home. The words she uses and the way she expresses them should reveal an otherworldly origin. Her speech should be marked by a distinctive sound, which some have referred to as the “accent of Heaven.”  The book of Proverbs is brimming with truths regarding the speech of the wise vs. the speech of the fool, and the careful application of these truths will help to distinguish us as women of wisdom rather than women of the world. Today’s article begins a series for Practicing Proverbs Mondays which will address the topic of the wise woman’s speech: What does it sound like? and How can we emulate it?

Although my speech may sound odd to my southern neighbors, if they heard my family talk, they’d know immediately why I sound the way that I do. My speech not only identifies my origin; it also reflects the family to whom I’m related. I love reading Luke’s description of how the people in Jesus’ hometown reacted to the extraordinary way in which He spoke in the synagogue, “And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?'” (Lk. 4:22). As Jesus spoke, those who heard him recognized an uncommon sound which grabbed their attention. How did the son of an ordinary carpenter learn to talk like that? What the people of Nazareth didn’t realize was that Jesus actually did talk like His Father, not his earthly father, but His Heavenly Father. If they were familiar with the voice of Jesus’ Father, they’d recognize immediately Whose Son He truly was.

As children of God, our speech should also reflect the accent of our Father, but we must be saturated in His Word before we can echo the sound of His voice. That’s what this series is all about—ingraining the words of our Father in our heart, so His thoughts begin to flow naturally from our lips. I hope you will join with me in studying the precious jewels to be found in the words of the wise.

 

Here’s today’s proverb:

“Listen to counsel and accept discipline,

that you may be wise the rest of your days.”

Proverbs 19:20

Photo: Vivek Chugh

Practicing Proverbs

     

“…these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”     

Deuteronomy 6:6-7

You know one of the things that I really enjoy about the book of Proverbs? I love the picture of the parent/child relationship that it portrays. Moms and dads could glean a wealth of practical parenting tips by merely observing the way in which Solomon communicates with his son.      

Although it seems it should be unnecessary even to mention this point, one of the first principles of wise parenting modeled by Solomon is that mothers and fathers must communicate with their children. Sometimes it’s easy for Christian parents to become so accustomed to laying down laws and throwing around “Thou shalt nots,” that they neglect to truly communicate the important truths of life to their sons and daughters. Truly godly parents, on the other hand, will pay careful attention to the parenting modeled by the wisest parent who ever lived. Over and over again, Solomon warned his son to “hear” and “listen,” because he was constantly communicating truths worth absorbing.     

Take a casual read through the pages of Proverbs, and you’ll quickly note that Solomon had an open and honest relationship with his son. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in my life thinking about why some conservative Christian parents raise children who grow up to despise every principle they attempted to instill in them, while others rear young people who devotedly cling to the biblical truths taught them from childhood. Let me say first, I understand that ultimately, any success in parenting must always be attributed to the grace of God. Nevertheless, I have noticed a marked difference in the response of young people to their parents’ teaching when open and honest communication has been carefully established and maintained within the home than when it has not.      

Some Christian parents seem to believe that their only obligation in training their children biblically is to get them to Sunday school and church, or maybe even to enroll them in a Christian school. They set up strict guidelines for how their children will conduct their lives, exercise rigorous control over the who, what, where, when, and how of their children’s existence, all the while offering little or no explanation as to the why of it all. On numerous occasions throughout my life, I have seen young people raised in such environments fight against their constraints until the day they’re finally set free by adulthood. Like birds escaped, they fly hard and fast from anything that reminds them of the confining nature of their cold and rigid upbringing. Although these parents probably intended well, they actually end up driving their children away from the faith by failing to accurately communicate what the Christian life is really about.  

In contrast, I’ve seen other Christian parents, who have their own set of imperfections, work diligently to build and maintain lines of communication between themselves and their children. They remain warm and open in their interaction. Shortcomings are acknowledged, emotions are expressed, and communication is lively. Based on my observation, children raised in such homes are far more likely to grow up loving and respecting not only their parents, but also the biblical truths which their parents spent so much time communicating.     

God, money, friendship, work, time, sleep, debt, anger, love, deceit, marriage, sex–it seems there was no topic which Solomon felt uncomfortable discussing with his son. The same should be true of Christian moms and dads today. Don’t let the world inform your child about the major issues of life before you get around to it! Start early in building the kind of relationship with him or her which will enable the two of you to talk comfortably about any subject, framing it within the context of Scripture. Of course there will be certain topics which will be more appropriate for dads and sons or moms and daughters to discuss in detail, but in general, Christian parents should set a tone in the home that frees their children to approach them concerning any issue without fear or embarrassment.      

Once again, I point you to the writings of Solomon for instruction. Read today’s chapter, Proverbs 5, and note how this wise father frankly discussed sexual temptation, the lure of the immoral woman, and the pleasures of the sexual relationship within marriage. Knowing well the battles his son would one day face, Solomon carefully and deliberately provided his son with the who, what, where, when, how, and why of these vital issues. Follow his example by speaking openly, honestly, and repeatedly to your children regarding the truths about life and how they can live it for the glory of God. While many voices will seek to influence your children about their present and future choices, it is your voice, speaking God’s truth, that they desperately need to hear. 

 

Here’s today’s proverb:

“My son, be attentive to my wisdom,

incline your ear to my understanding.”

Proverbs 5:1

Photo: Roxinasz

Are You for Real? (Part 3)

Let each of you look not only to his own interests,

but also to the interests of others.”

Philippians 2:4

I’ve spent a lot of my life dreaming I could be someone else. When I was a kid, I kind of favored the idea of being Wonder Woman. I remember watching her on TV and being pretty much enthralled by her. In my childish opinion, she had it all, and then some. Strength, beauty, and some awesome boots. What more could a girl want?

As women, we tend to be easily enamored by the ladies we see on the silver screen. The life of an actress can seem, oh, so glamorous. I imagine that we’ve all wanted to be one at different points in our lives. The funny thing is that even though a lot of us may remember wanting to be an actress, not too many of us realize that we’ve actually become one!  

We’ve been talking lately about the importance of being real and how we can avoid falling into the trap of becoming female phonies. In a society that idolizes perfection as the standard of feminine beauty, Christian ladies have to take care not to allow themselves to believe that they, too, must prevent anyone around them from seeing who they really are. That starts with understanding our identity in Christ, fearing God more than man, and being freed from guilt. Today, we’re going to wrap up this series by tackling the 3rd issue that motivates phoniness.

Pride—Who matters more than me?

If, as I said last time, a person who is motivated by the fear of man could be likened to a mirror, then it may be fitting to compare the prideful person to a brick wall. While the phony person operating out of the fear of man may reflect only what she thinks those around her want to see, the person operating out of pride merely walls herself off and prevents others from coming anywhere close. You may have experience with people like this. They feel cold, distant, and unapproachable. When you’re in their presence, they may speak to you, but you feel more like you’re talking to a programmed robot than to a real, flesh and blood person. You quickly discover that they are quite skilled at keeping conversations at a superficial level, and you leave your interaction with them feeling as though you don’t know them any better than you did before. Although prideful people keep themselves enclosed by a most respectable looking barrier in many cases, they subtly make it clear that they have no interest in allowing you to intrude on their personal property. Nevertheless, since most everyone wants to be close to someone, the prideful person may allow one or two individuals whom she sees as being useful in achieving her goals to gain access within her inner circle. For anyone outside of her clique, the “No Trespassing” sign remains firmly fixed in place.

What I’ve described here is a rather extreme example of someone whose phony behavior is motivated by a deeply-rooted pride. While most of us won’t venture quite so far into this type of sinful behavior as to become one of those grouchy old ladies threatening to beat with a broom anyone who ventures onto her property, some of us will find ourselves closer to that point than others. Here’s the crux of the issue–the pridefully phony person has allowed herself to believe that caring for her own needs is far more important than caring for the needs of others. She has an image to protect or an agenda to keep, and she’s prone to view others as a threat to her ability to fulfill those desires. When people outside of her club approach, her outstretched arm keeps them at a safe distance as she effectively communicates the message, “My needs are more important than yours.” Ouch. When we become so wrapped up in our own needs and wants that we fail to see why we should step outside of our comfort zone to reach out to others, we’ve got a serious problem that only the Great Cardiologist can fix!

Love–How can I meet the needs of others?

Instead of being like a mirror or a brick wall, we need to ask the Lord to help us to be more like a window–open and transparent with others. Paul was like this with the people that he ministered to. In 2 Corinthians 6:11, he explains how his genuine love for the believers was marked by speaking freely and by opening wide his heart to them. Instead of being wrapped up with an inward focus, Paul maintained an outward focus by keeping his eyes on God and his hands outstretched to others. In Romans 12, he encourages other believers to follow in this pattern of Christlike love for others. He reminds us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to, not to be haughty, and not to be wise in our own estimation (vv. 3, 16). In contrast, we need to “give preference to one another in honor” and “associate with the lowly” (vv. 10, 16). Here’s the overarching motivation for these actions, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (Rom. 12:9). The Greek word translated as “without hypocrisy” refers to one who is inexperienced in the art of acting. Is this perfect for what we’ve been talking about or what? In order to show true Christlike love to others, the actor’s mask has got to go! 

A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I discussed what we think we even mean when we say that someone is “real.” As we thought about the characteristics that defined people we would describe as being real, there was one that stood out–their love for others. While phoniness may be rooted in fear, guilt, or pride, the ability to be real, genuine, and sincere with others is rooted in love. As we become more like Christ, our lives will be marked by a compassion for how others feel, without being controlled by a fear of what they may think. More and more, we will find that any desire to protect our image is being swallowed up by a growing desire to meet the needs of others. Secure in Christ, freed from guilt, and empowered by love–this is the real woman God wants you to be. When we can have that kind of strength and beauty, who needs the boots?

What has the Lord been teaching you about “being real”? Have you experienced any victories in this area of your life? Any frustrations? Do you have any insights to encourage others regarding this issue?

Photo: theinsider.com

Are You for Real? (Part 2)

Remember this photo? You may recall that when this edition of Newsweek was released back in October of ’08 that more than a few of Sarah Palin’s supporters were more than a little outraged. If you missed hearing about the controversy, you may well wonder what possible reason anyone would have for feeling upset about a larger than life-sized head shot of a beautiful woman. With a quick glance, it’s hard to see anything wrong with the photo; at least she doesn’t have red lipstick horns photoshopped onto her head in this shot. Yet, surprisingly, it wasn’t the choice to photoshop Palin’s face that got so many people riled up in this case; it was the purposeful decision to neglect editing her appearance in any way. Tiny hairs and wrinkles that would ordinarily have been removed from such a cover photo were mysteriously left untouched. The Newsweek editors understood that by presenting Palin’s face as is, they could better accomplish the purpose they had in mind. They were well aware that we as Americans have become so accustomed to seeing retouched images of celebrities both in print and on the screen that it could now be considered offensive to show them as they actually appear in real life.

Don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not defending the magazine’s decision to treat Gov. Palin differently than they do virtually every other individual whose face they publish on their cover. Goodness knows I would have treated her better. I would have stamped, stamped, stamped those stray hairs out in no time! You’ve got to treat others the way you want to be treated, you know? And when world-wide evidence of our failure to tweeze our upper lip is at stake, I think we all know how we’d like to be treated. ;) 

In my last article, I talked about how many of us as Christian women have fallen into the trend of passing off a phony image of ourselves to those around us. Whether we do so consciously or somewhat unconsciously, we may be guilty at times of holding people at arm’s length, never allowing them to get close enough that they might discover we’d forgotten to tweeze that day (metaphorically speaking, of course). Although it seems that being ourselves would be the most natural thing in the world for us to be, as it turns out, being real can be really difficult. Instead, we make countless attempts to improve our image with phony ways of speaking and interacting with others in the hopes that we’ll receive greater love, acceptance, or admiration from those we meet than we would if they saw us for who we really are. But the problem is that phony people can only build phony relationships, and people cannot be truly loved, nor can God be truly honored through phoniness. It’s time that we toss that touched up image of ourselves that we’ve been carrying around and allow the beauty of Christ to shine through us.

Before we can get real, we need to figure out why we’re motivated to act phony in the first place. Last time, I identified three possible root issues—fear, guilt or pride. In regard to the issue of fear, we’ve already seen that we have to remember that our security is found in Christ, and we must allow the fear of God, rather than the fear of man to govern our actions. On to the next culprit…

Guilt—How can I keep them from finding out?

Most of us began practicing up on using phoniness to hide our guilt when we were but darling tykes. After creating a minor disaster, it seems that children come naturally equipped to feign an angelic nature as they ask, “What was what sound, Mommy?” Over time and with practice, we can become quite skilled at keeping issues of guilt hidden safely from view. A few examples…

  • When I was in college, I had a friend whose love for the Lord almost constantly bubbled over in her conversation. You couldn’t be around her without hearing her talk about God’s work in her life, what God was teaching her through Scripture, or something that made it clear how much she loved her Savior. It was great…most of the time. Some of the time though, my friend’s passion for Christ actually made me feel guilty, because I knew that I didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm for the Lord as she did. As a result and to my shame, there were times when I wanted to keep what I felt was a safe distance from her.
  • There was another time when I remember feeling for months that something was up between myself and one of my friends. Nothing drastic, but I had a vague sense that she wasn’t herself around me anymore. As it turned out, she finally confessed to me that she had been angry at me for something that she knew wasn’t my fault. Her guilt had built a wall between us that came toppling down as soon as she asked my forgiveness. 
  • Not too long ago, I counseled a woman who professed faith in Christ and had undergone an abortion in her past. It’s not unusual for a woman to feel reluctant about discussing a past abortion, but this woman’s reaction was a bit different from most I’d seen. When I asked her if she experienced any regret in regard to the abortion, her countenance changed dramatically. It was almost as though I had watched her put on a mask as she told me with unconvincing certainty that she had never regretted what she had done. It was, she said, the best decision she could have made. Even though it was clear to me that this poor woman was carrying an enormous burden of guilt, it was equally clear that she felt desperate to keep her true feelings completely concealed from view.

Each of these stories provides an illustration of how a sense of guilt can motivate us to tack on a handmade facade to hide something ugly that we’ve stored beneath the surface. We might use distance, feigned kindness, hypocrisy, or just plain old deceit in order to protect our sin from being exposed. Like me, you’ve probably been on both the giving and the receiving end of guilt-induced phony behavior at different points in your life. Perhaps you’re harboring a sin in your life right now that prevents you from being real with those around you. That’s a dangerous place for any of us to be. Satan loves to use our hidden sins to make us feel cut off from anyone who might help us to find victory through Christ. Can I encourage you right now to confess and forsake that sin? Whether it’s something relatively small like feeling angry at a friend over something unkind they’ve said, or something huge like flirting with the idea of adultery, Christ can forgive it all. The promise of 1 John 1:9 is a comfort for all believers, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Maybe you’ve already confessed and forsaken a sin, yet still feel threatened by the idea of others finding out about your past. You know that’s a trick of Satan too, right? Don’t carry that burden around any longer! If the Righteous Judge of the Universe has forgiven you, then who or what do you have to fear? Check 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. You may have been many things before you received Christ’s forgiveness, but in Christ, you are washed, sanctified, and justified. It’s not your former sins that define you; it’s your current standing in Christ. You’ll find that it’s much easier to be real when you know that you’re really forgiven.

So what do you think? Is being real with others something you struggle with? How do you think our relationship with the Lord and others would change if we made prayerful efforts to keep fear and guilt from causing us to fall into phoniness?

Read Part Three

Are You for Real?

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

Psalm 17:15

Don’t you love this video? It’s kind of freeing to watch, isn’t it? Wow. It’s amazing what they can do with Photoshop these days. There used to be a day when a photo was a record of fact, but it would seem that day is long behind us. When it comes to photos, the line between fact and fiction is very easily rubber-stamped out. I should know. I studied art in college and learned just enough of Photoshop to be dangerous. As it turns out, the only use I have for my shoddy Photoshop skills is in retouching my Facebook photos. At last, the truth comes out… It’s truly amazing what that little rubber stamp tool can do. Flyaway hair? Stamp, stamp, stamp—It’s gone! Shiny forehead? Stamp, stamp, stamp—Never existed! Funny crease in your neck? Ok, you get the idea. The point is that when you see one of my photos, it’s highly likely that you’re not just seeing me, you’re probably looking at a slightly enhanced version of me.

As I’ve thought about this topic, I’ve realized that touched up photos aren’t the only means that we have for presenting a slightly enhanced version of ourselves to those we meet. Some of us are better at it than others, but I think that we all struggle from time to time with the temptation to show a photoshopped picture of ourselves to the world. What am I talking about? Let me answer that with a question, “Are you for real?” It’s funny that such a question even needs asking; after all, we’re all real, right? Well, yes, we all exist, but, no, we are not all real. As women, we’re pretty good at putting up a good front, and as Christian women, unfortunately, we’re often even better at putting up a better front. Phony baloney—that’s how my family used to describe it. You might use other words to describe this kind of behavior—being insincere, disingenuous, fake, artificial, superficial, plastic, hypocritical, or unnatural. Yuck. These are not pleasant words.

Here are some that have a much better ring to them: real, transparent, genuine, sincere, natural, honest, straightforward, or undisguised. Mind if I ask you a tough question? Which set of words do you think people are more likely to use to describe you? I’ve been asking myself that question lately. I’ve also been asking myself why that first yucky list of words could so often be used to describe our interaction with one another. Why do we feel more comfortable showing others the artificial, touched up version of ourselves instead of letting people see who we really are? Why are we tempted to hold people at arm’s length? Why the phony baloney? Although we could probably come up with a multitude of reasons, I think that there are often three main heart issues which motivate us to hide who we really are from others—fear, guilt, or pride. Let’s take a look. 

Fear—Who am I?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? I know I have, at least a gazillion times throughout my life. Knowing our identity is a key issue in being able to relate genuinely with others. If you don’t know the answer to the question “Who am I?” you can easily become consumed with fearful thoughts about your identity. And as you know, it’s hard to reach out to others when you’re all wrapped up in yourself. The good news is that if you’re a Christian, you need never struggle with an identity crisis again. Everything you need to know about who you are is found in God’s Word. And let me tell you, it’s an inspiring read. For those of us who are “in Christ Jesus,” here’s just a little bit of who the Bible says that we are:

Rescued, Redeemed, Forgiven, Reconciled, Holy, Blameless, Beyond Reproach, Made Complete, Raised Up, Made Alive, Chosen, Adopted, Heirs with Christ, Sealed in Christ, Seated with Christ, Saved, Created for Good Works, Brought Near to God, Given Access to the Father, Members of God’s Household, and So Much More…

As believers in Jesus Christ, this is our identity; this is who we are! I encourage you to see it for yourself in the Word. The first two chapters of Ephesians and Colossians are a good place to start. The confidence that we need to live and love boldly comes from knowing exactly who we are because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae conveys this confidence well in his song “Identity”:

I’m not the shoes I wear, I’m not the clothes I buy
I’m not the house I live in, I’m not the car I drive
I’m not the job I work, You can’t define my worth
By nothing on God’s green earth, my identity is found in Christ.

Fear—What do they think of me?

Although God’s opinion of us is the only one that truly counts, if you’re like me, then you probably spend far more time worrying about what others think of you than what God does. The world calls our concern for what others think of us by many names—low self esteem, insecurity, an inferiority complex, codependency, etc. The Bible has a much simpler name for it—the fear of man. When we allow our lives to be governed by the fear of man, we’ll quickly find ourselves nearly paralyzed with worry about what we should or should not say or do. We want others to like us, so we carefully plan out our words and actions in the hopes that we can make ourselves more attractive to them. Instead of being transparent with those around us, we function more like mirrors, trying to reflect the behavior of those that we see as admirable. The speech of a person governed by the fear of man may be marked by flattery, exaggeration, flat-out deceit, boasting, excessive talking, or the overuse of humor. Rather than allowing others to see who we really are, we focus on showing them who we think they want to see instead.

Proverbs 29:25 speaks of both the danger of this kind of lifestyle and the antidote: “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” We avoid the trap of fearing man by trusting in and fearing the Lord instead. If we allow the fear of man to rule us, we’ll be just as phony as the Pharisees and rulers of Jesus’ day who “loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (Jn. 12:43). Jesus, on the other hand lived not with a goal of pleasing others but of always pleasing His Father (Jn. 8:29). If we allow that kind of single-minded focus to dictate our behavior, we’ll be far more likely to show others the real deal and throw the phony baloney out the window. ;)

How does that sound to you?

Read Part Two

An excellent resource for overcoming the fear of man in your life is When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!   

The Sweet Taste of Sharing

chocolate-cake1

 

“Love…does not insist on its own way.”

I Corinthians 13:5

 

As women, we take our dessert pretty seriously.  Am I right, girls?  Of course, I realize that plenty of men love dessert as well, but in most cases, their interest pales in comparison to the woman’s nearly passionate expression of feelings on the topic.  Think about it.  How often have you gone over to a guy’s house and noticed phrases like, “Life is short—eat dessert first;” or, “I could give up chocolate, but I’m not a quitter,” plastered on various objects throughout his house?  Probably not too often, right?  Even the way that men and women describe desserts is radically different.  Men usually say things like, “That cake was so-o-o good.”  Women, on the other hand, prefer to describe the dessert in luscious detail, similar to the way that a man would describe a beautiful woman. 

 

So, with the gravity of this issue in mind, I’d like for you to imagine with me for a moment that you have the opportunity to enjoy your favorite dessert with a good friend.  You know how this goes.  You’re in public, so you pretend that you are accustomed to enjoying your sweets with restraint.  “Would you like to split a dessert with me?” you ask your friend, going on to explain that you could NEVER finish the whole thing by yourself.  Of course, your friend readily agrees.  Now, think of your absolute favorite dessert and imagine it sitting in front of you, just waiting to be savored equally by you and your BFF.  As you aim your fork at that first delicious bite, you hear an unexpected sound, “Klink!”  Your fork runs into your friend’s as she whisks that first bite right out from under you.  “Oops,” you giggle and look at your friend who appears not to notice her error as she rolls her eyes with delight at the scrumptious flavor in her mouth.  Not one to be petty, you decide to ignore the mistake and move in for a second try.  To your surprise, your friend is already sinking in for her second forkful.  As you take the time to marvel that she could have so quickly swallowed her first bite, you miss your chance again.  With her third enormous bite, your dessert is almost halfway gone!  By now, your surprise has morphed into annoyance, but your friend seems blissfully unaware of her indiscretion.  With determination, you quickly swoop in for another try.  Both forks meet the dessert at the same moment, with your opponent’s fork taking half of your bite with it.  In shock at this girl’s rudeness, you slip the measly half-bite into your mouth and watch as your companion goes on to clean the plate.  To top off her outrageous behavior, your former friend then leans back with satisfaction and asks, “Wasn’t that delicious?  We’ll have to do this again soon!”

 

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Surely you’ve never seen anyone so selfish and ill-mannered that she would hog an entire dessert, leaving her friend with next to nothing, right?  I agree; it’s not very likely.  In real life, such a greedy girl would probably have found a fork driven through her hand.  But, let’s imagine this scenario again with one change—let’s replace the sharing of a dessert with the sharing of a conversation.  Can you relate to this strange happening now?  I would imagine that most of us have never experienced an evening ruined by a dessert hog, but we probably have endured the thoughtless behavior of a conversation hog on more than one occasion.  On this topic, one particular event stands out in my memory.  My husband and I were once invited to enjoy a meal with another couple at their home.  While my husband went on to share a friendly conversation with the host after the meal, I was left to endure nearly an hour of one-sided “conversation” with the hostess.  Like the dessert fiend in the previous scenario, this very nice lady repeatedly deflected my attempts to enter the conversation and left me marveling that she could possibly fail to notice that she was the only one eating the dessert!  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I very much enjoy listening to others talk about their lives, and there are times in life when we just need to listen, especially when our friends are hurting.  But, under normal conditions, conversations should be shared, not monopolized.  Christian women must not be conversation hogs!

 

Similar to our love for dessert, we as women also have a passionate love for words.  Our propensity for yakking can easily get us into trouble.  Proverbs 10:19 offers this wise advice, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”  Isn’t this so true?  The more we talk, the more likely we are to stray into sin.  Some of the obvious sins of speech that come to mind are gossip, slander, or lying, but we may fail to recognize the more subtle sin that we are prone to fall into through the sheer volume of words we use.  If we count ourselves among those cursed with the “gift of gab,” we need to be aware of the danger of sinning against our friends by “talking their ears off.”  A gracious and loving friend knows how to restrain her own words for the sake of allowing her friend the chance to share what’s on her heart.  Talking can often turn into a selfish act; thoughtful listening, on the other hand requires selflessness.  Philippians 2:3-4 says, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  When we yak, yak, yak about ourselves, our relationships, our problems, etc., it’s not very likely that we are thinking of others as more significant than ourselves.  We need to search our hearts to see if the multitude of words that we use is really necessary.  A person who does a great deal of talking is often a person with a lot of pride.  Pride urges us to talk, but humility urges us to listen. 

 

Jesus provided us with this simple yet profound rule to live by, “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31).  If we applied this standard to our conversations with others, I imagine that our tongues would get a lot more rest.  Instead of leaving our friends and acquaintances with the crumbs of our conversation, let’s give them the larger portion of the cake.  When we put others’ needs ahead of our own, we will quickly discover that the flavor of our dessert is much sweeter than before.

Seasons of Change

Gossip by Norman Rockwell
 
 

For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.      

Proverbs 26:20      

In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, fall is making its arrival known. As I type away this morning, I do so with slightly chilled fingers, even though I’m bundled in a jacket, jeans, and furry slippers and have already downed one cup of hot Earl Grey tea. The wind has picked up, carrying with it a few falling leaves, and autumn colors are preparing to put on their annual show. I’ve always enjoyed fall and the changing of seasons. I like the fresh start that a new season of the year seems to signal, and this year, I am more ready than usual to see new things come and old things go.      

 I always love summer, and I am sorry to say goodbye to its warmer temperatures (especially when I think of the suffering that my fingers and toes will endure over the coming months!). But, on the other hand, this summer was not one of the most pleasant for me. For that reason, I am ready to watch it fade into memory. The Lord took me through some difficult situations of conflict, hurt, and just plain old confusion over the past few months and through them has taught me some vital lessons. Perhaps the greatest lesson that I will take away from these disagreeable months is this—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21) I have “affectionately” dubbed the summer of 2008 as the Summer of Gossip, after being repeatedly impressed by the destructive force that idle words can wreak as they quietly spread from one person to another. Gossip is so natural, so common, and yet, we rarely consider just how deadly it really is.       

As I think back over my spiritual walk, I can’t remember a time when my problem with gossip wasn’t near the top of my list of prayer needs. If you’re a woman, you can probably relate to my struggle in this area. We enjoy talking…a lot. Since the Bible teaches that an abundance of words usually leads to sin, you can see why our predisposition to flowing conversation will often get us into trouble (Prov. 10:19).           

In my previous post A Hideous Necklace,”  I talked about my battle to identify and overcome pride in my life. I have only recently realized that my lifelong battles with pride and gossip are inseparably linked. Gossip is a bosom buddy to pride—it provides the perfect companion for the sin of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Pride and gossip often walk hand in hand, since a prideful person is constantly sizing up other people and finding them to be lacking. My desire to overcome gossip provides me with even more motivation to seek after the humble spirit which God desires to instill in me. I really believe that as I allow the Holy Spirit to hack away the root of pride in my life that the creeping vines of gossip will also wither and die. Without a prideful spirit feeding my desire to gossip, that little whispering talebearer inside of me will find that she no longer has anything to talk about!      

In addition to seeking after a spirit of humility, if we truly desire to overcome gossip, we must also seek after a spirit of Christlike love. The book of Proverbs talks repeatedly about how a gossip, or a whisperer, or a talebearer repeats what she hears to other people, but I Peter 4:8 says that “love covers a multitude of sins.” When we contrast the actions of a talebearer with the actions of a loving person, we can easily see that our desire to spread gossip is not motivated by love for others. If we truly love those around us, we will zip our lips instead of sharing our “prayer requests” (you know what I’m talking about) with those that don’t need to be involved.       

It’s easy to say that we need to overcome our desire to gossip by developing a spirit of humility and love, but sometimes, it’s still tough to know what gossip is and what it’s not. This is where I usually get hung up. I’ve heard people say, “Gossip is saying anything behind a person’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face.” While that’s probably a good rule to use, I don’t think it’s always true. Sometimes it’s necessary to discuss a problem we’re having with a friend or family member with a third party who can offer us Biblical counsel. It is very easy to cross the line into gossiping in such a situation. So, how do we know whether the words of our mouth are pleasing in God’s sight in these somewhat foggy areas of conversation?      

The other day while I was reading Proverbs, a little light bulb turned on to provide me with some illumination on the topic of gossip. When I think about gossip, I usually focus on wondering, “How can I know when I’ve crossed the line into sinning?” But this should not be the major question in my mind. John Piper once related how he had a discussion with his son regarding a certain type of music that he was listening to. His son asked, “What’s wrong with the music?” John Piper responded, “We do not ask minimalist Christian questions in this house!” The problem with the son’s question was that he had the wrong focus. Our concern as Christians should never be, “What’s wrong with it?” but rather, “What’s right with it?” So it is with the area of gossip. Instead of asking myself the minimalist Christian question, “What’s wrong with talking about this?” I should concentrate instead on finding out what is right, good, or Christ-honoring in discussing the topic on my mind. Ephesians 4:29 provides us with this very practical guideline concerning our conversation, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”       

Following this little light bulb moment, I decided to search through the entire book of Proverbs, making note of every positive descriptive of what our conversation should look like. What I discovered was a helpful guide for the quality of speech for which Christian women should be known.          

The Wise Woman’s Speech Is:
Gentle, soothing, & healing

Restrained, guarded, & timely
Sweet & persuasive
Satisfying & fulfilling
More precious than gold
Righteous & true
Pleasant & pure
Gracious & discerning
True & trustworthy
Instructive to her friends & her children
Defensive of the weak & helpless
A fountain of life to those that hear it

As I say goodbye to the Summer of Gossip, I do so seeking God’s help to meet His standards for acceptable speech in the months and years to come. Trusting God to bring about this long overdue change in my life, I look forward to the fruitful seasons ahead.      

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires!

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! James 3:5b

Since June 1, firefighters have been battling a wildfire in eastern North Carolina that has burned approximately 41,000 acres or 64 square miles. Although the fire is about 75% contained as of this date, experts say that it may continue smoldering for months to come. The effects of this devastating blaze have reached far past the three counties where the fires actually raged as smoke traveled hundreds of miles to pollute the air in over 15 surrounding counties. Hundreds of firefighters, thousands of acres, millions of dollars–the destruction that one rapidly spreading fire can leave behind is difficult for my small mind to comprehend.

As I consider the impact of this North Carolina wildfire, I can more vividly picture the untold danger of the unbridled tongue which James details in the third chapter of his book. “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue…sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” (v.6) He continues to describe the power of the tongue by saying, “No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” (v.8) We must never underestimate the power of the tongue.

While I would never consider tossing a lighted match out in a forest, it is probably a rare day that I don’t carelessly shoot out a number of highly flammable words with little thought of the damage they may cause. I can always use some help in bridling my tongue, and that’s why I’m excited about the possibility of attending the 2008 Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis. The theme of this year’s conference is “The Power of Words,” and I am very excited about the thought of hearing such outstanding Bible teachers dealing with this vital topic. I’ve included the conference trailer, so you can check it out for yourself. Prepare to be convicted!