Delivering the Velvet Brick

Proverbs 12:25

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

Read the following humorous story from a writer in Reader’s Digest:  “For the umpteenth time in one shift, my co-worker at the grocery
store somehow managed to offend one of our customers.  “Do you ever think about the things you say before you say them?”  I asked.  “No,” he admitted.  “I like to hear them for the first time along with everybody else.” – (Patrick Chenoweth, “All in a Day’s Work,” Reader’s Digest, Jan. 2007, p. 38.)

I am continuing my series on more “apt” speech.  We need to heed Proverbs 15:28 – “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”   What are we allowing to escape our lips?

Last post I spoke about making our words intelligible.  This one will be about making them kind.  Suppose you have a message to deliver to someone that will effect them deeply.  It might come across as a thrown brick.  But can we wrap that brick in velvet?  Same impact… less bruising.

The following story by Clark Cothern of Ypsilanti, Michigan explains how important this is.

“About forty pastors and denominational leaders in Michigan squeezed into a relatively small conference room to discuss urgent and somewhat controversial matters. It didn’t take long for the discussion to escalate. Volumes increased. Tones grew edges. Observations teetered dangerously close to accusations. Fittingly, lightning flashed through the windows, followed seconds later by thunder heralding a coming storm.

In the midst of the battle, a distinguished African American pastor stood slowly—intentionally so. As he rose, the noise shrank. Everyone knew him as “Brother Rochelle.” His demeanor commanded respect.

Brother Rochelle scanned the room for a good five seconds and then, with a voice trembling with compassion, he spoke, slowly and carefully: “Oh … my dear … children.” He stopped—as did the thunder. It was as though Brother Rochelle had paused to wait for the Spirit of God to prepare the ears and the hearts of every single individual in the room. When he spoke again, it wasn’t a lengthy speech. He quoted a single Bible verse many of us had memorized as children in Sunday school: “Be ye kind, one to another.” Each word dripped with compassion. “Tenderhearted,” he continued, looking around the room as if to convey just how much he loved every single one of us. “Forgiving one another.”

When he sat down, we all sat in the silence brought about by the power of an aptly spoken word. The storm passed. Attitudes shifted. Peace reigned. The meeting continued in a spirit of brotherly love.  (Clark Cothern, Ypsilanti, Michigan)

There is so much painful language in this world.  Our hearts have almost given up on kindness.  We speak words in self-defense… sometimes as preemptive strikes…

We would be wise to weigh our words… to wrap our bricks in velvet.  We may need to deliver the important word… the necessary correction, yet with our words dripping with compassion.

The Absolutely Most Phenomenally Awesome Post of All Time!

Proverbs 25:11

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”

Almost didn’t click on  this post did you?  You read “phenomenal” and “awesome” and thought:  I doubt it.  We almost daily read these words  on-line or hear them spoken by newscasters… and almost always… we are let down.  Words are framed in our sentences today not so much for  apt expression as they are to command attention…  like a neon yellow yard sale sign.  We make a statement… by overstating.

One anchor for Good Morning America recently spoke of a YouTube video to be shown later in their broadcast that had already “sent shock waves around the world!”  Really?  People in India were stunned by it?

Retailer Target recently failed to have enough of their Missoni product to please consumers.  After a Memphis woman received an email from Target explaining her order would be delayed, she responded:   “I feel violated. I feel taken advantage of…”  Really?  Violated?  Isn’t that word usually reserved for a victim of rape?  Is it even right to use that word in connection with the loss of designer dishes and clothing?

I believe that our dialogue in this country, between parties, between denominations, actually between any two parties that have differences, has become ineffectual because too often our language is LARGE and charged!  Can we scale our verbage back a bit in order to truly communicate with one another?  The way of wisdom says we should strive to find the word that is “fitting” in our conversations.

In the next few blogs I am going to attempt to flesh out what an “apt” word is.  But it is, first of all, intelligible.  Do we seek with our choice of words to communicate or to impress?

A three-and-a-half-year-old boy was sitting with his father eating an apple.  After several bites the boy asked, “Daddy, why is my apple turning brown?”  His father answered, “Because after you ate the skin off, the meat of the apple came into contact with the air which caused it to oxidize thus changing its molecular structure and turning it into a different color.”

After a lengthy pause, the son asked, “Daddy, are you talking to me?”  (Dave Stone, Refining Your Style, p. 61.)

Ever been in a conversation where it is clear that the other person is talking… but you’re not sure that you’re the audience?  An apt word seeks more to be understood than to be memorable.

Let every post posted, every Facebook status updated and every Tweet tweeted be filled with that which is fitting.. an apt depiction of your heart.  Let it be a bowl of golden apples in a bowl made of sterling silver… a beautiful work of art.

Song Origin: I Need Thee Every Hour

Psalm 57

1God Most High, have pity on me!  Have mercy.  I run to you for safety.  In the shadow of your wings, I seek protection till danger dies down.   2I pray to you, my protector.  3You will send help from heaven and save me… (vv.1-3, CEV)

We live in a nation that worships the concept of “independence!”  But not “dependence.”  Stop being so needy we tell others.  Truth be told… we are all needy.  We all need and receive help from God and others on a daily basis.  None of us can claim we did it OUR way… we were helped along the way!

Max Lucado shares an encounter he had with his 3 year old nephew, Lawson:  “He asked me to play some basketball.  A towheaded, spark plug of a boy, he delights in anything round and bouncy.  When he spotted the basketball and goal in my driveway, he couldn’t resist.  The ball, however, was as big as his midsection.  The basket was three times his height.  His best heaves fell way short.  So I set out to help him.  I lowered the goal from ten feet to eight feet.  I led him closer to the target.  I showed him how to “granny toss” the ball.  Nothing helped.  The ball never threatened  the net.  So I gave him a lift.  With one hand on his back and my other beneath his little bottom, I lifted him higher and higher until he was eye level with the rim.

“Make a basket, Lawson!” I urged.  And he did.  He rolled the ball over the iron hoop, and down it dropped.  Swoosh!  And how did little Lawson respond?  Still cradled in my hands, he punched both fists into the air and declared, “All by myself!  All by myself!”  (Max Lucado, Out Live Your Life, p. 97.)

Interesting perspective, huh?  Aren’t we the same sometimes?   Yet in our lives we sometimes let radical independence keep us from seeking out help at all.  We need Him every hour!

The lyrics to the old hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour” were written in 1872 by Annie Hawks.   Ms. Annie Sherwood Hawks was born in New York in May 1835 and was residing in Bennington, Vermont at her death on January 8, 1918. She was a prolific writer and began writing verse at the age of fourteen. She wrote dozens of articles for magazines and newspapers and wrote almost 400 hymns during her lifetime. Ms. Hanks began writing religious verse at the request of her Baptist pastor Robert Lowry who would then put the verse to music. This song was by far her most famous hymn.

When she was asked about how her inspiration for the hymn, she wrote:  “One day as a young wife and mo­ther of 37 years of age, I was bu­sy with my reg­u­lar house­hold tasks. Sud­den­ly, I be­came so  filled with the sense of near­ness to the Mast­er that, won­der­ing how one could live with­out Him, ei­ther in joy or pain, these words, “I Need Thee Ev­e­ry Hour,” were ush­ered in­to my mind, the thought at once tak­ing full pos­sess­ion of me. Seating myself by the open window in the balmy air of the bright June day, I caught up my pencil and the words were soon committed to paper.”

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their pow’r when Thou art nigh.

I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will;
And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I need Thee every hour, most Holy One;
Oh, make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son.

I can’t make it in this life “all by myself.”  Like the mighty warrior David, I will run for safety… knowing he will send what I need from heaven.  I need Him every hour.

Come quickly, Lord, abide… or life is indeed vain.

Whatever It Is You Do!

Colossians 3:17 

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

A job posting was passed on by an unemployed individual desperate to find work.  Found on an employment website, it was for a wastewater plant operator.  Among the job requirements:  “Must be able to swim.” (Michael Leamons,“All in a Day’s Work,” Reader’s Digest, February 2000, p. 48.)

Some of you may feel you HAVE that job.

How do we glorify God when we are swimming in waste water?  Paul says that whatever we find ourselves doing… we can make a conscious choice to honor God doing it… and even be thankful for it.

Martin Luther reminds us:  “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God likes to see clean floors.  The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting crosses on shoes he makes but
by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

Coca-Cola vice president Bonnie Wurzbacher speaking of her career and vocational journey once remarked, “Where once I thought a job should be meaningful, now I realize the worker brings meaning to the job.” (Dr. David Cox )

What meaning are you bringing to your work?

One of my favorite artists of all time may surprise you… it is Charles Shultz.  It has always amazed me how much he was able to convey in just three panels.  And his craft was not something he tried to just crank out.  I read this quote from him a few years ago and it brings a smile to my face.

“A visitor almost never fails to remark: ‘Gee, you could work real hard, couldn’t you, and get several months ahead and then take the time off?”  Being… a slow learner, it took me until last year to realize what an odd statement that really is.  You don’t work all your life to do something so you don’t have to do it.  I could talk about Beethoven knocking out a few fast symphonies so he could take some time off; or Picasso grinding out a dozen paintings so he could go away, but the comparison would be pompous.  We live in a society that worships vacations.” – Charles Schulz

Glorify God in what you do!

I Want to Be Loved Like That For the Rest of My Life

Colossians 3:15-16 

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

My wife, Janine, once received a note pad from a friend of ours that read:  “I meditate, I exercise, I drink green tea… and I still want to smack someone.  Peace can be an elusive thing… particularly in church.  Church fights and tension have done more to drive people out of church than bad doctrine ever has.

Some important ways for churches to find peace is through “being thankful” and “letting the Word of Christ dwell richly.”  As we teach the Word, encourage one another with it and sing it to one another… we find the peace that must rule in our congregations.  Paul says that there not only should be peace in church, but peace should rule there.  The Greek word for rule is “barbeuto” meaning to arbitrate, to decide every debate.

A lot of negative stuff has been said of churches, much of it warranted.  But a church at peace is a powerful thing.  As we put on the clothes of our new life in Christ (compassion, humility, etc.) we help others join the community of faith.

Terry Muck talks about a letter written by a man who used to have no spiritual interest.  He lived next door to a Christian, and they had a casual friendship.  Then the non-Christian’s wife suddenly died.   Here’s part of a letter he wrote afterward:

I was in total despair.  I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance.  And after the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night.  But I did not walk alone.  My neighbor – afraid for me, I guess- stayed with me all night.   He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me.  He just followed me.  When the sun finally arose over the river, he came over to me and said, ‘Let’s go get some breakfast.’

          I go to church now.  My neighbor’s church.  A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about.  I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.” – Lee Strobel  (“Handling Christianity’s Toughest Challenge”, Christian Research Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2001)

How is the church doing producing that level of caring?  A church where the peace of Christ rules and the Word of Christ dwells will certainly be that kind of place.

Sunday Go-To-Meetin’ Clothes

Colossians 3:13-14

“bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint again anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond on unity.”

So far in Colossians 3, Paul has told us what clothing to take off:  anger, slander, abusive speech, etc.  He has also reminded us to put some things on:  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  These are good every-day wear.  In verses 13 & 14 he tells us what to wear in church… Sunday Go to Meeting Clothes.

The word “bearing” (v.12) means to put up with minor irritations and the quirks of others.  This is a thick lined coat.  Whatever is able to get through this coat, must past through an inner lining called:  forgiveness.   Paul says we need to forgive each other.  The person that has a complaint or grievance as well as the one who has committed the sin.  This is a tough one.  If I get 20 encouraging emails and one that has a complaint, guess which one I spend all week fretting about?

Finally, Paul says:  Put on love.  It is the one virtue that binds all the others together.  Suppose you have a child that has a bothersome quirk… they laugh too loud or are a little selfish at times.  Do you have any trouble “bearing” with them or “forgiving” them?  Probably not.  Why?  Because you love them!  This is a level about tolerance or moral superiority… this is acceptance… acceptance of the other members of our family in Christ… just as Jesus has accepted us.

How many of us dress up nice all week… showing compassion to the needy, displaying humility in the break room at work, and gentleness to the kids on your son or daughter’s soccer team… only to show up with church with a “take no prisoners” attitude.  Forgiven people must forgive.  Loved people must love!

Time to dress up on Sunday and everyday with our finest virtues… virtues we’ve seen displayed in Christ!

Bridal Prep

Colossians 3:12

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Having just returned from my son’s wedding in Philadelphia… I got to see first hand how much work goes into a joyous day such as his.  There is the reception, the vows, the flowers, etc.  But there is a special attention given to the bride.  It is her big day and teams of people work to get her dress just right, her hair just right, etc.  One website I went on recommends that a bride undergo a skin treatment a month before:  “It will majorly  involve scrubs, face packs, steam, messages, etc.”  The bride is also to adopt healthy eating habits and avoid junk, oily and spicy foods.”  This is all done so her skin will “radiate exceptional glow and beauty…”  “Enough to create a spell on [her] spouse…”

I got to thinking about the passages in the New Testament that compare the church to a bride.  Our groom is Jesus.  Revelation 19:7 says:  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”

What kind of things does His church, his bride, need to do by way of preparation?  What beauty treatments do we need to undergo?  Paul says that as new creatures in Christ we are to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Compassion is a condition in our heart that causes us to spring into action at the sight of someone in need.  Kindness combines the qualities of goodness and graciousness…. a sweetness of disposition.  The Humility Christ desires for us is not of the “aw shucks and kicking the dirt” variety, but a real “forgetting of ourselves” for the sake of others.  Gentleness is not being soft on people, but being soft in our manner toward them.   Patience (Greek makrothhumia, literally “long fuse”) refers to self-restraint when insulted or injured… not resorting to retaliation.

There are many ways one could think of to try to empress our heavenly groom (read our Bible more, go to church more often, memorize more Scripture verses) but are we putting on the robes of righteousness our the groom sent over for us to wear?

I enjoyed the wedding in Philly.  Justin’s bride, Lauren, was beautiful.  I could see the delight in his eyes.

Are you prepared for the wedding of the Lamb?  He longs to delight in you.

100th Post! – Tear Down Every Barrier

Colossians 3:11 –  11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

A Barbarian to a Greek was anyone that did not speak Greek.  They were literally:  “someone who says “Bar, bar.”  A Synthian was the lowest of the barbarians, just short of a wild animal.  A Slave was a tool.  There would be no fellowship of a slave and a free man.  Jesus came to obliderate such distinctions.  He did it from the start of His ministry.

Jesus took a deep breath when he chose Simon the
Zealot as a disciple, and political barriers were blown away.

Jesus  took a deep breath when he dined with Zacchaeus the despised publican, and
class barriers were blown away.

Jesus  took a deep breath when he conversed with a woman ofSamaria, and sexual barriers were blown away.

Jesus  took a deep breath when he celebrated a Roman centurion’s faith, and racial barriers were blown away.

Jesus  took a deep breath when he allowed a woman who was a sinner to touch him, and  ideological barriers were blown away.

Jesus  took a deep breath when he praised a poor woman who offered her mite, and economic barriers were blown away.

Jesus  took a deep breath when he heeded the appeal of a Syro-Phoenician woman, and national barriers were blown away.

Jesus  took a deep breath when he washed his disciple’s feet, and social barriers were  blown away.

Jesus took a deep breath when he washed his disciple’s feet, and social barriers were blown away.

Jesus took a deep breath when he rebuked his disciples for criticizing a follower who was an outsider of the group, and denominational barriers were blown away.

Jesus took a deep breath when he chastised the adults for not suffering the children to come unto him, and ageist barriers were blown away.

Jesus took a deep breath when he told Lazarus to come forth, and physical barriers were blown away.

Jesus, God’s breath made flesh, took deep breaths—will we?

–  Leonard Sweet (A Cup of  Coffee at the Soul Café, pp. 78-79.)

Jesus has taken a wrecking ball to walls that keep us apart… isn’t it time we take a wrecking ball to those walls we’ve left standing in our own hearts?

Going to a Wedding!

Psalm 127: 3-4

3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.

A floodgate of memories and emotions is about to break… this Saturday…  as I watch my son wed his sweetheart, Lauren.  I am in awe of the power of love and the speed of time.  Lauren has shown him a love that has transformed him.  Time has done its work as well,  revealing Justin to be a man where a boy once stood.

My role this weekend will be to cry, to try to dance (without embarassing Janine) and to be a witness… a witness to the truths in Psalm 127 (sons really are a heritage from the Lord, …a reward, too.)  Justin, I know this will be a stressful weekend.  But relax, get to the church on time, try not to be nervous… and rejoice in the transformation that God has blessed you with.   I know seeing it has been a blessing to me.