Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gossip as Idol

Did you know that I once lived in Chicago or that I got a “new and very important job” or that my 21-year-old son bought a house? No? Well, neither did I! Because these statements, though completely untrue, were presented to me as fact by people who had heard it through the grapevine.

And try to refute such things! I’m the “horses mouth” and when I say, “No, I have never lived in Chicago,” those supposedly “in the know” respond as if I’m lying! Their neighbors, family members and Facebook seem to hold more credibility than me, who really should know whether or not I ever lived in Chicago, had an “important” job or could now visit my son (who will first need to pay off his student loan and secure employment, go figure) in his new house!

So how do these rumors start, and why such credibility attached to them? It’s like when the Bible talks about wolves in sheep’s clothing coming into the church to bring a slightly—or not so slightly—different truth than the apostles taught. These people seem knowledgeable, often pose as being “concerned,” and speak so convincingly! And they do it out of a desire to take any scrap or portion of their own “understanding” and run with it to feed their self-esteem and need to be noticed.

I know about gossip. Before being saved out of the mire of darkness, I licked my lips for gossip right along with the next person. There was an importance and status that came with being “in the know” and drama and attention that came with that. Not only was it great to be the bearer of any kind of tidbit, it was then an opportunity to sit around and ignorantly and at length discuss that tidbit. The funny thing is, I thought I was a good person and that my mindless bloviating made the world a better place. In reality, though, what was happening was that I was craving significance and superiority.

Even if I felt a twinge of guilt about my conversations, I couldn’t stop. Like a package of Oreo cookies where the good and healthy person is convinced they can eat just one, only to find 30 minutes later that they’ve consumed the entire first row, gossip is nearly impossible to resist once we’ve gotten a taste.

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8). 

The key is to not desire the Oreos in the first place; likewise with gossip.

And that’s where Jesus comes in. Twelve years ago He began a long and arduous work on my heart, which continues to this day. Of all the sins He has had victory over in my life, including drinking, frustration, needing to control, woman’s liberation worldview and New Ageism, just to name a few, the fleshly worldly sin of the tongue has been the most difficult. James affirms this when he writes: 

“Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go” (James 3:4).

To bask in the victory over other sins but not allow the Holy Spirit to tame our tongue is to taint, pretty much, every aspect of our walk with Jesus Christ. Like a ship needs a pilot to control the rudder, we need the Holy Spirit to steer our tongue.

How do we begin this transformation to being led by the Spirit? Well, one way is to no longer spend time with people who gossip. Just like I needed to stay away from alcohol and places with alcohol before I actually desired to stay away from alcohol, we can stay away from places of gossip-temptation while God creates in us a desire to not gossip (and He does that when we ask him for a desire to not gossip and then go to the Word and prayer). Only then can we begin to stand firm in Him instead of in the world.

I am beginning to let God test me with people who inevitably will say something negative and mean-spirited about someone, or will share someone else’s news instead of letting that person share their own news. I have verses in my head to guide me and keep me from slipping, and pre-planned statements so that I do not engage in the babbling. These situations always make my heart race, probably because it truly is a form of spiritual warfare. If Satan can make us slip with our tongue, it proves that our hearts are not with God and it blocks others’ glimpse of God in us.

I must also let God test me in my own thought life, to see if I can refrain from being the originator of gossip and general editorializing. It’s a discipline I cannot accomplish without a constant engaging of the Holy Spirit, along with daily prayer and Bible.

And the Bible verses on speech are endless! The two that convict and encourage me the most are:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:5-7


“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:9-10

God hears everything even before we speak it. Sobering. We must begin with our hearts. James 1:5 says:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” 

Wisdom is a heart issue and will replace idle talk; wipe it off the map! As born again believers, God’s wisdom is where we must desire to live. And when we do, by His grace he’ll get us there.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.” Proverbs 4:23-24

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 16:28

“Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20

“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:18-19

“We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” 2 Thessalonians 3:11

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Entitlement as Idol

This past weekend I turned 50 years old, and only by the Grace of God. I say that because many people resent growing old instead of seeing it as Grace. They resent growing old, I believe, out of a sense of entitlement to staying young. People feel entitled to not age in years.

But as a born again believer in the triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I understand that there is no room for entitlement in any aspect of my walk with God and under His authority and in the saving work of His Son on the Cross.

John MacArthur, in a sermon that you can access for free on his Grace to You website, writes,

“…some of the imagery that's used of salvation is, one, that we're born again; and two, that we've been resurrected. And how many dead people caused their own resurrection? And how many babies, before they were conceived, did something to lead to their birth? The answer is absolutely nothing.” John MacArthur, Sermon BRG-90-20

We are not here because we brought ourselves here out of our own volition. Therefore, we are entitled to nothing. Every day, every hour, is a gift of God. Why would I resent growing older when each day is a gift of the Lord, and for His purpose and glory? (plug in anything one feels entitled to: blond hair when we have brunette; a 3,000 square-foot-home when we have only a 1,500 square-foot-home; a new car vs. old; a leadership position vs. a secondary role; a man’s life vs. that of a woman’s; a woman’s life vs. that of a man’s, etc. etc. etc.)

I am not my own, I was bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Not only did God hold me in His creation before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) but once here, my gift of life, re-birth and days—not entitlement of life, re-birth and days—is of God and the saving work of Jesus on the Cross. God created me and Jesus His Son gave Himself for and to me, and I am now to give myself for and to Him in every thought, motivation, word and act. I am not entitled to go about in resentment arising from an idol of entitlement!

Yet many people do go about in that sense of entitlement, and miss the point of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit completely.

I thank God for the 50 years he has given me, and for the last 12 in which I have had the privilege of living in His kingdom on earth. I know that each day brings me closer to my true home, with Him in heaven. Until that day, God alone is entitled to my life: God--the one who sees me as the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8) and who “created my inmost being” and who “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

All sense of entitlement is removed as “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:14-16).

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.” Psalm 39:4-6

“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7

“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us, no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” Psalm 40:4-5

“For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:7-8

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God…” Galatians 2:20-21

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Desire for What He has Already Given Us

I realized this morning that I spend a lot of time praying for things God has already given me. I pray for patience, love for others, compassion, discernment. Or I pray He would remove a character trait or behavior. But this morning I realized that I’ve missed the point of 2 Peter 1:3-4: 

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

Truly amazing! God has given us everything we need for godliness. Yet when we look at the end of the passage we see a disconnect: and that is evil desires. It isn't the qualities of God that are lacking, it is our desire for them.

It almost knocked me off my chair when I realized that I don’t need to be praying that God will remove a critical spirit from my life, or disorganization or jealousy or whatever it is any of us prays for God to eradicate. What I need to pray for is the desire to not be critical and the desire to be organized. I can pray all day long for God to remove a critical spirit from my life, but if I don’t truly desire for it to be removed, it won’t be removed! And the reason we don’t desire a particular sin to be removed is because we are still somehow enamored with it. We still desire it’s presence more than we desire its absence! Our corruption remains due to our evil desires.

It’s like a little boy praying that God would clean his room, even though the child doesn’t really desire a clean room. He may be praying for a clean room to get his parents off his back, or because his friend is coming over, or because he just knows that a clean room is what good children should have. But the child really doesn’t desire a clean room. 

When it comes to sin, we may be praying for a sin like gossip to be removed, but secretly clinging to our warped love of that sin. We may pray for gossip to be removed because we know it’s wrong, or because we feel guilty after wards, or because we want to be more like so and so who never says a bad word about anyone! But until we truly pray out of a pure desire to not gossip--meaning that our desire is to line up with God's desires--that sin will most likely remain.

2 Peter tells us that God has given us “everything” for godliness. In 2 Peter 1:5-7 we read that we are to add to our faith "goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” 

God has given us these qualities as a baseline, if you will. Only He can activate and increase them in us when it is our desire that He do so.

So my prayer this morning is not for God’s grace, mercy, truth, compassion, etc. My prayer is for the desire to live in the mercy, truth, compassion, wisdom, discernment, and love that He has already put inside of me, and to do so in increasing measure. I thank God for the fruits of His Spirit that I have only today fully realized already live in me; that He has so generously promised and provided everything I need to be in His will in all areas of life.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:16-17

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:24-25

“I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ignorance as Idol

I always find it interesting, if not slightly amusing, when the people who most consider themselves to be open-minded choose to remain ignorant in certain strains of life. Often, the more they feed themselves information based on their presuppositions, the more open minded they believe they are becoming. Yet they often do not have any tangible learning, exposure to or experience in the things that go against their presuppositions. To avoid the discomfort that going against un-checked presuppositions instills, they often stay on their “open-minded” side of the tracks, discounting--without a reasoned consideration--what lies on the other side.

Take, for example, one of the most contentious topics: Darwin’s theory of evolution. I was "taught" it. You were probably "taught" it too. But have I ever read his On the Origin of Species? Have you? Yet many people, myself included at one time, without equivocation stand on evolution, not having ever read Darwin's book or other books by scientists offering additional or opposing views. I’m not going to get into a debate on evolution. I chose that topic because it is such a beautiful and clear illustration of how we idolize, at times, our own ignorance.

Open-minded people usually claim their minds are open to all ideas, perspectives, philosophies and ways of life. But what this open-mindedness often amounts to is a veiled closed-mindedness. I once asked a friend, a person I know very well and have a relationship with, if I, a born again Christian, would be welcome at his “open to all” Unitarian church. To his credit, he answered honestly, “No, you would not.” Yet he is the most “open-minded” person I know, in the “not-checking-your presuppositions-at-the-door” sort of way.

Yet I understand it, because for many years I walked in pride of my open-mindedness, while in actuality my mind was closed tight around me: my ideas, my experience, my high regard for myself and my posing as an expert on that which I knew nothing about. In utter and complete ignorance, my faith was in, and my worldview emanated from, me. I determined everything!

The other arena in which ignorance is common but which those who operate in it would vehemently deny it is politics. People will profess with their mouths that they love everyone, yet spend much of their time and energy on Facebook and at the water cooler character-assassinating either Obama or Romney or “all liberals” or “all conservatives.” They have never met Obama or Romney: never sat down with either of their wives or mothers or children and never gotten to know these fellows who are exposing themselves to excruciating examination and expected to be perfect. Many voters don’t take the time to look up the political record and accomplishments of the candidates or to research their positive accomplishments. It’s easy to lambast what we remain ignorant about and, from a distance, to treat people as inanimate objects.

Another area where ignorance reigns as idol is gossip. Like cancer does gossip flow, person-to-person, cutting off oxygen to truth and understanding only to feed a sinister delight for the death and destruction of another’s character. We feed ignorance with our insatiable appetite to possess and disseminate information, even if it’s not-quite-right. 

So we see that ignorance is certainly not bliss (another presupposition we can throw out the window). Rather, ignorance is that inexplicable discomfort we feel when we think we’re right but not wholly sure, but go forward in certain uncertainty because pride demands it. We attempt to boost the self-esteem that other’s presuppositions have told us we need by demanding our right to be right, albeit mis or uninformed. In other instances, ignorance is bred by our thirst for having an enemy. We love to be the knight in shining armor against something.  And if we can’t find anything real to be ignorantly against, we just go along believing that what we’ve been told is our enemy, is our enemy.

Television talk show host Dick Cavett said, 

“It’s a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn’t want to hear.”

I would add that it is a rare person who wants to hear what he thinks he doesn’t want to hear. The idol of ignorance is fed by unchecked presuppositions. Checking presuppositions means checking what we think we think first, and then checking what it is we want to think, and why. Only then can we begin to figure out and take thoughtful steps towards what it is we really think. Real understanding (note I didn’t say agreement) begins where presuppositions end. We may not agree, but then again, we may agree, and surprise ourselves at that!

“The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” Proverbs 15:14

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 18: 2

“He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26

“…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6