Category Archives: Communication

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”

Consider…

This is for Democrats.  And Republicans.  This is for Fox News and MSNBC.  For Donald and Hillary, Nancy and Mitch, Chuck and Ted.  It’s for Rush Limbaugh and Kathy Griffin.  This is for you.  And me.

It’s something Jesus said in response to the critics of His day.  It was a different issue, but the truth He spoke is just as relevant and important in the context of our current situation.

He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.  (Matthew 12:25b)

Most of us feel like divisiveness in this country came like the rising waters of a flood,. We stood by, helpless and dismayed.  We’re not in places of influence and power.  We shake our heads, bewildered at leaders who don’t seem to recognize the damage being done.  But, there is something we each can do.  We can turn away, refusing to participate in the rhetoric and sarcasm, the distortions and misrepresentations.  Instead,  we can choose to work toward greater understanding, reach out, building bridges of peace.  We don’t need to stand by and watch this “kingdom” be ruined.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

Better Words

Ready, Fire, Aim!  Way too often, that’s how my mouth works.  Before I know it, I’ve blurted out something stupid.  Or hurtful.  Just this morning a good friend told me about how I had thoughtlessly hurt his feelings.  I had thought what I’d said was funny.  He felt wounded.  How I wish I had paid more attention to the wisdom of this proverb:

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  (Proverbs 12:18)

The dictionary says “rash” means acting without forethought or due caution.  That nails it – right between my eyes.  Imagine how differently I’d be feeling if my friend had said, “Your words seemed to heal my heart.”  Instead of trying to find funny words, I’m going to work on finding words that heal, build up or strengthen others.

It’s not that I want to lay my struggles on you.  But, maybe you know someone like me, who could use to pay closer attention to that proverb or to this similar thought from the New Testament:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  (Note: – The original word for “unwholesome” doesn’t mean cussing.  It means something that causes rotting to occur!)  (Ephesians 4:29 – my added note)

So here’s my goal: Ready, Aim, Speak!

No, Really!

Remember the movie, Oh God?  John Denver played a grocery store clerk chosen to have a personal interview with God, who looked a lot like George Burns.  The frustrating part for him was trying to get anyone to believe he wasn’t crazy.  Starting with his wife.  Funny movie and I just put it back on my Netflix queue.  As fanciful as that plot was, a similar thing happened to Peter when he witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration and heard God speaking.  And every time he tried to tell others about that experience there was always somebody at the back of the room, making a skeptical face and shaking his head.  Which is why Peter wrote these words:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.   (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Maybe you can understand how frustrated he must have been.  Maybe you’ve had your whole life changed by an encounter with Jesus and have then tried to explain it to others who make that funny face.  Or who back away, slowly, saying, “Oh that’s nice for you…”  Maybe you’ve discovered if you have to say, “No, really…” the argument is over.  But don’t be discouraged or give up; it’s happened to me, too.

And Peter.

And Jesus.

For some skeptics, the best Peter could do was to say:

…you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…  (2 Peter 1:19)

The Whole Truth

Why did so many Christian churches not speak out against the injustices of the Nazi regime?  Fear, maybe, of persecution or simply a decline in offerings?  Wanting to ride the wave of popularity and power?  Perhaps it was easier to tell people what they wanted to hear?  Who knows?  But that disgraceful failure is one of the more dangerous consequences of picking and choosing from the Bible what seems convenient to believe.

Today, the same failure is routinely practiced in churches.  It’s no mystery why churches that only preach what people want to hear are wildly popular.  But God said,

“…prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
“Peace, peace,” they say,
when there is no peace.”   (Jeremiah 8:10b-11)

Imagine going to the doctor with a gangrenous wound, hoping it’s not serious.   The doctor knows you are worried, so he says, “This is no big deal; we’ll just put a band-aid on it.”  Inconceivable, but precisely what has been done, far too often,  by people entrusted with the truth of God’s Word.  Paul warned Timothy not to be tempted by the strong pull of popular opinion and desire.  He said:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

If you haven’t found one yet, look for a church that delivers “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

A Reminder

Why do people whisper in an art museum?  Never could figure that out but suppose it has something to do with awe.  Stand in front of a Rembrandt and somehow you don’t feel like talking.  At least not out loud.  And yet, in most church settings, as people come bopping in, laughing, calling to their friends, there seems to be no sense of awe.  This is nothing new and it is understandable.  You can see a Rembrandt and you can’t see God.  It’s easy to forget where you are and what you are doing.

But God is here.  Not just in church, but here, with us as we go through life.  And when we pause, to talk things over with Him, here’s a reminder from Ecclesiastes:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)

There’s a great scene in the movie, Papa, where a cub reporter, who idolizes Ernest Hemingway, and has sent him a fan letter, answers the phone and discovers it is his hero calling.  Once he’s gone through the “Who is this really?” routine and knows it really is Hemingway on the phone, suddenly he can hardly form a single word, much less a sentence.  That’s the idea here.

That is why I cringe when I hear someone say, “Well, I guess we better start with a quick word of prayer.”  Or, “Ralph, would you say the blessing?”   If we could open our eyes to see Jesus, Himself, seated in the meeting or at the table, such lines would seem insulting.  Like, “Before we tell you what we think you should do, God, we’re just going to say a few religious sounding words to kind of set the right tone…”

If we are in our right minds, we fear God.  This means treating Him with appropriate reverence, respect and a willingness to let Him call the shots.  It means recognizing He is God and we are not, not even close.  There is no more important setting for the fear of God than when we are about to address Him and listen.

Square Bidness

Square bidness.  Translation?  I am telling you the absolute truth.  I learned that expression from New York slum street kids back in the 60’s.  Don’t know if they still say it, but God does.  Check this out:

18 For this is what the Lord says—
he who created the heavens,
he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited
he says:
“I am the Lord,
and there is no other.
19 I have not spoken in secret,
from somewhere in a land of darkness;
I have not said to Jacob’s descendants,
‘Seek me in vain.’
I, the Lord, speak the truth;
I declare what is right.  (Isaiah 45:18-19)

Sometimes I underline or highlight the main ideas in long Bible sentences, as I have done above.  That’s so I can hang on the main thrust of what is written.  In this passage, the main idea is that God, the only One Who is real, made the earth to be inhabited by us and has clearly told us in His Word how to find Him.  If we seek Him, He said, it won’t be in vain.

Think about how much effort around the world goes into the pursuit of God, most of it in vain because the method of seeking has been designed by what people have imagined would work.  But God said, “Look, if you want to truly find me you have to seek in the way I have clearly told you.  It’s not some secret knowledge but is clearly laid out in My Word.  Seek Me in that true way and it won’t be in vain.”

And Jesus added,

45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.”  (John 6:45-48)

Square bidness.