Change Your Words. Change Your World.

Have words ever gotten you in trouble?

James writes in the New Testament that: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness…Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing…Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”

The facts about our words are that they REVEAL OUR HEART.

Have you ever said something and then regretted it and made the remark, “I really did not mean it, I really am not that way.”

Well, the sobering truth is that Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

The facts about our words are that they can be much more HURTFUL THAN WE THINK.

Breaking news: The saying “Stick and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me”, is not true!

We all can remember mean-spirited and hurtful words that were told to us as children. Those are words we will probably never forget.

There is a Turkish Proverb that says, “A knife-wound heals, but a tongue wound festers.”

The fact about our words is that WE SHOULD BE VERY CAREFUL AND STRATEGIC HOW WE USE THEM.

Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Very sobering and important words.

How can we use our words carefully, strategically and constructively?

One, be quick to listen, slower to speak.

I make a living writing, talking and using words.

Words are my friends and I love to use them and hear me say them, but the scriptures say that one of the smartest things I can do is to be quiet and listen.

This is not easy for me.

Someone once said, “You are not learning anything when you’re talking.”

There is an old American Proverb that says, “Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf.”

Margaret Millar added, “Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness.”

Solomon then finished the argument when he wrote, “Even the foolish man, when he keeps quiet, is taken to be wise: when his lips are shut he is credited with good sense.”

I am trying to be wiser these days.

Two, under promise and over deliver with your words.

About twenty years ago, my wife and I were newly married and had never been on a “real” vacation, and we were given an opportunity to go on a trip to a remote “resort” on the coast of Mexico.

The brochure was intoxicating. Tropical trees, beautiful beaches, high rise hotels, and pictures of a glitzy night life filled the 3 page booklet that was telling us that this would be the trip of our dreams.

When we arrived, we found an old dirty town, with a few palm trees, no high rise hotels, no glitzy night life and a couple of condominiums stuck in the middle that we were booked to stay in.

The first night in our room, a crow had made its way into our air conditioner duct and it squawked the entire night.

The brochure over promised and under delivered.

When we do this with our WORDS we lose credibility.

Three, tell people about their potential.

When was the last time you told someone that they were “fearfully and wonderfully made”?

When was the last time you told someone that God had given them talents and passions and abilities that the world needed?

My son lives, works and mentors children in the inner city.

One young boy he has been mentoring, who is fatherless and has a mother who is struggling with addiction, asked my son if he would be his parent on back to school night.

My son went and got to hear from this young man’s teacher how smart he is.

My son got to see the boy’s talents as he sang and danced in the school choir.

Now when my son sees him, on an almost daily basis, he gets to tell this young boy about how smart he is and how talented a singer and dancer he is

Who around you needs to hear the words from God, spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

And four, don’t forget the power of words.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

And God said, “Let there be sky,” and there was sky.

And God said, “Let there be dry ground and let the water be gathered to one place”
And it was so. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let there be plants and trees.”
And it was so. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let there be lights to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.”
And it was so. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the waters be full of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the sky.”
And it was so. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures.”
And it was so. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
And it was so. And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

God’s word created the universe, but you see, God’s word also saved us.

The apostle John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

And John goes on to write, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The power of words to create and save!

How can you use your words to create and save this week? How can you use your words more wisely?

Tom Stoppard writes, “Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.”

The Definition of Success

God’s definition of success is different than mine.

Most of the time, those of us who call ourselves believers, are still trying to live out the world’s definition of success.

We expect that giving our lives to God will save our souls, while our American dream will be enhanced because God is on our side.

Churches proclaim the words of Jesus, “You have to lose your life to gain it”, yet still define success much the way corporations define success.

How many people attend?
How much money is coming in?
How large is the building?
How do we ‘compare’ to other churches?

The apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus showed us what the true definition of success is:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

The older I get, the more I realize that the “real” successful people in this world will never be recognized this side of heaven.

I think of a man I know, 85 years old, a widower who lost the love of his life years ago, who quietly serves the poor in his local town, serving meals to the hungry, delivering groceries to the elderly, while sponsoring 20 Compassion International children all around the world.

He will never get on CNN, yet he is one of the most successful people I have ever known.

I think of a woman I know, who has suffered much tragedy in her life, her only son murdered, who is helping people who are experiencing severe loss, helping them heal and find hope.

She will not become rich by doing this, though there is a richness she is experiencing that cannot be explained.

She is one of the most successful people I have ever known.

I think of a couple who lost their son to drugs. As they are raising their beautiful granddaughter, they are helping broken young people move away from the destruction of drugs and moving them towards hope and God’s Grace.

They will not get their son back, this side of heaven, but his legacy will now be about the saving of hundreds of lives from the destruction of addiction.

They are two of the most successful people I have ever known.

Life brings pain.

God takes ashes and makes them beautiful.

God takes darkness and tells us to hang on because the morning promises joy.

God says in this life their will be tears, sorrow and loss but one day that will cease.

God redefines success.

Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote, “We fail to see the place of suffering in the broader scheme of things. We fail to see that suffering is an inevitable dimension of life. Because we have lost perspective, we fail to see that unless one is willing to accept suffering properly, he or she is really refusing to continue in the quest for maturity. To refuse suffering is to refuse personal growth.”

To refuse personal growth keeps us from true success.

One of the things that concerns me about the American church is that it is possible to be “popular” without still being “relevant”.

Our definition of success is too often about how many people like us and is what we are doing fashionable.

God’s definition of success states that however unpopular and uncomfortable the cross is, it is possibly the most relevant gift the universe has ever received.

Risking our lives feeding the empty belly, rescuing children out of the dark dungeons of trafficking, inviting people to the kingdom party who have nothing to offer, praying for, forgiving and loving our enemies, giving God our first 10%, putting others before us, investing in the next generation where it is hard to see instant fruit may not be the most popular thing to do in the church world, but I believe it is the most relevant thing.

The true definition of success is far more about relevancy than popularity and comfort.

True success is about trust.

Success is trusting that my life is safe in the arms of my almighty creator.

Brennan Manning wrote in Ruthless Trust, “The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

Big World, Small Minds

It’s a big world with small minds
Distractions and riches make eyes blind
Egos clash, religions rage
God is love, just keep him caged

Titles and treasures, I am willing to share it
I want to change the world, as long as I get the credit
Philosophies built on Fox News, CNN, Dr. Phil
I am afraid of the wrong things, naivety kills

Pray for my enemy, they were made in God’s image
My prayers fall short, I divide who should be forgiven
It’s easy to do good, but great is what we should
Better to fail at great, then to succeed at good

The shirt I wear, a kid made so far away
The rich get richer, while he barely gets paid
I should care about justice, I know it’s wrong
But my appetite for things, my addictions are strong

I give God my all, I give God my best
As long as it fits my schedule, that is the test
I go to church to feel good, to be entertained
While in Niger, 1 of every 3 girls marries before fifteen

Girls exploited, objects of pleasure
Used as property, yet made as God’s treasure
Seen as the least of these, yet so much potential
Educate, liberate and see the world more powerful

There is no longer Jew, Gentile or color
In the words of Mr. Hybels, “You have never looked into the eyes of a person Jesus didn’t die for.”

We have the medicine, the resources to give
In the words of Mr. Hewson, “Where you live should not determine whether you live.”

Lose your life to find it, you are more blessed when giving
I’m holding on too tight, I’ve lost the point of living
My Father loves it when I invest and share it.
My culture loves it when I keep and spend it.

Life’s mixed with blessings, struggles and pain
Make sure you laugh, cry and help those through the rain
The only thing certain, is that nothing is certain
Except for eternity, on the other side of the curtain

Today is a gift, tomorrow not guaranteed
Love overcomes evil, captives are freed
So what is required, heaven will applaud
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

PRAYER reminds me…

“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming
conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom,
and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.”
Abraham Lincoln

PRAYER reminds me I am not alone.
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” Psalm 23:4

PRAYER reminds me there is Someone more powerful on my side.
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.” Isaiah 43:1-2

PRAYER reminds me of the goodness and promises of God.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house
of the LORD Forever.” Psalm 23:6

PRAYER reminds me of God’s faithfulness in the past.
“He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemies,
from those who hated me and were too strong for me.
He led me to a place of safety;
he rescued me because he delights in me.” Psalm 18:16-19

PRAYER reminds me that I can overcome temptation.
“The temptations in your life are no different
from what others experience. And God is faithful.
He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.
When you are tempted, he will show you a way out
so that you can endure.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

PRAYER reminds me of God’s forgiveness.
“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12

PRAYER reminds me of the part I play in my requests.
“Show me the right path, O LORD;
point out the road for me to follow.” Psalm 25:4

PRAYER reminds me of whom I should serve.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

PRAYER reminds me that God’s ways are not my ways.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8

PRAYER reminds me that God is more concerned about my character than my comfort.
“I will take action against you. I will purify you
the way metal is refined, and will remove all your impurity.” Isaiah 1:25

PRAYER reminds me of how I am supposed to fast.
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” Isaiah 58:6-7

PRAYER reminds me of my priorities.
But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants.
Then the other things will be yours as well.” Matthew 6:33

PRAYER reminds me that God finishes what he starts.
“And I am certain that God,
who began the good work within you,
will continue his work until it is finally finished
on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

PRAYER reminds me how much God loves this tired, old world.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world,
but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17

ultimately…
PRAYER reminds me how I should pray.
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.” Matthew 6:9-13

We Are Far More Powerful Than We Realize

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” The Apostle Paul

Mike does not remember much about his childhood.

He was raised in a small town where his mother was addicted to pain medications.

Shoving deep issues under the carpet became an art form in Mike’s family.

Mike’s dad never hugged him, told him he loved him, or showed any emotion at all toward him.

“Being in a small town, everyone knew everyone else’s business and I was embarrassed of my mom and her addictions and I was embarrassed of our home.”

In Mike’s teens he stayed away from home and went the wild route, drinking and smoking and doing drugs.

“I guess not feeling loved you’re going to find love somewhere and I found it in music, girls, drugs and alcohol.”

Mike spent 3 weeks in college and then was gone at 18.

The military lottery was happening and he was lucky number 13.

Mike was drafted quickly. He spent 6 years in the army.

After 6 years Mike came home, got married, had two sons and went to work as a machinist to pay the bills and raise his kids.

Mike didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship and his marriage ended badly.

He moved to Southern California to start all over again.

“I knew about God my whole life but I had no clue what it meant to have a relationship with God. We used to call people Jesus Freaks who would say, ‘Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?’ I’d always say, ‘Yeah’ to shut them up. But I never knew what that meant”

Then Mike met his future wife, and when they got serious they decided they probably needed God in their relationship if it was going to last. Mike did not want to repeat his past.

“I didn’t want to screw it up and with my past you know I could have screwed it up pretty easy. And so I didn’t want to go that route again. I knew there had to be something, a much better way of doing it.”

Mike married his beautiful new bride and they started going to church and learning about God.

And then Mike and his new wife, Mavis, discovered that her son was addicted to cocaine and they began investigating recovery programs.

He went into rehab and they were told to take him to a program called “Celebrate Recovery”.

They went to “Celebrate Recovery” and that’s where Mike and Mavis truly found God’s Grace.

“I saw what God does. I saw miracles. I’ve had people say, ‘God doesn’t do miracles anymore,’ and I just don’t believe that because I see them all the time in Celebrate. I saw miracles left and right. Working the 12 steps has changed my life. They have given me the tools to not only help myself, but also my marriage, my relationships and ultimately the steps have taught me how to help others. As a follower of Jesus, I have now dedicated my life to serving and saving others. My vocation pays the bills, but my life calling is to help people heal and overcome.”

Mike and Mavis, started and our currently the directors of my churches Celebrate Recovery Group.

Mike and Mavis, as volunteers, tirelessly serve our community “comforting others with the same comfort God has given them.”

They are making a significant difference.

We are far more powerful than we realize.

During the last months of WWII, the British conducted daily bombing raids over Berlin.

One night after a successful bombing raid, as they were heading for the safety of England, the bombers were attacked by a large group of German fighter planes.

Five bullets slammed into the fuselage of the bomber near the gas tank, but there was no explosion.

Miraculously, they were able to make it back to their base and get safely off the plane.

A few hours after they had landed, one of the mechanics showed up in the crew’s barracks.

He had found five bullets inside the fuel tanks, crumpled but not exploded. He handed them to the pilot.

The pilot carefully opened the shells and to the crews amazement found each one empty with gunpowder.

Inside one of the bullets was a tiny wad of paper.

When he unfolded the paper, he found a note which read, “We are Polish POWs—forced to make bullets in factory. When guards do not look, we do not fill with powder. Is not much, but is best we can do. Please tell family we are alive.”

When every follower of Jesus lives with the philosophy of “comforting others just as God has comforted them,” no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, then we will see the miracles that we have been praying for.

It may not feel like much, but all God asks is to do the best we can do.

Mike and Mavis could be overwhelmed by the brokenness of addiction all around them, but instead they are offering comfort and hope in seemingly small ways, and yet hundreds have found sobriety and faith because they are simply comforting others with the same comfort God has given them.

Let’s Do It Again, Daddy!

The Apostle Paul wrote that when we stand before God, with our unshakable, irremovable foundation being Grace, everything we built on that foundation that was not used to advance the kingdom of God will be burned down.

Wasted time, neglected talents, selfish use of resources will go down in flames like kindling that helps start a camp fire.

Paul’s instruction is a warning but it is also a gift, reminding us that God has made us to live a high adrenaline, purpose filled, legacy leaving life.

When my son was 7 years old, we went to Six Flags, and there was a roller coaster that went upside down.

Your feet would hang free, you would free fall, and it was quite a rush, scary but fun.

At a young age, he was intimidated by the whole thing, so when I tried to get him to ride it, he told me he was happy not to.

He was happy just walking around eating churros, drinking slurpies and hanging around the “throw a ring around a bottle” game that nobody ever wins and if you do win, you have to lug a 30 pound Scooby Doo all around the park for the rest of the day.

Churros and slurpies and stuffed animals are nice, but it’s not why you go to Six flags.

There is no adventure in them.

Eventually, you get full, bloated and you run out of money.

The reason you go to Six Flags is for the thrill of the rides that put your stomach in your throat, speeds that knock your toupee off, and loops that sends blood rushing to your head.

You scream, you laugh, you might even wet your pants, but at the end of the ride you know that you are fully alive!!

I talked my son onto the ride even though he was still content hanging out with the churros, slurpies and stuffed animals.

When he got on the ride, you could see fear in his face, and during the ride, he screamed a little, he laughed a lot, and I think he even wet his pants a little.

But when the ride came to an end, the thought of the mundane life of churros, slurpies and stuffed animals had left his head, and all he could say was, “Daddy, let’s do it again!”

Jesus said in Luke 19:26, “Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.”

God has an amazing adventure for all of us when we enter into his kingdom.

He has adventures that will send our stomachs to our throats, our toupees flying off, and blood rushing to our heads.

Adventures that will make us scream in terror, laugh with joy and maybe even wet our pants a little.

But they are the adventures and life God created us for.

It is easy, when we get into the park (Grace), to settle for safe, instant satisfying things…I mean, who doesn’t like a hot churro and a cherry coke slurpy.

But you have to eventually get on the scary rides, or you will miss out on the purpose of the kingdom.

Nobody gets home from Six Flags and brags about how many churros and slurpies they ate and how much money they lost trying to win Scooby Doo.

No, when you get home, you tell people all the scary rides you rode and how many times you rode them and how you can’t wait to go back again and ride them some more!

As followers of Jesus, his Grace gives us free access to the park, but once we are in, he asks us to get on the scary rides.

He asks us to not sit idly watching others ride, while you finish your fourth churro.

He asks us to get on the ride and use our time, talents and treasures to feed the poor, shelter the homeless, relieve the oppressed, rescue the orphan, create spaces of sanctuary and safety, protect the widow, heal the sick, educate the next generation and do it all in the name of Jesus who came to heal the broken hearted and set the captives free.

And it is true that on this ride, you will scream a little, you will laugh a lot and you might even wet your pants, but I will guarantee you that when you get done with the ride your first words out will be, “Daddy, let’s do it again!”

Yet I Still Dare To Hope

“You have tested us, O God;
you have purified us like silver.
Then you put a leader over us.
We went through fire and flood,
but you brought us to a place of great abundance.”
Psalm 66:10,12

As I am in Niamey, Niger surrounded by the destructive damage done by the flooding of the Niger River I am observing a few things.

One, the depth of character that I see in the community of believers who have been turned upside down by this tragedy.

David writes, “You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.”

When a silversmith purifies silver he holds the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames are the hottest as to burn away the impurities.

The silversmith has to sit in front of the fire the whole time the silver is being purified because if the silver is left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

So how does the silversmith know when the silver is purified?

The answer is when the silversmith can see his image in it.

When you feel the heat of the fire, remember that God has his eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.

Two, I see the depth of faith that sustains their souls.

Sahel Academy, who lost its campus for the year because of the flood, one of the most influential and qualified schools in Niger, has already found new buildings to restart the school year in the upcoming weeks, knowing that the school’s real power is not buildings but committed teachers and potentially world changing students.

This is not easy, but…

They are believing what Psalm 66:12 says that as God takes them through the flood, He is going to take them to a place of great abundance, so that He can get the glory.

Floods come and go, but God’s faithfulness is always and forever.

Three, I see the depth of authentic community.

Difficult times are never fun but when you have a band of brothers and sisters rallying around each other, helping one another, encouraging one another, and even in the midst of this tragedy, laughing together, you cannot help but sit up and take notice.

Today, as I helped these heroic teachers and faculty members move into there new classrooms there was hugging, helping, laughing and a sense of anticipation from everyone about how God was going to use this whole thing to bless very poor country.

The great testimony of the Christian faith is not our perfect circumstances, but it is when outside observers say, “Oh, how they loved one another.”

Four, I see the heroic leaders standing tall, helping people find direction and hope when it is easy to get lost and discouraged.

God calls us as leaders to lead people through fires and floods to help people find hope and faith.

God is looking for leaders.

You tend to find new leaders during these times.

The ultimate example of this is when God brought a leader to us who endured horrific, unjust pain and suffering, which led us to a place of abundant life.

God took the worst thing and drew from it the best thing, which is a relationship with Jesus Christ, who wants to give us abundant life, today and forever.

Niger, Sahel Acadamy, Esprit Bible College and many other amazing organizations and people have been affected by these horrible floods…but, Jesus, the ultimate leader, is raising up leaders, young and old, to bring them through the floods and to a place of abundance.

It is not and will not be easy.

The scriptures guarantee it won’t be.

But as the prophet Jeremiah wrote looking over the ruins of Jerusalem,

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”