March 8: Contrasting Words and Results

Read Proverbs 15:1-33

The Proverbs of Solomon are more than terse statements about wisdom. They are like parables in that they can create mental images of truth. “Proverb” literally means “parallel” or “similar.” In other words, Solomon and the other authors of these 31 chapters help us to understand God’s truth by drawing comparisons and contrasts.

Chapter 15 helps us with these mental images by including the frequent use of “antithetical parallelism,” a ten-dollar-term that means that the individual proverb is divided into two contrasting statements often linked with the word “but.” Here are two that address our focus for this series of devotionals: the words we say.

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger. (v. 1)

The soothing tongue is a tree of life,
    but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (v. 4)

The contrasts are clear, right? Verse 1 contrasts two word choices: a “gentle answer” and a “harsh word.” Those opposing word choices typically evoke opposing responses from the listener. They will either “turn away wrath” or “stir up anger.” Simply stated, your choice of words can either diffuse a potentially volatile situation or add more fuel to it! It all boils down to whether you choose gentle words that are sensitive to the needs of the other person or whether you select harsh words that tend to be driven by your own need to vent.

While the contrast of responses in verse 1 is often obvious, the contrast of verse 4 may not be. This verse describes what may be happening internally. Your words can deeply impact the motivation and morale of another person. Soothing words can be life giving. Meanwhile, by choosing perverse words, you can crush the spirit of the listener.

Today, your word choices will tend to go one direction or another. They will be either gentle or harsh; soothing or perverse. And the impact of those words will also lead to peace or anger. It will fill the other person’s emotional balloon or pop it!

The choice is yours. Choose wisely!

sbk

March 7: Characteristics of Good Words

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Your words are powerful! We have reminded ourselves of that reality these past few days. Though seemingly small and insignificant, they actually wield much power, like a small rudder that steers a huge ship or a tiny bit that controls a horse weighing hundreds of pounds. Your words can either refresh or suffocate. You must be careful, then, in your word choices.

The result, however, is not an ear-tickling dialog in which you simply tell others what they want to hear. As Paul recounts his ministry with the Thessalonians, he makes that clear. You and I must keep in mind that our words have the potential to impact eternity for other people! Look at some of the characteristics of Paul’s communication with the people he loved.

His words focused on the gospel (v. 2). Paul had been commissioned with the message of Christ. Even though he realized that the gospel created animosity and opposition, he still shared it in a clear, passionate way. Even though your call to tell others about Jesus may not have been as dramatic as that of Paul’s on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, it is no less real. So, let me ask, is the gospel message a regular part of your vocabulary? Talk about words that have life-giving potential . . . those do!

His words stemmed from pure motives (v. 3). Paul did not string together his words in order to trick his listeners. He did not attempt to trick people into following Christ. He was not leveraging his words in order to gain access to their money. Instead, his sole objective was to draw them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. How about your words? Do they seem to be one thing on the surface with an ulterior motive underneath? Pure motives must drive your speech.

His words were designed to please God (v. 4). Paul understood that the God of heaven was the ultimate audience in all that he said. Rather than flattering people to get them to smile, his purpose was to evoke a divine smile. Wouldn’t it be a shame if your words caused others to laugh and to think highly of you, but they did nothing to draw them into a relationship with Christ? Wouldn’t it be tragic if your words caused others to think highly of you, but they did nothing to endear people to God? Speak to please an audience of one.

sbk

March 6: Words, A.D. Style

Read Ephesians 4:17-32

We are now living in the year 2014 A.D. The “A.D.” part is an abbreviation of the Latin “Anno Domini” or “year of the Lord.” Meanwhile, as you know, “B.C.” stands for “before Christ.” It is interesting that even our dating system is reflective of Christ’s presence/absence.

In Ephesians 4, Paul encourages believers to recognize the “B.C.” and “A.D.” aspects of our personal lives. Our lives lived “before Christ” were characterized by the “old self,” a “former manner of life,” and by “corruption” (v. 22). But now that we are living “in the Lord,” we have a “new self.” Since your encounter with Christ at salvation, your life is to be lived differently.

Your communication is one of many things impacted by the flip of the calendar in your personal life from B.C. to A.D. Your words, though seemingly small and insignificant, have a huge impact on others. Of course, God recognizes that and wants to leverage the power of the terms you say, the time you express them, and the tone you use for His glory. All of that will sound different for you now as a Christ-follower.

In particular, you saw here how your words are to now be truthful (v. 25). Lies and deceit are to be things of the past. You should clearly and accurately communicate with others without leading them to believe something that is not true.

How do you typically respond when angry? While anger can, at times, be an appropriate response, your expression of it should never cross over into sin. When your temperature rises, watch that your tone remains caring and gentle, your volume doesn’t go off the charts, and you don’t attack people.

Your words should be characterized by “edification.” That means you will actively seek to build others up rather than tear them down. As you interact with others, be intentional in giving them reason to look up rather than be downcast.

In your A.D. life, these are just some of the responses that should characterize your speech. What personal tendencies did you recognize today that God would want to see changed?

sbk

March 5: Words That Take Life or Give It

Read Proverbs 18:1-24

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (v. 21).

The book of Proverbs . . . that book, which gives instruction about godly wisdom . . . gives us a wealth of instruction about the words we say. In fact, out of the twenty-four verses of this chapter alone, roughly ten of them address how we communicate.

Verse 21 makes that incredible influence clear. You have experienced their life-giving ability, I am sure. They came at a time when you were discouraged. They were expressed at a time when you were down. You may have been ready to throw in the towel and call it quits. You were convinced that your efforts had been in vain, that no one benefitted, cared, or noticed. But those words made all the difference. They were just the words you needed. They came at just the right time. As a result, you found new strength. You kept going. Maybe you owe your vocation to those few words. Perhaps a relationship was rescued because of them. That, my friend, is the life-giving capacity of our speech.

But you have also likely witnessed the murderous power of words. Whether you were on the receiving end of them or it was someone you know, you have seen the oxygen sucked out of a room as the suffocating power of words killed a dream. You have listened and watched as their powerful venom resulted in paralysis of a person in need of a simple kindness. You have heard children devalued by careless adults and have seen the destructive cyclical outcome. You have listened as people were lumped together in stereotype and addressed with hate-filled speech. Your attentive ears heard words from careless lips of a person whose unperceptive eyes failed to recognize someone as being made in the image of God. Yep, you know it to be true. Words have the power to kill.

Our words are just small and seemingly insignificant. And yet, they can kill or bring life. Given the disproportionate power of your speech, which type of words will you speak today?

sbk

March 4: Your Little Tongue, Your Big God

Small things can make big things happen. Small things can have a lot of power.

A microchip is an essential component of a computer. In fact, microchips are essential for most electronic devices manufactured today. They are the “brains” of smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Even calculators, watches and satellites utilize microchips. They keep satellites functioning, too, so then their absence would clearly be detrimental.

Kidney stones are small. But it you’ve ever experienced one, then you know their power to produce tremendous pain.. These small crystals which are usually less than half of an inch in diameter can take a six-foot, 250-pound, grown man to the ground with tears.

Read James 3:1-12

James makes reference to three tiny things that have tremendous power. A bit in a horse’s mouth can control the large animal, a small rudder can steer a huge ship and a little spark can start a deadly wildfire.

These all illustrate the power the tongue has over the body. A tongue laced with evil is like a match that ignites a raging forest fire. On the other hand, a tongue laced with good is like a rudder steering a ship safely to harbor.

Your words have the power to make or ruin someone’s day. Even more, they have the power to give life or destroy it. Proverbs 15:4 says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (NIV).

“No human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8), can be a disheartening message. It is impossible for us to hold back our tongues from poisoning ourselves and others. Thankfully, we know Someone who does not fall into the “human being” category. In this case, it is our big God that has power over your little tongue.

Though we are powerless against our sin nature that reveals itself in our speech, if we are followers of Christ, we are led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14). The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), teaches us, and reminds us of Christ’s teaching (John 14:26).

Pray today that the Spirit of God would give you the power that only He can give to tame your tongue. Ask Him to remind you of what Jesus desires, even as words come out of your mouth.

nh

March 3: Confident in His Presence, Committed to His Word

Read Joshua 1:1-18

It was a landmark day for the nation of Israel. They were camped near the banks of the Jordan River. Just a short distance to the west was a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that had been promised their forefathers. Although it was theirs, they had never seen it. It had been more than 400 years since their relatives lived there, and it had taken the current generation 40 years of wandering through the desert to reach it.

But it was also a landmark day because a baton was being passed. Moses had died. Joshua was to take his place. Did he have what it would take to lead these people numbering into the hundreds of thousands? That was a good question. That was a question that likely many an Israelite had posed. They had only known Moses’ leadership. But, in all likelihood, this was a question that Joshua had also posed. He had his own doubts and fears. Could he fill the big, legendary shoes of this man who had become bigger than life?

Perhaps you have wondered that as well. Not necessarily whether you can fill someone’s shoes in replacement, but whether you have what it takes for the responsibilities you carry in your vocation, community, family, ministry, and/or neighborhood.

Thankfully, God gave promises to Joshua that are renewed for you in the New Testament.

The promise of His presence. God promised He would be with Joshua just as He had been with Moses. The Almighty would never leave him. The sovereign Ruler of the universe would never forsake him. In like manner, you and I are assured of the very ongoing and even indwelling presence of God in our lives (Matt. 28:20; Jn. 14:17; Heb. 13:5). Be confident in His presence!

The promise of prosperity and success. There are two important caveats to this promise. New Testament prosperity and success are not defined in terms of bank accounts, physical health, and corporate ladders. No, this prosperity and success are characterized by a fruitful life (Jn. 15). And the second caveat is that even this fruitful life is contingent upon attention to and obedience to the instructions of God. In other words, we experience that as our thinking and our actions conform with the will and word of God. Be committed to His word!

sbk

March 2: Righteous Living

Read Psalm 1:1-6

“Righteous” and “wicked”. Those are powerful, perhaps even emotionally charged, words. Used incorrectly, they become prideful words of superiority and demeaning words of inferiority. But the Bible uses those terms. Used biblically, “righteous” describes the person who, by faith, has turned to Christ and, as a result, is now seeking to live life God’s way (Rom. 4:3). “Wicked,” meanwhile, is a term used to describe the person who refuses to come to God in faith and subordinate his/her life to the will of God.

In practical terms, righteous people live a “separated” life. You read it there in verse 1.  This man . . .

  • Does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.
  • Does not stand in the path of sinners.
  • Does not sit in the seat of scoffers.

In other words, he pursues righteousness by having a close eye on his conduct and watching the company that he keeps.

But righteous living is more than maintaining a list of things to avoid. Stated positively, we grow in righteousness by delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on it day and night (v. 2). Our conduct, you see, flows out of our concentration. There is a direct relationship between our focus and our performance. We change what we do by addressing how we think.

The two game changers are “delighting in” and “meditating on” the word of God. Those who “delight in” it find joy in spending time in the Scriptures. And “meditating on”? Well that is a lost art. We meditate on God’s word by giving exclusive and extended focus to it. We meditate on it by pondering its meaning and plunging its depths. We meditate on it by eliminating other distractions and giving increased attention to it and it alone. We can meditate through memorization and repetition. We can meditate through question asking, answer seeking, cross referencing, and slowed reading.

And the result?  As we increase our thinking about biblical truth, we begin to think biblically and act righteously.

sbk

March 1: Body and Mind

Read Romans 12:1, 2

Sacrifice your body and renew your mind!

Indeed, both of those have a price tag attached. Sacrifice requires surrendering something of value. And renewal? That requires an overhaul of what currently is. But that’s okay. The price tag you pay is nothing when compared to the mercy He has extended.

You see, you were a sinner, one disobedient to God. You were distant from your Creator. And, unless you are a blood-born descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you were not a direct heir of the Old Testament covenants, law, or promises. Your family tree does not trace its way back to the Messianic lineage. But, as a Jesus-follower, you were shown mercy. Your branch was grafted into the family tree. Your sin was dealt with on Calvary’s tree. Through His mercy, you, as a follower of Jesus, will not experience the punishment you deserve. Through His grace, you receive forgiveness, family status, hope, and heaven.

Don’t lose sight of that mercy. Don’t take that grace for granted. Let it sink deeply into the core of your being. Let them prompt you to the sacrifice of your body and to the renewal of your mind.

The sacrifice of your body is unlike that of the lambs and rams of the Old Testament. He does not require that your blood is shed because His already was. He does not require that you die. But, then again, He does. Your old self was crucified with Christ. You must consider yourself dead to self and alive to God. Your body, once ruled by sin, is now to be an instrument of righteousness. Your body, once characterized by impurity, is now to be defined by holiness.

And the mind renewal does require a daily overhaul. Old patterns of thinking must change. Your thoughts are now to be centered not on the earthly and temporal, but on the heavenly and eternal. You must discipline your thinking to focus on the true, the honorable, the right, the pure, and the lovely. You must train your mental focus on reputable, excellent, and praiseworthy things.

Indeed, the sacrifice of body and renewal of mind are not small demands, but they are reasonable when you understand what you have in Christ.

sbk

February 28: Capture Your Thoughts

Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-5

If you have ever been on the receiving end of opposition and false accusations, you know how intense the emotions (and the battle) can be. That is exactly where Paul found himself as he wrote 2 Corinthians. False apostles had infiltrated the ranks of the Corinthians believers and were trying to discredit Paul. They argued that he was not a true apostle of Christ.

In his own defense, Paul refused to engage in a carnal battle with weapons and fists. Instead, he recognized that there was something more significant at stake than even his own reputation. The real war was not being waged against people with worldly weapons. It was not a war focused on the destruction of a block and mortar fortress of some kind. No, this war focused on invisible strongholds comprised of thoughts, arguments, and human reasoning that opposed God and the people who know Him.

Friends, the enemy’s tactics are subtle. His opposition to the things of God is not always manifested in the obvious, visible realm. He can also attack biblical truth and those who seek to follow God on the thought level. It is no wonder, then, that Paul found it necessary to destroy those rational strongholds and to “take captive every thought.”

This is important to note: Not every thought you have or hear is a valid one. Each one should be captured, wrestled to the ground, and evaluated through the lens of biblical truth. If obedience to Christ is your goal, you must have a healthy sense of skepticism that is not content to just accept every thought hook, line, and sinker. You and I need biblical discernment. We must have a grasp of God’s truth that enables us to identify those things that are inconsistent with it.

We are told that experts identify counterfeit currency as a result of their familiarity with real bills. If you know what the real thing looks like, you will be able to point out the phony. Similarly, your awareness of thoughts that are contrary to God, His word, His will, and His ways will become more keenly developed as you immerse yourself in the word of God.

Take your thoughts captive today!

sbk

February 27: Thought Protection

Read Philippians 4:1-8

Imagine for a moment, that you live on a busy street and have a 2 or 3 year-old boy. Of course, you wouldn’t just allow the little one to play outside without supervision. No, you would be very careful to watch him, steering him away from certain areas that are dangerous and toward areas that are safe. In fact, you might even build a fence around a portion of the yard as a means of keeping him safe. You would be proactive in protecting your little guy.

In some ways, your thoughts are like that little one. They are prone to wander. At times, they stay in safe areas. At other times they venture out into areas where danger abounds. I wonder, though, have you seen your thoughts as things over which you have little or no control? Have you seen them as things that just sort of run wild?

According to Philippians 4:8, we can steer our thoughts away from unhealthy and dangerous areas and towards eight specific, God-pleasing patterns.

  1. Think on what is true – God and His word are true. Do your thoughts measure up against those standards or are they lies?
  2. Think on what is noble – These things are sacred rather than profane. Do you fill your mind with and meditate on things that please God?
  3. Think on what is right – Not everything measures up to God’s holy and just standard. Do you choose to focus on God’s perspective or on that which man defines as good?
  4. Think on what is pure – There should be no impurities, nothing unclean that infiltrates our thinking. Do you entertain impure thoughts?
  5. Think on what is lovely – Man does not always consider those things “lovely” that God does. Are your thoughts centered on beauty through the eyes of heaven?
  6. Think on what is admirable – Even though the world around us is often characterized by wrong thinking, there are still godly actions and kindnesses that are appreciated by most. Do you dwell on those kinds of things?
  7. Think on what is excellent – This speaks of outstanding goodness and virtue. Do you discipline your thoughts to focus on the virtuous?
  8. Think on what is praiseworthy – These are things that would garner applause . . . from heaven and earth. Would God cheer about those things you think about?

sbk