A Word Fitly Spoken

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I am writing a lot about words in recent weeks. Part of that stems from the thinking that was provoked by books I read by Jonathan Merritt (Learning to Speak God From Scratch) and Debbie Kitterman (The Gift of Prophetic Encouragement). But it’s also true that as an author/writer/blogger I pay attention to words and their impact.

Think about the impact of two little words we hear or use often. Those words are “no” and “yes.” At first glance we might be tempted to look at “yes” as always positive and “no” as decidedly negative, but think a bit more deeply. It depends on the moment, the circumstance, who is saying it, how it is being said, and why it is being said.

From the time we are children we often hate the word “no” because it suggests limits and a denial of something we prefer or want. Even as adults we can experience “no” like that whether it is a raise, a new job, or something we desire from someone who really matters to us.

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But let’s consider when “no” can be a friend. It can be a friend when we have been given prescriptions for tests for some physical malady that looms large and haunts us with fear and doubts, and the results come back with the words, “No, you don’t have….(Fill in the blank).” It can also be a friend when a door to a new job opportunity closes that we hoped for and then we learn the company goes bankrupt a few months later.

We love to hear “yes” about something we hope for or dream of doing, having, or being. Conversely, we recoil when the phone rings and the health professional on the other end of the call says, “Yes, the tests are positive and it is cancer.”

When each of us chooses to use one of those words, it is also incumbent on us to be aware of the impact those words will have on the hearer. Sometimes our choice of the word cannot be otherwise, but even then, how sensitively we express it can make all the difference.

I wonder how we handle our use of those words when the Lord leads us in a direction or asks something of us or tells us something He plans to do. Even if we do not say “no,” our delay in saying “yes” communicates a great deal about our trust in the One to whom we say it.

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Consider the Old Testament story of Sarai (later Sarah), Abraham’s wife who heard she was going to bear a child after years of barrenness. It was God’s “yes” to her after years of likely being considered defective and “less than” in a culture where bearing children (especially sons) was highly valued.

She can’t believe it and gives her husband her servant to conceive a child (commonplace back then it seems). That stirs up all sorts of trouble and we live with that consequence of her unbelief today. Then when the Lord tells Abraham again when he is 100 and Sarah 90 that she is indeed to have a baby boy and she laughs.

I love the note in my Bible about that part of the story:

“God’s purposes of grace are not held captive by human sin or adverse circumstances. He is the God who works out his purposes through weak and ordinary human beings such as Abraham and Sarah.”

There are also times we are prone to believe our answer to a request is always to be “yes” when it comes to a ministry opportunity, a need, or a request from someone. It may well be, but believers when asked how they are often say “tired” or “busy.”  Each of us needs to step back and consider what the Lord has asked of us versus what others have asked…especially when it is a good thing that is being asked.

“Sometimes no’s are God’s wondrous gifts that push us toward the greater yes awaiting us.”  

Jonathan Merritt

What we do for Him should never be above how we are with Him. The truth is that the richness of our life with Him can be eroded by so much service that we drift away from that first love that caused us to want to sit in His presence.

“Our lives should be so open to God that our first impulse is sacred yes, but we are also meant to be so grounded in wisdom that we know when to speak a “necessary no.”  (Jonathan Merritt quoting Richard Rohr)

Consider this:

“Winsome words spoken at just the right time are as appealing as apples gilded in gold and surrounded with silver.”  Proverbs 25:11 (TPT)


Don’t Stop Dreaming!

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When we are children a question we are often asked is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  A logical mind would say that a child has no way of knowing a good answer for him or herself. Lived experience and lack of assessment of abilities and skill sets are absent in childhood, but perhaps childhood is the exact right time to ask that question because the answer comes from the child’s imagination.

Imagination is the stuff of dreams and provides the rich soil for hope and possibility.

Such imagination and dreams have brought about some of the most amazing inventions in the world, the most moving music we have ever heard, and the most fascinating books we journey through.

Perhaps some are downcast and without hope because they gave up dreaming and possibility. And absent these, they lost hope and belief in what could happen. It can be easy to settle for the ordinary then, to become what others are like, and do what others do.

Imagination and dreams once ignored or buried are hard to resurrect again absent God’s divine intervention.

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Enemies of imagination and dreams are easy to list, but harder to defeat. Practicality lurks around many a corner and doubt sneaks in behind it. Inaccurate assessment of ourselves fueled by things others say to us is also on the list.

When imagination, a dream, or a vision is embryonic, it doesn’t take much to keep it from growing. Like any living thing − put it in darkness and restrict its nourishment − death can happen without much effort. Our fall in the Garden leaves its remnants in the fabric of every living thing.

But there is one major enemy on the list to thwart imagination and dreams:

“You can’t stop dreaming, just because you’re afraid the dream won’t come true…dream’s biggest enemy is being afraid.”

Lisa Wingate in The Summer Kitchen

Fear is creative (yet predictable) in its pursuit of us − all humankind. It is one of the best tools because it seldom misses its mark (at least at the outset). You see it in action in story after story from Genesis onward in the Bible. Adam and Eve sinned and knew it so they hid from God. Goliath showed up on the battlefield and the Israelites trembled and Saul was cowered. Peter believed he could walk on water if the Lord called him and he started out fine until he looked down and fear caught up with him.

Fear has a fistful of lies: we’re too old, we’re too young, or we’re not smart enough. Add to that lies such as “it’s been tried and failed before,” “how can you make a living trying that sort of thing,” “people will laugh at you.”

If you hear those things, you’re in pretty good company. Noah must have heard them when he started building an ark on dry land. David heard them when he believed he could take down Goliath with a sling. Magellan heard them when he believed the earth was round instead of flat. Orrville and Wilbur Wright heard them when they built a machine in their bicycle shop they believed could fly. A lanky, self-educated, homely man named Abraham Lincoln heard them when he ran for President of the United States.

We have limits and boundaries, but when we get lost in them we think we are stuck there.

Helen Keller once said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”

Perhaps that is why movies born of imagination capture us time and time again. Books and music do as well. It’s little wonder we cheer for the smallest of creatures − the hobbits − in The Lord of the Rings, even though they don’t have the bow skill of Legolas Greenleaf or the ax skills of dwarves like Gimli.

You see, faith is fueled by believing the unseen, imagination, possibility, and dreaming of what can be. I think Jesus knew that when He called a little child to Him in Matthew 18:3 (TPT):

“Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.”

Do you have a dream? Do you imagine something you haven’t risked even saying out loud to anyone?

If so, then move toward it. Learn skills you need to attain it and keep moving unless the Lord halts you − the Lord…not fear. The Kingdom is waiting for the dream and imagination God placed in you to take shape. Look to Him. Silence the fear and doubt that come from the enemy.

“The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope.”

Henry Ward Beecher

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Watch Your Input!

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We live in a world bombarding us with input and how often do we evaluate the input for its usefulness, accuracy, or impact on the output. Techies and some others of us are familiar with the phrase, “garbage in, garbage out.” It’s used to express the idea that in computing and other spheres, incorrect or poor- quality input will always produce faulty output. If you use computers for much of your day or spend time in audio or video production, you know exactly what that means. But what about the rest of us who notice our inboxes fill up without much thought to its source or intent?

Input comes from other sources as well and has a distinct impact on the output. Young children get a lot of input. It comes from parents and any other adult in their lives as well as other children and media they get exposed to. (Think about how often you see a toddler playing with an adult’s cell phone or tablet.) Each bit of data from whatever the source starts to set up influence that can become habit and habits are powerful things.

Input begins for each of us as we awaken from sleep. The input of the alarm or whatever we use to awaken us and past input influences what we do or say next. Some of us will be eager for the input and a podcast (radio in olden days) or music immediately gets turned on as we head for the shower and cleaning up for the day. That input sets the tone for the day in energy and attitude many times, but it doesn’t stop there. Past input will influence what we choose to wear after we pop out of the shower and if we take time for a healthy breakfast that gives us the healthy energy we need or if we grab a cup of coffee and head out the door.

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If you’re not sure how healthy that choice of breakfast is, most of you will know by mid-morning. Your energy will either still be giving you all you need, or you’ll be searching for someone to make a new pot of coffee and scrounging in your pockets or drawers for a leftover candy bar or other snack. Because no matter how you feel about breakfast, our bodies were designed to run on fuel and absent putting good fuel in the tank in the morning, our performance will not be optimal (no matter what you tell other people about not needing breakfast).

And it’s not just those things that impact our day and get the big influence in how it goes and how we manage whatever life throws at us. Will our “diet” of information come from whatever source of news we prefer? If so, we will be inundated with primarily bad news of tragedy, potential catastrophes, and a long list of arguments to rankle our senses and prepare us for the first debate we run into with someone else without much thought about whether it fits with our value system or was even accurate. The biggest influencers of that day are counting on us not considering any of that. They just want you to buy the thing, the idea, or the suggestion and go with it. Little wonder the laws get passed on every level of government that leave us scratching our heads. Politicians cobble together hundreds of pages (sometimes thousands) and give their own preferred synopsis of all that urging colleagues to vote for the law or bill. Colleagues have little time to read, digest, or consider any data supporting the law and decide. Little wonder it is often “garbage in, garbage out.”

If we are honest, we don’t think much about the habits being formed in our lives or where those we have even come from let alone their impact.

“As far as habits go, the invisible reality is this: We are all living according to a specific regimen of habits, and those habits shape most of our life.

A habit is a behavior that occurs automatically, over and over, and often unconsciously. A study from Duke University suggested that as much as 40 percent of the actions we take every day are not products of choices but of habits.”

Justin Whitmel Earley in The Common Rule

Some of you may be thinking we need to be better educated and that is likely true for us no matter what level of education we have attained, but that is not enough as Earley notes:

“Education is what you learn and do – things you are taught. Formation is what you practice and do – things that are caught.”

Justin Whitmel Earley in The Common Rule
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These adults in our lives teach us many things on purpose, but most of us catch a lot of things they may not have intended. You may discover that when someone says of you, “You do just what your mom did with that.” We catch whether words are shouted or spoken with kindness. We catch the beliefs and values that are lived more strongly than some that are taught from all the sources that are giving us input. Hypocrisy can show up in the blink of an eye when a child suddenly uses a bad word in a public setting that they heard and learned at home from the very best of parents.

If the input in the physical realm and educational realm are significant to provide us with a healthy life and the energy to sustain it, what input goes into our spiritual life?

It’s been said that what we spend time on and becomes habitual points to what we worship. Ouch!!

If the only input we receive spiritually is maybe a Sunday worship service, how does that help sustain us when the darkness of the world increases and shadows fall across even things we thought would never succumb to them? What fuels our spiritual life and formation? Does it include daily nourishment by having time in the Bible and solidify the foundation of our faith, time in prayer to acknowledge our need for grace, mercy, help, and more? And if we want to teach our children these habits, do they see us doing them as well?

Making that input a priority will mean adjusting the other input habits that we have grown used to having, but they can make all the difference on so many levels and clarify our purpose as well.

“Habits are how we stand up and get our hands on time. And because time is the currency of our purpose, habits are how we get our hands on our purpose.

All those who want to be attentive to who they are becoming must realize that formation begins with a framework of habits.”

Justin Whitmel Earley in The Common Rule
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But They Don’t Match!

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Are you someone who wants things to match? You like your shoes and purse to match the outfit you are wearing. You like the colors and decor of your house to match and compliment the atmosphere you want to create. You have always been the one who loved coloring books and they showed the same tendency. You feel out of sync when things aren’t matching.

No, not everyone is quite as particular about matching as others of us. We don’t think much about whether our shoes are blue, and our outfit is black or whether all the plates on the dinner table match when we have guests coming. Some of us don’t notice those things, those details. And then there are some of us that land somewhere between those two opposites.

One of the things I recall about the young lady who later became our daughter-in-law was that she seemed to have socks that matched the same color as any and every outfit (even colors others would find hard to match). I loved that about her and never could quite figure out how she accomplished it after trying it from time to time myself.

Years later I had a friend whose daughter was a fashion consultant and when she looked at my closet and how I put outfits together, she admonished me not to always try to be “matchy-matchy.”

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Some of us recall days of dressing alike for school events or occasions and popularity of matching mother and daughter dresses as well. Then there are those challenges of looking for dresses that look great on everyone and still match for the bridesmaids of a wedding party. Now that often makes for a difficult task. How many ladies’ heights and today’s styles look great in the same dress anyway?

But there is one place that matching is far more critical to consider. Do our words and actions match?

We use words all the time for all different means of communication. Some are well considered, and others just casually tossed out, but in both cases the hearer or reader will learn much about us if what we say and what we do don’t match up. Sometimes the dissonance can happen because we weren’t thinking when we spoke (or weren’t listening). Far more often than we might wish, words come out in a flash, and we can’t take them back. Commitments we make are left unfulfilled because it takes more courage to not accept what we were asked if we have no excuse we believe would be accepted.

Most of us have had something like that happen and we didn’t mean to be dishonest when it did, but if we tend to have words and actions that do not match our character tends to come into question. Whether we like it or not, our actions speak more of what is truly in our heart and mind than our words often do. The old adage some people said, “Do what I say, don’t do what I do,” is not good advice. This is especially true in our closest relationships – husbands and wives, parents, and children.

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With so much of our communication taking place on electronic devices in sound bites rather than complete sentences with body language and tone inflection for extra clarity, miscues can happen more easily than ever before. We can also forget that the volume of the words spoken does not add to our understanding of the intent of the words. Emojis get added to things with no awareness of whether the person knows the meaning of the emojis or the abbreviated word. Little wonder that we get farther and farther away from clear consistent communication. When handwritten letters were the currency of communication, we may have put far more thought into them because they may have been written with pen and ink and no delete or erase function as an option.

Why does it matter so much if the two (words and actions) don’t match? The answer is very straightforward. Our actions reflect more accurately our intent and what is in our heart than the words we say (no matter how eloquently spoken). Relationships are broken because of words and actions not matching.

“Words may show a man’s wit but actions his meaning.”

Benjamin Franklin

Scripture admonishes us about making promises:

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”

Matthew 5:37 (MSG)

The lesson in all this is likely that it is wisdom to slow down the pace of our words, and reduce the amount of them, to assure that the actions that follow them are matching.

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Show Me!

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We are surrounded by words in every arena we find ourselves in. Words bombard us from the time we wake up until we go to bed at night and sometimes words replaying in our head continue after we have tried to settle into our cozy bed. For some of us, that is way beyond our comfort level because too many words interfere with how we process information, so we are tempted to tune out or leave the noise and find a quieter place.

Others of us enjoy words. We love to read, write, chat for hours, and they can be a primary way we received affirmation from others. But even if we fit into that category, never in history have we had so many mechanisms promoting words for us to read or hear (many times ones that we weren’t looking for). Even word lovers can get weary ears and eyes.

Some of us are old enough to remember life before cell phones, iPads, computers, or TV’s that had programming 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It was a simpler time and way of life. We barely noticed as we crept to where we are now, but this week as I watched parents taking their kids to college with heart strings tugging as they drove away from the campus, I was reminded of how different this experience will be for them versus my husband and me.

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When my husband and I were going to college, we left with manual typewriters, a few suitcases and boxes and a stash of snacks. We were lucky if we had a car and phone calls were via a pay telephone. Writing letters were the only other options. By the time our children were heading off to college, they had electronic typewriters, more boxes, hot plates, refrigerators, and more. Sometimes there were chairs and small couches that needed a grandparents’ pickup truck to make it all happen, but communication was still via letter or standing in line at a pay phone to talk. Now those heartstrings pull as you drive away from campus, but cell phones will soon buzz, and FaceTime or Zoom won’t be far behind. Snacks can be delivered right to the dorm room through any number of options and typewriters of any kind are for museums. With computers and tablets of all kinds, this makes trips to the library for research far less necessary most days.

These are all great and give a lot more options for staying in touch, but they all still rely on words. How do they make up for a hug, or a cup of cocoa or coffee made by a loving mom when you’re over your head with studying and unsure you can really survive the rigorous demands you discover at this new level of education?

We talk often of love and see it spoken of or depicted on film or print many times over, but what we most need is that someone shows us love. It reminds me of the classic scene in My Fair Lady. You may recall or know the epic movie or even have seen the stage production. Eliza Doolittle has been recruited by Professor Henry Higgins to prove his point that he can transform a Cockney working-class girl into someone who can pass for a cultured member of high society. He puts Eliza through rigorous and often unkind practices, and it makes for more than a few clashes. A high-class suitor named, Freddy, who is the son of a friend of Professor Higgins is smitten with Elisa and keeps offering words of adoration to her. She is fed up with “words, words, words” and sings about what she most wants in the Lerner and Lowe song, “Show Me.” Some of the lyrics express how she feels as she sings, “Words! Words! Words!
I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through…” The song continues with her admonishing Freddy not to talk about love but to show her his love.

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Yes, we love to be told we are loved, but if it is only words, they will fall short. If I am struggling and you remind me that you love me, that’s nice but it’s better if you invite me to coffee, come sit with me and listen to what’s going on, or give me a hug. If I have been overwhelmed taking care of an aging parent, don’t just tell me that it’s hard and you’ll pray for me, bring me a meal, or offer to come stay with them so I can go out to get a haircut or run some errands without worry. We love words, but we need to see the demonstration of them, or the words will just be words when we need to see love.

And there’s the challenge…showing love will always cost more than saying it. Showing will mean I need to set aside my own plans or preferences, boost my empathy and be love to that person. Sadly, it’s one of the places where we falter more often than we want to admit. In my lifetime I have been blessed by many people, but there are some acts of love that are so selfless and cherished that years later I recall them as if they had just happened. One example that never fails to come to mind is of a friend who came to our house to take my husband to pick up my car the morning after I had been hit by a car while walking in my office parking lot. This friend drove over a half hour that morning. She knew I was in great pain from so much soft tissue damage, and it was a gift for her to make this trek for us, but she went beyond that. When she arrived, she brought us a roast beef dinner that she had prepared for us. That was showing love!

The other example that always leaps out is when our youngest grandson and his family were staying at our house following specialized outpatient hand surgery from out of state. We (his parents and us) had him (under a year old), his three siblings, and a lot to deal with that we felt ill-equipped to handle. One of the first nights, we were trying to sort out what to do about bandaging and I called a friend who was a nurse who lived an hour away. When she heard what was happening, she packed a bunch of supplies and drove down later that night and brought us all we needed and showed us how to do handle it. That was showing love!

God understands that we have that need. He had given so many words to us to tell us who He was and who we were, but we still couldn’t grasp that He really loved us. We couldn’t keep the laws He had spoken, and hard stuff kept happening. That didn’t seem like love (ignoring we had a part to play in all that). So, He chose to show us and it cost Him everything. Jesus stepped up and offered to come to a poor couple as a baby and then live love out for us all to see and offered to die on a Roman cross to show us the truth of his love. He demonstrated and taught us that was what love was supposed to look like if we believed in Him. The Gospels in the New Testament show us example after example of love showing up in more than spoken words.

How are we showing love (especially to those who are hard to love) or does it cost us too much? (It’s never about the money, always about putting ourselves aside for someone else.) God showed us love because it was his very nature to love. Is it ours because of Him?

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