Have You Heard The Gossip?

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Leviticus 19:16

Will Rogers once said, “LIVE IN SUCH A WAY THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE ASHAMED TO SELL YOUR PARROT TO THE TOWN GOSSIP.” Abraham Lincoln’s coffin was opened in 1887 because a rumor had convinced many people that the pine box was empty. To the surprise of quite a few, Lincoln’s body was found just as it had been buried 22 years earlier. Some good rumors never die though. Fourteen years later the same rumor circulated again. The critics would not be silenced so Lincoln’s body was exhumed again. Like most rumors, facts really mess up a good rumor.

George Eliot said, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.” Research shows rumors reveal our fears and desires. “It’s very important to hear about them the instant they start,” it says. “A rumor is like a fire. You have to be on the spot. Otherwise you find yourself working on hearsay about hearsay.” Rumors reveal the desires, fears and obsessions of our society. “They are an echo of ourselves.” Look at the tabloids in our stores. Rumors are hard to fight back, since some rumors seem irrefutable. An example is Sheila, a celebrated French pop singer. Her delivery of a baby did nothing to dampen rumors in France that she was a male transvestite.

In the book, Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back, Charles Swindoll writes about a woman who committed suicide. She left an unfinished note that simply read, “They said…” She never completed her final thought, but whatever “they said” was painful enough for her to extinguish her own life.

A little child asked a man to pick a flower for her. That was simple enough, so he did. But when he had done so, she said to him, “now put it back,” and the man said he experienced a helplessness which he had never known before. How can you explain to a child that it cannot be done? How can we make it clear there are some things which, when done, can never be undone. There are some words which, when spoken, can never be brought back.

Gossip in scripture is any conversation that has a malicious intent. We often think that gossip has to be a groundless rumor, however in the Bible whether it is true or not, is not at issue. Just because it is true does not mean that you can tell it. Idle chatter often opens doors for talking about someone. Prov 11:13 A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. The issue isn’t whether it is correct or incorrect information, but why is it told?

One of the things I like about the Book of Proverbs is that it tells you how it is! For the believer it has a solution for the person who gossips. Prov 20:19 A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. Did you hear that men? The man who talks too much. And we thought it was only a problem with women. One day, an 8 year old boy was playing beside an open window while a neighbor confided to his mother about another person. When the visitor was gone, the mother, realizing how much her son had overheard, called him to her side. “If Mrs. Brown had left her purse here just now, would you give it to someone else?” “Of course not!” the lad replied. “Ah,” the mother commented, “Mrs. Brown left something more precious than her purse. The story she told could hurt many people and cause much unhappiness. It still belongs to her, and we shall not pass it on to anyone.”

After three years of researching gossip, Indiana University sociologist Donna Eder has identified an important dynamic involved in gossip. Eder discovered that the initial negative statement was not the starting point for gossip. The critical turning point was found in the response to the initial negative statement. “She’s a real snob,” is not the start of gossip. It’s when someone else agrees that the gossip first begins. Eder found the key is whether or not a negative statement is “seconded.” If a second is provided, gossip ensues. If not, the conversation changes direction. The moral, you can abort gossip bound conversations by quickly affirming the person being targeted for negative comments.

If we come to view ourselves as working for an external reward, we will no longer find the activity worth doing in its own right. An elderly man, harassed by the taunts of the neighborhood children, devised a scheme. He offered to pay them a dollar each if they would return on Tuesday and yell their insults again. The children did so eagerly and received the money. Then he told them he would pay only twenty-five cents on Wednesday. When they returned, insulted him again and collected their quarters, he informed them that Thursday’s rate would be just a penny. “Forget it,” they said-and never taunted him again.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless (James 1:26). We say “words can be deadly” and indeed, sometimes they are, literally.” The sin of murder extends to the use of the tongue in gossip. To destroy someone’s reputation is the same as murdering that person. A person is no better then his/her reputation – it lies in our hands. A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)

There was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he was to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

God’s Stuff First

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Haggai 1:3-8

The great task of the church is to get sinners into heaven and saints out of bed! Fortune magazine (1/13/97) reports that the nation’s top twenty-five philanthropists gave away more than $1.5 billion in 1996. The most generous was George Soros, president of Soros Fund Management, who donated $350 million last year. Of the top twenty-five philanthropists, only four inherited fortunes. Most attributed their generosity in part to religious backgrounds. And most were donors even before they became wealthy.

I rode in a car with a Christian physician recently. As we drove through an area of new homes, I commented on the beauty of this community. I was startled by the response of the doctor. “Those beautiful homes hide a great deal of illness. This is one of the sickest communities I have ever seen. They keep us doctors going night and day. The sad part is that we are fighting a losing battle, because the physical complaints these people present are for the most part only symptoms of a crazy, mixed-up society where everybody is striving for the wrong things. These people don’t need physical care as much as they need spiritual care. As doctors, we have hesitated to tell them this because we felt that such advice is out of our line. In fact, I have bent over backwards in the past to say that my patients’ moral lives are none of my business. Now I am not quite so sure.”

We are not just talking about diet or sleep. We’re talking about lack of stability in these homes, the bickering, envy, jealousy, moral laxity, wife-swapping. These people don’t know what inner stability is. They just keep wanting something. They keep buying things on time, things they don’t need. They’ve never heard of self-discipline or sacrifice.

Sometimes it is the Church itself that stands in the way of understanding God’s expectations. We sit in padded pews. We watch as the sun comes shining through the stained glass windows. The minister, dressed in a velvet robe, opens the Bible, marked with a silk bookmark and says, “One thing you lack,” Jesus said.
“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Have we sacrificed anything of late, solely for the purpose of drawing closer to Jesus Christ. That question is at the very heart of what Haggai is asking. Some call him Hagi but in Hebrew, he is called Haggai. The 10th prophet of the 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament. A man who lived during the 6th century B.C., Haggai was the first prophet to prophesy after the return from the Babylonian Exile. Together with Zechariah, he urged the renewal of the building of the Temple.

What is the problem? “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” The people who have been in exile are more interested in establishing themselves! They want to build their homes and get their crops out. Everything is for themselves. What is wrong with looking out for yourself? There is nothing wrong with looking out for ourselves. However, at the very heart of the Jewish faith and at the very heart of our Christian faith is the nagging question, “what is our first love?” Every Hebrew worship service starts with the same call to worship, “Hear O Hear Israel the Lord thy God is One.” Every Hebrew understands that this is a reminder that God was to be first. The first commandment, You shall have no other gods before me, forces the believer to ask the question, “what is most important in our lives.” As Christians we don’t escape that question. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Making a life is more significant than making a living. The problem with living life in the fast lane–is that we get to the toll booth quicker. Seeking God with one’s whole heart is no joke, especially if it might be the only way to find him. Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

James writes to the Church and says, You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.

The very first Commandment was clear and to the point, You shall have no other gods before me. And yet we need to be reminded and reminded of its importance and impact in our lives. We feel so much discomfort when we hear the words of Jesus Himself, Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

All of these things are important to us. But the question, are they more important than our relationship with God? Joshua understands the truth and says, but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

What Gender Is God Anyway?

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John 14:9-14

An interesting bit of trivia about Mother or Father’s Day. “The Illinois Bell Telephone Co. reports that the volume of long-distance calls made on Father’s Day is growing faster than the number on Mother’s Day. The company apologized for the delay in compiling the statistics, but explained that the extra billing of calls to fathers slowed things down. Most of them were collect.”

A child is not likely to find a father in God unless he finds something of God in his father. Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?

In seminary a student is required to take Clinical Pastoral Education. I had to do 700 hours at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Three hospitals cooperated in this C.P.E. program. About 80% of the students were from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and most very conservative. The speaker started his prayer with the words, “Heavenly Mother….”

Who is God anyway? To understand things that are beyond our understanding we put them in human terms. The whole reason that we have the Trinity (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) is to understand God. So it is not unexpected that the Bible uses human terms to explain God. The Hebrew and Greek languages like most languages is very gender oriented. Almost every word has a gender assigned to it and most are male.

In the scheme of creation, the establishment of a gender and the giving of sex was for the purpose of procreation. However, when we turn to Heaven, procreation appears to have no place. Jesus said, At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Paul writes to the Church at Galatia, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In the Bible the Father is an exalted position. The social structure described in the Old Testament is known as a “patriarchal” society. The word patriarchy means “the rule of the father.” The father commanded a high position in the family of Old Testament times; his word was law. The fifth commandment carries this idea of the importance one step further when it states, “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12). The word honor refers to one’s response to God. In other words, this commandment suggests that the parents should receive a recognition similar to that given to God.

Along with the honor of the position as head of the family, the father was expected to assume certain responsibilities: spiritual, social, and economic. First of all, the father was responsible for the spiritual well-being of the family, as well as the individual members of the family. In the earliest ages, the father functioned as the priest of his family, sacrificing on their behalf. Later, when a priesthood was established in Israel and the layman no longer functioned at an altar, the father’s spiritual role was redefined. He continued to be the religious leader in the home. Socially, the father’s responsibility was to see that no one took advantage of any member of his family. Those who were not protected by a father were truly disadvantaged persons. The two most common categories of “fatherless” people were widows and orphans. Economically, the father was to provide for the needs of the various members of his family. From time to time, however, a lazy person failed to provide for his family. The apostle Paul rebuked those who considered themselves Christian but did not look after the needs of their families (1 Tim 5:8). He teaches him the way that he should go (Hos 11:1-3) and supplies all of his needs (Matt 6:33). In turn, the Father expects honor from His child, although He does not always receive it (Mal 1:6). Jesus sought to instill reverence and honor in the disciples when He taught them to pray: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10).

The NT brings the Fatherhood of God into greater prominence and distinctness than the OT. In the NT, God is more than just the creator and judge, but our Father. The term thus used refers to the natural relationship between God and His creatures. Christ taught His disciples to address God in prayer as “our Father,” He did not use that form Himself. He spoke of God as “My Father” and “your Father,” but at the same time He made plain that He distinguished between the relation in which they stood to God and that in which He Himself stood. The first words of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” are first of all a recognition of this deep truth of Holy Scriptures.

To be brought into God’s family, the believer must be “born from above” or “born again” (John 3:3,5). When a person has God as his Father, he must realize that other believers are his “fathers,” “mothers,” “brothers,” and “sisters” (1 Tim 5:1-2). The body of believers known as the church are also referred to as the “household of God” (Eph 2:19) and the “household of faith” (Gal 6:10). Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44).

Karl Stegall tells of two brothers who entered the first grade. One said he was born January 1, 1984. The other said he was born April 4, 1984. “That is impossible,” said the teacher. “No,” replied the first brother, “one of us is adopted.” “Which one?” asked the teacher. “I don’t know,” he replied. One day I asked my Dad and he kissed us both and said, I forgot.”

Christians can never forget that every one of us was adopted into the family of God. So Paul wrote to the Romans that we are “God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family.” (Romans 8:15) His is my Father!

God Invades Our Space

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Luke 1:39-45

An old Dutch woman remembered the dark days of Christmas 1944 as Holland awaited redemption. “Each night, we secretly huddled around the wireless,” she said, “eagerly hoping to receive some coded message that meant, ‘Invasion Begun.’ We scanned the skies, looking for Allied planes. People walked along the dikes, hoping for ships on the horizon. We prayed. People in Holland were starving. The Jews were already gone. Could we endure another year of Nazi occupation?”

What is it like to be a people captive, awaiting deliverance, dependent on someone, something to come from the outside to save them? Captivity, comes in different forms. This is how AA puts it, “We are powerless to help ourselves. We had to reach out to a higher power.” If you’ve never had debts you couldn’t pay, a cancer that wouldn’t heal, a marriage that couldn’t be fixed, a problem that defies solution, you won’t understand this sermon.

“Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace to those of good will.” That was the song the angels sang when Jesus was born. The words of the angels are almost an exact quote from the decrees of Augustus Caesar, one of the greatest rulers the world has ever known. When Augustus became emperor in 27 BC, he had himself declared one of the gods. He erected a huge statue in the Roman forum, eleven times bigger than a normal man. At one point, through the Roman army, Augustus controlled every inch of the Western world.

Do we see what is happening in the gospel account of Jesus’ birth? “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace…” This was the decree of the angelic messengers at Jesus’ birth. They are announcing a new king, a new emperor, one greater even than Augustus. The story of Christmas and the Incarnation is politically charged. It is the story, not simply of a baby born to Mary and Joseph, but of a new king. Neither Augustus nor all of his army will be able to stop the progress of this infant “king” and his people. The invasion has begun.

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus” (Lk 2:1). Caesar calls the shots. What hope is there for Jews languishing under the heavy heel of the empire? Nobodies named Mary and Joseph search in vain for a warm place to spend a cold night. There’s no room at the inn. When is there ever room for the poor? Caesar calls it “the end of welfare as we know it.” People on the bottom, unwed moms like Mary, know Bethlehem as no place to spend a dark night. Bethlehem – an occupied town, full of refugees, caught, powerless, and what then? Then, a flutter of wings. Songs flung into the silence. Light. A virgin delivers. A child cries out in the night. Passionate, risky intrusion. There is traffic between God and humanity and tonight, it’s one way. God with us, Emmanuel. The invasion has begun…

How odd of the great, almighty God to invade our world as a baby. Do you recall Brett Hart’s short story, “The Luck of Roaring Camp”? In a tough, lawless mining camp somewhere in the west, in the late 1880s a miner discovers a little baby who has been abandoned by his parents. The baby is brought back into camp. These are a group of rough and tumble miners who have, of all things, a baby. As soon as the baby is brought into camp, the transformation begins. One by one, each of the miners becomes a different person. There are clothes to be made, meals to be prepared, washing and tending to be done, all for the little foundling of Roaring Camp. Not only are the individual miners transformed, but the whole camp as well. Swearing and cursing, fighting and feuding, once typical of Roaring Camp, now cease. Each man tries to be on his best behavior because of the baby. Take this as a parable of the “invasion” that happens among us at Christmas.

Max Weber, the German sociologist, noted that Christianity is not “world-fleeing” but is “world-rejecting.” It refuses to take the world for granted, but seeks to change the world. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16), “the world did not know him” (Jn 1:10). Not that Jesus denies the world, but that Jesus contests the world as it is presently constructed. He stood outside the humdrum rituals and arrangements of this world in order to offer a new world. How does the Bible end the story? A new heaven and a new earth!

The Book of Acts says, When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30)

I was asked after a lecture, “Do you really think that people must be saved by Jesus Christ or they have no hope?” I expected that she wanted me to say something that seemed more “inclusive” or “pluralistic” than she had heard.
“Well,” I replied, “years ago I might have been willing to consider other possibilities for our redemption. I would have to say, especially after living in an affluent Wichita neighborhood, that without Jesus Christ – his grace, forgiveness, and power – you are damned. No, I can’t really imagine any other way that people like us could be saved except for a God who is willing to suffer for us, with us, to bleed, even to die. People like us couldn’t be saved by any less of a God than that.”

The Power Of The Fruits Of The Holy Spirit

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Galatians 5:22-25

There are three rules for fishing! Fishing rule #1: The least experienced fisherman always catches the biggest fish. Fishing rule #2: The more your line is tangled, the better is the fishing around you. Fishing rule #3: Fishing will do a lot for a man, but it won’t make him truthful.

Charles Harvey tells the following story in the Reader’s Digest: I was driving to a job interview and running 15 minutes late when I saw a middle-aged woman stranded with a flat tire. My conscience made me stop. I changed her tire and headed to the interview, thinking I could just forget about getting the job now. But I filled out the job application, nevertheless, and went to the personnel director’s office. Did I get the job? Sure thing. The personnel director hired me on the spot. She was the woman whose tire I had just changed.

Paul is very practical in his approach to our spiritual lives. He writes for us to live by the Spirit, and he says 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. Paul invites us to be fruit pickers. What is a fruit picker? To be able to look at the lives of another person and know what type of life they are living.

Mark 11:12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The tree died!

Matt 7:16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

The lives that we live produce certain fruits. You know that someone is sad because they cry or are withdrawn. You know that someone is happy because they laugh or have a smile. Things are evident in our lives because of what we are. Prov 23:7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…. It is from the abundance of what is within that becomes visible on the outside.

Paul says, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality,
impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

These become the byproduct of what is in the heart. When we are not a Christian our standards are different. We don’t have the Holy Spirit saying, “Don’t do that.” However, having Christ in our lives also produces a by-product. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Matt 12:34 For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

On my trip to England I learned how they know whether the Queen is in Buckingham Palace or away. If she is in the Palace they fly her flag. When she is away, they take the flag down. Driving by the Palace all one has to do is look at the top of the flag pole.

Onesimus was a slave that ran away from his master Philemon. Philemon was a leader in the Colossian Church. A wealthy man known for his warmhearted and hospitable nature. Paul had lead Philemon to Christ. As a result, Paul knew Philemon well enough to have seen the fruit in Philemon’s life. That is why Paul has the courage to say to Onesimus, “Go home.” “I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you.”

Legend has it that a missionary, lost at sea, was by chance washed up out of the sea on the edge of a remote native village. Half-dead from starvation, exposure and sea water, he was found by the people of the village and was nursed back to full health. Subsequently, he lived among these people for twenty years. During the whole of that time he confessed no faith. He uttered no songs. He preached no sermons. He read nor recited no Scripture. He made no personal faith claim. But rather: when people were sick, he attended them, sitting long into the night. When people were hungry, he — without exception — gave them food. When people were lonely, he was a source of company. He taught the ignorant. He was a source of enlightenment to those who were more knowledgeable. He always took the side of those who had been wronged. There was not a single human condition with which he did not identify. After twenty years had passed, missionaries came from the sea to the village and began talking to the people about a man called Jesus, and after hearing of Jesus, the natives insisted that this man, Jesus, had lived among them for the past 20 years. “Come, we will introduce you to the man about whom you have been speaking.” There, in his hut, they found the long-lost fellow missionary whom they had long thought dead.