Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sins of Speech OR Otherwise I'd Brag

Sins of speech come in many forms: gossip, slander, rumors, abuse, cursing, and deceit. Other ways of erring with the tongue often go unaddressed-- sarcasm, criticism, pessimism, teasing, and taunting.

The book of Proverbs takes pains to expose sins of speech. No less than forty references prohibit deceit or encourage honesty. For a sampling, see:  

Proverbs 6:16-19; 8:6-9, 12-14; 10:6, 14, 18-21, 31-32; 11:11-13; 12:6, 13-14, 18, 25; 13:2-3, 5, 16; 14:3, 5, 25; 15:1-2, 4, 7, 23, 28; 16:10, 13, 24; 17:4, 7, 20, 27-28; 189:4, 6-8, 13, 20-21; 19:1, 5, 9; 20:18-19, 25; 21:23; 22:11; 23:15-16; 24:7-9, 26; 25:10-11, 14, 24; 26:4, 28; 27:14; 29:5; 30:5-6, 10, 14; 31:26

In a culture predating digital media and written contracts, honest speech was central to ancient Israel. Her word served as her guarantee. A broken word upset relationships--familial, business, and social.

In our brave new world, we would do wisely to heed the Bible's speech ethic (Shut up! Speak slowly! Say something nice!). It's too easy not to filter speech from behind a screen; anyone sound STRONG in CAPS LOCKS. It's too easy to manipulate our posts so our online persona is no more than an avatar; anyone can sound spiritual when requesting prayer on Facebook. We  must be aware of the most subtle and widespread word-sins: impression management.

John Ortberg describes this in his book, The Life You've Always Wanted (p. 169):
If we take notice, we will see that a vast amount of what we say generally includes a great deal of impression management. For instance, if we tell someone about a television program, we may preface our report with a disclaimer: “I don’t watch much TV, but the other night…”
This is merely an exercise in impression management. We do it because if  we don’t, the listener might think we just sit around eating bon bons and watching sitcoms.

If we being to listen for these kinds of comments, we will discover that attempting to control the way others think of us is one of the primary uses we put words to in contemporary society. Human conversation is largely an endless attempt to convince others that we are more assertive or clever or gentle or successful than they might think if we did not carefully educate them.

My words aim to impress more often than I'd like to admit. It motivates a fair share of my blogging, tweeting, teaching and preaching. This, I suppose, is why few should teach (James 3:1). My judgement is more severe. I must give an account for my words--a tool I take pride in wielding--otherwise I'd brag.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hard Work from behind the Desk

Full disclosure: If I weren't writing this blog right now, I'd be reading online articles about the Cleveland Browns. Or I'd be striking a horizontal position on the futon next to me. I want sleep. I want to slack. It's the perennial, post-lunch problem for solo pastors and desk jockeys.

But I cannot sleep or slack today because I preached against sloth on Sunday. Solmon's advice echoes in my ear: Go the ant; see how they work hard! (Proverbs 6:6-11). Or maybe that's just the sound of Judy Rogers.

Proverbs forced me to look my sloth in the face. I know churches that require their pastors to work 50-55 hours a week. According to a recent Gallup Poll, the average work-week in America is 47. I can't compete with these pastors. My typical work week rarely eclipses 45 hours. In this case, though, I'm happily below average.

For more on sloth and the Christian life, see the notes:

What drives me is not hours invested, but impact.
  • Does the time I spend in sermon preparation simply organize thoughts, or does it edify people? 
  • Does my leadership simply ensure tasks are done, or does it empower and equip people? 
  • Do my short and long-range plans simply fill the calendar, or do they position our church to give witness to the wonderful love of Jesus? 
  • Do God and my church need 50+ hours in clerical robes to maximize my impact?
  • Do the short-term gains of busyness justify the long-term loss of energy and exuberance?

These are tough questions to consider. Too tough. I think I'll take that nap after all.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Sex Talk in Church

I talked about sex in church yesterday. I felt great about the sermon until an eight-year old boy walked in. He had dismissed himself from the children's class and plopped next to his father. The whole church tightened up when he entered the auditorium. I stuttered for a minute, finding user-friendly synonyms for words like "harlot" and "prostitute." The phrase "hanky panky" came in handy for the last ten minutes.

Proverbs 5:1-23 was our primary text. Solomon discussed sex with his son often in Proverbs (2:16; 6:12ff; 7:1-27). Considering he had 300 wives and 700 concubines, it's no surprise the topic was on his mind. His advice on sex falls in two categories. Negatively, he prohibits casual sex. Positively, he promotes covenant sex.

This teaching remains consistent throughout the Bible. Sex is not a bad word. In the right context it is a great word and a great thing. The right context is NOT the college dorm room, your parent's basement, Internet chatrooms, pornography, hotels rooms with prostitutes, or your neighbor's bedroom. Casual sex, Solomon warns (and modern authors like Laura Sessions Stepp), ruins you with regret and a sense of isolation. Don't be seduced by casual sex!

According to Scripture, the right context is wherever you and YOUR SPOUSE agree to enjoy a shameless act of intimacy. Well, perhaps wherever is a little too broad. Stay out of my house. My wife and I have claimed it!

(NOTE: I tried to embed the Prezi, but the code didn't work. Here's a link.)