Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Bitterness Behaves

Bitterness destroys lives, families, and churches. Left unattended, she inevitably spreads. On her playing field, nobody wins. Recognize her early. Deal with her seriously. She is dangerous. Extremely dangerous.

Consider a few of her characteristics:

She Internalizes

Like a seed, she germinates underground, small and unseen. Quickly her roots grow, and by the time she sprouts to the public eye, she has established an extensive root system in the ground below.

Bitterness pushes the rewind button a million times. Over and over the hurtful scene is replayed in the mental cinema. In some ways, it’s almost as if the memory is granite and bitterness has etched her words there permanently.

So haunting is her story, it often greets a person in his waking moments and whispers to him as he falls asleep. And with annoying regularity she interrupts throughout the day. Every day.

Just behind the smiling face she lurks. Her poison soaks the minds of some of even the Kingdom’s busiest workers. She finds the innermost crevices of the heart and lodges there.
She Personalizes

Bitterness rarely focuses upon situations or circumstances. Nope. She is completely absorbed with people. One doesn’t have to spend too long with a bitter person before he knows exactly who the object of his bitterness is.

What he did.

What she said.

How they hurt me.

And it doesn’t matter if the person is well-liked and respected by others. The sole criterion for his spot at the crosshairs of bitterness is the perception of how he has treated me.  

She Criticizes

“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Bitterness inevitably seeps out of the mouth. No matter how carefully her host endeavors to chain her, she’ll find her way out.

Somehow every conversation provides fertile ground for one new critical weed to push through the surface. Often the listener internalizes the question, “Where did that come from?”

For the embittered person, each new conversation and every new relationship is an opportunity to colonize new minds with the same old story.

She Emphasizes

She emphasizes herself. Her hurt. Her narrative. Bitterness is the ultimate narcissist. She sees everything and everyone through her distorted lens.

Perhaps the most insidious outcome of bitterness is this self-absorption. The embittered one cannot see the needs of others and the ways by which he can encourage, help, pray, and serve.

She Rationalizes

Bitterness will not see herself as sinful. She simply reacts. And her reaction is justified because your action was not.

By contrast, forgiveness refuses to use the past as evidence against the offender. Bitterness however retries the case and renders a guilty verdict a thousand times.

For some, bitterness is their comfort food, their little stash of chocolate to make them feel better. And constantly she excuses her behavior with her own little conversation:

 “I deserve this. I know it’s not good for me, but I deserve it. It might not make things better, but it makes me feel better. That’s all that matters right now.”

Says the alcoholic.

Says the drug addict.

Says bitterness.

She Demoralizes

Bitter people die a slow death. Such is the nature of the poison. Hurt begets hurt. And the expressions of bitterness inevitably isolate them from would-be encouragers or prayer partners.

Bitterness pleads loudly for her survival. And while forgiveness, humility, and Spirit-dependence offer better, life-giving arguments, they are too often unheard amid the clamorous and self-justifying protests of bitterness.

Search your own heart. Ask for God’s help. Be brutally honest in the mirror. Act quickly. When it comes to bitterness, time is not your friend.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why People "Tune Out"

Most people don’t blatantly walk out of church services. But a good number of them tune out. To be fair, sometimes such detachment is the fault of the listener himself. But all too often, we preachers have a lot to do with why increasing numbers in our congregations preoccupy themselves with their smart phones, catch up on their power naps, or painstakingly mark the minutes until the sermon terminates.

The remedy for an increasing “tune out” is not as simple as merely turning up the volume of the microphone or turning down the temperature of the thermostat. (Although I do prefer a meat locker climate for our services!) Let me offer four indispensable components of impactful messages:
Clarity (Bland speech causes “tune out”)

Solomon had a few things to say at the end of his life. Actually, a lot of things. Like two whole books full. One of his main goals in sharing his “end of life” wisdom was to seek out acceptable words. His desire was to find the right way to say the right things. He understood the power that words have. He taught us that carefully selected words can be like goads and fasteners to the listeners, both urging them forward in obedience and providing them foundational principles by which to live securely.

Think especially through the main points of your message. Learn how to craft your words in a pithy way. You’re not preaching to show off what you know or how well you can say it. You are preaching in order for the listeners to understand. So know something about them. Think your way into their lives. 

The end result of a message is not that the listener is impressed that you know something; it is that the listener be improved because now he knows something.

Humility (Proud speech causes “tune out”)

Nothing repels like pride. Ever the heroes of their own stories, some preachers view the pulpit as their throne and the people as their fawning subjects. And the funny thing is, in ministries like these, most people are already on to it. But the repercussions of kingdom banishment keep them quiet. The naked emperor continues to babble about his impressive wardrobe and nobody has the guts to tell him that he’s not wearing any clothes.

Humility expresses herself well by transparency. Tell them how you’ve struggled with the very subject on which you are preaching. Be honest about your own failures and fears. In most cases, people are already aware of them anyway.

Pride obscures truth in two ways: (1) The proud preacher often bends the truth in order to elevate himself in some way, and (2) the listener disregards the message because he is repulsed by the preacher’s arrogance. By contrast, when preachers speak humbly and transparently, people are free to see the message for what it is. And what is it? The transcendent truth of God to needy man. The preacher needs it. I need it. We all need it.

Fervency (Lifeless speech causes “tune out”)

Fervency is a bit nebulous to describe when it comes to preaching and teaching. What I mean is that fervency doesn’t necessarily mean volume or theatrics. It doesn’t always show up in tears or gestures. But it is obvious. When someone speaks with conviction, it’s undeniably noticeable. 

Actors speak from scripts. They master the lines and deliver them masterfully. At least the good ones do. They speak with skill. Memorized lines spill from their lips like the cascade of a beautiful waterfall. They learn their roles and manufacture the appropriate emotions by which to convey them. But the Word of God is so much more than a script or lines to be memorized. It is truth! And when that truth enflames the heart of the preacher, it is powerful truth indeed.

Do you believe what you’re preaching? Really? Then speak with a conviction that reflects it. Truth that has not first captured your heart will not easily connect with your listeners.
Credibility (Unsubstantiated speech causes “tune out”)

Why should I believe what you are telling me? Funny stories are entertaining, and tear-jerking stories can pull the emotional chain, but I’m going to need a little bit more than anecdotal evidence if you want me to believe what you are saying. And just because somebody famous said something quotable about it doesn’t mean that I’m going buy it either.

Is your message rooted in the truth of God’s Word? If so, where? Show me. Give me a text of Scripture to which I can affix my faith. “Take my word for it,” really doesn’t cut it. Even if you claim to have built the biggest something or lead the fastest growing whatever.

Foolish is the preacher who asks people to believe something, “Because I say so!” Faith is a precious commodity indeed. Encourage listeners to invest it in the security of God’s Word. There it lies safely. Only there.

And if you've read the article this far, thanks for not "tuning out"!

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Solve the following problem:  4+2 = __

Before you begin:

(1) Be sure that the numbers given in the equation are not offensive to any other people groups. For instance, two of the numbers above are found in the year 1492. This might be offensive to Native Americans due to its obvious connection with Columbus. In this case, a student should not be constrained against his conscience to render an answer.

(2) Be careful not to assume that any one answer will be correct. If the answer works for you and helps you to celebrate your cultural identity, then that answer is right for you.  The important thing is that you feel good about the answer you give.


Step 1: Construct the problem verbally.

            Four plus two equals blank.

Step 2: Count the number of words in the sentence.

            Four plus two equals blank. (Total of 5 words in the sentence)

Step 3: Say the sentence out loud five times (the number of words in the sentence) emphasizing a different word each time.

            Four plus two equals blank.

            Four plus two equals blank.

            Four plus two equals blank.

            Four plus two equals blank.

            Four plus two equals blank.

Step 4: Determine which one of the five words is most politically correct.

            In this case, it is four. (It rhymes with Gore.)

Step 5: Identify if there are any homonyms for the word you have selected.

            Four, fore, for

Step 6: Eliminate the original word, leaving only the remaining homonyms.

            Remove the word four.

Step 7: Count the number of letters in the remaining homonyms.

            Fore, for = 7 total letters

Step 8: You have clearly followed the directions. You are a winner! This means you have won. The homonym for the word won is one. Write this new word numerically and subtract it from your answer in step 7.

            Won = One = 1

            Step 7 answer = 7

            7-1= 6

The solution is six.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

10 Rules for Arguing

Maybe the word argument is too strong. What I’m talking about are those discussions in which your beliefs or strongly held opinions are challenged. By the way, if you find that your ideas are never challenged and your words are always readily accepted, you’ve probably become too isolated.

Here is some advice about how your argument can be strengthened, if indeed its truth is worth fighting for. Sometimes we diminish our position and invalidate in the hearer’s mind a truth that might have been supported quite well had we not presented it so recklessly.

Maybe these simple rules will help:

Count to 10.

Many of the dumb things we say and do in life are knee-jerk reactions. Anger always seems to grab the microphone first. Perhaps this is why James reminded us that the wrath of man and the righteousness of God are typically mutually exclusive.

The whole "count to 10" thing is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. He added advice to those very angry by suggesting they "count to 100"! Far too often I've created a world of hurt for myself by spouting off in those first 100 seconds. But holding one's tongue is more than human effort alone can muster. On purpose, and by the empowerment of God’s Spirit, we must be slow to speak and slow to wrath.  

Holding back words is difficult; taking back words is impossible.

Listen first.

A great principle to remember is this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Many arguments are simply competing monologues. Neither party is actually listening. He is simply waiting for a pause in the action in order to insert his next jibe. 

One of the reasons it is so frustrating for me to listen to talk radio or watch television news personalities conduct their programs is because they simply talk over each other. They don’t even hear each other’s questions! Too often we become the Rush Limbaugh or the Sean Hannity of the Baptist world, where everybody who already agrees with us still does, and where those who disagree are merely talked over.

Agree on the definition of terms.

When God wanted to separate people, He confounded their language. A people group simply cannot be unified if they do not speak the same language.

Often when we discuss issues we use the same terms but affix different definitions to those terms.