Seasoning Our Speech

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Words really matter. They have the power to both tear down or build up. They can encourage or discourage. Just as important, how we speak to and about outsiders matters. People will never want to be part of a community that talks down to them. I often wonder how appealing Christianity is to outsiders, based on what they hear us say about them. Peter tells his readers to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV).

Words are as important as actions. In fact, they are inseparable throughout the Bible. Both our words and actions are meaningful. How we respond to people will influence the way they view both us and God. As believers, we are representatives of Christ and his body. Are we attracting people to Him or are we turning them away?

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech be seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). There is a lot packed into these two verses. First, our time is not really ours. It belongs to God. We are to use it wisely. Second, wisdom is essential. We need to “walk in wisdom” toward outsiders. That requires dedication to prayer and a whole lot of patience. Finally, our speech is to be seasoned with salt so that we know how to answer people.

So many people rely on their own ability, knowledge, or people skills. But this is not what Paul appeals to. Instead, he’s urging them to tap into God’s wisdom, the Holy Spirit, and to choose their words wisely. How we speak to the unchurched really, really matters.

Just Do It

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Nike was a struggling company before it’s iconic slogan, “Just do it!” was adopted. Most people don’t know that the slogan was inspired by the 1970s famous killer Gary Gilmore. Gary was executed by Utah state and was asked if he had any final words. He said, “Let’s do this.” Dan Wieden, founder of an ad agency, was from the same town as Gilmore. He adapted Gilmore’s phrase to “Just do it” and presented it to Nike in 1988. The slogan saw instant success and catapulted the company to an over 1,000% increase in sales.

Obviously it was the message, and not the origin, that inspired people. It’s only three words but the slogan was brilliantly coupled with star athletes and inspired ordinary people to go out and do extraordinary things. Thirty-three years after the slogan was introduced, Nike still enjoys global success and has stood the test of time. Last year Nike’s revenue was $37.4 billion. The simplicity of the messaging is what has worked well with Nike. When messages are too broad, too wordy, or too ambiguous, it leaves people unmotivated or confused.

Jesus’ final words can be summed up into a very clear message: Go make disciples. It’s a message that inspired his disciples to do great things for the kingdom of God. In Acts 1 Jesus ascended into heaven right before his disciples’ very eyes. His message to “Go make disciples” was reinforced at his ascension: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV).

As the disciples stood there, staring at the place where Jesus had just stood, two angels reminded them of their mission to go make disciples: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (vs. 11). They went to Jerusalem after the ascension and the 11 apostles were with the Galilean women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. They were devoted to prayer and very shortly after appointed a twelfth apostle. From there, they began accomplishing the charge to “Go make disciples.” The church began to grow because there was a very focused charge to get to work!

Jesus Appears to Mary

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Mary Magdalene is one of the most important and influential women in the New Testament. She had seven demons, which presumably Jesus cast out. She was a wealthy woman (Luke 8:2-3) and joined other wealthy, influential Galilean women who provided for Jesus and his disciples. Mary Magdalene is mentioned fourteen times in the Bible and in eight of those, she is mentioned along with other women. Whenever she is mentioned with other women, her name appears first, signifying her importance.

Unlike most of the disciples, Mary was at the foot of the cross when Jesus died. When Peter and John ran to the tomb after hearing it was empty, they eventually went home, not understanding what Jesus said about being raised from the dead. It was Mary Magdalene, however, who stayed at the tomb alone. While she was standing there, Jesus appeared to her.

The angels asked Mary why she was weeping. She said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they laid him” (John 20:13 ESV). Then Jesus appeared to her and also asked why she was weeping and who she was seeking. Not knowing it was Jesus, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (vs. 15). Jesus answered, “Mary.” Then she recognized him and clung to him.

Jesus told her not to cling to him because he had yet to ascend. Instead, Jesus told her to go to the disciples and tell them that “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (vs. 17). Mary effectively became the first person to proclaim the risen Christ. Jesus could have easily appeared to Peter and John but he didn’t. He waited until they went home to appear to Mary. He intentionally chose Mary to be the person to carry the message out that the Christ was risen from the dead! Mary–the one who was plagued with seven demons. Mary–a woman who was looked down on in Jesus’ day. Jesus’ resurrection is a story of hope and restoration, of salvation and equality.

Ask and You Will Receive

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Jesus repeatedly told his followers that he was going to die and be raised up again. They did not fully understand what he was talking about until after the resurrection took place, and we can certainly understand why. John records that Jesus said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16 ESV). Without further context, this statement is pretty ambiguous.

Jesus knew that they were asking each other what he meant, so he answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (vs. 20). In an almost out of place shift, Jesus begins talking about asking: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (vs. 23-24).

This is in the context of sorrow turning to joy, of death and resurrection. Oftentimes people lamenting after a loss experience extreme isolation. They often feel as if people are with them for a time then abandon them later. But Jesus is saying there is power in asking. Specifically, asking so that our joy can be made complete. We often hesitate to ask for help but at the same time we expect people to help. Jesus is reminding his disciples that not only is it OK to ask, but they should ask for anything.

This is an important reminder for us that it’s OK to ask. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to pursue joy. It’s OK to not be OK. And it’s OK to know that God loves us enough to give what we ask.

Keep Watch

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As we near Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, we focus on the events leading up to the death and burial. Jesus spent a good portion of his last days warning his disciples. He warned them of danger, of false teachers, of wars, and of getting weighed down with life and being unprepared.

Jesus expected his disciples to be prepared at all times. He spoke of thieves coming in the middle of the night, masters who closed the door and locked out the people who weren’t prepared, and the foolish virgins who weren’t prepared for the bridegroom’s coming. As he neared Jerusalem for the final time, he had a stark warning for his followers:

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34-35 ESV). Jesus is clear: everyone will experience the day of reckoning. The question is not how will we avoid it, but rather how prepared will we be for it.

Notably, later when Jesus was in the garden with his disciples, he told them to get up and pray that they didn’t fall into temptation. Given the context, the only logical temptation they would face was abandonment of their Lord and eventually their faith. Troubles were very nearby, and Jesus was asking them to keep watch and be prepared. Preparedness doesn’t mean that we breeze through troubles. We know this because Jesus himself had drops of sweat that were like blood. He was completely overtaken by sorrow and pain. Yet his prayer to the father was for preparedness–your will be done.

Enter the Narrow Door

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As Jesus was making his way toward Jerusalem, he was passing through towns and villages. Someone asked him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23 ESV). This was an important question that may be a lot more about quality than it is about quantity. It’s doubtful this person was asking about statistics on those who would be saved. Even if he intended to learn about quantity, Jesus responded in a qualitative manner.

Jesus’ reply was, “Strive to enter by the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (vs. 24). Jesus then went on to describe what he meant by this by concluding, “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (vs. 30). This language was often used by Jesus to talk about the importance of humble servanthood. Disciples should consider other people more important then themselves. We should empty ourselves for the sake of others. We should give and serve without expecting anything in return.

This is the narrow door. The door is narrow because there are no shortcuts. There are no get into heaven for free cards. There are no gimmicks or shortcuts to get into heaven. Salvation requires service, dedication, and sacrifice. And Jesus pleaded with his listeners to enter by the narrow door. It was not popular to enter by this path. It required breaking from traditions. Often it meant breaking from family and friends. The narrow gate isn’t comfortable, but the reward is eternal!

Want to Equip Others to Serve? Teach Them About Suffering

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I routinely hear horror stories about church leaders mistreating and, in many cases, bullying people who suffer. Ironically, suffering is something Jesus did often. He and his disciples were no strangers to suffering. In fact, Jesus told them that they would experience tremendous suffering. There was no way to sugar coat it. Jesus never promised them comfort, wealth, or health. Instead, he promised them eternal life. Suffering is something that is as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. It is guaranteed for all of us.

Yet, so many of us were ill equipped by the church to endure it. Any of us who have suffered know how lonely it is. We often lose friends and family during seasons of suffering. Ask anyone who has lost loved ones. The three-month-rule is almost guaranteed. People will appear out of the woodwork to deliver sympathy cards, calls, and meals. Then after three months its as if a switch is turned off and all those people who vowed to never leave are. . . gone. This is how suffering works. It is lonely. It is heavy. And often people ridicule those who are suffering, telling them to “hurry up and get well.” But suffering doesn’t work that way. Suffering lingers, and has lingering effects. Depression and anxiety are common. Sadness is almost guaranteed.

Isaiah said of the coming messiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4 ESV). People do, in fact, hide their faces from those who suffer. Christ was a man of sorrows and even bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet people use this same Christ to bully others into believing that he rejects Christians who suffer. Abused people are told to “forgive and move on.” Depressed people are told to “have more faith.” Sad people are told to “cheer up.”

Yet Christ suffers with us. And he equips us for ministry by calling us to suffer with and for others. The Lord, through a vision, told Ananias that Paul would suffer: “Go for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

If we are going to equip one another for works of ministry, let’s begin by preparing each other to suffer. Until we suffer, we will never fully comprehend what others are going through. Until we suffer, we will fail to have empathy for those whose lives are wrecked. On the other hand, when we suffer we see people with a different lens. Compassion guides us and we understand the loneliness they feel. We should begin by teaching our children that suffering exists. But not just that it exists, but that there is a solution. We can sit with those who suffer. We can share in their pain. We can offer them love and hope. And we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.