In Jesus’ Words: A warning about careless words (Matthew 12:33-37)

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“On the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
– Jesus

Of all the things I may regret, my spoken words are probably at the top of the list. We all say things at times we wish we could take back, and those words could quite possibly change the course of a life.
And of all the things I remember, the spoken word – whether kind or harsh, comes to my mind the most. It’s personal. We easily forget what we read in books and memories fade, but the spoken word stays with us the longest. It reaches our soul. It can ruin a person’s career and it can save a person’s life.  Most of the time, we are not even aware of the impression our words have on others.

~ Matthew 12:33-37  Careless words ~

Jesus said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

I do not want to be careless – with life, with people, with money, with gratitude, or with the words I speak.  Jesus, I pray that your spirit will always give me the right words to say.feet with waves cropped

Conversation on the exit ramp

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Have you ever met someone, perhaps a stranger in passing, who seemed a little out of character?  It is most striking to me when I see someone who does not respond to a situation in the usual way we expect human nature to respond – whether it is by fear or surprise or curiosity.  There will be something a little different about the person; something you can’t quite put your finger on, yet there is also a certain attractiveness to them.  I imagine when Jesus walked on the earth, people had a similar reaction to him.  Crowds followed him everywhere; people yearned to be close to him.  You can’t fake that type of thing.  I also believe that the most convincing evidence we have for God and His loving nature can be found in those out-of-character situations or little miracles that cannot be explained away, and where things seem to happen contrary to our human nature.

This is one of those stories.  Looking back on it now, I realize it was during a time in my life when I was most vulnerable – young, alone, and new to the big city.  I was twenty-two and just out of college without much money to my name.  Yet I know now, that even in those most vulnerable times of my life, God had my back.

It was late on a Sunday night as I drove through the dark and nearly-empty streets of the interstate on my way home.  My piece of junk car, as I liked to call it, had just blown a tire on the interstate.  With the car thumping and wobbling on its back rim, I pulled over to the side of the road and wondered what I was to do next.

It was completely dark outside, no streetlights, and I didn’t even have a flash light.  The exit ramp was about a quarter-mile up the road, so I decided I would walk to the top of the exit and go for help.  In the back of my mind, I knew there was no gas station at the top of this road, but in those days before cell phones, I did not see any other choice.

I walked as far into the grass and out of the sight of car headlights as I possibly could.  As I began to stomp through the tall grass, I became more aware of the dire situation I was in – a young female with a broken down car, late at night, in an area of town that was not the safest to be in.  I couldn’t go back to my car but the nearest late-night gas station was very far away too.  So I began to pray, “Please God, keep me safe me until I can reach a safe place.”

A few seconds later, a car came slowly driving up the exit ramp.  I kept my head down while I continued walking, and hoped the car would pass by without seeing me.  But instead, the car pulled over to the side of the road, right beside me and stopped.  The passenger window rolled down, and an elderly woman leaned out.

“I see you’re having some car trouble,” she said.

My first instinct was to deny it, but I realized it was useless, knowing she could clearly see my situation.  “Yes,” I tried to say confidently, “but I’m just walking up to the top of the exit to the gas station for help,” and hoped she was not aware there was no gas station in sight.

“Nonsense,” she replied, “You can use our car phone.”

I peered into the passenger window and saw another elderly woman in the driver’s seat.  Both women were very well-dressed and sitting in a big, luxurious Cadillac.  “That’s ok,” I said, “It’s a short walk from here.”  But the woman insisted, and stated they were on their way home from a golf trip.  Surveying the situation around me, it seemed like the best option I had, and besides, they looked rather harmless and did not appear like they needed to rob me.

The year was 1987, and car phones were just coming out on the market.  They were the predecessor to cell phones and could only be used in the car, but were still mainly reserved for the wealthy.  I climbed in the back seat of their Cadillac as they handed me their phone.  After calling a wrecker service, I thanked them for the use of their phone and said that I could go wait in my car now and they could go on ahead.

“No, we’ll wait.”  they replied.

The two women didn’t say much as I sat in the back seat, waiting.  In fact, they didn’t ask anything.  They didn’t ask any of the usual questions a person would normally ask when a stranger is sitting in the back of their car.  Questions such as… what is your name, do you live around here, what do you do?  I also noticed they never once looked back over their shoulders at me or glanced in the rear view mirror to check on me.  They talked a little among themselves, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but mostly they just sat there looking straight ahead.  It almost seemed like they were my chauffeur.  I began to think that if I were them, I would be more afraid of me sitting behind them, than I was of them.

Finally the wrecker came, so I told them I would get out now and work with the mechanic and they could go on.

“No, we’ll wait,” they replied again.

I stood next to the mechanic while he changed the tire in the dark.  Then I discovered my car battery was dead too!  After about an hour, everything was finally fixed, and as I handed the man a check, he asked, “Who is in that car up ahead?”

“Oh, they’re waiting for me,” I tried to say in a casual tone.
“Hmm,” the man replied.

I went back to my car and pulled onto the exit ramp to make sure my battery was still good.  At the same time, the Cadillac in front of me pulled out too.  I never really saw where it went after that, but I turned and headed home, still very shaken by it all.

In my apartment that night, I thought about it some more and wished I’d had a chance to thank the two elderly women one more time for helping me.  But as I sat and thanked God that night for keeping me safe, I somehow think the two women were aware of it as well.

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Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

 

 

 

 

 

Preserve the Family

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I held the small baby in my arms, only ten weeks old at the time.  Sitting on the edge of the bed in my son’s nursery on that fateful night, I asked God for advice.  I was returning to work the next morning and I knew nothing would be the same again.  What am I to do?

I am sure every new mother has asked that question at least once.  But God’s response to me that night was puzzling.  My inner voice immediately seemed to say, “Preserve the family”.  What did that mean?  I was young and newly married, and had this wonderful new addition to our family – life was good.  But the words stuck with me.

Later, when times got tough – and they will – those words became my guiding principle.  God knew back then that I would need those words of wisdom.  And I knew that if I only did one thing right in my life, it should be to follow those simple instructions that God had given me.

I want to someday hear the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant… you followed my advice.”

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Signs at Work

The musical group, Train, always makes me smile.  Their songs have that nostalgic, 
feel-good feeling mixed in with a little hope and inspiration.  I ran across one of their older songs on my running journey today – a song called “Calling All Angels” from 2003.  Ten years later, the song is still relevant, perhaps even more so today.

The lead singer for the band is Patrick Monahan.  His unique sound and onstage presence of a messy-haired, slightly awkward little kid makes you want to root for him even more.  His songs invoke memories and hope.  This particular song begins with those familiar words, “I need a sign…”

As I began to listen to the song once again, my immediate thoughts take me back to a time at my workplace ten years ago.  I was facing a tired and beaten project team near the end of our project, and they had just discovered why our new computer programs were not working as planned.  We were getting our data from an accounting software program that did not use negative signs in the dollar amounts.  Instead, it used a debit and credit indicator to determine if it was a negative number.  Now all of our data was showing up as positive numbers and over-inflating the balance.  I looked around the room at all the long faces, and without hesitation, immediately jumped up and started singing those words,
“I need a sign…” while using my best Train impression.  They did not see the humor in it, or perhaps it was just my bad singing.  Eventually though, we got through the project as we always do, but I still remember that memory and smile to myself.  It was good times during the bad times.

Signs of another kind at work began to jog my memory as well – the signs of God’s constant care and interest into the details of our lives.  There is one story in particular that stands out above the rest; one lesson that I will never forget.  Many years ago, I was responsible for a large project that was beginning to take a wrong turn.  The team had split into two different groups, each with different ideas and agendas on how to complete the work.  Each group was working independently on their own, and often against each other.  I knew the project would not be successful if we continued like this, and we would certainly not make our million dollar deadlines.  I decided I had to call a meeting with the new Director of the company to express my concerns.

I sat in the stark conference room with the Director on that day, and began to explain the dire situation to him.  After I finished, he just sat there and said nothing in reply.  He turned his head slightly to the side and quietly spoke as if saying to no one in particular, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”  

“What?”, I thought to myself.  I was expecting to hear a typical response like, “how 
did this happen?”  But his answer struck me as odd.  What did he mean it wasn’t supposed to be this way?  Who told him that?  And then he did something more.  He closed his eyes and bowed his head.  At first I thought he must be thinking, but after an uncomfortable amount of silence, I realized he wasn’t thinking; he was praying.

It seemed to be one of those serious conversations with God too, not the quick desperate kind we often pray when we’re trying to get out of a situation.  I sat there in silence, realizing this one was not about me.  When he finished and looked up, he did not apologize or make excuses.  He only said, “Will you give me a day?” 

“Ok sure,” I replied as I fumbled around for my things and left the conference room. 
I ran into my manager on the way out and he asked how the meeting went.  “I’m not sure,” I said, “but we will know tomorrow.”  I walked away leaving my manager with a puzzled look.  “This is not how corporations are supposed to handle things,” I said under my breath, shaking my head with a sigh.

The next day I waited in anticipation.  I was also a little skeptical that this too would fall  short like most other good intentions do.  Then miracles began to happen.  Barriers were knocked down, obstacles broken, and the bureaucratic red tape that had been in place for years had suddenly disappeared.  The team reunited and we were back on track with a new purpose.  People asked me how I did it, but I could only shrug and say that I had done nothing.

I learned a lot that day, about how to live the rest of my life at work.  I can choose to just work harder, always beating my head against the wall, or I can first go immediately to God with my problems, unapologetically to everyone else, and do things His way.  After all, I have the greatest Computer Designer of all times by my side.  God cares about us and our well-being, but He is not as overly concerned as we are about how to handle negative signs and computer designs.  He parted the Red Sea.  He raised the dead and healed the sick.  He designed the Universe!  

Now I understand now why Jesus refused to give the Pharisees the sign they asked for in the New Testament.  There are miraculous signs all around us in everyday situations, but we must be open to believing them or we will not see them.  I often wonder what could have been the outcome of our recent government shutdown and arguing between the divided groups in Congress, if they too had first tried the approach that my Director took that day.

Thank you again, Train, for the memory during my run today.  Your video is a wonderful reminder of the human potential and spirit in all of us.  It definitely makes me smile.  But I don’t need a sign.  I see God’s handiwork all around me. 
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmIOqlNGp54

The Creator and the Created

It’s been awhile, I think to myself as I step out to run today, alone.  Scrolling through my song lists to see where I left off in my running journey, I come to Third Day’s Offerings album.  Well, I guess it’s just me and God today, I say as I select the album and start my run.  No distractions and no one to discuss the day’s work or other daily annoyances.  I begin to enjoy this time alone, running with God.  This is nice, I think to myself.  I haven’t had this much solitary time in my runs in many years.  I fall into a cadence while my feet traverse through the familiar streets and sidewalks which I have traveled on foot for many years.  The old, familiar songs start to come back to me – King of Glory, These Thousand Hills, My Hope is You.

This album from Third Day came out in 2000.  Where was I then, 13 years ago?  Y2K, a 5-year old son starting kindergarten, before 9/11, before job changes and breast cancer scares, before things became more complicated and then became easier again.  It brings tears to my eyes, with thoughts that are humbling, repentful, and grateful.  I think when we die and meet God, the first emotion we will have besides the indescribable awe, will be humbleness.  Humbleness for seeing our position next to an almighty God, for all those times we did not see or trust Him when He was right there with us, and for all those petty things that really didn’t matter in the end.  We can each fill in our own list here.  Will it really matter then that we had a 5,000 square foot house, or more clothes in our closets than we needed, or that prestigious job that took all of our time?  How did we treat people?  Humbleness, and maybe some regret is what I think I will feel.

I continue my running, though my thoughts are a little unsettled today.  And then I begin to see, that of a loving God, who wants us to trust Him, who knows what is best for us, and who wants to be with us.  The Creator and the created.  God, who knows the future, and myself, who does not even know what is around the next corner in my run or within the next hour.  But together, me and God.  Just like 13 years ago, God knows then and He knows now.  I do not remember why I bought this particular album back then, but it has been a nice reminder for me on this day.  And I hear God say to me, “I got this. Go back to work now with a rested mind.”

An hour later back in the office, I receive a surprise email about a new job restructuring  coming soon to my area.  After experiencing the usual range of emotions that we all have at times, I remember what God had just said to me.  God knew this was coming.  He’s got this worked out, and my mind is rested.  Do I still believe what God has said during the certain times is also true during the uncertain times?  Yes I must; otherwise it means very little to only trust God during the good times.  For how can we believe in a God who created you and I and everything in the universe, and raised Jesus from the dead, yet not also believe that He knows the future and wants the best for us in that future?  It would equivalent to only believing in a partial God.  We must believe in all of God, and know that all of God is good.  No matter what, He is always walking with us, the Creator and the created.

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