How to Unleash Life Giving Power With Your Words

In May of 1889 on Lake Conemaugh in Pennsylvania, people were enjoying the warmth of Summer as they lounged  near their cottages.

Many swam with their children and paddled in their canoes and boats. The waters here were a welcomed retreat for rich steel and oil tycoons that would come from surrounding cities.

But then came the rain. It rained day and night for days. Finally, on May 31 the poorly built South Fork Dam that once held the lake back, broke. As the water raged down the Conemaugh valley at one point it reached the flow rate of the Mississippi river. It was at this peak that the water slammed into the small town of Johnstown, PA; where it’s residents were just sitting down for an evening meal.

johnstown_main_street_1889_floodThe water that once soothed and comforted, now killed over two thousand people and destroyed 425 million dollars in property. In the same way our words can be either refreshing to those we encounter or a tool of utter destruction.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21)

Question: Do you want your words to be known as a wrecking ball or as a God ordained builder?

We use to say as kids, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But as Adults we know that’s not true. Have you ever considered why negative words hurt? I mean they’re just articulated sounds coming from our mouths!

The destructive words we use toward one another hurt because it is through them we see a devalued version of ourselves.  Words are the lens by which we see ourselves.

James, the brother of Jesus, gives us some physical examples to illustrate that there’s a problem when a Christian’s words our tainted:

10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.  James 3:10 (ESV)

James is making the point that if we find that on a regular basis we’re producing toxic words: angry, mean spirited words, cutting sarcasm and humor, inappropriate sexual innuendos and humor….something is wrong with the source.

When we blow up or speak as we should not we say, “That wasn’t me”, but it was. That’s why Jesus teaches us that,

45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45 (ESV)

When we get bumped by the stresses, pressures and inconveniences of life, what spills out through our words, is what’s in our heart. I know when I find myself short or irritable with Erin or the boys, there’s a heart issue that needs to be dealt with in prayer. My wife is the first one to add an “Amen” when I tell her I need to go be alone and pray!

It can feel overwhelming as James writes of the tongue that “no human can tame it.” No human might be able to tame the tongue, but God can. We need a Spirit given bridle in our mouths to direct our tongue and in doing so direct our lives.

Yet, Christ can help us turn words of blessing onto our family, friends, co-workers, and strangers! Such as:

“You’re a gift to me. I’m thankful for you. You are loved by God. There’s hope for you. God is faithful to deliver you, I believe in you, You matter, You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

This inverse principle of how our words impact others is also true: The words of blessing we use toward one another give life because it is through them we see a valued version of ourselves.

A verse referenced in our home often that has served us well has been Psalm 19:14:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Would you pray that prayer with me?

Help Me Choose My Book Cover

Well, things are heating up in regards to my upcoming book, Non-Stop, and I need your help. Would you take a moment and look over these two cover options and tell me which one you’re drawn to most? After you’ve made your selection just hit the “Done” button at the bottom. Would you also consider sharing this one question poll online so I can get other’s input as well?

Thanks!

Create your own user feedback survey

The Elephant Sitting On the American Church

I’m heartbroken.

Our churches are filled with people that have been “saved” for decades, but have never shared the gospel with anyone.  Church goers across the country seem to be weighed down with a lifetime of sermons instead of being propelled by them. How could this happen?

The American Church has access to more sermons, teachings, and ministry programming than at any other time in history and yet where is the fruit in the individual lives of believers?  

How could people that claim to be filled with the empowering Spirit of God that gives a boldness to witness, be too scared of rejection to witness? Can we call a local church successful if 98% of that church do not share their faith or disciple another person? Can there be such a thing as powerless Spirit-filled people?

This is broken.

Much like the way we avoid getting on the scale, or opening the door to that junk room that’s a mess, we as pastors have chosen to look the other way. For to speak of or look at the results of our “equipping” would cause many of us to be fired or leave the ministry post haste.

Resigning themselves to having non-evangelizing congregants, many pastors now simply ask their people to just “get them here.”  Yet, in the process we’ve taught our people through this repeated practice that inviting someone to church is the extent of evangelism. By doing so our congregations have solely relied on us as pastors to witness for them. We’ve confused having a crowd (even a growing crowd) as having ministry success. I wrote about walking away from this obsession here.

Last year our church went through  a journey of taking our people through a discipleship series that in the end they themselves were encouraged to take others through. While some were eager to take up the challenge to begin to disciple others, many ignored the call. Others said, “I don’t have anyone to disciple, but I’d be willing to take someone through it that the church assigned to me.” Of course, this was somewhat of a positive response, but notice it was not even on their radar to be winning people themselves to disciple.

For the most part, I believe this is a pastoral leadership problem. In our church, the buck stops with me.

At this point, I’ve had to resist going back to the drawing board and formulating a new plan of process and programming. I’ve learned the hard way that we cannot mass produce disciples. God has called me to my knees and if you’re a fellow pastor, I plead with you to go there with me.

The hard truth is: we duplicate who we are.

If our people are not weeping over the lost, it’s most likely because the eyes of pastors are dry as well.

Father God, would you awaken your church, stir us as shepherds. Stoke the embers of our hearts to no longer be satisfied with merely crowds. Shape our hearts first as we seek to shape disciples that will make other disciples! In Jesus name, Amen.

Give Your Pastor Permission to Preach This Sermon

The last thing you might need is a “practical” sermon next Sunday. Over the last ten years I’ve continued to see a movement calling for pastors and teachers to focus on only preaching “practical” sermons. There’s been criticism that pastors are “answering questions no one is asking.”

Give Your Pastor Permission to Preach This Sermon

Pastors must do their due diligence to bring a scripture’s application to our lives to life, but practicality isn’t our highest goal.

Why? There’s nothing practical about what Jesus calls us to. To deny yourself and pick up your cross and follow him is the most impractical thing you can do. I mean we have lives to live, a culture to enjoy, things to do!

There are some passages of scripture that aren’t intended to be “turn-key ready”; that take a lifetime to discover how they’re applied to our lives. Some scriptures call us to merely look and contemplate the majesty of God. Some scriptures speak to our need to pull away from our “3 Easy Steps to a Better ______” (you fill in the blank) mentality.

Of course Pastors and teachers need to be giving biblical answers to the most pressing questions of our day, but they should also be answering questions that we aren’t asking. If I only taught my kids what they thought to ask me about, I’d be a poor excuse for a father. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. When we ask pastors to only focus on our perceived needs, we miss out on all that God has for us.

So the next time your pastor preaches a message that doesn’t “feel” very applicable to your Monday morning, consider that it still might have a helpful place for your soul.

The One Risk You Need to Take Today

The family and I have been hidden away in the mountains of North Carolina for the last few days. It’s been a much needed get away for all of us. I took some time in the cool of the morning to continue to work on my upcoming book, Non-Stop,  that’s coming out this fall.

whats your story

Let me just say that writing a book is hard. I’m not talking about the writing itself. Anyone can discipline themselves to make the time to sit down and get it done. I’m talking about the massive emotional risk that comes with putting your work out to be consumed and evaluated by others. Multiply that risk exponentially if you choose to be transparent in writing about your own inadequacies and failures. I finished a chapter today that left me feeling naked in front of the iceberg.

Getting real about our failures with others can feel daunting. Our fears can range from feeling like our transparency will only be wasted to being afraid that others might use our honesty against us in the future. Everyone knows that the temptation to try and fashion a persona of perfection for others is real, but we also know deep down that it helps no one.

When you risk big and choose to open up about where your struggles and God’s grace meet, people are helped. You give them two wonderful gifts: fellowship in the midst of failure and hope for the future. To me, that’s worth it all.

Pulling Weeds

Today I was reminded of a lesson God taught me a few years ago as I was on a prayer walk on our church property. Our church sits on 62 acres in the woods, so there is plenty of room to roam. As I walked up our church drive way I stopped and looked at our church sign near the road and God clearly spoke to me these words, “Pull up some of those weeds under the sign.”

picking the weeds, please have a look at my similar images of this subject

Odd. I know.

It was clearly the Holy Spirit speaking. I walked over and began to pull weeds all the while saying out loud, “Why do I need to pull weeds? I’m out here to pray. This is why we use weed killer.” I began to think that maybe this would be one of those miraculous moments that because I was out here pulling weeds someone would drive by and say, “God told me you’d be here” or something. Nope.

God said, “Pull.” Another few minutes went by as I grappled with the wild onions in the soil when all of the sudden He spoke to me  these words, “It’s been a long time since you’ve obeyed me with something this small. (Some Silence)  Nathan, I don’t just want your obedience on the things you perceive as a big deal: ministry, family, the big do’s and don’ts. I want it all. Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

I kneeled there on the ground for few moments hit hard by the truth.

I prayed, “Lord, I’m yours.”

He said, “Now, you can go pray.”

I listened and obeyed.

Upon reflection I was reminded that we many times miss out on great miracles that God desires to do in and through us because we don’t obey the smaller steps that lead to those miracles. There might be small tasks, but there’s no such thing as small obedience. When God says pull weeds……pull.

Would you commit to grow with me in this area?

The One Hope for Our Nation

Hope is a precious commodity. When someone feels they’ve lost it, their life truly feels unbearable.

Jesus-Our-Hope

That’s why this God breathed proverb resonates us with us all.

Prov. 12:13

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

If you’ve lived any bit of hardship at all in this life you know what this heart sickness feels like. The weight of hopelessness can at times feel bone crushing.

Are you feeling this weight? Do you feel hopeless; that your circumstance, that your life is one giant unfulfilled longing? Maybe you feel our nation is bankrupt of all hope; that we are all on a sinking ship merely marking time until it’s demise.

Yet, Jesus is here and he is coming.

He comes bringing deep life altering, soul fulfilling hope to all those that will have him.

Christ Jesus is our hope. (1 Tim 1:1)

Christian, you and I are dealers of hope. We’ve been called to give him out freely to the hopeless, to the weighed down, and to those that cannot lift themselves.

Don’t place your hope in governments or what man can accomplish. But, with reckless abandon place the full weight of your life and our nation on Jesus. He will not fail.

He is our dawn rising. He is our everything.

A Pastor’s Confession of Racial Ignorance

Wednesday night’s Charleston shooting points to another heartbreaking evil act done in the name of racial hatred.

black-and-white-hands

It’s heartbreaking on so many levels, but a constant refrain keeps coming back to me. For years I’ve tried to comment with good intentions on racial issues without acknowledging a simple truth: I don’t know what it’s like to be black in America.

I don’t know what it is to have people target my ethnicity. I don’t know what it’s like for others to treat me as suspect because of the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like as a parent to try to explain to my kids what they need to know and prepare themselves for in regards to racism. I don’t know what it’s like to be told that the racism I’m experiencing “doesn’t exist anymore.”

They say that ignorance is bliss, but today it feels exceptionally painful.

What I do know is that God is able to restore and heal. I do know that if we look to Him he will guide us out of this darkness. I do know there’s healing in weeping with those who weep even when it’s hard to relate. I do know that Jesus said for us to not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. I do know now what I didn’t know before: I don’t know what it’s like to be black in America.