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Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

When my son was in High School he loved sports. His favorite sport was basketball. He started playing in 5th grade and looked forward to basketball season all year long. What he lacked in ability, he made up for in passion. The unfortunate thing in our society is that we place far more emphasis on ability and don’t recognize passion enough.

During his junior year he was fighting for the final spot on the varsity team. He talked with me the night before he was to play a one on one contest with another guy. My son said how every time he went up against this guy he ‘knew he could beat him’ but always seemed to find a way to lose. He was very nervous.

I’m by no means a perfect father or parent. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and overlooked many opportunities to mentor and guide my kids. I’ll admit that what I said next wasn’t thought out well, or planned. We were in the car, driving home in the dark.

“You know,” I said, “Whether you win or lose won’t affect who you are as a person. I love you for who you are, not for your ability. Give it your best shot, but don’t base your self-worth on the points you score or don’t score.”

My son told me that my words would give him even more incentive the next day. He entered the contest with renewed confidence in his ability. The nervousness was gone.

My son lost the contest that day and the chance at a position on varsity. But he won something far greater; he won the assurance that his worth wasn’t based on the scoreboard or the win/loss column. His worth was based on who he was as a person. My words gave him the confidence he needed to enter the battle and the assurance that win or lose, he was valued in the sight of his father.

The same is true for each of us. Society tells us value is measured by ability and success is measured by money, status and power. God’s kingdom tells us otherwise, and our responsibility as Christ-followers is to build value in a person even if their actions are contrary to our comfort level.

Paul reminds the Ephesian believers that every word that comes out of our mouths should have the purpose of building each other up. Anything less is contrary to God’s calling in our lives. At the beginning of this section in his letter, Paul admonishes his readers to ‘live worthy of the calling’ each of us has. Part of that calling is to build one another up by what we say.

Guard your words carefully because everything you say will either build someone up and draw them closer to Jesus, or tear them down and push them away from the only true source of forgiveness and grace. Criticism, sarcasm, angry outbursts, swearing and bullying (adults and children) have no place in the life of a believer and are contrary to our calling.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me for the times my words have attacked your loved ones. May the words of my mouth encourage others and draw them to you. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35 (NLT)

One of my favorite past times is to watch people. You have to be discreet in this process because there’s a fine line between watching people and staring at people. People tend to get a bit uncomfortable if they sense some stranger is staring at them…but I digress.

Sometimes when you are watching a group of people it’s pretty easy to see the family resemblances.

‘That group over there? The father and mother are with their son and daughter-in-law. It’s obvious that the young man is the son. He’s the image of his father! And the young lady? Obviously part of the group, but not by blood. She looks nothing like the rest of the group. Accepted? Yep. Blood relative? Not a chance’

Jesus tells us that people will know we, as Christ-followers, will know we are family. They’ll know we are the children of our Heavenly Father. How? Not by hair color or color of the eyes. Not by the protruding chin or obnoxious laugh. Nope, people will know we are children of our heavenly father because our love for one another will be obvious. Our love for each other is the defining characteristic of being a Christ-follower.

That love isn’t bound by denominational lines, theological persuasions, past experiences or relational stability. It’s not controlled by a particular eschatological view point, race, gender or political party. It’s not determined by our ability (or inability) to drive properly, sing on key or practice some particular spiritual gift. Our love for one another supersedes anything we see here on earth.

So the question each of us must answer today is this: “Do others see that I’m a child of my Heavenly Father by the way I love others who are different than me?”  Think about that answer before you blurt it out. Is there someone you haven’t forgiven yet? Is there someone you’ve offended that you haven’t made it right? Have you spoken evil of someone or sarcastically joked about them?

How can you show the love of the Father to someone you don’t particularly agree with? How can you show patience and acceptance to people who live a life-style that goes against your personal convictions? In a word, how will you show God’s grace to those around you today? That’s what love is really about. Showing God’s Grace to those who deserve it the least.

PRAYER: Father there are so many times I let my personal feelings get in the way of how I treat other people. So many times when I can rationalize my critical spirit and judgmental nature. Please forgive me for the lack of love and grace in relationships with others, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ. Empower me by your Spirit to let others see your image of love in my life. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom. Song of Solomon 2:15

Preventative maintenance is important in many areas of our lives. A simple oil change can keep your car running better and longer. A few minutes of exercise everyday can keep your body healthier, your mind sharper and give you more energy for the day.

The same is true in our relationships with our spouses/significant other, our children, our families, our jobs or any other relationship we may be a part of. It’s the little things we do that keep a relationship healthy and growing. In order for relationships to be healthy they need to continue to grow. Stagnant relationships are dying relationships.

In Old Testament Palestine, vineyards were a huge part of the economy. One of the ‘predators’ for the vineyard was the fox. Small foxes would enter the vineyard at night and destroy the vines, eat the grapes and blossoms and dig up the roots. The owner of the vineyard spent much time and money to protect his vineyard from these little, but deadly enemies.

Healthy relationships are relationships where all parties involved work together to keep the little things from entering our ‘vineyard’ to damage or kill it. Most relationships don’t end like a train wreck. Train wrecks are sudden, unexpected and deadly. Relationships usually die a slow death from the inside out, like cancer, and usually happen when one or both parties involved fail to take preventative action.

The ‘little foxes’ of relationship can be something as simple as making sure you say thank you, or being brave enough to say ‘I’m sorry’ even if you aren’t totally at fault. The ‘little fox’ of sarcasm can attack the very roots of the relationship. Sarcasm is the lowest form of ‘humor’ and one of the deadliest relationship killers. Unresolved anger, guilt and emotional or physical abuse may seem like big issues in a relationship, and indeed they are. However they aren’t the main issue, they are the result of the work of little foxes.

The best protection for the vineyard of our relationships is a firm, unified relationship with Jesus Christ. Religion and going to church won’t protect your relationship any more than a sign at the entrance of the vineyard will ward off the foxes. Relationship with Jesus is much more than religion and warming the pew of some church.

Simple things like saying ‘I love you’ or, ‘I’m proud of you’, or ‘I like how you do that’ are little things that can add huge walls against the foxes of our lives. Studying the Bible together, making sure that there are no unresolved conflicts in your lives, being willing to forgive and be honest with each other and encouraging each other to use thief gifts are all ways to strengthen the bond of your relationships.

Vineyards were the life blood of the Old Testament economy just as relationships are the lifeblood in this journey we call life. Work as hard as you can to make sure the little foxes don’t enter and destroy.

PRAYER: Father, I admit to you that I’m not good at relationship. My past is full of so many foxes that I’ve never learned how to do relationship well. I’m tired of feeling like I’m the only one doing the work of relationship building. The pain of rejection and abuse keeps me back from trying anymore. Help me to build a relationship with You first so that I can build or rebuild relationships with those I love. In Jesus name, Amen.

Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket. Proverbs 25:11 (NLT)

Saying the right thing at the right time is a priceless gift each of us should strive to receive. I once knew a person who had many good ideas about how things should be done at his place of employment. The problem was that he would often make his suggestions at the worst possible moment. Usually this was during some crisis or problem when emotions were high. While his words were intended to be helpful, they would often have the effect of pouring gasoline on a fire. People would be offended and tempers would flare.

My friend’s situation may be an extreme situation but each of us has experienced the pain of words spoken at the wrong time and place. Sometimes it may have been our own words. Other times words spoken to us.

The message of Proverbs 25:11 is that advice is good and to be treasured, but we each must learn to use our words carefully, choosing the right words for the right time. One of the best ways to do this is to learn how to ‘respond and NOT react’ to a situation. Responding to a situation means we take the time to evaluate exactly what is going on and take into account the emotions of everyone involved in the situation.

When tempers are already at the boiling point or emotions are already high it is often best to wait, if possible, until things have cooled a bit before you speak. There have been times when people have said things to me that, at first, I took offense to, as though they were attacking me personally. When I’m able to step back from the situation it’s easier for me to respond in a way that is less retaliatory. If I have the proper view of who I am in Jesus, then peoples words, even if they are attacking, have less impact on me. Determine within yourself that the words of other people will not affect who I am and how I feel about myself.

Our words can also be helpful in steering people from situations and activities that could harm them. This is especially true for us as parents and grandparents. When we see our children engaging in activities that may be harmful to them it’s very important that we assure them of our love and find positive ways to ‘pass on our wisdom’. Saying things that are derogatory about our children’s/grandchildren’s activities or friends will most likely have an opposite effect that we’d hoped for. Sarcasm and critical words will steer them away from us. Saying “I told you so” will be more destructive than constructive.

Take time to actively listen to others before offering your own advice. Ask questions to make sure you understand exactly where they are coming from. Don’t allow their feelings about you, God or others to influence your reaction. How they ‘feel’ is most likely a symptom of a deeper struggle they are having within themselves. It takes time to heal those wounds. Your words can act either as a salve to soothe the wound or as salt to irritate and inflict further pain. The choice is yours.

PRAYER: Father God, Your Word constantly reminds me that my words are powerful tools or powerful weapons. There are so many times when I’m misunderstood or I say the right thing at the wrong time. I tend to react rather than respond when I’m attacked or things don’t go my way. I let other people’s words affect how I feel about myself. Please empower me with Your Holy Spirit to use the words I speak as a healing salve and to refuse to let other people’s words affect how I feel about me. I am your child. No one and no words can change that! Thank you. Amen.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

The Bible has always linked the mind with our intellect and the heart with our emotions. In Psalm 19 David proclaims the magnificent Glory of God. He recounts the many blessings each of us have received as a result of His love. He’s in awe of the majestic beauty of God’s wonderful creation.

As he nears the end of his ‘praise session’ it’s as if in the midst of his words he is reminded of his own inability to live worthy of the love God has for him. Even in things that seem so small in man’s eyes, the words we speak and the way we feel.

It’s really no surprise that David links our words with how we feel. Jesus likens harsh language towards a brother as equal to murder. James comments that if any man is perfect in the words he speaks he is a perfect man. The implication is that even if we could be perfect in every other action in our lives, and hold every thought captive, it’s our mouths that get us in the most trouble!

If we are honest with ourselves, most of the time our language gets us in trouble when we feel like we are being attacked physically, mentally or emotionally. Sometimes those feelings of attack are valid. There are people around us who use the subtle weapons of sarcasm, tone of voice and body language to tell us, in essence, that we don’t measure up.

As David pondered the greatness of his God he came to a point where his desire was that even in his words God would be glorified. People can’t see our minds and our thoughts. They can, however hear our words and see how emotions control us. Our words and emotions should reflect who we are in Jesus Christ. When we live according to the facts of who we are in Him then the attacks of other people won’t affect us because we know the truth about ourselves.

As we grow closer in relationship to Jesus through prayer, Bible study/reading and body life our words and feelings about ourselves and others will reflect the Glory of God and be pleasing in His sight. We will be a sweet aroma and soothing oil to God and others.

PRAYER: Holy God. I am in awe of your majestic creation. I see the lofty mountains and the fertile plains. I see the animal world in perfect harmony with your will. Your beauty and splendor is unmatched and I give you all the praise and all the glory. I ask that you would help me to better see who I am in you. When the attacks come against me I ask that I would respond according to who I am and not react the way my attacker has. Forgive me for the sarcastic words, the belittling comments and the other tools I use to defend who I am. As your child I realize I have no need to defend myself. I am yours and that is enough. Amen.

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June 2023
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