Luke 6:43-45 – Your Words Reflect Your Heart

A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces. You cannot pick figs or grapes from thornbushes. Good people do good things because of the good in their hearts. Bad people do bad things because of the evil in their hearts. Your words show what is in your heart. (Contemporary English Version)

I always find public confessions on TV to be something rather disingenuous. Typically, celebrity apologies only take shape when one has been caught saying something and are called on the carpet. Then, when the apology comes, it is predictably odd and incongruent, in which the person says something to the tune of, “I’m sorry if I hurt anybody by what I said. Saying that really wasn’t me. I’m not really like that.”

Well, apparently you are like that because it came out of your mouth. Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The words we say out loud betray what is truly inside us.

To illustrate that point, Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If the roots, the trunk, and the branches are good and healthy, then you can be sure the tree will produce good healthy fruit. However, if the tree is diseased, or infested with insects and rotting from the inside out, then no one can expect anything other than bad fruit, not fit to consume.

If the fruit is bad, the tree is bad. If the words are hateful, sarcastic, passive-aggressive, manipulative, conniving, racist, hurtful, ignorant, mean, unjust, foolish, and either subtly or overtly abusive, then the person has a dark heart and is need of redemption, not excuses.

Conversely, if the words are affirming, encouraging, loving, compassionate, gentle, caring, direct, helpful, peaceful, kind, giving hope and life, then there is a good heart behind it.

Yes, bad hearts can parrot good words. However, those words are not genuine but mere rote recitations to achieve some sort of personal agenda. And, of course, good people will occasionally say dumb or hurtful words. In such times, let it be a reminder that we all have some shadowy places within our hearts – and that we must depend on God’s grace to enlighten those dark spaces.

It is best to observe patterns rather than focus on isolated events where either good or bad words were said. A consistent pattern of invalidating another’s experiences or feelings; intimidating or threatening others; dismissing or discounting someone’s input; or being unnecessarily blunt are all major red flags pointing to a severe heart issue.

Evil does exist in the world. And if we are not vigilant to it’s insidious role in the crafting of words, wickedness can easily smack us upside the head when we aren’t looking.

The heart cannot be concealed forever. Eventually, the virtuous person will be shown as such by their stream of speech which pours forth from the heart, as if it were living water for others to drink and enjoy. Their words reflect their good character.

The wicked person, however, cannot keep the bad words down. Those vile words sit in the soul, poisoning and making the person ill. Then, all of a sudden, the evil words come up and out with a great vomitous heave and spew impurity and unholiness all over the innocent. Their words betray their foolish and poor character.

Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. The wicked heart will not be able to speak ill of others with impunity forever. They will be called to account for their abusive words, whether overtly violent, or subtly undermining.

The righteous heart, however, shall experience divine pleasure and reward, as if the careful construction of helpful and building up words win first-prize at the great heavenly fair.

The good person loves and does not hate. They are so far from harming anyone that they even pray and wish well for their enemies. They pray for blessings on those who curse them. There is an honest striving to speak good words to everyone, regardless of who they are.

The upright heart thinks the best of everyone and holds nothing over someone else’s head. Such a good heart condemns no one, leaving all judgment to God alone. It is patient with the most exasperating of people, praying they might come to their senses and become spiritually healthy.

The righteous are able to use their speech to admonish their neighbor with care and affection. They freely forgive, happily give, liberally encourage, and use their tongue to speak words of life. Indeed, their speech is wise, humble, full of grace, and above all, loving.

If there is a problem with words, it will not do to simply change the speech. That’s because it is a heart issue. And the heart must be willing to change and be transformed by sheer mercy. Fortunately, God is the expert on renovating dilapidated hearts and performing effective heart transplants.

Jesus is the gracious carpenter. God is the divine surgeon. The Holy Spirit is the energetic power source. They are ready for the work. Will you let them in?

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit so that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 11:14-28 – Replace the Bad with the Good

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (New International Version)

You have likely heard the old adage that nature abhors a vacuum. That is, when a loss or change leaves a hole in something, that hole will quickly get filled with something else.

To stop doing one thing is only half of a necessary process. To start doing another thing is crucial.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells a story about a demon-possessed man. He was delivered of his oppression. However, a problem arose because the man had no replacement for the demon. He simply did nothing after the demonic expulsion.

It didn’t take long for a group of demons, seemingly seeking such a situation as this man, and took full advantage of his vulnerability. In the end, the man was worse off than before – all because of the vacuum created without the hole being filled.

We are meant to hear God’s Word and obey. Both are necessary to the process of deliverance, growth, and spiritual development.

Whenever the process is only half-baked, we have double-minded people, divided in their loyalties between God and money/power or something else.

Getting rid of judgmental spirits is important but it’s only half the process. The other half is to intentionally make space for genuine inquiry, listening, and dialogue. Without the focus on helping one another through mutual discussion, a group of folks will inevitably degenerate into discouragement, even despair, as the demons of judgmentalism come back in full force.

Kicking hate to the curb only truly works if it is replaced with a spirit of love, concern, and compassion for one’s fellow human. An environment in which people feel free to share of themselves and their feelings is the result of deliberately seeking to do so. Simply policing hate in others eventually causes the demons of hate to establish themselves even deeper than before.

Attempting to eliminate a culture of secrecy and shame can only really come through courageous acts and words of creating a climate of openness which carefully and compassionately enables individuals to boldly name their shame and destroy the blood-sucking vampire feeding on them in the demonic shadows of night once-and-for-all.

A zombie apocalypse won’t happen, that is, unless the only thing we’re concerned about is getting rid of zombies. If our end game isn’t the thriving and flourishing of real live people, our planet will be overtaken with the living dead.

“We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.”

William Gladstone

We live in a divided world, polarized chiefly around things we are against, rather than crafting a vision together of what we are for. It does little good to kick people out of power either through force or elections, only to have no collective and compelling cause to rally around and place our efforts.

I’m all in for the cause of living Christ’s Great Commission through making disciples, embodying the Great Commandment of loving God and neighbor, and taking up the Great Challenge to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. It is these activities which motivate me to put away hate, hubris, and half-baked ideas so that a healthy process of spiritual formation can happen.

If our lives are already filled with a good spirit, there will be no room for any bad spirit to enter. And if we’ve picked up one, let’s make sure to not only expel it but occupy the space with the grace and goodness which comes from knowing a good and gracious God.

Be intentional about replacing the bad with the good. If a hole is created, fill it with mercy.

O God, the source of all health: Fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

**Above engraving of Jesus healing a demon possessed man, by an Italian artist, 1591.

Luke 8:4-15 – Christ’s Parable of the Soils

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

“‘though seeing, they may not see;
    though hearing, they may not understand.’

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (New International Version)

The Parable

“Whoever has ears, let them hear,” said Jesus. Truly hearing Christ’s words and listening with focused attention is paramount to the Christian life. Our ears are the soil of our lives. Ears attentive and devoted to listening to Jesus are good soil; ears distracted, inattentive, and stopped up with ear wax are bad soil. Receptive listening to the Word of God brings a fruitful harvest of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Genuinely believing what we hear from Jesus is crucial. God’s Word falls on four different soils….

  1. The seed on the path. A path is for walking, which is why the seed never takes root. Here there is no listening. When we act without listening, our actions will be misguided. 
  2. The seed on rocky soil.  Here there is no deep listening. A lack of attentive hearing results in a shallow person who perhaps relies more on Christian clichés or on their personality or abilities instead of the sown Word.
  3. The seed on the thorny soil. Here there is significant listening. However, there is too much listening to a cacophony of voices and not enough singular listening to the sown Word. Listening to the wrong voices will cause an unfruitful life. So, we must be careful to whom we are listening.
  4. The seed on good soil. A devoted listening to the Word without distraction leads to a productive, fruitful believer.

“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.”

Simon Sinek

The Nature of Parables

A parable is a genre of biblical literature. Parables are as much about concealing truth as they are conveying truth. A person must give focused attention to the story to learn from it, much like a good novel conveys truth about the human condition without being preachy or outright saying the truth. Or it’s much akin to a good movie relying on character development and the power of story for its message, instead of being a straightforward documentary.

Jesus neither strong-arms people nor puts them in a full nelson to force them into God’s will. We will miss out on God’s working, if we are looking for a big dramatic hoo-ha of an event. That’s because it comes as an awareness within people and works its way out. For those not intent on changing, they will find Christ’s words confusing. They might “hear” Jesus, yet fail to really listen, since they have their own ideas about how God ought to operate.

Yet, grace is still present. The very fact that Jesus addressed the crowd of people demonstrates he cared enough to communicate. He could have said, “Hey, you guys, get lost, I’m just going to interact with people who really listen to me.” Instead of coming at the crowd and bursting through the front door, Jesus mercifully came to them through the side door so that they would be able to receive the message. 

Puking the good news of Jesus all over people without really listening is a bad idea. Neither is being worried about saying something offensive, so nothing is said at all. A better approach is asking permission to tell your story of what Jesus means to you, or what you are learning from God’s Word.

The Parable Interpreted

The focus is the experience of the seed in a variety of soils. Outside powers acting on the Word – devouring birds, rocks, the burning sun, choking thorn-bushes – demonstrate the Word is central and needs to be received well:

  1. The path is the inability to hear God’s Word because of hard-heartedness. The devil snatches it before any real understanding can take place.
  2. The rocky soil is hearing just enough to respond with joy. But the person drops out when hard circumstances occur. “I didn’t sign up for this!” is their cry. They needed to count the cost of discipleship before responding to the message. This is merely a professing Christian, nothing more.  Rather than listening and internalizing the Word, there is only positive affirmation without any action or practice. So, tomorrow the message is gone and forgotten. When difficulty comes, there are no supporting words to draw from, so the person fades away, unable to navigate life successfully.
  3. The thorny soil also hears and responds to the message. This person is also a professing Christian, nothing more. The issue here is that they also listen to voices of worry and wealth. In a sort of spiritual attention-deficit-disorder, there is no ability to filter all the voices calling out, and so, no growth.
  4. Listening with the intention of understanding and putting into practice the message heard is what brings about fruit. Receiving the Word through careful listening brings about spiritual growth. God brings the growth when we focus on the Word. And when a whole group does this, then it creates a greenhouse effect in which people cannot help but grow in the Lord.

Conclusion to the Parable

The simple reception of God’s Word leads to fruitfulness. The first soil did not receive the Word, though it listened. The second received it with joy but under pressure let it go. The third received it with only one hand because the other hand was busy. Only the fourth soil received the Word with both hands.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law, day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3, NIV)

The old adage that we were created with two ears and one mouth, so that we will listen twice as much talk, is a truism. It’s hard to receive any words of encouragement, help, or reproof if you’re tongue is flapping in the wind.

Careful listening, attention to memory, and patient application are the pathways to realizing an abundant spiritual harvest of righteousness and peace.

*Above paintings, The Sower by Vincent Van Gogh, 1881 & 1888

Psalm 29 – The Power of Words

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!
(New Revised Standard Version)

I have always felt comforted during thunderstorms. Having grown up in the Midwest of America, strong thunderstorms are a given every summer. When my daughters were small children and frightened by the loud clap of thunder, I said to them, “That’s just God letting us know he is powerful and watching over us.”

God spoke and stirred up a storm… So, they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed. (Psalm 107:25, 29-30, CEB)

Yet, there is even more going on in today’s psalm than a reminder of God’s glory and power over all creation. God’s very voice is the source of all the power. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – with words. The Lord Almighty spoke the entire world into existence. God’s words are generative, that is, the speech of God creates and gives life. When God’s voice goes forth, things happen.

God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that’s what happened. (Genesis 1:9, CEB)

The way God gives is through speech. Yes, the mechanism of God’s provision for us is words. This means language is vitally important. The Lord creates, gives, sustains, and blesses us creatures through language. Out of all creation, humans are the only creatures formed in the image and likeness of God.

God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. (Genesis 1:26, CEV)

People, then, are capable of speech. Even more, we as people with the ability of language have the capacity to form our own generative words. We have the God-given means to give life with our speech.

“Life and death lie in the power of language.”

Helen Keller

I believe we all intuitively know this is true. As we reminisce the history of our lives, we can observe events where another’s words impacted us so significantly that it was as if they gave us the gift of life. We never forget those words. We also have had times when another’s words cut us emotionally and it felt as if a part of us died. We tend to remember those as well, and they hold us back in our own life-giving speech to ourselves and others.

“The godless destroy their neighbors by their words, but the righteous are saved by their knowledge.” (Proverbs 11:9, CEB)

It is necessary for us to listen to the voice of the Lord. God’s speech does not disappoint or destroy. God’s Word is eternal life. The better we listen to God, the better we can have the generative power of words to provide life for others.

It only takes a cursory look at Holy Scripture to realize that words are powerful and are to be used with great care. We are all to continually develop the craft of wordsmithing so that we might ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name as well as bless the world.

“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4, NCV)

The language we use—spoken and written words, sign language, facial expressions, bodily gestures, singing—helps us understand ourselves and lets us create relationships with others. Our words give us the power to describe our past, define our present, and dream of our future. 

“Words from wise people are like water bubbling up from a deep well—the well of wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:4, ERV)

We adults may balk at the notion that words are anything more than a creative expression. Yet, as I believe is typical with most things, children are closer to the kingdom of God than us bigger people. Kids effortlessly make connections between words and reality whereas us older folks barely have an idea this even occurs. My grandson once remarked when I was talking to him about being cautious at the playground, “How am I supposed to meet new people if I can’t talk to strangers?”

“When I asked my son (5 years old) how his day was, he said it was awesome. I asked him what made it so awesome – his response was ‘because I wanted it to be.’”

Tanya Niedzwiecki (Huffington Post, November 2015)

The voice of Lord exhibits a mighty God who has the power to create and recreate with but a word. As people in God’s likeness, our words are powerful tools to be used with wisdom and care. Our speech allows us to praise God and encourage one another. Even more, the use of language enables us to speak into existence new realities for ourselves and others. May those words bring forth hope and blessing to a world in need of healing.

Mighty God, King all powerful, I am overwhelmed before such awesome majesty, and my response to your voice is reverent worship through Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.