Why I Choose to Gossip

 

Spoiler alert to the title of this post: The reason I gossip is pride. Pride and a paralyzing need for affirmation. It’s easy to see, hard to admit, and impossible to correct with the grace of God. And even with God’s prodding and poking and threshing and teaching, I give in to the allure of pride-induced gossip over and over again.

You probably know the feeling. You’re in the middle of a conversation and suddenly a person’s name is mentioned. Maybe you brought it up, maybe someone else did. But it’s like the gunshot at the beginning of a sprint because you’ve got dirt on this person. This person did something horrendous to you. Even though everyone with whom you’ve ever had a conversation in the last three years knows what this person did to you, it’s worth mentioning again. Because you’re the good guy here. And people are sympathetic when they know what you’ve been through. They admire your perseverance and forgiveness.

It sounds a lot like this:

“Oh, that doesn’t surprise me after the way he treated me. Did I tell you about that? About how one time…” 

Maybe the person didn’t do anything directly to you, but his actions have been just appalling lately. And by “appalling” I mean “juicy.”

“Oh, you mean Name? Yeah, he totally cheats on his wife. He drinks a lot too.” And then the feigned pity over the loved ones who are presumably ignorant of Name’s dealings. “I feel so sorry for her. After all she does for him, to have him running around on her like that? She deserves better.”

And maybe she does deserve better, but in that moment the amount you actually give a damn about her is 5%. The other 95% is the implication you would never cheat on your spouse and you don’t drink anymore and your husband should be happy to have a wonderful, faithful, perfect spouse like you. It would save everyone a lot of time if you’d just say, “Look how bad that person is! Look how great I am!”

Then there’s the person you really love, bless his heart, but he’s just not living up to your standards. Which is good, because it gives you something to talk about.

“So, have you talked to Name lately? You know what he’s doing nowadays? I mean, I love him, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that he’s going down the wrong path. We really need to focus on praying for God to reveal himself to Name, because he isn’t listening to anyone else.”

That’s a classic Church Person trick, turning gossip into a prayer request.

But the really crafty and creative and audacious can pull off the “pretend I’m the one that needs prayer when we all know it’s the other guy” conversation (which, by the way, is my typical go-to).

“I need you to pray for me, because I’m really struggling with Name. He did this one thing yesterday and then again today, and I can’t seem to deal with that anger. I’m really praying about whether or not to say something to him. I know lost people will act lost, but it’s so hard to show grace to him, you know? I just need prayer.”

It sounds funny, right? But it’s not. And every time I enter into one of these conversations wanting people to affirm that I’m right and justified and entitled and oh, so mistreated, or that I’m admirable and respectful and dog-gone-it, just a nice girl, I end up feeling affirmed by people but not so affirmed by God.

Every time I go searching for something to scratch my itch for pride, I end up feeling ashamed instead.

My mouth, big as it may be, is not the issue. My heart is the issue. “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit or condemn you” (Matthew 12:34-37).

What I say will either acquit or condemn me. That doesn’t mean I won’t get into heaven if my gossip meter is higher than my praise meter, but it does mean gossip reveals what’s truly in my heart. I can vow not to choose gossip, but as long as I care more about myself and my image than God and his image, I’ll choose gossip, time and time again.

I do not know how to end this post, mainly because gossip is still a constant struggle for me. I do know that my heart has to change before my mouth can change. I do know that God has convicted me of this specific sin in my life and only he can make it right.

God, I know I need a heart adjustment. When I’m tempted to gossip, please pull my eyes to you. Remind me that I’m a sinner, no better than those I choose to gossip about. Remind me that my worth is solely in you, not in others’ opinions of me.

How has God convicted you of gossip and pride in your lives lately?

The Art of Being Threshed

 

I know nothing about farming or planting or plowing or tilling (that’s a thing, right?). I know I love irises and roses are okay. I know I use cumin in Amber’s guacamole recipe and I think there’s some wheat in the bread on my sandwich, but that’s about all I’ve got with plants and crops and such.

Probably this is why I never paid much attention to Isaiah 28:24-29 until this past week when God guided my focus to it:

“Does a farmer always plow and never sow? Is he forever cultivating the soil and never planting? Does he not finally plant his seeds–black cumin, cumin, wheat, barley, and emmer wheat–each in its proper way, and each in its proper place? …A heavy sledge is never used to thresh black cumin; rather, it is beaten with a light stick. A threshing wheel is never rolled on cumin; instead, it is beaten lightly with a flail. Grain for bread is easily crushed, so he doesn’t keep on pounding it. He threshes it under the wheels of a cart, but he doesn’t pulverize it. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is a wonderful teacher, and he gives the farmer great wisdom.”

This time God stopped me and pointed out several key ideas in the passage:

1. God knows how we need to be threshed. A farmer would know, courtesy of God, how to handle each seed. He would know where to plant it, in just the right time and place, for maximum growth. He would know how to cultivate it for the greatest possible return. Like a good farmer, God knows how to plant us. He knows where to plant us and in what time to plant us. We can rest in knowing if we’re here in 2012 it’s because God wanted us to be alive here in 2012. He also knows how to cultivate us and thresh us for the greatest possible return. He knows when we will be tried and tested and broken, and he knows how that cultivation will grow us for him.

2. Threshing doesn’t always feel very good. Several times since walking with Christ, I’ve hit major roadblocks. I’m talking about specific moments amidst life-changing events when I had to consciously decide whether I was going to let God take over or keep trying on my own. Times like those, the threshing hurts. It feels like he’s pulverizing me or pounding me and crushing me under the weight of the world. But all along, he knows exactly how much weight and what method of cultivation I need at just that moment to strengthen my faith in him.

3. God knows how others need to be threshed. God may use a heavy sledge on me when he’s using a light stick on you. He may roll the threshing wheel on you while taking it easy on me. He may show mercy to me while he’s chastising you, and he may stop me while he allows you to move freely forward. In moments like the roadblocks mentioned above it’s hard not to look at others’ lives and be envious or angry or even smug. But who is the wheat to ask the farmer why he’s not threshing it the way he threshes the cumin?

4. Threshing is necessary. The process of threshing is to remove the necessary and useful part of the seed from the no longer useful covering and other parts of the seed. As long as we’re on this earth, we’re going to have some unnecessary parts and distractions that need to be pulled away from us so we can focus on God. This isn’t the only time God’s people are compared to crops in the Bible. Remember the slightly more famous analogy in Matthew 3:12? “He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork.” God is constantly threshing us, constantly separating us from the chaff and pulling away sins and distractions in our lives so we can grow stronger in him.

How has God threshed you recently? How has God’s threshing caused you pain? How has God’s threshing brought you joy?

about not being a satan worshipper

Satan doesn’t want us to become Satan worshippers. He just wants us to be anything-but-God worshippers. He’s not even looking for us to consciously disobey God and say, “I’m done with this God fellow! The world is so much more fun without him!” We don’t have to dress all in black with capes and pentagram tattoos and sacrifice cattle and babies to please Satan and disobey God. Satan only wants to create enough doubt in our minds for a compromise, and that compromise almost always leads to disobedience.

When I was much younger, I knew there was only one path to heaven. I could point out verses in the Bible and show you, how God says right there that Jesus is the only way. Over the years, over time and conversations, I began to compromise what I knew to be true. I met dear friends who had zero belief in God, and rather than speaking the Gospel boldly, I conceded to their beliefs and attempted to fit theirs into mine. This usually looked something like, “Well God’s grace and mercy is so great I can’t even imagine it, so surely he would have grace for those people who die without knowing him. As long as they tried really hard and followed what they believed to be true, whatever religion or non-religion that may be, surely God’s mercy will rain down on them and we’ll all get to heaven through our chosen paths.”

Turns out, I know now that’s called Universalism and that God, as full of grace and mercy as he may be, is not a Universalist. But I compromised, one thought process at a time, and ended up a false prophet, telling other people that what they believed was okay with God as long as they followed those beliefs. I’ve had to repent from the damage I’d done, working against God. I wasn’t a Satan worshipper, but I was an others-worshipper, a Rebecca-worshipper, more concerned with other people thinking I was hateful or close-minded of offensive than whether I was accurately representing the Gospel.

All Satan wanted from me at that time was for me to doubt that God is who he says he is, that he’s said what he’s said, that I am what I am in him. If you go back and look at the fall of man, that’s how it started, with one probing, doubting question from Satan: “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) And there, the doubt was presented. Eve didn’t say, “I know that’s what God said, but I’m going to disobey him anyway.” Instead she started rationalizing, judging for herself, and compromising what she knew was true. She said, “Well, this is what God actually said…” and Satan said, “Oh, that’s not true, just think about it,” and next thing we know, we’ve got sin and death and evil in the world. It all came from one seed of doubt and compromise.

Satan tried the same thing with Jesus in the desert. He said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). Satan had Jesus in a lose-lose situation. Jesus would prove to Satan that he was indeed the Son of God by turning the stones to bread, thereby obeying Satan. Or he would disobey Satan in rebellion and not turn the stones to bread, and hopefully doubt and compromise his identity as the Son of God.

We know Jesus didn’t fall for Satan’s tricks and instead turned it back against him, saying, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (4:4). It’s genius, really. Satan gave Jesus an either-or option and instead Jesus said, “No.” He clung to Scripture, stood firm in what he knew to be true, and still demonstrated his Son of God status in the process. I love that.

So what for us? We follow Jesus’ example, and it’s not easy. We learn the Scriptures, we read them, memorize them, and cling to them. We stand firm in what we know to be true, and in doing so, we’ll demonstrate our children of God status. I’ve failed at that in the past. I’ve even ended up in conversations with friends recently where I start getting confused and questioning what I originally believed going into that conversation. Times like that I have to get away, get alone with God, and regroup. Otherwise I’ll keep compromising my way into disobedience. It’s a tediously constant, conscious process, but it’s effective and keeps me focused on worshipping God and no one, or nothing, else.

about obedience and sacrifice

In October last year I acted incredibly foolish one night. I had been praying about being a credible witness toward one person in particular—a dramatic nonbeliever (and by that I mean someone who is more angry than ambivalent toward God). And then, given a perfect opportunity to show grace and mercy and love, I got selfish. I felt offended by him and reacted with indignation. It was a very ugly night, one I wish had never happened. After I had a little time to calm down and realize how terribly ashamed I was and how completely I’d failed God in that moment, I knew I had to apologize to him. Whether or not the apology would mean anything to him personally, I had to humble myself before him, admit my guilt, and ask for forgiveness. I had to be a minister in love by my humility where my grace was obviously lacking. The Holy Spirit was heavy at work within me, stressing the importance of that apology.

Yeah, so. Anyway.

I didn’t do it. I just left it alone. I had about a million justifications for why an apology was not necessary or would even be welcome to him, but of course it was just too awkward and I was just too proud.

The fallout from the event dragged on. It caused a lot of problems. There were a lot of hard feelings, and not just on my part. It greatly hurt my husband—the most important person in the world to me—and still I tried to ignore it. I’m the poster child for complete selfishness, motivated by pride.

A couple weeks later, in my Monday morning quiet time, God spoke loudly and clearly—I was being blatantly disobedient to what he’d commanded and I had to fix it. I couldn’t continue on, worshipping him and acting like a good little Christian if I wasn’t obeying him. Kinda’ like how Jesus tells the disciples if they love him, they’ll obey his commands. That’s a little nugget of truth that hasn’t changed over the past 2000 years. Oops. So I prayed in anticipation of apologizing. I prayed a lot. I prayed and fasted and prayed. And once I took that step in apologizing, he was quick to acknowledge we’d both acted ridiculous and we’d just pretend the event never happened. And it hasn’t been spoken of since.

Whew.

So back up a bit. Meanwhile, I had been getting super-stressed about finances. The numbers just weren’t where I needed to be, and I couldn’t understand it. Ronnie and I are careful to tithe off every income we get and give above and beyond the tithe monthly to other places. When someone has a need, we usually pray about it together and donate at least something to help with the need. And yet we were struggling, big time. This had gone on for a while, and I was so stressed about money I could barely focus on anything else. I didn’t understand—we were obedient, we made sacrifices, and still we were struggling.

Then that Monday morning came, I obeyed God in apologizing, and afterward experienced a shocking transformation in my mind about other areas of faithfulness. This is about where the Bible says (in James), “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” I may be the best steward of my money that I possibly can be, but if I am deliberately disobedient to God day after day in an unrelated issue, that’s as bad as if I was greedy with my money and kept it all to myself. Instead, I fell in line with the Pharisees Jesus cursed when he said, “[Y]ou are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” Again, here’s the “love of God,” which is equivalent to obedience to God. Meaning: yeah, you need to be tithing, but don’t think being obedient to God in one area cancels out disobedience to him in another.

I got it, then. I wrote in my journal, “I really feel like I’m understanding more about what you mean when you say ‘obedience is better than sacrifice.’” That’s from 1 Samuel 15:22. King Saul had been told explicitly to destroy this town and kill every living thing—including the livestock. Instead Saul kept the livestock. Samuel, a prophet, asked him why he had disobeyed God’s commands and Saul tried to justify it by using the livestock as a sacrifice to God. Samuel responds, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” Meaning: if God had wanted Saul to sacrifice the livestock to him, he would have said so. Instead he demanded obedience, and he didn’t get it. You’ll find similar comments in Isaiah 1 when God really unloads on the nation of Judah. “‘What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?’ says the Lord. ‘I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. …Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.’”

Did that mean God hated sacrifices? Absolutely not. Open to almost any page of the Pentateuch and you’ll find God outlining instructions for one offering or another. But the sacrifices and offering to him are meaningless if we’re disobedient to his commands. I’ll end with Hosea 6:6, which echoes the same idea: “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” Jesus re-emphasized this point in Matthew 9 when he scolded the Pharisees that they needed to learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6. That, if you can imagine, was a huge insult to someone who’d spent his entire life studying the Scriptures. It’s kinda’ like telling a rocket scientist that he needs to learn what Newton’s First Law of Motion means.

God’s commands to us? Give offerings and sacrifices, pay tithes, help others, yes, all of this. But above all: Know me. Love me. Obey me. These things come first.

about the OT screw-ups and the NT glory

A couple years ago on staff at the church, we took a 90-day challenge to read the Bible from start to finish in three months. The challenge is the 15 chapters a day I’d read, in addition to my regular quiet time, prayer, worship, etc. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy, and for me it was more of a 100-day challenge by the time I finished. I did, however, gain a lot of insight reading through it that quickly.

When you get to the book of Matthew, you think in terms of the Gospel and story time about Jesus, fun parables, action scenes, and the like. But first you hit Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus. You know what I’m talking about: this guy begot that guy, that guy begot other guy, other guy begot someone else. Um, no offense, but a little boring to us Westerners. However, one of the benefits of speed reading the Bible is I began to recognize the names in Matthew as I never had before, considering I’d just read about them less than two months prior. As I went back and identified most of the people, I started figuring something out. So here goes: Matthew 1:1-16 is in bold below, with some helpful notes.

This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac.

Abraham (Abram) doubted God’s promise that he would be the father of countless people. His wife was skeptical because they were both seriously old. This is like someone telling your great-grandparents they’re about to have a kid. Gross, and also implausible. Abraham thought he’d just help God out a little and took his wife’s servant as his baby mama instead. Then, of course, Abraham’s wife regretted their servant-love decision and got paranoid and they turned out the servant and her son. God sent along Abraham and his wife’s real son at just the right time. That’s where Isaac came in. Abraham and Sarah’s impatience and doubt could have ticked God off, but he stayed true to his promise, gave them a son, and blessed the servant and her son, Ishmael.


Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Technically Jacob was the second-born but his brother, Esau, sold him his birthright for a bowl of stew. Apparently Jacob was a good cook. He must have inherited it from his mother, Rebekah, because she cooked such a delicious goat meal, she fooled Isaac into thinking Jacob was Esau. Confusing? Jacob dressed in Esau’s clothes, stuck goat skin on his arms and neck, and tricked his then-old-and-blind father, Isaac, into thinking he was Esau. The entire charade allowed Jacob to steal Esau’s blessing, which was actually a pretty sweet deal (“You’ll be master of your brothers, people will bow down to you, nations will be your servants,” that sort of thing).

Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
Jacob had two wives but four women who fathered his twelve children. Jacob was promised Rachel’s hand in marriage after working for her father for seven years. (I wonder if Ronnie would have accepted that deal for me…) But on the wedding night, Jacob’s new father-in-law tricked him into marrying his other daughter, Leah. Jacob got to marry Rachel later, and he loved her more than Leah. Leah felt a little neglected and God had mercy on her, allowing her to have a bunch of kids when Rachel couldn’t even have one. That’s where Judah came from, the lonely, less-loved Leah.

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Okay, scandal here. So Judah had three sons. The oldest son married this girl, Tamar. He was a jerk, though, and was killed before they had any kids. So, as was their custom, the second son married Tamar and was instructed to have kids with her to make up for his dead brother. This son didn’t want to have kids with her and, um, pulled out, so to speak. (If you’re familiar with the term “onanism,” it’s named after this dude, Onan.) Thus, Onan died. Judah was afraid his third son would also die if he married Tamar, so Judah made up some BS story to keep her waiting. Tamar figured it out, dressed up like a prostitute, tricked Judah into having sex with her, and that’s where we get the twins Perez and Zerah.

Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.

Not much here, although if Hazron’s son Caleb was the same Caleb son of Jephunneh, I totally would have chosen to use him over this Ram guy, because that Caleb was awesome. People can’t agree whether or not the two Calebs were the same person. Otherwise, not much mentioned with these people, and I’m refraining from making a “Dodge, the father of Ram” joke.

Ram was the father of Amminadab.

Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.

Nahshon was the father of Salmon.

Not much here, either, except maybe Nahshon was the father of seafood. And the color of metrosexual polo shirts.

Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Okay, Boaz was the old guy who married Ruth after she became a widow but stayed faithful to her mother-in-law and the family. Rahab, Boaz’s mom, was the prostitute who saved Joshua’s spies in Jericho. Sure, she had to lie to save them, but their lives were spared. In return, her life (Jesus’ ancestors’) was spared with the little help of a red rope in the window (Red Rope District?).

Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
See above. It’s actually a cool story. Plus, Boaz got a free sandal out of the deal.

Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David.

Jesse had eight sons, and David was the youngest. When God sent Samuel to anoint David, Samuel was certain David’s oldest brother was the would-be king. Apparently he looked the part. God told Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” Good verse, that one. Plus, it turned out David was pretty handsome himself and had pretty eyes.

David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
Alright, you’ve probably heard this one before. David was pretty much the most perfect man until Jesus came along. He was hot, he was talented, he was humble, intelligent, tough, fearless, friendly, sweet—you get the idea. Every girl’s dream guy. Except he was too many ladies’ man. He had something like 10+ wives and countless concubines. And yet, as if that wasn’t enough, he went up on the roof and spied on this girl Bathsheba taking a bath (If it had been a shower, would she be Showersheba?). Bathsheba was gorgeous, but just so happened to be married to another man. David didn’t really care about that part. He got Bathsheba in the sack and she ended up pregnant, as these things tend to go. David didn’t want to admit to his sin, however, so he tried to get Bathsheba to sleep with her husband right away in the hopes of passing it off as a legitimate child. The husband was too faithful to David, however, and wasn’t sleeping with his wife at the moment. So, in return for his faithfulness, David sent him off to war and had him deliberately killed. (A similar thing happened in “Man in the Iron Mask.”) For shame. Having an affair? Bad. Plotting to have the woman’s husband murdered? Worse.
The child died as a result. Soon David and Bathsheba got pregnant again, this time with Solomon, who became the wisest man who’s ever lived (except perhaps Jesus, you know).

Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.


Rehoboam was kind of a jerk. And by “kind of” I mean “a lot of.” Once he became king, he told the people of Israel he was going to treat them like crap. Then he turned away from God and led the Israelites into doing the same. These were not good things.

Abijah was the father of Asa.

Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.

Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.

Uzziah was the father of Jotham.

Jotham was the father of Ahaz.

Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.

Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.

Manasseh was the father of Amon.

Amon was the father of Josiah.

Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).

After the Babylonian exile:

Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.

Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.

Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.

Abiud was the father of Eliakim.

Eliakim was the father of Azor.

Azor was the father of Zadok.

Zadok was the father of Akim.

Akim was the father of Eliud.

Eliud was the father of Eleazar.

Eleazar was the father of Matthan.

Matthan was the father of Jacob.

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

Okay, you get the idea. There’s more we could say about the people in the paragraph above, but we’d be here all day. So here’s the deal: Jesus, as we know, sums up God’s greatest glory. Jesus was perfect, holy, completely sinless. That’s a big deal. As a result, I’d assume Jesus’ lineage would be equally holy, or at least slightly more so than it actually was. Would we really expect God to bring his son to earth via such fallen people? Surely he wasn’t rewarding Abraham’s disbelief, David’s affair, Judah’s lies, Jacob’s charade, Tamar and Rahab’s prostitution. No, he wasn’t rewarding it; he was redeeming it. This is what it looks like, the position of Christ the Redeemer in our lives. God used some of the biggest screw-ups in the Bible to bring about his greatest glory. He could have used one of David’s original wives to bring about Solomon rather than the adulteress. He could have used Esau, Isaac’s actual firstborn son, rather than the son who stole and tricked his way into the firstborn position. He could have brought Jesus to earth through countless ways and people, but he chose to redeem their sins through both the birth and death of Jesus.

And what this means for me, for us, is he’ll do the same for us. Just like Romans 8:28, all things work together for both our good and God’s glory. Even if we’ve screwed up big time in our lives, God can—and will—still use it. In fact, he knew in advance all the decisions we’d make and used those in his plan for glory. This isn’t me saying, “So do whatever you want, ‘cause God can use our screw ups.” This is me encouraging you, saying, “Don’t stress so much about your failures. What we see as failures, God sees as important parts of his great plan.” Sure, we have to suffer the consequences of our mistakes and bad decisions here on earth, but if we keep our faith in God, when we get to heaven I’m confident he’ll reveal to us, “Look how this worked out for my best.”