- 2016Oct 18
When reading the bible over the course of many years, we expect to be occasionally pierced by the words of Scripture. When God’s truth pierces us, we are to respond. Some, like a child getting her first shots at the doctor’s office, squirm and pull away from the syringe filled with the medicine they need. Others, not enjoying the pain at all, will endure the prick of the needle and receive the medicine, knowing that they need it to do its work inside of them. Coming across a familiar passage of Scripture this morning, I found myself at the crossroads of a decision: turn the page and move on to something with a little less sting, or tarry there for a bit, letting the truth of what I was reading pierce me a little, so that its medicine could be injected into my life anew. Here are the verses which found me this morning:
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” – James 3:5-6
Be careful – these words are not describing someone else. These words are written about you. They are written about me. These words come from the Great Physician’s book on spiritual health. That sting you feel is from the needle on the syringe in His merciful hand. He wants to inoculate us from a sickness in our mouths.
Words are being thrown about these days at a volume I have never witnessed before. Social media, for me, is mostly a one-way forum of communication. Please forgive me but I use social media as a virtual pulpit, not as a forum for two-way dialogue. I say/write/post as much as I feel is beneficial, and I almost never read the posts of others unless I know that the one posting is offering up something to help us in our journeys with Jesus. That’s right, I just don’t spend time reading the incessant drivel that clogs up social media. Most of it is completely without substance, and some of it actually serves to sour the soul. If that were not my approach to social media prior to this calendar year, it certainly would have become that during the election season here in America. The piles of verbal manure being shoveled out about politics is overwhelming. People are venting, stirring up intentional strife, alienating those who dare to disagree and, quite frankly, sacrificing relationships with people upon the altar of their own political views. It is not that I don’t believe that we should have an opinion, or even express that opinion in a constructive manner. But that is not what is happening. We have somehow fabricated brass knuckles that are tailored to fit our tongues. It’s a slugfest. What is more alarming to me is that so much of it is coming from those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord, even daring to forge His signature of affirmation on their personal slant. This discouraging dialogue is debilitating, defiant and destructive.
It’s also boring.
How should we apply the words above from the Book of James? Here is one way to respond to the pin-prick of what is written there: stop lighting fires. Cease and desist from your own verbal arson. I mean, James is pretty clear: we have the potential to be so careless with our words that the result is that we ignite Hell’s fires with what we have said (maybe it is no coincidence that a struck match immediately smells like sulfur). Truthfully, I am not always the most intuitive man in the room, but I can deduce a few things from James chapter three – my mouth can be used for something delightful or something destructive. I can speak with the enlightening fire of Heaven or the scorching fire of Hell. Every time I speak, who stands up and shouts,“Amen!”– holy angels or fallen ones? We are certainly entitled to formulate opinions on any issue. But we may not have permission to communicate that opinion. God may actually want you to hold your tongue from time to time. He is omnipotent and omnipresent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that He is committed to using that strength and presence to douse the flames that we light with our words. Sometimes, God will just let things burn – flaming things that you or I ignited with our thoughtless words. People get hurt. Relationships crash and burn. Regret ascends to the throne. And, by the way, haven’t we all boldly declared things with fire and fury, only to change our minds shortly after we opened our mouths?
So here is my counsel to myself and to you:
Keep it to yourself.
Assume that fewer people actually care what you have to say.
Talk to God about it all that you can, and do so often without fear of being ignored or misunderstood by Him.
On social media, divorce your typing fingers from your inflamed tongue. They should have never been married.
Then…use that beautiful mouth and the vocabulary God has given you to praise Him, to bless others, to speak appropriate truth in abundant love, and to pray with all your might that you do not spend another day as a verbal arsonist.
Your world will be a better place.
- 2016Sep 03
Sunday’s highest calls are for us to love & worship Jesus Christ, and then to love & serve others. That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Truly it would be, if not for one persistent problem that continually seeks to get in your way. Nope, it’s not the devil. It’s not your spouse, your children, the weather, the music at church, the economy or the person who did you wrong ten minutes ago or ten years ago. That is not what is getting in the way of your worship.
Your biggest obstacle to worshiping God and serving others is You.
Before you accuse me of accusing you, let me assert that this same difficult thing is true of me. My biggest issue when it comes to unhindered and potent worship and service is Jeff Lyle (wherever I go, he is there). You and I have a natural self-focus that must be overthrown during the days of our earthly lives, in the hope of leaving us joyously God-intent and others-focused. Sundays serve as a wonderful opportunity to get militant about this required coup, and the first step is to learn to deny yourself. It is easy to say but excruciating to master: your life is not solely about you.
Most of you reading this will be involved in some form of corporate worship this Sunday. Before you arrive at that place of gathered worship with those other people, convince yourself that the time you spend together doesn’t have to suit your taste. No, really, you don’t have to be pleased with everything. As long as the music has an objective focus on the glorious Savior, then choose to joyfully engage your heart, even if the tempo is slower or faster than your personal preference. Is the teacher loud and demonstrative when you prefer a subtle and soft voice? Then pay more attention to what he or she seems to be passionate about, and consider if you ought not also to be stirred. Perhaps the style of the one instructing you is a little subdued, and you are craving some communication umph; well, be careful not to give into the style-over-substance nuance of our culture. He or she is not auditioning for Lectern American Idol; he or she is communicating sublime truth about Holy God. Yes, we are prone to have an inner remote control that shuts off songs and sermons if we don’t like style of the presentation. Don’t mute the messenger.
Let me stipulate again, it’s really not about you or me. You are the servant, the doulos, the bondslave. Your Savior told you to show up wearing your servant’s robe, not a queen’s tiara or a judge’s clipboard. You and I, if we made it our aim, could be so persistently engaged in meeting the needs of others that we are scarcely able to be subjected to fits of frustration because things are not just-so. What is it which makes us think our opinion is so essential anyway? I’ll tell you: it is our PRIDE. If we are to ever experience the presence of the Lord in a manner that lastingly transforms us, then we must abandon the persistent pull of our flesh which presumptuously puts us at the front of the line. This change in our thinking never happens accidentally or incidentally. God calls us to assassinate that part of us that presumes entitlement and exaltation. What an awful potential might await us this Sunday, as we gather in the humbling grace of the Master. We come together to magnify Him, to speak of Him, to exalt His unspeakably worthy name in song and prayer and sacrifice. We gather to serve others by sharing our gifts and words and deeds. We willingly renounce our rights and wants and preferences and presumptions. We are a people who have proclaimed God to be centermost, others to be our aim and our own selves to get used to the bottom of the list but…
Self doesn’t exactly like that. Self may not mind it too much, as long as Self has its own needs met first, but Self is not going to cooperate with this removal of authority. Self runs the show, or have we forgotten?
So let’s kill Self today – is that radical enough for you? Let’s spend the Lord’s Day together as assassins. Target your enemy and slay him. Don’t think this to be too dramatic, because there can be no unworthy extreme in humbling ourselves, if our aim is to honor Christ and bless others. If someone has to be disappointed today, let it be you. If someone has to be denied this morning, make it the person who stares at you from the mirror. If someone has to ardently commit to move to the back of the line, then you be the one who hyper-extends an elbow as you pump your hand in the air repeatedly to volunteer as the person who will be last. Get extreme as you look Self in the eye with a locked jaw and pointed finger and say, “Not today, mister. Your vote doesn’t count because you always vote for you. My Sunday is for my King and His servants. Take a seat in the back.”
Then, when the sun sets on Sunday night, tell me if this was not the best day of worship you’ve experienced in a long time.
- 2016Aug 25
Most of you well-know the account of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Growing up in America we have been exposed to the facts of the Gospel, especially here in the Bible Belt where many of you were raised. Whether or not we have staked our souls on the claims of the Gospel is an entirely different matter…but most of us would nod yes if someone asked if we were familiar with the story of Jesus being nailed to a cross of wood. Thinking on this even yesterday afternoon I remembered the words of Jesus as He hung in the sky, suspended between Heaven and earth, unspeakably suffering during earth’s greatest crime. Found among His gasping utterances was this one:
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34
Let’s confess something: that is not likely what we would have been praying. We would not have sought the pardon of our executioners. Our inner sense of justice would have silently (perhaps audibly) requested the repayment of brutality by the Roman soldiers who drove the iron spikes into our hands and feet. We might have wished for the ground to open up and swallow the murderous crowd which had demanded “Crucify him, crucify him!” A thorough slaughter of the religious leaders who had deceived and agitated the mob, mocked the judicial process and facilitated the crime would have been sensible to us. Whatever we might have prayed for that day had it been us on the cross, we would not have pleaded for the forgiveness of our enemies. It never would have crossed our minds.
But allow me to further expand our understanding of the mercy and love of Jesus. I am no Greek scholar but I do know that the verb tense found in Luke 23:34 is the imperfect tense. That little tidbit likely does not stoke a fire in your heart, but it is helpful for us to know that, by using this verb tense, Luke was originally telling his readers something that is not apparent in modern English translations. Jesus was repeatedly, continuously praying, “Father forgive them…Father forgive them…Father forgive them…they do not know what they are doing.” The love and mercy of Jesus Christ for humanity is so strong that nobody could say of Him on that dark day that He merely offered some token, forensic, forced prayer for their forgiveness. No, their well-being and desperate need for mercy – to which they were completely blind – was so strong a desire in the infinite heart of Jesus that He prayed for it multiple times. Maybe off and on for hours. Perhaps in response to each and every taunt that His beaten, swollen ears could register. There is no way for us to know how long Jesus prayed for their forgiveness or how many times He asked the Father for their pardon. We just know this: every time He asked for it there was someone who needed it.
I want to thank my King today for interceding for my own repeated need for forgiveness. Jesus has not reached His quota or maximum for Jeff Lyle’s need for cleansing. He offered a sacrifice that day on Golgotha, and the payment He laid down has truly paid my debt in full. His request for the forgiveness of His enemies that day has echoed down through twenty centuries and landed squarely upon me and my daily need. There is no chance that the prayer of Jesus Christ for my pardon will not be answered; theologically speaking, it was not really a request for me personally. It was a decree from Him – Jeff IS forgiven. From my perspective it occurred on August 4, 1994 in a grungy little apartment off of Sweetwater Road in suburban Atlanta Georgia. From God’s perspective my forgiveness occurred before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:4, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 17:8) which is utterly stunning, and far beyond our intellectual grasp. Regardless, I have needed that sense of ongoing forgiveness countless times since that transformational day in the summer of ’94. To know that my Savior prayed it continually while hanging on the cross brings a sensation of deep gratitude and holy comfort to my oft-accused conscience. It is as if He would want me to quiet my restless heart in the certainty that, as often as I have required the cleansing from my stubborn sin, there is a divine decree on my behalf which was once phrased in repeated intercession,“Father, forgive Jeff. He really does not know what he is doing.”
The imperfect verb tense in the language of biblical Greek…who knew that something like that could bring such a hope this morning. I trust that it has helped you too.